BioShock Infinite is well known as a single-player game – the developers even made the choice of removing an already partially-developed multiplayer aspect in order to concentrate completely on the solo campaign. But what if you’ve got friends who are interested in the BioShock universe, and you want to play something BioShock related together? Well, as long as you’ve got an even number of friends (this is a two or four player game, none of this three player malarkey) Plaid Hat Games has you covered with the board game, BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia.
The Siege of Columbia is a board game designed by Isaac Vega, the guy who designed the previously reviewed City of Remnants. As such, a lot of the gameplay elements from that game can be seen here in the BioShock universe. It’s not exactly the same, so don’t go expecting that just because you’ve played City of Remnants you’ll be able to jump straight into The Siege of Columbia, but you’ll be able to see a lot of similarities and, hopefully, if you’ve played City of Remnants, you might pick up The Siege of Columbia quicker than others.
Another similarity to City of Remnants is that it may take the average person (and by that I mean someone not well-versed in board games any more complex than Monopoly) about an hour or two to fully understand the rules, and even then there may be things that you forget on your first playthrough. Thankfully – as with City of Remnants (which I promise I’ll stop mentioning soon) – Plaid Hat Games have recruited the help of “Watch it Played” to put together a How to Play YouTube video to take you through all the rules. In fact, if you play the game along with the video (as we did on our first playthrough), you’ll probably be playing, and playing well, within an hour. Ignore the video and go solely from the rulebook and I’ll be surprised if you play it at all before slamming the entire thing against the nearest wall. The rulebook isn’t badly written – as far as board games go – but the amount of things to get your head around can be hugely confusing for a first-timer.
In BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia, players take control of either the Founders led by Zachary Comstock (the people in charge of running the floating City of Columbia), or the rebellious Vox Populi, led by Daisy Fitzroy. The aim of the game is to take over as many sections of Columbia as possible, attempting to meet certain conditions in order to collect the ten Victory Points needed for your faction to win the game, while also trying to decimate your opponent’s team by taking out their characters or their Strongholds. For players of the BioShock Infinite video game, it’s strange to be playing within this world and not controlling Booker or Elizabeth, but that’s not to say that they’re not involved in any way.
Booker (and sometimes Elizabeth) make their way onto the board during the “World Event” phase of each round. During this phase certain cards have to be drawn and the game board shifted to suit these new rules. This part of the round makes the world feel a bit more alive than a standard board game, as if the City of Columbia herself is another character in the game, constantly trying to make you lose; part of the charm is that you never know what’s going to happen next. During this phase, Booker will be placed somewhere in the city and, if he’s aggressive (the card you draw will tell you that) then any players in that location will have a bad time. You’ll be forced into combat and Booker always rolls a red die (the die with the highest numbers) so if you don’t have a considerable force of players in that location who can roll enough dice to equal or beat Booker’s rolls, then you’ll lose one of your characters and have to move the rest back to your closest Stronghold, losing the location you’ve been holding in the process.
Once the World Event phase has been played, the players get the opportunity to cash in some of their cards for Silver Dollars (the game’s currency), and then use that money to buy extra characters for their faction, upgrades, Strongholds, or anything they want. Once this has been done, they player gets to move up to four of their characters into an adjoining area in order to take it over. If there’s a member of the opposing faction in that spot, then combat must ensue and the player uses the included die – rolling specific die to represent each of the character types – to determine the victor. Once combat has finished, the other players repeat the phases for their turn until everyone has played, and then the “Reset” phase kicks in, readying the board for the next round.
VERDICT: BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia is one of those games that will undoubtedly sell purely because of the name on the box, and those people may not have played a board game of this complexity before, finding it quite intimidating and dismissing it before they’ve really given it much of a chance. Give it the time it deserves, though, and you’ll discover a game that’s rich, fulfilling and that genuinely feels alive while you’re playing it; none of the players have an unfair advantage as the City of Columbia herself is trying to take you all out with equal malice.
BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia has truly shocked me with its complexity and depth, its story and its level of intrigue. It’s certainly a game that will take pride of place in my own board game collection and, if you give it a chance, watch the videos and read the rulebook, it could very well find a place in yours, too.