Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Welcome to the jungle

Xeko was a great idea for a card game that was, sadly, very poorly formatted and marketed.

The game itself strikes a fairly good balance between being entertaining and educational. Players play cards representing different species of animals and plants into a grid on the table, representing the ecosystem. Cards must be played by matching colored symbols along the edges of the cards already in play, and when a card is first played, it comes into conflict with any adjacent opponent's cards. Interrupt cards can be played to affect the outcome of the conflict, but the eventual loser only loses cards from the top of their deck; the species card remains in play, symbolically representing the idea that every species finds its niche.

The game play is fun, and the educational element is there without being overbearing. The game introduces large concepts like ecological balance, as well as offering details about the particular species depicted on the cards, many of which are endangered. This would have been a great game to sell in gift shops at zoos and natural history museums (and maybe it was, I don't know).

The problem was that the game was released using the random booster pack model, in a fairly obvious attempt to grab the attention of kids playing Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh. This model works if there is a regular tournament community in place, giving players a place to visit and buy cards regularly, a steady stream of opponents, and a reason to keep up with new cards. But even the market of available customers for that type of game has shrunk to the point that it will only support a few games, rather than the dozens that were on offer throughout the 1990s.

Contents of the Xeko Mission: China starter set
Xeko didn't need to be a collectible card game, and I think it would have been a lot more successful at grabbing the attention of its intended audience if it hadn't been. They had some really nice starter products, with unusual and eye-catching box shapes: the one representing China's ecology was in the shape of a pagoda tower, and the one for Indonesia came in a really nice wooden box shaped like a crate.

If the game's publishers had focused on a self-contained game rather than trying for the largely tapped out collectible card game market, Xeko might still be around today.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) Xeko is a game that always takes us by surprise when we play, and manages to be very engaging despite its simplicity.

  • Xeko on

Date played: November 27, 2014

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