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Xyphus (Commodore 64) artwork

Xyphus (Commodore 64) review


"In Xyphus--part hexagonal board game, part RPG--four character tokens move across six lands in succession. Finally, they kill the demon Xyphus with his own heart, behind an invisible maze. Strategy rules: forget towns, separate combat screens, tenuous or reheated riddles, or experience mills. Supplies are limited. So are enemies and magic. Death kills. "



In Xyphus--part hexagonal board game, part RPG--four character tokens move across six lands in succession. Finally, they kill the demon Xyphus with his own heart, behind an invisible maze. Strategy rules: forget towns, separate combat screens, tenuous or reheated riddles, or experience mills. Supplies are limited. So are enemies and magic. Death kills.

In this cult classic, coordinating the party starts awkwardly, as humans (fighters with extra HP) move faster than your dwarf and elf, who use important magic items. This doesn't prevent the early fun is running suicide missions to map a continent out before the real work: navigating the narrow passes to lure the enemies or cross the river or mountains in each territory's winding jigsaw. All to find a valuable magic item and the next garrison, usually winning a big fight or two en route. Interested parties should expect to visit two opposing corners. Monsters' names evoke interest: toothpaws, maripo goblins, and different races of zombies. Everything's got a nice weird name or a compound one.

Just going and killing enemies works well enough at the start. The party eventually blunders on some magic items, and the monsters that whip you can be struck with magic. Then monsters start poisoning the party, which needs to retreat to the entry castle--a place of automatic healing. This leads to farcical combats where the party pokes one enemy, runs back, and stands around the garrison healing themselves until all have fallen. This strategy is not recommended to keep the game exciting; however, avoiding this is great motivation to figure more efficient ways to win fights. It's really more fun to sucker an enemy over a bridge to club him four-on-one, or to blast monsters across the river with spells. One damage-proof enemy must be faked out to get the magic mace behind him.

Then come the monsters that need specific spells--treants need the Tree spell, and certain monsters can only be defeated by specific magic items, sometimes from previous scenarios. While this can create some no-win situations, it's not really a problem for adventurers who explored everywhere. And despite dead ends in every mazy continent, this is not impossible. The worst you'll get is no "Onward!" screen when you bring the wrong magic item to the far garrison; the game's not big on description, but the assumption is that you probably should be exploring everywhere.

Xyphus balances terrain well: one world is heavy on swamps, another is mountainous, and others have desert or rivers. Unfortunately the last world overdoes things. Each has a hidden ford or invisible barrier, until the last, an invisible maze with plenty of narrow passages. Graph paper simply doesn't work. Dragons in dead ends guard important items, and yes, you'll have to hit a few far corners to solve it, draining drama even before Xyphus sits there as one character clobbers him with his own heart.

Still, Xyphus seems to explore all the major possibilities its rules allow before really repeating itself. It's well worth playing through, and those who replay it (the authors recommend trying with two or three characters, which is a legitimate challenge) will surely find easier ways through the first few worlds with the tricks they learned in the last few. Its exotically named spells and monsters, and how it stick you with limited resources, makes for a good challenge the first time through. Combat is about maneuvering and not just finding weapons or spells to shoot enemies before they get close. The genuine frustration of finding many ways to do zero damage to an important looking monster collapses once you find the right spell or item. So Xyphus lives up to its cool name, and I am not surprised it was ported to the Mac, which allowed far more bearable controls and loading times.

Rating: 7/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (December 27, 2009)

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