Xenon Profiteer Review

Xenon Profiteer is a deckbuilding game from T. C. Perry III (VivaJava, Club Zen) and Eagle-Gryphon Games (Baseball Highlights 2045, Fleet).  In it, 2-4 players will run air-separation facilities, each trying to provide valuable Xenon gas, cryogenically distilled from the atmosphere, to meet different contract needs and thereby gain the most fame and wealth for their firm.  In a gamespace replete with deckbuilders, is Xenon Profiteer good enough to justify its own existence?  Or is it just another shufflefest?

andysmAndrew:  Gameosity likes a good deckbuilder.  We love Ascension, adore Star Realms, and have an absolute love/hate relationship with the Alien Deck Build Game (I don’t know why you insist on hurting me, Legendary Encounters.  I’ve only ever loved you).  We play a lot of these games, so on the one hand, we’re disposed to enjoy them.  On the other, though, it takes a lot to wow me.

Xenon Profiteer wowed me.

jessmJess:  Wow indeed!  That’s some mile-high praise, my love.

andysmAndrew:  Yes, but please don’t-

jessmJess:  You must feel like the-

andysmAndrew:  Please don’t say ‘the sky’s-

jessmJess:  The sky’s the limit for this game!

andysmAndrew:  …ugh.

Like so many deckbuilders, each player starts with an identical deck of cards (their ‘System’).  This system has a couple of utility cards and 2 packets of Air, which, as everyone knows, is partially comprised of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Krypton, and the all-important Xenon (the scandalous omission of Argon is, thankfully, addressed in the rules).  Simply put, none of the elements aside for Xenon will help you turn a profit (i.e. fulfill contracts for victory points), so much of the game is spent filtering the unwanted elements out of your deck to isolate and distill the Xenon you need.

These are the basic utility cards that come in your starter system. Don't that fool you though, they are super useful.
These are the basic Upgrade cards that come in your starter system. Don’t that fool you though, they are super useful.

One of the real differences between Xenon Profiteer and most other deckbuilders comes from this ‘isolation’ mechanic.  Deckbuilders (in case I keep using a word that is only vaguely familiar to you) always feature ways of making your personal deck more powerful and efficient as gameplay proceeds.  Virtually all of them also feature some mechanism by which you can preen out unwanted cards.

In Xenon Profiteer, trashing cards is more than just an option – it’s the name of the game.  Ok, that’s not true, Xenon Profiteer is the name of the game.  But, you know.

Players, meet Air.  Air, players.  Each time Air is added to your system, you will have to put one each of these cards.  Protip: it's not called Nitrogen Profiteer.  You'll need to isolate that Xenon.
Players, meet Air. Air, players. Each time Air is added to your system, you will have to put one each of these cards. Protip: it’s not called Nitrogen Profiteer. You’ll need to isolate that Xenon.

Each turn, you will have the chance to take the ‘Distill’ action.  This action removes all of one element from your hand.  However, you do not get to choose which element gets removed; they are always removed in order: N, O, Kr, and then Xe.  The goal of Xenon Profiteer is to isolate Xe so that it is the only element in your hand, letting you distill it into a usable form.

The two sides of your air-separation facility card. The Overtime side lets you distill twice, which is powerful, but severely limits your other actions and can't be used 2 turns in a row.
The two sides of your air-separation facility card. The Overtime side lets you distill twice, which is powerful, but severely limits your other actions and can’t be used 2 turns in a row.

jessmJess:  That means that if you draw a hand with no elements aside from Oxygen, then you can toss those elements out of your deck.  If you have even a single Nitrogen, though, you’ll have to discard that instead, and those Oxygen cards are getting shuffled back into your deck.  But the good news is that if, after distilling, Xenon is the only element you have, then you can set it aside and later use it to score contracts.

This is actually a great hand. using the Reflux card to discard that single N, the Distill action can then trash all the O, leaving you with nothing but sweet, sweet Xenon
This is actually a great hand. using the Reflux card to discard that single N, the Distill action can then trash all the O, leaving you with nothing but sweet, sweet Xenon

Of course, the only way to get more Xenon into your system is to take in air, which brings in not only the treasured Xe, but also an N, O, and Kr besides, cluttering your system with unwanted elements you will need to distill out.

Aside from the elements that drive your deck’s engine, Xenon Profiteer allows players to purchase many upgrade cards that can be either played as they are drawn or ‘installed’ into your factory, giving you constant access to their benefits.  This way, as the game goes on, your engine improves in efficiency and efficacy, making it easier and easier to score those big contracts for victory points.

The Contract and Upgrade lines.  Here you will place your bid tokens and make purchases.
The Contract and Upgrade lines. Here you will place your bid tokens and make purchases.

The way gameplay flows in Xenon Profiteer is really cool: you will constantly be adding junk cards to your deck, while at the same time trying to get upgrades that let you process Xenon more efficiently and, hey, maybe even get something for all that spare Oxygen you’ve been dumping out into the atmosphere?  Each upgrade feels really useful and once you have your factory humming, it won’t be long before one of the game’s two endgame conditions is triggered and a winner is declared.

andysmAndrew:  If anything, I think Xenon Profiteer is just barely on the short side – by the time I had a really strong engine up and running, the game was only a turn or two away from being over.  But still, I’d rather it was over too quickly than overstayed its welcome, and besides, the endgame conditions (first to 5 contracts or upgrades) can easily be changed to make the game longer or shorter.

Xenon Profiteer has some light bidding mechanics (contracts and upgrades can be purchased outright or ‘bid’ on, which makes them less expensive for you and more expensive for others), adding another strategic layer to its gameplay, but at its heart, it’s a unique, accessible, and incredibly fun take on the deckbuilding formula.

A well-upgraded facility.  Those pipelines at the bottom are worth victory points as well as increasing your hand size.
A well-upgraded facility. Those pipelines at the bottom are worth victory points as well as increasing your hand size.

With an engine-building element that feels incredibly satisfying to engage, enough choices each turn that I always feel like I am doing something, and great artwork and design, Xenon Profiteer is a deckbuilder for sure, but it somehow doesn’t feel stale or overdone.

jessmJess:  Would you say it’s a-

andysmAndrew:  Please don’t-

jessmJess:  Breath of fresh air?

andysmAndrew:  Why?  Why with the puns?  You know I hate puns!

jessmJess:  Oh c’mon hon, I’m just blowing-

andysmAndrew:  Blowing off some steam, yes, right, thanks, that’s quite enough of that.

Xenon Profiteer has a single small expansion which adds a few new contracts as well as variable player powers! We think it also adds a lot more strategy and fun!
Xenon Profiteer has a single small expansion which adds a few new contracts as well as variable player powers! We think it also adds a lot more strategy and fun!

We think Xenon Profiteer is fantastic all around.  Played on its own or with its tiny expansion, it’s a game that feels truly satisfying and fun to play!

(Thanks to Eagle-Gryphon for getting us our copy of Xenon Profiteer for review.  Our opinions are our own, extracted from their generosity without any trace elements of compromise.)

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