A little something to scratch that X-Com itch
Massive Chalice isn't afraid to tell you where it comes from. Light strategy base-building combined with small team, class-based tactical combat? The abilities and equipment of your warriors is determined by research and training performed at the base and each action takes a certain amount of time to complete, during which you might be confronted with a number of attacks, only one of which your elite team can confront face to face? In all of these respects, Massive Chalice is a very similar game to X-com. In fact, without its fantasy veneer and lighthearted commentary, it might seem downright imitative.
There is one large divergence from the X-com formula and it's here where Massive Chalice's greatest challenge lies. Much like in X-com, there is a far greater risk of losing based on poor decisions on the map level than there is on the battlefield, at least on normal difficulty. But while X-com's formula mostly came down to prioritization of how to spend one's resources, in Massive Chalice, the biggest concern is in breeding your various vassals like horses in order to get the best warriors possible on the battlefield. At the same time you must also produce enough scholars to man your research libraries, and hold one of your veterans aside to teach the others, and of course, also while holding out six or more to stay at home and make more warriors. When you consider the number of negative traits that can randomly crop up and render your heroes effectively useless, you need to have a seriously well-lubricated sex machine to keep enough boots on the ground.
On top of the usual attrition of war, poor genetic makeup and old age, Massive Chalice throws various text-based random events at you, the resolutions to which are similarly random. This is to be expected, as this is the only way the game could manage to be replayable. At the same time, it makes the ramifications feel unfair. In one case, I lost a territory that held one of my keeps because I chose to try and capture an ostrich. I was trying to preserve it! Had the situation been less well-in-hand than it was at the time, that ostrich might have ruined my game.
Overall, I'd say the combat manages to remain engaging in much the same way that X-com's did. As you change up your squads of units (in X-com due to injury, in Massive Chalice, due to heredity) you experience subtle differences in the way battles play out that keep things fresh until the very end. However, partly because of that variety being baked into a single game, a second round doesn't have much to offer other than a spike in the difficulty. If you do try a second a time, you will find that most of the same random events will play out again, albeit in different order, and you'll find yourself fielding the same mixed parties of caberjacks, alchemists, and hunters as you did in the previous campaign. And given the amount of trouble the random events gave me as the campaign wore on, I don't exactly welcome the additional challenge.