Feb 11, 2015

[Games] Space Alert

It's only after I got involved with Tobie that I've come to appreciate wonderful world of modern board games. In addition, I've also come to respect individual game designers and thus have become more aware of who created which game and all that fun stuff. And when you look at the sorts of games that a single game designer creates over time, you might be surprised at the sort of trends and patterns that emerge.

This game blipped on Tobie's radar because of the uniqueness of its primary game play mechanic - the fact that the actual game period happens in real-time for 10 minutes. But the way this is implemented is pretty intense and this remains to be one of the most stressful games we have in our collection. But just because it's stressful doesn't mean it isn't fun.

Personally, I just find that I need time to work up the nerve to play again. The end results tend to be rather hilarious once we resolve our actions for the game. But more on that in the review proper.

Space Alert is a real-time cooperative survival game created by Vlaada Chvátil, who also created the fun spaceship building game Galaxy Trucker. It supports 1-5 players and the average game should last about 30 minutes or so.

In the game, the players are the crew of a small scout ship exploring the deepest reaches of the galaxy. The players then have 10 real-time minutes to map out their actions and respond to threats before the ship can escape to safety. Of course this assumes that the ship remains space-worthy after the various threats and challenges have their way with things.

The key here is the central computer, which announces the threats and other hazards as they come along. This is represented by a custom soundtrack which is included with the game that describes what happens during the flight. Threats can approach the ship via specific vectors that correspond to the three main vertical sections of the ship (Red, White and Blue), although more advanced play also includes internal threats which can really mess up your plans. And these threats can be alien lifeforms or other ships that threaten to destroy your little vessel.

And this is where he core game play is - those 10 magical minutes of mission time. The time is divided into three phases and during each phase you have 5 cards to work with to determine your actions. These include moving left or right through the ship or interacting with various ship components, marked as A. B and C on the board. While listening to the computer, players will then determine their actions based on the cards that they have and find a way to deal with the threats and somehow survive. Events like Data Transfer allow you to trade cards with other players while Incoming Data allows you to draw new cards. But for the most part your actions will be pretty limited and how well you communicate with the rest of your team to figure out an effective strategy for dealing with the many threats is key.

Ship sections have different abilities that a correspond to A. B, and C action spaces. These can include charging energy shields, firing weapons and charging power reactions to name a few. More unique actions include activating battlebots that can fight internal threats or pilot special spaceships to help fight off external threats. But how you manage to get all players working together without stepping on each others toes or accidentally programming your actions in an incorrect manner is really what determines the mission's success.

The modular nature of the game such as different possible threat tracks or different damage tiles that correspond to various areas of the ship really go a long way to help make each game feel unique. Plus other folks online have created custom audio tracks that can supplement the default soundtrack that comes with the game. Thus you can further create new game experiences by changing such elements of the game.

The fast-paced nature of the core game play mechanic can drive some players bonkers. Even experienced players can still make mistakes given you play all your action cards face down, thus it's easy to forget what you had mapped out to do. And certain mistakes can delay your entire action sequence like when two players use the same elevator at the same time or someone forgets to check on the main computer, thus delaying all players. It can get pretty crazy and in the end the only goal is to survive.

Space Alert is a rather thrilling game that can really test your ability to work with a team of players. But it's still a lot of fun once you get a hang of it, whether or not your resolution ends favorable. Thus the game gets 4 surprise threats attacking the ship out of a possible 5.

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