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Subject: Biggest Fail in my collection (advice needed). rss

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Enon Sci
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Preamble: Over a year ago, maybe even two or three years ago, I purchased Space Alert. I purchased it for a smaller gaming group (2~3) and was initially dismayed at the hitherto unknown fact it was kind of designed for exactly four players. The android rules seemed odd (emphasis on the "once card is placed on the board it is locked into place immediately" bit), and the game seemed hard to teach in the first place, let alone having to make new players handle multiple characters.

Anyhoo, the game hit the table 3 or 4 times, plus a few solo tries. It was an ok experience each time, but never mind blowing or overly engaging (in large part because we were still uncertain about rules). I tried it solo once or twice, but ultimately put it on the shelf with the hopes of pulling it down for a larger group. Sadly, that day has yet to come.

Three big letdowns for me were:

1. The aforementioned 4 player preference in the design (unless you want to play androids in addition to your crewman).

2. The fact nothing exists in the game to help one visualize where approaching enemies even are until the reveal phase.

and

3. The quizzical approach to iterative learning baked into the core experience struck me as missteps.

Per that last point, it seemed both complex to teach (inherently demanding multiple goes in a session, each introducing new rules) and detrimental to mixed experience (i.e. hard to seat new players with experienced players without winding things down a bit, at least in theory). Neither were deal breakers, but made the task of teaching a complex game even more so.

*sigh*

Question:

So, I ask -- how in the do you teach this to a group? Is this even appropriate for a group that meets infrequently? Has anybody had fun in a single night?

Additionally, is this worth trying again with 2? I never even made it to the complex rules, like per character lifts and tripping. I really want to like it.. but it felt like a dud.




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Siegfried Steurer
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I always start reading out the absolutely funniest handbook ever (http://czechgames.com/files/rules/space-alert-handbook-en.pd... ) and explaining the tutorials bit by bit ...
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Enon Sci
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Gibmaatsuki wrote:
surprise

I always start reading out the absolutely funniest handbook ever (http://czechgames.com/files/rules/space-alert-handbook-en.pd... ) and explaining the tutorials bit by bit ...
Yeah, that is basically what I did. However, I find even this odd -- is the intent to actually read, word for word, from this manual? If not, one misses out on a lot of thematic awesomeness. If so, well.. that is never fun at a game night (I avoid that, and always have).

Thankfully I can be a showman. However, once you take a group through that, how do you integrate new players in a later session?
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Max Lampinen
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Anarchosyn wrote:

Question:

So, I ask -- how in the do you teach this to a group? Is this even appropriate for a group that meets infrequently? Has anybody had fun in a single night?

Additionally, is this worth trying again with 2? I never even made it to the complex rules, like per character lifts and tripping. I really want to like it.. but it felt like a dud.




Rulebook, tutorial missions. It's not hard to teach. Teaching to new groups, now that's a flaw. The tutorial missions are pretty boring tbh.

I think it's ok with two, but if you hate androids, obviously not.

I don't think it's quite as fun game as people make it up to be in their stories, but in its genre it's one of the most replayable and often quite fun.
 
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Morris Ho
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I've never tried playing Space Alert with fewer than 4 players. If I have only 2 or 3 people around the table, we'd probably just play something else.

But in your case, if you ever do find yourself with a table of 4 or 5, don't bog yourself down on all the rules. What I generally do is try to capture player interest before implementing every proper rule. So when I teach Space Alert, I'm prepared to gloss over keeping cards face down, one crew member per Gravolift at a time, tripping, etc. What I'm trying to do is get to the Simulated Missions with as little player confusion as possible.

Also, when I go through the first tutorial, I pause the game after Phase 1 ends and show how the Resolution Round works. I find players get stressed and give up if they don't know what's happening for the whole duration of the tutorial. Show them how enemies appear, the turn order, how damage is calculated, then everything should click into place. After that, you should be able to go through the next couple of tutorials and test runs pretty quickly. See how your friends are responding to the game and if it's positive, maybe then add in those rules above.

As for not knowing where enemies even are, I don't know how that could be a problem. The trajectories and numbered tokens during the Action Round should pretty clearly show which zones are under attack and require immediate attention.
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Alison Mandible
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You do have to be willing to play at least twice in that first sitting to make it worthwhile. I generally do the first training mission (the one that's only 7 turns), and then throw people into the full game (i.e. the second and third batches of rules are all taught at once). I tell new players that the experienced players might ask them to do things without fully explaining, especially when it comes to internal enemies. First day on the ship, there's going to be some technobabble you don't know yet!

That said, you aren't going to be able to teach this game well until you yourself know it cold. Playing solo or 2p to learn the rules to the full game might be worthwhile even if it's not fun. (I don't know if it's fun! I've never played with less than 3. And teaching with 3 isn't that much fun.)

Space Alert is actually great for mixing new players and experienced ones, though if you're only playing the tutorial you haven't fully seen that yet. Jiggling the mouse and flying the interceptors are two things that are very easy for confused newcomers to do productively without having a sense of what else is going on on the ship. (To fly the interceptors, a player needs to have the *rules* down, but they don't need to be able to pay attention to anything but their own actions.)

The most experienced player should be Communications Officer. The Captain's role is mostly symbolic until you have at least two skilled players.

"Nothing in the game to help visualize the position of enemies" -- Use the enemy chips during the planning phase! That's what they're there for. There's no rule that says the board has to be in pristine shape when you're done planning. Move figures around, move energy blocks around (when I play a card to fire a weapon, I move the energy block onto the enemy card to show that it's been hit once), move enemy chips down the track at the end of a phase.
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Peter 'Pedro' Goins
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For three-player games, we found the easiest way to manage the bot was to leave him in the upper white zone to hit the mouse and fire the main gun. This way you don't have to put as much effort into tracking where it is at or what programming it needs.
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Greg
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You can just drop the 4th player rather than having an android. Game's still totally playable, just a little harder (but you can counterbalance with mission difficulty). There's even a bonus XP achievement for doing that in the expansion.
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Adrian Brooks
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Anarchosyn wrote:

Question:
So, I ask -- how in the do you teach this to a group? Is this even appropriate for a group that meets infrequently? Has anybody had fun in a single night?
I've only recently got Space Alert, and have only played it for a single night so far, with four players who hadn't played before. I read aloud through the tutorial rules pretty much as written, speeches and all - we're also Role Players, so are comfortable with that sort of thing. We got as far as a second simulated mission (mission 4? No internal threats or battlebots, but with mouse waggling and lift delays) in our three hours.

We had fun. We want to play again when we can get the same four together.
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Marc-André Gaumond
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Anarchosyn wrote:
Gibmaatsuki wrote:
surprise

I always start reading out the absolutely funniest handbook ever (http://czechgames.com/files/rules/space-alert-handbook-en.pd... ) and explaining the tutorials bit by bit ...
Yeah, that is basically what I did. However, I find even this odd -- is the intent to actually read, word for word, from this manual? If not, one misses out on a lot of thematic awesomeness. If so, well.. that is never fun at a game night (I avoid that, and always have).

Thankfully I can be a showman. However, once you take a group through that, how do you integrate new players in a later session?
Integrating new players is one of two approaches for me:
- If there's more than 1 new player, I'll go through explaining and doing the first Tutorial mission, then adding the other actions and doing the first Simulation mission, then onwards to a real mission.
- If there's only 1 new player, I'll go through explaining and doing the first Tutorial mission, then explaining the other actions and onwards to a real mission
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Josh Trumbo
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grasa_total wrote:
You do have to be willing to play at least twice in that first sitting to make it worthwhile. I generally do the first training mission (the one that's only 7 turns), and then throw people into the full game (i.e. the second and third batches of rules are all taught at once).
This is basically how I do it-- I explain the premise of the game, how it functions on a basic level, and then jump into the first mission because it's quick and I can direct and explain what's happening while we're going through the recording. Everything ties together pretty well then during the resolution.

Then I explain Internal Threats and what the "C" buttons do, starting with "wiggling the mouse" and ending with "looking out the window." People are usually pretty hooked by that point and ready to dive in. I also make it a very definite point to explain that things will go wrong, and that's part of the experience. If new players can be put at ease knowing that anyone can be responsible for a loss and that's it's funny when it happens (and games are ~20 minutes, so who cares anyway?), that adds to the overall experience and ensures people are willing to play several games in a sitting, and have fun doing it.

As for the androids, whenever I play with them (I often play 2p with a friend and I each controlling an android) I don't bother with the "once it's set you can't change it" rule. It's never added much for me in terms of tension or fun, so I just ignore it. At least, do that until you're more confident with the game-- the Board Game Police™ aren't going to arrest you for that minor offense.
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Quantum Jack
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I just taught this game to 3 new players yesterday. Luckily all 3 were genius level IQs with computer programming experience. So, I just explained the basic mechanics, the anatomy of threat cards and jumped right in. First game with cards dace up. the first game was confusing, but the resolution phase made everything click. Second game we lost, but due to miscommunication, not due to misunderstanding rules. We had a blast. Just make sure you know the game, and jump in the deep end. First game always feels akward, but then it all makes sense.

First few games were with 3 players, 4th joined later, but we won during his first game (had him mouse jiggle mostly).

This game is just fine with any number, 1-5 (admittedly solo is just a timed puzzle rather than a communication excercise). Android rules are easy, but we usually put one player in charge of each. Anybody can play on any android, but one person devides what is needed and coordinates that android's actions.

My wife and I play 2 player, and each takes charge of one android, but can get cards from either player to program it.
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Joonas
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This game works pretty well with 2 players. I have played over 400 games and most of them (80%+) are 2-player only. Some tweaks though...

At first we played by the rules as written. Then we introduced a house rule that allowed us to move the cards played on androids, but only within a phase. After about a 100 games we made a bigger change: Androids were removed. Instead, both players control two characters (with one hand of cards). All cards are played face down. No cards are locked (until after a phase has ended, naturally). Card transfers became more important.

Sometimes I enjoy the 2-player game more than 4- (or especially 5-) player game: the game is just never boring.

And by the way, this game only works really well with players of equal or almost equal skill/experience level. I didn't like this game at first - actually I almost hated it - and it was mainly because many of the other players were so much more experienced than I was. If somebody tells this game doesn't have an alpha gamer problem they are wrong. The double actions (comes with the expansion - which is very good) kind of fix this problem though but are not for novice players anyway.
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Joonas
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And yes, visualizing and calculating threat movement is hard for novice players. This little trick is very helpful, especially with threats with varying speed or phasing ability (expansion). We still use it every time.
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