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Subject: Space Alert - just another spacey game? rss

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Ken Savage
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Vienna
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I remember the first time seeing the box for Space Alert. I was killing time in the Ihrysko store in Bratislava and took the game down in their library and had a look through it. After 20 minutes of just looking through the pieces and the rulebook, I still had little idea how to actually "play" the game as I was reading through the "fun parts" where the crew are given their flight orders

Fast forward a few months and I picked this up 2nd hand at our local board game meetup in Dublin, when someone arrived in and said he was looking to sell it for €10. "I'll have that!!!!" Watched a "how to play" video on Youtube, read the rules a bit, and we were ready to go. Myself and my girlfriend played the tutorial missions together and I was hooked. So you can already guess that this will be a positive review!

To start with, the box is sturdy and the artwork is very good. The components are all good quality and there's no colour blind issues to worry about. Once you know what all the pieces do, you'll be able to setup a game very quickly. The instruction manual is very cleverly put together. There are a series of tutorial missions set out. As you pass one, the next mission will introduce a new ability that you can use in the ship. And you need that gentle introduction! There is a lot to understand about how the ship works and it would be very harsh to try and dump it all on the players at once! I feel the teaching level presented is very good to help give players a chance to ease into the game. All in all, great production value.

This game is very much in it's own category. I know of no other games that play like this. After the tutorial missions, there is a lot of hidden information on the board that absolutely requires the players to communicate with each other. And time is of the essence, you're against the clock. It's a very strict clock at that, once he says phase or mission over - that's it. No more playing cards, no going back and changing things. This game can be unforgiving if/when you make a mistake. But that's how it's designed. It's meant to be a struggle and you're meant to lose sometimes. The great bit is that when we've lost, we've sometimes enjoyed the game more than when we won! Seriously, everything will seem to be going to plan and then you'll find something was missed. Someone moved the wrong way, someone didn't charge the reactor, someone miscalculated the health of the enemy. And that's when all you can do is laugh. It's a true co-operative, where everyone wins or everyone loses. And when everyone loses, the group still wins with the fun that's been had.

The timing system is part of the beauty of the game. The non-tutorial missions will last 10 minutes exactly. Once the mp3 says "mission over", it's done. You go back and put your cards faceup and see what you actually did as you play through what actually happened. The playthrough only takes a few minutes and you find out whether you won/lost. And the playtime is a very intense 10 minutes. There's a lot of information coming out and co-ordination to do. You can't have an alpha player, because he has to trust in other people too. In fact, when we play - we always assign the captain role to the newest player in the group. The opposite of having an alpha player at the table! And we've found that works very well. With the optional scoring, the captain is the only person who scores points. At the same time, he's singularly responsible for failure!

In the main game, there's a lot of variability in difficulty and you can tailor it to your own group. There is a free app (android/itunes) available to give random missions beyond the mp3 cd provided, which allows you to tailor the difficulty more exactly.

The hidden information/chaotic time pressure/requirement for involved co-op play/randomness of enemies/everything really makes this one of my favorite games - possibly the best co-operative game that I know of. I never refuse a game of this and actively suggest this in all my gaming groups - seeking more converts. While some people are intimidated by it, or aren't sure of the look of the game - everyone who's played it has enjoyed it and volunteered for another mission, or two, or three....

Can I highlight any negatives? Sure. Newer players must play the tutorial missions, so the experienced players will end up playing these missions quite a lot. Your group must have the right attitude for this game and be prepared to lose from time to time (as it will happen!). A quiet area is required, so playing in public requires space away from others - or you'll annoy them. But the positives so outweigh these tiny negatives.

Quite simply, an incredible game - and I can't wait to try out the expansion! This is one of the few games that I give a 10/10 score for.
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Martin Law
United Kingdom
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Thanks -- I enjoyed your review, and am just getting into this game myself after having it on my shelf for two years(!)

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