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Subject: Space Alert - How to make a grown man cry rss

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Tiago Luchini
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All of us, board game geeks in general, share at least this very simple principle: we appreciate the beauty and the refinement of this pure art often called board gaming.

Space Alert is a game that finds the highest possible position when it comes to a perfectly balanced co-operative game and... it's not a joke, it did made me cry... twice.

What comes in the package?

Space Alert comes in a very sturdy box covered by great art-work but the main surprise comes when opening it: the amount and quality of its components is superb. Traditional wooden cubes come hand-in-hand with translucent greenish cylinders and cubes. Nicely carved plastic miniatures are also part of the package and they connect very well with the whole atmosphere of the game.

The main board is basically the blueprint of your spaceship with its six different sectors. Thin trajectory boards are to be combined three at a time to provide the computer screen that monitors external threats advancing towards your spaceship. Each player receives two sequence boards that are to be used for their actions during the game. An auxiliary board is also provided for keeping track of the phases during evaluation (more on that later).

The two accompanying CDs are filled with "mission tracks" which are basically the computer voice informing you what is happening during your mission.

How do I learn this game?

I normally skip the rulebook on my reviews but this one I simply can't. This was the first time I cried reading a rulebook. Seriously: this is a piece of art like no other.

There are two small booklets. One contains the rules per se and the other is a "flight manual". It is narrated as if the group of people learning the game were space cadets being trained for space missions. The sense of humor all over the booklet is fantastic and it does explain the game in 7 simple lessons that get progressively challenging. Quite a feat for a game that is not very easy to grasp.

The whole thing works so well and is so didactic that it is almost impossible to find any flaw on such a work of craftsmanship.

What is this game all about?

As in any co-operative game, the players play against the game. They represent the crew members of a spaceship whose job is to fly through the hyperspace to an uncharted point of the universe, scan it and then fly back home. The whole process takes approximately 10 minutes.

The spaceship is pretty smart and takes care of most of the boring scanning routine but its very lousy when it comes to defending itself from threats. And here is where the crew is really valuable: making sure the spaceship is not destroyed during the 10 minutes they have available.

How is Space Alert played?

The game engine is amazingly unique. It merges at least two other fantastic games: RoboRally: Crash and Burn and Space Dealer. But do not be limited by these comparisons: Space Alert is much more than the sums of these two titles.

A soundtrack for a mission must be chosen beforehand. The choice here depends on the current difficulty level you intend to play but of course, there is always the option of putting the CD-player on random and letting the destiny settles what is going to happen.

Each soundtrack is 10 minutes long and represents the computer voice telling your team what is happening. Some people may complain that the need for a CD-player is limiting but this should not be a problem. First, the game comes with simulation charts that can be read by someone outside taking care of the time and second, with a little bit of technical help the CD content can be easily moved to your mobile phone and played back with amazingly good results.

There are two kinds of threats to your spaceship: internal threats and external threats. Both of them can be common or serious threats which tells how challenging they are to be defeated. The mission audio tells which threats are coming and which section of the spaceship is at peril. Threat cards are then revealed and on the allocated place accordingly.

Players have to use a set of action cards they have been handled to decide what to do. Here, order is very important as two people trying the same action at the same place will not be efficient at all. Attacks against threats are also much stronger if players can sync their actions so that a series of weapons are used at the same time.

The main twist is the constant pressure of time. Each player has 12 actions in 10 minutes which means that all those playing have to reach each decision in less than 1 minute. There is amazingly little time for negotiation and discussion even though these are two valuable assets for keeping the spaceship intact.

After the 10 minutes have passed, the evaluation phase starts. This is like a video recording of what really took place. It is like watching the whole action in slow motion.

My final impressions

Space Alert is a great game. By using the time-limit it removes one of the big problems of co-operative games: the tendency of having one player simply bossing around. In Space Alert it is absolutely impossible to keep track of everything so quickly.

The whole playing experience is unique and quite special. The feeling of not having enough time, of shooting in the darkness without even knowing if you'll hit something or not, the need to trust someone else to provide energy to your laser in such a limited amount of time... the list of unique feelings is just overwhelming and here was when I cried again. There has been quite some time that I haven't seen people having so much fun playing a board game and, at then end of a terrible failure, simply asking to play again, and then again, and again. It is a magical experience.

Space Alert does have one little problem in my opinion: the evaluation phase can be lengthy. Ok, "lengthy" may not be the right word. But in our group evaluations take from 10 to 20 minutes (which is under the expected I understand). This is short compared to many other things but 20 minutes is twice the length of the game itself.

It can also be very frustrating when a key action is misfired by someone and this cascades all the way to total failure. Of course, this is a matter of tactics: you should never let a trainee responsible for the main batteries of your very fragile spaceship or you face a great chance of running dry on every other system.

True team work is mandatory for this game to work and this fact alone puts Space Alert at the top of the co-operative games list.
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Anders Olin
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Great review Tiago.

Now, where did you get this game?

Eventhough I've bought 6-7 games last month, there is always room for one more... ninja
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Tiago Luchini
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victoryzine wrote:
Great review Tiago.


Thanks!

victoryzine wrote:
Now, where did you get this game?


This one I brought straight from Essen this year.

It's a shame I've not been visiting Vaasa recently or I could then take it to play with you guys. Maybe if you happen to be visiting Oulu you can drop me a line! It would be a blast.
 
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Michael H.
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Great review!
How on earth could I forget to mention the wonderfully entertaining flight manual? laugh
 
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Robert Buciak
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tiagoluchini wrote:
I normally skip the rulebook on my reviews but this one I simply can't. This was the first time I cried reading a rulebook. Seriously: this is a piece of art like no other.

Did You read Galaxy Trucker rulebook? I really do not know which one GT or SA is funnier.

tiagoluchini wrote:

True team work is mandatory for this game to work and this fact alone puts Space Alert at the top of the co-operative games list.

Same to me. Graet review.
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Anders Olin
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dracoPL wrote:
tiagoluchini wrote:
I normally skip the rulebook on my reviews but this one I simply can't. This was the first time I cried reading a rulebook. Seriously: this is a piece of art like no other.

Did You read Galaxy Trucker rulebook? I really do not know which one GT or SA is funnier.

Perhaps we should ask James "Skip" Fairwheater?
 
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Tiago Luchini
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dracoPL wrote:
Did You read Galaxy Trucker rulebook? I really do not know which one GT or SA is funnier.


Yes. Both are great!
 
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Matthew Emch
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I was still waiting to hear about the second time you cried... after reading the rulebook...

Great review!
 
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