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(published by Twilight Creations, Inc., 2009)

Martians!!! is a sibling to Twilight Creation's popular Zombies!!! game series. Much of the rules directly follow from Zombies, but this review will treat Martians!!! on its own merits, and not assume any reader knowledge of other TC products.

I really looked forward to playing this game. I've played Zombies!!! before and liked the lighthearted beer-and-pretzels gameplay, but was turned off by the Zombie theme. Unfortunately, I'm in the minority opinion of gamers who think Zombies are disgusting and boring, and I wanted to see a new theme for the Zombies!!! game engine. Well, here it is, in all its "Mars Attacks" glory! I couldn't resist cutting into the shrink wrap and taking Martians!!! for a test drive.

What's In the Box:
- 32 map tiles
- 50 cards (30 black, 20 green)
- dozens of cardboard Bullet and Life chits
- Item tokens (dynamite, fertilizer, fuel)
- 4 crop circle tokens
- two six-sided dice
- 6 player pawns (3 male, 3 female)
- 100 mint-green Martians figures
- a small rulesheet

Martians!!! can be played either competitively in a "versus" mode, or as a cooperative game. I will describe the versus game here, then explain how the co-op game is different.

Setup is fairly quick. Place the House tile in the center of the play area, and put everyone's player pawns in the House. Shuffle the deck, and deal three cards to each player. Give everyone three Bullets and three Life tokens. Place all the Item and Crop Circle tokens aside face-down.

Each turn, you draw a map tile and place it in a legal location. Each map tile is a 3x3 grid, with streets and buildings that link up to existing tiles, creating a small rural town that grows during the game. I'll warn you that the board takes a large amount of table space.

Some tiles are generic street tiles, which contain nothing of utility, but are swarmed with Martians. They may also have a "Martian head" icon which is important only in the co-op game.

Named locations, like a Gas Station or the Abandoned Barn, contain Bullets, Life tokens, and Items that the players need in order to survive the invasion, but will also contain Martians standing guard. An Item is placed face down in each named location. The Items are the three ingredients you need in order to build a bomb: fertilizer, fuel oil, and dynamite. You will need to explore the named locations and scrounge for Item tokens. If you possess all three, you could win by blowing up the Martian mother ship. But you have to find the mother ship first.

There are four Farm tiles that behave very differently than the other tiles, and are critical to winning the game. When a Farm is placed, it doesn't get the usual swarm of Martian sentries. Instead it gets one face-down Crop Circle token, and a lone Martian standing in the crop circle. One of the four Crop Circle tokens is the secret location of the mother ship, and the other three are decoys. Players won't know its true nature until they visit that square. You'd think a lone Martian would be a weak mother ship defense, but you'd think wrong... the crop circles are Martian spawn points (more on this later).

After playing a map tile, you fight any Martians in your current space (combat described later). Then you fill your hand up to three cards. Now you get to move around the board. Roll a die, and add the number of Life tokens you have. This last part is a nice touch, as it helps prevent useless low movement rolls, and thematically makes sense. As you take wounds, you slow down. Logical.

I'll admit it took me a while to understand the board tiles. My first few games brought up many questions about how movement worked. I found a paragraph in the rulebook that explains it best: A valid move is one where you move from square to square by crossing a white line, or by going from a street square to a street on an adjacent tile. Any other move is illegal. That cleared things up greatly.



If you move into a square that contains Items or tokens, pick them up immediately. You can't carry too many of each type of token, so you might have to leave some things behind for another player to scoop up, or for you to return for later.

If you enter a square with a Martian in it, you must fight that Martian. Roll a die. If you rolled 4 or higher, you win. Add the Martian to your kill pile. (If you kill 30 Martians, you win.) If not, either spend Bullet tokens to increase your roll until you would succeed, or lose a Life token and roll again. Most of the time, Martians are fairly easy to defeat, but luck can quickly turn against you, and you might find yourself running low on Bullets and Life. If you run of out Life tokens, you are knocked out. Lose half of your kill pile (making the "30 kills" victory harder to reach), all your Items and weapons, and return back to the starting House. Thankfully player elimination is not a factor in this game. If you still have movement points left, you may keep going.



After you move, you then move the Martians. Roll a die, and select that many Martians on the board. Move each of those Martians exactly one square, following the same movement rules as players do. Obviously, you want to move Martians away from you and toward other players, or maybe block roads. The limit of only one Martian per square keeps them from piling up in one place, so they spread out. However, since the players pull Martians in conflicting directions according to their competing interests, the Martians merely surge back and forth in place, so they don't wander around the board much. Once a tile is cleared of Martians, it tends to stay cleared.



Remember those crop circles? If a circle contains no figures, it spawns another Martian! This is a welcome mechanic, as it keeps an influx of Martians to the board, filling in some of the empty space in the vacant streets. But it's sill up to players to move Martians off the circle in the first place.

There is a big risk to checking out crop circles if you're not ready to win. If you revealed the mother ship but don't have the bomb ready to destroy it (by possessing all three Items), it creates an UberSpawn point. As long as there is empty space on the farm, the mother ship will drop another Martian on the Farm until it is full. Once the mother ship is exposed, it is much harder to reach through a clot of angry Martians.

At the end of your turn, you may discard a card if you want, then your turn is done. There's not much you can do on other players' turns, aside from playing cards, so be prepared for some downtime.

Speaking of cards, you have a hand of three of them. Cards can be played at any time, but you are limited to one per "round". Once you play a card, you have to wait until the beginning of your next turn before you can play another one. I understand that this rule exists to prevent combo exploitation. The 50 card deck contains a few duplicates of each card, so there are many types. Card effects vary from moving, adding or removing Martians, to freezing pawns in place, teleporting players across the map, or discarding their Items. Some cards are weapons that you play in front of you and use at a later time. Weapons assist you in combat or let you ignore the effects of specific other cards. The card art is colorful, sinister, and captured the lighthearted camp feel of the alien invasion films that the game pays homage to.



Martians!!! can be played cooperatively, too, a nice added value that makes you feel like you bought two games in one. The co-op game has some differences from the versus game. Firstly, sort the green-bordered cards from the black-bordered cards. The black cards form the Event deck, and the green cards form the Martian deck. The Event deck is for players to use, and the Martian deck is the engine by which those pesky aliens will interfere with players' attempts to win. The players solely draw from the Event deck. When a player moves onto an "Alien head" icon (remember those?), draw and resolve a Martian deck card, which is usually undesirable.

Watch your step!


The green card borders are helpful for sorting the cards apart, an appreciated detail, but I found it annoying to find myself frequently trying to draw from the wrong deck. It would have been helpful for the two decks to have different cardbacks, but I understand that they must match so that they can be shuffled together in the versus game.

Also, only three of each Item are used, and the rest are set aside out of the game. This makes it harder for one player to acquire all three bomb ingredients. Players will need to work together to collectively bring all three Items to the mother ship.

The game comes with 100 Martian figures, and they are cumulatively added to the board. In the versus game, the supply of Martians is endless (I assume), but in the co-op game, dead Martians are removed from the game. (There is no "30 kills" victory in the co-op game.) If the Martian supply runs out, the game is over and the humans lose! Since nearly every tile contains Martians, each tile placement brings the game closer to the end.

So, in short, the co-op game is a race against time. Find and destroy the mother ship before the Martian figures run out!

Now, on to my opinions of the game. First, Martians!!! is meant as lighthearted cinematic beer-and-pretzels gaming, not to be taken terribly seriously, with a strong dose of theme, luck and "take that" screwage. I think it does accomplish what it aimed to do, but isn't quite completely there. The screwage is done by card effects that don't come up as often as I expected them to, and the Martians just don't move in a coordinated enough manner to really be menacing. But the biggest strike against the game is its play length. It can easily take over an hour to play (one of my sessions took three hours), which for a beer-and-pretzels game is too long. There are many other games I'd rather be playing with the time I invest in a session of Martians!!!. If I want beer-and-pretzels fun, there are faster, smaller games to choose. Martians!!! is too long for silly fun, and too silly for serious gaming.

I also found that Martians!!! contained several situations that were unexplained or poorly explained by the rules. The rulebook is only a small bifolded piece of paper no bigger than a couple map tiles. Each time some question arose, I'd consult the rulebook and fail to find a sufficient resolution. Further, as of this writing, Twilight Creations has not yet released errata or an FAQ for the game. They will certainly have to, given the large number of explanation gaps that I've noticed. As a former Magic player, I've learned the importance of rigorous and precise card wording, and it's obvious to me that TC failed to consider many alternate interpretations of their card and rules text. With extensive integration of FAQ and errata clarifications into a hypothetical 2nd edition, this issue could be resolved. But I found that the game's flow was interrupted by these frequent rules questions, sand thrown into the gears of the game and left untreated, souring my play experience and bringing down the fun factor.

I really appreciate the inclusion of co-op game rules, as it made the product seem more versatile and replayable. Several people in my gaming group prefer co-op games over competitive ones, and I figured Martians!!! would get more mileage as a convertible. Having played the co-op game, I felt that the challenge is underwhelming, and that player success is very likely. I was able to work with my fellow comrades to avoid negative impacts. We placed "alien head" map tiles in inconvenient hard to reach places so that we wouldn't trigger Martian deck card draws. (In fact, in all the co-op games I played, the Martian deck never was drawn from.) We were able to sequester Martian placement onto parts of the board where we were unlikely to travel, while keeping nearby locations open for named locations and Farms. Further mitigating the Martian threat was our coordinated effort to herd the Martians into the outskirts of town during the Martian movement turns. The invaders were easy to avoid and easy to ignore. Lastly, the crop circles don't spawn a Martian if there is a "figure" on them, human or martian. Thus we were able to keep the spawn points from spawning by standing on them ourselves. While the co-op game might be a suitable challenge for children and families gaming together, it would take some significant rules tweaks and house rules for the co-op game to be a suitable challenge for experienced gamers. I enjoyed the versus mode far more than the co-op game.

If you've played other Twilight Creations games, then you already have an idea of the component quality. The cards, while not matching the heft and durability of Magic: The Gathering or BANG!, are sufficient for many play sessions. The art takes up a large amount of the card's face, but the text isn't too lengthy or small, though I suppose a gamer with very weak vision or low lighting might have a hard time reading the cards. The game is dependent on the English language; gamers with limited grasp of English would need a full translation. The violence in the art shouldn't be a problem for children already interested in video games and action movies, but may bother younger children.

The map tiles are printed on cardstock of similar weight to the cards. They get nudged around the table surface during play due to their slick backs, so if you're picky about edges lining up, you'll find yourself frequently re-nudging them back into place. My biggest concern is with the map graphics. As I described earlier, the tile graphics do not make obvious the things that should be obvious. What is a road? What squares are buildings? Where am I not allowed to go? It took me a while to understand these tiles, which have a language all their own. The map tile art is consistently dark and murky, which further confounds the unclear tile problem. A severe graphic redesign of all the map tiles would solve the problem, but my love for Martians!!! is not strong enough to warrant my personal undertaking of such as task.

The black card and tile borders will show nicks and dings after even a few uses. If bent, the cards and boards will show a definite crease for life.

The toy factor of the game is greatly improved by the inclusion of six colorful yet frightened human player pawns, and one hundred Martians! Unlike Steve Jackson Games products, you feel like you got your money's worth of little green army men (from Mars). With three different poses, the Martian figures add a good deal of flair to the board's appearance. However, the bases of humans and martians alike were small, and I frequently tipped over the pawns on accident.

The tokens are 1970s wargame styled die-punched cardboard variety. There are more than enough Bullet and Life tokens, and you are unlikely to run out of them. (I left several bullets and lives unpunched.) However, the Item and crop circle tokens need some graphic improvement. The colors of the Item tokens are visible from the edge, and this makes it difficult to disguise the type of Item token for blind placement. As for the Crop Circle tokens, three of the four tokens are identical, while the mother ship token has one side with the flying saucer depicted on it. The first problem with the crop circles is obvious when you play one. The back is a very dark muted brown color that easily blends in against the dark muted brown map tiles. Thusly camouflaged, the crop circles are easy to overlook while glancing around the board. When checking the spawn points for vacancy, I trained myself to look for Farms rather than crop circles. The second problem is that the crop circle tokens are identical on both sides. There is no way to indicate the difference between an unexplored crop circle token, and one that had been revealed as not the mother ship. This issue led to questions of "has anyone been there yet", and I took to marking explored crop circles with a coin.

The rulebook, aside from needing the clarifications I've already discussed, is small and easy to digest in one sitting. However, I think it could be improved with the addition of more examples and illustrations, preferably in color. Also, I think the rulebook should have isolated the co-op game's rules as I have done in this review, instead of sprinkling them throughout the various sections. (A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game took my approach, and its rulebook is much easier to use.)

By the way, I wanted to discuss how this game is different from its sibling game Zombies!!!. Both combat and monster movement have remained unchanged. The biggest difference is with the endgame. Instead of finding the one helicopter, there are four crop circles to explore, three of which are red herrings. Also, I found the Zombies easy to avoid; they only showed up in named buildings. But the Martians are more numerous and meddling, occurring in nearly every street square. Another difference is that you need to find the three bomb ingredients. You need to spend more time scavenging the town looking for them, taking you toward the Martian hordes rather than allowing you to sidestep them. Martians!!! relies more on stealth and evasion rather than heavy combat, as told by the weapon selection. Chainsaws are out, caltrops and iPods are in. Another welcome difference is the spawn points. It keeps the flow of baddies going, making sure the board isn't too quiet and barren. In my opinion, Martians!!! is an improvement over the Zombies!!! formula, but not enough to persuade gamers who didn't like Zombies!!! in the first place to think otherwise.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Martians!!! is a lighthearted beer-and-pretzels game which captures the theme of invasions by saucer people from outer space. It's a theme heavy, luck driven game which gives you the chance to stab your buddy, or work together in co-op play. It won't tax your brain, but it will tax your table, and takes longer than your standard beer-and-pretzels fare. It is adequate out of the box, but with many rules clarifications, tweaks and graphic improvements, Martians!!! could shine.

(edited for spelling)
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Contemptus Mundi
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Bravo! Great review for people not familiar with this genre. Thanks for taking the time.

This one is going into my shopping cart... once I get approval from my better half!
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david karasick
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I do not know why I buy their games as the rules are always poorly written or explained. I played a 2 player game and it will take forever to kill 30 martians to win so you have to try and get the 3 different tokens and get to the mothership to win.I have sworn to never buy another Twilight Creations game again. And I'm sick of Aliens, Martians, and Zombies in games!
 
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Gordon Adams
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David, I second that

They are milking the cow dry angry

Regards.
 
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Sithrak - The god who hates you unconditionally
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Their games may not be the best, but they're a great source for cheap minis to use in other games, I welcome it.
 
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Peter
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Great review!!! I was just thinking, with all the exclamation points, the title makes it seem like anyone talking about Martians!!! is very excited about the game. Imagine Agricola!!! or Dominion!!! Boy, think about how much more popular those games would be. I'll have to do that with our next release.
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Johnny O aka Johnny Soul
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I'll just wait for the Bag 'o' Martians and get the minis.
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Tim Poulos
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Very nice and helpful review. If only the rules for Twilight Creations games were as well written.

I was hesitant to purchase this game as I've found the rules for Twilight Creations game, as they are right out of the box, to be incomplete. My first Twilight Creations purchase was the Zombies!!! game after it's 2nd Edition release. Even then I found myself having to find FAQ's and read through message board posts to get my questions answered. I also experienced the "not quite thought through" rules live while playing in the Humans!!! release events at GenCon last year, and those games were run by the Twilight Creations staff and their volunteers. I ended up buying the game based on the fact that we usually have fun when we break out Zombies!!! or Humans!!! and the Martian theme looked interesting, but I was (unfortunately) not surprised to be let down by the spotty rules yet again. shake
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Jacob Stauttener
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elfrododumbo wrote:

David, I second that :)

They are milking the cow dry :angry:

Regards.


I disagree. I never bought into the Zombie!! Games because of the theme, but I will likely buy this game. They are just expanding the same system to more tastes. That’s a good thing.
:)
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Eugene Loh
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cerulean wrote:

Also, I found the Zombies easy to avoid; they only showed up in named buildings.


Actually, I thought the rules state that zombies appear on the unnamed tiles too. One zombie for every exit the tile has. Which means, 2 zombies for a straight path, 3 zombies for a T-junction and 4 zombies for a crossroad. Maybe thats why you found the original Zombies too easy?
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Harvey O'Brien
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JohnnySchmaser wrote:
I was just thinking, with all the exclamation points, the title makes it seem like anyone talking about Martians!!! is very excited about the game. Imagine Agricola!!! or Dominion!!! Boy, think about how much more popular those games would be. I'll have to do that with our next release.


Or even, Hey!!! That's My Fish!!!
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Eugene Loh
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philomars wrote:
In martians, you fill EVERY available road square.


If you think there aren't enough zombies in Zombies, you could do that too. But its much easier to spawn zombies to mess with the other player characters with the cards provided if there are zombies NOT on the board or in the player's zombie pool, don't you think?
 
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Andrew Royal
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Elyt007 wrote:
cerulean wrote:

Also, I found the Zombies easy to avoid; they only showed up in named buildings.


Actually, I thought the rules state that zombies appear on the unnamed tiles too. One zombie for every exit the tile has. Which means, 2 zombies for a straight path, 3 zombies for a T-junction and 4 zombies for a crossroad. Maybe thats why you found the original Zombies too easy?


I was just thinking the same thing, Eugene.

I bought Martians!!! yesterday and found the rules easy to understand. I feel that every Twilight Creations product that I have read the rules for has been easy to unpack and play.

These are my opinions, but I felt the review was great overall and well written.
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Eugene Loh
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Now let us all wait for Zombies!!! vs Martians!!! The martians are trying to reach their UFO's first, while the zombies are trying to stop the martians from spawning. Hmm.
 
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Andrew Royal
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Elyt007 wrote:
Now let us all wait for Zombies!!! vs Martians!!! The martians are trying to reach their UFO's first, while the zombies are trying to stop the martians from spawning. Hmm.


AWESOME!!! That's a great idea. Or you could have Zombies trying to infect humans that are trying to blow up the mothership and/or escape by helicopter, while martians are trying to eliminate everyone. Wait, that's crazy talk.
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Tomas Inguanzo
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cerulean wrote:
The tokens are 1970s wargame styled die-punched cardboard variety.

But cardboard chit wargames are still in print! Are you suggesting that they are archaic?

cerulean wrote:
The second problem is that the crop circle tokens are identical on both sides. There is no way to indicate the difference between an unexplored crop circle token, and one that had been revealed as not the mother ship. This issue led to questions of "has anyone been there yet",

Personally, I would count that as part of the challenge. You said yourself that the game too was easy to beat.
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