Space Alert

Last night, myself and the rest of the rookie crew of the Sitting Duck-class scout ship OMG Help completed our training regime and are now prepared (so they tell us) to face the great unknown as we chart the unmapped sectors of the galaxy.

Space Alert is unlike many other boardgames in a number of ways.  Firstly, it’s a cooperative game where you all work together attempting to fight off (or at least survive!) the threats that your little ship encounters on its mission to map the galaxy.  There is no single winner or loser – you either all win, or you all died horribly.

Secondly, the game follows a script – either by playing a mission track from the provided audio CDs (also available as mp3 downloads from the publisher) or a player opts to sit out and take the role of ship’s computer to read from a mission card at timed intervals.  Despite the scripting, the missions themselves are quite random as they simply tell you when and where a threat will appear and the threat itself gets drawn randomly from a deck of cards.  Similarly the location of the threat includes a randomiser for each mission, determining how quickly a threat will close with your ship and what actions it might take on its approach.

Finally, while the ship’s computer is warning you about what’s going on, you won’t actually know whether you will survive or not until after everything is over.  Each mission is divided up into three phases (two, for the beginning training missions) and each phase has a number of actions that can be performed from your limited pool of action cards.  Action cards let you move about the ship, or activate certain functions within the ship – guns, shields, power generation, etc.

Each phase is only open for a limited time and while it is, you may plan your actions in that phase, swapping cards around as often as you like as you work together and discuss who is moving where to deal with what and when.  Turn order is important to take into account when coordinating as most things on the ship use energy, for example there’s no point trying to shoot the guns if there’s no energy to power them and the crew member in the generator room comes after you.  Once a phase is closed you can no longer play cards in that phase, you add the action cards for the new phase to your hand and can proceed to play cards for those turns (you can also individually and voluntarily chose to end a phase early).

It’s important to note that during this planning part of the game, nothing is being resolved – indeed, new threats may still be arriving.  It’s not until the ship’s computer informs you that the mission is over that you start to determine what actually happened.

This part of the game is much more sedate.  Turn by turn, step by step, you work through any arriving threats, the planned actions of the players, and the movement and actions of any active threats.  If the crew planned well, the ship survives to make it home.  If not, well, the black box will hyperspace jump back to Earth, so at least your employers will know what went wrong.