Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review: Invasion from Outer Space

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, I am a fan of old school alien invasion movies, and although I'm not a real big circus fan, I actually really do like old-school carnies. Finally, I'm a fan of Last Night on Earth and have reviewed that before.


The Overview:


The subtle box cover artwork. It's not like they just jumbled together a bunch of in-game artwork and put it collage style on the cover... oh, wait. 


Invasion from Outer Space is a sci-fi game which divides the players into teams to play out a survival story set in the vein of an old B-movie. One side controls the Heroes, who in this case are all members of a circus. The other side controls the methodical hordes of Martians, bent on wiping out any resistance and taking over the earth. In each game, a scenario is chosen which defines each side's victory conditions and any special rules in the game, including how many Turns are in the game.

The game is for 2-6 player and plays in about 60-90 minutes. Early (or lucky) victory conditions can end a game even earlier, though most games will likely hit the 60 minute mark. More players do not mean more turns, as the number of Heroes is set at four, but more players may mean more time taken strategizing and discussing plans with one another and increase time because of that.

The game set up begins with building the modular board. A large "Big Top" start square is placed and four L-shaped additions are placed around the center square to expand the board outwards. These modular pieces are chosen at random. A Scenario is drawn or chosen, which sets any special rules for the game and also gives the specific victory conditions for both sides.

The Hero player (or players) draws their Hero characters and places them in their start building. There will always be four Hero characters in a game, so they are divided among the Hero players. The Martian players then set up and begin with 2d6 Martian figures on the board which are placed on the Landing Sites on each L-shaped board.

From there, each Round is broken into two turns, a Martian Turn and then a Hero Turn.

The Martian Turn starts on a Turn number set by the Scenario. At the start of the turn, the Martian player moves the Turn marker down one space on the Invasion Track. If none of the victory conditions are met beforehand, the game ends when the Marker reaches the end of the Invasion Track, so it acts like a game timer.

The Martian Player then draws 2 cards into their hand. There is a 6-card hand limit for the Martian player, however, he can discard one card before drawing. These cards are Events and Technology cards that can be played during the game to help the Martian player(s).

The Martian player then rolls for reinforcements on 2d6. If the roll is higher than the number of Martian groups (not figures) on the board, then they will get an additional 1d6 Martian figures to place at the end of their Turn.

The Command Phase is next and the Martian player places 2 Command Points on different sections on the Command Console. This gives the Martian player a few options. Points can be spent to draw more Martian Cards, to move the spawn points for the Martian figures on the board, to immediately place more Martian figures on the board, or to build a Martian Tech or Call a Martian Champion. Martian Techs are placed by playing a Martian Tech card from your hand. Once the required number of Command Points are on the card, it can be brought into play. Martian Champions are brought into play in a similar fashion, but they are always available and do not require a card to play first.

The Martians then move. Each Martian may move one space, however, if a Martian figure is in the same space as a Hero figure, they cannot move out of that space. Up to three Martians may be on one space at a time. When three Martians are in a space together, it is considered a full Martian Pack, and they get bonuses in the next Phases.

Next, the Martians perform their Ray Gun Attacks. Each Martian figure adjacent to a Hero figure may fire their ray guns at them. Each Martian rolls 1d6 and hits on a 5 or a 6. However, if it is part of a full Martian Pack, each of the three Martians will hit with their ray gun on a 4, 5, or 6. Any hit on a Hero will equal one wound, unless they successfully Dodge the attack. Each Hero has an agility rating and they roll one die for each hit. If they roll equal to or above their agility, they ignore the wound as the ray gun blast missed.

Martians in the same space as a Hero then have to fight hand-to-hand with the Hero. Combats are very easy to resolve. The Martian player rolls one die for each Martian figure in the space and a Hero character rolls two dice. Both sides roll and choose their highest single die result. If the Martians have the highest roll, the Hero takes one damage. If the Heroes have the highest roll, the Martians take one damage (each Martian figure has one health, so one damage would kill one figure). If it is a tie, neither side does any damage.

The Martian player then adds any figures spawned from their earlier Reinforcement Roll and play passes to the Hero players.

The four Heroes can take their turn in any order, but each must finish his or her move before the next Hero can act. It starts with their Move Action. The Hero rolls a green six-sided die and a white six-sided die. If the green die is a 5 or a 6, they receive a Power Token (they can only have up to 3 at a time). Power Tokens can be spent to activate some of the Hero's special abilities or some actions on the board or from cards. The white six-sided die dictates their movement and they may move that many spaces, though they cannot move through walls and must immediately end their movement if they go through a space with one or more Martians in it. After rolling, but before moving, if the Hero is inside of a building, they can opt not to move and instead Search. Searching lets the Hero draw the top card from the Hero Deck. If it is an Event, they place it in their hand to use later. If it is an Item or Weapon, they place it next to their Character Card face up. Each Hero can carry 2 weapons and 2 items. If they draw any more, they need to either discard the card they drew or one of their current items to carry the new one. Certain buildings have special actions available when Searched, and the Hero can draw a specific item, if that item is in the Discard Pile.

Heroes may then Exchange Items with any other Heroes that are in the same space with them.

Heroes then may make a Ranged Attack if they have an Item which allows them to. The Item lists the range of spaces and the Hero can attack a zombie in that range. The Item lists what needs to be rolled to see if the Martian is hit and the effects of it. Most Items then specify if another roll needs to be made after the attack, whether successful or not, to see if the Item is out of ammo and is then discarded.

Finally, any Heroes who end their turn in the same space as one or more Martians must fight them hand to hand. This is resolved the same way as the Martian fights.

This continues until either the Invasion Tracker runs out, signifying that there are no more Rounds left, or one of the sides have met all of their objectives listed on the Scenario.


The Theme:

Invasion from Outer Space is a sort of homage to B-movie Martian invasion flicks. However, the theme is a little jarred because instead of landing in an old military base, or a small town, or something similar, the Martians instead have landed and invaded where a circus just happens to be set up. So instead of the B-movie Mars attacks clichés such as the gruff military commander, the ruggedly handsome scientist and the glasses wearing female lab assistant who secretly lusts after the scientist, we instead end up with the Bearded Lady, the Human Cannonball and a Dancing Bear. Don't get me wrong, I love carnies, but it just seems like a random match-up. Another bit of seemingly random weirdness is that Cabbage equipment cards are used to heal the Hero character's wounds.

It's almost like Flying Frog was looking for investors in their next board game product and Ringling Brothers and the Cabbage Growers Association fronted them a lot of cash for the project, so they felt obliged to include those elements into a pre-conceived Martians attack game.

I suppose the Carnie characters are interesting and quirky, but ultimately feel like it is quirky for the sake of quirk than actual theme. In that regard, it takes me a little out of the B-movie cliché feel. Also, IfOS has one of the same minor issues as LNoE, which is that the Martians role (like the Zombies roll in the other game) has more of a "dungeon master" type of feel to it. You are a vital role, but really you are telling the story of the Heroes, doomed or successful. I don't mind this, but some people may feel like it doesn't have enough "meat" to this side of game.

However, if you do have LNoE, there are rules for how to cross-over the settings and you can have the Martians invade the small town from that setting instead. This may actually feel a little more like a schlocky B-movie in theme.


Learning the Game:

The game's rules are presented in a full color, 32 page rule booklet of large type interspersed with a number of pictures and examples. In fact, five of the pages in the booklet are about combining LNoE and IfOS elements together. The game also breaks rules into a Basic Game and an Advanced Game. However, the advanced game elements are not many or too difficult that it really should have just been all listed together as a singular set of game rules. If nothing else, it would make looking up rules easier as you didn't have to search through two sections of rules to try to find your answer.

The game is really easy to learn and it can easily be used as a gateway game. However, Last Night on Earth is a more general theme for non-gamers to understand and relate to. Everyone knows zombies and townies from a small town trying to survive is easily relatable. However, with Invasion from Outer Space the Martian element is universal, but the carnies are a little more difficult for some to get into. Again, it really is marrying two themes in an attempt to make it quirky, which succeeds on that level, but detracts a bit from over-all B-movie theme.


The Components:


A set up board with the big top center piece. 



One of the Martian cards. 




JoJo the Dancing Bear's character card. Character like this are kind of awesome and cool and JoJo really is the cool factor for the Heroes. However, it is quirk for quirk's sake.




The Hero figures. 




Some of the Martian figures out on the board. Notice the helmets on the Martians. .



The components of the game are, like most Flying Frog games, well-produced and sturdy. They are of the same quality as Last Night on Earth's components. The Scenario and Hero Character sheets are all printed on thick cardboard. It uses the same modified photographic art style as Last Night on Earth which seems to be either hit or miss by personal taste. I happen to enjoy it, but I understand that not everyone does.

The figures are really well-produced and look nice, even without painting them. The only problem with the figures is that the Martian figures need their helmets glued onto them. This shouldn't be a problem for most people, but if you are really bad with glue, you may end up with some figures that look a bit worse for trying to put the helmets on them.

The game's cards have the same problem as LNoE's cards; they are too thick of a stock with too much gloss on them. This really makes it difficult to shuffle the cards.

Also, my copy of the game's map boards are warped a bit, which means that they do not lay flat on the table when the map is assembled. It isn't terrible and it is completely playable, but just minorly annoying. I suspect that this isn't an ongoing problem, however, and may just be an issue with my copy. LNoE's run uses the same kind of boards and I never had a problem with any of those.


Playing the Game:

Game play is simple and the game is easily picked up and learned; even more so if you have played Last Night on Earth since it is a retread of that game's mechanics. Strategies are fairly obvious by each scenario.

Randomness (or luck, for players who think that their own personal being directly affects die-rolls and card draws) is a big factor in the game. Personally, I don't mind it, but if that kind of things turns you off from a game, then that is something to consider here.

Now, I really do enjoy Last Night on Earth and all of its supplements have really made for a diverse and interesting beer and pretzels game to play. Thus, I was very excited to hear about Invasion from Outer Space and definitely stood out as a must-have title for me.

The game play is very much like LNoE and I expected that going into it. They did fix a couple of minor things with LNoE, but at the same time, repeated many of that games larger flaws.

First of all, the Command Console for the Martian player adds a little bit more to the Martian player's turn. In LNoE, the Zombie player's role had fewer decisions and it really was just the Hero's game. Here, however, they have started to build more decision processes into the Martian game, which is a welcome addition to the experience. It isn't anything major, but it does add a little more depth to the turn.

However, what the game failed to do was to fix a couple of the largest flaws from LNoE: Scenario Search items and running out of cards in the Hero deck as a Zombie win condition and having cards to reflect that.

Some Scenarios require that the Heroes find specific items or cards by Searching. Because it is possible that all of those cards are at the bottom of the deck, there are also cards that let you search the deck to find the items that you need. It is a clumsy mechanic. However, as it stands now, it sort of works well enough and it changes the game from being a simple Martian vs. Carnie deathmatch. This is despite the fact that we played the "Shoot Them Out of the Sky" Scenario where the Heroes needed to fire the cannons, but all but one of those cards were at the bottom of the deck, including all but one of the search for a card of your choice. That will happen from time to time, and we're experienced enough to shrug it off from a beer and pretzels game, but it is a factor. However, I am assuming that, like LNoE, this game will have its share of expansions. This adds more cards to the mix and makes this already delicate card searching mechanic even more fragile. For example, if an expansion wanted to add 30 new cards to the deck, it would probably have to add 30 cards, plus at least 3 more cards to allow you to search the deck for an item you needed. It just really messes with the chances of drawing something you need and it is just a clumsy mechanic.

Possible expansions also means another mechanic is in jeopardy; right now if the Heroes run out of Hero Cards, they automatically lose. Presently, the Hero deck consists of 60 cards, so it is possible that they may run through the deck. The Martian player has cards that forces the Heroes to discard cards from the top of their deck. This is a risky move as is, because if you force the Heroes to run out of cards, you win. However, the Heroes can go to location to pick up cards in the discard pile, so you are making more things available to them in the process. Presently, that's a fair trade off in a 60-card deck. However, with all of its expansions, LNoE now has 113 Hero Cards in it. So, if IfOS starts to get more cards, it will run into the same problem. It stops becoming feasible to make the Hero deck run out of cards, but each time you draw one of those events, you still end up making more cards available to draw in the locations for the Hero player.

Finally, LNoE required that a Hero player needed to roll doubles to kill a Zombie. In IfOS, the Hero needs to simply roll higher. Some characters have powers that allow them to roll an extra fight die, while others have powers that let them re-roll one of their fight dice. Since doubles are no longer necessary to kill an enemy, these abilities have essentially the same effect, so the Hero powers end up being not so different from one another as they might originally have seemed.


Scalability:

The game plays from 2 to 6 players, but it definitely has its sweet spots in my opinion. I think the Martian plays better with a single player controlling all of them. I think then it breaks down to being best with 2, 3 or 5 players, since it just comes down to how to break up the Hero characters. However, I do think that the included flexibility of the Martian player does make it more appealing in this game to play 2 Martian players than it did to play 2 Zombie player in LNoE.

Also, if you own both this game and LNoE, there are rules to include up to 8 players in a Zombies vs. Martians vs. Heroes game. Currently there are not real scenarios for it other than just a three-sided battle royal going for number of kills.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She's a big fan of LNoE and I thought that this would be a no-brainer for us to include in our weekday evening game nights. And it was and it will slip into our rotation, however, she was a little put off by the carnies. I know I mentioned the circus theme to her once when the game was first announced, but afterward, it slipped her mind. And I can understand that. The game is Invasion from Outer Space: the Martian Game. Everything in the title defines one side of the game. It isn't called Invading a Circus: the Martian Game or Invasion from Outer Space: The Carnival Defense Game or Martians vs. Carnies: The Game of Randomly Determined Opponents.

Still, after playing it, she liked it. But the characters don't have the same story and feel that the small town folk do. My wife likes to play LNoE with her Heroes and they have backstories of who likes who and certain characters end up risking themselves to save others because of some inner story played out in her head. In this, it's just a bunch of carnies. I have a feeling that we'll probably end up having the Martians invade the Small Town from LNoE eventually and she'll have more fun with that.


The Pros:

*A light fun game that tries to give a B-movie science fiction feel.
*Excellent components and figures.
*Good gateway game potential.
*Plays in 60-90 minutes.
*Easily expandable.
*A very noticeable lack of clowns.
*Increased play options to the Martian game (as opposed to fewer options in the Zombie game in LNoE).
*The draw of playing a three-way slugfest between Martians, Zombies and Heroes is very fun.
*JoJo the Dancing Bear does not have a sex listed among its traits. (This means that if you are playing a cross-over game, you do not have to worry about someone playing "It May Be Out Last Night..." on one of the Heroes and JoJo.)


The Cons:

*Two Martian Players is less appealing than one, especially when your figures are locked in shared Martian Packs.
*Randomness effects the game from roll and move to card draws.
*Only five Scenarios (and one is just a basic slugfest) seems a little light until expansions can round it out.
*A very noticeable lack of clowns.
*Did not correct some of the flaws of the LNoE engine, which would especially stand out if the game is expanded with more cards.
*The mismatched theme is neat and quirky, but ultimately feels a little forced and less like the clichéd B-movies the game is invoking.
*JoJo the Dancing Bear does not have a sex listed among its traits. (This means that if you are into that kind of thing and are playing a cross-over game, no one can play "It May Be Out Last Night..." on one of the Heroes and JoJo.)


Overall:

Invasion from Outer Space is a beer and pretzels, random slugfest game telling a story in the vein of old B-movie science fiction flicks. The carnival angle is interesting, but detracts a little from other story telling possibilities that could have been presented, but despite the forced quirkiness, it in no way hampers the fun of the game. In fact, probably to most players, the carnie aspect is one that is easily embraced since the game is not taking itself too seriously. It uses the LNoE game engine and really is just a retheming of that game, which is good in the respect that it is a fun, light system. However, they did not fix some of the flaws of the system in making this version, which is a shame. It is fun and quirky and will have some shelf-life, but ultimately I think that LNoE will end up having more staying power by better incorporating an more classic B-movie thematic elements together than IfOS did.


6.5/10

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