Another guest review! This time Ben Douglas steps up to tackle Vlaada Chvatil’s co-operative festival of insanity, Space Alert. So what does he reckon…?
And so it begins. 10 minutes of chaos, panic, running around, pushing buttons, shooting baddies, activating force fields, failing to activate force fields because your dumbass shipmate forgot to re fuel the nuclear reactor, shouting at each other, chaos, panic, failing to shoot baddies because your dumbass shipmate [that’s me! – Michael] forgot to wiggle the mouse on the main computer which had locked up due to the screen saver, chaos, shouting, panic, watching your inevitable demise unfold before your very eyes, weeping, death. Space Alert is a brilliantly fun and completely unforgettable experience.
[Sirens Blare – A cold emotionless robot voice crackles over your speakers]
“Enemy activity detected…Please begin 1st phase…”
Ok, ok, ok. Let’s make sense of this game quickly. The four of us sat around the table don’t want to die in the next 10 minutes. The spaceship we are trying to save is in the middle of the table. Our spaceman figurines are in the bridge and there are various green cubes around to represent energy. The spaceship is split into three sections; red on the left, white in the middle and blue on the right. Thank Zorg I don’t have to remember which way is port and which way is starboard. I would be frakked otherwise. Each section has an upstairs and a down stairs so with only six rooms overall, navigating myself round the ship should be easy enough…
In front of me I have my own board and a hand of cards. The board has the numbers 1-12 on them. These numbers represent the 12 actions I will choose during the next 10 minutes. The cards represent these actions. They allow me to move towards the blue side, towards the red side, use the lifts between floors or press a button (A/B/C). Throughout the game I will place them face down on the numbered board in front of me to build a sequence of where I will be running and the buttons I will be bashing.
“Time T+1. Threat. Zone Blue. Repeat. Time T+1. Threat. Zone Blue.”
That robot voice has announced a threat in zone blue. My friend flips over the top card and places it next to the blue zone. It looks nasty. So I place 2 cards down in order so that first I move to blue side and then press the “A” button, which is the button for “suck on this big fat laser you alien scum”. Good. I feel I have been productive.
When I announce my accomplishments the captain sighs. Jimbo has already done that and said so out loud and if I had listened I wouldn’t have just wasted the last 30 seconds so how about I keep my ears open and do something useful next time. Why am I even playing with this douchebag?
“Time T+2. Threat. Zone White. Repeat. Time T+2. Threat. Zone White.”
Now there is another threat to deal with. Again someone has already shotgunned shooting it out of the sky. So I pick up the cards I had laid down and replace them with actions that move me downstairs and press the “B” button, which adds a plutonium rod to the reactor so that the guns don’t run out of juice. After I say I have done this I get a warm “good thinking” from everyone. Awww, how nice. It would be useful to have some more of those “B” action cards just in case I need to do that again.
“Data transfer. Data transfer in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”
I need a “B”! Has anyone got a “B”? Please? When the robot comes out with “Data Transfer” we can swap a card with each other. I manage to bag some more “B” cards. I decide I will run around the bottom keeping our energy supply solid. Let’s hope everyone else does his or her job properly so we survive this ordeal…
“Time T+4. Threat. Zone Red. Repeat. Time T+4. Threat. Zone Red.“
And so it continues. And if you are wondering, everyone else probably didn’t do his or her job properly and you probably didn’t survive the ordeal.
Vlaada Chvatil’s co-operative survival game that was first published in 2008. It comes with a CD of soundtracks of the robot voice dictating various scenarios in a lovely monotone, announcing the threats coming your way and keeping the games rattling along whilst adding a touch of HAL 9000 creepiness to the experience. The scenarios are built randomly so there is plenty of replayability, and Vlaada has successfully used a timed mechanic before in Galaxy Trucker. The series of decisions you make throughout Space Alert are actually simple – move, push button, move again, push different button – and it is not too difficult a game to get your head around (although super-lite gamers may feel a bit of information overload). But as soon as the timer starts, your heart moves up a gear and suddenly the pressure makes everything seem far more complicated.
On top of that, the co-operative element makes these seemingly simple decisions a nightmare. There is no point pulling the trigger on that gun or activating that shield unless your friend has kept the energy supply going. And your friend can’t do that unless someone else has put another rod in the nuclear reactor. And none of you can do any of that if someone hasn’t wiggled the mouse in the bridge to prevent the main computer freezing up on a screensaver. Don’t even bother trying to use the lifts at the same time as your pal, either. One of you will be forced to use the ladder, which knocks all your carefully planned actions out of sequence. Which of course then means EVERYONE’S plans are scuppered.
Overall this game is a rollercoaster. Your plans are not supposed to come to fruition. And that is the fun of it. If they do you’ve been incredibly lucky. Or your team is full of super intelligent humans-robots with nerves of steel. But you will play this game and almost be disappointed if you win with ease.
So the questions are always: do you need to try this game? And do you need to buy this game? A definite Yes! to the former question. The steep price tag may put you off buying it but it is a co-operative game, so if you have a gaming group and no one owns it yet, do yourself a favour and take one for the team. Buy it so you can all panic and stress and have fun together.
Space Alert was first released back in 2008 and is a Vlaada Chvatil design produced by CGE. Between one and five can attempt to save your ship (and believe me, most of the time you won’t!) – should you want a copy, check out Gameslore. They can sort you out a copy for a bargain £40.99 with the New Frontier expansion coming in at £20.49. To infinity… and your tabletop!