“It’s very simple. The ship basically flies itself. Nothing could possibly go wrong. But in the very unlikely event that it does…” So begins every mission briefing for a game of Space Alert, one of the most stressful tabletop games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. We were all old hands at it, so after a brief review of the rules for the advanced game, we were off on our ten minute voyage that should have been a piece of cake….
And three games later, we still hadn’t won.
Space Alert is a 2008 game by Vlaada Chvátil. You may have seen me post about his game Codenames in the past, which has been spreading through my social circles like a flu. Or a wildfire. Or something else that spreads rapidly. If you’re active on Board Game Geek and haven’t heard of this game, you’ve been living under a board game rock. Just yesterday a friend I introduced it to earlier this month told me he and his wife liked it so much they went out to Target and bought their own copy, then introduced it to another couple who liked it so much that they bought it online before they were even finished with their first game!
But Space Alert is a different sort of game. It’s a timed cooperative game where you and up to four friends try to coordinate your actions so that all the lasers fire when they’re supposed to, all the batteries are recharged in time to power the lasers and shields, all the battlebots are discharged to the proper rooms to fight off invaders, and oh yeah, someone needs to wiggle the mouse so the computer doesn’t go into sleep mode again and doom us all. It’s chaotic and frantic, and inevitably something will happen to put a wrench in your otherwise perfect planning. Like, someone hits the A button (which fires a laser) on turn four when they were supposed to hit C (which recharges a battery). Or two people try to go down the elevator in the red zone at the same time, jamming it and thus delaying one person’s remaining actions by a turn. It’s hilarious, and frustrating, and perfect with the right group of people who like that sort of stuff (and who don’t lose their cool when things don’t go according to plan).
Each game is randomized and narrated using a downloadable mobile app, and adding to the chaos was the fact that the other half of our gaming group decided to simultaneously play Fuse, a game that is also timed using a mobile app. It meant that the first hour of games night was pretty loud as the two groups attempted to hear their respective apps without yelling over one another. The restaurant must really like us if they’re willing to put up with us each week!
When we were tired of losing at Space Alert, we moved on to an even sillier game R. brought with him called Aye, Dark Overlord. Imagine Once Upon a Time, but with inept minions. One person plays the Dark Overlord, who sets the scene by playing a series of card and using them to describe a mission he sent his minions on. The rest of the players are said minions, and spend the rest of the game giving excuses to the Dark Overlord for why it wasn’t their fault that they failed at said mission, and then shifting the blame to another player.
I’m not sure whether the rules are bad or the rules-explainer was bad, but none of us ever felt like we had a firm grasp on how the game was meant to be played. So by the end, we just gave up on using the official rules and played as we saw fit, using the cards to craft amusing stories about failure and blame-shifting. Plans to fetch bottles of Scotch were foiled by tornadoes and walls and sea monsters, plans to bring a magical sword to an assassin failed because the assassin was actually on a floating city, and plans to retrieve parchment from a frozen mummy princess went awry due to a lack of proper winter clothing.
Finally, we finished off the evening with a game of Dixit, which I actually won for a change. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. And thus ended a nice light evening of gaming, which was a relief before a con weekend. I will probably not get another chance to post until Monday, so enjoy your weekend! Play some games!