Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space
Santa Ragione group
So, what’s this game about then?
First published: 2010
Publishers: Cranio Creations
Length: 30-45 minutes
One of my favourite films of all time is Alien. Not the James Cameron sequel with the slightly ridiculous quotes and whiny marine Hudson that everyone else seems to prefer. I love the original where an entire hour is spent without any aliens at all, just building character and slow burning a claustrophobic atmosphere. I love the helplessness of the shipmates and how undefeatable and machine-like the alien itself is.
So, when I first heard about Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space (henceforth known as EFTAIOS, or Escape, or basically ANYTHING shorter) I took instant interest. A bunch of Italian lads had gotten together to make a game about hapless, defenceless crew legging it to escape hatches while faster, more powerful aliens prowl the ship, lurking around every corner and leaping out on the fleeing crewmates.
Even better, they also decided to steer clear of the usual approach to graphics that such games have – aliens in all their frightening glory, crewmates in spangly uniforms and modern / retro-futuristic designs and corridors. Instead, Escape has upped the feeling of claustrophobia and the unknown by sticking with cards that consist of huge swathes of unapologetic black, with shadowy splashes of one stark colour that hint at what the card stands for.
The secret crew cards: Blue means time to run. Red means….well it’s already too late for you, so make the most of it and get killing.
The art really adds to the feel of the game and is probably the greatest strength. Even the box cover screams minimalism, except for the different textured black which shows an alien-possessed crewmate if you look at it from the right angle. Classy. Brilliant and bold.
What some people may be disappointed about though are the ship maps themselves. EsFrThAlInOuSp has paper maps which you write on with the mini golf/Ikea pencils provided and discard after use. There are copies of the maps available to print from the game’s website , but some people will no doubt have preferred another solution and not be happy with the “play and throw away” maps. Now, I can see their point – after all, with such striking card graphics, to resort to writing on paper maps with pencils may seem a little disappointing. However, the fonts and graphical ship representations are very much in keeping with the theme and I’ve tried to think of another solution where each player could secretly track their movements. All I could come up with was a ridiculously expensive eight copies of each ship (3 different ships meaning 24 individual player boards) and little tiles and chips to keep track of movement. Add to that small player screens and suddenly a cool little game is suddenly twice as expensive.
Paper?! PAPER?! *nerd rage*
Outside of the “serious” board game hobby, people are happy to track scores on throwaway sheets for Yahtzee, write answers for Balderdash or check off murder weapons in Cluedo and I think this was the best solution for …Outer Space. Maybe it would have been nice to have a few extra map sheets included though as the paper is nice and shiny.
So, the game looks good but how does it play? Well once you’ve chosen your spaceship (different sizes offer slightly different levels of claustrophobia) and secretly dealt out “goodie” and “baddie” cards to everyone, play progresses thus:
- On your turn you move (one sector if human, up to two if alien) and make a note of it on your sheet.
- If you end your movement in a “secure” (i.e. white) sector, your turn is over.
- If you end your movement in a “dangerous” (grey) sector you draw a card. These cards can either be “noise in your sector” (you MUST announce your current co-ordinates), “nose in any sector” (you can announce that you are in any sector, even one you aren’t in), or “silence” (you don’t have to say anything).
- These cards are never revealed to anyone so no-one else will know if you’re being truthful or lying about where you are).
- If an alien player thinks they’ve finished their turn in a sector with another player they can announce an attack. Any other player in that sector is instantly killed and eliminated, human OR alien).
- Next player’s turn.
Keeping track of your movement and the suspicious movements of others
When a human reaches an escape hatch they leave the ship and win the game. If no humans can escape before being eliminated then the aliens win. If no-one escapes before the 39th round then the aliens win.
So, the rules are pretty simple, so as usual, the wrinkles must come in the actual strategy. No-one knows who the other people are and so the only clue as the game gets going is that the aliens move faster. So, do the alien players take advantage of this to close in quickly on where they think the humans are, or do they play it slowly and try and appear harmless while closing in on their prey? When they do finally pounce it will give away their role as alien and what if they actually killed a fellow alien, making their chances of victory less?! There’s a lot of dangerous sectors on the map so do players edge around slowly, sticking as much as possible to the safe sectors or do they take the quicker route and have to keep shouting out their position….and if they do, when they can lie do they give believable lies or tell everyone that they’re on the other side of the ship?
Patterns of movement will form as you play and track each other and tensions will rise as the game continues…Well, except for those eliminated.
…and herein lies the main problem. In my first play of this game, a human got gobbled up just a few turns in and had to sit out for the remaining 30+ minutes of the game. My wife got chomped and went off to do some much-needed washing up. For those involved to the end (or at least near the end) it was tense and exciting, but with such games there is always going to be the problem of player elimination…after all, the aliens are eating the humans (and each other!)
There are a number of premade scenarios, however, and offer options. “Infection” means that no players are killed, just infected and become aliens too, upping the terror. This is a great addition that helps to fix that problem. There is also an advanced game where if the alien kills a human then their maximum speed increases by 1 for the rest of the game, but also adds in item cards for the humans to take, allowing them to fight back, teleport, defend themselves and get a burst of adrenaline, among others. This, the scenarios and the various ship maps all add to the replay value of the game.
Finally the humans can fight back!
So, to sum up, I think EsAliSpace is an atmospheric game that tells a great story. Playing as many as eight is a real bonus but I wouldn’t want to play it with 2-3 even though it says you can. The player elimination is a bummer although the scenarios are there to prevent that and to balance things more to the aliens or humans as you see fit.
Overall it is well worth a try. It’s pretty easy to explain and doesn’t take too long.
- Evocative and atmospheric
- Excellent graphical design
- Can take up to 8 players with a variety of ships and scenarios
- There’s player elimination and you could get killed quickly
- Some folk won’t be happy with the paper maps and the cards aren’t particularly hard-wearing.