So, about a month ago, I got an email from one of my wonderful readers. The email was pretty simple - just asking for me to review Space Alert. Well, I had coincidentally just acquired a copy of the game the weekend before, and so I did my best to get the review turned around in a timely manner. In fact, I'm posting it approximately one month after the request (having never played the game when she asked)! Yes, I'm quite proud of myself (and am now verbally patting myself on the back). Hopefully, that person is still reading my blog!
In Space Alert, your crew is taking your ship out to explore uncharted sectors of space. Unfortunately, (as when Q sent the Enterprise to unexplored space and they encountered the Borg in Star Trek), you have no idea what you will encounter. Even more unfortunately, encountering friendly aliens that want to help you can make for a good TV show, but makes for a lousy game - and so, everything you encounter is trying to kill you. Space Alert plays very differently than most games. After setting up the game, you play a 10 minute sound clip, and (as a team) you plan all of your actions during those 10 minutes. During the track, you will be setting up your actions to determine what your character will be doing on the ship - moving, firing lasers and rockets, charging shields, recharging energy supplies, fighting intruders, and more. Once the track is complete, you resolve all of the actions that you planned, and you see if your ship survived. If so, great! You win. If not.... well.... good thing it's a game.
The first pro that I have for Space Alert is that it is a very innovative game. You very rarely have a game that comes with some kind of media interaction (well, unless you play video games). The last game that I can remember doing something like this is the old Star Trek Interactive VCR game that I had as a child. Fortunately, the creators of Space Alert planned ahead a bit more than the Star Trek creators - they provide several different ways to play the tracks. You can use the CDs that are provided, download mp3 tracks to use on an iPod, or (if desperate) even have a person with a timer read aloud what happens. And, unlike my Star Trek VCR game, though there are only a few different tracks (around 8 I think), the tracks don't limit the replayability. Instead, the track will call out that a threat is appearing and coming towards a certain part of your ship - but the replayability lies in the different threats that might appear. There are several different threats provided, and there are even different difficulties of threat, so the game will stay fresh for quite a while.
|You must protect this ship!|
The third thing that I will mention as a pro for Space Alert is that you do not have to do all of this coordination blindly. I was very concerned when I first heard about Space Alert, because I thought it would be way too much like Robo Rally or Epigo. In fact, they share a core mechanic - you program in all of your moves and then afterwards you execute them. However, in Space Alert, you are allowed to (encouraged to) move pieces around on the board. Also, you setup your actions during three different phases. What worked very well when I played was for us to setup the board and move things around so that we would know what the game setup should be at the beginning of each of these phases. This doesn't handle all of the coordination (there will still be lots of questions like, "what step are you charging the energy in, again?"), but it really, really helps. I probably wouldn't play the game if you just had to remember where you are and what the state of everything is while hoping for the best. In fact, there is even a rule called "tripping" that helps people like me - if you screw up and place a card the wrong way (or place the wrong card), then you can "trip" and do what you intended, but you are penalized by delaying your future actions (shifting them down the action track). This can be really important if you place an order incorrectly really early in the game (and so you wind up in the wrong room... for the rest of the game). And, let's just be clear - this will happen at some point. It happened to me, and I'm sure that I'm not the first one to have this happen (or else the rule wouldn't be there).
|He's not "friendly."|
I guess the main thing that I don't like about the game is how much one small error can have epic consequences. I realize that this is part of the game, and that's why I didn't even bother using the term "con." It's simply something that I'm not a fan of. Yes, the trip rule helps with this quite a bit, but you can still be completely obliterated if you are in the wrong place because you didn't coordinate correctly. Really, I'm even fine with that. I think that I ultimately dislike that getting yourself in the wrong position very early in the game can cause the rest of the game to go poorly, because the game never resets itself. This is a minor thing, but it was the biggest negative that came to mind.
Overall, I give Space Alert an 8.5/10. Like Wok Star, it's not a game that I'm going to want to play 5-7 times in a row. It's going to be more of a game that I think, "ok, that was fun; now what are we playing?" Note - I did say that it is fun. But, the frantic pace and the soundtrack will prevent me from wanting to play it for hours at a time.
For a second opinion, you might want to read this Space Alert Review on Play Board Games. Or, if you want to check out more cooperative games, you might also read my reviews of Wok Star (which I just mentioned), Shadows Over Camelot, and Legend of Drizzt.