Space Alert Review

Space Alert setup to play

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.

Space Alert board
You must protect this ship!
The second thing that I like about Space Alert is that it is a cooperative game that really requires cooperation!  I have played a lot of cooperative games - I really like them.  However, people are always quick to point out that you can really play any of them solo.  Though I do not prefer that, I can understand this argument.  You can also run into issues where one person bosses everyone else around and ruins the fun for everyone.  Space Alert avoids these issues.  There is simply too much going on for one player to run the game for everyone else.  If each player isn't paying attention to what's going on and coordinating with all of the other players, then the mission will quite possibly be doomed.  Lack of communication can cause critical issues - such as a player shooting a laser that doesn't have enough energy to actually fire, because another player already used their energy (or failed to charge it as they were supposed to).  You can also get in each other's way on the elevators.  Or you can redundantly attack the same threat while a different threat is left unimpaired.  Or not realize that another player expected you to coordinate an attack.  (Or.... or... or...)  Coordination is critical in this game.

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).

Juggernaut from Space Alert board game
He's not "friendly."
Now, here's the big thing to talk about.  The CD.  Yes, I said that it is innovative (though "unique" and "uncommon" might be better words).  Some people will think that this is amazing.  Some people will absolutely hate it (I got the game from someone who was getting rid of it because his gaming group hated it).  Either way, it will probably limit the places you can play the game - I choose not to play this at one of my normal gaming groups, because it could be really annoying to the other groups of people playing games in the same room.  Overall, I don't love the soundtracks, but they also don't bother me.  I like that it forces a more frantic game speed (which I believe is the intention behind it).  Also, it adds to the theme of the game, which is a plus.

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.


  1. I like Space Alert quite a bit as well (being another huge coop fan), but it hasn't hit my table in a long time. And the reason is something that you really didn't touch on, but which I feel is the biggest flaw in the game.

    What I'm talking about is the steep learning curve, and sort of as a result, the staged "learning" scenarios that Vlaada Chvatil uses to teach it. I know that he uses this model with many of his other games as well (Dungeon Lords, Through the Ages, etc.), and I've come to really consider this a significant weakness.

    Mostly, it's because it forces people to really commit to playing the game 4-5 times before they really even know if they'll like it. And then if you do like it and want to introduce it to more people, you're put in the situation of either going back and replaying the introductory scenarios once again (which are less variable and less interesting than the full game) or throwing the new player to the wolves by trying your best to explain the whole shebang and letting them make lots of mistakes.

    I guess I've come to see it sort of as a cop-out to lay out the rules in such a way that it takes so many "learning games" to get them all down, rather than just making them clear and understandable enough to play the "real" game from the get-go.

    Because like I said, I'd really love to play this game a lot more. But to do so, I feel like I'd need 3-4 other friends who would be a "closed" group that would commit to playing it with me on a semi-regular basis to make it worthwhile. And with the format of my game group and how my game nights run, I just don't think that's reasonable.

  2. That's a good point, Chris. I don't know that I necessarily consider it a weakness, but it is definitely an aspect of the game to consider. In fact, when we played, my friends taught me by going through all of the training scenarios (which, even at the time I found far too easy). It's definitely a balance you need to make, because throwing a new person in to start with could be quite overwhelming.

  3. Yeah, just wait until you're on the other side of the rules teaching and are playing through the intro scenarios for the 3rd or 4th time... It'll seem a lot more like a flaw then.

  4. Some of my gaming group are raving about this game (and everything else that Vlaada Chvátil creates). The problem is our gaming night takes place in a pub. We get enough funny looks from the other customers as it is, I don’t think blaring out the Space Alert soundtrack is going to help.

    1. You could always save the CD tracks to an mp3 player and have one person as the com officer. That way no noise, and if you have shuffle on, no idea when the events will occur.

    2. I don't think shuffle would help, because each track is actually an entire scenario/game. I believe that it is already available in mp3 format. You could have only one person listening and taking care of it, but I think it would lose a lot of the theme by doing so - worth a shot though, if you really wanted to play it in a pub. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Chris - 100% nailed it. Perhaps my most favorite game to play and least favorite to teach. And the expansion reinforces both. I never play the intro stuff, but it takes a certain type of player (usually younger) that can have fun with just being tossed in. Regardless of age it is critical to get them back for a second game, and for this I start with Mission Track 1 (significantly easier than the others), Bridger's unbelievable Turn Processor, and the expectation that this is a 90-minute game, not 10.