An alien plague turned some of the crew into monsters, so it’s time to put on your Ellen Ripley underwear and fight for your survival in Osprey’s incredibly original and immersive Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space board game.
Allow me to set the scene:
You know Space Station SELVA inside and out, and that’s a good thing, because minutes ago the lights went out, and crazy human-alien hybrids want you to join their club. That is the club where aliens stop at nothing to satiate their appetite for flesh.
Yes, something went horribly wrong aboard the station, as often does when scientists start messing around with alien spores and injecting them into their subjects while trying to find a cure for a disease killing millions on Earth. (They meant well. Don’t judge.) That didn’t work out so well, so now the humans are rushing to the escape pods, praying they are fully functional.
Alien or Human?
When Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space begins, you are dealt a character card (each with a special power) and you learn if you are predator or prey. Are you a human-alien hybrid monster or a researcher? Your identity is hidden from the other players (2-8). You have up to 40 moves. Then the hunt is on!
This game of cat and mouse, bluff and hidden identities is played on one of eight maps inside your very own spiral-bound map book. Eight of these books are provided in the game, and they are fantastic. Not only are the pages comprised of a very thick card stock, the surfaces are laminated to work with an erasable marker, eight of which are also packed inside the game. You will use your book to track your movement and take notes during the game.
Hidden Maps and Movement
The maps themselves are comprised of hexagons, with the alien and human starting locations clearly marked, as well as the escape pods. Each map provides a unique challenge. Some feature close quarters, others with branching corridors, and more with large open expanses.
Movement is as simple as recording your hex coordinates inside your book. Aliens can move one or two hexes and humans move just one. All players remain effectively hidden while they enter white-colored spaces on the map. Landing on a white space means you announce “Silent Sector” and end your turn. Sticking to lots of white areas is always an effective strategy, but no map allows fleeing humans to cower in obscurity forever.
If your movement ends on a dark-colored hex, you have entered a “Dangerous Sector” and must draw card. This is where things get very interesting. Based on the card you’ve drawn, you will immediately announce to the other players one of three things:
- In the case of a red “Noise In Your Sector” card, you must announce your current sector! That’s the worst. “Here I am!” (You don’t have to say that part.)
- In the case of a green “Noise In Any Sector” card, you may announce any sector. Yes, it’s time to lie about where you are located to throw the aliens or humans off of your scent.
- In the case of drawing an “Item” or “Silence” card, you will announce “Silence In All Sectors.” Drawing items and getting silence cards is usually the best thing you can draw. You not only keep people off your trail by not having to announce a location, but you often end up with an item to use later on.
If at anytime an alien player thinks they have moved onto the same location as a human, the alien may announce the sector in which they are attacking! If any humans (or even aliens) are in that sector, they are killed!
For humans, dying is certainly demoralizing, but don’t worry, there’s more fun to be had. Vanquished humans instantly mutate into an alien and can now help to track down the remaining humans! If an alien is ever killed, either by another alien or a human with a weapon, the alien player is out for the game.
It probably goes without saying that attacking a human effectively reveals yourself as an alien to the rest of the group. But that’s not all bad. Enjoy the gasps of terror as you make disconcerting “clicky” noises for the remainder of the game.
Escape at Last!
Meanwhile, as aliens continue stalking and killing off the remaining humans, wiley human players will reach an escape pod. They announce the number of the pod in which they moved, and draw an escape pod card.
Imagine the tension. You’re being stalked. Time is running out. You enter an escape pod, flip the switch, and… nothing. [Sad trombone]
There are only five of these cards, but one of them indicates that the escape pod has malfunctioned, meaning visions of hurtling toward Tatooine with C3PO and R2D2 quickly fade. You’re such a geek.
Quote from Aliens, during the drop to LV-426:
Hudson: “I’m ready, man, check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do NOT wanna fuck with me. Check it out! Hey Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…”
There are a nice selection of items to pick up on the space station, all of which in some way help players hide their true intentions, locate other players, or save themselves from certain doom. Here are four of the 10 items you may find along the way:
- Attack: This card allows a human player to attack an alien, otherwise they are generally helpless.
- Clone: So, an alien just attacked you inside your sector. No big deal. You have a clone on standby. Play this card and essentially respawn at the starting location. You do not turn into an alien! Which reminds me of the Teletransportation Paradox. You should totally read about that.
- Sedatives: Remember those dark-colored sectors where you have to draw cards? Not so much if you play a sedative card. Chill out and enjoy the respite from your imminent demise.
- Spotlight: There’s nothing like turning on a bright shiny light inside a dark space station! Play this card and announce any sector. Players in that sector or an adjacent one announces their location.
Immersion and Final Thoughts
For a hidden identity game, Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space has an immersion factor that ranks up there with Battlestar Galactica. I mention that because many hidden identity games, such as The Resistance, are entertaining enough, but don’t coax you into the theme quite as readily.
While hunched over your hidden movement booklet, reading your scribbles, out-thinking your opponents, and plotting your moves, you are vicariously thrust into the role you’ve been assigned. You inexorably become the hunter or the hunted.
I’m probably guilty of being drawn into a game’s theme more than the average person, but Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space is nothing short of brilliant in how it pulls you inside. (Did I mentioned it’s immersive?) I think the individualized booklets play a major role in making each player feel alone inside the space station, yet in complete control, insofar as your paranoia allows.
You sit staring at this vast network of interconnected hexes and feel helpless as a human. As an alien, you pace back and forth at the perfect choke point, waiting for the moment when your opponent announces she is within striking distance.
This game is something special. It’s very easy to teach new players, and the components are of good quality and plentiful enough to outfit eight players. The artwork is stark, befitting its dark science fiction theme. And like Osprey’s The King is Dead game, the box itself is a piece of art. It opens on a “hinge” like a book, and the inside cover is printed with an illustration of a white cloning tank (think “bacta”) on a black background. I couldn’t help but mutter “wow” when I first peered inside.
I am wholly impressed. Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space is terrific fun, and if you take the time to dim the lights and queue up the Alien soundtrack, all the better. It’s not often a board game elicits this level of tension and excitement, feelings typically reserved for role playing games. I’m all in. Just don’t let me die in there.
For heaps of goodies, be sure you visit http://www.escapefromthealiensinouterspace.com/. There are new maps, a scenario tool, a map editor and even a print-and-play version of the game.
Quote from Alien, because I can’t stop thinking about it and drawing comparisons:
Ash: Ripley, for God’s sake, this is the first time that we’ve encountered a species like this. It has to go back. All sorts of tests have to be made.
Ripley: Ash, are you kidding? This thing bled acid. Who knows what it’s gonna do when it’s dead?
Ash: I think it’s safe to assume it isn’t a zombie.
Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space… Reviewed!