Vlaada Chvatil


No. of Players:
2 - 5

G@mebox Star



Two years ago the Czech publisher CGE made a great appearance at the SPIEL convention with their rather popular civilization-game Through the Ages which was awarded the International Gamers Awards in 2007. Last year's Galaxy Trucker was quickly becoming popular too, and so it is no wonder that they have come back this year with Galaxy Trucker - the BIG Expansion which offers new rules and enhancements for the game.

However, the focus of my interest today is the game Space Alert, a science fiction boardgame which tries to make a useful symbiosis between cards, a gameboard and audio-technology via a CD-player. Over the years, there have been several tries to implement games with electronic assistance, but games like Dark Tower from MB or King Arthur from Ravensburger were rather easy to beat due to their limited playing depth. Knowing the games from CGE I was certain that the author Vlaada Chvatil would have done all he could to prevent a more or less predictable game, and I must say that I was not disappointed.

Upon approaching the CGE booth at the SPIEL convention I could already hear the commands coming from the audio CD, instructing the players to draw new cards, finish their card placement for upcoming rounds or to reveal new external or internal threats for their Spaceship. Taking seat for a demo game, myself and a crew of other inexperienced Space Academy cadets were sent onto the mission of our life, the scouting of a new space quardrant. For this mission we were given an extremely reliable spaceship of the "Sitting Duck"-class and we were given a set of action cards, and after receiving some instructions who to play we were hurled into space.

The game actually is divided into two parts, the planning phase in which the threats are revealed and the players plot their moves for the 12 rounds of the game, and the re-play phase in which the players actions are revealed and played through. During the planning phase the CD player (or mission cards if no player is at hand) takes the role of the ship's computer which instructs the players when to place cards, when threats are revealed (drawn from certain decks of cards) or when bad things happen like an interruption of communications which prevents the players to talk with each other. It will now be the task of the players to plan their actions for the whole game, reacting with their characters by moving them through the spaceship and using and repairing certain weapons and machinery.

For this reason the players have a number of action cards which they can put in numbered slots for each turn of the game. These cards give them either the possibility to move their characters or to use/repair weapons or machinery at their character's current position. To visualize everything, a big gameboard with the six sections of the ship is placed between the players, and all their character figures are places into the central (bridge) section of the upper deck. Whenever new threats are revealed, reminding markers are placed within the spaceship or at external ranged flight paths, and the players will have to calculate the actions of these threats by checking the options on the threat cards.

When the CD-track ends all threats will be revealed and the players (hopefully!) will have placed action cards for every round of play. The planning phase instantly ends, and in the upcoming re-play phase the players now will step-by-step reveal their planned actions following a mechanism which is a bit alike to Roborally but much more advanced. So, players will move around the ship's decks, power up weapons and shields by transferring energy, firing all sorts of different weapon, command troops of Battlebots, fly a fighter squadron and use different kinds of special appliances. All this is done to keep harm from their spaceship, but if a threat survives a round of player actions it will now have a chance to move closer and fire its weapons or do other kinds of mischief. The kind of action which will be chosen by the threat all is pre-scribed on the card of the threat. Different scales will be adjusted after each round, showing the current status of the spaceship and of all threats.

Step-by-step, the Spaceship will start to fall apart due to damage caused by the threats, and this maelstrom will be fastened if the players failed to cooperate during the planning phase. Destroyed or malfunctioning equipment will render player actions useless, and thus the essential order of the actions chosen by each player will be placed at hazard.

The game will come to its end either if the players' spaceship is destroyed (meaning an instantly lost game) or after the 12th round. At that time the scanning modules of the ship will have scanned the new sector and the hyperjump will take the ship home, removing it from any further danger. Now the players add up the victory points for survived or defeated threats and deduct penalties for damage and unconscious crew members. The final score then may be added to the Ship's Log.

WOW! I have rarely played a game which is as fast paced as Space Alert, and the game offers an absolutely authentic and captivating playing atmosphere. While it is true that this game is no boardgame in the traditional meaning, I rank Space Alert very high in the area of entertainment games, a class of games which is splendidly represented by Ca$h'n Gun$ and other kinds of "interactive"-games. Still, the strategic potential of the game should not be underestimated, since the players need to plan rather careful if they want to succeed with their mission against the random threats. And here the included gameboard is an invaluable companion, since the players may use it to move their figures and plan their moves.

To my absolute delight Vlaada Chvatil was able to avoid all dangers which are usually associated with the use of technological gadgets in games, and even the fact that the soundtracks on the CD cannot be altered is no hindrance since there are several soundtracks available and the threats of each mission vary through the composition of the different decks of cards. This ensures a high replay-value, and to my mind it gives high attractiveness to the included campaign-rules which put the players to the task to play (and survive) several missions in a row with only limited possibilities for repair between the missions.

It was easier for a newcomer like me to get used to the rules by having them explained to me here at the SPIEL convention, but the gamebox actually contains a very concise tutorial procedure (including a special CD) which takes you step-by-step into the game and the full rules. A nice passport to a great trip into the Unknown!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany