bit-tech plays Space Alert

Written by Clive Webster

December 27, 2010 | 09:45

Tags: #audio-cd #board-game #board-games #collaborative #feature #review #should-i-buy #space

Companies: #rio-grande-games

Would we Play Space Alert Again?

Paul The game was actually very enjoyable to play after we'd got to grips with the rulebook, although it’s sometimes difficult to remember everything that's going on. I’d definitely be interested in playing again, especially as we were only playing the basic missions. The real fun of the game is the absolute chaos of the first phase, so if we play again we’ll have to make sure there's plenty of beer to guard against people doing anything sensible, such as listening to the captain.

bit-tech plays Space Alert Would we play Space Alert again? bit-tech plays Space Alert Would we play Space Alert again?
Prosecco helped to pacify us, as did the crackers and the chocolates (which we ate too quickly to photograph).

Joe The problem I have with Space Alert is that it peaks far, far too quickly. The point of the game is to get everyone yelling over the top of each other, desperately trying to share information and co-ordinate their movements. It’s a co-operative game, but it puts you under so much pressure that it becomes aggressive co-operation.

There’s nothing wrong with that, as I usually like games of that sort, but it condenses the gameplay in such a way that it’s just not fun at all. There’s no lead-in, no build up where everyone starts to get into the mood. It’s a puzzle game, but the puzzle isn’t really anything more than a large amount of stress that’s dumped on the players, or created by them. You only have ten minutes! Now you can swap cards! An enemy appears!

Imagine playing something similar, such as Tetris, which requires constant attention. Now imagine you’ve got four other people looking over your shoulder, each desperate to save the day and get involved, and they're all grabbing at the screen and telling you where to put the next blocks and what to look out for. One of them is always telling you how you’ve just messed up, while another is urging you to only look at the preview of the next piece. That’s exactly what playing Space Alert is like, which perfectly illustrates why it would be fantastic as a single-player game, and why it fails as a multiplayer shouting match.

bit-tech plays Space Alert Would we play Space Alert again? bit-tech plays Space Alert Would we play Space Alert again?
Joe wasn’t overly impressed. In fact, he found pulling faces more amusing.

Or, maybe I’m just playing with the wrong people. Dammit – I’m a medical officer, not a sociologist!

(Actually, Space Alert is far more similar to classic PC title The Sting than it is to Tetris. The Sting was not only a fantastic game, but single-player too, incidentally)

Harry Space Alert felt a bit like how some historians describe war: a lot of sitting around learning how everything works, and then a short, messy battle. It’s also very chaotic, and as the captain eventually has the last say in what people do, it’s really only him who’s playing the game, with the rest of the crew offering information to help. This isn’t a very good setup in my opinion. Everyone wants to play, and see how their plans take shape. Unless you rotated the role of captain every scenario (each of which takes ten minutes or so), the resulting game would soon become boring for those not in charge.

Still, Space Alert was fun and exciting once we'd got to grips with the rules, but I’m not sure how many playthroughs it would last.

bit-tech plays Space Alert Would we play Space Alert again? bit-tech plays Space Alert Would we play Space Alert again?
Space Alert won’t be dragging Harry away from Black Ops any time soon.

Clive I suspect that our second mission just wasn’t hard enough for us, so Harry and Joe are right that the second game was basically just us sitting around like good little crew members, doing what Harry told us. However, the game has other tricks and twists to reintroduce the anarchy that made the first game so much fun, and I’d be keen to see how these extra complications mix everything up.

As it was, we could handle three enemies with ease, and this left us all feeling underwhelmed. Still, I wouldn’t say that Space Alert is bad, and I’d be interested in giving some of the more advanced rules a whirl. After all, once you’ve learned the basics, each game only takes about 20 minutes to set up, play and resolve. This isn’t a game for ego-maniacs, though; you need to be able to laugh at your bad decisions and be comfortable with the other players doing exactly the same.
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