Designer: Vlaada Chvatil
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Date Released: 2008
Number of Players: 1-5
Age Range: 12 and up
Setup Time: less than 15 minutes
Play Time: up to 30 minutes
To say Space Alert is an odd duck of a game is an understatement. Players become crew members of a space ship—not unlike the Starship Enterprise—and ward off danger. You all get action boards where you can program your actions and movements on the ship with action cards during each moment of flight.
The movements are simple one area shifts on the board: left, right, or up/down (using an elevator). The actions range from a selection of A, B or C. The actual action you perform when you play the card depends on which area of the ship you’re character resides when they perform the action. And every crewmember starts the game on the bridge.
It sounds easy enough, except that all of this is done in ten minutes of real-time. The game comes with a CD, but you can download an app to your smartphone or tablet. You hear a computerized voice warn you of impending danger, and you and your crew have to keep your cool and come up with a plan to deal with each threat on the fly.
Remember how I said that each player takes on the role of a crew member? Well, one player has to be the Captain. Whatever they say goes. Another player’s the Communications Officer, and they handle placing the threats on the board where they need to go and remind teammates if they have an incoming transmission (or player card swap) or anything else of note in the offing. Then, you have to have an Engineer, who can scream at the Captain, “We can’t do it, Captain. We don’t have the power.”
The funny thing is that you only plan your moves while the audio file runs. As soon as the audio ends, you perform your actions (and your enemies’ actions) step by step. Your ship is derelict if you receive enough damage in one third of your ship, otherwise you survived the onslaught, and your crew wins.
What else can I say about a game that created its own category in the Spiel des Jahres except that it’s a singular gaming experience?
Seriously, it’s the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves of gaming. There’s nothing else like Space Alert on the market right now, but I’m sure there’ll be some copycats soon. The frantic pace of planning your actions/movements in real-time is the closest thing you can get from actually being on a spaceship during a photon fight.
That said. You need someone who can take criticism as the Captain because if anything goes wrong, it’s their fault. That takes the onus off the other crewmembers, so if you want a more laid back gaming experience, one of the other positions would suit you. I’ve played as both a normal crewmember and as Captain, and when I was the Captain I had one of my crewmembers fire a photon torpedo that wasn’t loaded.
My son was the crewmember in question. When he got to his action of hitting the fire button, he said “click,” and everyone laughed. I was off a turn with my daughter’s action of loading the photon torpedo. When she got to that action yelled to my son, “the photon’s ready.” We all had another laugh before the enemy trashed our ship.
That was with the training mission, and you have to start with the training mission—or as I like to call it the Kobayashi Maru—before you try anything advanced. But even the training mission will get your blood pumping.
Verdict: An intense, unique gaming experience that puts you into role of a starship crew member.