[From time to time, the OG recruits guest writers for the blog. Thanks to Nathan Beeler for writing up this review on Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space! — DPY]
Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space
Designer: Mario Porpora, Pietro Riva, Luca Rossi, Nicolo Tedeschi
Publisher: Cranio Creations
Time: 20-60 mins
Times Played: 7
Review written by Nathan Beeler
The difference between a tension filled race for your life against slimy tentacled alien creatures and a tedious exercise in clerical bookkeeping should be as vast as space. However, both experiences seem to fit inside the little black box that is hardly big enough to contain the title Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space. The game wants to be a highly thematic romp through the merciless corridors of a derelict space ship; a living breathing recreation of the Alien movies. With the right group in the right mood it is precisely that. In the wrong situation, though, a player will be grateful when he has a hole ripped into his chest by the blast of a pulse cannon, because it will be sweet release from a world of torture and pain. This game is not for everyone.
At heart, the game actually is a kind of bookkeeping exercise. Players are given hidden roles, either alien or human, and are asked to track their current locations on a sheet of paper as they wander through one of several models of space ship. Humans plod, one sector at a time, from their home bases in the center to one of the escape hatches at the extremes of the ship, writing down their location at each step. Along the way they can pick up items to help them survive: a one shot weapon, a hypo of adrenaline, a spotlight beam, etc. Aliens may not use items, though they may pick them up both to keep them from humans and to hide their identity. A human wins the game if he reaches an escape hatch, and in the advanced game only if the escape pod behind it is in working order.
Aliens, meanwhile, are trying to stop the humans from escaping. It’s unclear why they are doing this, or what they win by killing the humans. Humans must not live, that is all an alien needs to know. Toward this end, aliens have some advantages; they can move a sprightly two sectors per turn, and they can attack and kill anything in their space when they stop moving. This includes killing fellow Aliens, so a player has to be a little careful when baring her fangs. Attacking also reveals both the alien player’s secret identity and her actual location. But trying to kill humans is their raison d’être, so it happens. A lot.
All this would be fine but pointless if player locations were open information. But Escape’s world is a darkened hunk of cold metal drifting aimlessly through the black, where players thrive by using their ears and their wits alone. Discerning the footfall of a clumsy alien from other creaks and groans an old space wagon is a life or death skill. The maps of the ship the players use have four kinds of hexagonal sectors: home bases, escape hatches, white sectors, and grey sectors. When a player, human or alien, ends her turn on a grey sector she must take one of the cards from the corresponding deck. This tells her whether there was any sound during her movement, and if she found an item. Most of the time the card makes her reveal her location, but about half the time it does she can lie and give a false location, sending would-be predators on a wild goose chase. White sectors presumably have carpeted floors, so they don’t require players to draw cards or reveal locations. Then again, that is a kind of clue in and of itself. This hide-and-seek bluffing element is the heart of the game.
The whole thing sounds pretty great in concept to me, and sometimes it is a game of tension, laughter, and surprise. So why does it not work other times? The main reason I’ve found is, for all the game’s shooting and bluffing and edge-of-your-seat narrow escapes, a game turn is fairly boring inherently. To watch a game of this is to spend a lot of time watching people looking at their maps, writing down locations, quietly drawing cards, or perhaps saying “I’m at J11”. Then they wait, until someone does something out of the ordinary, or until their right hand neighbor tells them to take another turn. The game’s action and suspense plays out almost entirely in the players’ heads, and for some people or some situations that’s not going to work, as you will no doubt see in the comments of OGs I’ve played this with. Especially brutal can be the downtime issue, because there is nothing particular to do while you wait. There is no board to study, no strategy to formulate. You just have a piece of paper with your location, and possibly some item cards. If people are slow, the game will fail.
Then there is the issue of player elimination, which is really only bad if you’re enjoying the game. Even that isn’t a big problem if the game is short. But the game doesn’t end nearly as quickly as its weight would dictate. It can go up to an hour and a half if players are slow and you’re using a bigger map. Though I’d account for a realistic forty five to sixty minutes of game time, normally.
A word of caution: the game comes with basic and advanced rules. Don’t bother playing with the basic rules, as they have a much higher chance of providing a dull game experience. For beginners, I would recommend the advanced rules on a slightly smaller map. There are scenarios online that take advantage of the individual identities of the humans and the aliens, but I haven’t tried those yet. I’d also recommend playing with as close to the full complement of eight players as possible. More players mean more downtime, so extra attention to keeping the game moving is called for. But more players also mean more player interaction: more chances of bumping into each other, more accidental carnage, more catching humans and aliens in the spotlight’s beam, more fun.
To say whether I like Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space would require some context. With the right people who are in the mood to let their imaginations take hold and who can keep the game moving at a brisk pace, it truly is a fantastic experience, one not found in any other game I’ve played. Dim the lights, throw some weird music on the hi-fi, fill everyone’s goblets with blood red wine, and you’ve got a game to remember. It’s a game that I love. But with the wrong people in the wrong mood, this game is simply no fun No amount of wine will save it. It’s a game that just isn’t for me. Even with all the downsides, I’m glad to have it in my collection. It’s small, and it’s a treat for the right moments only. To paraphrase an alien creature much wiser than me, it’s a sometimes food.
Opinions from the Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Yu (3 plays): To paraphrase Charles Dickens: It was the best of games (for a brief fleeting instant), it was the worst of games, it was a choice of foolishness, and an epoch of incredulity that such a game existed. At the start, it was the spring of hope, but by endgame, it was the winter of despair.
EFTAIOS is an interesting hidden information game that sadly is much more interesting in concept than in execution Initially, the idea of having a game that could accommodate up to 8 players seemed like a nice addition to the game collection. I’m normally a fan of deduction games, and this seemed to fill both niches for me. However,, the actual deduction in the game is almost non-existent. Players move around (on their paper maps) and occasionally say where they may or may not be. It’s hard to even get into the role-playing aspect early on as your identity (human vs. alien) is specifically meant to be secret at the start of the game.
So, players move around, scribbling notes on their papers and alerting the next player that it’s their turn to go. It’s about as dull as it can get. There is an occasional exciting draw of a card (especially exciting if you’re the player who gets to draw it and see it) – but that excitement is mitigated by the fact that you don’t know what’s on the card. You might try to guess what was on it, but it’s a hard thing to try to figure out.
Not only is it not exciting, it involves early player elimination – and that is perhaps my biggest pet peeve about the game. In two of the three games that I played, at least one player was out of the name about 10% of the way through. No matter how interesting a game is to watch (and trust me, this one is like watching paint dry), it sucks to have nothing better to do but twiddle your thumbs while the rest of your friends continue to play the game… for another hour.
I can definitely see that this will hit some people’s sweetspot. It misses mine completely. In fact, it saw my sweetspot and then ran in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. It is one of those rare games that if it came up at game night, I’d rather just go home than have to play it.
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: I really like the idea of EFTAOIS and the fact that also nowadays a game can have a market also without outstanding materials. The idea is brillant, the game is fine, the concept is good but, for me, is not the kind of game I would like to play more than once. It is too much close to party-games in the sense that you need to be in the right mood to really enjoy the game that also means that people not in the right mood can ruin the game for all the players. Anyway really many good ideas and concepts I hope could be explored in other games. It could be a new era for pencil and paper games ?
Joe Huber: I played this game only once. In a four player game, I was one of two alien players. On turn four, the other alien player shot me. Twenty-some turns later, the other alien player had eliminated both humans – and thus I won. Even before the fourth turn, though, the primary thought I had about the game was simple – why would I play this when I could be playing Scotland Yard, or even Stop Thief!.
Valerie Putman: In our game, I accidentally killed one of the members of my team (aliens) in the first few turns. That player was eliminated very early in a long game. Though I agree with Huber’s assessment that this might actually be the winning scenario–get killed early.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it! Nathan Beeler
I like it.
Neutral. Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
Not for me… Nathan Beeler, Dale Yu, Joe Huber, Valerie Putman