Review: Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space

[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
Players: 2-8
Ages: 12+
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.

Some of the different cards in 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.

Example of the small beginner map

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

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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9 Responses to Review: Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space

  1. Pete says:

    I’m wondering if Dale was “the guy who didn’t like the game and who killed the fun” from his commentary. Something tells me that there wasn’t much to be had!

    This kind of article is what the reviewing is all about: saving people money by warning them about shit games. Good form, folks.

  2. bart says:

    Speaking of saving people money, I haven’t played this game but the core of its mechanic sounds very similar to Letters of Whitechapel – a much-hyped game I learned recently and didn’t like at all. Looks like LfW was inspired by EFTAIOS and it would probably be a safe bet to say that all of you who didn’t like EFTAIOS won’t like the other one too.

  3. Dale Yu says:

    @bart — it’s actually not like Letters from Whitechapel at all. In LfW, the detectives know who each other are, so they can work together. Now, they do share the mechanic that Jack the Ripper has to say if he’s been in a location in the past few rounds — though this is an older mechanic, also seen in Garibaldi, for instance. While LfW is frustrating for its own reasons, I wouldn’t say that “core” of these two games is that similar.

    My 2 cents at least
    d

  4. Dan Blum says:

    I too found the game more interesting in concept than in execution. I think there’s a better game in there somewhere – for example, I think it would make the deduction aspect more interesting if when players lied, they had to give a location near their actual location – but I don’t want to do the work of finding it.

  5. Paul Owen says:

    A shame to learn that what could be an exciting, tense, hidden-movement, high-stakes game is a disappointment instead. I’m vaguely reminded of the surprisingly fun Clue: Museum Caper, in which only one player at a time is sneaking around the museum stealing paintings – still tense, and everyone gets a turn as the thief. But the great thing about that game is that everyone is playing all the time. A player-elimination game is a non-starter for me. We make house rules to ensure that a game ends as soon as anyone is eliminated (if we play the game at all) because a social interaction that involves excluding people defeats the purpose of getting together for a game.

  6. Kevin O'Hare says:

    I only had one play at last year’s BGG Con.

    As one of the Human players, I really liked the sense of being trapped with few options and only your wits, the alien players missteps and a little luck are all that stand between you and escape. It’s difficult to give a well thought out opinion, when the game should be played at least twice, once as a human and once as an alien. Perhaps I will give this another chance should the opportunity arise. In the meantime I’ll give it half a nod since I had fun with the game.

  7. mwchapel says:

    I like the graphic design.

  8. Tim Koppang says:

    Hmmm… I’ll disagree with the prevailing opinion here. I find the game a lot of fun, and quite heavy on deduction. Although you don’t know who the other humans (or aliens) are at the start of the game, you can deduce who they are based on their actions. Sometimes those actions are subtle, and you have to guess. Sometimes they are overt, as when a human uses an item. As the teams become clear, Escape turns into a game of allegiances. All the while, positions are becoming clear, and so you have a race going on at the same time.

    Compared with other hidden movement games, I enjoy Escape because all of the players get to have the fun of sneaking around. In games like Scotland Yard or Clue: the Great Museum Caper, only one person is the criminal, and so he is usually the one with the most interesting and exciting experience. Escape spreads that fun around.

    Finally, player elimination. In the games I’ve played, it wasn’t a huge issue because we kept turns short. The game overall isn’t too long either, so you can always start up another game to get everyone involved again. But I suppose that player elimination is something you can either deal with or not. I admit that there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

    Overall, the biggest selling point for me is the fact that everyone is in the dark when the game begins, and the tension rises as the game progresses. I look forward to trying some of the additional maps and variations.

  9. Erik says:

    Without I agree that the player elimination can be an issue. IIRC the first time it meant 15 min pause, the 2nd time it were meagre 5 min (we stopped after the last alien was dead). In all cases it was brilliant fun to play. So while I don’t think the bluffing adds anything to the experience, I enjoy the rest of the game even more.

    Nathan wrote “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.” I found the game to unfold pretty quickly. The first rounds with everybody heading for the safe sectors to be quite dull. Later when the first cards are drawn the mood changes and it gets tense with occasional laughter.

    However, as I remember the reactions I got after bringing up The 3 Commandments I know that the game isn’t for everybody – despite the easy rules. Regarding player elimination I propose to use small maps or to create scenarios that allow to respawn your character.

    Erik

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