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bit-tech plays Space Alert

Designer Vlaada Chvatil
Publisher Rio Grande Games
Typical UK street price £50 (inc VAT)
Typical US street price $59.95 (ex tax)

Christmas can be a hard time for gamers; how do you get your gaming fix if you're away from your monster gaming PC for up to two weeks? You could opt for a gaming laptop, but you’ll need a backbone like an iron girder if you want to lug such a device around all Christmas. Alternatively, you could go retro, and go back to the roots of gaming with a board game.

bit-tech plays Space Alert bit-tech plays Space Alert
You have to work together to protect the ship against threats in Space Alert.

We thought we'd attempt the latter this Christmas, via Space Alert. It has a suitably geeky premise (you’re crew members aboard a spaceship), and it also has an interesting twist; it's a collaborative game. Everyone has to work together to arm the spaceship against the threats thrown at you via an audio CD.

It’s fair to say that our initial impressions of Space Alert were poor, though. There’s a starter guide book that’s the size of a novella, and it doesn’t help that it’s all written in character either. Why do the writers of games manuals fancy themselves as fiction writers? Possibly for the same reason as journalists, but that’s another story.

It seems that we’re an impatient lot too. After just 30 minutes of reading the instructions, we had a collective hissy fit at the hassle and complexity of the game, and decided to play something else instead.

bit-tech plays Space Alert bit-tech plays Space Alert
Space Alert takes a while to learn –we even had to call in Seth, whose copy we were borrowing.

After a further half-hour of dithering, we realised that we didn’t want to play Atmosfear again, after giving it a whirl a few weeks earlier. What's more, after a further look at Space Alert's missions, we realised that the game actually only takes ten minutes to play, even if it takes an hour to read these rules. Really? Yep.

Suitably reassured that we wouldn’t be in the office until midnight, we knuckled down to actually working out how to play the game. After some determined rule-reading by Captain Paul (oddly defying all sci-fi conventions by dressing in purple, – surely the captain should be yellow or red?), Harry triumphantly proclaimed, ‘We’re almost there, we almost understand the rules!’

bit-tech plays Space Alert bit-tech plays Space Alert
[i]We ploughed on through the rulebook, thanks largely to Paul’s dogged determination[./i]

In essence, Space Alert plays in two phases – the Planning Phase and the Resolution Phase. The Planning Phase is where the threats to the ship are revealed and the players lay movement or action cards to move their playing pieces, fire lasers, inject the reactor with more energy or activate shields. This all planned out frantically to a CD audio track, which tells you when and where your threats are turning up. These threats attack either the left, central or right portions of the ship. Only lasers on the left of the ship can hit enemies aiming at the left of the ship, and so on.

The aim is to make sure there’s enough energy in reserve in the right areas of the ship, ensuring that something worthwhile actually happens when a crew member presses the Fire button, or tries to raise the shields . However, nothing happens until you’ve planned your actions, so you have to hope you’ve made the right moves at the right time when you enter the Resolution Phase.