Monday, August 8, 2011

Invasion From Outer Space: The Martian Game

Invasion From Outer Space: The Martian Game, is a very campy cinematic-style 2010 wargame from Flying Frog Productions, using the same system from its zombie game Last Night on Earth.

When I say "cinematic-style," I mean that the game doesn't try to depict "reality" as such, but rather attempts to capture the "reality" of a movie or television show -- which we know isn't quite reality at all.

The game relentlessly evokes a cinematic style, with developed "characters," scenarios that resemble movie plots, artwork that appears to be "stills" from a movie and it even includes a soundtrack.
In a touch of brilliance, the game pits Mars Attacks! style Martian invaders against Circus Performers! Now, I'm unaware of any actual movie that had that match up, but there should have been.

On one side are the Martians, controlled by one or two players, depending upon the number of players in the game (helpfully divided into blue and purple Martians) comprising a regukar force of 18 soldiers and two Martian "champions" -- a leader and a"Zard beast."

The game is asymmetric, with the Martin s acting together through the turn phases -- so all Martians move at the same time and fire their ray guns at the same time, for example. In contrast, the heroes each take their turns individually, so each hero moves, shoots and fights before the next one acts at all.

Both sides have decks of cards they can draw from, although this is also asymmetrical. The Martians get 2 cards per turn, with the possibility for more, while the Heroes get more cards by giving up their movement for a turn and "searching" while in a building. This entitles them to draw one card. Giving up a move is a pretty severe penalty for the heroes, however, as greater mobility is one of their key advantages over the Martians. Most of the time the Martians move a single square per turn, while the human heroes move 1-6 spaces depending on an die roll.
And yes, the board uses squares. The heavy card stock board is a full-color overhead view of a circus or carnival. There's a double-sided central board (one side depicts a "big-top" tent while the flip side is then open "fairgrounds." There are six L-shaped single-sided boards depicting various other portions of the circus. Four of these are randomly selcted and arranged around the central board to make a 21-inch by 21-inch playing surface.

The highlight of the components are the figures. There are 18 regular Martian soldiers in three poses and two colors. These come with clear plastic "domes" you glue on for the proper effect. There are also the two aforementioned Martian champions, a leader and a beast in a neutral steel blue beacuse they can be used by either player if there are two Martian players.

The Hero side is comprised of eight highly detailed (very suitable for painting by those so inclined and talented) grey plastic heroes.

There are two decks of sturdy cards, one each for the Heroes and for the Martians. Both sets include "events" that can be played to aid your side or hinder the other. The Humans also have access to various helpful items, many of which are weapons, while the Martians have "Technology" cards that can enhance them in sundry ways.

Other components include dice, thick card stock templates, hero cards, scenario cards and other play aids and several counter sheets of glossy counters. It's all very snazzy and attractive. There 32-page full-color illustrated rule book book explains the fairly straightforward game system comprehensively and even inldes rules for combining the Last Night of Earth game with Invasion You can have the circus performers fight off zombies instead of Martians, for example, or have the Martians invade the town instead of the circus. You can even combine the two games into a massive three-sided Humans vs. Zombies vs. Martians battle that can accommodate up to 8 players.

There's a basic game that leaves out a few of the more involved rules and a third of each deck and has just one scenario -- "Invasion" -- which is basically a straightforward battle. Most groups will want to transition quickly into the "Advanced" game which adds four more scenarios.

The rule book doesn't provide much guidance, except to note that the learning curve is steeper for the hero side, but the most balanced for new players is definitely the Invasion Scenario. The Heroes are trying to kill 20 Martians before they lose two of their own. It's worth mentioning that the Hero side si always comprised of four heroes, no matter how many players there are. In a 2-player game one person controls all four heroes, while in a 5- or 6-player game each hero is controlled by one player. If a Hero is killed, then a new one comes on the board immediately to replace the fallen one. Two of the scenarios "Abduction" and "Wipe Them Out" involve the Heroes trying to protect circus allies or crowds, respectively, with the burden of attack on the Martian side. These are still very challenging for inexperienced heroes, but not hopeless. The other two scenarios, "Blow 'em Out of the Sky" and "Unleashed" are for experienced heroes players only. Both involve finding specific cards from the deck as prerequisites for the actions needed to win and the burden for victory rests with the Hero side.

That's not to say that the Heroes don't have some advantages. They are, as noted, potentially much faster than the Martians and if they find ranged weapons they will usually out-range the Martians. For some reason the Martian ray guns are very short-ranged -- just one square. (I don't know why, heavier Earth gravity, perhaps, or maybe thicker Earth air). Even a revolver has a range of three squares, in contrast. And the Martian fire isn't all that accruate, hitting on a 5 or 6 on a D6. Three Martians can share a square and if they do, they get several advantages -- including shooting better -- they now hit on a 4-6. But the humans get a saving roll against each potential hit. each has an "agility rating" but even the least agile has a 50% chance of dodging a ray gun blast.

When Heroes and Martians are in the same square they "fight." Each Martian rolls one die, while each Hero rolls two dice -- with various cards and special abilities potentially affecting the results. The higesht single die roll determines the winner. So, for example, if a Hero is fighting a single martian and rolls a 3 and 5 while the Martian rolls a 4, then the Hero wins. If, however, the Martian had rolled a 6, he would win. The loser take a "wound," which is enough to kill an ordinary Martian. All the heroes and the Martian champions can take more than one wound.

The entire system is quick and intuitive and easy to teach to new players. It';s also quite colorful, a s quick rundown of the Heroes reveals.

The two strongest Heroes are Carl, the Strongman and Jo Jo, the Dancing Bear. While nether one can use guns, they both have special abilities that help them in a fight. Every Hero has several special abilities, inlcuding one that is called a "Talent." Talents are especially powerful, but require spending a "Power Token" to use. Each Hero starts the game with a Power Token and has a 33% chance of getting an additional one every turn, to a maximum of three. For example, Carl always rolls an extra fight die as part of his "Heavyweight" special ability, but in addition he can spend a Power Token to activate his "Bash Heads" talent which allows him to do an extra wound whenever he wins a fight. Carl and Jo Jo are both tough, taking four wounds to kill, although they are somewhat vulnerable to the ray guns -- only dodging on a roll of 4+. They'll normally be used to wade into hand-to-hand combat with Martians.

At the other extreme are Lucrezia, the Contortionist, and R.J. Flannigan, the Ringmaster. They die on their second wound, but are very agile, dodging on a 2 or better. They each have some movement bonuses and have some healing ability. Lucrezia and heal herself of one wound if she give sup a move, while R.J. can heal himself or another hero by spending a Power Token and rolling a 3+. They're best used to search for stuff, although their dodging ability is useful to frustrate Martian ray gun fire.

The other three ladies among the heroes can form some deadly combos, depending on who is in the game. Hannah, the fire breather, has a devastating Fireball attack than can take out more than one Martian at once while Cassidy, the Trick Shooter is deadly with firearms. Angelica, the Bearded Woman, has the unique talent of Teamwork, which lets her copy any other hero's Talent. This can be a nasty if she teams up with Hannah, of Cassidy (assuming Angelica gets a gun)> It also combos nicely with R.J. healing ability and Carl's head bashing. These three are of average toughness, taking three wounds to kill and dodge on a 3+.

With similar stats is Archibald, the Human Cannonball, but his talents eems alkittle hard to use efefctively. He can fire himself from one of the circus cannons scattered around the board with a potentially deadly effect on any martians he lands on. That's good, but it also means he's likely to end up in the middle of some Martians when he's done.

Besides their stats, each Hero has a little background bio, helping to set the proper movie-like mood. For example. Lucrezia, the Contortionist "Left at the stoop of the ringmaster's wagon as an infant, the only life Lucrezia has ever known is that of the circus. As the youngest performer, her exotic nature and fantastic abilities only further her desire to discover the truth of her mysterious past ... and her terrible nightmare."

While all game designs are collaborative efforts, Invasion has an impressively Hollywood style list of credits, including 19 listed "Cast" members. And it has a soundtrack.

I'm no music critic, and the sound track is nice enough, but I have to admit that it didn't seem very 1950s-ish. Still, it wouldn't hurt to have it playing softly in the background. Overall this is a really nice production and I've had some fun introducing it to new players. The game warns that it has a "mature" theme, but I don't think it's especially problematical for most ages. The scariness is rather cartoonish and while it's rated as being for 12 and up, in reality younger kids can easily grasp the game concepts and probably have seen worse on TV on a Saturday afternoon.

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