Osprey Publishing, the UK-based military history publisher beloved by wargamers and toy soldier nerds for their amazing Men at Arms series (which lovingly details the uniforms and accoutrements of war), has been expanding into gaming in a big way recently. They've been responsible for the increasingly popular skirmish-level dungeon-delving miniatures game, Frostgrave, the hugely popular Bolt Action (which they distribute through a publishing partnership with Warlord Games), and a growing number of excellent miniature rules sets covering everything from historicals to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.
Another notable thing they've been doing is re-vamping existing games that had a lot of promise but had some rules problems, or component issues, or some other crippling flaw that limited their appeal on their first release. They've been re-doing these games in gorgeous new editions. One such game is Odin's Ravens, which I previously reviewed here. They also recently released a lovely, revamped edition of the very trippy The Ravens of Thri Sahashri, a Japanese cooperative card game where players enter the mind of a character and try and repair her memories and guide her to safety before she goes insane with ravens eating her mind. Another notable example of this revitalizing of a promising title is their recent "Ultimate Edition" of Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space.
Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is a card-based hidden movement, hidden identity game of deception and bluffing. This "Ultimate Edition" is a significant upgrade to the original which launched in 2010. To keep track of your movement in the game and to try and work out where other players might be within the corridors of your badly damaged space station, you make notations on a map of the ship. The original version had paper pads of the ship maps and came with marking pencils. The Osprey edition upgrades this with 8 handsome wire-bound erasable map booklets (with 8 different ship maps to choose from) and 8 dry-erase markers. There are also 90 evocatively-illustrated cards which depict the players, escape pod cards, dangerous sector cards (which alert players to what's going on in the station as you explore it), and item cards which give human players various tools and game conditions that they can utilize.
The premise of Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is simple. An alien virus aboard an orbiting research station is turning medical test subjects and the crew into human-devouring monsters. At the beginning of the game, a blind draw determines who among the players are humans and who are aliens. As the human players try to move as silently as possibly through the power-dark and damaged space station, the alien players try to sniff them out on the map, attack, and kill them. Each human player is trying to make it to escape hatches indicated on the maps. If they can make it to a pod (and the pod is still functional), they get to leave the ship and are safe. The goal of the alien players is to kill all humans. When a human dies, it is sent to the alien spawning sector depicted on the map and plays through as an alien. When an alien dies, that player is out of the game. Every human that escapes is declared a winner. The alien(s) win if they eliminate all of the humans on-board the ship.
Game play is very simple, with each player taking turns moving in secret, recording where they are on their private map booklet (and taking notes on where others might be). Different sector spaces require the arriving player to announce different things to the other players, draw cards that dictate what they have to do there, or (for human players), potentially pick up items that can used to fight or defend against the aliens. There is much bluffing involved here. When aliens land in a sector where where they think a human is hiding, they announce an attack, and if they are correct, the human is defeated. Other lurking aliens caught in an attack are also killed.
Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is obviously trying to evoke that creepy adrenaline rush from films like Aliens, of being plunged into the darkness of a tight space knowing that terrifying monsters are methodically hunting you down to try and eat your face off. Cleverly, all of the artwork on the box, on the cards, looks like frozen frames of the gristly action, as perhaps seen through the stroboscopic lights of an emergency warning system or the muzzle flash of an assault rifle.
I really like what they were going for here. I love the box design, the use of the dry-erase map pads, and the card illustrations. And I like the way they tried to engineer a mechanic that would generate feelings of fear and claustrophobia. They obviously designed the art to further convey these emotions. I've heard this game has generated such intense reactions in some players, but not for me. I enjoy the game and am recommending it, but I just wish it had felt more engaging, produced more tension in me and my game mates. The white map boards feel a little too minimal and stark and the game production overall could have benefited from more immersion in the game's alien horror theme. Besides the cards, the rest of the components are minimal in design. It almost feels like the cards and the rest of the components come from two different games.
I'm fascinated by "gimmick games" and would count Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space as such a game. I can't say that they succeeded for me in the obvious design goal of creating a game that really makes you sweat. But it still is an entertaining game with lovely artwork, high production values, and a fun and unique hidden movement mechanic. It takes about 30 minutes to play, so it's a fun lunch break game or something fun and different to pull out as an appetizer at your next gaming group.