The players are astronauts on a ship beset by both internal and external dangers. Initially, all players plan their orders, which are carried out after everyone if done. If the ship is not destroyed, the characters survive. If not - tough luck.
Space Alert is a board game from Czech game designer Vlaada Chvátil, and was published in 2008 under several publishers in different countries. Players take the roles of crew members on a spaceship and have to work together to save themselves against enemies and other dangers. Besides being cooperative, it is noteworthy in the first part of the game is played under time stress through use of recordings on a CD-ROM. The game has been commercial successful and an expansion is planned for early 2010.
Space Alert is carried out in two distinct phases; one real time phase, in which all players plan their actions for the entire game, and one where these actions are resolved. A cd soundtrack acts as the ship's computer, providing information on the different dangers threatening the ship. This soundtrack also serves as a time-limit; when it has played, the first phase of the game is complete and the players can no longer influence the outcome. The actions are planned in collaboration with the other players, using cards, and the gameplay is usually a frantic affair as the players try to make sure they have all their bases covered. During the resolution phase, the players get to see if their actions where worthwhile, as they are acted out and what, if any, damage to the ship is evaluated.
Main Gameplay Design Patterns
The diegesis of the game dictates that the players are the crew onboard a space ship, their main goal being to Survive for 12 turns despite all the Enemies and Obstacles that try to destroy the ship. The overarching structure of the game consists of a planning phase, where players in real-time try to coordinate what they should do by placing action Cards while being updated about future threats, and a turn-based resolution phase, where the players perform their actions and notice if they have succeeded in cooperating against the threats.
Each game consists of trying to fulfill a mission, which can be compared to a Level since there is a tendency towards higher difficulty on later missions. The missions are structured to provide a Smooth Learning Curve but players can also influence the Difficulty Levels of a mission through selecting which Cards describing Enemies and Mutual Goals should be in the Drawing Stacks.
Real Time Action Planning Phase
This phase is played out while listening to a sound track and ends when the recording ends. The sound track describing what happens, i.e. where and when Enemies and or obstacles will appear, but also when players may do or not do specific actions, specifically Trading of Cards, drawing an extra card, or limiting Communication Channels (communication between the players can be banned for a short period of time).
Although all events occur in the same sequence and at the same time each time a mission is played, the missions have Replayability since the exact nature of the enemy or obstacle is random through being drawn from a Drawing Stack.
Each player has twelve slots -- corresponding to rounds during the resolution phase of the game -- where Cards can be placed to show if the player does something that round. The players can Move around the ship using Cards that may also be used to carry out one of the following actions: use the computers, fire a weapon, distribute energy to shields or storages, or a "special action" depending on the players location, such as launching in a fighter or activating internal security. The ship's energy is a Non-Renewable Resource, and so is its missiles. Players place their cards upside down, but may tell the others what they plan to do, thus stimulating use of Communication Channels within the Team. Being unable to destroy an Enemy results in a Penalty in the form of Ability Losses as the shields and eventually the ship is damaged.
Since this phase is Time-limited, it generates Time Pressure which in turn results in Tension. Very much information is known, e.g. how much damage an Enemy can take, the firepower of the ship's weapon's etc. This Stimulates Planning but to balance things out the game also requires a lot of Timing; Enemies can only be attacked once they have appeared, and it is Rewarding to shoot at an Enemy Simultaneously. Thus, use of Communication Channels is required to succeed, but due to Time Pressure this does not always work out. The result is that players often feel that they have much more Imperfect Information than they actually do; for instance they may well communicate exactly what everyone does when but in practice this is not feasible given the time restraints.
In this phase players enact the orders from the previous phase in a strictly turn-based fashion. This part of the game contains no actual gameplay/player input (except for the "oops" rule, which is very minor); it is only an enactment of the decisions previously taken. Now, all information is Perfect Information. In this phase players often realize that their actions are uncoordinated (e.g. A fires the cannons in round 5, but B did not load them with energy until round 6) or made impossible by unanticipated events (e.g A tries to use the lift, but an enemy attack has destroyed it).
Other Noteworthy Aspects
Main Designer: Vlaada (Vladimír) Chvátil
Czech Games Edition
Quined White Goblin Games (QWG)
Rio Grande Games