I traded a dude on Board Game Geek for this game about 2 months ago, although I had played it with one of my gaming heroes, Richard “I never met a game I didn’t house rule” Launius, when it came out. I never got around to picking it up, though, probably because I figured that after playing it with Richard, it couldn’t get any better than that day. Fast forward to last month: I got a trade offer as it had been in my “Wishlist” for years, and when I received it, I cracked it open and played it that night with my daughter. After reading the rules to verify that Richard did, in fact, house rule the game when we played it, and after then watching Tom Vasel’s review, I decided that the co-operative version would be more fun, we dove in. The short version is that we really enjoyed it, or rather, half of it. The longer version is, well, the rest of this article.
For anyone unfamiliar with this game, it’s a fairly light, dice-chucking affair that has you acting as the Supreme Commander for one of a number of alien races (read: wormhole jumpers, not border jumpers) attempting to subjugate the populace of our beloved Earth. This game has two modes, one co-operative, and the other competitive, although both have identical mechanics, for the most part. It is, indisputably, a “Victory Points” race in either mode, although when playing the co-operative mode, it’s more like a three-legged race, with the metric for victory being how many little tokens you can collect through conquest or dumb luck via card draws.
The presentation is really great, with the ultra-impregnable cards you’re used to with Flying Frog products, nice little “flying” alien spaceships that look like they’re laying waste to the ground beneath, and best of all, really great, silly art that carries the whole “this is not a serious game that takes itself incredibly seriously” vibe. If there’s any complaint that I have with regard to the components, it’s that the boards that come along with the game warp easily. This is not a new thing for this publisher, as my 5 year old copy of Last Night On Earth is warped all to hell, as was my A Touch Of Evil board, although less so. I don’t know what it is about this company, or the materials, but every game I’ve owned from them has boards that warp badly over time. So, if that’s the kind of thing that rustles your jimmies, be advised that this is a problem. That, and you’re paying for yet ANOTHER “soundtrack” that’s not quite as bad as a cat being bludgeoned with a baby, but not that much better, either. I’ll get into that later, but if they wanted to really set the mood, they’d have included a promo code to BevMo.
Anyhoo, as I said, we played the co-operative mode first, because that seems to be the most widely accepted of the two, and it really surprised me how simple the game is to understand. You have a set amount of actions per turn, and you can either move, play a card that costs an action, attack, or do nothing and get a free VP token. It’s that simple, and even better, actually performing the actions is really simple to understand. For example, if you want to attack a human-occupied tile, you just declare the attack, roll a die and add X amount per spaceship you have on the tile, comparing it against the human’s die roll plus their strength listed on the card. The winner is the higher sum, more or less. If there’s more than one human resistance card or token, just rinse and repeat, or retreat. It’s all a very straightforward affair, in short. What I really like about the design is that it’s not burdened with a bunch of tripe that amounts to complexity for complexity’s sake, but it does offer enough meat on the bones to be challenging and present many options during a turn.
Some of the more awesome design aspects that really rock my taco are the way powers work, and the “Space Stuff” cards. Each of the factions have their own special powers, each of which is very divergent from the others. I’d argue that choosing one is a hell of a lot less fun than randomly taking one, because I’ve found that you end up “falling in love” with a faction and taking it repeatedly, a common situation with games that have characters. With regard to “Space Stuff”, these are cards that represent alien technology and can do a shitload of different things, like being able to move anywhere on the board or get new ships for free, with some of them being one-time use and others being permanent. The permanent cards can be “exhausted” and, for an action, refreshed, which seems to be how they’ve been balanced and not over-powerful.
Now, I have to tell you what I didn’t like, and why. The first, and most important, thing is that the boards are warped all to hell. Maybe the original owner lived in a trailer in Florida or something, but in my experience, Flying Frog has never been able to produce boards that aren’t super-prone to warping. So, that’s my number one bitch about this game: the boards are crooked as an old man’s cock. You can still play on them, obviously, but if you’re going to buy a professionally produced hobby board game for fifty bones, it had better be durably built.
My next bitch, which isn’t really much of a bitch that matters to you because it’s quite subjective, is that they included a co-operative and competitive mode, and the game was clearly made with the intention of having you play competitive mode, but the co-operative mode is so much better. The competitive game isn’t all that much fun, primarily because you are limited to four ships, so a disproportionate amount of time is spent vying for position instead of fighting humans. To make matters worse, since you’re trying to gain enough points to win in an open information game, no less, so you always know who the leader is and this leads to “gang up on the leader” type play, which just adds time and not a lot of fun for the effort. Even if you house-ruled it so that the victory points go in your pocket, it doesn’t matter because the value and owner of spaces is printed on the cards placed onto the board, so no matter what, you know who the leader is. In short, it blows.
The co-operative version is just so much better that I’ll never play it in competitive mode again. They shouldn’t even have included it, and they could’ve made a marginally cheaper product with less setup time and more variety had they spent the extra development time fine-tuning the co-operative mode. Never before have I seen a game be so different, depending on “how” one played it, and to such a degree that I just wish they’d have scrapped the idea of competitive play and focused on where the fun is.
My final bitch, the subject of which you might’ve guessed if you’ve read any other Flying Frog game reviews that I’ve written, is that it yet again comes with the stupid, useless soundtrack. Fuck sakes, guys, when are you going to learn. At this point, it’s pretty clear that the owners have a cousin or something that has a vintage MIDI keyboard and wants to be included, or something like that, and they haven’t had the heart to cut this person loose. Maybe it’s a wife, maybe it’s a ten-game contract. Don’t know, don’t care. Either way, it adds cost but delivers zero value. To Flying Frog’s credit, this is a little better than their usually abysmal music, but just the fact that exists pisses me off. They need to play Escape: The Curse of the Temple or Zombie 15′ to get an idea of what soundtracks CAN BE rather than just plug along making this bullshit mood music. If I was to use a score to liven things up, it would be the score from Aliens or something, not some cheap ass, Swap Meet Louie, utter horse shit.
I guess that the short summary of our feelings on this game is that it’s a fun, reasonably fast, easy to get into kind of game that’s a lot of fun, when you play in co-operative mode. If you don’t care for co-operative games, I wouldn’t recommend this as something that you’ll necessarily like, but if you have our same tastes, you probably won’t dig the competitive “main game” mode much. Maybe you will. It’s definitely worth a try, and the components are quite nice, especially the ones that come into play later through card activation.
Why I Want To Conquer Earth With Flying Frogs:
– Great little bits make this fun to look at on the board
– Fast play with low downtime keeps things moving
– Great humor and throwback references to old alien movies abound
– Really cool art helps carry the theme
Why This Frog Needs Some “Gigging”:
– Fuckin’ A, why do they have to waste space with shit soundtracks?
– The competitive mode is over-long and kind of boring
– They need to solve the warped board problem, big time
I, personally, really like this game from the co-operative mode standpoint, and most all of the Circus are on board with that assessment. Some people found that it was a little too simple, but that’s a matter of taste and hinges on whether or not you like fun, silly, lightweight co-operatives. It’s a lot different than most co-operative games I’ve played, and it has huge replay value due to the amount of cards included. It’s not a “puzzle solving optimization exercise” in any way, which is a refreshing change from the Pandemic-based games out there, so I highly recommend it from that standpoint. Maybe it’s not something you’d want to buy, but I encourage you to play it a couple of times because I think you’ll really dig it.
Check out this game here, if you’re so inclined:
And, for your viewing pleasure, a graphical representation of the soundtrack:
The Sound Of Victory