Scurrying footsteps echo in the sector ahead. A smile full of pointed teeth spreads across an alien face and I blast into the room shredding the puny human apart. Well, I meant to. It turns out that one of the guys playing was bluffing so well that I thought he was a human. Instead of infecting a human I’ve actually just killed a fellow alien. Looking up from my map I see an unimpressed face looking back at me. My bad.
Escape the Aliens in Outer Space is a 2-8 player hidden role and hidden movement game with half of you playing as humans desperately trying to escape your spaceship while the other half are aliens out for blood. Each player’s role is secret and by interpreting their movements and behaviour you’ll need to figure out which side they’re on.
At the start of play you’ll dish out a marker pen and a wipe clean map book to every player, decide on which of the varied maps you’ll play (more on these in a bit) and be randomly dealt a character card with a fifty-fifty ratio of humans to aliens. Each of these characters have a unique ability that add an extra layer to the strategy of the game.
Once you’ve settled on a map and everyone knows which side they’re on you’ll move through the grid of hexagons one sector at a time. Each of these sectors is labelled with a co-ordinate and is either silent or dangerous. If you move into a silent sector you can gladly declare “Silent Sector” to the rest of the group. Land on a dangerous sector, however, and any one of four things could happen. You’ll draw one of four types of cards, Noise in Your Sector, Noise in Any Sector, Silence or Item. If you draw either a Silence or Item card you keep a hold of it and announce “Silence in all Sectors”. Draw a Noise in Your Sector and you have to say “Noise in Sector [X,Y]” where X,Y is the sector you’ve just moved into and if you draw a Noise in any Sector card, you have to say “Noise in Sector [X,Y]”, but this time X,Y can be any sector.
This is where the bluffing comes in. You’re all listening to every sector you each announce and trying to plot the course that everyone’s taken. Throw in the fact everyone’s constantly trying to hide their actual location and you end up with three or four potential routes for each player. You’re also keeping track of the route you’re telling everyone you’ve taken compared to the one you actually took, at the end of each game every map looks completely different and we always had a laugh as we saw how wrong we all were.
There are a few win states in Escape the Aliens. Aliens win when they kill every remaining human on the ship and every human that escapes wins too. It’s not enough for a human to reach an escape pod though, when you land on that sector you draw an Escape Pod card and show everyone. If it’s green you escape and no one else can use that pod as you’ve slammed the door shut and got out of dodge before anyone else can join you. If it’s red, you’re in trouble. The escape pod is smashed, you need to get to another one and the aliens will all know where you are.
The humans can only move one sector at a time, but aliens can move one or two so there’s this balancing act of how far can you push yourself to get to the humans faster compared to how slowly do you have to move to keep up the charade of being human. When an alien finally catches up to where they think a human is they can move into that space and declare “I Attack in Sector [X,Y]”. Early in the game this can be a huge gamble as you show everyone that you’re most likely to be an alien, and if you might end up killing a fellow alien.
Once you get into the game the theme is really strong, as a human you get this building sense of tension as you get closer to an escape pod, knowing the aliens are hot on your heels and will figure out where you are soon. As an alien you feel like you’re creeping around the Nostromo picking off feeble humans – more than one facehugger joke is guaranteed per play session.
The range of maps really helps the lifespan of this game. With one or two maps Escape the Aliens would get old quickly, but there are loads to choose from, some with really narrow choke points so double and triple bluffing becomes essential. A great addition is the map builder on the website. You can design your own maps and game modes on the official site and print these off to inject another lease of life in the unlikely event you ever exhaust the possibilities that come in the box.
Escape the Aliens is definitely staying on my shelf and not being relegated to the attic, it’s great for playing with other gamers as you’ll all be practiced in the bluffing element and will end up with a really devious game that has you all plotting and scheming. But it’s also great to play with non-gamers, I’ll be taking it to the in-laws at Christmas because it’s so easy to teach. There are no hidden rules, you can explain the whole game in less than two minutes and everyone has fun, even if you’re awful at bluffing as dying as when you are killed as a human you respawn as an alien.
The only question left to answer is what’s so ultimate about the Ultimate Edition. Most importantly the paper maps have been ditched for really nice wipe clean map books and marker pens. Now you don’t need half a reem of maps printed out in case you fancy playing a map more than once in a session. The previously mentioned character abilities are new to the Ultimate Edition and add a great extra layer to the game.
Just to throw a few examples out there, the Captain of the humans doesn’t draw a Dangerous Sector Card the first time he moves into a Dangerous Sector, the Psychologist begins the game in the Alien Sector and the Soldier can Attack once in the game, as if he had used an Attack item card and without needing one. The aliens get abilities too, as if they’re not scary enough. The Brute is immune to all Attacks, Human and Alien, the Invisible alien is immune to the Sensor Item and the Spotlight Item and the Fast alien can move up to three sectors on his first movement of the game. We didn’t bother with these extra abilities until we got to grips with the game generally, and they completely change the game when you add them in. If you’re going to grab a copy of Escape the Aliens – and you really should – but can’t decide which version to go for, you should definitely pick up the Ultimate Edition.<