Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is a minimalist game of bluffing and secrecy set on the damaged research ship — the SELVA. All systems are down and the entire ship is dark. Captain and crew are trying to make their way to escape pods and an unknown, alien virus is transforming the crew into blood-thirsty monsters. If you are human you quietly and swiftly try to make your way to the escape pods and hope they work. If you are an alien, you quietly make your way towards the humans and hope they are tasty. Rather than utilizing a central board like Scotland Yard, Letters from Whitechapel, or Fury of Dracula, Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space has each player marking their movement on a personal map sheet which remains hidden from the other players. Players use a dry erase marker to record their movement, location, and any additional information they can glean from the others in 40 rounds.
There are several map sheets to choose from, each featuring a specific zone of the SELVA. Each map is made up of different numbered hexagonal sectors. At the start of the game, each player agrees to the same map (since your personal map is secret, it is important that everyone starts on the same page). Each zone has a specific name such as Galilei — The Research Zone — and come in varying sizes, layouts, for recommended player counts and levels of experience. After a map is chosen, a number of character cards equal to the number of players are drawn and secretly dealt to each player. For even numbers of players, half of these should be alien cards and the other half should be human cards. For odd numbers of players, you add an extra alien. Each character card (both alien and human) has a unique ability.
Payers take turns moving from one sector to another and recording their movement on their sheet. Humans start from a different sector than aliens and attempt to move to the escape pod sector[s]. Aliens start moving towards where they think the humans are currently located. Aliens can move one or two sectors (three after an alien successfully devours their first human) and humans can only move one unless aided by certain cards. When players move into a dangerous sector (colored grey on the map) they draw a card. There are different types of dangerous sector cards. Some require a player announce their location, some require you bluff and announce any location, some allow you to remain silent, and some are items that can be used by humans immediately or later in the game. Regardless of species, all cards drawn are kept in front of the players and remain secret. Since aliens can’t use items, only humans should be looking at their cards occasionally. Humans, remember your cards. Aliens, pretend to reference your cards at all times just to blend in.
At the end of their aliens can declare an attack on anyone else in the sector. Players, either human or alien, in that sector must announce their presence and promptly die and reveal their character. When humans are killed they respawn as aliens from the alien starting sector and begin to hunt. When aliens are killed they are eliminated from the game and either start making snacks, mixing drinks, or picking the next game to play. To counteract this, human players can utilize items any time during their turn. Items can help them attack, teleport, defend against attack, or force other players to announce their location.
The game ends after 40 rounds, when all humans escape, all humans are eaten, or some combination of the above. The aliens win if they can kill all the humans remaining on the station. Any human killed by an alien loses and any human who escapes wins.
Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space is a mixed bag of a game. Let’s start with the unsatisfying ending of the game. As an example of a satisfying ending, take the hidden movement game Letters from Whitechapel. Jack can win if he escapes detection for the game and the constables win if they can locate Jack. The endgame rewards cunning and secrecy for Jack and rewards teamwork, communication, and cooperation in the constables. Either way it is certainly satisfying. The ending of Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space is a weird “every person for themselves” for the humans and a secretive game of teamwork for the aliens. However, with no central board to work from it is difficult for the aliens to subtly communicate with each other to determine who is an alien and a lone human survivor can’t really celebrate since what feels like a cooperative (humans surviving versus aliens hunting) game was really a competitive (get outta my way, this is my escape pod!) one.
A better role for dispatched aliens could have been designed. When humans die they are respawned as aliens. But aliens killed by aliens result in having a player potentially removed from the game early on. This is, in my opinion, a design flaw. Granted, Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space should only last 30-45 minutes but if one person is removed early it ruins their experience of the game and then makes it much harder for the Aliens to win. I prefer to have an attacked alien revealed as an alien. This makes the game difficult for these two aliens (now revealed to everyone else — location and identity) without removing one from the game. Any way to keep people playing should be the goal of the design, unless the game is specifically a player elimination game which doesn’t seem to be the intent of Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space.
That small design flaw aside, the game is certainly tense and if you place a strict time limit on movement, the game can move quickly (to meet the 30-45 minute time expectation on the box rather than the 45-60 minutes it takes with larger groups) and the experience can be memorable. But, like any hidden role game, it depends on the group. Some games can be horrendously silent and slow. Others can be rousingly thematic and exciting. If you want to play this game and have a positive experience you need to seriously read your game group well. And despite the simplicity of gameplay, it is not a gateway game.
Bookkeeping can also be a challenge. Unlike Letters from Whitechapel where only Jack is required to keep a careful log of movements, in Escape each player needs to be meticulous in their records and also able to keep an eye on where everyone else is potentially located. In the wrong hands this game looks like a large and boring rendition of Battleship with announced coordinates and a quick jot of a note. To be fair, in the right hands you feel like you’ve been transported to the set of Alien. The game really is only worth a play at higher player counts and thus the downtime can be excruciating. That said, there are eight maps to choose from so you can customize your game experience to your group by using a larger or smaller map. This plus your ability to go online and use the map editor (http://www.eftaios.com/mapeditor.html) provides a ton of variability.
This game could have gone a route to be bigger and more component heavy, especially in a market that rewards miniatures and intense components. It could have had a central board and more planning. However, it minimizes the overhead to maximize the immersive experience — you are alone and in the dark trying to get out or to hunt. This does place the onus solely on the player to provide the atmosphere. My recommendation is that if your group loves Letters from Whitechapel, lives and breathes Battlestar Galactica, and washes it down with The Resistance, then you have a winner here. Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space sits nicely in the realm of hidden movement and hidden role games, providing a large depth of immersion for a game that is so very easy to learn that exceeds at higher player counts for a true experience game.