Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game (2010)

I like so-called Ameritrash games better than European strategy games. There, I said it.

Essen is coming up and all of the gaming blogs are gearing up for the latest worker placement game or auction game or game that recreates building a 17th century citadel or whatnot. But I’m most excited about the latest Fantasy Flight opus Mansion of Madness, a goober filled box of theme, mystery and asymmetrical play. Loves me the Lovecraft board games. And Fantasy Flight is one of the top Ameritrash game makers.
So, what is an Ameritrash game? While the name sounds negative, i don’t see it that way. I’ve never read a formal explanation, but in my mind, an Ameritrash game is one that emphasizes theme over mechanics. It’s a game with a lot of bits and flavor text and atmosphere. This usually means a certain amount of luck has to be factored in and the winner may not necessarily be the ‘best’ player. Good Ameritrash games tell a story, set a scene. Power gamers tend not to be Ameritrash fans, as the advantages aren’t as easily quantified compared to the more abstract, mechanics-based games. The playing of the game is more fun than the winning of the game.

We have a few more European style games and the ones I like the most, like Agricola and Fresco, have a pretty strong theme. The ones I dislike, mostly Renier Kniza games (I mean, I should like a game called Zombiegeddon, right?), the theme is just an afterthought. Cool mechanics are not enough.

Flying Frog is a relatively new game maker, but they’ve come out swinging like the big boys with two solid games, Last Night on Earth and Touch of Evil.

When Shells heard about their new game Invasion from Outer Space, she put in the order. Well, a few months later, the new game is in and it’s a better game than it’s predecessor Last Night on Earth. Here’s the description from Boardgame Geek:

Invasion From Outer Space, The Martian Game is a fast-paced game of fiendish Martians, Big Top Heroes, and SciFi Movie Action. Players take on the role of either the Carnival Heroes, using their special talents and working together to fight off the Martian Invasion; or as the invaders themselves, waves of Martian Soldiers and Flying Saucers, blasting Humans with Ray Guns and unleashing their vile alien technologies upon the Earth.

Featuring a modular game board, eight Carnival Heroes to choose from (such as the Fire Breather, Strongman, or Jo Jo, the dancing Bear), an army of Martians to start the invasion (including Martian Champions such as the dreaded Zard Beast), and several different Scenarios to play that drastically change the game; Invasion From Outer Space is designed to create a cinematic feel as the story and game unfolds.

Also, as Invasion From Outer Space is built using the Last Night on Earth game engine, the two games are fully compatible. With ease, players can now have their Martians invade the small town of Woodinvale, Zombies attack the Carnival, or even play a massive game with up to three independent factions (Heroes, Zombies, and Martians). The possibilities are endless.

So drop those roasted peanuts, strap on your jumpsuit, and step into the spotlight…the Martians are Coming and the Invasion From Outer Space has begun…

The game uses the Last Night on Earth engine and can be played alone or combined with LNoE for Martians versus Zombie fun. We have LNoE and all of the supplements and Invasion fits in nicely, both from a graphic and gameplay stand point. I’m a fan of Flying Frog’s photographic style of character boards and cards. Hey, you can even be a bear against the Martians.

If you’ve played LNoE, you’ll pick up Invasion quickly. The rules of conflict are pretty simple die rolls with lots of modifiers. The Martians are easier to kill than the zombies, but can shoot Ray Guns and deploy bigger Martian creatures and tech. So, the longer they’re in the game, the more powerful they are. This is not a symmetrical game, the Martian player will win more than the humans. It’s a fact. I played twice as Martians and won both times, although the humans did get close. Unfortunately, both games came down to a few bad (or in the case of the Martian player, good) die rolls. You really can be ruined with a handful of bad die rolls. So goes the invasion.

The game isn’t a simple war game, but built on scenarios. You have a certain number of turns to finish a goal. Mostly, the humans have to stop the Martians from accomplishing some goal. Outlasting the Martians does seem the best way for the humans to win. The human player is individually stronger with many more options per turn, but the Martians overwhelm with pure brute numbers.

How is Invasion better than LNoE? Two ways. One, the carnival theme is just plain more fun. You can play a bear! Visit the funhouse, coral a crowd, shoot yourself across the board or put out a fire. Two, and more importantly, there’s much more for the Martian player to do. In LNoE, it seems like the zombie player was just shuffling along, cycling through cards to get any advantage. Little strategy and mostly luck. Yes, the game is still very luck-based, but the Martians seem more in control and tactical. This balances out for the humans because they’re just so darn easy to kill. (In LNoE, the humans were smart just to stay away or only do range attacks.)

In keeping with Flying Frog tradition, Invasion also comes with a music CD to play in the back ground to help set the mood. It’s pretty simplistic carnival/space music and OK, but not as good as the precious game CD’s. But no deal breaker. Also,in Flying Frog tradition, new scenarios should be showing up on the website for free. A suggestion for future expansions, make an expansion that further joins Invasion to LNoE, much like Steve Jackson’s Munchkin’s Blender sets. Also, more humans, the first batch of eight humans seems pretty close to some of the humans in LNoE, at least in abilities. Some kind of long distant sharp shooter would be awesome.

So, if you own Last Night on Earth and even like it a little bit, you should buy Invasion. If you’re looking for a fun beer and pretzels game and are attracted to the Mars Attacks! Theme, check out Invasion. The bits are nice, the theme is solid and the Ameritrash is strong.


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Fiasco RPG (2009)

I love it when a plan falls disastrously apart.

Fiasco, a quick one-session paper role playing game, aims to recreate bad day and black comedy movies like Burn After Reading and Fargo. It’s GM-less, for 3-5 players and takes under three hours to finish from character creation to final curtain.
Shells and I have been looking for more RPG’s to play and this storytelling game is a nice way to warm up to larger RPG’s. It was definitely the highlight of last week’s Nukecon. So much so, I bought the PDF of the game ($10) from RPG Now when I got home.

Fiasco is a gateway game for the highly dramatic, funny and weird among us. You will need to get heavily involved in the storytelling, but there is no number crunching or stopping down to roll die to determine story outcomes. Your existence as a character isn’t depended on a die roll. You don’t even have a character sheet.

Let’s start with character creation. All the characters are described by just a few words on index cards. Every person has a defined relationship to the person on their left and their right written on the index cards. For example, ‘angry ex-lovers’ or ‘business rival after the same goal’ or ‘siblings.’ These relationships are determined by the play set, the bones of the game. Bully Pulpit games has released a bunch of free play sets which run from 1963 Dallas to a Spinal Tap-like band to Suburbia. Go to the website and check them out. If it sounds intriguing, you may like the game. Each play set is basically a different genre and setting of your story. To determine your relationship, a bunch of dice are rolled and you or others assign a die to it’s corresponding general relationship and a second die is set to define a more specific detail. Since anyone can place dice for anyone else, you may not have much control over the basic obsessions driving your character. This is a good thing because it forces you to think about the overall story and not just yourself. You are not in a group of people all working for the same goals. There’s no loot or booty or leveling up. It’s all about story and conflict.
Conflict breeds chaos and chaos breeds fun. The second signifier between you and the person to your left or right is either a need, object or location. This puts the story in a certain place, adds a MacGuffin to the story and gives characters reasons to do what they’re doing. Sometimes, very strange reasons. In the session I played, most of the action took place in the basement of an elementary school and involved the ashes of $100,000. Very strange stuff happened involving a deer. The rulebook does a good job of going over the particulars of character creation, but playing it out definitely solidified the logic behind the process. Don’t get attached to your character, horrible things may happen to him or her. Think of this character as an extended NPC from another game and go bananas. Also, assign dice and attributes to others that you’d like to see them play out. Increase the tension, yo.

I think the character creation in Fiasco could easily be used in other more traditional games to add a level of soap opera to a group, especially a mystery game like Call of Cthulhu. If you run an improv group, you could create some random characters and situations and make a pretty funny skit out of the results.

The meat of the story is told in two acts with an epilogue. In the first act, each player can either choose to establish or resolve what hijinks their character is up to. The dice, in two colors—one representing good outcomes and one bad outcomes—are heaped in the middle of the table. If you choose to establish the scene, you start the story and get the ball rolling. At some point, another player will grab either a good or bad die and finish your scene with a positive or negative outcome to the scene. If you choose to resolve, the group sets the scene and you grab a good or bad die to say how the scene ends. In act one, that die is then given to another player. Act one is finished after everyone has a scene. After act one, a tilt is introduced. Basically after a tilt, some unforeseen elements are thrown into the story, as the best laid plans of characters start to derail. Craziness ensues for act two which follows the same pattern as act one, except you keep the dice after setting up or resolving the scene. The dice are used to chart where your character ends up at the end of the story, from pathetic to victorious. You may be dead before the end of the story, but that’s ok, you can still come out a winner, story-wise. The more players the longer the game, but it should all wrap up in under three hours with a break.
Reading the rules, I was unsure how to play. I’m glad I played it before reading the rules as it made the rules make more sense. Although, in my session, we did give dice away more as rewards and not as they were intended, to wrest away control of the story. The rulebook’s way sound more fun.
I’m not saying the rules were unclear, not at all, Fiasco is a breezy read filled with cool quotes, examples, and step by step instructions on what is basically a pretty simple RPG. Playing the game first just internalized the logic behind the game. This a game that makes sense as you play it.
As you can see from the picture below, the graphics evoke a cool ’60’s vibe and the book carries that graphic design throughout, kind of like a funny or strange noir story. Good guys get screwed, bad guys get away and the wishy-washy probably end up dead.

In our session last Friday, we had duplicitous affairs, covered up murders, a Klingon sword, deer sex, defrauding an elementary school, many exposed secrets, the fake ashes of a body, misunderstandings, a prison murder and vacuum cleaner/lawyer/councilman war. Um, yea, strange.

We hope to play again with the teens this weekend, maybe the rock band scenario, and to improve play, I hope there will be more secondary characters and more odd story turns as dice are grabbed. The rulebook encourages seamless story-telling and staying in character with out much stop down.

Fiasco’s a game for people who normally don’t play role playing games and aren’t bound by their conventions. Hey, Humanities peeps, give it a try. Screenplays have probably been written with less prep. And Fiasco’s pretty prep-lite, there’s nothing you need to bring to the table except your own twisted personality.

And with the right group of people, you should be able to create a runaway train.

(Full disclosure, I wrote a supplement, for myself, to one of Bully Pulpit’s other games The Roach of Shab-Il-Hiri, a parody of ’80’s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty called The Cashingtons. I hope to do a play set with the Cashingtons with Fiasco as well. Jason Morningstar, the game’s creator, is fantastically available and supportive of outside input.)

Fiasco should show up on Wil Wheaton’s YouTube show Tabletop soon.

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Settlers of Catan Dice Game (2007)


I’m not a big fan of the original Settlers of Catan. There’s too much luck and I’m not a trader. It seems longish as well. However, the bits are nice and it’s often cited as the number on gateway game. People who don’t play a lot of nerdier board games will play Settlers of Catan.
Well, The Settlers of Catan Dice Game takes all the elements of the original Settlers that people liked and chucks them out the window.
It’s a dirt simple press your luck dice game. There’s zero interaction and a lot of dice rolling. The game also features my least favorite game bit, the score sheet. Each player has to have one to play. Since there’s no limit to how many people can play because you’re playing against yourself with no interaction, you could have two 50 player games and be out of score sheets.
Actually, the dice game can be played as one of two different games (each side of the score sheet). We only played the first simpler game. In this game, you call roll the dice up to 3 times to get enough of the resources you need to build a road, village, city or night. You score points when you get these different goals. As you build roads, you color in the roads and move toward the villages. After fifteen rounds, you total up each round score and declare a winner. There’s no way to affect another’s score in any way. So, it’s just a bunch of people chucking dice for an hour. Oh yea, the printed time said 15 minutes to play, but it took the four of us an hour.

So, why did Shells even get the game? Did’ja see the sweet dice cup in the picture? That’s why.


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