Penny Auctions and a Review of Alien Uprising

pic1741857_lgSo, at the latest RICHIECON 2017, I decided to cull some games from my collections I just will never play again.  I wanted to give them away at a raffle, but then I realized that people may not want some of the games I want to cull!  So, rather than inflict a game on someone who doesn’t want it, I instituted a Penny Auction.   Yes, a Penny Auction.  Bidding starts at a penny and goes up however it goes.  The record for highest bid this year was held by Junkerman for … Alien Uprising.  For 100 pennies!
Why did I put my copy of Alien Uprising on the Penny Auction block?
I have decided that I really don’t like games where I have to roll dice to tell me what to do.  I know the Dice Tower guys hate this mechanic too … see this video: Sam’s #1 is Rolling for Actions/Movement.  And this is exactly what Alien Uprising does.  You roll to see what you can do that turn.  There are some strategies to mitigate this with re-roll abilities and the like, but I find I do NOT enjoy this mechanic and thus don’t enjoy this game.  (Neither does Sam Healey).  Sadly, this may be the reason I never finish my Nemo’s War review: I just really hate this dice-rolling mechanic for actions.  (Nemo’s War looks great, I just don’t think it’s for me).
Junkerman, who paid 100 pennies for Alien Uprising, really went to town on learning this game!  He found some house rules that Richard Lanius uses to make the game better, he brought it to his game group!  I’ve asked him to share his review of the game below.  Enjoy!

Junkerman Review of Alien Uprising

Alien Uprising review
Components: 5
The board can be confusing during the game, as several components and spaces are similar colors and shapes.  Debris tokens are difficult to keep track of, and the character markers are too small.  All the little fiddly energy markers and repair markers are such a pain –DON’T bump the table, or you may as well start over.  Sliders are so much better in fiddly games.  Heck, all you need is a bunch of those Hero-click bases with the number ranges you want, then just set one on the card and click to keep track of energy, ammo, repairs, etc…  Also, am I the only OCD player who thought that the cardboard ship components should not be all different sizes?  The odd sizes aren’t used for a larger, more readable font…  No reason for this.
Rules: 5
I was confused about a few things until I watched a YouTube play-through which went through all four phases.  The first round was like, “Okay next I roll the dice…  Looks like I got some wrenches –they might not be as useful on the first turn, maybe I should re-roll them.  Hmm…  Better check the rules to see what other things they can do…”  And I had to do that with almost everything.  The video play-through gave me a better feel for what’s good and bad, and where to push your luck.
We also relied heavily on the stream-lined “Rules Cheatsheet” downloaded here:
This sheet chronologically organizes the rules through setup, then in order through all four phases.  20x easier to look up a rule.
There was a good deal of confusion about the (two) numbers on each space relating to movement, line of sight, melee, and where the aliens go –likewise there was also some confusion between sectors and zones relating to where the aliens can go, line of sight, melee. etc…  Example:  Diesel’s heavy blaster says it can attack all creatures in one ZONE.  It says nothing about SECTORS.  Also, it doesn’t specify if it acts like the grenade.  Does one hit wound all aliens in that Zone (ie. does one hit represent one shot, or a whole clip of shots)?  We extrapolated from other weapons that one hit represents one shot, but the weapon lets you use a lot of shots at once, and then you apply the hits (dice) to aliens one at a time in any order you choose –but only aliens in one sector (within line of sight), and only one zone.  The ability to attack multiple aliens, and the ambiguity with ZONE are both answered in the FAQ.
Being able to wound aliens while defending (especially with the laser sword) was confusing.  We just used Richard’s heroic defenders home-rule to do a max of one wound if the player’s defense roll was higher than the alien attack rolls, but technically, this lets you hit multiple aliens if several are attacking.
Because of the aliens being able to access the ship from all sectors, we thought players in the ship could help other players in any sector.  The ship is actually not considered to see all sectors, only sector 4.  Also in the FAQ.
Once we figured things out, the game mostly played smoothly.  Then it was just a question of figuring out how to squeeze in some strategy while being overwhelmed with damage control tasks.
Gameplay: 6
It feels like a cross between “Defenders of the Realm” and “Elder Sign.”  We also compared it to “Lord of the Rings” with the expansion, which was so unwinnable that we just refer to it as “Getting Killed by Sauron.”  We might start calling this game, “Getting Killed by Aliens.”  My gaming group has a small masochistic element which causes us to occasionally pull out a particularly broken game which nevertheless has fun or nerdy elements.  This game might fall into that category, but it could be too long and too fiddly to get played on such occasions (the elements aren’t as fun).
First off, I don’t favor the dice approach to taking actions.  I think most reviews refer to this being a particularly frustrating element.  I love Arkham Horror, but I hate Elder Sign.  This has the worst of both.  You can get stuck in Arkham horror, just from what’s happening on the board, and you can get stuck in Elder Sign from bad die-rolls.  Here you can get stuck from both.  Getting stuck is frustrating.  You probably have 8 things you need to do on any turn, 4 of them might be critical, but you might not be able to do any.  I generally avoid games which have a “lose your turn” effect –I’m buying the game to play it, not to just sit and watch…  I do like the “Yahtzee” mechanic to get extra action dice, but I think the game would play better with every player having one or two standard actions, and then the random extra actions feel more like extra fun rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel to do something.
We used the three Richard Launius home-rules.  We’re pretty sure we wouldn’t have won without them.
After playing, several of us described the game as “too swingy,” meaning that you can go from doing pretty good to doing terrible in one turn.
Strategy: 4
I give it a 4, because several elements were completely ignored in the base game.  1. We all chose characters whose powers affect the dice.  This (and lucky debris) was the key to winning for us.  I almost feel cornered by the game into choosing the same characters because of this –it doesn’t feel like you want a strategic mix of talents, just more control over the dice…  …We almost always got the extra action dice.  Now, although it’s clear that extra action dice are one of the keys to winning, at no time did we feel like we were really able to handle the alien onslaught.  Basically, we were just slowing them down, and having barely won our first game, I can say that we really don’t expect to win very often.  It’s brutal.  2.  The “Line of Sight” numbers on spaces were initially confusing, and later ignored as shooting long distance was a very inefficient use of dice (which are the premium resource).  We completely avoided these and always shot at short range.  If these are to be useful, there needs to be a strategic weapon which is regularly used at medium and long ranges.  3. We found the turret, scanner, and energy thingy, but left them in the dust as they required both repairs and crystals –the critical resources for our escape.  Our strategic interests in fixing the ship are too heavily opposed with using one of the devices.  Interestingly, we did a couple of strategic “suicide runs,” where we’d leave a player in a zone with aliens to prevent them from advancing.  Lucky rolls helped there, but regardless, that strategy was super helpful.  I give the game a plus for that sort of situation.  However, another down side was the alternate (impossible) win condition of the rescue ship.  I don’t see how you could ever win this way.  Even if you could manage the aliens (you can’t), you’d run out of gestation cards long before the ship arrived.  Our ship made it only five spaces along the rescue track (12 to go) with only one gestation card left.  Even if you start with the homing beacon, it looks impossible –not a strategic option…
Cooperation: 7
This is definitely a coop game.  I think there is a fair amount of true cooperation.  First, you have to distribute the dice.  That requires some teamwork.  Second, there are often sacrifices which need to be made by an individual to help the group.  Third, many powers and skill cards can be used to aid other team members.
Home rule ideas:
Next play session, I want to add a few of my own home-rules. Through most of these, I want to embrace the possibility of bad die-rolls being an ordinary part of game play, and not necessarily a game-ender.  We noticed that this is managed to some degree by using “useless” dice to “pick up” debris.  Here are a few other ideas to push the game into a true “easy mode.”  Some of these ideas could be used to replace the lame debris (anything powered by crystals) with the “future expansion” debris, where “Future expansion #1” is one of the items below, etc…
  1. An expendable “decoy” on the ship that can be launched (with an action die) to prevent all troops being added to one sector that turn.  This would give the players at least one guaranteed option for strategy in managing aliens (obviously, Diesel has the sonic grenade if he is among the crew).
  2. An expendable item that lets you spend ALL the dice to do something cool (a semi-strategic use for one terrible die-roll).  Or a replacement for lame debris.  Ideas:
    • Transporter: Teleport everyone back to the ship.  This would be really nice if the previous turn everyone had used the last action to pick up debris.
    • Scanner: reveal all debris in one sector
    • Regroup: Everyone draw a character card
    • Energy Pod: Everyone recharge all items
    • Warp Field: Prevent drawing next alien gestation card.
    • Tractor beam: pull one debris (from any zone) into the ship.  If it’s an alien and there are no players in zone 0, then you lose, otherwise fight alien.
  3. Rolling three aliens gets you the bonus dice (current rule) and the addition of three aliens causes alien confusion (new rule) ==> alien special abilities (tunnelers, archers, leaders) don’t activate this turn, but melee resolves normally.
  4. Alien Research.  Spend 3 alien dice on the ship (all on one turn) to give +1 to all shields this round.
  5. One crystal is a “blue crystal” (total: 1 blue, 2 regular, and 1 red).  The blue crystal can be used twice (eg. to power the turret, and then transferred to the engines).

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