In ESCAPE FROM THE ALIENS IN OUTER SPACE, Everyone at the Table Can Hear You Scream
Fall is finally hitting full stride here in the Pacific Northwest. The nights are taking on a bit of a chill. Our thermostat is set to heat for the first time in months. Various gourds and squash plants are acceptable household decorative items, along with my wife’s creepy handicrafts, hidden away in glass cupboards and corners. Halloween-time is here.
So, given the season, I wanted to check out a few horror-themed games this month. I don’t have many in my collection, but this week I pulled down the gorgeous-looking Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, hereafter referred to as EFTAIOS for brevity and keeping my typing fingers sane.
This isn’t going to be an actual review of the game as far as my overall thoughts on it, because, well, I haven’t actually played it yet. I picked up EFTAIOS super-cheap some time ago at a clearance sale, but as of this posting, this game still seems widely available.
As a social deduction game involving an amount of deception, it may be tricky to get people onboard with this game. The theme and style may not be to everyone’s taste, and, honestly, I think everyone has to be in the right mood or this may fall flat. That’s probably why I haven’t gotten this to the table yet.
The story of EFTAIOS takes us to the space station Selva, where, as usual, a scientist is unwisely tampering in God’s domain. What is supposed to be research for a ravaging disease becomes a vampiric biological agent that immediately mutates humans into the titular xenomorphic-like aliens. The first victim is the scientist, and the body horror count goes up from there. All hell breaks loose; power is shut down, and the Selva is beyond hope of saving. The remaining crew needs to high-tail it out of there using the escape pods if they want to continue existing as Homo sapiens. The challenge is that the station is pitch-dark, and in the chaos nobody knows who anyone is or where they may be.
For the setup, each player receives a card indicating their secret role as a human or alien, a spiral-bound mapbook containing different floorplans of the Selva, and a dry-erase marker.
The humans are trying to escape, and, of course, the aliens are trying to hunt down the humans. Any human that manages to escape the Selva wins, although there can be shared victories. If there is still a human onboard the Selva after 40 turns, the aliens win along with any human that managed to escape. If all the humans are killed, the aliens win. If all the humans escape, the aliens lose. Essentially, it’s every human for themselves, while the aliens win or lose together.
All players decide on a floorplan from the mapbook, each offering distinct difficulty levels. The floorplan is a hex-grid which has the escape pods marked, and the starting locations for the humans and the aliens. Each turn, the players will be moving by writing down the exact coordinates in their mapbook with the dry-erase marker, keeping their mapbook hidden from the other players. On their turn, a human can move 1 hex; an alien can move 1 or 2 hexes.
A hex may be labeled as a “dangerous sector.” When ending a turn in that hex, the player draws a dangerous sector card, which instructs the player to announce that a noise has occurred. If it is a green icon, the player needs to announce the hex they are in. If it is red, then they can choose any hex on the map. They could say “Noise in sector N15,” for example. The other players don’t know if they are really in that sector, or if it’s a bluff. It seems to me, thematically-speaking, that a red icon means you might have stumbled and made a noise, and green icon could mean you found something and threw it to make a distraction. You also could draw a white icon which means “silence in all sectors.”
The map portion of the book is used for the player to keep notes on where they think others may be. An alien attacks by announcing the hex they move into: “Attack in sector N15.” If there is a human there, they are alien chow. However, the human is not eliminated, but they mutate, going to the alien-starting hex and beginning again as an alien. Aliens need to plan their initial attack carefully, as the jig is up at that point; now everyone knows their real identity and their exact location.
Once a human reaches an escape pod safely, it’s not over yet. The player needs to draw an escape pod card to see if the pod is functioning. If not, tough luck, they are going to have to find one that works.
There are a few more aspects, like item cards and ranks/special abilities, that you can add in after playing the basic game. EFTAIOS has been described to me as a tense experience, mixing in a Battleship-style “hit or miss” mechanism, with hidden movement and bluffing. Table banter is highly encouraged during the game.
As I said, this game could be a non-starter if players don’t get into it or are having a difficult time with the stress. I thought about trying it in a dark room, maybe using tiny flashlights and ambient noise to heighten the experience of willing victims.
The artwork and presentation in this “ultimate edition” is fantastic, with the illustrations evocative of a woodcut style. The iconography works really well, and it’s a huge help that the mapbooks contain notes on all the card icons. Some of the alien artwork is quite macabre, so this isn’t one for the kids. Also the cards are almost completely glossy black, and as I’ve noted elsewhere, you might want to sleeve the cards. I’ve seen that previous editions used pen paper for maps and movement recording instead of the dry-erase mapbook, and I can say this looks like a much better solution. A big reason I got this game is because it flat-out looks cool, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it.