Strategically Thematic: Space Alert

May 24, 2017

Strategically Thematic is a segment featured on The Dice Tower's bi-weekly Throat Punch Lunch videos about games where the theme and mechanics go together really well.

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Hi, this is Ambie from Board Game Blitz, and this is Strategically Thematic, a segment where I talk about theme in different strategic games. This time, I’m talking about Space Alert.

Space Alert is a real time cooperative game where you’re on a mission to go scan dangerous sectors of the galaxy without getting destroyed. Your role in the game is to make sure your ship survives for 10 minutes, which is how much time it needs to gather the data it needs. Throughout the action part of the game, which lasts exactly 10 minutes, different threats will be appearing in space or on your ship. You have to work together with everyone to destroy the threats, or at least mitigate the damage enough so that your ship doesn't explode.

The main mechanic of the game is programmable movement, which isn’t that thematic, but one thematic part is that the game is split into three phases. In each phase, a soundtrack will tell you what different threats appear in that time period, and you can program what actions you’ll do. After a phase is finished, you cannot change your previous actions anymore, so you have to make quick decisions on how to deal with the enemies right when they appear.

There are a variety of actions you can do, such as shoot missiles at the threats, recharge the shields of the ship, and get a squad of battlebots to help you defeat intruders. You can even coordinate shooting at the enemies. Some enemies have shields that recharge each turn and take away from the damage. But if you work together and hit the enemy at the same time with multiple weapons, the damage adds up and the shields will only count once! It's really exciting being able to coordinate with your teammates to blast the enemy out of the sky.

But the opposite can also happen. Sometimes your ship will take damage, and then some of its systems will malfunction and be less effective. But damage is unpredictable, and the game simulates this by making you draw a random damage tile to determine where the ship was hit. Also, you don’t know what gets damaged until the resolution phase, which is after you’ve planned all your actions, so that adds more to the suspense of the game.

Pretty much all of the actions in Space Alert have a thematic reasoning behind them. For example, the elevator, or gravolift, on the ship is only big enough to fit one person, so if two people try to use it at the same time, one of them will have to use the ladder and that person will be delayed. Also, a lot of things on the ship, like shields and weapons, require energy to work, so if there’s not enough energy to activate something, it won’t work.

Space Alert is all about working together and communicating well with your entire team. The real-time aspect of the game really brings the theme to life as you’re all frantically trying to make sure you can do everything that’s needed to keep your ship alive. Thanks for watching Strategically Thematic! As always, let me know what you think in the comments!
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