The following is the first of what I hope to be a monthly series of session reports, in which I attempt to distill my subjective experience of a single play of a game, along with its emergent narrative, in writing. This is something I’d love to see more of at Entropy, so if you have a session report for an electronic or tabletop game, please send it to me at: email@example.com.
All “training seminar” quotes are direct from the game’s (standard-setting) manual.
Space Alert is a board game for 1-5 players designed by Vlaada Chvátil and published by Czech Games Edition.
#!#ALERT. ENEMY ACTIVITY DETECTED. PLEASE BEGIN FIRST PHASE#!#
“Are you ready, space cowboys!? This here’s the moment you’ve spent your whole…well, the past long weekend training for! This is where we find out whether you’re men…or explorers!”
Looking stern but terrified, Captain Boris tugged the zipper of his bright blue jumpsuit all the way up to his perfectly square chin. Beside him, First Officer Yeltsin appeared to be a smirking, disembodied face floating above his banana-yellow jumpsuit, while Communications Officer Gingrich, in lime yellow, stifled a yawn. Ensign Puppydog, looking as alert and eager to please as his call sign would suggest, struggled to find the sleeve of his matching purple suit. The instructor at the Space Explorer’s Training Seminar had promised that the colored jumpsuits would “make it easier for you to recognize each other during the ﬂight,” but that didn’t stop them all from feeling rather silly. All this on top of the color-coded rooms and the giant buttons that linked to every aspect of the ship’s controls…did the guy think they were idiots? “You’ll be grateful for this simpliﬁcation, when the time comes,” was all he’d say. Yeah, well, which one of us is getting paid $299.99 an hour? Puppydog had wanted to shout.
“Your mission will be to explore certain regions of the Galaxy, take note of enemy actions, and look for dangerous sectors. It is not a difficult routine: the ship automatically performs the hyperspace jump to the programmed sector, the scanners map the region, and when they are done the ship automatically jumps back home. The entire operation only takes 10 minutes, during which you don’t have to do anything at all. And, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, it is the best-paying 10 minutes of doing nothing that you will ever ﬁnd,” the instructor had winked. “Actually, we could send you out without any training at all, but government regulations require a brief course ﬁrst. And sometimes – not very often, you understand – but sometimes you encounter some hostile behavior that might, in only the most extreme cases, lead to some damage to your ship. And that’s why we send you along, really. Your job is to repel these feeble attacks and keep the ship functional for the 10 minutes it needs to take a picture of the sector. The computer automatically evaluates the position and intentions of the enemy and the ship is equipped with powerful shields, several laser cannons, self-guided rockets, squads of battlebots, and other defense systems, so it won’t be a problem to deal with any…um…problem that may arise. And I am pleased to tell you that those of you who do encounter the enemy will receive a handsome bonus if you return.
“When you return, I mean.”
“Alright, people, you know what to do,” Boris shouting, shocking Puppydog back to the present. “We need somebody down the gravolift, manning the reactors…Yeltsin, did I see a hand up?” Yeltsin heaved a sigh. “I’m going to check out the blue zone, and Gingrich, you can watch the red zone. Puppydog, I need you to stay right here and, every couple of minutes or so, press this big ‘C’ button so that the ship’s screensaver doesn’t come on. We all know what it means if that happens, right?” The rest of the crew shuddered. “You think you can handle that?”
“Sure thing, Cap’n!” Puppydog chirped. He’d show that stuck-up Boris. He’d make sure they never saw that screensaver, even if it meant his death.
“Alright…let’s see some hustle, people!”
#!#TIME T+2, INTERNAL THREAT. REPEAT: TIME T+2, INTERNAL THREAT#!#
“Captain, we’ve got a Saboteur heading toward the blue zone lateral reactor!”
“Dammit!” Boris slammed his palm into the oversized ‘C’ button, activating the blue zone’s battlebots, the Sitting Duck’s only line of defense against internal threats. For the rest of the mission, they’d be his constant companion, whether he liked it or not. He then hopped the gravolift down to the reactor level.
#!#TIME T+3, THREAT ZONE WHITE. REPEAT: TIME T+3, THREAT ZONE WHITE#!#
“It’s a fighter ship, captain!” Puppydog shouted.
“Well, shoot it!”
“Maybe if somebody could, um, man the pulse cannons….”
#!#TIME T+4, THREAT ZONE RED. REPEAT: TIME T+4, THREAT ZONE RED#!#
“Yeltsin, you heard the man! Synchronize fire on the Fighter at T+3, and put some back into it!” Down in the central reactor chamber, Yeltsin rolled his eyes and began a countdown under his breath, hand poised over the ‘A’ button that activated the pulse cannons. While he was waiting, he tossed another fuel rod into the reactor, topping it up…just in case. Ten seconds later, the Fighter was a screaming, fiery streak against the backdrop of stars.
#@#FIRST PHASE ENDS IN 5…4…3…2…1…FIRST PHASE HAS ENDED. BEGIN SECOND PHASE#@#
“What’s coming in at T+4, Gingrich?” Boris shouted, commanding his battlebots to fire upon the Saboteur, who crumpled under their lazer-fire like crepe paper.
“Ungh?” Gingrich snorted, nodding awake. Maybe I should have mentioned my narcolepsy during the entrance exam, he wondered too late. “Oh, it’s just a…giant space Jellyfish, captain!”
“Shoot it?” Boris suggested gently.
#!#TIME T+5, THREAT ZONE WHITE. REPEAT: TIME T+5, THREAT ZONE WHITE#!#
Gingrich slammed on the ‘A’ button, firing the blue zones heavy cannon, which tore into the Jellyfish’s soft flesh. He was shocked to see, a moment later, the creature begin to repair itself as if nothing had happened. He slammed on the button again, but this time there was nothing but a small spark produced from the energy cannon’s tip. The reactor must be empty. “Need some energy over here!” Gingrich shouted, or maybe he just dreamed it, because nobody ever heard him.
“Captain, we’ve got an Energy Cloud at T+5!” Puppydog shouted.
“Nothing we can’t handle. Did you hit the ‘C’ button yet this phase, Ensign?”
Shit! The screensaver! Puppydog leaned into the ‘C’ button with all his might. “Could do with some pulse cannon again at T+5!”
“On it!” Yeltsin called up the gravolift. Synchronizing fire on the Energy Cloud, Puppydog watched in awe as it dissipated as suddenly as it had appeared. Yeltsin threw another fuel rod into the reactor…just in case.
#!!#TIME T+6, SERIOUS INTERNAL THREAT. REPEAT: TIME T+6, SERIOUS INTERNAL THREAT#!!#
“Serious is right! Captain, it looks like we’ve got some Crossed Wires on the bridge. If we don’t repair it by hitting the ‘B’ button, it’ll drain all the energy from our reactors, not to mention overheat our shields.”
“I can do that!” Puppydog shouted, staring at the giant green ‘B’ button beside him.
“Did you remember to hit the ‘C’ button?”
Dammit! The screensaver!
#%#COMMUNICATION SYSTEM DOWN#%#
#!#TIME T+8, THREAT ZONE BLUE. REPEAT: TIME T+8, THREAT ZONE BLUE#!#
“Yep, that’s an Asteroid,” Boris commented.
“Well, can you shoot it or something?”
“No time! Gingrich, how are we doing with that Jellyfish?”
Gingrich startled awake, then slammed his hand down on the ‘A’ button. The heavy cannon sparked but did not fire. Groggily, he whacked at the button a few more times.
#@#SECOND PHASE ENDS IN 5…4…3…2…1…SECOND PHASE HAS ENDED. BEGIN THIRD PHASE#@#
“I’ll shoot it, captain!” Puppydog called out, slamming the ‘C’ and ‘A’ buttons and dashing over to the blue zone.
In a panic, Yeltsin found his feet carrying him toward the red zone reactor, for no discernible reason. “Need any power, Gingrich?” he asked to cover up his embarrassment.
“Ungh…oh, yes!” Gingrich replied, uselessly slamming on the ‘A’ button again.
“Right.” Yeltsin tapped the ‘B’ button to refill the lateral reactor, but nothing happened. “Captain, is the central reactor empty?”
“Oh yes,” Boris replied, reaching for a fuel rod. His fingers grasped empty air…somehow, they’d used up their entire supply.
“That’s funny. It was full a moment ago. Puppydog, did you ever take care of those Crossed Wires?” His only answer was a massive explosion of energy from the bridge as the shields surged, frying every electronic system in the white zone.
#%#COMMUNICATION SYSTEM DOWN#%#
“How’s that energy coming?” Gingrich yawned, a moment before the Jellyfish reached its tentacles toward the Sitting Duck, causing the weakened central zone of the ship to implode like an aluminum can. The entire crew was dead within seconds.
#@#OPERATION ENDS IN 1 MINUTE#@#
An Asteroid slammed into what was left of the Blue Zone, tearing the remains of the ship in half.
#@#OPERATION ENDS IN 20 SECONDS#@#
#@#OPERATION ENDS IN 5…4…3…2…1…#@#
#$#MISSION COMPLETE. JUMPING TO HYPERSPACE#$#
From within the crumpled ruins of the Sitting Duck, the black box warped itself back to headquarters, just in time for the replacement crew to arrive for their accelerated training course in deep space exploration.