Tuesday, August 11, 2015

UFO - A Timely Review

Mismatched dice and a space station standing in for a rocket, but GAME ON!
As long-time readers know, I like to keep my reviews at the Land of Nod timely and relevant, which is why today I'm reviewing a game made in 1976 by Avalon Hill.

Once upon a time (because anything that begins with that phrase has to be timely and relevant), when I must have been in elementary school or thereabouts, I was digging through a closet and came across a box that apparently held a game. The title - UFO: Game of Close Encounters.

These were the days of Star Wars, but they weren't the days of VCR's / DVD's / Netflix / YouTube / watch anything you want when you want no matter what. These were the days when the Charlie Brown Christmas Special was on TV once a year, and if you missed it, you missed it. Star Wars was a phenomenon, and since it was in short supply, anything sci-fi was doing pretty well. I didn't know much about this UFO game, but it looked like it was at least in Star Wars' neighborhood, so I was intrigued.

The game belonged to my father, apparently a gift from somebody. My father isn't much of a game player, and I'm not sure he ever played the game in his life. He sure didn't play it with me. The game migrated to my closet as a kid, and then moved with me when I left home. And then, one day thirty-something years later ...

"What's this," asks my daughter, rummaging through the closet in my office.

And I realize it's time to end the cycle. UFO must be played.

The cover, found at Board Game Geek, of course
I get the game out and check Board Game Geek to see what I'm missing. Apparently, I only managed to lose 2 counters in all the years I messed with the game as a kid. Not too bad, and not really an obstacle to playing the basic version of the game.

The victory conditions in the basic game are pretty simple - the invading UFO player wins by landing five saucers on Earth. The Earth player wins by destroying enough saucers that the UFO player cannot win.

Game play is equally simple. The UFO player places his/her saucers around the outside of the board. The Earth player places his rockets on Earth. Each turn, players roll two dice. Each dice controls the movement of a separate piece. Pieces can move in orbit clockwise. They can move to a different orbit only along four paths, and may not change orbit or move clockwise in the same turn. If a rocket lands on a saucer, the saucer is destroyed. If a saucer lands on a rocket, the rocket is destroyed.

If the Earth player rolls doubles, he loses his turn and the Moon moves in orbit. If the UFO player rolls doubles, she may hyperspace one of her saucers to any empty space on the board.

If the Moon, while orbiting, moves over a piece, it destroys the piece. If the Moon is empty, a piece can be landed on the Moon on its own turn, by exact count. Likewise, Earth can only be landed on by exact count, but either player.

So, them's the rules. How did the game go?

Pretty fun, actually. The strictures on movement make you think a bit, and the potential for hyperspace makes it tough for the Earth player to cover all his bases. Ultimately, you want to control those orbital paths towards the Earth, but it's not as easy as you think, because if you just sit there, eventually the UFO player is going to destroy your rocket or hyperspace in behind you. In the game my daughter and I played, it came right down to the wire - four saucers landed on Earth, one saucer left needing a "1" to land. I got the lucky roll the dice  and destroyed the fifth saucer. Earth was saved. All humanity rejoiced.

The advanced game involves space stations and false signals on radar, and we'll tackle it at some point. The game was pretty fun, actually. Didn't take long, and didn't drain the brain, so a nice way to spend a half an hour or so. Afterwards, we played LIFE (the old version with Art Linkletter on the money, of course), and my daughter cleaned my clock.

Of course, there wouldn't have been an Earth to play the Game of LIFE on if I hadn't stopped the saucer invasion ...

1 comment:

  1. I'd assumed from the title that it had to do with the old TV show. Sounds kind of cool though.


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