By Christopher Helton
During the month of October, the minds of gamers tend to turn to thoughts of more scary games than they would normally play. Whether they turn to games of horror, conspiracy or general weirdness for a Halloween gaming fix, gamers look for new and different experiences. Sometimes they turn to classics like Chaosium's Lovecraftian roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, and other times they turn to other things. Throughout the month of October I am going to talk about some games, new and old, that can itch that Halloween scratch.
Back in August I first talked about the Mars Attacks Dice Game from Steve Jackson Games. I was able to play in a demo and pick up a copy of the game at Gen Con. It was by far one of the most fun gaming experiences that I had at the show.
The game is pretty easy to pick up, the rules are a four page pamphlet that come in the box. I have been able to explain how to play them in just a couple of minutes, using a quick demonstration of the dice. The rules themselves are clearly written and easy to understand, so figuring out the game is easy.
The box says that a game lasts about 20 minutes, but I found that play was actually a little longer than that, usually averaging about half an hour for a game. The time frame was nice because it allows for the potential of playing more than once in an evening. I am, at best, a casual gamer when it comes to board/ dice/card games, and the game engaged me and kept me wanting to play.
Are the mechanics simple? I thought so, but there is still room for strategy (not to mention trying to screw over other players) to keep the game from being simplistic. I would like to figure out a two player variant of the game, because I think that would open up more playing opportunities for me, but with 3-5 people playing you can get a fun game that doesn't bog down with all of the people.
Fans of Mars Attacks from the movie, or the old trading cards, shouldn't have a problem with this game. The themes of the cards and the movie are still there, along with the macabre sense of humor. The players in the Mars Attacks Dice Game are basically the leaders of Martian invaders who are attempting to conquer and/or destroy various cities and landmarks. Game play is driven by the symbols on the dice – Martians, rayguns or nukes – with each having a different action within the game. Rayguns allow you to capture cities, Martians can allow you to capture landmarks or reroll and nukes, well, destroy things. Get too many nukes and your turn is over.
The number of nukes that can end a turn is variable, and can potentially change from round to round as city and landmark cards are captured and brought into play. Part of the strategy comes in deciding whether to risk your Martian rerolls for more rayguns or potential turn ending nukes. Special rules on city and landmark cards can also bring variety into the game, but not so much that it is confusing.
Play continues until all of the cities and landmarks are captured. At that point everyone totals the victory points of their cards, with the winner having the highest total. Then you play again. And again.
Playing the Mars Attacks Dice Game was a definite Gen Con high point for me, and now that this game is out in general release, I hope that it catches on with others as it did with me. Play is fast and easy, and can be used to fill time while waiting for trick or treaters…or Martian hordes. It is definitely worth the $19.95 on the replay value alone.
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics.