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Under Falling Skies

2022-03-26 — Michael Haupt

Do you remember Space Invaders? Did you ever have fun playing it and wished for a less hectic and a tad more strategic experience? Well, here it is, in the form of solo board game Under Falling Skies.

The box comes in a thoughtfully packed way. All the materials you need for the first few games are at the top, and the things deeper down in the box are neatly wrapped in paper bands so that you don't open them yet. Indeed, these are chapters in the campaign mode, which are unlocked one by one. I haven't played campaigns yet, just the always playable standalone game, and it's fun enough already.

In this game, things are, as hinted at, way more strategic than in the old shooter. Yes, the alien spaceships descend (and so does their mothership), and you have to shoot 'em up, but you also can build out your defence base, and add new capabilities like deployable fighters, energy sources, and research facilities. For that, you have a tunnel boring machine. And you have to be very strategic about how you deploy your resources; it's important to strike a good balance.

The aliens inflict enough damage, or the mothership descends to a certain low level above ground? The aliens win. You learn enough about them in your research facilities whilst fending them off? You win.

The start configuration has the base at the bottom, then the skies above, and the mothership at the top. There are five alien spaceships ready to be launched from the mothership. The tunnel boring machine is ready to advance to greater depths and enable new facilities in the base.

The dice are important: they control everything. You begin your round by rolling them. Then, you place one die in each column of your base, at any of the levels that the boring machine has left behind. With that, you activate the respective resources for this round. The downside is that placing a die in a column will also make the alien spaceship in that column descend as many rows as the die indicates. See how this gets interesting? There's one more caveat: once you've placed a white die, you have to re-roll all dice not yet placed. That also adds some spice.

Here's the board mid-move: some of the alien spacecraft have begun their descent. If they reach the ground, they inflict damage and then return to the mothership.

At the end of your round, it's the aliens' turn. The mothership descends by one row - yes, there is time pressure! - and triggers some action. This could, for instance, make the tunnel boring machine revert some moves, which takes resources away from the base.

Of course, I lost my first game: the mothership reached the row with the red skull. Game over. I didn't pay attention to the actions the alien spaceships take when descending. The field they end their descent on may trigger an action: move to the left, move to the right, be attackable - and, yes, descend mothership by one row. That didn't help. You see how placing the dice carefully and strategically is really important.

I won the second game. The green research marker on the left-hand side of the board has reached the top. Game over - for the aliens. Note how they haven't inflicted too much damage either (the red marker on the bottom right-hand side).

In summary, this is a very well done solo game, entertaining and difficult. Note that it comes in two difficulty levels, and I played the easier one. The campaigns should be fun. High recommendation.

Tags: games