Insights and Impressions: Invaders from Dimension X

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Welcome to Swords and Chit! My aim is to focus on discussing and reviewing wargames. There are two primary reasons I wanted to start blogging about my wargaming experience: as a relatively new wargamer coming from a background of euro games, a lot of things in the wargaming hobby are going to be new to me and I hope to provide a fresh voice for those who might be on a similar journey into this area of gaming. Second, I have a very strong preference for games set in the Medieval period or earlier – although that isn’t where I’ll exclusively play, it is what I will focus on more than anything else. So I am glad you discovered this blog, and I hope you stick around for future posts!

**Note: We’re closing in on the 50th post here at Swords and Chit (the next post, in fact!) – I have a special game designated for that post, and it’ll make sense once it appears. However, the 51st post will be a little different. See, Carl and I started down this path of Wargaming in earnest this year, and so I thought it would be fun for us both to share some of our favorite games we’ve played so far, as well as the games we’re looking forward to playing in the near future. So look for that coming soon enough – perhaps as early as this weekend!

One of the things I look for in a solitaire experience is the ability to set it up and play it in a single sitting. While I’m never opposed to a longer session, it is far easier to get quicker games to the table. So when I looked at the lineup from Tiny Battle Publishing, I had a strong hunch that I’d be finding some games that hit the sweet spot for time consumed. In fact, I could have read the rulebook, punched the counters, set up, played, and tore down the game in a single sitting. That didn’t happen, as my solo time in the present moment is scarce, but I was able to chip away over the course of several days at the Invaders from Dimension X with my first play. The nice thing about it is the game is easy to stop and pick back up later without any real issues, so long as you end the play session at a natural breaking point in the flow.

As a whole, this play felt a little too easy. Early alien activations didn’t incur movement or attacks, really, which allowed me to plow through them with minimal risk. Even on the few turns where I bottlenecked key units across the lava bridge, leaving a single unit exposed on the other side, the chits drawn for the alien were mostly harmless. Which ultimately leans into the game itself and the design, from what I can tell from the designer’s notes in the rulebook: the alien side is unpredictable in what they do and when. Sometimes you’ll have plays where you mostly can do what you need to without much problem, and other times you’ll swear they are predicting your every move and countering it. That level of uncertainty forces you to either take risks, knowing it could backfire spectacularly, or else move with additional caution and spend time preparing for the worst. I like that fog of war effect, at least in a solo experience that can be played in about an hour. If it was a 3-5 hour affair, that would get frustrating, but the brevity of the playtime makes it a perfect level of uncontrolled chaos.

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Insight #1: Know what the aliens CAN do, even if you don’t know what they WILL do

Because they activate via chit draw, you will never know for certain (until the final turn) what the aliens will do on their turn. However, there is still the perfect information of what is in the cup and what you have already drawn from the cup. From that, you can at least get an idea on what is possible for their turns, and you can account for some of that as you plan out your own turns. I wouldn’t waste time going through every possible scenario every single turn, but if there is a critical juncture for your own team, taking a moment to look over the list of chits in the cup and what they do might be worthwhile and lend itself to making somewhat informed decisions. After all, there’s no sense worrying about X if it was drawn half a cup earlier, meaning your units are safe from that particular activation.

Insight #2: There is real power in drawing extra activation chits

That planning ahead idea is still a good idea, but there’s a certain degree of power with your Scout team and executing a successful recon. It lets you draw two alien activation chits instead of one, choosing which one to encounter and placing the other back in the cup. Suddenly your odds of dodging a proverbial bullet are even greater, and at times you can even use this to your advantage. I had a choice between even-numbered aliens moving (of which only 2 remained) or reinforcements arriving (which could be 1-6 new aliens). It let me choose the lesser of two evils, as either way there was a chance an alien could land on and insta-kill one of my units, but one was a known quantity and therefore an easy choice. While there isn’t a guarantee of a successful recon, this is probably a more beneficial use of the units (unless moving) than trying to take a shot at an alien with relatively low odds for a kill.

Insight #3: It is fracking hard to kill an alien in one shot

I didn’t expect this going into the game, but these aliens are pretty hardy foes. They have a target number to roll, usually a 3 by default, and that is the number you need to exceed on a die to count as a hit. However, you need to get at least 3 hits in a single roll in order to actually kill the alien. How many times did I roll 2 successes and 1-2 of the target number? Too many to count, even when rolling 5-6 dice. The other interesting wrinkle here comes from an attack where you hit 1-2 times for the first time on an alien – they get to draw a chit that changes their defense. I’ve seen it boost up to a 4, stay at a 3, and drop down to a 1. I spent 7 attacks to kill off a single alien that was dormant, adjacent to some of my units, and getting 5-6 dice rolled against it for half of those attacks (and 4 dice on the other attempts). Thankfully, I never saw a pair of 1’s come up during that flurry, but it was an annoying alien that I killed more out of determination than need.

Insight #4: Distance doesn’t really matter, just terrain

There are exceptions, of course, but in general if a unit on either side has line of sight they can shoot their target, regardless of distance. This is important to remember on both sides of the battle, as you need to consider opportunities to pick off the aliens as well as avoid bad circumstances if they strike back on their turn. Moving off the road and into wooded terrain can help you defensively, especially if you have a key unit or two that needs to survive the mission. On the first one, for instance, time would need to be spent to recruit a new replacement (assuming one exists) and moving it across the map all over again. By the end of the game, there were some strong units that reinforced and moved back to the early part of the map, making it dicey for new units to come into play with any measure of safety. However, the other key thing to remember is the impact of the lava flow – it prevents movement and attacks tracing through it (except along the road). Abuse the heck out of that fact.

Insight #5: Keep an HQ and a Logistics unit handy.

Taking hits isn’t the worst thing in the game. For the most part, it will Stun or Paralyze your units, making them move and attack less effectively or stop them from moving at all. If an enemy alien is active and adjacent, it becomes more challenging to rally the unit (You already need a 5+ on the roll, and that alien would make it a 6 needed). However, an HQ reduces that target by 1 and a Logistics unit by 2. They do stack, too, meaning you can have a very successful rally – at least better odds of it – by keeping those guys nearby to where they can creep up adjacent to your own unit before the rallying attempts.

Wrap-Up

Ultimately, this game provided the exact experience I was hoping for in the game: something quick, easy to learn, and light enough that it wouldn’t overly tax my system as I slog through the heft of Holland ‘44. It was a perfect time to get the game and to get it to the table, and I’ve found that I can’t wait to flip that map over and give the second scenario a try. I like the multiple scenarios in here, and assuming I still enjoy the system when I log a few more plays I am excited to explore the other titles in the same series and see how that changes things. I find that I really enjoy pulling chits out of a cup for my solo gaming (Thank you Agricola, Master of Britain for introducing me to that experience) and being forced to react to how things change from there. My guess is that I’ll run into a play where the aliens are more effective in their activations, pulling the chits that let them move around and attack far more often than they did this time. And then I’ll get to try out some of the other nuances in the system.

Either way, it seems highly likely that I will be having fun in the process.

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