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David here with a solo review of this game. It did not take long for me to get this game back to the table for additional plays following my first experience with the game. The next plays both confirmed and contradicted some of those insights and impressions, as games typically do upon additional experiences – and while there’s still some things I wish this game did a little differently, I have come to understand some of the design choices and the reasoning behind them (at least in my mind, I’ve understood but could still be far off the mark!).
So let’s waste no more of your time and dive right into my thoughts on the game… but you may also be interested in checking out my first impressions before reading the rest of this.
Designer: Hermann Luttmann
Artist: Tim Allen
Publisher: Tiny Battle Publishing
Invaders from Dimension X! is a solitaire game (with a two-player option) that begins the story of the brutal war between the invading alien Kay’otz race and the only human force capable of defeating them – the “Old Reprobates” of the 124th Galactic Marine Raider Battalion. You control the various Marine squads, each with a specialized skill, as they fight their way through an alien enemy that is totally unpredictable. The Kay’otz come from another dimension of space and do not behave in a way humans can comprehend. Only with perseverance and skillful strategy – and yes, some good fortune – will you be able to eventually discover the plans and tactics of these mysterious beings.
Invaders from Dimension X! is an easy game to play and is suitable for players 12 years old and up. There are two Battle scenarios and one Campaign scenario included in the game and each can be completed in about an hour or two (depending on the scenario played). This game package contains one map sheet (with two separate maps printed front and back), eighty-eight counters and one 8-page rule book. You will need to provide some six-sided dice to play the game – along with enough backbone, brains and wits to defeat this vile alien enemy.
It is nice having a solo game that can be set up, played, and put away in a reasonable chunk of time. 90 minutes seems to be around that sweet spot for this one, making it a perfect evening solitaire experience, or one to chip away at a few turns at a time. With the map state needing to be reevaluated periodically, it is an ideal game to also play as time allows – I’ve experienced it both ways and thoroughly enjoyed the time spent.
I love chit pull activations for the enemy side of the game. This one has a full page reference for what each Alien chit does, although most become intuitive after you’ve seen it (or a similar chit) previously. While the effects on said chits can be wildly hit or miss, the system is a smooth one that usually gets things back to the player turn quickly. The designer was intentionally designing a game where you can never plan perfectly for an enemy who doesn’t think like a human opponent might and, well, it definitely succeeds here. And when it goes well, this chit pull activation mechanism has you on the heels of your feet, playing defensively and trying to dig yourself out of situations.
The campaign is the highlight of this game, providing two connected scenarios to play where the results of the first impact the second. Yes, the one-offs are good for a quick game or two along the way, but it isn’t a stretch to say that I’m unlikely to revisit this one in any other way. The campaign opens up the variety, allowing you to choose your pairs of units entering the first few turns in the opening scenario, it forces you to play to completion that first scenario and every unit that ends removed or paralyzed is unavailable for the second. Plus, the more of each unit type you move off in the first scenario provides some sort of advantage in the second scenario – something especially vital (see below).
The B.U.M.P. gun makes everything chaotically fun. They are your special units, and their weapon is a single die roll with effects such as instant vaporization (regardless of defense) of the alien target, or even just teleporting them to a random hex. Is it still an element of randomness? Yes. But it helps when you have the bad luck of an enemy getting that 5 defensive value (meaning you need to roll three 6’s to kill it…)
I can’t make this a full-blown complaint because the designer explicitly was aiming for a game with a chaotic opponent. And, well, he succeeded at that. You roll a handful of dice to attack. The aliens roll dice to determine random hexes to deploy and/or move onto. The aliens get a defense adjustment chit if they survive an attack, which can take the natural defense of 3 and make it anywhere from 1-5. Roll double 1’s on an attack and you’re out of ammo. Roll for reinforcements. Roll high to Rally. Roll, roll, roll, roll, roll. Add in the random effects drawn for alien activations, and the random selection of their win condition, and you have enough randomness to sink a ship with.
However, I will lodge a full complaint over the second scenario. You see, you need to open up a wormhole and to do that your scout needs to use an action while next to it to roll two dice. What you need to roll are doubles – any doubles – to determine what it is you need to roll with units in future turns in order to get through the wormhole. Roll double 3’s, for instance, and your units need to roll a 6. My first time through, it took half the game to finally roll my first set of doubles – 6’s. The odds of getting enough units through that portal, at that point, were pretty darn slim. The one bright side? The campaign “fixes” this by letting you potentially roll/reroll dice on attempts if you get a certain number of the right type of unit off the map in the first scenario. Did it still suck? Yeah, but it did make it a little better. I’d never, ever replay this one outside of that campaign.
Stakes. A game needs to have stakes in order for the experience to be worthwhile and this game misses the mark a little. Swarmed by aliens on all sides of a unit? No worries, the worst they can do is paralyze him unless they move to a new location – which very well could send them all to a corner of the board where they serve no threat at all – and only if they roll the perfect three numbers to land on one of your units. Yes, that paralyzed state can be a pain to remove and yes, there’s a timer to accomplish your goals. The campaign helps some, as units ending in a paralyzed state are removed from the available forces for the second map. But most of the game it feels like my units can march ahead toward their objective, ignoring the alien threat until it imposes itself in my way. And the lack of ZOC for the aliens further helps the case that they are an annoyance, not a threat as a whole. Fix this one thing, make it to where they can kill and actively hinder movement even without the need to attack, and this game elevates to a new level. Yes, you can houserule. But I’m not that type of gamer. For me, the stakes just aren’t high enough to where I am concerned about my troops’ well-being.
I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the trilogy of games in this series for several years, so I was extremely happy to try this game out. Much like my counterpart, Carl, I have found that I really enjoy a game with a chit-pull mechanism, as it lends a little bit of unpredictability into the mix that players need to maneuver around from turn-to-turn. And at its best, this game absolutely has that going for it. Nothing is more frustrating than having things blow up around your troops, paralyzing over half of them as you try and inch your way across the map and toward your objective.
Ultimately I liken the experience of this game to what the campaign missions of Star Wars: Imperial Assault provide: groups of enemies along your path that will tempt you into attacking when really you should keep moving toward your objective. The first scenario is a perfect example of that, as you are tasked with moving troops from one edge of the map to the other, and the entire way can be traveled via the road. Aliens litter the far edges of the map, and there’s a good chance they do very little to interfere with you for at least a few activations in there. Sure, you could try to pick them off as you go – and then more appear, or they all move to random new locations, or your attacks fall short and nearly double their defensive value to make them even harder to kill. But you’ve got plenty of time, right? So you start shooting in vain, only to have them swarm your guys and paralyze them all with lucky attacks. Now you have only one option with that troop, and with the adjacent alien it is even harder to Rally and your troops are wading through quicksand to even try to move.
And then the aliens go inactive, or move away, and all is well again. Huh?
If you don’t mind a narrative that sometimes makes little sense, that’s easy enough to ignore. But I checked that rulebook about a dozen times just to make sure: the aliens only kill a unit if they land on them from random movement/deployment. They exist mostly to slow you down, stunning you to weaken movement and attack or paralyzing you to make you immobile. And that does work to an extent, because everything is predicated upon accomplishing certain things before the last chit is drawn. The individual pair of scenarios provide a taste, letting you freely choose and use what you wish as you work toward the objective with set teams. The campaign is where the game really shines, providing stakes in the first half to impact what you can do, bring, and any advantage you can hold in the second half of the game. Which leaves me wanting more – a good thing, yes, but not when there is no more to be found without the purchase of other titles in the series. Even the campaign, being two parts, is far too short and relatively narrow in scope to heighten replay value.
A game with exciting and engaging gameplay, interesting narratives to weave while playing, and a whole lot of randomness to counteract. When it plays out well, the game shines in all the right ways. When it falls flat, it really falls short of the mark – mostly due to how vital the random elements are to the game. Ultimately good fun, enough that I wish the campaign was even longer, but a game that players who prefer to plan in the long-term will be frustrated by.
Three out of five swords…because swords are important for a true alien invasion.