By Mitch Freedman
It’s easy to describe Invaders from Dimension X. Pow!
Or, maybe, Bang! And, perhaps, that all-important Zap!
But, that doesn’t tell you a lot about this small game, and there is a whole lot to tell, even though the rule book is only a slim 10 pages.
It’s a solitaire game, with the player taking on the roll of the Space Marines, and the designer and rules taking on the roll of the mysterious Kay’otz forces.
Which puts a whole lot of pressure on those rules and the design, since solitaire games are notoriously one-sided or very simple and flat, or just totally dependent on a die roll.
Not this one. Not by a long shot. In Dimension X, the rules really do their job. Which is to kill the Marines with strange weapons and strange tactics and a whole lot of unpredictability. That’s a bonus. Unlike a lot of solitaire games, you’re unlikely to play the same battle twice. It’s like a never-ending comic book.
I’ll back that up in just a bit. But first some examples, then the explanation.
The first time my Marines entered Map Zone Alpha – the first of two game scenarios – they were quickly cut to pieces. They entered in small groups over four turns, and while the scouts moved quickly they were destroyed by turn two. The heavy weapons and headquarters and other units were neutralized in just a couple of turns.
It was a learning experience.
The second time I played, I did things differently. My scouts went after the Kay’otz command markers, and my infantry jumped all over the map. And, to my great wonder, the Kay’ozt troops simply ignored me. I couldn’t hurt them when I attacked, and they didn’t do anything to hurt me. Until they did, with ruthless efficiency,
The third time, it looked like I would actually have a chance to score a victory. I built up strong points and again went after the alien command chits, with more success. After a few turns I had actually killed some Kay’ozt units, more by luck than by skill, but I lost both of my logistics units, and so could not earn a victory under the scenario rules.
The rule book gives you fair warning. You do need luck and skill to win this game, but even if your skill isn’t up to the task or its not your lucky day, you will have a lot of fun playing this pulp version of a battle far out in space, on an unknown world with an enemy who fights by its own rules.
I have to admit I’m still not sure just how Luttmann does it, but whenever I lay out the game and get one or two turns in, I’m sucked up into the adventure. And, what an adventure it is. The mysterious Kay’otz act in ways that are totally unpredictable – even if you read all the action chits and try and figure out which one is likely to be drawn next – and the two sides fight under different rules.
There is no such thing as range. Forests block the Marines from firing at the aliens, but the aliens shoot through the trees with only a slight negative modifier. (-1 on a d-6)
The Marines get one super-powerful weapon, but it can only be fired at a range of six hexes or less. And, the results are unpredictable. An enemy target can be vaporized or beamed away to a random hex, or the Marine who fires it can be stunned or end up being out of ammo.
And the Kay’otz have a Multi-Frequency Phase Nullifier.
There are some other interesting quirks to the rules that create their own particular “fog of war” for the game.
When you jump across the board – a tempting action whether you want to get into cover or just get near your exit point – there is a good chance you won’t end up where you want to go. Surprise.
One particular bit of evil serves as the icing on this tasty cake. At the very end of the game, a Kay’otz mission chit is drawn at random. If that mission’s condition has already been fulfilled – and there are six different ones – its a major victory for the aliens.
The map is clean and interesting. The counters look good. And the rules are smooth. All things that I suspect will keep me coming back and trying to defeat the evil Kay’ozt – assuming there is an actual concept of evil on their side of the wormhole.
A couple of subtle points. There are 20 Kay’otz activation chits, and the Marine scouts have a chance each turn to pick two and force their enemy to use one of them. But, if they choose the harmless ones, the more powerful chit goes back into the pool and will be drawn again.
One last thing. While this is an admittedly small game, each Marine unit does have a choice of at least four things to do every turn. Some can do five or six. Of course, the mindless Kay’otz have those 20 activation chits to go through, and its really hard to figure out what they will do next. Or which ones will be doing it.
So, while it looks like a beer and pretzels game, it can surprise you. You might score a sudden victory or suffer a hopeless defeat in less than an hour, but I found myself staring over the map with a cold cup of coffee in my hand after a lot more time had passed, wondering just how I got myself into some horrible situation, and how those mindless Kay’otz warriors did it to me.
If that happens to you, it means you are thinking too hard. There is a lot of unpredictably here, and its more fun to just go along for the ride.
Still, I can’t help thinking that if I plan my attack better I will have a better chance to win next time. Makes sense. After all, the only hope of defeating the Kay’ozt is to Get Smart.
It’s a kind of a time warp Marine motto.
Invaders Fan Scenarios:
#1 – Scan the Monolith
#2 – Operation Stray Cat