Intruder isn’t a new game by any means, but it is new for me, so I’m taking the time to review it just in case anyone wants to pick it up off the second hand market (where it can be found very reasonably) and give it a go themselves. I heard it mentioned in a collection of fun solitaire games, and we all know that I love a good solo game. On top of that the Sci-fi theme intrigued me, because it was clearly an Alien rip-off so thought the game might create some great atmosphere as well.
If you haven’t watched the movie Alien, then stop reading and go and watch it. Seriously, it’s a blast and one of the best Sci-fi films ever made. If you have then you’ll know the premise of the game. You’re in charge of a research vessel returning from a deep space voyage and there’s something aboard that is less than friendly. You’ll have to work smartly and quickly to try and capture and contain the intruder before it morphs into a killing machine and you have no crew left.
Keep in mind that this game is pretty retro, so read my review with an eye that this game is old, and comparing it to the extremely high standards of todays products is unfair. That being said the map sheet actually feels retro and I liked that a lot – reminded me of the movie and the aesthetic of what Ridley Scott thought modern technology would look like back in the day.
Publisher: Task Force Games
Designer: B. Dennis Sustare
Time: 60 mins.
The game is broken down into phases where the player randomly moves all the face down chits on the board – one of which is the intruder – and then the crew members take actions. The intruder may then morph half way through the turn, and then the crew can move and take another action. It’s a good old cat-and-mouse game, which rewards shrewd play and also a little caution.
The intruder token is mixed in with a pool of dummy tokens and harmless, but escaped, lab animals. These are mixed face down and placed face down as per set up rules. These are then moved at the first part of ever turn by roling a d6 for each chit, and following the diretions printed on the map; it’s really very simple. There’s an interaction phase in which counters in squares with crew members are revealed and then the crew members can take an action each. If the intruder is revealed then there’s a chance it will attack the crew member in the space, the odds of which are all calculated on the Intruder chart in the top left of the map sheet.
The crew members should attempt to capture and inventory all the escaped animals as this removes those chits from the board permanently, and therefore emakes it easier to pin down the intruder in the future. This is done by having a crew member capture them and another cage them, then transporting them to the lab.
The intruder will then potentially morph into a larger more powerful form before the crew can move and take a second action. During the move phase engineers in the maintainence bay can help to build flame throwers or other powerful weapons to “kill it, kill it with fire”.
The hidden counters will reset during a panic phase whenever a crew member is killed, or an intruder counter is killed. When I read that rule I had to double take, because surely if I kill the intruder I win, right?.. Right? The short answer is yes. But then in my first ever game playing, the intruder gained a special cloning power, and during every panic phase a new intruder counter was mixed into the pool, meaning I had to kill not just 1, but multiple intruders! [All in all I had to kill 5 of them, which was very difficult, but I pulled it off with good planning and a healthy dose of luck].
It would be terribly unfair to compare this game to modern games with cardboard counters, because this is a small, old game and as such was made on a budget. The counters are very functional, but you can tell they are dated. I’m not sure why they made the intruder counters red and not black (like the dummy and lab animal counters) because if you really wanted to cheat you could look for the reflection of the red on the light blue and white map sheet. The rulebook is an absolute mess however, even by 1980s standards. It is about as organized as the English back line at the European Cup. Luckily, the website and BGG are a great resource for helping with the rules, so go on there and do some research before you play! Outside of that, the map and the charts are functional, and everything is decently playable. I do wish that there was a sequence of play printed on the map, but maybe that’s something that I can fashion myself.
The number of powers the Alien, sorry, ‘intruder’ can gain is limited, and for that reason the Alien will more often than not end up looking similar to each other. That being said this game holds a decent amount of replayabillity in that there’s no telling if and when the intruder will morph, so you could very well catch it early on, a very different story than my game. Will you get 50 plays out of this? No. But then, I haven’t played a single game 50 times ever.
Once you decypher the rulebook they’re very simple, and actually very fitting for the game play, the CRT is simple, the movement rules are uncomplicated. If there’s one gripe I had with the game it’s that with the cloning rules in play I had to reshuffle the counters about 10 times [once each for dead crewmen, and once each for dead intruders] which became very tedious. Especially when the intruder gained ‘very fast’ so every counter had to roll and move twice. That was just a bit too much book keeping for what was essentially random movement. But all in all a very simple game mechanically and this is conducive to the tension and the narrative created by the game.
There is strategy to this game, and your decisions can very quickly snow ball your crew into very bad situations. If I’ve learned anything from years of D&D it’s: NEVER SPLIT THE PARTY. As such, I kept my crew together as much as possible in two large groups. This meant that my movement and searching was much slower but also more methodical. I lucked out a few times and found the intruder (or it’s clone) quite quickly. This prevented me from having to traipse all over the ship to find it. The weapons you need to use to fight the intruder are very important as it will quickly develop immunities to many of them. Don’t leave crew members to wander the ship alone, it’s a recipe for disaster.
This game isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s really fun and a great little solitaire that plays in about an hour. If you can get through the rules the game play is fast, simple and quite rewarding. I’ve read a few complaints that there isn’t much middle ground between it being very easy and you catch it early and defenseless, and it morphs into the alien version of Conan and you might as well just activate the self-destruct sequence now. I didn’t feel that way. In fact, I was very close to feeling the first case, when it killed a crew member of mine and then during the panic phase it (against all odds) morphed twice into a huge hulk! I was able to defeat it in the end, but half my crew gave their lives to do so. I felt the Alien theme quite strongly at times, especially when my crew started to thin out at an alarming rate causing the tension in the game to sky rocket. Those escape shuttles and the big red button started to look pretty appealing! Anyways, if you’ve got a few dollars lying around, this game is a steal on ebay plus it won’t take up any space on your game shelf.