As a fan of Mark Chaplin’s games since his cool Aliens card game, I finally managed to track down his home address, sneak into his house, and steal a copy of Invaders for myself. After teaching and then watching an Invaders game between two players last week wherein Mankind roundly whomped on the Invaders, I was excited at having the chance to get a few games in myself against Sam last night.
The rules are pretty intuitive once you get playing, and any niggles are answered quickly on BGG by Mark himself. I consider Invaders to be an advanced evolution of Revolver (or the original Aliens game), with its card row-battle setup and various bonus paths to victory for both sides. The main objective is to deplete or ‘drain’ your opponent’s card deck, which means Invaders usually plays a little longer than Revolver – we’re at about 50-60 minutes a game – and with the larger-than-life apocalyptic alien invasion theme it feels more epic as a result.
Essentially each side will be putting up to 4 units into play in each of 3 invasion zones (Pacific Rim, Eurasia, Africa) for a total of up to 12 cards each, with the invaders attacking and mankind defending. To pay for a card to bring it in you discard x cards from your hand and drain x cards from your deck, and x can be 0 for smaller scout type units or one shot effects. Each invader turn the strengths of all units are calculated on both sides and if the invader wins he drains mankind’s card deck by the difference. If the invader loses his invader marker goes down one space (from 10), and the invaders lose if that marker hits 0.
The first thing that strikes you about the game is the presentation and card art. Chechu has done a masterful job of capturing great human futuristic techs (robot mechs, assault vehicles, nukes, and the valiant heroes of Mankind) and some really sick alien invaders cards (human flesh farms, cross-breeding facilities, alien hybrid children, and many other creepy alien ‘things’). I think Chechu and Mark had a lot of fun designing this stuff, the pair of sickos :P, and this carries through into the game. It’s loads of fun to play cards from both sides, be it the satisfaction of nuking massive alien deathworms and assault machines, or dissolving mankind’s hi tech weaponry cards with invader monstrosities which spew out ’nanobot killswarms’.
Mankind has nice clean militaristic-looking cards with solid blues, yellows and green, whilst the invader cards are murky oranges, purples and reds. There is tons of variety to the cards on both sides, with precious few repeats, and simple icons on every card allow for some neat comboing, the nuances of which become more apparent the more you play. For instance, it took me a few games to realise the value of clinging onto and occasionally rescuing certain of Mankind’s heroes, like Field Marshall McNamarra so I could bring in his NORAD base (a pretty awesome location card) at a significantly reduced cost.
There are a ton of cards which can seem overpowered on both sides, until the tactics start to bed in and you become more aware of what might be coming down the line. Before long you will stop wasting nukes on 1 or 2 strength invaders and maybe take the hit on a battle now and then to have those nukes ready for when the really big suckers start landing.
Each side also has an extra set of one-off strategies which they can enable, which are mind boggling at first, but which you will come to rely on to save your hide. Who doesn’t want to atomise the moon for more resources, or initiate suicide missions in a desperate bid to buy yourself more time? And as the invaders, I’m inclined to start draining the earth’s oceans as soon as I’ve landed, sometimes on my first turn.
There is plenty of back and forth between the two sides, and both teams will have significantly reduced decks by the game’s end. There’s also a sense that you’re in the game right up until the end too…
After my first solid victory playing the invaders, I was getting my arse handed to me by Sam in the second game and for every giant invader I was able to bring into play he seemed to have a team of specialist soldiers waiting to dismantle it or Snowflake bombs ready to annihilate me. By the late game both our decks were running low, but Sam had a swathe of heroes remaining and had literally filled all 12 location slots with defences and units, whereas I had some black goo (which is neat by itself but rubbish when you only have…) … and a single puny 1 strength unit in each invasion zone. After saving up a huge handful of cards I was finally able to bring in the Lovecraftian Revenant which looks like Shub NIggurath, one of the Invaders’ strongest cards. With this bad boy dealing 8 damage a turn I was finally back in the game, and Sam scrambled to retaliate. As his forces built up massively in the Pacific Rim (love it!) to defend themselves, I brought in the Squid Lander and my Revenant was suddenly off, out of the invasion zone, to begin launching its attacks in Eurasia instead. But within a couple of turns my Revenant was reduced to dust by Sam’s strikes and my attacks were once again repelled, hitting his impenetrable wall of units. As our decks ran down to low single figures and the Mankind victory was almost a certainty I was finally able to bring in a brutal combo of cards (you know the sort of crafty move where you’re almost shaking from the nerve of pulling it off and wiping the smile from your opponent’s face?), which saw the Revenant rise from the dead and storm back into the fray to steal an entirely unforeseen victory in the final turn!
Once we swapped sides, Sam quickly took meaty revenge on me and gave me a thorough whupping as the invaders, beating my every move with devious card play and nasty, tricksy attacks, and despite my best efforts he thwarted me entirely – before long I was down to my last hero and my deck was spent entirely. Game over, man. I started to question if the invaders perhaps had it easy? The next game would prove otherwise…
Taking on the heroes of Mankind during our 4th and final game of the evening (and by this point the games were moving at a pace) I played steadily, building up my hand of cards and army of units, hanging onto every nuke and missile, taking losses where I could afford to, and gradually shoring up defences, with my heroes nipping back and forth between invasion zones, and occasionally sacrificing themselves so I could draw more resources/cards. Holding back on the nukes and Snowflakes proved crucial, so that when he finally brought in the big guns I was prepared. Not only was I able to take out his Lucifer tripods - you can almost feel the war tipping one way or the other when these guys land, with their brutal draining abilities - but, after bluffing out some big killer cards which I knew wouldn’t last and would be the target of his nanobot kill swarms, I was also able to bring to bear a card we had both previously thought useless – the Black Narcissus weapons array. This sucker has to be played at exactly the right moment, when the invaders’ opposing card row is full, when Mankind’s strength in that row is higher, and which actually allows Mankind to fight back against the Invaders and start draining their deck each turn instead of forever being on the defensive. This card is imho a work of genius, and can potentially re-pilot the course of the game if played carefully and at the right time.
All of a sudden the tide turned and Mankind was fighting back. With deathworms and infestations breaking out and wreaking havoc in the other invasion zones, my Narcissus Weapons array was causing absolute devastation in its own zone. My cautiously built defences held, with a couple of heroes biting the dust along the way, and eventually the invaders burnt out of resources (cards) entirely and a cheer of victory broke out across the planet. With one fatal sneeze, that Lucifer tripod buckled and fell, infecting his entirely alien species with a deadly common cold… Or something…
Anyway, after 5 vicious games we’ve had 3 Invader victories to 2 Mankind victories, and I’m looking forward to see how that trend continues, particularly since thematically I prefer to play Mankind, defending against the alien invasion.
The rulebook is decent, with plenty of examples, and a justification for why you can play the White House structure in Africa (it’s a game, people!), there are a couple of minor ambiguities which you might want to look up on BGG, but nothing game breaking (e.g. we sacrificed a couple of ‘tapped’ heroes in our first game, which isn’t allowed – but those same heroes were still wiped out anyway). The tokens are nice and solid, as is the board itself, the actual card quality is good but not excellent and may chip with many repeated plays, so if like me you only sleeve games occasionally you might want to consider sleeving this one.
All in all, this is an excellent, hyper intense two player battle card game, dripping with theme, I daresay even an improvement on Revolver, which was an already very solid design, with some amazing art to boot (that might not perhaps be for young children)! If you dig the sci fi theme, this is strongly recommended.