Aliens. They just won’t leave us alone! Pestering us wherever we go. Can’t they colonize their own worlds? I mean, there is plenty of, um, space out there in space. You can’t tell me that human-consuming extra-terrestrials need to share the same planets and resources as us! Oh, wait, that’s right – we are their resources. Well, in that case, the solar system needs you to join an elite, quick response team that can deploy to Earth’s space stations, protecting and rescuing colonists threatened by this zombie-like menace. What’s that? Sounds too dangerous? Well, I guess we can always send robots.
How it Plays
A horde of ghastly aliens, disturbingly known as “Creeps,” has overrun Space Station Jupiter. Your team of robots will charge in, rescue colonists, and blast the invaders before the outpost blows apart, or worse, the creatures turn every Earthling into one of their own kind!
Jupiter Rescue is a cooperative game. Using action-point selection, you control one robot and work with your team to coordinate orders that will protect the station’s colonists, evacuate them, kill aliens, and try not to traipse through the slime. The colony is comprised of 19 large, hexagonal tiles, all of which have between 6-7 spaces on them. The tiles are double-sided for two difficulty levels. On one side, bridges connect all adjacent spaces. On the more difficult side, not all of these spaces are connected, which will restrict movement. Each tile is numbered from 1-5. The number 3 tiles have a power plant, while the number 4 tiles have a command dish, neither of which may be occupied by colonists, Creeps, or your robots.
At the beginning of the game, you construct the station with 19 tiles, so that it looks like one giant hexagon, as bland and uninspiring as a federal building. Then, seed all of the 7 interior tiles’ spaces with a colonist. Deal each player two special abilities from the rescue deck. One of these is marked and kept as a core ability to use throughout the game. The second is another special rules-breaking power, but you must discard it after use. Don’t worry; you will get more cards throughout the game. Finally, place the evacuation pod anywhere around the station’s perimeter and set your robots inside – poised and ready to spring into the fight.
Each turn you take five actions, and then resolve alien activity, before the next player goes. There are four actions you can perform. You may move your robot one space – there must be a bridge connecting the adjacent spots. You can attack an alien – which simply means you shoot and destroy one that is occupying any space on the same tile. You may command a colonist on your tile or an adjacent one to move a space – obviously, they’re frozen with fear or too dumb to act upon their own. Or you can trade one card from another player whose robot is on the same tile or an adjacent one – this means giving or receiving, assuming you have your teammate’s consent, of course.
After spending five actions, it’s time for the Creeps’ infestation. First, check to see if the aliens convert any colonists – and this is no religious experience, trust me. More like dietary. If any poor Terran is adjacent to a connected, alien-occupied space, the Creep eats him/her, spawning another of the terrible flesh-eating spaces monsters! Next, the player rolls a six-sided die. On a roll of 1-5, you must place a new Creep on any matching numbered tile around the edge of the station. Aliens are first placed on the outside spaces, as well, and move inward when able. If there’s no empty spot available, it automatically converts a colonist, if possible. On a roll of ‘6,’ then every tile currently occupied by at least one munching extra-terrestrial receives another one.
To end a turn, you draw a card, assuming that you don’t exceed the normal hand limit of four (not counting your permanent core ability). Mostly these are nifty little powers that will be of great benefit in moving about the station, herding colonists off of it, or blowing away enemy threats. However, a fraction of them, called “Setbacks,” will leave you wishing that you were blasting womp rats with your T-16 back home. Two card types infest your power stations or command dishes with dreaded “Super” Creeps! Thankfully, these don’t convert and spread like their baby siblings. However, if you don’t get rid of them, they reduce your card hand limit and number of actions per turn, respectively. The third type of bad card is the “Surge” – in which the Creeps take a page from George W. Bush’s Iraq strategy and invade for a turn in doubled numbers!
Your team’s aim is to herd colonists off into the evacuation pod. As soon as 7 colonists file in, it launches and those humans are safe. Hooray! The shuttle may re-dock anywhere around the platform, but not until the beginning of the player’s next turn in which it launched. To win, you must rescue 28 colonists, plus get all of your Special Forces robots off the station while it’s still intact and able to maintain orbit.
While there is only one way to victory, there are three ways to defeat. First, if you lose enough colonists that you can no longer save 28 of them, you might as well just go AWOL, because you failed and will probably be recycled for scrap when you return home. I recommend instead finding a nice little place to settle down on Pluto (which is still a planet, despite how they try to warp kids’ minds in school today. This is incontrovertible, so don’t even try bringing it up in the comments.). Also, when a tile completely fills up with Creeps, it self-destructs. If that tile has a power plant or command dish, it could spell doom for the station’s health and well-being. That’s because the other two ways to lose Jupiter Rescue is for either all thee power plant tiles or all three command dish tiles to be destroyed.
But it’s all good. Victory means honor and glory and a fresh oil change. Defeat? Well, take solace in that fact that no one can hear you scream in the cold, vacuum of space.
All Systems Go or “Houston, We Have a Problem”?
We’ve all heard it: zombies are overused in board games. Maybe you agree with that, and maybe you don’t. I’ve never been big on zombies, myself, but don’t really have a dog in the fight when it comes to their thematic excess. Well, Twilight Creations has figured out a way to make both crowds happy: aliens that aren’t zombies but act like zombies! Pretty clever, really. Don’t like the walking dead? Well, play this game about blasting aliens! Or are brain-eaters right in your wheelhouse? Well, check out our crazy implementation of the flesh-consuming rotters. The company’s most successful line of games deal with zombies outright. Now they’ve just hidden them in a space game about saving colonists on planetary outposts. Brilliant!
The real beauty with Jupiter Rescue is its accessibility and that intangible fun factor. There’s enough going on to really engage players, but not so much to bog them down. The four simple actions are very intuitive and the Creeps phase is also clean. Game play flows extremely smoothly and turns generally move quickly. And overall, a session never goes beyond about an hour, usually less, so it never outstays its welcome.
The game is chaotic at times, but don’t let it fool you. The bedlam belies a clever puzzle element beneath it all. An occupied spot is a blocked spot. On the easiest level, every space is connected to the next one by a bridge, so the trick is maneuvering colonists around your robots, Creeps, and each other. As you mix in tiles with their difficult side up – maybe even go all out with every one flipped – not all spaces are connected, creating a frustratingly convoluted labyrinth. In addition to the usual obstacles, the number of viable escape routes shrinks. It’s not uncommon that you’ll need to bust into a room to blast an alien, only to discover you’re now blocking the best way out! Which is another important piece of the puzzle: make sure you position your robots so that the panicking citizens have a path. You must work together as a team to coordinate the rescue efforts, using each member’s location and items most efficiently.
Jupiter Rescue also builds wonderful tension. At first, your bots will calmly stroll in and begin herding colonists towards the evacuation pod. “No need to panic, everybody. Nice and orderly and as you were.” The sense of urgency is not yet telling. As Creeps start investing all sides of the station after a couple of rounds, however, you start to worry about getting a robot or two on the far end as quickly as possible. “Hey, guys, maybe we should contain those baddies over there?” Then you roll a few 6’s during the invasion phase, draw a Surge card doubling the number of new zombies, and have Super Creeps squatting on your command dishes like vultures on tree limbs. “I need back-up in the south corridor! Um, Guys?” Too late. Your squad members are spread out, either trapped by colonists stampeding like cattle in a slaughter yard, hemmed in a corner by aliens, or defending a critical chock-point to hold back the tide of flesh-eating ET’s. Meanwhile, Creeps are inundating section after section while the whole platform begins falling apart like Space Station Mir. True to their zombie-like nature, the Creeps increase and spread slowly, but relentlessly – ever so relentlessly – causing much anxiety.
The rescue cards are an interesting and novel twist in that they replace the roles common to many cooperative games. The unique thing about using cards, however, is that instead of the same half dozen roles to choose from every game (i.e., navigator, pilot, scientist, errand boy, whatever), there are many special abilities you could wind up with. You receive two to begin the mission and can choose which one to keep as your core ability, aka your unique role throughout the remainder of the game. It allows not only variability for individual players from session to session, but also a great deal of possible combinations between teams. That really enhances its replay value.
The cards are pretty well balanced and of good variety, too. Some are über helpful, like “Heat Seeker” and “Teleport” which let you shoot a Creep or move to a space, respectively, anywhere on the board. Those cost 3 actions. The middling ones may not be as powerful, but they’re still handy and only require 1 action or maybe none at all. There is one power, “Suppressant,” which allows you to ignore once per turn any Creep conversion or invasion phase. That’s great as temporary respite when used and discarded. However, I will admit if you’re dealt that at the start of the game and keep it as your core ability to use every round, it really makes the mission a lot easier – and not as much in the design’s spirit. That’s just me personally.
Obviously, there is a healthy dose of randomness. The Creeps invade based on die rolls. If you hit a lot of the same results, then those tiles may destruct faster as aliens pile up inside them. Card draws add some uncertainty as to when, and how badly, the horde will increase, as well. Plus, individual draws can tend to skew. You could pull “Rocket Boots” which let you leap over any number of beings, as long as it’s in a straight line. Yet, you’re backed into a corner or at the end of some funky, bridge-less maze rendering the card useless for you. Meanwhile, you’re surrounded by creatures while your buddy has “Juggernaut,” which lets you march through Creeps like a bowling ball through pins. Alas, he’s clear on the other end of the derelict space hulk. Such situations will not be uncommon.
I feel that Jupiter Rescue’s randomness and chaos are appropriate, though. It is a lighter game, for one. Also, at least movement and attacks are never hindered by arbitrariness. In that sense, you won’t be losing precious actions because of a failed die roll. And eventually, you’ll be able to move about the outpost and spread around, giving your team a fair opportunity to respond to most situations – not that you can never be overwhelmed!
The miniature robots, colonists, Creeps, and Super Creeps are really nice and stand-out, which will be eye-catching when set up on any table. +1 to its accessible nature. The minis are the softer, pliable plastic, which reduces the risk of brittle breaks over time. The card artwork has a cool retro look. The other components may not have the same pizzazz, but are solid and effective.
Another of Jupiter Rescue’s attractive characteristics is player accommodation. You can have a team of anywhere between 2-7 robots. It actually scales well mechanically, since the Creeps only devour and spawn once per player turn. If you have fewer players, it’s not like the invasion is any more unmanageable, because the aliens don’t come as furiously, relatively speaking. Conversely, it’s not any easier with more players, because the Creeps flood in at alarming rates, it seems. The ratio of actions to number of aliens is equal for any player count. Having said that, I still recommend from 4-6. We tested one 7-player game to get a feel for an epic assault, and the downtime is noticeable, despite the game’s quick play. At the other spectrum, it just doesn’t shine as well with 2-3 players, because it minimizes the teamwork aspect. However, the rule book does suggest some interesting variants, so you might be able to experiment with modifications at various player counts. You could even fly solo and assemble a crack robotic Delta Force, commanding the mission as supreme field general. Or admiral.
With any number of players, bear in mind that Jupiter Rescue can be fertile ground for the alpha gamer to sort of take over. I know that is often an automatic critique of any cooperative game, but it holds true in this design. There is no hidden information, no separate agenda, and no secret traitor. Just a mass of chaos and bodies and aliens and a giant puzzle to sort it all out before the later eats all of the former. In such an environment, a dominant player can take over, or rankle feathers while trying to do so, or both.
The only real knock against Jupiter Rescue is not necessarily a game problem. It’s that it’s up against a good number of cooperative games of the same weight and style already out there. Yes, it has a different theme, but the casual, puzzle-nature, with unique abilities is nothing particularly new. A lot of titles, from Forbidden Island to Flash Point: Fire Rescue to Zombicide, etc., do similar things as this one, if you already own several in the genre.
There’s not really too much to take to task on the design thematically. The game clicks. It’s not gruesome, even though the Creeps look somewhat disturbing with their multiple eyes and multiple mouths. The better to see and eat you with, my dear. And really how can the theme fail when we’re talking futuristic sci-fi on a station orbiting a planet that I thought we’d have no use for. They’re either mining hydrogen or my astronomy’s failed me. However, given the game’s rescue mission motif, there is one wonky bit of theme. As soon as you save the requisite 28 colonists you can leave and win. Even if you abandon other survivors behind to the swarm of Creeps! Talk about expendable – that’s just cold. Then again, these saviors are robots, devoid of soul and emotion.
Jupiter Rescue is a lot of fun. Its accessibility and clever theming should prove a hit with more casual players and families. And as gamers, finding that style of play as a bridge to non-hobbyists can be worth its weight in gold. The only knack against this one is that it’s not overly unique. If you already have a few titles of identical weight, format, and/or style, and don’t need anymore, you may have trouble justifying another of its kind. But this one does move pretty fast, offers a fun puzzle element amidst a good deal of chaos, and builds fantastic tension to the end. If you’re looking for an action-packed cooperative for a wide range of ages, well then, you can’t go wrong with running around the cold reaches of space blasting alien zombies and saving humanity.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Twilight Creations, Inc., for providing a review copy of Jupiter Rescue.