Galaxy Defenders

Reviewed by: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

(Ares Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 120 minutes; $89.99)

Welcome soldier! If you are reading this review, it means that your physical or mental capabilities are excellent and our planet needs you!
You are joining a secret agency responsible for detecting and stopping alien activity on Earth… keep reading, if you dare, but keep in mind two simple rules:

They are already here
They are not friendly!
You will be part of an elite team formed by up to 5 agents involved in critical, tactical missions. You will encounter hostile aliens, so be prepared to engage them with no mercy.

138431This is a paraphrase of the beginning of the rules to Galaxy Defenders, the new game from Ares Games, developed by Gremlin Project, a new Italian designers’ team. This introduction already gives us a lot of useful information: it is a deeply thematic game, it is collaborative… and I like it a lot.

After choosing the scenario (mission) and the agents (in the basic version there are 5 different), the game develops into a series of rounds until reaching the scenario’s end conditions. The round begins with two “static” phases called Refresh and Strategy; then there is the Battle phase were all the actions takes place in alternating agents’ and aliens’ turns. The round ends with the Event where things often happen to advance the plot of the selected scenario.

galaxydefenders2Refresh is just housekeeping. In the Strategy phase, players must promote the alpha agent that will be the first to move and the one making the decision when there is no agreement among players. The turn then proceeds clockwise. This mechanic for the turn order is really interesting because it allows the group to optimize its order depending on the situation and the different skills agents have. After 2-3 missions, you will learn that positioning around the table according to the chosen agents is also important. In this phase, agents can acquire new skills and/or reinforcements (a nod to the world of role-playing games).

There are 5 different types of agents in the game ranging from the Marine (a kind of “factotum”) to the more specialized agents such as the Sniper or the Biotech. In the standard edition, there is only one agent for each class but in the Kickstarter edition, there are additional agents. On his turn, the agent can move, fight and make an action.

Movement takes place on a hex-gridded play area with rules inherited from classic wargames including terrain effects and obstacles. Much more innovative is the combat system. The map is divided into macro-hexagons, formed by a hex and the six adjacent hexes adjacent to it. The firing range (0,1,2 …) is measured in macro-hexes and the system works. It is realistic and easy to implement. To be more specific, this means that if you have a weapon with firing range 2, you can hit an enemy in any hex of all the macro-hexs that are 0,1 or 2 away from you. The attack is resolved rolling a number of special red 8 sided dice and counting the successes. The “bolt” face is used to activate a weapon’s special effects and there is also a “Jam” face/result. For every success, the defender rolls a special 8 sided blue die in an attempt to parry/absorb hits. Remaining hits are wounds for the agent/alien. Dice have other special symbols including an Alien face that is always a “fail” for the agents.

The macro-hexes of the map also use a simple AI (Artificial Intelligence) engine for alien movement. Every alien reacts differently according to the distance from the agents. For example, engaging in close-combat with a Spine-Critter or a Xeno-Alpha is not the same.
Spine-Critters will rush against the agents, attacking with jaws and spine while the Xeno Alpha are long ranged aliens, doing damage from afar with plasma rifles. Which aliens are activated each turn is determined by drawing a card from the Close Encounters deck. There are a lot of possible situations and it is not easy to predict which aliens will move.

The round ends with the Event phase where new aliens appear. Unrevealed aliens are blips like in Space Hulk style. The Events card will sometimes offer reinforcements or information about the scenario’s plot. The composition of the Event deck, both in numbers and order, is established in the scenario’s setup.

Galaxy Defenders is not an extraordinarily innovative game but, overall, is really well done and tested. Despite being a pure collaborative, a type of game I tend to dislike, Galaxy Defenders has so many variables and effects that it is difficult to predict what will happen. It guarantees players many different choices both from a tactical and strategic perspective: which agents to choose, in which order they should act; which equipment should be used and how to arrange themselves on the battlefield in reaction to the moves of the enemy. The same mission may develop very differently depending on the agents used, the number of players or the order in which certain Event cards appear. Agents have abilities and equipment sufficiently different to make for a varied experience with the game and the strategy adopted. The aliens have very different characteristics in terms of combat statistics and behaviour as well. The mechanics of the game become clear quickly indicating good development. Missions are varied and amusing (the first, an introuctory mission, is especially so as it is easy and allows you to understand the game engine). The plot develops over the course of the campaign.

In fact, the game system lends itself to endless expansions and the creation of custom scenarios and campaigns. (Actually, Galaxy Defenders has recently completed a very successful campaign on Kickstarter for the first expansion that will move the war to the moon and to the Aliens’ home planet. Included in the expansion are new agents, equipment and aliens with more powers and special abilities.)

If you are looking for a typical German game, you are in the wrong sector of space. This game can be safely inserted in the category of wargames with its hexagonal map, combat and so on. But Galaxy Defenders is a good science fiction cooperative game, good both in the quality of the materials (miniatures, special dice, tons of counters) and in the rules which provide a well narrated story with different scenarios and an original mechanic for the alien’s AI. If you like themed sci-fi games with a solid structure and great appeal, Galaxy Defenders will be the right choice.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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