Reviewed by Peter Sbirakos

UNDER FALLING SKIES (Tomas Uhlir/Web published, 1 player, ages 8 and up, 20-40 minutes; Free )


For some reason, playing Under Falling Skies evoked Cavafy’s famous poem “Waiting for the Barbarians”. However, unlike Cavafy’s poem, the citizens of Earth are simply not waiting around (in their listlessness and their idleness, because they are bored of politicians making speeches devoid of any meaning) – they know the invaders in their giant Alien Mothership approaching are hell-bent on destroying the Earth – and will mobilize and defend their great city.

Fig 1. The setup. All five tiles in place – The top tile, the mothership with its invaders in green approaching.

I wanted to craft the game not only because I enjoy the process of crafting (it was also quite easy and minimal) but also wanting to experience a game that won first place in 4 categories and second place in 3 categories in the 2019 9-Card Nanogame P&P Design Contest.  More information can be found here: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/273779/under-falling-skies-9-card-print-and-play-game .   

Fig 2. The research and energy track. You start with 2 energy and no research. The research track is shifted along when the die values are equal to or greater than the numbers along the track.

Under Falling Skies: A 9-Card Print-and-Play Game was designed by Tomas Uhlir and it is a beauty. It is difficult to win even at the lowest setting (Level 1) and allows you to completely change the makeup in how the dropship invaders approach the earth. By flipping over any one tile that the invaders travel on represents a different level of difficulty and there are 10 levels of difficulty. I am not aware of anyone winning the game at Level 10 (Fig 1).

Fig 3. The underground base. The bottom layer of the top tile still needs to be excavated by the purple excavator as does the rest of the bottom tile. The damage track can be seen on the left.

To win, you must conduct research and complete a superweapon before the Mothership lands or the base has sustained catastrophic damage from the green and red dropship invaders. Placing your marker on the last space of the Research track represents the weapon that will ultimately knock the Mothership out of the sky. If you are able to do this, you win instantly. Hampering your ability to conduct research are a number of mechanisms that you must carefully consider and manipulate so as to provide you with the greatest chance of success (Fig 2).

Your base is situated deep underground under your city and is composed of several types of rooms such as research labs (conduct research), combat or ready rooms (engage in combat), battery facilities (generate energy) and factories that allow you to temporarily increase your workforce. You also have an excavator at your disposal to tunnel underground. These rooms may be activated to achieve the desired effect by rolling and placing dice. As mentioned, the research lab allows you to conduct research and move your marker along the research track. The battery facility allows you to generate energy which you must spend in order to activate a room (energy is the currency used in the game with which without it, is difficult to do anything). The combat ready room allows you to shoot down the dropships and the factory allows you to increase your workforce by creating robots. The excavator however, employs a different mechanism whereby to excavate, a die roll value must be placed that distance (or less) away from the excavator. Regardless of the distance moved, it always costs 1 energy to excavate and the new facilities created are then able to be utilised (Fig 3).

You are able to roll and place five six-sided dice composed of 3 black dice and 2 white dice. Placing a white dice on a room allows you to re-roll all unplaced dice thus providing you with some choice in how you might allocate the dice. The act of placing dice triggers a number of effects. No matter which room you place that die in, a drop ship invader along its own column will shift down that number of spaces corresponding to the value of the die, unless the die is modified. There may be more invaders in that column and hence all will shift down.

Fig 4. The mothership has dropped 7 rows (one complete tile plus three rows on its current tile). Two green invaders on the mothership starting spots and others slowly descending.

There are 17 rows before an invader is able to reach the base at which point, the base will sustain damage causing you to shift the damage marker down one step. Once invaders hit the base, they are shifted back onto the mothership and are able to be re-spawned later in the round onto each column in their relentless quest for destruction and domination. If 5 steps of damage are accrued (you can’t heal the base), the game is over (Fig 4)

As the invaders move down each column, they may land on an arrow icon that causes them to shift across to another column, they may land on a flak explosive icon that can help you to knock them out of the sky by activating the combat ready room or they may land on a mothership icon which causes the mothership to decrease its altitude by one row. You can only place one die per column in the underground facility and it is this mechanism that you must carefully exploit to maximise your chances. However, the one die per column mechanism may be offset by creating a robot worker from your factories. You get two blue dice that when a blue die is placed in a room, it remains in that room matching the original die value from either the black or white dice. A subsequent round will drop the value of the blue die by one. When the value of that blue die reaches one, it is removed from the room (and can be used again by activating a factory). The blue die also doesn’t count towards the one die per column room and also does not lower any invaders. Somehow, the invaders do not sense the robots and thus remain where they are…

Fig 5. The purple excavator will excavate the last 3 room research facility care of the 3 number face up die. Other black and white dice have been placed and activated. Note that the base is one step away from destruction. The green dropship invader is two rows away from inflicting a hit.

At some point in the game however, you will be required to expand your base by utilising an excavator and thus creating more and larger facilities. For example, if you are able to excavate deep enough you will be able to open up a 3-space research room that will allow you to activate the facility by rolling and placing 3 dice. The last space of the Research Track can only be reached if you can roll 12 on a 2D6 but the 3-space research room by virtue of its 3 dice, provides you with a greater chance of success to hit that 12 (Fig 5).

Activating rooms such as research facilities, combat ready rooms, battery energy rooms and factories may cost energy and thus you drop your energy marker by that amount (you can only have a maximum of 7 energy). The rooms may also modify the die value. For example, if a dropship invader has landed on a flak explosive icon of 3+ and you have placed either a  black, white or blue die on a combat ready room with a 1 energy icon and -1 modifier (called in the rules modificator), then your die value must be 4 or higher and you must have at least 1 energy to activate the room. If you are able to achieve that, then the dropship invader has been blown out of the sky.

After all dice are placed, invaders are moved and facilities in the base are activated, and the excavator shifted as required, the mothership then begins its descent. The act of shifting the mothership one row down may trigger an effect depending on the icon at the left most edge of each tile. The icon may be detrimental to research or your excavator causing you to backtrack an amount in either case, or the icon may generate an extra red dropship. Red dropships however, are never re-spawned after they hit the base.

Fig 6. 4 pages of rules describe the game play.

The final point I wanted to make is that the rules are easy to read and understand and whilst I had a few false starts, it’s the nature of board gaming that it does take a few tries to understand the mechanics and how the rules all fit together. I printed out the tiles, laminated and applied glue onto hard backing and also supplied the dice and little wooden components to make a nice presentation. I printed the rules onto semi-gloss paper and it just looks terrific (Fig 6).

It seems silly to juxtapose Cavafy’s poem to that of a game. However, in playing the game, you cannot be complacent in the face of overwhelming odds. Your nation state is on the brink of destruction and only by careful consideration can you deal with the enemy up above.

Under Falling Skies: A 9-Card Print-and-Play Game by Tomas Uhlir is a clever and original design that will provide you with many enjoyable sessions. As your base takes damage, you are racing to complete the research required to win and it is this nicely balanced sense of tension that creates the enjoyment in playing. It is easy to see why the game won so many categories and overall winner in the print and play contest. Although it has bee n reported that the game will be available sometime in the future under the Czech Games Edition (CGE) imprint, the rules and all files are freely available at the present time (when this review has been written) so it’s just a matter of printing them out, cutting, gluing and supplying the dice and other small components. Have at it and have some fun! – – – – Peter Sbirakos


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