The first things to say are two big thank you's to CGE. One for providing the review copy and two for supplying a special demo/review copy which allows the first 'intro' game (not the campaign) to be played and photos taken of the components that do not compromise the game's secrets.
UNDER FALLING SKIES is noted on its box as being for 1+ players but it is one hundred percent aimed at being a solo player game. Having said that, the best games of it I have had were two-player games during Lockdown with my wife. We took it in turns to roll the dice and then discussed the best way to utilise them, with the roller having the say-so if we disagreed. Most of the time it is pretty obvious how to place your dice, but wait a moment as I am getting ahead of myself.
The production and the thought that has gone into the overall design is well beyond that of the majority of board games. This is shown right from when you first open the box and discover that the pieces for each Campaign are separately banded and not meant to be punched out until the time comes to use them.
Of course when we first opened the box we did, as we always do, took out all the frames and other pieces, then I read the rules out aloud while my wife popped out all the die-cut card tiles. OOPS!
One of the things that has struck me as excellent lately is the way game designers have started using dice (and cards) for the random effect. They are coming up with more and more ingenius ways for dice, especially, to not being just a simple roll for luck. Sure luck plays a part, if dice are rolled it has to, that's just logic, but in UNDER FALLING SKIES there are three colours of dice sets, Blue, White and Grey (Red, White & Blue would have been more patriotic) with the Blue pair not coming into the game until the player/s know the basics and are ready to begin the campaign.
The game is a 3D physical version (as near as Jupiter) of the electronic Arcade game Galaxian, which itself was a more animated version of Space Invaders. It's funny/weird but playing a science fiction combat based game solo, on the computer or game console, seems so much more different than playing a science fiction combat based game alone at your dining room table.
For your first couple of games it is best to set up the play as shown on pages 2 and 3. If you are successful on your first game - it is possible to win the first game as long as you concern yourself with moving the Research and the Energy markers whenever you can. Winning occurs by balancing the placement of every die to its highest potential. The Alien fighters will continue to come towards your base, intent on destroying it, so you should keep one eye on them but not over-worry about them. Thoughtful play can prevent most of them from dropping their payload.
Your Base is built of two tiles (A & B to begin with) on a 5 wide grid of squares/columns above ground (these squares are called Rooms). Here you have a row of AA Guns continually bombarding the sky above you, generally slowing down the invaders descent. Just below them you have an excavating machine which you need to keep moving as each space it excavates gives you another possible ability/action you can use against the Aliens. You need to keep the Excavator moving to allow access to the better Base rooms.
Each turn you roll 5 dice, 3 Grey and 2 White, and must place one, and one only in each of the five columns of your grid. The ability of the Room is affected by the value of the die on top of it, and sometimes the value of the dice are affected by the Room they are on. There is often a need to place two dice in the same column but you are never allowed to, this is a dilemma you will regularly encounter, and every decision you make has to be to your overall advantage - for instance you may have to take a damage to your Base to prevent a greater loss, or perhaps to manoeuvre Alien Fighters into the most advantageous (for you) positions.
The Alien fighters drop from the Mothership and move down the columns according to the result of the die placed in their column. If they land on an Arrow space they are moved accordingly to the left or right. If they land on a Mothership space then the Mothership moves down one row and effects take place as required. The explosion spaces are only activated if there is an Alien fighter on them and a die of greater numerical value (after any modification) that is equal or greater to the explosion value on a combat space in the base; it doesn't have to be in the same column, thus one combat die will affect all fighters on explosion spaces.
The review copy has blurred images
The dice rolling has a neat twist (one I can tell) whereby you roll all five dice (3 grey and 2 white) and allocate them to one space each on your base. The twist is that when you select one of the White dice to place you then have to re-roll all the remaining dice. This means you get the chance to achieve a required number but also means you have to think carefully on positioning your dice - there will always be at least one re-roll. To activate the Base rooms you have to completely fill them (one die on each room space).
You have to remember that the Alien fighter ships immediately move down the sky tile the number of spaces as shown on the die in their column. If that die is modified by the space it is on that modification doesn't count for the enemy ship's movement, with the exception of the AA Guns which prevent one space of movement. Therefore one of the tactics is to manoeuvre the fighters onto explosion spaces where they can be destroyed (sent to the back of the Mothership to be deployed then launched next turn). If a fighter reaches the Base then one damage is delivered - totally losing your Base is a defeat - so balancing taking a damage, destroying fighters, gaining energy, gaining research are all things you have to consider every turn.
The board is created from an Alien Mothership that 'hovers' over the darkened Sky, launching its Fighters into the flight-path columns, down through the Sky towards your Base. Each Sky tile is double-sided, the flip side being tougher than the front. This allows players to use the same sky tiles without playing the same game over and over, graduating to the campaign packs, and thus new and different sky tiles etc, once they are ready to step up and introduce new components and more difficult challenges.
Sky tiles have all manner of information and Actions. On the left side is a column of Green numbers (aka Research), reaching the top of this track is how the player/s win. On the right side of the sky tile are icons that are activated when the arrow on the Mothership points at them, basically each time the Mothership moves a new action occurs. In the grid spaces of the sky tile are left and right arrows, explosions (with a numerical value) and illustrations of the Mothership.
All of the above is about the basic game. Once you get to the Full game Cities (except Roswell) have special abilities to help you and like Sky tiles they are not selected they are chosen randomly and can take damage (flipped over from their Blue side to their Red side). Blue dice are added to the mix, these being Robots which are placed (not rolled) into rooms in your Base where they do Robotic duties (hey, I'm not giving everything away).
Then there is the four chapter campaign - remember those banded frames I mentioned earlier that you shouldn't open and pop out until they are required? (and that we popped out and then had to restack them according to the tiny Roman identification number). The campaign unfolds slowly and purposefully, it's not just a case of win one battle and on to the next. Each new set of components opens a new Pandora's box of challenges, twists, strategies, turns, tactics and possible destruction. So many things can happen and so many ways the game can be setup, mean that each campaign, in fact each game, has more than enough differences from the previous and the next.
The campaign game introduces Characters, each with a special one-time-only-per-game ability. Now the Record Sheet comes into play and you start to keep notes on your progress through the ongoing storyline which slowly unfolds piece by piece. To keep the campaign alive you have to create two Battles, each with a random scenario, character and city. Then you select one to fight and the other to automatically lose, all pieces of that Battle are lost from the game (because campaign Battles are randomly set they can be replayed at a later date, and so pieces are only removed back to the box and not destroyed as in Ironman or Legacy games.
As I have already mentioned it is designed as a solo game, but it handles so much better as a 2-player cooperative discussion based strategy game. The old saying 'two heads are better than one' truly fits my feelings about this game.
UNDER FALLING SKIES is published by CGE. It was designed by Tomás Uhlír and features the art direction and artwork of Filip Murmak, Kwanchai Moryia, Petr Bohácek, Jakub Politzer and Dávid Jablonosky. For the amount of game you get, UNDER FALLING SKIES has a remarkably low retail price, found online between £23.00-£25.00. It's also a thoroughly enjoyable journey back in time.