Look, I’m going to get this out of the way right now: it wasn’t my fault. I know I’m a bit clumsy at times, but I can undeniably and unequivocally guarantee that I was not the one who caused the core meltdown to begin…
I’m just saying. It’s a tricky subject, this whole “end of the world” thing. People around here are a might touchy. But there’s no use crying over spilled coolant. We should focus on the task at hand – getting the heck out of here!
That’s the situation players find themselves in Eduardo Baraf’s new 30-45 minute Semi-Co-Op Lift Off!. In it, aliens who have lived on their planet for a very long time suddenly have to leave. The thing is, they weren’t really prepared to evacuate, so it’s become a bit of a scramble to get off-world by any means necessary.
The game begins by forming the world you’re trying get far, far away from. Everyone starts off with all of their aliens huddled in the planet’s interior, but in a few short rounds, that’s the last place any of them will want to be. The goal is to get as many of your aliens off the planet and to relative safety before time runs out – which fluctuates depending on the number of players.
The board to Lift Off! is a large part of what makes the game appealing, for two particular reasons. First, Lift Off! comes with a bunch of different pizza-like board wedges, with four of them making up evacuation paths to the surface for all your panic-stricken aliens on the run. The remaining four slots are randomly filled by one of the many available escape methods, and these will be what players are clamoring to use as the clock ticks down. Some items are logical, like a rocket ship or teleporter. Others are evidence of the aliens literally trying to use whatever they can to get away, like slingshots and trampolines.
Oh, and apparently they have a Stargate…although it’s not the most reliable. Probably interference on account of the impending explode-a-thon or something.
The other really novel aspect of the game board is the moon track. In Lift Off!, the moon does a few things. First, it keeps track of the game’s progress, as at the end of each players turn the moon moves one space counter-clockwise around the planet. Turns also behave in this manner, so play in Lift Off! moves counter-clockwise unlike most games. It’s probably some strange alien custom, but it makes sense given that the moon is also your timekeeper. Every time it has a complete revolution, signaling a full day, the game moves to a new round.
Yet the most interesting aspect to the moon is how it affects each of the various escape devices based on its position on the board. In many cases, the items only work if the moon is exactly in front of them or exactly on the other side of the board. The location of the moon can also make the cost to leave the planet more or less expensive to escape orbit, showing gravitational forces at work and all. Indeed, the moon in this game is a great example of a successful mix of mechanics and theme, especially for such a light game.
Turns in Lift Off! are very simple, as they’re largely made up of trying to get to and then use those available escape methods. Well, that, or stopping other people from using them. So it’s win-win either way.
Your turn starts by drawing two cards. These come in two varieties: Resource and Action. There are only two resources in Lift Off!, being Fuel or Screws. Action cards are more varied and do a host of different things that affect the flow of the game.
Turn options include things like moving an alien or two and / or playing said action cards, but the most important thing you can do is reach the liftoff points and get out of there!
When your alien reaches one of the escape devices, they first have to pay any associated costs to be loaded into it. It could be free, or you might have to discard cards, roll dice, etc. Devices differ wildly in terms of what resources are needed to load your alien, how many aliens can occupy the device at a time, and when during the moon’s cycle you can attempt to jettison those frantic little aliens. Moreover, actually launching the device may come with additional costs or actions you’ll need to take to get off the surface.
Then the next player uses their turn to do the same thing. Players keep going around in this cosmic dance until the planet blows up; whoever has the most survivors wins.
Lift Off! brands itself as a semi-co-op game, and it really lives up to that notion. Games of this often start off with players willing to cooperate to get their aliens to safety, and there are even escape methods that require players to work together for it to function at all. Yet as the game moves along, that camaraderie quickly devolves into a free-for-all game of survival and stifling your opponents.
Part of the fun of Lift Off! – especially later in the game – is making use of action cards that’ll seriously help your own chances or hinder your competition. That includes doing things such as altering the moon’s path, dumping aliens back into the core, or even swapping an entire board wedge out with a new one. One of the most amusing ways to hamper your foes, though, is to summon the evil Garglore from the planet’s core to one of the launch areas. The Garglore is ill-tempered, cranky, and (we’re assuming) a bit nihilistic, as if he’s on a space no one there is able to leave the planet.
However, since you can’t do anything on another player’s turn, the game never breaks down into Munchkin-like acts of backstabbing or feeling like it’s a de facto Roll And Move game. Lift Off! certainly has some ‘take-that’ antics, but at the end of the lunar cycle, it remains a light game that’s accessible for a wide range of players. Whether you wish to play with family members or are simply looking for wacky filler game, this game can deliver.
Lift Off! is easy to set up and simple to play – so much so that for some it may even feel too simplistic. Yet this is not a highly cerebral enterprise – nor does it remotely begin to treat itself as such. Instead, Lift Off! is a wonderful looking game with a bunch of cute aliens whose lives are literally on the line. It moves along briskly, albeit with a delightfully chaotic nature to it, and it ends in two shakes of the Garglore’s tail*. If you’re after a solidly designed light thematic game, then be sure to take whatever transportation device you can find over to their Kickstarter.
*We’re not actually sure if the Garglore has a tail, but we didn’t want to get close enough to check.