Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!
- For ages 9 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
- For 3 to 6 players
- Approximately 60 minutes to complete
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Reading & Writing
- Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Hand/Resource Management
- Bluffing and Misdirection
- Child – Medium
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Travel the world in search of evidence that can be used to uncover the truth about aliens!
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek mixed!
Only crazy people talk about government cover-ups and conspiracies in public. No sane individual would want to draw that kind of attention to themselves with so many unfriendly alien eyes watching. You know all about the stealth helicopters and the mind control. You have learned to read the real story between the lines in the newspapers. Soon, you’ll have enough evidence to expose it all, but not yet. This is a game of hunting for facts and being hunted. Be careful.
UFO Hunter 2nd Edition, designed by Mark Hanny and published by Joe Magic Games, is comprised of 1 Map board, 1 Open Trading board, 36 Action cards (in 6 different colors, 6 per player), 40 Map cards, 40 Rumor cards, 46 Equipment tokens (6 Spectrometers, 6 Satellite Hijackers, 6 Seismometers, 6 Motion Detectors, 6 Geiger Counters, 6 Infra-Goggles, and 6 Radar Guns), 12 Map tokens, 30 “Small” Money tokens, 15 “Large” Money tokens, 6 Player cubes (in 6 different colors), 6 Bidding clips, 18 Contact hexes, 55 Evidence tokens (45 Blue and 10 Black), 1 Tie Breaker pawn, and 1 draw bag. All the components are of excellent quality and a special nod is necessary for the game box insert. Not only does it do an excellent job of keeping all the game pieces in place when the game is being stored, but is also doubles up as a useful tray to keep all the bits when the game is being played.
Game Set Up
To set up the game, first have each player select a Player cube and take all 6 Action cards that match the same color as the Player cube selected. Select one player, at random, to take the Tie Breaker pawn at this time, too.
Second, place the Map and the Open Trading boards in the center of the playing area. Leave room (at least 2 card lengths) between both boards.
Third, shuffle the Map cards and deal one to each player, face-up. Each player places their Player cube in the region indicated on the Map board that matches the Map card. This indicates where each player, geographically speaking, starts the game. Take back all the Map cards and shuffle the deck one more time. Place the deck, face-down, next to the game playing area. This is the Map draw deck for the duration of the game. Leave room for a discard pile. Do the same a this time for the Rumor cards, too, to create the Rumor draw deck.
Fourth, hand to each player 5 “Small” Money tokens, 1 “Blue” Evidence token, and 1 “Telescope” Equipment token. All the remaining Equipment tokens are now placed in the draw bag. Set the draw bag to one side of the game playing area. Leave the Money and Evidence tokens in the game tray or create a small pile for each next to the game playing area. The tray (or piles) are referred to as the “general supply”.
Fifth, shuffle the Contact hexes and place them face-down in the tray or to one side of the game playing area. Draw the top-most hex and place it face-up in the middle of the Open Trading board. This represents the first special contact that is available to the players. More will soon follow.
Sixth, deal out 1 Rumor card to each player. Players should look at their card, but keep it hidden from their opponents. Located on the Open Trading board are 12 boxes that contain the 6 different player colors. Each player will now place their Rumor card, face-down, next to one of these 12 boxes. Only 1 Rumor card can be attached to a box at a time. Each player now draws a Map card and places the Map card, face-up, on the Rumor card. 1 Map token is then placed in each of the regions identified by the Map card. The Map tokens identify where rumors of alien activity abound.
Seventh, each player will now place a “stake” on the Rumor card they drew. A stake is an endorsement by the player that the Rumor card is of value, but since this is a game about cover-ups and conspiracies, you can’t fully trust your opponent. They might be purposely misleading other players into a trap. Players place Money tokens (Large or Small) on the colored circle that matches their Player cube color. There is no minimum or maximum Money value that can be placed. Zero is perfectly acceptable, for example. At this time, players will only place a stake on the Rumors they know about (and started). Later in the game, players can place stakes on Rumors they research. Note that stakes placed on Rumors can only be removed when the Rumor is investigated or another player raises the stake while researching it.
This game is now ready to play! Time to find the truth!
In Search for the Truth..Or Close to It
The game is played in rounds and turns with no set number of rounds per game. A round is separated into 2 specific phases. A typical round is summarized here. For further details, see the full rules.
Phase 1: Action!
Each player was given their own set of Action cards during game set up. Included in their Action cards are 5 specific Actions and 1 “Open Trading” Action card. The “Open Trading” Action card is not used during this phase. Each player chooses one of their Action cards and places it face-down in front of them indicating they are ready to proceed. The Action card selected defines what specific action the player will be taking for the round. Each Action card has a number value. This is used to determine the turn order sequence for the round. For example, Action 1 goes before Action 3.
Once all the players have placed their Action card, they are revealed and then resolved in the order indicated by the Action card’s number value. If there is a tie (two or more players select the same Action card), the actions are resolved going clockwise starting from the sitting position of the player who currently has the Tie Breaker pawn.
Note that only a few of the actions require the player to pay Money tokens prior to being able to take the action indicated. However, when two or more players select the same action, it costs 1 additional Money token to take the tied action in addition to whatever else the action might cost. For example, the action that allows the player to travel for free 1 space across the Map board would require each player who selected that action for the round to pay 1 Money token before traveling. It is, therefore, perfectly possible that a player is suddenly required to pay more money to complete the action then they can currently afford. If this occurs, the player does not get to take their selected action for the round, but they do collect 3 Money tokens which can be used in the next round. Thematically speaking, the player suddenly finds themselves short on cash and is stranded. This forces them to take an odd job for some quick cash. The game never suggests what the odd job is, but it apparently pays pretty well.
The actions are as follows:
Action 1: Travel by Train or Boat
This action allows the player to move their Player cube on the Map board zero to 1 space. Spaces are divided by solid lines on the Map board. Movement on the Map board is always to an adjacent space (cannot move diagonally) and moving off the Map board to get to the opposite side is permissible only if the player moves to a matching space. These are indicated by letters on the Map board. For example, moving off the right most Map board side space indicated with an “A” and returning to the Map board on the left most Map board side space indicated with an “A”. If a Map token is located in the same space as the Player’s cube, they can optionally investigate it. Note that a player must still take a travel related action to investigate a rumor even if their Player cube starts in the same space as the Map token. Each space on the Map board represents thousands and thousands of miles.
Action 2: Travel by Plane
This action allows the player to move up to 2 spaces instead of one. Movement is handled in the same way as traveling by train or by boat, however, it will cost the player 1 Money token to travel (those complimentary peanuts on the plane aren’t free, people).
Action 3: Buy Equipment
This actions allows the player to draw 1 Equipment token from the draw bag. Draws are always done blindly and at random. The first draw will cost the player 1 Money token for every Equipment token (except the “Telescope” Equipment tokens) they already own prior to taking the action. For 1 additional Money token , the player can draw a second, for 2 additional Money tokens, the player can draw a third, and so on. The number of Equipment tokens the player can buy is only limited to the funds they have. Equipment tokens are placed in front of their owning player, face-up.
Action 4: Research
This action allows a player to draw a new Rumor card (only 12 can be active at anytime during the game), look at it, and then place it face-down next to any open box located around the Open Trading board. The player then draws a Map card, places it face-up on top of the Rumor card they just placed, and then adds a Map token to the space indicated by the Map card to the Map board. The player can also decide to play a stake.
The player then looks at any other currently face-down Rumor card and puts it back into its original position. The player can also place a stake on this Rumor card if they want. If there is a stake already located on the rumor, the player must place a stake of equal or higher value to obtain the benefit. Benefits from Rumor cards are explained in greater detail below.
Action 5: Publish
This action allows a player to draw a new Rumor card (only 12 can be active at anytime during the game), look at it, and then place it face-down next to any open box located around the Open Trading board. The player then draws a Map card, places it face-up on top of the Rumor card they just placed, and then adds a Map token to the space indicated by the Map card to the Map board. The player can also decide to play a stake. Then the player takes 5 Money tokens.
Once all the players have completed their selected actions, all players take back their played Action cards and the second phase of the round begins.
Phase 2: Open Trading
The open trading phase allows all the players to bid on the Contact hex and any Equipment tokens currently in the middle of the Open Trading board. Bids are done in secret. Players can bid using Money and Equipment tokens. Each Equipment token is equal to 1 Monkey token.
The players will be using the “Open Trading” Action card during this phase. This is the only Action card that can be used. Using the Bid clips, each player will secretly indicate how much they are bidding for the Contact hex and any other items on the Open Trading board. Values range from 0 (Sell) to 11. When every player is done, the “Open Trading” Action cards are revealed. The player with the highest bid wins the Contact hex and any other items on the Open Trading board, placing them in front of their sitting position. If there is a tie (two or more players select the same bid value), the bid goes to the first player in the tie going clockwise starting from the sitting position of the player who currently has the Tie Breaker pawn.
Any Money used to pay for the bid is returned to the general supply, but all Equipment used is placed on the Open Trading board after it has been cleared. These items will be available to all players during the next round.
If a player selects the O/Sell value, they cannot win the bid, but they can sell any Equipment or Evidence tokens they might have. All sold Equipment tokens are placed on the Open Trading board. Each sold Evidence toke is returned to the general supply and the player collects 3 Money tokens for every Equipment and Evidence token sold.
Once the bid and any sells are resolved, a new Contact hex is drawn and placed face-up on the Open Trading board. If every player elects to sell or bid zero, all Equipment tokens and the Contact hex remain.
This completes the round. A new round now begins starting with the first player.
Rumors and Speculation
Rumors are at the heart of the game. They represent solid leads, questionable facts, and possible traps. There are five different Rumor types. When a player investigates a Rumor, they are revealed and acted upon.
- Green Rumors: This rumor represents a very solid and irrefutable piece of evidence that will further strengthen any argument that Alien beings are visiting our planet. If the player has the right resources (Money and Equipment), they can select one of the very beneficial options available from the Rumor card.
- Blue Rumors: This rumor represents an opportunity the player must act upon, but the success or failure of their action will be dependent on how prepared the player is. If they succeed in meeting the requirements, they are rewarded. If not, they are penalized.
- Red Rumors: This rumor was a false and has put the player in a tight spot. The player has wasted their time, been betrayed, or possibly even imprisoned! Every investigator should learn to research before they leap.
- Orange Rumors: This rumor awards the player for completing research and being thrifty with their funds. Smart people always want to invest in smart investigators.
- Purple Rumors: This rumor is the mother of all encounters. Usually, a player will find helpful or harmful information, but there are always humans behind hit. Not the case for “Purple” Rumor cards. When these are revealed, it means the player has an encounter with an Alien. Having an Arms Dealer as a contact will help a player defend themselves and be prepared to fend off unwelcomed probing.
Note that a player can only ever select one of multiple beneficial rewards from a Rumor card and if a player is ever unable to fully pay the penalty given by a Rumor card, they simply pay what they can. Any Contact hexes and Equipment tokens lost are placed on the Open Trading board. All Money and Evidence tokens lost are returned to the general supply.
Some Rumors list Equipment token bonuses. If the player has the right equipment, the player gains more benefits. Each Equipment token has a color that matches the Map board spaces. If the player has an Equipment token that matches the Map space where they obtain an Evidence token through a Rumor card, they gain an additional bonus Evidence token. The moral of the story here is “be prepared” and always have the right equipment for the job.
When a Rumor card is placed on the Open Trading board, players can place stakes on it. A stake means the player is endorsing the Rumor. It’s up to the individual player to determine if they can trust their comrades. As the game is played out, players can take a look at Rumor cards. If they like what they see, they can put a stake on it. This allows them to do several different things.
- Bait: By placing a stake on a negative Rumor, they are baiting their opponents. All is fair in love and alien war.
- Secondary Benefits: When an opponent investigates and reveals a Rumor, the player who has staked the most Money in the Rumor will get half (rounded down) of the benefits. If the player would lose money, they get to keep their stake, but do not get to take part in any of the Rumor’s benefits.
Note that no more than 12 Rumors are ever available to the players during the game. If the last Rumor is removed from the Open Trading board, 2 new Rumors are immediately placed with a Map card and corresponding Map token on the Map board. Once a Rumor is investigated and resolved, it’s discarded.
The Contact hexes are only obtainable via the Open Trading map during the second phase of a round. The Contact hexes, thematically speaking, are important individuals who have information and want to assist the player in uncovering the truth. In game, they enhance a player’s actions and provide bonuses. Each Contact is summarized here and there is no limit to the number of contacts a player might have during a single game. All effects are accumulative where applicable.
- Arms Dealer: Allows the player to buy weapons to directly confront the Alien invaders…that might or might be real.
- Professor: Allows the player to look at one additional Rumor card when they play the “Research” Action card.
- Inventor: Allows the player to draw +1 Equipment token when they play the “Buy Equipment” Action card.
- Benefactor: Gives the player +1 Money when the player is stranded.
- Transit Official: Allows the player to move 1 additional space when they play the “Travel by Train or Boat” Action card.
- Aviator: Allows the player to move 1 additional space when they play the “Travel by Plane” Action card.
- Investor: Gives +2 Money when the “Publish” Action card is used.
The Truth Revealed!
The game continues until all the “Blue” Evidence tokens have been collected from the general supply. At which time, all the players finish their current turn. Any player who would gain a “Blue” Evidence token during their final turn will take a “Black” Evidence token instead.
Players now count up all their points. The “Buy Equipment” Action card lists the point values for how many pieces of Equipment the player has collected. For example, collecting 5 different types of Equipment tokens would award the player 5 Evidence points. Collect all 8 and the player will gain 18 Evidence points. Every “Blue” and “Black” Evidence token is worth 1 Evidence point. All ties are broken by Money tokens. The player who has collected the most Evidence points wins the game.
Joe Magic Games have been hit or miss with our groups in the past. We’ve reviewed Bellwether, Famous Zombies, and Other World, if you’d care to learn more about the different games the company has published. I have always enjoyed them and left the table feeling positive about how I spent my time. I don’t see anything in the rules of this game to suggest that UFO Hunter will be any different.
All Joe Magic Games tend to have the same kind of “feel” to them. There is always a good balance between strategy and tactics, and the game’s difficulty is almost always “middle of the road”. Which is to say, non-gamers and Child Geeks tend to struggle to be competitive and the more experienced Parent and Gamer Geeks always seem to understand exactly how to play the game after the first round of play. I can only assume the same results will play out with UFO Hunter.
There is nothing in the rules to suggest that the game is beyond any of our groups’ ability and the reported average game length is not a terrible burden. The only group that I see having a possible problem is the Child Geeks. The game requires the player to be as prepared as possible. Being prepared and thinking ahead is what playing games is supposed to teach and further strengthen, but when you are just learning the importance of being so (as the Child Geeks are), there’s going to be a lot mistakes made. I have no doubt that the Child Geeks will have a difficult time being competitive. At most, I see them coming back with a mixed approval rating. For the Parent and Gamer Geeks, I think they’ll enjoy the alien hunt.
Teaching the game is going to take about 10 or so minutes. You’ll need to cover EVERYTHING in the game to truly prepare the players. Learning as you play is not helpful and in many cases will be harmful. Make sure you spend time focusing on the Rumors and how the game is won. If the players can connect the dots between the Rumors and Evidence points, knowing how to cross the finish line is going to be all that much easier. And expect questions because some of the game play doesn’t make a lot of sense until you play the game.
And so, after teaching the game to my oldest little geek and answering all his questions, I asked him his thoughts on UFO Hunter before we started our first game.
“This game sounds big and complicated, but the individual rounds sound kind of easy, too. I don’t know how to feel about the game, yet.” ~ Liam (age 9)
Very true. All Joe Magic Games we have played in the past sound big and complicated, but when you play them, they become surprisingly easy to understand. Let’s see if the “fun” UFO Hunter is rumored to provide is out of this world or nothing more than falsified geekery.
The Child Geeks were just about in the middle when it came to liking or disliking this game. For those who enjoyed the subtle game of cat and mouse that was playing out at the gaming table, the need for investigate rumors, and the light resource management of equipment and money, UFO Hunter was met with approval and excitement. For those Child Geeks who spent more time trying to figure out how to maximize their resources to get the best Rumors and failing, UFO Hunter was a somewhat painful experience. It’s important to note that none of the Child Geeks we played the game with ever felt lost or confused, but they did often feel at times trapped. From what I observed, this was primarily due to not having the right Equipment tokens. UFO Hunter is about being prepared and mitigating risk, not about taking unnecessary risks. Some of the Child Geeks took this to heart and spent way too much time over preparing. When it came time to vote, those who were able to manage the game gave it their approval and those who were not never wanted to see the game again.
The Parent Geeks didn’t know what to make of UFO Hunter when I introduced it to them. They at first thought it was an adventure game, which isn’t right, and then they thought it was a resource management game, which is closer to being correct. When they realized it was all about set collecting through smart moves, competitive bids, and trickery, they fell in love. Turns out that UFO Hunter was providing the Parent Geeks exactly the more complex game they wanted to play with none of the complex game overhead. This is where UFO Hunter really shines. There’s a lot of interesting choices to make and some tough decisions to ponder. But the game play itself is fast and the amount of time the player takes to manage the game versus playing it is very short. This means the Parent Geeks were spending more time enjoying the game and the people they were playing it with versus keeping bits in place, shuffling cards, or moving game pieces. It should be noted that non-gamers did not care for UFO Hunter. They thought it was just too much game for one evening. When I asked one non-gamer Parent Geek why they rejected it, they said, “The game was just too much for me.” Which is interesting because when I asked a Parent Geek who did approve the game, they said, “”This game strikes just the right balance of difficulty and fun with speed and action!” When it came time to vote, the majority put UFO Hunter in the winner circle.
Joe Magic Games tend to take the Gamer Geeks by surprise. The game presentations are rather rudimentary with much of the glits and glam somewhat subdued to reduce distractions from game play. Indeed, I would consider Joe Magic Games to be the very definition of “waste not, want not” when it comes to their game presentation. Everything is placed just so and useful. No fluff is added. This makes the game seem a bit small and very disarming. Of course, all one has to do is sit down and play the game to realize it has some sharp teeth. The Gamer Geeks quickly found out how hard the game can bite and used it against their opponents. Where the other two groups seldom focused on baiting each other, the Gamer Geeks took it to a whole new level that resulted in paranoia among the players. The bidding was also exceedingly well done and the games were rather intense, but not heavy. According to one Gamer Geek, “I like this company’s games, but am always surprised how unimpressive they look at first glance. They never fail to disappoint when played, despite not looking as cool as they should be.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I would consider this a slightly medium weight game that provides just the right balance of investigation, treachery, bidding, and set collecting. I rather enjoyed it.” When the games were done, all the Gamer Geeks voted to approve UFO Hunter, finding it to be a game that challenged and entertained them in equal measure.
I continue to be impressed with the Joe Magic Games. Each game I have had an opportunity to play and teach uses familiar game mechanisms in interesting ways. The games always have a theme that is played out well, but never overpowers or trumps the game play. “Balanced” is how I would describe all the Joe Magic Games, and UFO Hunter is no exception. A unique blend of Euro-style game play with distinct Ameritrash undertones. The game was entertaining, engaging, and challenging. Good stuff.
This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.