Monday, February 6, 2017

GJJG Game Reviews - Alien Entity - by Braine Games

Alien Entity
Designer: Austin Braine
Publisher: Braine Games
3-5p | 15m | 13+
GJJG Game Reviews - Alien Entity - by Braine Games

Game Overview:
We've all been there, stranded on a derelict spaceship, communications console damaged, and while dread and despair build something ghastly is taking out our fellow crew, one by one.  No?  Just me?  Well, I'm sure you've at least seen a TV show or movie about that situation.  Well now you can get that very same experience from the safety of your game table, with Alien Entity.

Alien Entity is a deduction and deception game for three to five players that only takes about 15-20 minutes to play.  Over the course of multiple rounds, or encounters, players will take on the role of Humans or an Alien.  The Humans are trying to kill the Alien or build the Satellite Uplink Array to call for help before the Alien can infect all the Humans with an alien virus.

Alien Entity is available for $20 from

Components & Packaging:
There's not a whole lot to Alien Entity, just a deck of 58 cards, the instructions, a mini comic book, and the box.  Everything is decent quality and the inclusion of the mini comic to add a bit of backstory is a nice touch, although it doesn't really tell much in the ten very small pages.
The box measures about 5.5"x4"x.875", so it's small enough to fit  in a pocket.
The mini comic book is a nice little extra.
The artwork throughout the game is very nice, too.  There are five role cards, four humans and one alien, and each character is unique and very well illustrated.  The rest of the cards are various equipment and items that are used in the game and the illustrations on these are very nice as well.  My only complaint about the cards is minor.  The backs of the identity cards and game cards are pretty similar.  The backs are definitely different, but they share the same color scheme and have a very similar layout.  Something a bit different to make the identity cards stand out a bit would be nice, but it really didn't detract from the gameplay.
The card backs are different enough, but still pretty similar.
Score: 7/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setup for Alien Entity is a snap, and the rules can be taught in just a few minutes.  To set up the game, first separate the five identity cards from the rest of the cards.  Take the Alien identity card and then enough Humans so that there are the same number of identities as players.  Shuffle these and deal one per player, face-down and don't look at them yet.  

Next, shuffle the rest of the cards and deal two per player, placing the rest of the deck face-down (there are actually three advanced equipment cards that mix the game up a bit, like the Secret Documents and Flamethrower - these should be removed in your first few games).  If any Infection cards are dealt, discard them and draw replacements, shuffling the infection cards back into the deck.  The assumption here is that players shouldn't start with any infection cards and should keep drawing replacements if necessary, but the way the rules are written could be interpreted to mean that if a replacement card is an infection the player keeps it.  There are several other areas of the rules with similar ambiguities.  It's fairly easy to figure out an appropriate solution, but you will be left scratching your head a bit, wondering if you got it right.

Once everyone has their starting cards they can look at their identities, decide on a starting player, and begin playing!  If multiple encounters are played, the Alien in the previous encounter goes first.
You'll start out with two cards and an identity.
There are three types of cards in the game (besides the identity cards).  Infection cards are what the Alien uses to infect Human players.  Communication cards let players secretly pass messages back and forth.  Item cards are items that can be useful in the game.  There are two types of items, Equipment and Satellite Uplink Array Parts.  Equipment is used to cause different effects, either once, immediately or ongoing until the player's next turn, after which it is discarded.  The Satellite Uplink Array Parts need to be collected by one player and remain in play for the remainder of the game.  Once one player has all three unique parts of the Satellite Uplink Array the Humans can signal for help and win the encounter.

On your turn you draw two cards and then use, pass, or discard cards until you have only one or two cards left in your hand.  Item cards are played, either to build the Satellite Uplink Array or for the item's effects.  You can only play one Equipment card on your turn, except for the Gun and Ammo, which must be played together in order to shoot and eliminate one other player.  Any card can be passed to other players, except for Infection cards.  Infection cards can only be passed by the Alien.  If a Human becomes infected they must keep the Infected card that was passed by the Alien, but any other Infection cards that are drawn by Humans (including already Infected Humans) are discarded.  You may also discard any cards you like (except for an Infection card passed to you by the Alien).  All discards are face-down.  At the end of your turn you must have either one or two cards in your hand.
Draw cards, play cards, pass cards, discard cards.  That's your turn in a nutshell.
Play then passes to the next player and continues until either the Humans have shot the Alien or built the Satellite Uplink Array or the Alien has Infected all Humans.  Then points are tallied.  If the Humans won, the player that shot the Alien or built the Satellite Uplink Array gains 2 points.  All surviving, non-Infected Humans gain 2 points if the Satellite Uplink Array was built, or 1 point if the Alien was shot.  This is another spot where the rules aren't clear - does the Human that shot the Alien also get this point, for a total of 3 or not?  The Alien and Infected players don't score anything if the Humans win.  If the Alien successfully Infects all the Humans he will earn one point for every Infected Human.  Thus, in a five player game the Alien can score 4 points.  Then each Infected Human, except the last one, receives 1 point.  Players can also gain, or lose, points by shooting other players with the Gun and Ammo (or the Flamethrower).  Killing the Alien earns the Human 2 points and ends the encounter, just like building the Satellite Uplink Array.  Killing an Infected Human earns 1 point.  Killing a Human causes the player to lose 3 points, even if it is the Alien or an Infected Human that kills the Human.  It isn't clear in the rules if an Infected Human earns a point if the Alien wins and that Infected Human had been shot.  We assumed no, but it's not clear from the rules.  It's also not clear what happens to any Satellite Uplink Array cards the eliminated player has in front of them or other cards in his hand - are they discarded, or do they remain in play?
Who will win the encounter, the Humans or that dreadful Alien?
You can play Alien Entity for a single encounter, multiple encounters until someone has a predetermined score (seven is recommended in the rules), or indefinitely until players get tired of the game.  Each encounter takes less than ten minutes to play (often less than five), and a full game to seven points usually takes three to five rounds.

Score: 7/10 x2

We played Alien Entity with both three and five players and the experience was drastically different for the different player counts.  At three players I would call the game broken.  There were a ton of issues.  At five players the game is better, but still has some problems.

In a three player game it is very unbalanced in favor of the Alien.  We played five encounters, four according to the rules and one with some modifications we made.  In the first four encounters the Alien won by his third turn every time.  Once on the third turn, twice on the second, and once on his very first turn!  There are eight infection cards in the 50 card deck, which becomes a 44 card deck after players are dealt their starting cards.  This is over 18% of the deck.  Within three turns the Alien will see six more of those 44 cards, or nearly 14% of the remaining deck.  The chances of at least one infection card being in these eight cards is fairly high, and even finding two infection cards is pretty decent, as evidenced by our games.
This combination is way too powerful in a three player game.
In contrast, the Humans need a minimum of three turns to acquire and play all three parts of the Satellite Uplink Array, and with only three of each part in the deck, finding one part per turn is nearly impossible.  It is very unlikely for one Human to find all the parts before the Alien finds the infection cards.  Finding the gun and ammo is a little bit easier, but still pretty difficult (there are only four of each in the deck), plus the Humans must have figured out who the Alien is by then.  If the Alien just finds one Infection card he can eliminate one of the Humans pretty easily.  Then the game becomes a matter of who draws the card they need first, the Alien or remaining Human.  Yes, the Infected Human can be healed with the DNA Modification Shot, but until that is found the Infected Human is helping the Alien to win by keeping Satellite Uplink Array parts away from the Human.  It is way too unbalanced.
I've got part of the Satellite Uplink Array.  Too bad both Humans got Infected before I got to play it!
So in our fifth encounter we tried removing half of the infection cards.  This made the round take a bit longer, but it still turned into a random game of who could draw the card they needed first.  The Alien managed to completely eliminate me pretty quickly by first infecting me and then shooting me, all in one turn.  Then it came down to if the Human could find ammo first (he already had a gun) or the Alien could find an infection first.  Yes, there are a few cards that the Human could play to keep from being infected, but the moment he couldn't play Bio Gel or the Nano Suit and the Alien had an infection, the Alien won.  The game never had any tension and just felt like a variant of War.
Yup, that's what came up first.  Alien wins again!
With five players the game was significantly better, but this time felt like it was unbalanced in favor of the Humans.  The Alien never won an encounter with five players and with Humans and Infected Humans discarding drawn infection cards that severely restricted the Alien's chances of drawing many infection cards, especially when he needed at least four to win the encounter.  With each Human infected the game actually gets harder for the Alien since there are fewer and fewer infection cards in the deck and more opportunities for the surviving Humans to both build the Satellite Uplink Array and narrow down who the Alien is.  I suspect that a four player game is more balanced, but requiring exactly four players is a pretty limiting restriction for a social game.  And all player counts end up being a game of randomness once it's down to the Alien and a single Human.

Another issue with the game is the communication cards, which seem very pointless.  There are three types of communication cards, which can be passed to provide secret communication.  The problem is that they don't say anything actually meaningful.

One says "I know the Alien's identity!  Watch me, the next card I pass will be to the Alien!"  The problem with that is the only people that know the identity of the Alien are the Alien, Infected Humans, and a Human that was previously Infected, but cured with the DNA Modification Dart.  Of all these players, the only one that would want to use that card is the last, and that's not a super common occurrence.

Another communication card says "I am trying to build the Satellite Uplink Array!  Give me some parts!"  Again, this isn't very useful since everyone is trying to acquire parts for the Satellite Uplink Array.  The Humans want to build it, the Alien and Infected players want to discard it (or build parts to bluff).

The last communication card says "Team up with me!  Pass this card back next turn so I know we are allies!"  Another useless bit of information.  Since there's no real collaboration in the game, teaming up with someone is pretty rare.  If you know someone's role then you just help them out (Humans with other Humans, or Infected with the Alien).  Passing secret communication doesn't really provide any useful information.
These are nine cards that could have been used for something worthwhile...
The communication cards feel more like filler than anything else.  I think communication cards could be useful if they were phrased correctly, but as they are, they really don't add anything to the experience.

Score: 5/10 x3

Alien entity plays so quickly that it's super easy to get a number of encounters finished in one sitting.  It's also a great theme and time frame for a filler to play while you're waiting for the rest of the game group to arrive, or as a break between bigger games.  It's also super nice that you get to play different roles to experience the game from different perspectives.  If the game was more balanced it would very easily be one that I'd take with just about everywhere.  The theme, game flow, mechanics, and player count are perfect.
Some cool equipment can't quite save the game.
If the game was more balanced, it's one I'd love to play quite a bit.  So, despite the issues that will prevent me from getting Alien Entity to the table very often, I am going to give it a decent score for replayability.  If Alien Entity works for you and your group it'll likely be a game that sees a lot of table time.  I really wish the gameplay worked better for me and my group.

Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
Alien Entity had so much potential.  The theme, playtime, ease of play, all seemed like a recipe for a great time.  But instead the balance issues made the game fall flat.  Instead of being a fast, tense, fun experience it was dull, random, yet still predictable.  The experience created by the game was about the exact opposite of what was intended.  The only thing that was spot on was the play time.  I really wanted to have fun playing Alien Entity, because it would be a perfect warm up or filler game.  In theory it would be perfect, but in practice it just disappoints.

Score: 5/10 x2

Overall Value:
At $20 for only a deck of cards, Alien Entity is quite pricey.  If the game worked very well at the player counts it was designed for I'd say it might be worth it ($20 is still high for 58 cards though).  But with all its flaws, $20 is a lot to play for a game that is flat out broken at three players and unbalanced at five.  I can't recommend that you spend $20 when there are games that will scratch a similar itch, like Love Letter or Coup for less than half the price.  Those games aren't quite the same, but they're similar and you can get two or three of them for the same price.

Score: 4/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Overall we found that Alien Entity lacked the tension and paranoia promised on the box.  There were balance issues, wasted actions with the communication cards, and just a general lack of any sense of being able to control or influence the outcome of the game.
This was the height of the tension and excitement, unfortunately.

This is a real shame because the game showed a lot of promise for the theme and style of play.  There's definitely a market for the niche Alien Entity was shooting for since it funded nearly 240% over its goal on Kickstarter in September, 2014, even without having any reviews and only the briefest gameplay overview.  I know I had hopes that this would be a game that would hit the table often because it's small and plays quick.  Even though this is the Second Edition of the game that I had to review, it still needs more work.

I still think there's potential here for something great, but as it stands Alien Entity could use a bit more work making sure it is balanced at all player counts.  Fortunately there are several fan variants listed on the BGG page for Alien Entity.  Some of these show a lot of promise and I may give the game another shot with some of these changes (things like removing the communication cards completely, or allowing infected players to pass the Alien infection cards, even playing equipment cards face-down until they are triggered or expire).  Even so, $20 is a hefty price for only 58 cards, even with the good artwork and quality.

If you still want to give Alien Entity a try, you can find links to purchase the game from

Overall Score: 57/100

Want another opinion?  Alien Entity was also reviewed by Dave on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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