- Designer: Tomas Ulhir
- Artist: Tomas Ulhir
- Publisher: N/A
- Where to Find It: The BGG Forums
Luke: Continuing our look at the 3 highest ranked PnPs of 2019 according to the Golden Geek awards, today we’re looking at Under Falling Skies. Despite not winning first place, caught the eye of CGE and is now going to be getting an official release later this year.
Phil: And in a way, doesn’t that make them the real winners here?
Luke: It certainly is an impressive feather to put in Tomas’ hat. And it looks like the official release will be expanding the experience in a big way, and we hope to talk more about that when it’s released.
Phil: But for now, let’s take a look at what makes the original system tick.
Luke: Under Falling Skies presents an all too familiar premise; aliens are invading Earth, and your scientists need to rush to develop the ultimate weapon before the Mothership reaches your base of operations. You, the player, win if you can max out your research track in time, whereas the AI wins if you run out of health or if the Mothership breaks Earth’s atmosphere.
Phil: It’s always nice to see a game with more concrete and individualized victory conditions rather than gathering arbitrary points. It services the theme and experience so much better and makes me more invested in reaching that end-goal.
Luke: Each round, you will roll 5 dice, 3 black and 2 white. You’ll have to strategically place those dice on various spots of your homebase to try and complete different actions. But-
Phil: There’s always a but.
Luke: -you can only place 1 die per column, limiting what you can do from the get-go.
Phil: That’s not so bad-
Luke: And the aliens? They move according to the value of the die you place in its column, meaning that if you want a powerful effect, you better be okay with an alien charging at you.
Phil: Alright, well I’m sure that’s manag-
Luke: Oh, and did I mention that your base of operations is under construction? A large portion of your options are blocked off because you haven’t excavated deep enough to reach them, meaning you’ll have to spend up to 1 die each round to try and use more lucrative options.
Phil: Jeez, okay, well-
Luke: AND you have a limited amount of energy, which need to be spent to do most of your actions, thus limiting how much you can accomplish in a given turn.
Phil: … Is tha-
Luke: Oh, and at the end of each round, the Mothership does something nasty to you, moves forward a space, and respawns all dead alien ships.
Phil: You done?
Luke: I mean… yeah.
Phil: Sounds like the player is shoved up against a wall from the get-go.
Luke: Yeah, the odds are definitely against you. I have yet to win on the standard difficulty, which is a nice change of pace. A lot of the solo games I’ve tried my hands at lately have been a little on the easy side or just ask you to rack up a better score. This feels more compelling to revisit, as I want to save the Earth at some point.
Phil: Tell me about the different actions you can take to do just that.
Luke: For the most part, they’re surprisingly straightforward:
- Gather Energy: You can collect up to 7 energy at any given time, meaning you’ll need to refresh your supply pretty regularly.
- Do Research: Seeing as this is how you win the game, you’ll want to do this often. Each space on the research track contains a different number you’ll need to surpass, culminating in a particularly tricky “12” value space.
- Blow S#!% Up: Any ships on air strike spaces can be blown up by spending the appropriately valued die, saving you a ton of damage.
- Build a Robot: Robots can be placed on the board, dice that can be used each turn, lowering in value each time it’s used. These bonus actions, while expensive to make, can be crucial for a successful run.
- Dig: In order to excavate further into the Earth, you’ll need to spend a die to move the excavator at the end of the round.
- Slow the Enemy: Rather than doing a regular action in a given column, you can reduce how many spaces the enemy moves towards you by 1, potentially setting them up on just the right space for you to retaliate.
Phil: Wait, so there are different spaces the aliens can land on too?
Luke: Only a handful. Beyond the airstrikes spaces, arrows will move aliens to different columns, possibly allowing them to move twice in a round, and Mothership spaces will make the Mothership move an extra space immediately, reducing how much time you have but potentially circumventing a nasty effect. If a ship ever reaches the base, you take a damage and the ship resets at the end of the round.
Phil: Wow, what an intricate system.
Luke: Yeah, I love game designs that give dice multiple uses. Not only do the dice inform your action and alien movement, but every time you place a white die, you have to reroll all your other unplaced dice, for better or worse.
Phil: Meaning the order you place them in can be tricky in and of itself.
Phil: I can honestly see why this game was picked up by CGE. There’s just enough going on here to keep things fresh and interesting without it becoming overwhelming.
Luke: This game is a masterclass is solo design. Genuinely, this may be my favorite solo game to date. The theme works perfectly, the mechanics are smart and succinct, here’s so much choice and variability turn to turn, and it’s all contained in 9 cards, some cubes, and some dice.
Phil: It’s hard to imagine what else can be added to the experience.
Luke: According to CGE, minis, a campaign, and multiple maps.
Phil: I think this just became my most anticipated release of 2020.
Luke: I’m definitely very excited to revisit this down the road. But for now:
Verdict: Under Falling Skies is a phenomenal, compact solo game that does everything right. Choices are always difficult and interesting, with a single die placement having a ripple effect. Games are always tense, making you wonder who will win up to the last second. And you always feel like you lose because of your poor planning, encouraging you to learn and return to it again and again. If you haven’t had a chance to try it out, you need to give this title a chance.