Galaxy Defenders is a 2014 cooperative game designed by Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace. It’s for between 1-5 players. The aim of the game is simple: stop them aliens invading the planet over a series of missions.
The first striking element of the game is the box. The box artwork gives us an immediate introduction to the protagonists of the piece. The characters are classified as either marine, biotech, infiltrator, sniper or hulk. Each agent has their own profile sheets that can be adjusted over the course of the game as your agent or agents gain skills, weapons or power.
The most important document in the game is the storybook. The storybook gives you the objectives of the mission, as well as for instructions regarding how the game needs to be set up. The storybook also explains the success criteria, with each mission either being a success, partial success or failure. Each of the missions are different enough to keep the game interesting. Some missions will require you to be on the offensive. Some missions require you to be more defensive-minded. Galaxy Defenders still manages to keep the same storyline going all the way through. Players can also decide which level of complexity to play at, ranging from easy (which I can assure you is still not easy) to very hard.
Between them, the storybook and the rulebook ensure that no stone has been left unturned. Each agent has a comprehensive and exhaustive list of their options. I’ve used the word exhaustive there on purpose, as some inexperienced gamers (and possibly some experienced gamers too) might suffer from analysis paralysis. In cases where there are no good options, you might get stuck in thinking of the “least bad” option.
Mentioning the storybook brings me to what I believe is a bit of a design flaw. The rulebook and the storybook are identical. In font, design and in size. I was craving for there to be something to distinguish the two. Something that made the storybook look more like a storybook. I also question the decision to call it a storybook rather than a mission book. They are missions after all.
Each new round has four stages to it, which are split up into refresh, strategy, battle and event. Once the refresh stage has taken place, the agents will decide who is going to be given the role of Alpha Agent. This person will be the first player for that round and charged with being responsible for settling disputes which may occur. Each operative agent then takes their turn, which is broken down into three parts: action, movement and combat. Once this is done, the aliens, which are controlled through the game courtesy of the ‘close encounters’ deck may be partially or fully activated. Finally, there is an event card drawn which may have an impact on the weather, the mechanics or the agents.
The playing boards are made of grids that are split into areas, each area having seven smaller hexes inside them. The boards also have a variety of terrain or facilities on them. This can have an impact on how your character moves around the board. Not only this, but when aliens are activated, they can move around the board much quicker than the agents. The aliens have the ability to move area to area rather than hex to hex. There are some wonderfully made components in these games. The player pieces are well made. Keen painters will love decorating them and bringing them to life. The finesse of the playing pieces is slightly missing from the boards. No pun intended, but the boards just felt a bit flat.
In a battle scenario, your success or failure is left up to the dice-rolling gods. You roll the dice in turn for the attacker and the defender. A great roll can cause you to have multiple hits, causing significant damage to your opponent. A poor roll means your weapon might jam and become unusable until you unjam it on your next go. For some players, this might be frustrating. The rulebook tries to make light of this, suggesting even the best soldiers need to have luck on their side to win. I don’t mind dice-rolling as a mechanic if it is done well. In Galaxy Defenders, you can start to feel like your chances of winning are reduced by the dice.
Even though it is a cooperative game, it can also be played solo. If you are wanting to play solo, it is worth reading the missions first. Inexperienced gamers might be overwhelmed by having to control several characters at one time. You would probably need to control at least three. In a number of missions, the success criteria depends on at least two agents surviving. You might need to bear this in mind when you are playing a two-player version too.
On the whole, Galaxy Defenders is a great cooperative game. It is cooperative in every sense of the word. The ability to change the Alpha Agent at the start of each round means that every player stays engaged and every voice gets heard. There are a number of interesting choices each agent can make. The number of missions and ability to choose the level you play at means the game remains interesting and replayability is high. The player pieces are wonderfully crafted, whether that be the agents or the aliens. I do look forward to spending afternoons in the future battling aliens and trying not to get the theme song from Men In Black stuck in my head.