Lift Off! is an alien-rescuing game for 1 to 6 players, ages 13 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It was originally published back in 2014 through a Kickstarter campaign, and is now seeking funding for an expansion and expanded base game. The current campaign includes an upgrade kit ($25) for existing owners, or an expanded deluxe edition ($40) for new buyers. The box lists the game as “13+” but I think it could be taught to kids as young as 10; there’s nothing thematically inappropriate for younger kids, though some of the escape route rules can be more complex than others.
(The full title is Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet! but for obvious reasons I’ll just stick with Lift Off! for the rest of this review.)
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Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality, though much of it is very close to what it will look like in the finished version.
There are two options for backers: the full game in a deluxe edition that includes the expansion material, and an upgrade kit that adds the new content for existing owners. I received prototypes of both, so I’ll outline the differences here in the components section.
First, the expanded deluxe edition:
As with the original version, the game comes with big, chunky cardboard tiles: the planet core and the various wedges fit together like puzzle pieces, allowing for a random mix of launch pads. The wedges and the core are double-sided, providing even more options than before.
The artwork by Nichole Kelly is wonderful and looks like it belongs in a kids’ picture book. The launch pads and exit tubes all have fun details on them, and everything is quite colorful. But don’t be fooled by the cheery artwork—this is still about a planet about to explode, and the efforts to rescue as many of the planet’s inhabitants as possible.
The escape pods are large cardboard tiles depicting an alien in a spaceship. They’re double-sided (even though they don’t need to be), with goofy license plates on the backs. They’re just a place to store your rescued aliens and aren’t entirely necessary, but they’re also a way to remember what color each player is. (Speaking of color, I’m not sure that the game is entirely color-blind-friendly, since there’s no additional distinguishing characteristics on the meeples to match them to the escape pods.)
The “alieneeples” are little shocked-looking bubble-heads, and they’re very cute (even if they don’t exactly look like the alien drawings), and the Garglore/Gurglore meeples are, well, very cute monsters and a bit larger than the aliens. (Question: why are they called “aliens” if they’re on their home planet? No idea.)
There are three custom dice. One just has values from 1 to 6, the second shows 1 to 3 rockets or an X on each face, and the last has several custom icons representing different actions. The dice are engraved and painted.
The deluxe edition has a nice plastic insert that has some nice embossed icons and images showing where things go. The one odd thing is that, because there are 12 scrap tokens but only one each of the ladder, sun, and moon, you have to spread the scrap tokens around and then place the ladder, sun, and moon on top of the stacks. The box is the same size as the original game, so the plastic insert just helps organize things and keep everything in place. The game board and rulebook fit on top nicely.
Overall, the component quality in the finished base game is excellent, and I expect the deluxe edition prototype to be just as good. Pencil First has published many games in the past few years, and they know what they’re doing.
Now, the upgrade kit, which replaces a few of the components and adds the components necessary for the 6th player and solo play:
For the upgrade, you replace the old planet core and wedges with the new ones (the old ones were not double-sided), and you replace the reference cards with the new cards. Keep both the original rulebook and the new rulebook, which only has the expansion rules in it.
The primary difference between having the new deluxe edition and having the old set with the upgrade kit is that the deluxe edition has the custom plastic insert (rather than the cardboard well in the original), and that you’ll have a board with a couple of stickers on it instead of the newly printed board. If you backed the original project and you don’t mind those two details, then you’re better off just getting the upgrade kit rather than the new expanded edition.
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
Since the core gameplay has not changed from the original base game, I’ve reproduced that here from my original Kickstarter Tabletop Alert, though updated with images of the finished base game instead of prototype components.
The goal of the game is to get all ten of your aliens off the planet before it explodes—or, failing that, get the most aliens off the planet.
The game board starts with the core in the center, the four exit point wedges placed as indicated on the board, and then four of the Lift Off points placed. There are suggestions for the first game, otherwise you can select them at random. The Moon starts on the spot indicated by the star icon, and the sun starts on the Day Track on the space corresponding to the number of players. The Garglore figure starts in the lava pool in the core, and all the player aliens start in the core. Each player gets a hand of 2 cards and an escape pod.
On each turn, you draw 2 cards from the deck, and then take any of these actions in any order:
At the end of your turn, you move the moon one step counterclockwise. The location of the moon affects Lift Off abilities. If the moon is directly above a location, then it is a Full Moon at that location. If the moon is on the direct opposite side of the planet, then it is a New Moon at that location. If the moon is anywhere in between, it is a Half Moon. When the moon makes it all the way around and back to its starting location, the Day Tracker moves forward one step.
You move from the core out to the planet’s surface using the exit point tunnels (which costs 1 movement), and from wedge to wedge on the planet’s surface for one movement point each.
Lift Off points have various characteristics: there’s usually a maximum number of aliens that can be on the pad at one time. There’s a Placement cost, usually some number of cards that you must pay in order to get onto the pad.
The rocket icon in the top left of the wedge shows three moon phases, with icons below. These indicate the Lift Off costs that must be paid in order (or die result required) for the aliens on the pad to get off the planet, as well as which moon phases allow for lift off there. For instance, the Teleport only works during a new moon, and the Rocket only works during a full moon. The Bonfire pictured above requires a die roll—and the brighter the moon, the harder it is (because it’s difficult for passing spaceships to see your bonfire, of course). If it’s the right phase of the moon and the Lift Off costs have been met, then all the aliens on the pad are immediately saved and placed onto the players’ escape pods.
For example, the Rocket Ship costs 1 fuel and 1 screw to place your alien there. It holds up to 6 aliens. The Lift Off cost is 6 fuel and 6 screws, and it must be a full moon. When the moon reaches the Rocket Ship and becomes a full moon, you check to see if there are 6 fuel and 6 screws there—if so, any aliens there are saved. So if there were 6 aliens there, then the costs would already be paid. If there were fewer than 6 aliens, the players there could pay extra in order to fill the Lift Off costs with fewer aliens on board.
Each Lift Off point has its own quirks. The smoke signals are easiest during a new moon, but you have to spend a fuel to roll a die and see if it works. The Trampoline is easiest during a full moon, but if you don’t roll well enough it sends you back to the core. The Jet Pack just requires fuel as a Placement cost and launches you immediately if you can afford to place an alien there.
Meanwhile, there are action cards: some let you move your alien or the moon. Some move the Garglore, which prevents aliens from lifting off at its location. Super Nova lets you treat everything as a full moon for your turn, and Asteroids let you treat everything as a new moon. Tornado sends all the aliens not on launch pads back to the core, and Electric Storm makes everyone discard all of their cards. Finally, Terraform lets you remove an empty Lift Off point and replace it with another from the box.
If you rescue all 10 of your aliens, you win and the game ends immediately.
Or, if the planet blows up because the sun token reaches the explosion on the Day Track, whoever saved the most aliens wins. Ties go to the player with the most resources.
As mentioned in the components list above, the day track stickers change the day track from the original game. Not only do they add options for 1 player and 6 players, but they’ve also decreased the track by 1 day for each player count, which shortens the game a bit.
So, what’s new in the expanded version? First, there are new exit points. The exit wedges are double-sided, and the reverse has four unique exit points that aren’t quite so simple: The Ancient One is an old tube where aliens can get stuck—you roll a die to see how far along you can move, and you shove any aliens above you toward the surface as you go. The Sinkhole just requires one movement point to traverse, but if you stay there at the end of your turn you’ll sink back to the core. The Pump Car only takes one movement point, but you must take an alien of a different color along with you. Finally, the Drill Rig requires 1 fuel but no movement points, so if you have a lot of fuel, you can use your movement points to move around on the surface rather than just getting to the surface.
There are, of course, new Lift Off points as well: there are 8 new launch pad options (2 of the wedges have a blank “make your own” template on the back). Like the original set, these have varying costs to enter the launch pad, launch costs, and launch phases. Several also require additional components. For instance, the Wormhole includes the wormhole board, which holds a stack of cards: if you have a meeple on the launch pad, you’re allowed to trade cards with this stack during your turn. The Ladder can be climbed just using movement points, but you can also spend cards to flip the ladder token, which will either allow you to move up or fall back (in which case you also knock down other aliens). The Elevator requires you to flip an elevator card, hoping you find the right floor.
The Gurglore is the Garglore’s sweetheart, and it just wants a hug. When you play the “Garglore!” action card, you may now move the Gurglore instead, and then attach it to a meeple in its new location. That meeple must spend a movement to get away from the Gurglore before it can do anything else.
The solo option is also new, and uses the cardboard Garglore token and the Garglore cards. You only have one day—one full rotation of the moon—to escape, but the Garglore has made a big mess of things. You start with scrap tokens on the launch pads, which need to be cleaned up before you can even get onto those launch pads. You get 3 movement per turn, but then you draw a card and the Garglore takes an action in all 3 of the wedges it’s pointing at, and then rotates. It can do various things like adding scrap tokens, pulling aliens back down, scaring them to the opposite side of the planet, and more.
When Ed Baraf first launched Lift Off! on Kickstarter, it was the first title for Pencil First Games, but he was able to reach his funding goal and deliver a game with excellent production quality and some fun, casual gameplay. Since then, Pencil First has published nine more titles (with one currently in production), and I like the mix of easy-to-learn games and eye-catching components. Baraf has wanted to do an expansion for Lift Off! for some time, so I’m glad that it’s finally one step closer to reality.
As I mentioned in my original review, Lift Off! is a curious mix of familiar and unfamiliar game mechanics. What’s familiar is managing your resources and actions, and trying to find space on the limited launch platforms. What’s less familiar is the way the phases of the moon affect the different launch pads, which then influences where you might attempt to get off the planet. Do you go for the sure thing that will just take more turns to complete? Or do you go for the risky move that will save you a few turns—if it pays off?
I also like the way that the different launch pads mix competition and cooperation. One of my favorites from the original set is the Miracle: it only costs 1 card to get on the launch pad, and it can hold one alien of each color. As soon as each player has one alien on the launch pad, they all launch immediately, regardless of the moon’s phase. But if 5 players have placed their aliens there, will the 6th player come along and set everyone free? Yeah, that’s why it’s called “Miracle”! That one definitely leads to a whole lot of discussion and pleading.
It reminds me a little of the new Pump Car exit, which uses 1 movement point as usual but you have to take another player’s alien with you. Sometimes it’s the quickest way to get to a desired launch pad, but who do you take with you? Do you bring the person you think is most likely to return the favor… or the one who’s most likely to retaliate if you don’t?
Even the launch pads that don’t require cooperation may still encourage it, simply because it can get very expensive for a single player to pay the entire launch cost on their own. You’ll need other players to join you, but if you’ve placed too many aliens there already, they might not want to help you rescue so many of them at once. It’s a tricky balance to maintain.
The new launch pads provide some fun (or sometimes frustrating) wrinkles, like the Volcano that spews lava onto nearby wedges every full moon. It takes a few turns for the lava to go away, and until then those wedges can’t be used unless you use precious actions to clean them up. But on the plus side, you can get to the Volcano launch pad directly from the core, so that saves you some time—if you have a lot of cards to pay the cost.
There is a good deal of luck involved, both in the card draws and dice rolls. For the card draws, at least you’re able to trade in cards on a 2-for-1 basis; for the die rolls, it can often be affected by waiting for (or creating) the right moon phase, depending on the launch pad. So there’s strategy and planning involved, but you’re also subject to the whims of random chance. That type of game does work pretty well when you have a mix of skill levels, though, so Lift Off! can be a good fit for playing with your kids, or for a wide age range among kids.
The solo game is pretty challenging—only 1 day to save 10 aliens? Better hope you have a lot of “Move the Moon” cards handy. It will require some planning (since you know where the Garglore is each round, but not what it does) and a good deal of luck, too. But I admit that I’m not as much of a solo gamer in general, so that’s not as big a factor for me. I’d much rather contend with the wily machinations of other human players.
Speaking of other players, I do appreciate the addition of the 6th player components because sometimes you just don’t want to split up the party, but I will caution that the 6th player game does stretch out the game length (as you might expect), simply because there’s just that many more turns to be taken, decisions to be made, promises to be cruelly broken.
While the new content will be welcome to fans of the original, I think the real bonus here is the chance for those who missed the first Kickstarter campaign to get in on the fun. The game has been sold out for a while, so I like the idea that a new audience will have a chance to rediscover it now.
If you’re looking for a cute, casual game with adorable alieneeples and top-notch components, take a closer look at Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Lift Off! Kickstarter page!
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.
This post was last modified on January 6, 2020 2:21 pm
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