I can't help but smile while playing Space Vermin From Beyond! The game is a solitaire affair (with a 2-player option) that smacks you down on the planet Beyond III and places you in charge of the 124th Galactic Marine Raider Battalion, better known as the Old Reprobates, and tasks you with fighting off swarms of giant ant-like alien Vermites. The game is intentionally campy and ridiculous, but it manages to hit the camp and humor right on the nose without trying too hard, and it does so on top of a solid mechanical foundation.
There is a two player option for Space Vermin, but the game is truly a solitaire game, and it's at its best that way. The player controlled Marines follow a rule-set that rests solidly in traditional hex-and-counter wargaming territory and pairs it with an AI system for the Vermites that is both easy to operate and that provides a fun, interesting challenge that has enough randomness to keep things interesting. If you are familiar with hex-and-counter wargaming at all, you will be able to pick up and begin playing Space Vermin in no time, but the rules are well-written and pared down enough that even people who have never played that type of game shouldn't have much difficulty getting into the game.
The first mission tasks the players with protecting and extracting four Crown Jewels that both attract the Vermites and power them up significantly. The second mission sees the Vermites marching from one side of the map to the other, and it's up to the player to stop as many of them from exiting the map as possible. While both missions have the same goals each time, they can both play out very differently based on a few different factors. The first, and least significant, is the dice.
Dice rolls control quite a bit in Space Vermin, from some Vermite movement to the outcomes of combat, but they don't really play a bigger part than dice in most games that use dice-based combat. The real variability in the game comes from the Event Chits and Queens Spawn. Each turn, an Event Chit is drawn that can have various effects on the game, from damaging some Vermites to sending some Vermites on a murderous rampage. The Event Chits also determine the direction that the Vermites will move in a turn. The number of Event Chits and Vermites is finite, but the order in which they are drawn is different every game. While you will learn what threats you will face after only a few plays, it's the way that you plan for, gamble against, and deal with the Events as they come up that really keeps the game interesting.
Learning when and how to take risks is a key factor in the game, but the randomness keeps things from being truly "solvable." Instead, you get to make educated guesses and hope that they pay off. It can be devastating when you gamble and lose too. The last time that I played the first scenario, I sent my M.A.D. Scientist racing off as soon as possible in order to create an experimental weapon so that I could get a leg up on the approaching Vermites. The stupid space ants managed to frenzy and charged straight for my Scientist, ripping him limb from limb before I even go the chance to build one of the powerful weapons I'd sent him to build. It was a foolish move on my part, but it would have been glorious if it had worked out. The combination of Event plus movement direction determined by the Event draw taught me a valuable lesson about overextending myself. You can't be too cautious though, because each mission is on a timer, and if you aren't careful you can easily get swarmed by more Vermites than you can handle.
Not only do the persistent, ever approaching swarms of Vermites present a challenge when they get up close and personal, but even killing them can prove problematic if you aren't smart about it. As they die, they explode in a shower of goo and tiny parasites that live in their bodies that have a chance of infecting troops that are too close to the dying Vermite. There are Logistics units that can help deal with the Nanite problem, but they are slow, and you only have access to a few of them, so you have to be wise in how to use them. The same can be said for the other unit types as well.
While the core of your army is made up of standard Marine Squads, you also have access to the previously mentioned Scientist, a powerful artillery weapon called the A.N.T. Gun, a few Heavy Weapon troops, some Special Ops, Scouts, Recovery Vehicles, and two HQ units. Each unit has their own strengths and weaknesses, and deciding how to use them, when to call for reinforcements, and how to deploy those reinforcements can be key. There can be moments in the game where a crucial, tactical drop of reinforcements is absolutely vital, and it is groan-inducing when it goes terribly wrong, your troops drift way off course, or get damaged while entering the battlefield. Those moments rarely feel frustrating though, because the decision to take the risk was yours, and had you played it smarter, you probably wouldn't have been in such dire straights to begin with. On the flip side of the coin, it makes you feel like a badass when you pull it off.
The game isn't all that hard, but it is challenging enough to keep you on your toes, and the variance in Events and which Vermites will spawn and where keeps things interesting. It's not a brain-burner by any stretch of the imagination, instead filling in as more of a brain-candy, dumb-in-a-good-way action movie type game for when you are more in the mood to chuck some dice and squash some bugs than sit and wrack your brain for a best possible solution to a problem. Both scenarios are easy to set up and play standalone, and it's a really nice option to be able to combine them together into a two act campaign when you are in the mood to spend a few hours in Space Vermin's campy world.
A note on “chrome”: Space Vermin From Beyond! comes in two forms. It can either be purchased as a print and play or as a physical copy that comes in a poly-bag. Regardless of the version that you choose, you will have to provide your own dice, but the components in the poly-bag version are good quality, actually being on par with other hex and counter wargames that I've played and enjoyed. The map is a single piece of poster paper printed on both sides and folded in quarters, so you may need something heavy to set on it to get it to lay flat at first.
The bottom line:
Space Vermin From Beyond! is a great solo game. The rules that the game is built upon are solid, and the amount of theme conveyed in the small number of components is fantastic. The game really does capture the campy sci-fi feel that it is going for. Another pleasant surprise is how much replayability exists in the game. Not only are there two stand alone scenarios each with their own map, that play differently each time, but the fact that they can easily be linked into a campaign is the cherry on top of this already delicious giant-ant sundae.
Get this game if:
You enjoy solo board games.
You like campy themes.
You are looking for a very affordable way to try out solo board gaming.
Avoid this game if:
You hate dice.
The copy of Space Vermin From Beyond used for this review was provided by the publisher.