Under Falling Skies
Aliens have found our planet – and they’re NOT friendly.
Under Falling Skies is a game for just one player to defend Earth’s cities from the alien invasion. Designed by Tomáš Uhlíř, this solo game is published by Czech Games Edition, with plenty of options to customize for dozens of plays.
How to Play
The board for Under Falling Skies is tall and narrow. A mothership and small alien fighters gradually drop through four sky tiles, while you place dice to activate “rooms” in two underground base tiles.
Each round, you’ll pass through three phases: Dice, Rooms, and Mothership.
In the Dice phase, roll all five dice. Each of the dice must go in a different column of your base area – but as soon as you place a die, all ships in that column descend that many spaces. If an alien ship ends its movement on an arrow, move it to the space the arrow points to; if it ends on a space with the mothership icon, the mothership descends one level – yikes!
When a ship descends below the sky, it hits your city and damages it.
Whenever you place a white die, you’ll need to reroll all your remaining dice – so plan carefully!
After all five dice are in place, it’s time for the Rooms phase. Resolve the effects of your placed dice, in any order you want, removing each die as you use it.
Use the different types of rooms to shoot down alien ships, generate energy (needed to activate other rooms), expand your base via excavator, or do research and move up on the research track.
With the cities available in the campaign, you get more abilities – like robots to automate some rooms, or “command rooms” to bolster all your worker dice.
The Mothership phase is where (more) bad stuff happens. The mothership descends one level, often activating a negative effect (adding more ships, losing ground on your tracks, or damaging your base).
Once the mothership is in its new space, it’s time to respawn. Any ships that have been placed on the mothership earlier in the round move onto the drop points, starting with empty columns.
Now it’s time to go back to the Dice phase and roll again!
Ways to Win – or Lose
Your goal is to get the research marker to the top space of the research track. Do that, and you immediately win! But that will require a careful balancing of all your different room abilities – and a hefty dose of luck.
If your base takes maximum damage, you immediately lose.
If the mothership reaches the row of the sky with a skull, you immediately lose.
All this would be enough to make a game that’s pretty good, but Under Falling Skies also has a campaign. Four chapters offer up new characters to help you, new cities with special abilities, and new challenges to make your job a little harder. As if driving off constantly-respawning aliens wasn’t already hard enough!
After reading the one-page comic that introduces a chapter, you’ll make randomized piles with a character, a city, and a scenario in each. You’ll choose one to attempt and one to permanently discard.
Then fight your chosen battle; if you lose, you get a second attempt. But if you lose the second time, you permanently discard that city.
After finishing the first city, generate two more random piles with this chapter’s components. Choose your second battle – you’ll get two attempts for this one, too – and then discard all other components.
Can you save the Earth?
I enjoy solo gaming, but I usually go for short and simple games, playing in 15 minutes or less. Under Falling Skies promised to be longer than I prefer (20-40 minutes), but not a huge jump.
But even though the game is engaging without being too complex, it’s still not quite simple enough for me.
After trying the standard, introductory game a few times, I realized I needed to stick with the easiest difficulty to have any chance of winning.
Embarking on the campaign, I enjoyed the variety at first. But the additional scenarios and chapter challenges quickly became just one more way the game would trip me up.
After being defeated in a city, you may flip it to the “damaged” side, which gives a more powerful bonus, before playing again. This “last chance” stage was usually the only way I could win a game, even on the easiest difficulty.
Unfortunately, as I tried harder to maximize my dice placement and use abilities at just the right time, my game plays got longer. Most sessions, I’d play for an hour or more.
I think that I am not the right audience for this game. After six battles, I am not even halfway through the campaign.
You can only lose in the same way so many times before fatigue sets in.
I learned to keep the game set up on the end of our game table, so I could play just one or two rounds at a time throughout the day. This let me spread out the pain of failing to stop the invaders, but it still hurts. I just feel let down after sinking so much time and effort into a game – which is supposed to be fun.
Best for Experienced Gamers
None of this means that Under Falling Skies isn’t a good game. It just wasn’t the right game for me.
I’d recommend it for experienced gamers who want a relatively short game that still feels meaty. The recommended age on the box of 12+ feels exactly right; younger players are liable to get frustrated with the difficulty presented here.
The arc of the campaign means that it feels like an epic struggle that can be played in short spurts. The narrow and tall board will only take a sliver of space on a typical table, so you can leave it set up over several plays.
The campaign is also replayable. You’ll only use half of the included content of each chapter, so you could even play through a second time without repeating ANY of the cities, characters, and scenarios from your first play.
For players who need more challenge (obviously not me!), there are lots of options to increase the difficulty and keep the game fresh.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Under Falling Skies from Czech Games Edition for this review.
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Under Falling Skies
Age Range: 12+
Number of Players: 1
Playtime: 20-40 minutes (we say longer)