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Star phwoars


Star phwoars

To quote Douglas Adams: “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is.” So it’s appropriate that the gaming mat for Red Alert is so massive that even a decent size kitchen table will struggle to find room for it. This preference for bigness in some ways captures the essence of Red Alert; it’s a title that takes a broad-brush approach to gameplay to capture a suitably epic sense of space combat.

Set millennia in the future, players control the fleets of two rival factions – the Commonwealth Alliance and the Rebel Confederation – as they duke it out for supremacy in the starry void.

The game is an iteration of Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors series, where the board is comprised of a hex grid and split into three sectors. Each of a player’s spaceships occupy one hexagon on the board, and activating them depends on which sector the hex is in (right, centre or left). Players have a small hand of command cards drawn from a communal deck and replenished each turn; unit activation is determined by which card the player chooses to play. For example, a card may allow two units from the left sector to activate, or two from the centre and so on. It’s a wonderfully simple but effective mechanic that adds a sense of uncertainty to the proceedings; not only do players have to prioritise which precious few units they can use on a given turn, but they have to do so within the limits of the cards they’re dealt.

Apart from the look of the miniatures, the factions in the game are identical, so strategising depends largely on choosing which cards to play and how you utilise the diflfferent types of ship in each fleet. Some command cards come have special abilities that break up the routine of gameplay, and further tactical choices are afforded from a second deck of combat cards. Each ship type is nicely distinguished from its brethren and a variety of combat roles; fighters are fast, short-range ships whilst battleships are more cumbersome but come equipped with longer-range weaponry, for example. The game also has an element of resource management, as certain actions like repairing damaged ships or using combat cards require spending valuable star tokens.

The combat avoids stagnating into a war of attrition because destroying enemy ships is largely secondary to completing objectives and scoring victory points. One feature of the combat dice is the titular ‘red alert’ symbol. Used to represent a malfunction on a ship, it forces that unit to retreat and severly hampers its capability, meaning that outright destruction of a unit isn’t always the only outcome of combat.

The only major niggle with the game is a potential lack of replayability. The rulebook only has six missions, two of which are tutorials, and it would have been nice if there had been more. The game does include an army list-building element for these scenarios, however, and with a little bit of imagination players could try to make up their own missions. It’s also a shame that for a game so accessible, the £100 price tag may put who some players who would otherwise appreciate its approachable nature.

What stands out most about Red Alert is that it manages to strike that balance between creating mechanics that are straightforward and simple but also provide a level of depth that allows for complex strategising and engaging moment-to-moment gameplay. Space warfare is one of those ideas that could easily be mishandled and turned into an obsessively over-detailed game with a novel-length rulebook, but here that temptation has been roundly avoided. What players get instead is a game that’ll clip along at a brisk pace and make them feel like the daring commander of a vast starfleet armada in the process.


► Starfield game mat

► 92 starships

► 92 ship bases

► 154 poles

► 18 space feature tiles

► 36 star tokens

► 32 faction markers

► 11 red alert markers

► Three cloaking device markers

► Six capital ships

► 50 unit markers

► Two victory stands

► 60 command cards

► 50 combat cards

► 12 task force cards

► 12 battle dice

► Two unit summary sheets


Simple but not simplistic, Red Alert is a thoroughly enjoyable game that offers both strategy and visual spectacle. Though somewhat pricey , its mechanics are elegant and its gameplay dynamic.


Another entry in Borg’s Commands & Colors series, The Great War takes a similar set of mechanics as Red Alert and transports it to the trenches of World War I.

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About The Best Games of 2019

Must Plays and more in our Best Games of 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Over the next 196 pages discover all of the most positively reviewed games of the year. With a massive 181 games reviewed, this is the definitive “what to play next” guide of 2019! Games reviewed include: Wingspan Copenhagen Hellboy: The Board Game Res Arcana Lifeform Century: A New World Megacity: Oceania Pandemic: Fall of Rome Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Rough Nights & Hard Days Azul: Stained Glass of Sinatra Tapestry Letter Jam Hako Onna Everdell Battle Ravens Dune + Many more!

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