Review: Invaders from Dimension X!11 Feb 2019 1
Review: Invaders from Dimension X!
Released 24 Jan 2019
What if a wargame transformed completely but kept the same outer shell? If it were still about squad management, line-of-sight fire, and hand-crafted scenarios but with an added dash of chaos? Hemmann Luttmann’s Invaders from Dimension X is this very game. Zany, helter-skelter, yet still relatively strategic within its own wide, permissive ruleset, I stumbled upon the game as a lark and am quite glad I did. It’s lovingly made and great fun, but the bare-bones interface and rare bugs make it difficult to recommend. Still a nice game, a bizarre yet successful twist on wargame conventions.
Marines (from the Unified Space Alliance Defense Force) square off against a strange and sudden incursion of the Kay’otz (Obligatory get it, chaos much? interjection) and seek to eliminate the hostiles and preserve their dimension. The enemies are strong but erratic, with unusual weapons, tactics and objectives. In-game this means some delightful asymmetry. Humans use plasma weapons which kill the Kay’otz but are restricted by line-of-sight and friendly fire. (You can’t fire through your own units, mountains or lava). The Kay’otz, by way of contrast, use lasers and can fire through anything and everything but will only incapacitate, never kill, their prey. (Obligatory ‘set to stun’ interjection).
The bigger chunk of variability comes from the Activation Cards, which have big bursts of activity on the enemy turn, but with a lot of conditions and uncertainty attached. Oh, and the pool of enemy Activation Cards are always the same, but the order won’t be. Especially fearsome are the AOE stun card, which randomly deploys anywhere on the map and paralyzes any nearby troops, and the frenzy card, which has the Kay’otz attack over and over until the dice roll fizzles. The chaos is iterated and compounded: events could happen anytime and once triggered can range from harmless or inconvenient, to serious and routing. While the scenarios have well-defined victory conditions for the humans, the Kay’otz instead have a grab-bag of objectives, with one triggering at the end of the game to see whether they win.
Somewhat confusingly, there are many different qualities and kinds of victories. The humans can win instantly by fulfilling the specific scenario conditions at any point, or, more commonly, the clock will run out and the game ends once the last of the Activation Cards is used. If the Kay’otz win condition is met, they win at the point; otherwise, the human evaluate whether they’ve scored an overwhelming, modest, or paltry victory based on criteria peculiar to the scenario at hand.
Everything in combat is decided by dice rolls, which in of itself is not unusual. Units have three stats, one each for movement, power and armor. The power determines the number of dice rolled, and the armor stat of the opponent qualifies which rolls count as hits. Killing the Kay’otz is rather difficult, as it should be. If the enemy scores hits, human units are either stunned or paralyzed. They don’t recover from this stasis automatically, however, and must instead use a ‘Rally’ action to regain full function. The ‘Rally’ action is itself a die roll, meaning that a laughably bad streak can leave someone effectively perma-stunned, which would be hilarious if it weren’t such a setback.
Invaders from Dimensions X is full of long-odds edge cases like this, which is more than half the fun. Everything about the Kay’otz, and by extension the game state itself, is both strong and fundamentally unpredictable. The challenge is always to ride the wave, to manoeuvre through the tumult as best you can with the weaker, yet comparably more dependable tools the humans have at their disposal. For example, rallying might whiff, but this nastiness can be mitigated by smart positioning next to HQ or Logistics units, boosting the roll. Even the enemy turns can be micromanaged with a little luck, for the Scout units have a Recon ability which gives a 50-50 chance to select one of two possible Activation Cards.
So it’s messy and potentially ‘unfair’ but never unwinnable. The unit types are just specialized enough to make for cohesive squads and a solid pay-out for good strategy and positioning. I’m probably the furthest thing from the intended audience and enjoyed it thoroughly. Caveat emptor, though. There are a few visual glitches, one of which appears to hide the win condition tab which is more-or-less essential when playing a scenario for the first time. Another fires shots from the wrong spot. These are irksome but not deal-breakers. The game’s reference materials are pretty good for in-game refreshers, but the app itself lacks a tutorial or in-game rulebook, even, choosing to skirt around this failing by redirecting inquiring minds through a hyperlink to the full rulebook. Standard answers for how to make a maximally functional game on a shoestring budget. The result is serviceable and even spirited at times but also kinda ugly.
The scenarios aren’t too long or taxing, presenting a stiff challenge in a reasonable timeframe; the player units and combat ruleset are standard, but the enemy is truly a leap into the great unknown. Dimension X is an unusual and rather fun novelty which mashes-up unlikely inspirations into something worthwhile The limited play modes, drily functional interface and various bugs mitigate this praise, so in the end give it a chance if you’re seriously curious or habituated to this type of experience.