The 1950s was a new golden age for science fiction. Pulps and serials had dominated the decades before, but a new sense of impending danger in the Cold War created a new cultural sensation with full-length sci-fi on the big screen. Budgets were small and special effects were laughable, but the stories were, and are, adored by millions. In Troy Pichelman’s Pluto Attacks!, players are given the chance to live out the Atomic Era hijinks of alien invasion in a cooperative card game.
The setting is 1952, the same year the classic propaganda-tale Red Planet Mars was released. In a small town, a ragtag group of high school students staying up late witness the pre-dawn alien invasion. It is up to them to raise the alarm and call in reinforcements to save the day.
Each player is dealt a “Small Town Hero” card with an archetypal character such as the Football Captain, High School Reporter, or Farm Boy. The cards have three stats in Popularity, Brains, and Muscle, which correlate to the number of dice a player is able to roll in their encounters. At the beginning of each player’s turn, he or she turns over a new Attack card, giving opportunities for encounters like the Dusty Attic, Alien War Robot, and the School Janitor.
Gameplay very much follows what might be scenes from a film. A player puts his or her token onto the card to participate in the encounter, allowing players to team up on particularly difficult cards. The player then rolls dice based on the encounter’s skill, trying to match the required rolls at the bottom. When the player matches the dice, he or she gets to keep the card and may cash it in for the reward for re-rolls and bonus dice. Players must collect four cards to send out the alarm and win the round before the deck runs out or the aliens become too numerous. With a very flexible system, including solitary play, players may tinker with the “Alien Influence” to raise or lower it to different levels of difficulty.
As in many “against the deck” cooperative tabletop games, the difficulty of the game is largely luck based. Players should strategize to stay ahead of the deck, playing to their character’s strengths and making sure they keep the Alien Influence below twenty, when the aliens win. If a string of very difficult cards comes up, it could be curtains for the young town-defenders. If few difficult cards come up, the game could be a breeze. The rules are very easy to learn, and rounds go very quickly, making it a great game to play several times in a row to get a thorough feeling of adventure in a time of poodle skirts and letter jackets.
Pluto Attacks! is a cooperative card game for one to six players aged twelve and up. Younger players who do not mind a little guidance might have fun joining in on the rolling as well.
It is a perfect game for players who want to add some role-playing to their rolling in games, acting out the scenes as they read the quotes on every card, such as the Robot Dog: “Why the heck would they build a robot dog?”