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Board Game Review: ‘Roswell 51’ from Gamewick

Roswell 51 from Gamewick Games continues the tradition of horror begun with Pittsburgh 68 in the Shuffling Horror universe. While the previous game tackled the zombie horde subgenre of horror (Night of the Living Dead came out in 1968), Roswell 51 gives players the chance to live out a B-movie alien invasion.

There are nods to the thrilling sci-fi movies of the ‘50s all through Roswell 51, both in its colorful art and in-game. Players choose their characters straight out of film tropes: the adventurous scientist, the tough-as-nails colonel, the faithful boy scout, the plucky reporter, even a robot. These characters will face a horde of familiar film foes, like giant insects (as in Them!), plant creatures, cloned pod-people, or well-armed Martians with advanced technology. Even the cover for the instruction manual is loaded with fake news stories discussing missing cattle, baffled botanists, and theremin music playing in the desert. Simply flipping through the box will set the mood for players.

In play, Roswell 51 is best described as a storytelling game fueled by out-rolling the Director while playing through a competitive deck, hence the “shuffling” of the Shuffling Horror. Players fight their way through phases of “Reels,” which correlate to the rising tension in movies, with escalating difficulty in overcoming monsters. Players collect items and fight by rolling against the Director, while the Director plots to weaken the players’ characters and then pitch them into a climactic battle with throngs of alien monsters.

Even though every play of Roswell 51 follows the same guidelines, no two games are likely to ever be the same thanks to the card deck. Different monsters will come out at different times, as will different power-ups and tools. The deck also features numerous events that can change things up, like an Alien Autopsy that finds the classic weakness in the aliens’ physiology, and giving players a bonus on their rolls. Sanctuary cards like The Lab can give players places to recoup, while other cards give the Director the chance to blow those up.

Through it all, the best part of Roswell 51 is adding description from the players. Those playing valiant human survivors should get into character, perhaps even adopting an accent while they choose their actions. The Director can deliver taunting lines about the destruction of Earth while unleashing monster cards. Engagement grows as the story develops, leading to shrieks of laughter or pain as the dice roll to show how the scenes unfold.

Roswell 51 is a card and storytelling game for three to 13 people aged 14 and up. It is a fairly lengthy game, so players should plan to invest more than an hour in their experience. Since many of the moves can come with plenty of flavor-text, the more invested the players are, the longer the game will be, which is a win for everyone. With the Lovecraftian Innsmouth 32 and the Poe-inspired Baltimore 94 following, Gamewick is hitting up every angle of American horror.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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