I was born too late to get in on the Mars Attacks trading card frenzy back when they were first released in 1962, but if I had been around at that time I would’ve spent every cent of my lunch money on them! They were the coolest trading cards to ever be produced by Topps and even though the very same company produced the classic Garbage Pail Kids–the best selling trading cards of my generation in the ’80s–Mars Attacks was still far more radical than any other series of cards created before or since!
So notorious were they that many of the cards’ “questionable” illustrations caused a lot of controversy with parents and educators being shocked–outraged!–by the graphic depictions of martians destroying humans and other forms of life found on our planet; deeming them to be too violent and gory for impressionable young minds, which adds to the legendary status these trading cards have held for decades. Even collectors of sports trading cards know about them and hold them in high respect–even doling out large sums of cash for unopened boxes of the now incredibly rare, impossible-to-find series. I, myself, managed to score a set of the cards by buying the book Topps Mars Attacks: 50th Anniversary Collection (Abrams Books). The book has the entire history of the notorious card set’s conception, preliminary sketches, the cards themselves (including the banned cards along with their substitutions) and society’s reaction to them–plus much, much more. I recommend it highly.
As all geeks and film fanatics know, Tim Burton grew up loving the Topps cards to the point he adapted them into his cult classic film, Mars Attacks!. Foregoing the melodramatic elements of the card series’ storyline, Burton turned the little green men into mischievous gremlins who just swarm and produce chaos as depicted in Burton’s martian destruction film montages. Steve Jackson Games must’ve loved the scenes of martian destruction too because they’ve based a customized dice game around this aspect of the film moreso than what the creators of the card series (Len Brown and Woody Gelman) presented in their storyline which was more of an updated War of the Worlds. This does not take anything away from the game’s design, its playability, or its absolute fun factor as a great “beer and pretzels”-style game in which people can get a few sessions played within 60 minutes.
As dice games go, this one is far better than Yahtzee and Farkle, which is not hard to accomplish. It’s also very easy to learn and can be played on a relatively small surface area–making it very portable. Will the kids like it? Yes because, as mentioned before, the game comes with 10 cool-looking customized dice with 3 images on them–a Martian, a Raygun and a Nuke symbol–and kids like anything cool and customized. I know I do.
To prove anyone can play this game, I broke it out among friends who usually don’t sit down to table-top gaming sessions and luckily, it was Christmas morning so the people around me were up for anything. I quickly explained the rules and soon everyone was having a blast rolling the dice to create martian mayhem. The object of the game is to be the first martian (player) to score the most Victory Points (VPs) once the game ends. How are VPs gained? This is where the inspiration of the movie’s martian destruction montages comes into the game’s theme.
In the center of the table players deal out four stacks of Location Cards with the number of cards in each stack being equal to the number of players participating (i.e., four players = four cards to a stack). The players then decide on the level of difficulty they want to set the game and place the Difficulty Level Card on the table next to the four stacks of Location Cards with the cards difficulty level of choice placed face up for all the players to see. Next, each player gets four Martian Tokens and decide which player will be given the First Player Token. The invasion is ready to begin and players fight over who is the greatest martian warrior within the invading armada of flying saucers!
Each Location Card represents a Major City or Monument and it is the players’ objectives as martians to either destroy the Major Cities or have their picture taken in front of a Monument in order to claim the Location Card, which adds to their pool of VPs. The way players destroy the Major Cities is by rolling the 10 dice and any Raygun result on the dice’ faces are applied to Location Cards‘ required amount. For example, it takes 6 Raygun die results to destroy Indianapolis–which will gain the player 4 VPs, while it takes 11 Rayguns to destroy Houston (9 VPs). So right off the bat you can see the more “major” the Major City is, the more Rayguns needed and the more Victory Points gained. With Monuments it’s a different story. Raygun die results are not needed to gain Monument Location Cards, but rather Martian die results. To the martians–like in the movie–the Monuments are tourist attractions to have their photo-op moments BEFORE they level them with their rayguns. Therefore, the only die rolls needed to get The Statue of Liberty are 9 Martians, while the Gateway Arch of St. Louis only needs 4. Sounds easy but it’s more difficult than it sounds.
The die rolls are used to gain Victory Points, so what’s the catch? Are you just rolling and collecting cards in a race or are there obstacles to make the game more suspenseful, bringing out a sense of urgency within the players? The problem the players face are within the die rolls. I’ve already mentioned the Raygun and Martian die roll results, but I haven’t explained what the Nuke Symbol die results are for and how they are used. Within the bottom right corner of the Location Cards and the Difficulty Level Card are squares the size of the dice and contain a Nuke Symbol that matches the ones found on the dice. Whenever a player rolls the 10 dice on their turn, BEFORE they apply the Raygun and Martian results–if there are any–they MUST apply all Nuke Symbol results to the row of Nuke Symbols the Location Cards and Difficult Level Card create. If all the Nuke Symbols on the cards are covered, the player is NUKED out of their turn and must pass the dice to the next player. Total bummer, dude! Especially if you are so close to collecting a Major City to gain their VPs and you’re racing against another player to destroy it first. You know how to apply the Raygun and Martian results to the Location Cards, but there is one other rule I forgot to mention with die roll results. If a player is not Nuked out of their turn, they’ve applied all their Raygun results and they’ve decided to not use their Martian results to go after a Monument Location Card–or there just isn’t one–they may gather up all their Martian die results and REROLL them. When they reroll the Martian results, they treat the dice the same as they did with their first roll; applying Nuke Symbol results first before all others. This can lead to more Martian results and they too are subject to rerolls but once all the dice are used up, the player’s turn is over and the dice are passed to the next player within the sequence of play.
Once one of the four stacks of Location Cards is empty, game play continues til it reaches the player with the First Player Token and then the game concludes. When finished, players add up the VPs found on the Location Cards they’ve gained and the player with the highest total wins. It’s just that simple and it is through this simplicity that the game gains its fun-factor for even the most unseasoned table-top gamer, and will even get grandma or your crazy old uncle to sit down at the table to chuck some dice around with you. If they don’t understand this game or don’t have a fun time playing a few rounds of it, I’d worry because it is not by any means incredibly complicated. In fact, it’s like one of those games that got you in trouble for playing it in study hall–you gaming addicts out there know what I’m talking about.
Many gamers I know do not like Steve Jackson Games–claiming their games are too simple, not well thought out, or just plain cheap in production value–but I believe they should really give this company a chance. Mars Attacks is not ground-breaking by any means but it is a great, easy, fun table-top game which you will find simple to teach to others–even those who don’t spend much time playing games and haven’t a concept of dice games beyond Yahtzee. And if you are a fan of their Zombie Dice game, you will definitely want this one.