A planet in the deep reaches of space inhabited by cute aliens is about to go the way of Krypton, Alderaan, and Vulcan; total annihilation is soon at hand. Luckily, these creatures have escape facilities ready. Unluckily, these programs are plans W-Z. Plans A-V were ways to make the planet not explode, but stretching giant rubber bands around the circumference of the planet just made things worse. This rock is blowing up and everyone needs to get to a safe distance.
Every alien starts the game in an underground bunker, waiting their turn to head to the surface and make a beeline toward the nearest launch pad. Players have simple tasks to perform each turn, but can choose the order to carry them out. You can move aliens to the surface, place them on a launch pad, contribute supplies to lift off costs, or play action cards for different effects. At the end of each turn, the planet’s moon shifts like a hand on a clock, counting down the days before destruction. Make your moves count, because you don’t have much time.
The choices that players make are simple enough that this can be played by children much younger than the 13+ label suggests and the branding is definitely geared towards the youngsters too. Everything in the world of Lift Off is bright, colorful, and even cheerful in the face of world-ending catastrophe. The production value of Lift Off is impressive, with thick tiles, custom dice, and painted “alieneeples” filling the box to the brim. There’s even a die that’s used just for deciding who goes first in the game. There is no other use for it that I can find. If there’s overkill in board games, Lift Off comes close, but the extra effort into production is really nice to see.
The main way to escape the doomed planet is to launch aliens from four different Lift Off points situated around the planet. These points vary, from luxury rocket ships that can fit many aliens for a high cost to a slingshot that flings aliens into orbit one alien at a time. Each launch pad has certain restrictions on the number of aliens and when Lift Off actually occurs, so timing becomes crucial if you want to save more aliens than others. These decisions usually aren’t that difficult to make, but this game is meant to be light enough for everyone to enjoy. Some points rely on luck while others are a sure thing, so players can risk as much or as little as they want during the game. There are eight different Lift Off points included in the box, so your planet can change from game to game with the same explosive ending. Every alien you rescue is a step closer to victory, but how you rescue them is up to you.
The game play is pretty basic, but the goal of getting your 10 aliens off the planet before everyone else shifts the feeling from “I help you, you help me” to “I help you, you help me more or else” quickly. Players have to decide where to move their aliens and when to spend resources appropriately since everything from moon phases that hinder salvation to a monster called the Garglore summoned by card play can slow down the rescue of your creatures.
The action cards that players can use during the game can be devastating, from returning all aliens to the core or making everyone discard their entire hand. The harshness of these penalties is dampened since all players are affected, but I hesitate to use these cards because it can set back progress that was difficult to achieve. Luckily, Lift Off comes with lots of variants that can mitigate some of the “take that” elements, from team play to an almost cooperative mode where the salvation of all aliens is of concern to the players. But don’t worry, if you like brutality in games, there’s a variant that takes it in the extreme direction. If you’ve ever played Survive: Escape from Atlantis, if you acknowledge that not everyone with make it out alive, the sting is taken out of hurting other players. Comparing the two games, Lift Off is actually much more civil than the bloodbath that Survive can turn into, so take that information however you want.
I do have some weird things that I could nitpick in Lift Off, like how the aliens in the art are completely different than the alieneeples in the game, but I have a good time playing it anyway. It is light enough that you can have a conversation while playing it, so it fits in well in my house. We play games for the social aspect, and Lift Off can draw people in. It is extremely easy to teach, it plays quickly, and looks amazing, so I think it accomplishes what it set out to be. Lift Off could be your family’s next favorite game.