Review: It’s Alive!
It’s nice to play some older games from time to time, just to get familiar with the history of board games and see how they have evolved during the years. “It’s Alive!” by Yehuda Berlinger, caught my attention due to its catchy title and the suggestion of a friend saying that it is a very entertaining and fun game to play. The game was published back in 2007 by Reiver Games who unfortunately closed down in 2011, leaving the game orphan. However the game’s designer managed to re-publish the game with a new publisher, changing its theme or rather reverting to the original theme of the game as he first imagined it. That game is called “Candle Quest” and was published in 2013 by Victory Point Games. But let’s go back to our game review of “It’s Alive!”.
It’ Alive! is a card game for 2-5 players and lasts about 30 minutes. The main mechanics of the game are set collection and auction / bidding. As the title suggests, this is a game that features human-made monsters. Players take the role of mad scientists from all over Europe, who, in the turn of the 19th century, race against time in order to be the first to create life through the power of alchemy. The most important thing you need as a mad scientist is (what else?) a well-preserved corpse!! Unfortunately in that era most people occupied themself with farming, a job that many times resulted in freaky accidents, in which the body rarely made it intact at the time of death. As a result of this, you can usually acquire scattered body parts which you’ll have to assemble, instead of a whole body. Eight body parts are needed for your spooky creations. The most important and expensive parts are head, brain, torso and heart. The rest are: arms, legs, hands and feet.
At the start of the game, each player takes a player screen, a slab and twelve coins. He puts his slab and coins, hidden behind the screen. The player slab features eight spaces where the different body parts will be placed. A deck of small square cards (45x45mm) makes up the stock of body parts. This deck is shuffled and put face down in the middle of the table.
On your turn you can select a body part in one of two possible ways:
- Either draw a card from the deck of available body parts. This option is free.
- or salvage a specific body part from a graveyard. You take the top card of any player’s discarded cards deck (graveyard) but have to pay its value in any combination of coins and/or cards.
After selecting a body part, you have to make one more choice: how you will use that part. You have the following options:
- Buy the part. You must pay the value of the part in coins to the bank, then take the part and put it on the appropriate place on your slab.
- Sell the part to an anatomist for a small profit. That profit is the half value of the body part, rounded down
- Auction the part. You announces an auction and take the first bid. Each player can bid only once. The winner of the auction pays the price in coins to the player who started the auction (or if it is himself that started it, to the bank), takes the card and puts it on his slab.
Except for body parts in the deck of cards are also included two special kind of cards:
- Coffins. Sometimes a corpse might come in one piece (placed in the coffin). That means that you can use any part of that corpse to fill a needed body part space. This card is quite expensive due its flexible use.
- Villagers Uprise. While getting involved in such a morbid trade, it’s reasonable that you may at some point invoke the wrath of the villagers, who you’ll have to appease in order to continue your job. When you draw a Villagers Uprising card you must immediately pay the cost of the card with any combination of cards and/or coins. Then you get to keep the card and use it later in order to source a body part from a player’s graveyard or pay another Villager’s Uprising card. Then you have another turn
If you are playing the advanced mode of the game, you can replace any body part on your slab with another one of greater value, and hold the replaced card to pay for a salvaged part from a graveyard or a Villagers Uprising card.
The game goes on until a player finishes his monster by gathering one of each different body parts. That player announces the end of the game by yelling “It’s Alive!”. According to the basic rules of play, that player immediately wins the game. In the advanced rules, players sum the value of each body part they have gathered (ignoring duplicates and Villagers’ Uprisings), and add the coins they have left. You can only claim up to half the value of your cards from coins. The player who completed his monster also gets five points as a bonus. The player with the highest score wins.
Now let’s see how the game scores in our different scoring categories:
It’s Alive’s components are player screens and mats, coins, cards and play guides. All components are made of cardboard. The player screens are pretty big, and adequately cover all players’ belongings. I found their graphic design very appropriate as they depict a laboratory with lots of equipment and a stone staircase leading upwards. (your lab is naturally located inside a dark dungeon!). Looking at the screen and picking at its details while playing, certainly puts you in the mood of the game. Player mats feature eight places where the acquired body parts will be placed, with a picture of each part in each place. The mats are black & white in color but that is on purpose, to indicate that the places for body parts are empty at the start of the game and they are gradually filled with the actual body parts which are colored. The mats are made of quite thin cardboard, which gets easily worn out. The cards of the various body parts have the same artwork but they are colored so players can distinguise easily which parts are missing while gradually assembling their monster. The cards are square 45x45mm, made of thin cardboard as well. That is why they must be handled with care because they are easily worn out. It’s not easy to find sleeves of that size but after a bit of research I found out there are sleves 45x45mm made from Panasia (product code: SWN-600). These sleeves are made for Carcassonne tiles and are adhesive, so I am not very sure how they will fit, still that seems to be the only option right now. Coins are made of thicker cardboard with a simple design. Player guides are very helpful, providing a reminder to players about the available options in selecting and using a card. They also mention the number of available cards for each body part. Apart from the bad quality of cardboard used for the cards and mats and their sleeving issue, the game’s components seem to fill their purpose. 6/10
Gameplay of It’s Alive! flows in a very straightforward way. Players only have two important decisions to make. The first is how to select a body part. Take an unknown part for free or select one from a player’s graveyard? During the first turns of the game, you will probably go for the first option because any part will be useful. As the game progresses, and the monster begins to formulate, the needs become more specific and you will turn to the second option more often. Moreover you will have other cards to pay with, from villagers uprising cards or duplicate parts. The second decision will be how to manipulate the selected part. Should you buy it, sell it or auction it? If you have selected a part that you need and have the required amount to pay for it, a purchase will be the best option. If you are in need of money or you don’t need the picked card, you’ll probably sell it. The auction choice is a bit more tricky. You can use it to get a better deal instead of selling while ripping-off your opponents as well or you can use it to gain the auctioned card yourself by paying less. That also entails the danger that you will lose the card from an opponent that offers more than you, so auctions is by far the most interesting point of the game. There is no particular strategy to apply to your style of play, so auctions may prove the only game changer here.
A gameplay aspect that I always appreciate is interaction between players. In this game there is a minimum amount of it, and that is during auctions. Because this mechanic is not a standard one but only an option there is the possibility to play a game with very few interactions or quite a lot depending on the play style of players involved. It would be nice if there was some more ways for players to interact with each other, interferng somehow with other players’ progress of monster building. This is just a thought and I am not sure how it could be implemented and fit reasonably to the theme. However I’m sure it would make a richer experience.
Nevertheless It’s a Alive! is an entertaining board game, with an interesting theme. The advanced mode of play is far more interesting than the standard one because you will have to struggle between completing your monster as soon as possible and collecting the highest-value cards. 7/10
The game is very easy to learn. A simple reading of the rules, and you will have no questions. The only point you may want to read again is how the “Villagers Uprise” card works. Moreover attention must be paid on how you pay for acquiring cards. You can pay with coins or cards only when you salvage a body part from a graveyard or to pay for a Villagers Uprise card but you can only pay with coins to buy a card. In general the game rules are simple as they should be for such a game and that makes it appealing to non-gamers or gamers liking fast and simple games. 9/10
As I mentioned in the gameplay section, the game includes a small amount of strategy on how to select a body part and what to do with it. The rest of the game is based on luck. You could say that this makes the game rather boring. However the theme of the game and the fun it provides, makes me want to play from time to time when circumstances call for a simple and fast game. 7/10
Although in the rulebook, it appears, that a serious attempt is being made in order to make every game aspect feel reasonable, things are not so simple if you get to think about it for a while. For example, you are supposed to collect eight body parts to build your monster. Whenever you manage to collect a coffin with a whole corpse inside it, why use only one part of that corpse and not use the readily available body as a whole? That just doesn’t make any sense. Another point is the reason behind the fact that, after selecting a body part offered by the suppliers, you can either buy, sell or auction it. How can you sell something you have not already acquired? You should have to buy it first, in order to be able to sell it or auction it. Such crucial points in the application of the theme, reduce the immersion created by the game. After a while you just follow the mechanics, not bothering with the theme, but that is not what is expected from a well-thought game. The nicely designed components, on the other hand. and especially the player screens, enhance the feeling of the game’s theme. 6/10
It’s Alive! may not be the most fun board game ever, but it provides enough entertainment through its innovative theme, simple gameplay and the auction mechanic. The most fun moments in the game are the auctions that provide the only way of interaction between players and the moment when you finally get to assemble your monster and yell “It’s Alive!”. 7/10
Final Verdict: It’s Alive! is a fun game to play as a filler game. It has easy rules and can appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike. If you don’t pay much attention to the application of theme and just try to build your precious monster as quickly as you can, you can have 30 minutes of pure entertainment. Luck will play its role but you will also be addressed with some decisions that will affect the course of the game. Auctions can be game changers and make the game more interesting. A family game that can find its place on your gamenight table easily enough.
- simple rules, anyone can learn to play within minutes
- original theme
- the auction mechanic is fun
- theme not so convincingly applied
- components easily worn out and cards not easily sleeved
- not a lot of player interaction
Recommended for: non gamers, simple game fans, horror fans
According to our scoring system, scoring categories have different weights. Components have 15% weight, Gameplay 35%, Learning curve 5%, Theme 5%, Replayability 25%, Fun 15%. According to this system and the above scoring in each category, overall weighted scoring of the game is: