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Review: It’s Alive!
It’s nice to play some older games from time to time just to learn about the history of board games and see how they’ve evolved over the years. “It’s alive!” by Yehuda Berlinger, caught my attention with its catchy title and a friend’s recommendation that it was a very fun and entertaining game. The game was released in 2007 by Reiver Games, which unfortunately went out of business in 2011, leaving the game orphaned. However, the game designer managed to republish the game with a new publisher, change its theme, or rather return to the original theme of the game as he originally imagined it. This game is called “Candle Quest” and was released in 2013 by Victory Point Games. But back to our “It’s Alive!” game review.
It’s alive! is a card game for 2-5 players and lasts about 30 minutes. The main mechanics of the game are set collecting and auction/bidding. As the name suggests, this is a game that features man-made monsters. Players take on the role of mad scientists from across Europe at the turn of the 19th century in a race against time 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 preserved corpse!! Unfortunately, at that time most people were engaged in agriculture, a job that many times led to freak accidents where the body rarely became intact at the time of death. As a result, you can usually end up with scattered body parts that you’ll need to assemble instead of a whole body. Eight body parts are needed for your spooky creations. The most important and most expensive parts are the head, brain, trunk and heart. The rest are: hands, feet, hands and feet.
At the start of the game, each player takes a player screen, board, and twelve coins. He places his board and coins hidden behind a screen. The game board contains eight places where different parts of the body will be placed. A pack of small square cards (45x45mm) make up the supply of body parts. This deck is shuffled and placed face down in the middle of the table.
You can choose a body part in one of two ways on your turn:
Either draw a card from the deck of available body parts. This option is free.
or save a specific body part from the graveyard. You take the top card from any player’s discard pile (graveyard), but must pay its value in any combination of coins and/or cards.
After choosing a body part, you have one more choice to make: how you’re going to use that part. You have the following options:
Buy part. You must pay the piece’s value in coins to the bank, then take the piece and place it on the appropriate space on the board.
Sell the part to the anatomist for a small profit. This gain is half the value of the body part rounded down
Auction the part. You announce the auction and take the first bid. Each player can bid only once. The winner of the auction pays the coin price to the player who started the auction (or to the bank if he started the auction himself), takes a card and places it on his board.
In addition to the body parts, two special types of cards are also included in the card deck:
Coffins. Sometimes a corpse may arrive in one piece (placed in a coffin). This means that you can use any part of this corpse to fill the necessary space for body parts. This card is quite expensive due to its flexible use.
Rebellion of the villagers. When you get involved in such a morbid business, it stands to reason that at some point you may incur the wrath of the villagers, who you will need to appease in order to continue your work. When you draw a Villagers Uprising card, you must immediately pay the cost of the card with any combination of cards and/or coins. You then keep the card and use it later to retrieve a body part from the player’s graveyard or pay another Villager Uprising card. Then it’s your next turn
If you’re playing Advanced Game Mode, you can replace any body part on your board with a higher value one and hold the replaced card to pay for a salvaged part from the graveyard or a Villager Uprising card.
The game continues until the player completes their monster by collecting one of the various body parts. This player announces the end of the game by shouting “It’s Alive!”. According to the basic rules of the game, this player immediately wins the game. In the advanced rules, players add up the value of each body part they have collected (ignoring duplicates and villager uprisings) and add up the coins they have left. You can only claim half the value of your cards from coins. The player who completes their 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 various scoring categories:
The components of It’s Alive are player screens and pads, coins, cards, and game guides. All components are made of cardboard. The player screens are quite large and sufficiently cover all players’ assets. I found their graphic design very appropriate as they depict a laboratory with lots of equipment and a stone staircase leading up. (naturally your lab is inside a dark dungeon!). Looking at the screen and picking out its details while playing is sure to get you in the mood for the game. The player pads contain eight locations where the acquired body parts will be placed, with a picture of each part in each location. The pads are black and white, but this is intended to indicate that the body part slots are empty at the beginning of the game and gradually fill up with actual body parts that are colored. The mats are made of relatively thin cardboard that wears easily. The different body part cards have the same artwork but are colored so players can easily distinguish which parts are missing as they build their monster. The cards are square 45x45mm, also made of thin cardboard. Therefore, they must be handled with care as they wear out easily. It’s not easy to find sleeves of this size, but after some searching I found that there are 45x45mm sleeves made from Panasia (product code: SWN-600). These sleeves are made for Carcassonne tiles and are sticky so I’m not too sure how they’ll fit, but that seems to be the only option at the moment. The coins are made of thicker cardboard with a simple design. The Player Guides are very useful and remind players of the options available to select and use a card. They also list the number of cards available for each body part. Apart from the poor quality of the cardboard used for the cards and mats and the problem of repacking them, the game components seem to serve their purpose. 6/10
It’s Alive! flows in a very straightforward manner. Players have only two important decisions to make. The first is how to select a body part. Take an unknown component for free or choose it from the player’s graveyard? During the first few turns of the game, you will probably choose the first option, because any part will do. As the game progresses and the monster begins to formulate, the needs become more specific and you’ll find yourself turning to the second option more often. In addition, you will have additional cards, Villager Uprising cards, or duplicate parts to pay for. The second decision will be how to handle the selected part. Should you buy, sell or auction it? If you have chosen the part you need and have the required amount to pay for it, buying will be the best option. If you need money or don’t need the selected card, you will probably sell it. Choosing an auction is a bit more complicated. You can use it to get a better deal instead of selling while robbing your opponents, or you can use it to get an auctioned card yourself by paying less. This also carries the risk of losing a card to an opponent who bids more than you, so auctions are by far the most interesting point of the game. There’s no specific strategy for your playstyle, so the only change to the game might be the auctions.
An aspect of the game that I always appreciate is the interaction between players. There is a minimal amount in this game, and that is during auctions. Since this mechanic is not standard, but only optional, there is an option to play the game with very few interactions or with quite a lot depending on the play style of the players involved. It would be nice if there were more ways for players to interact with each other and interfere with other players’ monster building progress in any way. This is just an idea and I’m not sure how it could be implemented and fit the theme appropriately. However, I’m sure it will be a richer experience.
Still, it’s alive! is a fun board game with an interesting theme. The advanced mode of the game is much more interesting than the standard one, because you will have to fight between finishing your monster as soon as possible and collecting the highest value cards. 7/10
The game is very easy to learn. Just read the rules and you won’t have any questions. The only point you might want to read again is how the “Villagers Uprise” card works. In addition, you need to pay attention to how you pay to get the cards. You can only pay with coins or cards when you salvage a body part from the graveyard or for the Villagers Uprise card, but you can only pay with coins to buy a card. In general, the rules of the game are simple, as they should be for such a game, and therefore it appeals to non-gamers or gamers who like fast and simple games. 9/10
As I mentioned in the gameplay section, there is a small amount of strategy involved in choosing 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 the circumstances call for a simple and quick game. 7/10
Although the rules seem to make a serious attempt to make every aspect of the game feel reasonable, things aren’t that simple if you think about it for a moment. For example, you are supposed to collect eight body parts to build your monster. Whenever you manage to pick up a coffin with a whole corpse inside, why use only one part of that corpse and not use the readily available body as a whole? That just doesn’t make sense. Another reason is the fact that after selecting a body part offered by a supplier, you can either buy, sell or auction it. How can you sell something you haven’t acquired yet? You should buy it first before you can sell or auction it. Such key points in the application of the theme reduce the immersion created by the game. After a while you’re just following the mechanics, not bothering with the theme, but that’s not expected from a well thought out game. On the other hand, nicely designed components. and the player screens in particular add to the feel of the game’s theme. 6/10
It’s alive! may not be the funnest board game ever, but it provides plenty of fun thanks to its innovative theme, simple gameplay, and auction mechanism. The funniest moments in the game are the auctions, which provide the only way to interact between players and the moment you finally get to build your monster and shout “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 both players and non-players. If you don’t pay much attention to the theme application and just try to build your rare monster as quickly as possible, you can have 30 minutes of pure fun. Luck will play its role, but you will also be approached by some decisions that will affect the course of the game. Auctions can change the game and make the game more interesting. A family game that will easily find its place on your gaming table.
simple rules, anyone can learn to play in minutes
the auction mechanic is fun
theme not so convincingly applied
components wear easily and cards are difficult to insert
not much player interaction
Recommended for: non-gamers, simple game fans, horror fans
According to our scoring system, scoring categories have different weights. Components are 15% weight, 35% gameplay, 5% learning curve, 5% theme, 25% replayability, 15% fun. According to this system and the above scoring in each category, the game’s total weighted scoring is:
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