is a card game by Reiver Games, distributed in the United States by FRED Distribution.
Playing Time: 30-45 minutes
It's Alive! is, as you'd guess, a game of making Frankenstein-like monsters. Here are its components:
Cards: A set of 60 small square cards which show arms, brains, feet, hands, heads, hearts, legs, and torsos--plus a few special coffins and angry villagers. They all feature humorously eerie artwork. They're also my prime complaint with the components, as these small cards are a pain to shuffle; they would have worked much better as tiles.
Player's Screen: Each player gets a cardstock screen to hide his progress on his monster. The screens are four-fold, and thus quite sturdy; they also feature some more nice artwork (probably the best in the game, which is good since these are what you see the most).
Player Mat: A full-color cardstock mat that provides spaces for your various body parts.
Player Guide: A full-color cardstock sheet that reminds you of the order of play and also displays how many of each sort of card there are.
Coins: A set of cardboard coins in denominations of "1" and "5". They're easy to distinguish, and also the only component in the game that's pretty plain.
Overall the quality of the components in It's Alive is only average, however there's some nice artwork that pushes the fun monster-building theming of the game and there's also been some real effort made to make the game playable, primarily thanks to those player guide sheets. As such I've let It's Alive! eke in a "4" out of "5" for Style.
The object of It's Alive! is to create the best monster the quickest.
Setup: Each player is given an empty monster slab, a screen to hide it behind, and 12 coins. The deck of monster parts is shuffled and placed in the middle of the table.
Order of Play: Each player's turn is broken into two parts:
- Choose a Card
- Play the Card
Choose a Card: Usually, the active player draws a card from the draw deck. However he can instead to select the card at the top of any player's graveyard (discard pile). For this privilege he must pay the value of the card in coins and/or cards (usually extra body parts you have lying around and/or village uprisings that you've paid off) to the bank.
The Cards. the vast majority of the cards in the deck are body parts. There are six each of legs, arms, hands, and feet, with values of 2-6. There are similarly six each of heads, torsos, braaaaiiins, and hearts, with values of 5-8. Finally there are 6 coffins which are "wild cards", and also the most valuable pieces, with values of 9-10.
Villager Uprisings. There are also 6 village uprising cards which you can chance upon when drawing a card. This isn't a good thing. You must immediately pay off a village uprising with cards and/or coins equal to its value (4 or 6). The good thing is that you get the Villager Uprising card as a reward, and can later use it to pay off another Villager Uprising or to select a card from another player's graveyard.
After a villager uprising is dealt with, the active player gets to choose another card.
Play the Card: However, you don't get to take a card just because you drew it. Instead, you have three options:
- Buy It: Pay its value in coins; yes, this means you have to pay for a card twice if you took it from someone else's graveyard.
- Sell It: Put the card in your graveyard, taking half of its value from the bank.
- Auction It: Do a once-around auction for the card, starting with yourself. If you win, pay the bank, else take the money yourself.
Winning the Game: The game ends when a player gets all 8 body parts (possibly including coffins replacing some) to finish his monster. In the basic game, that player wins. In the advanced game, you instead count up points: value of monster parts (excluding unused duplicates) + value of coins (up to half the value of your monster) + 5 for the player who went out first. The first player has a leg up, but might not win if he has a bad monster.
Relationships to Other Games
It's Alive! is a set-collection game with an auction. In other words, it's one-part Rummy and one-part European auction game. It's an interesting combination that I wouldn't mind seeing more of.
It's Alive! was originally self-published as The Menorah Game. It's the same game, as far as I can tell, but with candles instead of body parts and Greek soldiers instead of angry villagers.
The Game Design
It's Alive! is generally a light game, appropriate as a filler or for more casual play. There's a high degree of randomness, based on the particular cards that you happen to draw during your turn, however that is balanced by some strategy.
The most obvious strategy comes out of the buy/sell/auction decision. You might want to "buy" cheap cards or ones that you definitely need and "auction" cards that you think will either bring a great price or else might let you purchase them for less than face-value. It's less obvious until you've played the game that "sell" is a great option to deny cards to opponents while still giving you a little money (and you'll definitely need more than your starting money to win the game).
Put that strategic choice on top of the auctions themselves--which always allow for some strategy--and you have a light game with some interesting decisions.
You can read an analysis of the gameplay by the designer, though it discusses the original (Menorah) form.
Overall, I thought that It's Alive! was an enjoyable, slightly above average game that will be fun for monster-themed nights and fillers anytime. I rate it a high "3" out of "5".
It's Alive! is a light game of auctioning, money management, and set collection with some great theming. Though not deep, it's a fun way to start off a night's gaming, especially a dark and stormy night ...