The Awful Green Things from Outer Space

Designed by Tom Wham

Published by TSR, 1980, and Steve Jackson Games 1988,1990,1994

Review by Steffan O'Sullivan

This page last updated March 11, 1997

This classic science fiction board game for two players is one of the better light-hearted games made. A very popular game, The Green Things have been published in many different formats: first in Dragon Magazine #28, then in three different sized boxed formats from TSR, and finally two different sized boxed formats from Steve Jackson Games. In Dragon #40, additional rules called "Outside the Znutar" appeared. A modified version of these additional rules were incorporated into the 1990 and 1994 Steve Jackson Games version.

While Wham has many games published, The Awful Green Things from Outer Space is his masterpiece to date. I've been playing it since 1980, and will still pull it out every month or two for another game. Its only fault that I can see is that you can't play with more than two players. (For a review of an excellent Tom Wham game that can be played multiplayer, see Icebergs.)

The setting is the exploration ship Znutar. This giant interstellar ship contains a crew consisting of five races: the Smbalites, Frathms, Redundans and two different types of Snudalians. These are drawn as fairly wacky, harmless looking cartoon aliens in Wham's unique style. There is also a robot, Leadfoot.

Upon landing on one planet, the crew of the Znutar pick up a "mascot" and a strange green rock. The green rock, alas, turns out to be an Awful Green Thing, which begins multiplying in its alien asexual way. The game opens with a number of Green Things already developed as the crew stumbles across them. The Green Things are totally hostile, considering the crew to be simply lunch.

Because the Green Things are an alien life form, no one knows what the Znutar's weapons will do to them. There are 12 different types of weapons available, ranging from genuine stun pistols and knives to makeshift communications beamers and canisters of food (Zgwortz). There are two or three weapons of each type available. During the crew player's turn, any crew member may grab any weapon in the same space (they are drawn on the board). Next comes the movement phase, in which all crew may be moved. Then the combat phase, in which the crew may fight the Green Things hand to hand, or use the various weapons.

There are sixteen weapon chits in the game: eight of them are good for the crew, eight don't help the crew at all. As a weapon is used for the first time, a weapon chit is randomly drawn, and the weapon does the stated effect to Green Things for the rest of the game. The chits range from "5 (or 4 or 3) dice to kill" to "5 dice to stun" to "Shrink" to "No effect" to actually making the Green Things grow one phase! Perhaps the worst effect, from the crew's standpoint, however, is "1 die fragments," which will be explained below.

Some of the weapons, such as the hypodermic or pool stick, affect only one Green Thing at a time. Others, such as the fire extinguisher or communications beamer, affect all Green Things in a given space. Yet others, the rocket fuel and gas grenades, affect all Green Things in an area bordered by hatches, which may include as many as three corridor spaces. The weapons are further distinguished as either ranged (such as the stun pistol) or close combat (such as the welding torch). Some weapons may be reused over and over again, (e.g., stun pistol, pool stick), or may be one-shot (e.g., bottle of acid, can of rocket fuel). And finally, there is the electric fence which may be erected as a barrier to the Green Things - only the crew can take it down again should it do something to the Green Things they don't want, such as make them Grow . . .

During the Green Things' turn, their phases are Grow, Move, Combat. The Green Things come in three distinct life stages: Adults, Babies, Eggs. Adults can take and do more damage than babies, while eggs are easily destroyed and can't do any damage at all. Each turn, the Green Things' player announces which stage of Green Things will grow: Eggs to Babies, or Babies to Adults, or Adults lay Eggs. Only one stage may grow each turn, but the Green Things' player always gets to choose.

There is another stage, though: fragments. Some of the weapons may blow the Green Things apart into many fragments. In this case, roll 1 die for each Green Thing blown apart: the result is the number of fragments that appear in the space. Fragments grow up to be Babies, or Shrink to Eggs.

The game is set up with the crew distributed over the ship, and a random selection of Green Things spread out from a randomly rolled starting location. There are 20 crew, plus one robot and one mascot (who cannot carry nor use weapons). Each piece has a Movement Allowance, # of Attack Dice, and a Constitution rating. The board shows a cross section of the Znutar, which includes three hangars: a saucer bay, a cockboat bay, and a scoutship bay.

The opening stages of the game are usually fast and furious. The Green Things try to kill as many of the crew as they can, while the crew try to test as many weapons as they can, dropping the bad ones. Combat is simple: during your combat turn, you decide which pieces are attacking which enemy pieces. You may gang up on one, or spread your attacks out - there is no mandatory combat, but you must allocate all attacks in a given area before rolling any. Roll the total number of attack dice in a given fight, and add up the results. If you equalled or surpassed the target character's Constitution rating, you killed him. (If a Green Thing kills a crew member, it grows one stage!)

After a few turns, the game passes into a new stage: the hunting out of the monsters (if all has gone well for the crew) or flight from the Znutar (if things are bad for the crew). If the good chits (5 dice to kill and 4 dice to kill) were drawn for good weapons (fire extinguishers and communication beamers, for example), things should go well for the crew. If the most powerful weapon on the ship is a hypodermic needle or bottle of acid, however, the crew can be in tough shape. There are rules for exiting the Znutar via the ship's boats and trying to get back to the home system, but it's hard to do, and it concedes the victory to the Green Things player automatically.

The game, then, contains a fair amount of luck: the draw of the weapons chits. Even one powerful, area affect, retained, ranged weapon can make life very tough of the Green Things. Their strategy then becomes to scatter to the far reaches of the ship and lay as many eggs as they can. Once their numbers grow, they then have to hit the crew from all sides at once - too many in one space spells doom for them all.

On the other hand, if all the ideal weapons aren't effective against the Green Things, there is little need to be subtle. Go out and kill them. After all, you, the Green Things, keep coming back, but each dead crew member is dead forever . . .

Despite the fairly large luck factor, there is a fair amount of skill. This is especially true for the crew player, who has to walk a fine line between killing Green Things now or running for another weapon and trying it out. The Green Things' player generally has an easier time of it - best to give them to a beginning opponent so they'll be more likely to play again. There is nothing quite so satisfying in a game as seeing your ever-increasing hordes facing an ever-dwindling collection of foes.

In the original TSR version, the Green Things have a slight edge. I've seen more Green Things victories over the years - they win probably 55% of the games played. With the first Steve Jackson version, things actually got tougher for the crew! In the TSR version, fire extinguishers and electric fences could be grabbed anywhere. SJG gave them assigned spaces, so you had to go get them. This didn't make a big difference, but it may have upped Green Thing victories to 60% or so.

However, with the latest SJG version, things have turned around. This is due to the addition of the "Outside the Znutar" rules. (There is also an optional rule that the communications beamer has two settings: high and low frequency. You may change the frequency if you don't like what the first shot did to the Green Things. Draw a new chit for the second frequency. This helps the crew because the beamer is the best weapon in the mix.)

Outside the Znutar rules favor the crew considerably - so much so, that victories go from 60% Green Things to about 55% Crew. The difference isn't so much the fact that you can now go out the airlocks to the exterior surface the ship - that actually helps the Green Things, as it gives them a quiet, undisturbed place to grow their eggs. (Vacuum doesn't bother Green Things.) The difference is the new paraphernalia the crew gets to play with.

If using these optional rules, the crew get a few new pieces: 2 cargo movers, 8 Jet Suits, and one Ook Soot (a spacesuit for the mascot!). While the cargo movers provide armor and heavy robotic arms that can rip a Green Thing apart, they are too large to move inside the ship (except the boat bays). But the real difference is the Jet Suits. These space suits not only allow the crew to survive outside the Znutar, they may be worn inside as suits of armor. Movement is slowed, but an extra 20 Constitution that has to be destroyed before your flesh is hit comes in mighty handy!

There are also counters for the three ship's boats, which can move around outside the Znutar, picking off any Green Things breeding outside. Of course, this means blasting them with your rockets, which zoom you off the board for three turns, but it's probably worth it to see them fry - providing the rocket fuel does damage to them, and not make them Grow, of course . . .

All in all, The Awful Green Things from Outer Space is one of the better light games out there. You can play it in an hour or two, and though there is a large amount of luck, it doesn't detract from the game at all. It's an excellent game to bring new people to the hobby with - it's obviously a lot of fun, and easy to learn (especially the Green Things side). People who have never seen anything but Monopoly or Clue are amazed and amused by the Awful Green Things, and generally quite willing to try a second game after their Green hordes have eaten your whole side. Yet another game player in the hobby! What could be better? We need good introductory, fun games like this to be sure gaming survives. The fact that this game has gone through six or seven different printings and is still in print speaks volumes for its playability and level of fun.

Long live the Awful Green Things!

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