Game Setup and Components
The game is played on a board with 8 planets: each player first chooses which sector they will control.
Each sector represents a quadrant of the board, and each player sits on the side of the table closest to their sector. Sectors are functionally identical, and are identified by color (red, blue, yellow and green). Each sector has two planets (one inner, one outer) and one starbase. Planets are ordered based on their proximity to the sun, so planet 1 (in the Yellow sector) is the inner-most and planet 8 (in the Green sector) is the outer-most.
Each planet holds a maximum of 4 tokens: these tokens can be population tokens, fortification tokens or alien infiltration tokens. Any number of population tokens can be placed on a planet, but only one fortification token is allowed per planet. Similarly, one alien infiltration token is allowed per planet: if another infiltration token would be placed, then the planet has fallen (see below). If there are no more population tokens on a planet (or when a second infiltration token would be placed), then the planet falls and all fortification and population tokens are removed (if there is one infiltration token on the planet, it remains there). Players can not issue actions to fallen planets (see below on Action Cards) expect to reclaim them.
At the beginning of the game, all planets controlled by players (i.e. all planets in a 4-player game) have 3 population tokens and one alien infiltration token.
Starbases can hold a maximum of 4 spaceship tokens: no other tokens can be placed on a starbase. Spaceship tokens on a sector must be placed in the starbase, and any spaceships above 4 are lost. Players can send spaceships to neighboring players' sectors, in which case their spaceships are removed from the current player's starbase and placed immediately in the neighboring player's starbase.
At the beginning of the game, all starbases start with no spaceship tokens.
Each player has a control panel, where they can keep their 4 spaceship tokens and 2 fortification tokens while these tokens are not in play (on the board). There are 4 positions on the control panel for this player's action cards. A player can play an action card on one of their two planets (provided that planet has not fallen), or a few special action cards to move units, populations to players of neighboring sectors or to reclaim fallen planets in neighboring sectors. On each turn, players must all place one action card face-down on one of the four positions on their control panels, and reveal them simultaneously during the resolution phase (after the alien threat card has been revealed).
Each player always has a set of 12 actions cards available to them. Actions include building spaceships to send to the starbase, sacrificing population to guard against alien threats, sending population or spaceships to players of neighboring sectors, etc. Actions are taken in response to upcoming alien threats. After the transmission phase is over, each player places one action card face down on the relevant planet or neighboring sector on their control panel. Players reveal their action cards simultaneously during the resolution phase, after the alien threat has been shown. All actions can be re-used in every game round.
At the beginning of the game, find each player's action deck (based on the cards' backs) and place it next to the player's control panel. Other player's can not see which action cards are played or remain in the player's action deck.
Alien Threat Cards
The main goal of the game is to survive a number of alien threats. The game comes with 48 alien threat cards, which may add alien infiltration tokens to planets (replacing population, if the planet's capacity is full), remove spaceships or population under circumstances (e.g. if there is no fortification or if there is an infiltrated alien on a planet), halve a planet's population unless a quarantine player action is taken, etc. For each game, 20 alien threat cards are selected at random from all cards and form the threat deck. If the threat deck runs out and there is at least one planet on the board that has not fallen (i.e. still has population tokens) then the players win as a group.
At the beginning of the game, shuffle all alien threat cards and set aside 20 of them to form the threat deck. Return remaining alien threat cards back in the box without looking at them.
The generated symbols are a core part of the mechanics of the game, revolving around conveying information. Lookout players have to combine these symbols to form messages that must be transmitted to one, multiple, or all players. In each round, one player is the lookout and will see the top-most card on the alien threat deck: they then leave it back to the top of the deck and must communicate to other players how to counter that alien threat. The lookout player can use a total of 4 symbol cards (assume that there are infinite copies of each symbol)
A game of Alien Transmission takes place over a number of game rounds. The game is finished when the alien deck runs out (i.e. after the final alien threat card is resolved fully) or when all player's planets are fallen. It is very important that during this round none of the players talk, especially to discuss symbols transmitted to them (before or after resolution), the actions they will take, or the upcoming threats (for the lookout player). In each game round, the following phases taken place in order:
- Transmission phase
- Action phase
- Resolution phase
In this phase, the lookout player sees the upcoming alien threat and must warn one, multiple or all players.
Specifically, the lookout player in this round is the one to the left of the lookout player of the previous round. All players will become lookouts in a round-robin fashion. The lookout player picks up and secretly reads the top-most alien threat card on the alien threat deck. The lookout only reads the top-most alien threat card, regardless if that card says that more cards must be drawn on the resolution phase. Then the lookout must transmit a maximum of 4 symbols to one, multiple or all players.
The lookout player selects up to 4 symbols from any pile (different symbols, copies of the same symbol, or a combination thereof). The lookout player can place any of them in front of one player (as a transmission only to that player) or on the game board (as a general transmission to all players). They can perform any combination of these transmissions as long as the total symbols used are equal or less than 4. As an example, the lookout player (who owns the yellow sector) can place one symbol in front of the Blue Sector's player, a copy of the same symbol in front of the Red Sector's player, and a different symbol on the board as a transmission to all. If more than one symbols are used in the same transmission (e.g. in front of one player) then their order may be important if the lookout player deems so. The lookout can opt not to send any transmissions as well. After all transmissions have been sent, the lookout player concludes this phase by placing the alien threat card they have seen back on top of the alien threat deck, face-down.
In this phase, all players must each place an action card face-down on one of the spaces of their control panel.
Without speaking, players choose one of their action cards (they always have all their action cards available to them) and place them face-down on a space of their control panel. Most action cards can only be played in one of the player's two planets, although a few action cards can be played on neighboring sectors (to the left and right of the control panel). The lookout player plays action cards normally, just like other players (although with some more certainty). Players can not play actions on a fallen planet, apart from the Reclaim action. This can result in one or more players unable to play any actions in a round, if both their planets are fallen and they do not have enough spaceships to use the reclaim action. Since other players can send spaceships or take reclaim actions on neighboring sectors, such players may be able to play actions in following rounds (players are never truly eliminated). Once all players are happy with their selected action, the resolution phase can begin.
In this phase, the alien threat is revealed and all players reveal their actions. Effects of player actions take place first, and the partial or full effects of the alien threat take place after that.
Specifically, the lookout player reveals the top-most alien threat card, reading it aloud to all. If prompted by the card, additional alien threat cards may be revealed as well (or if the previous round featured the Silence before the Storm threat card). Once the lookout has finished reading the effects on the alien threat card(s), all players must simultaneously reveal their action card and apply it on their planet or the neighboring sector. Effects of action cards take effect starting from the lookout player and continuing clockwise with the next players. For example, if an action results in spaceships being built, these tokens are placed on the player's starbase; if a quarantine action is taken, the population is removed from that planet immediately. Actions have to be resolved fully: for example, if a player moves two population to the sector on their left and the owner of that sector does not have enough space, the extra population is lost even if the player to the left had taken the quarantine action which would leave space for extra population. Once all players have completed the effects of their actions, they check the effects of the alien threat and apply them if they are still applicable. Some effects of alien threat cards may be ignored by one or more players, but can still be applied on other players. Alien threat effects are always applied only on planets that have not fallen. In the case effects applied on the innermost or outermost planet, fallen planets do not count: for example, if a card says "outermost planet of the Red sector", but planet 5 has fallen then the effect is applied on planet 2 of the Red sector (provided that this planet has not fallen).
End of the Game
As noted, the game is won by the players if all 20 alien threat cards are resolved and at least one planet has not fallen. The game is lost if after the resolution of any alien threat card all players' planets have fallen.
There are a few variants for the 4-player game to make it easier or harder.
Different Alien Threat Decks
To make the game shorter and easier, you can play Alien Transmission with an alien threat deck of 16 cards (for an easy game) or 12 cards (for a very easy and fast game). More difficult games with 24 or 28 threat cards on the deck are also possible, but may take too long or become too tedious: for harder games, the All Sectors Standing alternative may be more appropriate.
All Sectors Standing
To make the game harder while also avoiding having players without actions to play, this alternative affects the winning and losing conditions. The game is won after the alien threat deck runs out and there is a planet that has not fallen in each player's sector (i.e. at least 4 planets have not fallen). As in the original game, a game is lost if after the resolution of any alien threat card all players' planets have fallen. Moreover, a game is lost if both planets are fallen in any player's sector at the end of two consecutive rounds.