By December 22, 2005

Sucking Vacuum Review

Lady Jaye and I held a birthday bash in my honor back in August. I was lucky enough to have most of my friends present, and to make things even better I got some games! They all fit my personality: the Captain and his family bought me a martial arts movie-style card game, gave me SPANC, which stands for Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirls, also a card-based game. More on those games at a later date.

hooked me up with Sucking Vacuum. The object of the game is to escape a doomed space station via the one escape pod. The catch is that you must assemble a space suit, fuel the escape pod, and either leave with another player or find the autopilot and leave by yourself. This last point is what makes the game really fun. If you don’t have the autopilot you have to ally with another player. But as soon as you do so, the other players will be out to get you! You can also jack players for their equipment, so the game has a paranoid vibe going on.

Sucking Vacuum is a tile-based board game, with setup similar to Zombies!!!. The play area is made up of square tiles that are randomly assembled at the beginning of each game, so each game will be different from the last. There are three types of tiles: the shuttle, rooms, and hallways. The shuttle and room tiles each have three pieces of random equipment in them, represented by tokens that are placed face down. If you occupy the shuttle bay or any room, you can “search” the room and retrieve a piece of equipment of your choice.

Images downloaded from

The space station is leaking air — rapidly — and while everyone starts in a room full of air, each tile in the game is quickly depleted of oxygen. If you’re on a tile without any air, you expend oxygen for everything: moving, searching, attacking another player, defending yourself, even standing still. You have 10 “breaths” and can only replenish your air supply at pre-determined air tanks throughout the station or via an air bottle special item token.

You’ll need a complete space suit to escape: helmet, jacket, and pants, but the other equipment items come in handy. My favorite (obviously) are the weapons. You use makeshift weapons, such as a toilet brush, to jack your opponents and steal their equipment. All recovered equipment is played face up except for special items, so all of the other players can see what you have. This makes for some interesting bargaining. In the game we played together, I threatened that if she didn’t team up with me I’d beat her up and take her stuff. She said “NO YUO” and I advanced on her with my trusty fire extinguisher Unfortunately she was better armed than I was — a hunk o’ space station — and I got pounded me hard. Special items include the autopilot, an air tank, a rocket sled, and a jet pack.

The game has an awesome premise, and I like the idea of rapidly shifting alliances. But Sucking Vacuum has a few major flaws that need to be addressed. First off, the rules that come with the game are in dire need of a rewrite. There’s a revised ruleset available online for download, and while it fixed some of the glaring mistakes the rules were ambiguous enough to give us fits. The game is bundled with an expansion, and it took us about fifteen minutes to figure out how to split the tiles and tokens up and configure the board. In reality, it was a simple process, but a border-less chart in the rules led to confusion about how many types of tokens there were, and if they needed to be in the standard game or not. It was a silly bit of confusion, and one that could have been easily remedied by some thoughtful editing. What’s particularly sad about the rules was that the boxed set gave me was the second edition. According to Funagain Games, my version is now out of print; hopefully the next version will have an even more refined set of instructions. I may go over the rules one more time and write a quick summary of them later.

The tiles are nicely illustrated and give shout-outs to various Sci-Fi books and movies. For example, one of the rooms has a facehugger from Alien in it. Unfortunately, the tiles are a bit too small and flimsy. This is a double whammy when you have multiple players on the tile with 3 equipment tokens face down. The tiles get crowded quickly, and it’s hard to pick up the equipment tiles without disturbing the board or any tokens. I guess I’m a little obsessive when it comes to having the board properly aligned or markers knocked over, but if you’re not bothered by a disheveled playing area this probably isn’t a big deal.

As pointed out at the end of the game, things would have gone a lot more smoothly if we played with someone who had played the game before. The annoyances of the instructions would have been smoothed over, and we could have spent more time playing than wondering if we were following the rules. It turns out we ignored the one part of the rules we did understand: that you could only carry one piece of equipment at a time. Discovering halfway through the game that we’d made a mistake led to some more frustrations that probably would have been avoided if we had an experienced player there to check up on us.

Did I like the game? Yes. Would I recommend it to anyone else? I’m not sure. I don’t know if my displeasure with the game is based on mechanics or the problems with the rules. I’d like to play a few more games, but I’d rather play with our original crew again, as to not repeat the first-timer instructions debacle too soon.


  • Great premise. The twist of trying to keep other players away while keeping one person close enough to help you pilot the shuttle is genius.
  • Great graphics and ingenious weaponry. I really got a kick out of the teddy bear weapon.
  • Randomly-generated playing areas are great. I really enjoy them in other games like Settlers of Catan and the aforementioned Zombies!!!

I can’t let you do that, Dave

  • Awfully written rules. More editing and less discussion about choosing accents for each player, please.
  • The tiles could be made out of a thicker cardstock.
  • I’d like to see the tiles a bit larger, or the tokens a bit smaller.
  • Not enough tiles; the space station felt very small and the game may go by too quickly once we understand the rules better.

Sucking Vacuum, I launch you into space aboard:

Three and a half out of five STFU mugs!

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