The 10-year-old in me would love it.
Level 7 Invasion is the third game in the Level 7 setting, and a pretty cool setting it is. Dr. Cronos is genetically engineering alien hybrids with varying degrees of monstrosity in the lab/bunker known as Subterra Bravo. Level 7 Escape had players escaping from the horror, and Level 7 Omega Protocol had players going back into the fray to shut the evil Doctor down. Level 7 Invasion finally leaves the Subterra Bravo facility and goes global. The Hydra have launched a full-scale invasion of Earth to stop the threat of Dr. Cronos, his creations, and humanity in one big operation. Players need to ally with Dr. Cronos this time around; the governments of the world allow him through their territory to continue his hideous experiments in the name of saving humanity as a whole. There's some good fluff writing in the beginning of the rulebook to set the stage, a great Risk-like map of the world, a ton of great miniatures, awesome player board with a bunch of dials and tracks, and a bunch of card decks. With the game set up and the backstory read, it looks like it's going to be a hell of a ride.
It isn't a hell of a ride. It's a pretty fun ride, but there are cracks in the veneer. The game is pretty sound mechanically, but there may be significant balancing issues.
First the round structure, for context. There's a Development Phase, a Warfare Phase, and a Maintenance Phase. Each phase has 5 steps, so there are 15 steps to a game round. Sounds like a lot, but it really isn't, as most of them are simple and can be performed simultaneously. The Development Phase has players buying units, doing research, and funding Dr. Cronos' Project. The Development Phase is where players actually make progress toward winning the game. The Warfare Phase has player unit movement, events, and actual combat. This phase is mostly about keeping things under control. The Maintenance Phase is when players take further damage at the coalition level, feed their populace, and adjust their Terror Level.
The game is billed as semi-cooperative and requires all five coalitions to be in play. Only those coalitions that aren't eliminated at the end can win. If you've got less than five players the semi-cooperative aspect is mostly irrelevant. You may shed a crocodile tear for South America when it falls, but you won't really care as you've got another coalition under your control and will still get to share the victory. Letting a coalition fall doesn't carry any penalties with it other than the player elimination if its the only coalition a single player controls; in fact once all a fallen coalition's units are killed [i]all[/i] figures are removed from the continent and it is removed from the game. That's some significant incentive to let South America fall early and often. Any bad Hydra guys there get eliminated, Drop Ships can't land there and spawn more units, and the invading forces are easier to manage. The only downside is that a defeated coalition still draws Event Cards, which are always bad, but that's not that big of an issue. Letting a coalition die off in Level 7 Invasion is pretty similar to finding the cure and eradicating a disease in Pandemic.
To win the game the players need to build the five stages -- 7 actual build cards in a specific sequence -- of Dr. Cronos' mega-weapon that will eliminate the Hydra threat and then survive to the end of the round. This really isn't that difficult. Every single one of our plays has been close to 7 rounds, because we've been able to build a stage of the weapon every single round without much difficulty. To build a Dr. Cronos Project Card, Dr. Cronos needs to be in the coalition that has the card that needs to be built this round. Dr. Cronos is pretty mobile and this isn't really any issue. Early in the game he can't move through territories with Drop Ships so when they spawn they might block his path, meaning you're stuck not doing his project this round and now your game will last an extra round. It's mildly thematic I suppose, but really it just adds unnecessary length to an already long game.
As the design would have it, Dr. Cronos starts in South America. Then he bounces around between Africa, North America, then Europe, and finally Asia. Sorry South America, but you're going to fall unless you get lucky with Drop Ships hitting other coalitions. There's just no reason to save South America because the other coalitions don't need them to win after about Round 2, and eliminating a coalition means less Hydra invaders show up. The defeated coalition still draws Event Cards, but that can be partly negated by always choosing the events that spawn more Hydra invaders. It's still a net gain for the other coalitions.
The game looks impressive and encourages the players to formulate a strategy from Turn 1. The fact of the matter is your strategy should be:
(1) Always build as many units as possible and attack the Drop Ship locations.
(2) Build up Military tech followed by Communications.
(3) Keep the invaders in your territories under control.
(4) Manage your Terror Level so you have the resources to do (1).
Letting your territories get overrun will hurt your Income and increase your Terror Level, which will also hurt your Income. So go full military and don't let that happen. Upgrade the other techs when you've got extra cash, and if you do well in the battles by doing (1)-(4) above then you will have extra cash. That's really all there is to it.
You'll notice I didn't list "Fund Cronos' Project" in my highly detailed strategy paragraph. So let's talk about Income, Money, and Resources. Each turn you get your Income, which takes the form of Money and Resources. It's a fixed amount that is degraded by having your territories overrun and/or having a high Terror Level. But you can trade with other players in a limited capacity. A coalition can perform one trade during the Development Phase and another during the Maintenance Phase. There's an odd number of coalitions, so one won't get to trade. Sorry again South America, unless you've got something I want. This is an interesting situation, because Africa and South America produce lots of Fuel and Minerals while North America, Europe, and Asia produce lots of food and cash. Coalitions need to trade to get a good balance. South America could potentially leverage their position to avoid being eliminated and participate in the win, and if they do that you should let them fall with all their Fuel and Minerals. If South America really wants to save humanity they should trade away everything they've got and fall early. Also, when your coalition units destroy a Drop Ship you can increase any of your dials by one. So by following my awesome strategy paragraph above players should be able to get an extra Fuel or Minerals just about every round. So back to funding Dr. Cronos. You'd expect that only the coalition building it's Cronos' Project card would be able to fund Cronos', but you'd be wrong. Cronos' Project Funding is open contribution time. Trading rules don't apply. Everybody chip in, and it's easy.
If I'm making it sound like winning the game is easy, that's because it is easy. We've had some close games, but we have yet to lose. Lose South America, go full Military+Communications whenever possible, and always attack the Drop Ship locations. That's really about it. Depending on the board state you could even lose North America and/or Africa towards the end as well. If you want to win, just play Asia because it's the last location that Dr. Cronos' needs to be to build his project. Letting the invaders get out of control in a coalition you don't need any more is no big deal. Unlike Pandemic, where an overflow (outbreak) explodes into every surrounding territory, in Level 7 Invasion a single invader moves into a single adjacent territory. Oh no.
I've been pointing out the flaws and it probably sounds like I hate this game. I don't. It's a lot of fun. Level 7 Invasion is a true Ameritrash game. The setting is great, the combat is fun, all of the many steps to a turn are simple and easy, the game is well-produced, and the tension does ramp up as you play. I feel it's maybe a couple house rules away from being properly difficult to win. First on the house rule list would be play full-coop. If any coalition falls everybody loses. Second would be adjust the invader overflow rule. Third would be get rid of the "everybody chip in" part of funding the Cronos' project. Then you'd have a more interesting game. The downside is you'd still have a four-hour-long game that isn't really a better design than other popular cooperative games that play in less time.
If the theme appeals to you, and you've got a big gaming time slot with five players then you could have a lot of fun with Level 7 Invasion. The design's framework can handle a few house rules to adjust the difficulty or your group dynamic. The 10-year-old in me would love it, but regular old me is sad he's not 10 any more.