Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday 18 February 2022

Friday Filler: ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo

ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo
is the meeting of two trends. One is the development of games based on the Alien Universe, best typified by the Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps and Alien: The Roleplaying Game. The other is the revisitation of older intellectual properties using modern game design and in the process create a playing experience that is true to the source material and far superior to anything which could have been done when those intellectual properties first appeared. Further, in the case of ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo has been designed to be played by both a general board gaming audience and a fan audience. This is also the same with board games such as Jaws: A Boardgame of Strategy and Suspense and Horrified, and together the three also share a publisher, Ravensburger, and a play style in that they are co-operative board games.

Another interesting aspect of ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo is that it is based upon Alien, the first film in the franchise, rather than on Aliens, which is the second. Aliens has been the property of choice to base a game, whether roleplaying game or board game or computer game. This is because Aliens combines action and horror, so that whilst the Xenomorphs are bent either grabbing their victims ready for implantation of eggs by the Facehuggers or simply ripping them apart, the protagonists and thus the players are armed and can fight back. As scary as Aliens is, it is not a subtle film in comparison to Alien where the atmosphere is one of isolation and of being hunted by something unknown, something alien, and something unstoppable. This is what ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo has to capture in its play style.

ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo is a co-operative game designed for one to five players, aged fourteen and up. They take the role of the crew of the USCSS Nostromo—Captain Dallas, Warrant Officer Ripley, Chief Engineer Parker, Engineering Technician Brett, and Navigation Officer Lambert—who must survive the invasion of their ship by a hostile alien long enough to perform a number of Objectives before performing one final Objective and successfully abandoning her. At all times, as they move around the Nostromo, they are stalked down its corridors and through its various areas by the creature, constantly thwarting the crewmembers’ efforts and effectively demoralising them. If the crew can complete both its assigned Objectives and the final Objective, the players will win the game, but if the morale of the crew is reduced to zero, the Alien wins and the players lose…

Open up the box for ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo and the very first thing you see is a painting of Jones the Cat, frightened and hissing at something behind you. This is on the back of the board and so adds nothing to game play, but it is a great touch and adds to the atmosphere of the game if not its game play. Open up the board itself and it depicts the decks and rooms of the Nostromo connected by corridors and ladders. One of these, at the bottom of the spaceship, is the Nest where the Alien begins play, but look closely and there are some nice touches, such as the streaks of blood leading away from the table where the Chestburster burst out of Kane in the Galley and the holes in the floor burned by the Facehugger’s blood in both the Med Bay and the Lower Deck. The playing pieces of the crew—Dallas, Ripley, Brett, Parker, and Lambert, as well as the Alien—are decent depictions of the characters, such that Brett is actually smoking and you can imagine him saying, “Right, right…” and agreeing with Parker.

The other components consist of the eight-page rule book, five Crew Boards—one for each of the crew, five Player Reference Cards, a Morale Marker, thirty-six cards (twenty-one Encounter Cards, ten Objective Cards, and five Final Mission Cards), a Self-Destruct Track, fifty-five tokens (twenty Scrap Tokens, twelve Item Tokens, six Coolant Canister Tokens, six Concealed Tokens, a Self-Destruct Token, and four Countdown Tokens), and markers for both Morale and Ash, the Nostromo’s android Science Officer. All of these are of a good quality with fully painted artwork which really captures the feel of the film, the Nostromo, the Crew, and the Alien. Those of the crew on their Crew Boards are particularly good.

ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo is quick and easy to set-up—and the rulebook takes the player through this step by step. The Alien begins in the Nest, the Crew in the Galley, Scrap, Coolant Canister, and Concealed Tokens are distributed throughout the ship, several random Objective Cards are revealed—equal to the number of players plus one, and a Final Mission Card is drawn and placed face down. It is only revealed when all of the Objectives have been completed. To complete an Objective, the Crew must bring particular Items to locations around the Nostromo. For example, ‘Where is it?’ directs the Crew to bring a Flashlight to the Med Bay and ‘Crew Meeting’ directs all of the Crew to assemble in the Galley with at least one piece of Scrap each. Scrap is a vital resource throughout the game because it is used to Craft Items such as a Motion Detector, Flashlight, Grapple Gun, the Cat Carrier, and so on. Many of the items have limited use and so may need to be manufactured more than once! The Final Mission Cards typically have several objectives, for example, ‘Escape on the Narcissus’ requires the Crew to take Coolant Canisters to the Docking Bay, have the Cat Carrier and Incinerator in their inventories, and then all assemble in the Docking Bay.

Each player’s turn consists of a Crew Action Phase and an Encounter Phase. In the Crew Action Phase, the Crewmember expends Action Points to move, pick up or drop Items or Scrap, Craft or Use Items, and Trade Items and Scrap with fellow Crewmembers. The Crew possess between three and five Action Points as well as a Special Ability. Ripley has four Action Points and can spend one to move another Crewmember one space; Dallas simply has five Action Points; Brett has three and reduces the Scrap coast when crafting Items; Parker has four and can spend one to add one Scrap to his Inventory from the pile beside the board rather than from the board; and Lambert has four and can spend one to examine the top card of the Encounter Deck and place it at the bottom of the deck.

The danger of movement is that the Crewmember will come across a Concealed Token. When revealed, this might be nothing and the Crewmember will be safe, it might be Jones the Cat who hisses at them and decreases Morale, or it might be the Alien in a Surprise Attack, who immediately moves to that location. The Crewmember then flees from that location and the player’s turn ends and there is no Encounter Phase.

If a Crewmember survives long enough to end the Crew Action Phase, the Encounter Phase takes place. An Encounter Card is drawn. Each indicates how many spaces the Alien must move towards the nearest Crewmember, how much Morale damage is inflicted if it encounters a Crewmember, and where new Scrap and Concealed Tokens should be placed, if any. As with a Surprise Attack Concealed Token, when the Alien encounters the Crewmember must flee three spaces, and whether fleeing from the Alien as the result of an encounter in the Encounter Phase or a Surprise attack, if the Crewmember runs across another Concealed Token, that too must be revealed. If that is another Surprise Attack, the Alien catches up with the Crewmember, who is forced to flee again, and so on and so on as the Alien stalks them through the bowels of the ship!

Throughout the game, the Items become really important as they provide the Crewmembers with an advantage, if only temporarily. The Motion Detector is used to reveal nearby Concealed Tokens, the Incinerator to drive the Alien back to its Nest, the Flashlight to reduce Morale loss, the Grapple Gun to drive off the Alien, and the Cat Carrier to contain Jones the Cat and stop him jumping out and scaring the Crewmembers when Concealed Tokens are revealed.

In addition to the standard game ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo can be played solo and the challenge that the Crewmembers and their players face be made more difficult. Solo play is little different to the standard game except that some of the Final Missions are excluded, whilst the game is made more difficult with the ‘I can’t lie about your chances’ option, which adds the Science Officer and android Ash to the game. Ideally, solo play should be done with more than one Crewmember as this gives the player more options in terms of their Special Abilities, whilst when Ash is in play, he constantly confronts the Crewmembers, forcing them to drop Scrap or reduce Morale. He also picks up Scrap as he moves around the Nostromo. The lack of Scrap will make Crafting Items all the more difficult and thus Objectives harder to fulfil.

There is no denying the strength of the theme in ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo and how it affects play. The tension never lets up, there is the constant chance of the Alien turning up, or Jones the Cat leaping out and frightening the Crewmembers, and yet… ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo is perfectly playable and an enjoyable game to play, but it has a couple of issues. One is that it never fully follows through on its theme, which is that of something stalking the Crew Members throughout the Nostromo and killing them off a la Ten Little Indians. Nobody though, in ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo the Alien does not kill anyone, instead its victims just flee and become further demoralised. Thus the ardent fan could complain that ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo is not a true reflection of Alien at all, but would a true reflection actually be fun to play? Probably not, because Crewmember elimination would mean player elimination and not only make the game’s winning conditions harder to achieve, but also not fun for the players whose Crew Members have been eliminated. Then there is the audience to take into account because ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo is designed for a family audience and a teenage audience, and a bloody horror game is not necessarily suitable for either.

This does not mean that the game ignores fans of the film. What it does mean is that the family can play this game without getting too horrified by the absentee blood or the missing gore, whilst the fans of the film can enjoy the still strong theme of game—especially in its look—as well as have chance to roleplay and table talk their Crew Members as much as they want and throw in as many of the quotes from Alien that fit.

As much fun as encountering and fleeing from the Alien is in ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo, the actual Objectives, all ‘pick-up and deliver’ tasks are underwhelming and feel more like the means to hold off the actions of the Crewmembers until such times as they can tackle the Final Mission. And whilst each of the Final Missions does actually feel thematic, their phrasing is not always clear in meaning. What this means is that the players do need to make more of an effort to buy into the game—not much extra effort, but some…

ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo is a solid, decently thematic lighter co-operative game. It takes a heavy horror theme and tone and builds as much of that as it can into a game that is suitable for the family. That is quite an achievement.

No comments:

Post a Comment