The feeling of dread grows stronger as the ship's emergency sirens ring out. You and your crew were supposed to be halfway back to Earth by now, but company policy dictated that you investigate a distress signal on some blasted out moon. Now one of your crew members is dead. Some disgusting alien just burst out of his chest, and it looks like it grew up quick, is hungry, and is hunting you all down one by one. That's not just the first hour or so of Alien (1979), it's also the lead up to where the action kicks off in the new board game Alien: Fate of the Nostromo.
Published by Ravensburger Games, Alien: Fate of the Nostromo is a cooperative board game for one to five players. Players win or lose as a team, with the goal of completing a set of objectives and a "Final Mission" before the entire crew's morale is reduced to zero. The basic flow of the game goes like this: A set amount of objective cards are set out in view of all players and a hidden Final Mission is set aside. Players take their turns, attempting to complete those objectives before revealing the complex, more-involved Final Mission. After each player takes a turn, a card is flipped from an "Encounter Deck" that moves the Alien figure around the board.
Taking on the role of one of the five surviving crew members of the Nostromo: Lambert, Parker, Brett, Dallas, and Ellen Ripley, players must try to avoid the dreaded Xenomorph as best they can. Players can each take four actions on their turn, including moving, picking up items, crafting items out of scrap tokens scattered around the ship, and special actions unique to each crew member. These variable actions are a mainstay of cooperative games, but diehard fans of the film will notice how they correspond to the nature of the characters. Ripley, who spends most of the first half of the movie keeping track of her fellow crew members, has a special ability that allows her to move other characters on her turn. Lambert, who spends much of her screen time completely freaking out, can take a peek at the "Encounter Deck," judging whether a truly scary encounter is coming up after her turn.
Whether the Alien goes on the hunt and finds your characters, or pops up by surprise when you flip over a hidden tile scattered around the board, your team will quickly lose morale if you keep bumping into it. This morale is never regained, and it serves as a ticking time bomb, which is central to some of the thrill of playing the game. Sometimes you'll need to bring an item to a location that's currently blocked by the alien, and it's a tough call to figure out if you have time to go around it, or risk running into the alien.
One point I'll make, this game is not the lethal experience you may be expecting from the source material. In some ways, Alien: Fate of the Nostromo plays out like a sort of power fantasy for people who wished Alien had a happier ending. Though mechanically it wouldn’t make any sense for the Xenomorph to slaughter players as soon as it encountered them, it’s a bit jarring at first to realize that when you run into the Alien all it does is push you three spaces away and inflict some group trauma. Clever planning and strategizing even creates scenarios where running into the Alien is advantageous, as the three spaces it forces you to flee essentially mean you get three free moves.
I absolutely love the look of the miniatures included in the game. Depicting the five crew members and the Xenomorph, these miniatures do a great job of capturing the feel of each character. The game box itself even comes with a fun mini-jump scare built right in, which I won't spoil. All in all, the game has that polished, high-gloss feel you expect from a game of this size and price point ($30.00 USD MSRP).
The Bottom Line
One of the hallmarks of a good cooperative game is how it handles its difficulty level. When players work together, the combined brainpower of everyone at the table means the game itself needs to offer up a reasonable challenge. Some games, like Pandemic, revel in their difficulty, while others offer almost no challenge to players who can work well as a team. What's so satisfying about Alien: Fate of the Nostromo is the way it toes that line. Along with offering thrilling gameplay and true nail-biting moments, there's also a variant that includes the addition of the conniving Ash to the game, who runs around the board making life much more difficult for the crew. This variable difficulty is a brilliant aspect of the game, allowing groups to essentially "level up" as they get comfortable with the challenge.
The theme of the game, like the Xenomorph's acid blood, oozes through layer after layer of the game. From the incredible visuals on display to the mechanics and pacing of the game, it's clear designer Scott Rogers spent a lot of time carefully studying the source material. While it's not quite the bloodbath of the film, it's safe to assume things don't end well for the players if the "Crew Morale" meter reaches zero. For fans of cooperative strategy games that play quick and snappy, Alien: Fate of the Nostromo will be a big hit at the table.
Get This Game If...
- You're a fan of the original Alien
- You're looking for a cooperative game with variable difficulty levels
- You've always wanted to play a game as Harry Dean Stanton
Avoid This Game If...
- You're looking for a more in-depth and complicated Alien experience
- You want a game where you're blasting away aliens ala Aliens
The copy of Alien: Fate of the Nostromo used in this review was provided by Ravensburger.