Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Alien: Fate of the Nostromo Board Game Review

Alien is such an iconic franchise that there’s no shortage of great games that have taken inspiration from it down the years. Some, like Lifeform, Space Hulk and Nemesis, weren’t licensed. Others, like Legendary Encounters: Alien and Aliens: Another Day in the Corps, were. But they all had one thing in common: they were aimed at the hobby end of the market.

Alien: Fate of the Nostromo looks to cross that boundary. It’s published by Ravensburger, which has a good track record in making franchised board games with wide appeal. It also has the commercial clout to ensure a competitive price and space on mass-market shelves. And it’s a cooperative game, meaning you all win or lose together, and it can also be played solo.

What’s In The Box

Like other Ravensburger games, the box opens to an image printed on the reverse of the board: in this instance it’s Jones the cat, hissing at you in fear. It’s a nice touch that ups the anticipation of delving through the contents.

On the business side of the board, there’s a slightly confusing split-level map of the Nostromo, the spaceship from the film. Beneath there’s a couple of punchboards of tokens, some decks of cards and a bag of soft plastic figures. Kane, the Alien’s first victim in the film, isn’t available as the action starts after his unfortunate demise.

This being a licensed game, the player boards and their matching figures all look like the relevant characters from the film. Rather than film stills, the cards and boards use specially commissioned art, but it looks great and helps set the scene.

Rules and How to Play

If you’ve played one of Ravensburger’s cooperative before you’ll be familiar with the rough structure of Alien: Fate of the Nostromo. Your character has a pool of actions that they can use to move, pick and drop items, or activate a special power such as Ripley’s ability to move another crew member on her turn. Then you take an encounter card which may cause items to appear on the board, or move the alien.

One thing that’s new to the formula is that you can collect scrap from around the ship and use it to craft items like flashlights and flamethrowers. At the start, you’ll reveal a number of objectives based on the player count. Most of these involve creating an item and taking it somewhere on the ship and are based on a scene from the film, like taking a flashlight to the med bay. You need to complete these objectives to progress the game.

The titular Alien, however, is hunting you. You can encounter it in one of two ways. It has a figure on the board that moves a number of spaces towards the closest target depending on the encounter card. But these cards often also instruct you to place a face down a Concealed token on a space which, when revealed, could send the Alien to that room to simulate an ambush.

This is a good, simple system that creates a lot of suspense and cinematic moments. You can take risks based on a crew member’s distance from the alien figure and how likely a Concealed token is to result in an attack. But the variables involved mean there’s always scope for a nasty surprise. If you do get attacked you have to flee, which can mean flipping more tokens leading to more attacks. This doesn’t happen often, but it feels like the Alien is chasing the crew member through the ship.

None of the crew has individual health to track. Instead, alien attacks run down an overall morale counter, leading to an instant loss if it reaches zero. While this prevents player elimination, it feels like an odd way to handle the danger of a rampant xenomorph. In the movies, people die with gruesome frequency. Keeping everyone alive despite repeated savagings feels like a soft cludge to keep everyone together at the table.

This is a good, simple system that creates a lot of suspense and cinematic moments.

There’s another, more serious problem with the game, though. The simple framework coupled with the Alien’s position on the map can sometimes mean your turn is best spent doing nothing. If there are no resources or goals nearby and the Alien is in a central area, you’re best off staying away from it. Some parts of the board often get cut off by the Alien which, while tactically interesting, also exacerbates this problem as you don’t want to move into an area likely to become a dead end. It’s hardly game-breaking but it’s boring for an affected player.

Against that, the game gives you a fun range of tools to deploy against this extraterrestrial threat. The Grapple Gun lets you move the Alien, for example, while the Motion Detector lets you peek at nearby Concealed tokens. Between them and the crew’s special abilities, your group has a lot of options to get creative in minimizing the threat while you try and count down those objectives.

That threat level, however, is variable. As you add players, it’s harder to stay away from the Alien in the cramped confines of the ship. You start with more morale to compensate, but the game still feels tougher overall. Indeed, with smaller character counts it almost feels too easy. In both cases, your focus is on creating the items needed to satisfy objectives, which means you often won’t craft the more tactically interesting ones. Either way, you rarely need to step up to the creative possibilities they offer in order to win.

As a means of increasing the difficulty the game lets you add Ash, the rogue science officer from the movie. He’s also moved by encounter cards and steals scrap from unguarded locations. Like the lack of character death, this also seems a poor way to mirror his sinister role in the film. It also doesn’t tend to make things that much harder, as players can often snaffle up spare scrap before Ash has the chance to get to it.

Both Ash and the Alien’s thematic roles are boosted by the encounter deck. Many of the cards are “Quiet,” which add scrap and shuffle the alien one space. Others cause Ash or the Alien to behave more aggressively and these can be a real threat. There are also cards that cause Ash and Alien cards to be reshuffled, while Quiet cards are not, meaning the deck becomes more dangerous as the game goes on. Lost the Signal, which puts the Alien back in its nest and a Concealed token in every empty room, is particularly effective.

If you clear your objectives you’ll enter a randomly drawn end game mission. These also mimic scenes from the film and are well designed to create a tense conclusion. You might have to pile up coolant canisters while a self-destruct timer counts down, or find Jones the cat and get to the docking bay, all while the Alien continues its murderous rampage through the ship. While there’s lots of variety and excitement on offer, they begin to fall flat once you appreciate the lightweight nature of the game.

Where to Buy

Alien: Fate of the Nostromo is currently available for a suggested retail price of $29.99.

source https://www.ign.com/articles/alien-fate-of-the-nostromo-review

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