I have a complicated relationship with Aliens. Although it’s a consummate action film with some of the best practical effects ever put to the screen, I think it’s not as successful as an Alien film. Sure, the titular Aliens appear but my wife, who recently rewatched it with me, approached it with a distinctive Buddhist philosophy. She could almost empathize with the xenomorphs, with their dharma. They aren’t malevolent or cruel, they are only trying to survive and further the species. By making them insect like, it makes the xenomorph seem less alien.
This sentiment bleeds over to Gale Force Nine’s take on the iconic film. Essentially a dungeon crawler depicting the events of Aliens, the game allows you to play some of the iconic characters from the film. The game can be played with individual scenarios, including a horde-esque mode, and a full campaign with the three scenarios linked together with optional rescue or supply missions should the need arise. During this campaign, death is permanent for characters, as is the loss of material and cards, which act as the primary currency to do literally anything. The great strength of this design is the pressure of early game decisions that will have a drastic impact on the rest of the game. Not only can you lose characters, but you have an Endurance Deck to maintain.
The Endurance Deck is the primary feature that drives gameplay. It’s an amorphous and abstracted take on stress, ammo levels, gear, weapons, and events. If that sounds like a lot, it is. The use of the deck as your team’s overall morale is sharp if the deck runs out the game ends. It takes player actions to rest and feed exhausted cards back into the Endurance pile. Certain cards or abilities will speed up or slow down this process.
Many of the game mechanisms are tossed into this deck. Events, hazards, weapons and gear are all buried in here and are available for use when drawn. This is in addition to managing at least two weapons and two pieces of gear per player. And if you are playing with less than six players, then this can become a handful to manage. Also, the large number of enemies can make the Alien phase too administrative as the momentum drains. Its an absolute delight when they come charging in but having to managing dozens can become tedious.
Overall, I enjoyed this game. The tension of growing numbers of xenomorphs, the loss of characters, and the nail-biting action to get your characters off the map evoked the spirit of the film. It’s too bad the design wasn’t tighter and more streamlined- if so, the game could have gone from good to great. I will happily return to this base set but don’t have much reason beyond that to invest in the litany of expansions.