Review: Alien – Fate of the Nostromo

The bulk of my game collection pertains to historical conflicts, mostly hex and counter affairs with combat results tables and player aids. But the other designs I have are generally tied to existing intellectual properties that evoke a strong sense of theme and setting. Continuing in that tradition is one of Ravenburger’s latest, an adaptation of Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic, Alien. And it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite titles in years.

It certainly helps that Alien is my absolute favorite film. The cosmic horror of the perfect organism matched with the bleak and despairing vision of a future dominated by corporate greed has ensured that the film has endured. The retro tech lends a period analogue feel to the film’s gritty setting as we follow the harrowing experience of this crew of intergalactic truck drivers.

All that made the film a success has been translated over into The Fate of the Nostromo. The game picks up after the demise of Kane during the crew’s last supper, as they struggle to survive against the hostile organism that is now loose aboard the Nostromo. Each playable character has a set number of actions and a special ability unique to them. These abilities range from getting a drop on the next Alien card to collecting more scrap to moving other characters during your turn.

Once the crew is established in the Galley, they must set out and accomplish their goals. The design contains mild sandbox elements here, in so much that the conditions for victory are variable and will vary from game to game. Smaller objectives are chosen at random based on the number of players and the final objective is chosen at random but concealed until the prior objectives are completed. Each of these minor objectives consist of bringing a certain item to a particular location: an Incinerator to the Nest, coolant canisters to Suit Storage or a flashlight to the Medbay, etc. Once these are accomplished, the final mission is unlocked and will require finesse, skill, and a heap of luck to succeed. These five final missions range from setting the self-destruct and escaping via the shuttle, defeating Ash or clearing out every room on the Nostromo. All this unpredictability adds a ridiculous amount of replay value, as different combinations of objective stack up in new and challenging ways.

But the items necessary for success will not be easy to come by. All these items require scrap which is finite in its supply. It can only be found via Quiet cards (more on the Encounter deck in a sec), from Parker’s special ability, or from converting cooling canisters in the workshop. Once accumulated, creating different tools can help tip the scales in your favor against the xenomorph. Grapple guns, motion trackers and even a cat carrier are all available to build and are useful in different situations.

The Encounter deck is the engine that drives the narrative and action. Quiet cards drawn from the Encounter deck will populate valuable scrap but also place Concealed tokens which are flipped over when entering a room containing one. This opens the possibility of encountering the Alien, as it could be stalking in the ventilation shafts waiting to pounce. If you are lucky when you enter it will be empty or it’ll just be Jonesy. If you are savvy, the use of a motion detector can keep you one step ahead of the Alien. Each Quiet card also moves the Alien one space closer to the nearest player, as it stalks the ship for its next victim.

Order 937 cards will strip players of scrap or move Ash if he is in play. While this prevents from the Alien from moving momentarily, it could rob you of that one vital piece of scrap needed to survive or even fulfill an objective. Often times, every turn counts.

And finally, there are the Alien cards. These cards enable the creature to move fast, and the morale consequences are high. Victory can be denied when the crew’s overall morale plummets to zero. There is no individual player elimination- you win and lose as a team. Morale is lost when encountering the Alien in the same space- and your character must retreat but here’s the rub- if you must run through any rooms with any concealed tokens, its possible the Alien could emerge from the ventilations shafts and send your character running again with another morale loss. This cycle can easily continue, and the game quickly lost.

And to slowly accelerate the difficulty as the game progresses, two special cards, one for the Alien and one for Order 937, shuffles those respective cards back into the deck. This process continues until all the Quiet cards have been siphoned out, leaving a lean and dangerous deck, where each card will either sabotage the players or send the Alien after them in blinding speed. It’s a brilliant mechanism that mirrors the stakes as they heighten in film, until finally the game kicks into high gear and losing the crew stands on a razor’s edge.

Avoiding the Alien, keeping your crew’s morale up and managing your tools are the key to success.

To cap it all off, the art is nothing short of phenomenal. Instead of using stills from the film, the art style is similarly gritty and grounded. The Nostromo has been lovingly recreated in a mostly accurate fashion and there’s even a nod to the Director’s Cut with the inclusion of the nest. The plastic pieces are high quality, and the components are sturdy.

Alien: Fate of the Nostromo is a taut, streamlined, and tense design. It evokes the dread and suspense of the classic film and should be a welcome addition to any gamer with an appreciation with the source material or science fiction horror. The perfect organism has found a host in the perfect board game. I can’t lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathies.

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