Alien: A Confession
Firstly, I want you to know that I love the Alien franchise and the films set in the Alien universe. Secondly, I have a bit of a thing for collecting games and merchandise associated with the IP - this may cause me to have a degree of positive bias toward this game. Please bear this in mind when I talk you through my thoughts on Alien Fate of the Nostromo.
What’s In The Box?
As things go, Ravensburger have done a decent job at capturing the theme and nature of the film. The high quality game board includes a plan of the Nostromo on two levels with the artwork effectively capturing the claustrophobic feel of the ship. Cramped, winding corridors connect the clinical medbay and upper-deck rooms to the gritty and industrial underbelly of the ship where something sinister has made itself at home.
The Alien itself and the five crew members included in Alien Fate of the Nostromo are represented by unpainted, but uniquely-coloured plastic miniatures. The models are of reasonable quality but not of the standard you would expect from miniatures specialists like games workshop or atomic mass games. The plastic is far softer and the details aren’t overly sharp. Crew members come complete with a character card outlining their special abilities and the number of actions they may take each time they are activated. These character cards are of good quality stock and are definitely durable enough for what they are. The same can be said for the tokens included within the game. The tokens are robust and well-designed; I have no complaints.
Then things start to get a little disappointing. The Encounter Deck (more on this later) is of thin stock and will not last too many sessions before the cards lose their integrity. The same can be said for the objective cards but these aren’t handled nearly as much so it’s not a massive issue. Overall the production quality is fairly good considering the price point of the game.
How Does It Play?
Alien Fate of the Nostromo is based loosely upon the excellent and well-conceived Horrified Game. It is fully cooperative so players win or lose as a group – this is my favourite type of game, which is good for families or couples that do not enjoy putting each other to the sword. Random objectives are drawn equal to the number of players plus one at the start of the game. One of five final objectives are also randomly chosen but not revealed until later. The objectives relate to incidents that happen in the film but unfortunately they are largely repetitive requiring a given item to be taken to a certain place on the ship or for members of the crew to assemble in a given room.
Once all of the initial objectives are completed, the hidden final objective is revealed and the players must complete a series of actions to win the game.
After each player takes a turn to move, pick-up or drop objects, craft items, use weapons or use skills a card is drawn from the encounter deck. The encounter deck controls the Alien and the rogue android Ash. It instructs the player to move Ash or the Alien and to place scrap tokens and concealed tokens around the ship. The scrap is the resource used to craft items whilst the concealed tokens are revealed when a character enters a room; some concealed tokens result in an alien ambush or an encounter with the mildly irritating ship’s cat.
When members of the crew encounter the Alien without appropriate weaponry or items they lose moral and flee from it – this is understandable. Once the crew moral tracker reaches zero the game is lost; there is no death, killing or similar. As an optional extra, intended to create a more difficult game mode, players can opt to include Ash; the nefarious android stalks the ship harvesting scrap and looking to feed unwitting crewmembers rolled-up magazines.
In effect, Ravensburger have taken a successful Sci-Fi horror setting and sought to turn it into a family game.
Does it work? Kind of.
Does it work well? Definitely not.
However, it doesn’t work because of the mechanics of the game and how tediously repetitive it is to play rather than the family-friendly nature of Alien Fate of The Nostromo. The main problem is that for one or two players (even in hard mode) the game is painfully easy to successfully complete. However, at 5 players (especially in hard mode) the game is nigh on impossible to win until you have played a few times to develop a strategy and you get extremely lucky with the order of the encounter deck. Unfortunately, due to the soul-destroyingly repetitive nature of the game, you would sooner do almost anything than endure another playthrough of the game after the first couple of attempts. It’s absolutely torturous.
I love solo games. My day job can take me away from home for days or weeks at a time and I am always looking for ways to entertain myself when holed up in a dingy hotel in the back of beyond. To that end I own a lot of games that claim to have solo modes. Unfortunately, the solo option in games can often be a clunky afterthought or, even more disappointedly, the ‘solo’ mode entails taking control of two characters instead of one. This isn’t the case with Alien Fate of the Nostromo. In fact the absolute opposite is true in this case.
Alien Fate of the Nostromo is actually far better suited as a solo game than a cooperative one. Why? Because the difficulty scales up with the number of characters in play. When playing true solo, the alien activates each time you complete a turn so the character in play can avoid it with ease and move from place to place to complete the two objectives that are necessary before revealing the final one. It’s difficult to put into words how fundamentally unchallenging the game is for the true soloist. However, I do concede that a small child may struggle to win straight away. But… is this really the game you will be handing to a small child to play solo? Unlikely.
At five players, the alien can move five times before a given player gets to reactivate, easily navigating the ship and picking off any straggler. It is possible to huddle characters together and move around as a group. However, scrap is a finite resource and it is just a matter of time before you run out of electric shock prod charges and end up with your gaggle of crewmembers being chased around the ship in what can only be described as an overwhelmingly frustrating experience.
As you will have guessed if you have read this far, I am not a big fan of this game. I love the franchise and the look/quality of Alien Fate of the Nostromo is actually passable. But the game itself is absolutely horrifying to play. In space nobody may be able to hear you scream but my neighbours would certainly hear me scream if I ever have to endure playing this game again.