Normally I’d feel obligated to start a board game review with some evocative creative writing to offer a palpable sense of the excitement that the title’s worldbuilding provides.
However, with Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps being based on James Cameron’s seminal, sci-fi, action classic Aliens (1986); it seems like a completely fruitless exercise as chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re already completely enamoured with Cameron’s masterwork. And if not, there’s probably no way I can summarise the tension, energy and scope of Aliens in just a few clumsy paragraphs.
A Difficult Return To LV-426
Admittedly, my time with Gale force Nine’s Aliens has been difficult at best. Shortly after receiving my copy, I was diagnosed with COVID, and when that initial wave of dreadful illness finally began to subside, I was further obliterated by a secondary lung infection.
This resulted in repeated campaign restarts as I’d be bedridden for days at a time. It was a frustrating and tedious exercise, but ultimately, I’m grateful for the chance to constantly revisit the title, as it took some work to get past its impressively licensed veneer in order to uncover its gameplay shortcomings.
Recceing The Components
The previous sentence may seem deflating, as sadly there are lots to criticise about the mechanics but there’s no denying the box is an exciting one to unpack on your hungry tabletop. It manages to be impressive whilst being conservative so you’re not drowning in cardboard and plastic like many of its competitors.
The card stock for the mission and character boards is impressively thick and tactile, the counters are simple yet effective and there’s just enough plastic to satisfy the eager hobbyist in me. Everything down to the character detail is impressive -especially considering the price point, and it’s clear that Gale Force Nine are masters of restraint and economy, which is even more admirable considering how costly licences can be.
Gameplay for Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps is broken down into three key phases. The Marine Phase comes first allowing players to equip items, move, attack, interact with the environment, and activate ‘Grunts’. There are 6 characters (7 including Newt) for you to control, all of whom must be deployed, that is if they’ve not been previously decimated by your vicious xenomorph foes.
Any of the cast not directly selected by you or others as an avatar must be designated as a Grunt. These act almost identically to your selected ‘Heroes’ albeit slightly weaker due to a lack of abilities and some stat penalties. Each military Hero under your direct command is assigned a ‘Rank’ (ranging from 1 – 3) that determines how many Grunts you can manipulate on your turn. The rest are activated later in the phase by the player who’s assigned the Activation Token.
Once you’ve successfully directed your poor meat bags into some inevitably fatal conflicts, play transfers to The Alien Phase. Here, you’ll direct the intimidating swarm of xenomorphs/blips to move and attack player characters or destroy your futile attempts at fortification.
Then, with a heavy heart, you draw Motion Tracker cards to reveal just how many slithering beasts are about to flood the map and join the hunt. Finally, there’s The Finish Phase where -to be expected- you do a little admin and check for victory conditions.
Enduring The Endurance Deck
The core of your gameplay experience with Aliens revolves around the Endurance Deck. This is made up of equipment, hazard and event cards all shuffled together to form a visual representation of the resources available to you for each campaign mission. Using card abilities and firing weapons requires you to Exhaust cards by moving them to the Exhaust pile.
However, some cards or abilities require you to discard cards with the potential for them to be dishearteningly removed from the game completely. Essentially, it’s quite an interesting way of balancing resources, as the fewer cards you have available in the Endurance deck the more you have to consider your actions.
You can ‘rest’ which allows you to ‘Recycle’ exhausted cards back into the deck, but you’ll normally struggle to afford it as you’re very easily and quickly overwhelmed. In theory, this system is quite exciting and unique, but in practice, it was a little confusing and incredibly fiddly.
Nearly everything you do in the game requires you to reveal, recycle, exhaust or discard cards, and quite often actions/abilities necessitate combinations of these. For example, some events require you to reveal cards to find a matching symbol. If you uncover the correct one, you execute the action listed on the previous card whilst recycling the revealed one. If you’re unsuccessful at matching the correct symbol, you either exhaust or discard the trigger card as instructed as well as recycle the card you just turned over.
Further complications are introduced with Hazards, if you’re revealing or picking up from the Endurance deck and reveal one of these little red nightmares, you must immediately carry out its dastardly instructions before recycling it. All of that may seem complex, and admittedly it can be. For your first few games, you’ll constantly be referencing the instructions to confirm where you’re supposed to be dumping cards. I’ve played the campaign quite a bit and I still found myself double-checking regularly.
The problem here isn’t necessarily the complexity of the system -as you’ll grasp it eventually, it’s more to do with the unnecessary amount of activity it generates for the execution of simple tasks. Similarly, The Motion Tracker deck falls into the same trap with secondary instructions triggered after the initial spawn, often resulting in more spawns or xenomorph movement, adding extra layers to what should be a basic action.
A Random Encounter
The real issue I have with the mechanics however is the significantly high level of randomness, and sadly the aforementioned card system does feed into this. Scenarios will play out startlingly differently each time you attempt them. The first time launching our rescue of Newt (mission 1) we were swarmed, exhausted, and then inevitably obliterated.
But playing that very same scenario again with no tactical or equipment adjustments resulted in a quick resolution with only a single character sacrificed and minimal use of endurance cards. Admittedly, variation is great for replay, but when the pendulum swings so wildly it’s a good indicator that the game is essentially playing you.
For example: when using Body Armour to re-roll failed defence, you’re initially required to reveal a card from the endurance deck, if you’re lucky enough to match the correct symbol, then you get your coveted re-do.
However, that’s two separate levels of complete chance just to use an equipment card. Add to this blip movement based on dice rolls, motion tracker cards with two sets of random spawns as well as extra abilities based on placement or line of sight, and you can understand why the board state can completely and uncontrollably transform in a single round.
Ready For Anything… Sort Of
Gale Force Nine has included attempts to mitigate the chaos with equipment that lets you reorganise The Motion Tracker deck in your favour but the ratio of cards you can manipulate to the amount you’ll draw in The Alien Phase means they don’t have much of an impact.
Also, it’s important to note that some of these cards require the reveal of matching symbols to even activate. So much like the aforementioned Body Armour card, having it in your hand doesn’t mean you’ll actually get to use it. Barricading doors, tunnels and spawn points are probably the most useful manoeuvres for funnelling the enemy, but since they can be smashed pretty easily and usually cost movement and valuable activations, you’re likely to use them very conservatively.
Coop wave games tend to have flooded board states and lots of administration, and on that front, this game really isn’t any different. It’s not unusual to have huge numbers of aliens and blips to shuffle around and make actions with.
Thankfully, Gale Force Nine introduced a tidy little counter system to represent swarms that equates to fewer models on the board than games like Zombicide, speeding things up dramatically. It’s still a hassle, but less than others I’ve played.
Not Bad, For A Human
Despite my criticisms, I’ll admit that there are lots to like about Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps. It’s aesthetically accomplished meaning | guarantee you’ll be satisfied with all the fine components, and at under £50 it really is an astonishing value.
It makes the most of its licensing with striking official photography and mechanics that attempt to capture the atmosphere and overwhelming odds of the film. On a surface level, it’s fun, fast, simple to set up, and will be easy enough to grasp for tabletop veterans and casual fans alike.
But ultimately, there are just too many random influences on the outcome of scenarios and actions to make you feel like you have any semblance of tactical control over the chaos. So, if you don’t mind surrendering your fate to the game and just enjoying the ride as well as coping with all the extra layers of activity for simple actions then you’ll find Gale Force Nine’s take on Aliens to be an entertaining romp.
Personally, I’ll probably stick to cooperative games with more significant tactical nuance like Planet Apocalypse and Fireteam Zero.