In the last few years, Ravensburger have developed their own niche of board games based on an IP (Intellectual Property). Other publishers' IP-inspired games have often disappointed: too often mere reskins of well-worn titles (ie: Monopoly, Cluedo or Risk) or sporting dull roll & move mechanics with a wafer-thin IP veneer. Not so, Ravensburger's entries in this sub-genre, as we've already seen, for example, with their games based on the Jaws and Back to the Future franchises, not to mention the Villainous range of games drawing on the Disney and Marvel IPs. So how does their Alien game stack up?
Ridley Scott's Alien first burst onto our screens (and - SPOILER ALERT! - out of John Hurt's chest) in 1979. There have been several sequels and prequels since then but this game is firmly based on that 1979 original. Players represent up to five characters from the movie on a space ship (the Nostromo) that has a monstrous Alien on board. It's a fully cooperative game where the 2-5 players are never actually fighting the pretty-much indestructible Alien, they're just trying to escape from it...
Players have a set of objectives to collectively accomplish (one more than the number of characters you are using). These are mainly pick-up-and-deliver tasks that will require them to move around the ship to collect items, including 'scrap' that can be used to construct other items. Once the players have completed all the face-up objectives, the final mission is revealed from among the five supplied... Complete that too and the players have won. Sounds simple enough.
Problem is, there's at least one 'timer' ticking away. Throughout the game, you'll have an eye to the players' collective morale track. As characters move around the ship, they'll flip concealed tokens. Of the 13 tokens, the majority are blank but two of them show the ship's cat: harmless enough, but the shock of seeing it will cost you a point of morale. Three tokens show the Alien. These will cost the team 1-3 points of morale (depending on the specific token) and they'll summon the Alien to that location. Remember, your 'fight of flight' response in this game is set firmly on 'flight', so you have to immediately move your character three spaces away from the Alien. If you're really unlucky, this can take you to a location where you have to flip another concealed token and further loss of morale... And every turn, you'll also be flipping an 'Encounter' card which will likely alter the game state (for example, placing out more concealed tokens).
In addition to morale, the 'final mission' could well trigger the ship's self-destruct mechanism. This gives the players just four rounds to complete whatever other tasks are set by the final mission card, or else it's Kaboom! and the players lose.
Designer Scott Rogers has taken the decision to keep things simple, in that there are no face-huggers or exploding chests in this game. It makes Alien: Fate of the Nostromo playable as a family game, and, because it's fully cooperative it's a game you can effectively teach as you play. Be warned tho' that a couple of early 'negative' concealed tokens can lull players into a false sense of security: the loss of morale can suddenly accelerate...
Like most cooperative games, Alien: Fate of the Nostromo can be played solo, but if you do so then it's best to play with more than one character (control three characters to play it as a three-character solitaire). It works well as a two-player game, tho' again in our Board's Eye View plays, we enjoyed the two-player version more when we each controlled two characters. And if you find it's too easy to stay out of the Alien's clutches, you can step up the difficulty by adding in the non-player character Ash (the android played in the movie by Ian Holm). Ash will make life harder for the players by moving around the board removing the scrap that you need to create the items required for fulfilling objectives.
It's more than 40 years since we first heard the immortal movie strap line 'In space no-one can hear you scream' so this certainly isn't the first game to be inspired by the movie Alien. Lifeform (Hall or Nothing) and Nemesis (Awaken Realms) both tread similar, if unofficial, ground. Both are evocative gamers' games. Alien: Fate of the Nostromo, however, is a lighter, more accessible family game - and this one's official - so at last you can play as Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and co.