- This was originally posted on the British Fantasy Society website.
Turning an existing world into a game can be tricky, but Free League (Symbaroum, Tales from the Loop, and more) has created a game that not only brings the world of Alien to life, but strove to develop a unique gaming experience.
From cover to cover, the book is visually fantastic. Some of the art inside looks like it could have been used for promotional movie posters. Additionally, the layout is brilliantly clean, and the game envelopes the dark atmosphere extremely well. The colour pallete is limited (old-school spinach green to replicate early computer monitors!) and organization is simple, with each page featuring one idea. This results in a user-friendly text. Information on “Panic”? Page 104. That’s it. Page 105 is the table for determining Panic effects. The entire books bears this directness.
Mechanically, Alien is straightforward, using d6’s for Base Dice (“for when an effect is triggered”) and Stress Dice (“for when a character panics”). The latter are important because when characters take on too much stress, i.e., failing too many skill rolls, they will eventually panic with potentially severe consequences.
Two innovations, in particular, are worth noting – player versus player (PvP) confrontations, and two sets of rules for playing the game, Cinematic and Campaign. In PvP contests, should a player’s character successfully backstab a colleague, literally or figuratively, the traitor becomes an NPC the Game Mother (the person running the game) controls. Malicious objectives can be fulfilled, but players might nor rush towards sabotaging the group.
Cinematic or Campaign rules, co-exist creating alternate approaches for the game. Like the movies, Cinematic play is quick and brutal. A single session should be adequate for a Cinematic game, whereas campaigns should take multiple sessions.
Despite everything this game does well, it isn’t perfect. One thing in particular that feels absent are rules for grid-based gaming. Since the game uses zones as an abstraction of distance, there isn’t a need for highly detailed movement. That wasn’t necessarily a positive. While the game is designed away from being a skirmish RPG, a tactical approach really would have fit with Alien. It’s not hard to imagine a PC being rapidly pursued through cramped ventilation shafts by Xenomorphs, and this is where battle maps would have been effective.
Ultimately, the game is a well-designed. Perhaps the biggest obstacle Alien faces is itself. Is Alien too narrow for a truly robust game? Maybe? During cinematic play, the game strives to emulate the feel of the movies, and was cleverly designed. The rules lend themselves strongly to one-shots, convention play, or maybe a short campaign using the rules for campaign play. Beyond that is when things become a bit fuzzier for the duration of an Alien campaign.
AlienThe bottom line is, Free League has crafted a great interpretation of the Alien franchise. Action should be fast, furious, high-stakes and (potentially) lethal. If the PCs are alive at the end of the session, then they can pat themselves on the back. A simplified rule system combines heavily dramatic storytelling, yielding a game that is quick to begin and play. That quickness maybe it’s one major flaw, but time will truly tell if this game ends up as a novelty for Alien’s fans, or something a bit more enduring. Regardless, if you enjoy either the Alien franchise or horror science-fiction, Free League has something worth considering.