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Greatest Games I Ever Played: Aliens Greatest Games I Ever Played: Aliens Hot

Greatest Games I Ever Played: Aliens

If there’s one fact that’s sure to unite men and women, geek and mainstream, gay and straight...from the richest king to the poorest old woman, the rockstar, the newsagent, the blogger, the Field-Marshall, the vicar and the hot-pants wearing Spice Girl tribute band...it’s that the 1986 James Cameron movie, Aliens, is awesome.

Anyway, I saw Aliens when I was about six or seven, and totally fell in love with it for the same reason I enjoy it today: it has lots of monsters and lots of guns. Sure, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to appreciate it for its more subtle notes (generally regarding the nature of “big business” in the 1980s and Ripley’s surrogate daughter relationship with Newt), but – like all great art – it works on many levels. Big monsters and lots of guns being one of them. Okay? Okay.

Anyway, in 1986, the licence for the Aliens boardgame was given over to Leading Edge. They produced a table-top RPG, which is now a highly sought after piece of arse; and a table-top boardgame, which is now a highly sought after slice of fried awesome.

Movie tie-ins for boardgames actually tend to be of a slightly lower quality than their videogaming counterparts – which, for those in the know, is really saying something. Those picking this up expecting a roll-and-move “You get attacked by an Alien! Miss a turn” game would be in for something of a culture shock.

The base game comes with three scenarios: the initial battle against the Aliens under the reactor, the “Last Stand” (referred to as “Operations/Air-Ducts” in the rulebook) and the battle aboard the Sulaco between Ripley’s Power Loader and the Alien Queen.

The game manages to be a success because it’s exactly what you want from an Aliens game. There are tons of Aliens moving very fast, lots of bullets firing off, and lots of spontaneous killerising and screw-jobs. What’s more, the Aliens are all automated, with a very simple but effective AI. This means there’s no GM, Alien player or referee. It means that it’s you and your friends up against the advancing xenomorph menace.

The first scenario, The Reactor Room, sees nine marines (Apone, Hicks, Vasquez, Drake, Dietrich, Wierbowski, Hudson, Crowe and Frost) having to make their way across the reactor to the waiting APC, whilst each turn several aliens drop from the ceiling to random spaces on the board. Each of the marines has two action points (with the exception of Hicks and Apone, who have three each), with an action point being used to either move one space, or fire one round of ammunition. Multiple points can be spent on firing to either make several attacks at moderate-to-low chance of success, or one shot at a high chance of hitting.

The Aliens cannot fire, but if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself in close combat with one, then chance are you’re fucked. Oh, and you don’t want to be too close to them when you open fire on them, because when they bleed, it can really hurt you. And don’t forget – Gorman issued the order for all pulse rifles to be slung! That’s three flamethrowers, two SMGs, Hicks has a shotgun...and everyone else has pistols.

The scenario runs almost entirely on action, adrenaline and luck – and you and your friends firing off more Aliens movie-quotes that you’d have believed physically possible. It’s surprisingly challenging to complete the mission with more than two or three battered marines surviving (if any get through at all), but it’s a hell of a lot of fun trying. Even when you do fail, it has that “just one more go” factor that makes you positive you can do it this time...

The second scenario is even harder.

This time, Ripley, Gorman, Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez make a desperate last stand as hordes of the Aliens begin dropping from the ceiling. The pulse-rifle fire comes thick and fast until it becomes obvious that the marines are being overrun. Then, when the order to fall back is issued, the marines discover that Burke has shut the door behind them, leading to a tense few turns as one of the marines has to try and cut through the door with his cutting torch. Then, there’s another desperate scramble as Newt tries to guide the marines through the ducting...with yet more of the monsters waiting inside for them.

This level starts off fun, but rapidly develops into what my gaming group (The Dengar Appreciation Society) refer to as “a bit rapey”. The cramped confines of the room mean that every move needs to be calculated quickly but effectively. The final crawl through the ducting is also tense right up until the last move. Truly great stuff.

The final game, the Power Loader versus the Alien Queen is a one-player affair, and feels like something of an afterthought – but this doesn’t stop the main game from being some of the best fun it's possible to have around the gaming table. If your group tends to fire off quotes, make sound effects and live for do-or-die moments, then you’ll have an absolute blast with Aliens.

There is also an expansion pack available, which features four more scenarios (Ripley rescuing Newt from the nest, and Spunkmeyer and Ferro’s battle aboard the dropship; as well as two “what if” scenes).

Aliens is long out of print, and whilst copies do turn up on eBay, they tend to go for very high prices (I paid just over £80 for mine, and that didn’t have the expansion pack in it). There are, however, a few people making up their own copies from various scans and files that have made their way onto the Internet, and there’s also a great Flash version on the Internet over here, if you fancy playing hotseating (do people still do that?), or solo.


Brad Harmer is the co-owner of and frequent contributor to geek humour site Emotionally Fourteen. You can become Brad's "friend" on Facebook, or you can "follow" him on Twitter. Depends how creepy you want to sound really.

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Comments (19)
  • avatarStephen Avery

    This is one of the great ameritrash games that has still eluded me- that and Escape from Colditz. I've yet to track it down and strong arm some one into playing. Thansk for the link to the Flash version. Perhaps I'll kill some time today messing with it.

    Steve"We're toast man"Avery

  • avatarBlack Barney

    AWESOME article. Man, this game sounds like a thematic beast. What are the two "what if" scenes? How the heck can Ferro and Spunkmeyer survive their situation? I think they have a pistol between the two of them.

    man, it sounds SO COOL

  • avatarhotseatgames

    Does the game use dice?

  • avataraerodynamics

    I can still remember the first time I saw "Aliens"; summer of '86 I had just graduated from college and went down to Portland to spend some time with an old school chum. We were so pumped up when the movie ended we practically ran out of the theater, springing into action in the parking lot, ready to frag some Aliens.

    Jump forward a few years and I can recall seeing this game at my FLGS. Instead of buying it, I got the Leading Edge boardgame tie-in for "Bram Stoker's Dracula" instead to give to my wife for a birthday present. Big mistake -- the "Aliens" game sounds like a ton of fun, but that Dracula game was a dud. I think it's still buried away in a closet somewhere.

  • avatarRliyen

    Avery: I have it AND the expansion. I'll be sure to bring it to the con.

    Hotseat: the board games uses dice. A d10. The Aliens' movement and spawn rate are pre-programmed. Even with that information, the game's hard as fuck. My wife and I played it some time ago, and we got out only two marines. When only two marines get out, it's best not to talk about it. ;D

  • avatarRliyen

    Brad, I have the RPG. It's not bad, but you go through Marines as if they were tissue paper. You have to realize the guy who designed it, Phoenix Command, and Living Steel works as a NASA scientist; so you have some hard to swallow rules, but once you actually play and get acclimated to them, the game goes smoothly.

    I equate it like so: Aliens is to RPGs that 1st Edition Squad Leader is to regular board games. ;)

  • avatarBlack Barney

    I used to own the Aliens RPG too! I never played it tho. The entire script of the movie was written in the sides of the pages of the rulebook, it was cool.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    This is indeed one of the best games ever made.

    I was reading about the "Golden Age of Gaming" on Opinionated Gamers...and it was seriously a joke. The best games ever made were made in the 80s-90s and everything after has been variations on the brilliance of some of these "old school" games.

    Sad that just reading this article made me want for games like this and there really isn't anything on the market today that jazzes me up like this does.

    Good stuff, man. Great read.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    I've actually never played this game. I almost bought it for a ridiculous amount a couple of years ago, and I can't be bothered with printing it up. Hey, you know what? I've written you guys hundreds of reviews over the years, free of charge... why don't you guys finally pick up the tab for a change and send me a copy? :-P

    It does look great, and I do love Aliens. I remember very distinctly the _day_ I saw it in the theater. There was a review in the Atlanta Constitution about it, written by local critic Eleanor Ringel. In it, she said it was "the best horror movie since Frankenstein", and it had that promo still of Ripley standing with her hands on her hips in front of the crew in the loading bay. My parents took me to see it on a Saturday, and I remember very clearly jumping out of my seat when the face hugger hits the glass. When we got home, I ran inside and immediately called my best friend, David Green and pretty much recounted the entire film to him over the phone. Then, I went to my "Top Ten Movies" list that I had posted on the door to my room and erased Big Trouble in Little China from the top spot and wrote Aliens there.

    It was also the first Laserdisc I ever bought, the big $125 special edition. Laserdiscs. Heh.

    Doesn't that heartfelt anecdote of youth make you want to send me a copy of this game, somebody?

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    Yes, but Michael, you assume that your reviews have VALUE... :P

    It's a shame you missed out, it really is a hell of a game. I played it WAY back when it first game out at a friend's house, and we played the shit out of it subsequently. It really is one of the best minis games ever made, right up there with Heroscape.

  • avatarcraniac

    I got this in a trade and sold it on Ebay. I can't walk away from that much money.

  • avatarmoofrank

    I have a pirated copy printed off the geek.
    But I won't let Barnes play it because he erased Big Trouble in Little China from his movie list.

  • avatarBearn

    I remember walking around in our local store and seeing this on a shelf back in the day. I was such a huge fan of the movie i picked it up purely out of impulse. I picked up the expansion later for completeness and i am so glad i did.

    The rules are so simple and basic but they very much capture that rush that you get watching those scenes the game recreates. I still own it to this day although most of mine is laminated and mounted in a giant top load sleeve. There was a set of miniatures put out at some point as well that i picked up to replaced the cardboard characters.

    They definetly don't make movie based games like this anymore. :(

  • avatardaveroswell

    Sometimes I both hate and love you guys at the same time.

    My wife was possibly the biggest Aliens fan I know. The ebay prices are nuts though.

  • avatarShapeshifter

    I remember at one point I was wanted to transfer my admiration for this game to a fellow gamer who had this absurdly large collection and was into anything thematic. I send him the rules after my intense ravings about the game's qualities coldly replied: "I don't see it".
    Which brings me to the idea this is one of those oldskool games were the magic doesn't lie in the rules themselves but in the situations they create.
    Much unlike recent ameritrash, notably the FFG stuff that seems to scream "hey look at my fancy innovative mechanics" Leading Edge unashamelessly created a simple wargame that simulates about everything the theme craves for, even down to a rediculously geeky "acid splash table".
    And you know what? It works. Despite the fact it nowdays feels like a 90's design, it is incredibly charming in the way it embraces randomness to create an unpredictable setting in which critters can appear out of the nothing and tear you apart. Not unlike Steve Jackon's "Ogre", it does alot without needing alot of rules, because it believes in the fact the story will create itself while playing.


  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    The difference between these kinds of games and the average game made of late is the white-knuckle excitement factor. This, Space Hulk, and games of its ilk (of which there are few) has the innate ability to make you really, truly care about your little pawns and the outcome of the game. It's the "experience" of this, as Shapeshifter alluded to, that makes it so memorable.

    If I wasn't either getting a divorce or remodeling the house, I'd spend my tax refund money on this now that it's back in my consciousness.

  • avatarevilgit

    I nearly pulled the trigger on this back in the day, seeing it several times at my FLGS. I was pretty into Phoenix Command and couldn't imagine how a simplified version of those rules could work in a boardgame, which is what I heard at the time. Loved the crunchy uber-detail of PC, with charts for tracing a bullets path through a body, tracking the hit of each pellet with a shot gun and grenades that did both concussive damage as well as tracking individual shards of shrapnel. Only got to play it once however. My braced M60 gunner in heavy cover mowed down my opponents figs one by one as he charged me across open ground a la 40K. Couldn't understand why he didn't want to play again.
    :(

  • avatarcraniac

    It's a shame that really great games like this can't be re-released with modern components.

  • avatardaveroswell  - Online Aliens game!

    I thought some of you might be interested, especially those that like solitaire play: http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/408816

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