What happens when three gamebro’s–each with their own unique and varied take–get together to give the latest Aliens game a whirl? Well, if they happen to be David W (DW), Steve T (ST) and Scott E M (SEM), they decide to have a roundtable discussion. And you, lucky readers, get to benefit:
DW: So, after almost a year of teasing and delay, Gale Force Nine have released Aliens: Another Glorious Day In The Corps, based on the second movie of the Aliens franchise. I saw the movie when it came out in 1986 and it left an indelible impression on me—enough so that when Leading Edge Games released a tie-in game three years later I snapped it up. No minis, just cardboard standees in plastic bases—this was the 80s, remember.
It was a good enough game. The Reactor Room Scenario was probably the best of the three battles in the box. Operations & Air Ducts suffered from trying to mimic the plot too much, and Ripley vs the Queen was pretty rando.
The state of the art of game design having moved on so much since then, I was very curious how designer Andrew Haught (Dr Who: Time of the Daleks, Firefly: Adventures) would handle this juicy piece of IP.
A couple of weeks ago, I got together with fellow DWP writers Steve T and Scott M via Tabletop Simulator and we gave one of the Bug Hunt Scenarios a whirl. What did you guys think?
ST: Let me start by saying that I enjoy the game, but at the same time think that Gale Force Nine missed the mark in a couple of areas. First, the rulebook is a mess. There are omissions, and there are rules in places that you don’t expect them to be, and while there is a FAQ on the website, the rules have left so many players with so many questions that the Aliens community on Board Game Geek has over 200 rules question threads. That’s not a good thing.
Whenever I see a new game, I try to decide who the intended audience for the game is. Is it for fans of the IP? Is it for heavy gamers? Is it for beginners? After having built the minis and played a couple of the scenarios that come in the base game, the intended audience is a bit of a mystery to me. They really leaned hard on the miniatures, which is usually an indication that the audience is into heavier games – most miniature war games tend to be on the complicated side. People who enjoy cutting minis off their sprues, gluing them together and possibly painting them, are deeper in the hobby than most casual gamers. But the complexity of the rules don’t measure up to what the miniatures imply. The rules, at least what the rules would be if the rulebook was complete, are not that complicated, making the game more suitable for a more casual audience. Then again, the lack of precision and thoroughness in the rulebook that actually made it into the box, requires the player to search out easily missed rules, and make interpretations and judgement calls on a level beyond what most casual players can handle.
SEM: I didn’t find the rulebook particularly rough–not great, but not terrible. I was learning from the two of you as we played, but I was able to find what I needed in the rulebook to clarify points as required. The larger issue, for me, is the errors of omission: you really have to dig to understand why you can’t have a pistol and grenades equipped simultaneously, for example, despite that being a fairly intuitive thing for the setting.
I found the same thing as Steve on the miniatures: I was excited to paint them, but they have the look and feel and construction of pieces from a miniatures game, as opposed to a game that happens to use miniatures. From 25 years of Warhammer fandom I’ve fought my way through bigger and worse-edited rules documents, so maybe the minis put me in the right mindset to not mind the weird rulebook as much? Even the lightest wargame I play (Warcry) has more rules text than Aliens: Another Glorious Day In The Corps.
DW: Definitely, more effort should have been put into cleaning up the rules. The two big questions you (ST) frame, which anyone reading this and deciding whether to buy the game or not are: (1) if you own Space Hulk do you need to buy this, and (2) if you haven’t played much in the way of tactical minis games but are a fan of the Aliens franchise do you need to buy this? I saw someone call this game “basically Zombicide with some extra bits added on”, which I thought was way off base.
ST: I’ve played Zombicide – Black Plague – only once (not a fan), but I didn’t get a Zombicide vibe from Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps at all. Perhaps Gale Force Nine just did such a good job with the Aliens trappings, that it hid the similarities. I’ve also played Space Hulk (once), and it is very clearly Aliens with the serial numbers filed off. I’m sure that is no great revelation to anyone in the hobby. If you own Space Hulk, do you need Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps? Depends. If you love Space Hulk BECAUSE it’s an Aliens board game, and you like painting minis, I’d say yes. You get a cool new game to paint, in a universe you love…and you can probably get a good price for your Space Hulk set. Of course, if you like Space Hulk just for the game that it is, you do not need to have both games in your collection.
SEM: I found Zombicide’s characters quite same-y, and never felt the urge to revisit it because of that. Aliens does a good job at immediately making the playable characters feel distinct, both with weapon affinities where appropriate, and with card draw/recycle abilities that clearly cast them as more cautious or more aggressive. One of the reasons I’m interested in revisiting Aliens is to see how more of the heroes handle, particularly some of the expansion characters (Dietrich’s ability is particularly cool).
I own the first and third editions of Space Hulk, and it’s certainly a distinct niche. The Marines in Aliens feel like nimble skirmishing infantry on a relatively open board, where Space Hulk’s Tactical Dreadnought Armour is sort of like piloting a one-man tank down a hallway that’s just barely wide enough. The Aliens Endurance deck is a standout difference for me: by abstracting energy, morale, ammo, and gear down into a single resource, it makes every decision harrowing. In Space Hulk, I’m going to keep firing that big flamethrower because all it’s costing me is flamethrower ammo. In Aliens, getting too sassy with the smartgun might be the thing that gets us all killed by running the deck too low; it’s less simulationist (which is what a miniatures game will usually reach for), but it’s very tense and thematic.
DW: Totally agree that the Endurance Deck mechanism is a great innovation and a pivotal mechanic. I owned Space Hulk for a while–I picked up the Third Edition when it came out. By the way, the minis were way easier to assemble than the Aliens ones–though a lot harder to get off the sprues as I recall. Anyway, it was a great game but a very different vibe–mainly due to it being 1v1 versus cooperative. It also felt more cramped because most of the maps were corridors and what rooms there were were tiny things–and you couldn’t move through friendlies, so you really had to plan ahead for your marching. So yes, very different games and I think you can definitely own both especially if you like tactical minis games. And painting minis.
SEM: For what it’s worth, Space Hulk minis are considerably easier to paint than the figures from Aliens–probably a function of Games Workshop’s considerable experience in miniature wargames publishing. They’re a larger scale (sometimes called “28mm heroic”), so even though they’re covered in gothic details, they’re easier to get a brush around, whereas the Colonial Marines are more like 25mm scale (commonly used for “realistic” proportions in historic wargaming), which makes the details much tricker to get right. If you want them to look like the uniforms in the film, you have to figure out two different camo patterns (the fatigues have different camo from the body armour), and if you’re me you have to figure out how to paint them faintly enough that they look like the muted costumes as they appear in the film, rather than the fairly garish patterns visible in some of the set photography. The Xenomorphs also have extremely fragile tails; most had broken off in transit to me after Steve assembled them, so I had to use a number of tools and tricks–including drilling holes in all the Alien butts–to reattach them securely. So while they’re gorgeous and highly screen-accurate pieces, and I did have a great time painting them, they’re not a particularly good place for a budding miniatures painter to get started.
Overall, then, it’s a qualified thumbs-up from our group. Andrew Haught deserves praise for an innovative system that brings a lot of flavour and fun to the table, but Gale Force Nine deserves boos for slipshod rules editing and not warning prospective buyers about the challenges of assembling the minis. We didn’t even get to the expansion content yet, and I’m especially looking forward to trying out Ripley in her power loader vs the Queen. The rules for letting a player take over the Aliens also look interesting (and remind me a bit of Root in a good way), but I’m in no rush to try them out. Just set me down on the planet and hand me a flamethrower.