I recently came across a mention of the cooperative boardgame Alien: Fate of the Nostromo; it sounded interesting, so even though I have about half a dozen other boardgames that I haven’t played yet, I bought this one.
It’s set on the spaceship Nostromo during the first Alien movie, but you don’t need to know much of anything about the movie to play and enjoy the game, other than that there’s an alien stalking the ship.
One might expect this to be a horror game, but it turns out not to be especially scary. I would say it’s kind of Alien Lite—for example, no crew members die during the game. Instead, when any crew member encounters the Alien, the group loses morale points (and the crew member has to run away); if you run out of morale points before achieving your objectives, you collectively lose the game.
(I gather that the game’s designer originally framed that mechanism as being a fear meter, with the group gaining fear points over time (and if you get too many, you lose), but that the publisher (Ravensburger) changed it to losing morale points instead. It’s effectively the same mechanism either way.)
Most of the action of the game consists of moving around the ship, acquiring “scrap” tokens, crafting various useful devices using the scrap, and using those devices to evade the Alien or reduce the impact of encountering it. Then you take the devices to various specified locations to achieve the objectives.
(If you have n players, there are n+1 randomly chosen objective cards that you can see from the beginning of the game; you have to fulfill all of those objectives in order to move on to the “Final Mission” phase of the game, in which a randomly chosen extra-hard objective is added. So each time you play, the goals are somewhat different.)
Some of the game mechanics have some similarities to Pandemic, though they aren’t exactly the same as Pandemic. (Most of the things I’m thinking of are also somewhat similar to some other coop games; but a couple of them feel particularly Pandemic-ish to me.) For example: each of the five crew members has a special ability; each turn consists of a crew member taking four actions (usually) and then drawing a card from the bad-stuff-happens deck; over time, the worst cards get shuffled back into said deck, so the worst stuff gets concentrated, making things harder as time goes on.
I won very easily in a practice solo game, but it turned out that that was partly due to luck—I drew few if any of the worst cards, and I managed to quickly and easily craft a couple of items that made it nearly impossible for the alien to catch me.
Our three-person game on Sunday (masked, outdoors, distanced) was significantly harder—more objectives to accomplish, a couple of situations where multiple characters had to be in specified places at the same time (requiring some coordination), and worse luck with the worst cards than I had had in my solo game. But we still won without too much difficulty.
The rules include a harder mode in which the character Ash (from the movie) wanders around the ship stealing scrap from the players, but I gather that’s more an annoyance than a really difficult version. The game designer has also published a super-hard “Director’s Cut” variant ruleset on BoardGameGeek; that variant looks to me to be harder than I would want to play.
Speaking of BGG, there’s a very useful FAQ there—the rules that come in the box are mostly reasonably clear, but there are several important situations and issues that the rules don’t cover, or don’t cover well. The FAQ helps a lot with that.
Overall, I would say the game is an enjoyable and relatively lightweight cooperative game for up to 5 players. (Apparently it gets much harder as the player count goes up.) Pretty easy to learn (especially for players familiar with other coop games), and gameplay flows smoothly and quickly. Fans of the original movie and/or of horror games might be disappointed at the lack of gore and scariness, but I was happy with that lack.
Oh, and Jonesy the cat can also appear in the game, though he didn’t show up either of the two times I’ve played.
…Now I just need to get around to playing all those other unplayed games before more games arrive…