After Axis & Allies turned me and my squad of High School nerds into Yahtzee armchair generals, another major cultural juggernaut soon came down the pike to stake a claim on our free time.
In 1987, we all saw the movie Aliens together at our local theater. It was the headliner in a double-bill with Near Dark, which, in retrospect, was a pretty cool tie-in since both films featured Bill "Hudson" Paxton, Lance "Bishop" Henriksen and Jenette "Vasquez" Goldstein. And while Kathryn Bigelow's southern fried vampire flick was one of the best of its genre, we all hailed Aliens as a modern-day sci-fi /horror / action masterpiece.
One member of our group of gaming misfits, Stuart, always seemed to have the 80's equivalent of the BGG "Hotness" list on hand. In addition to Axis & Allies, he also owned two other Milton Bradley "Gamemaster" titles, namely Fortress America and Shogun (now Ikusa), as well as Supremacy and HeroQuest. Of course, this was back in the day, when only twenty notable games were released per year as opposed to per month.
So, you can well-imagine our collective excitement when Stuart invited all of us over one Friday night and we saw this sucka on the table:
I'm not sure how a wee l'il game publisher like Leading Edge managed to snag such a lucrative licence at the time, but these guys really took the ball and ran with it. And even though the matching RPG they produced was pretty unmemorable, we all had an absolute blast with the board game.
Here's the game's blurb from the back of the boit:
And here's an old play-through of the game that I stumbled across recently:
Aliens - Reactor Room
There are no "Bonus Bugs” (which are added to the placement pool whenever you roll doubles) but five Aliens enter the pool, arriving at co-ordinates 1-9, 3-4, 3-5, 7–7 (which jumps on Drake!) and finally 8–8. Drake attempts to snap-fire his Machine Gun. He needs anywhere from a "0" to a "2" to hit but rolls a “4”! The Alien attacks Drake with roll of “3”, so he’s both “Wounded” and “Grabbed.” Yikes!
Apone moves one space and tries to knock the Alien off of Drake. He needs a "0" or a "1" to hit but rolls a “2”! He tries again and rolls another “2” - no luck!
Vasquez performs a double aim...she needs a “7” or less to hit the lead Alien to the north, which is five columns away. She rolls a “2” which hits and kills her target!
The currently “Grabbed” Drake can’t do anything and Frost moves up two spaces.
Crowe takes a pot-shot with his Pistol at the Alien approaching Wierzbowski from the south. It's three spaces away, so he needs to roll a long shot "0" and the resulting “3” is a miss! He then moves up one more space.
Dietrich moves up one space and then tries to melee the Alien on Drake. She needs a “0” but rolls a “3”, a miss!
Wierzbowski double-aims his flame unit at the Alien bounding towards him from the south. He needs a “9” or less and rolls a “0”, success!
Hicks moves up three spaces and Hudson moves up two.
Aliens appear at 1-5 and 6-5. The Xenomorphs lurking by the stairwell and in the corner close in, while the one on Drake drags him off!
Apone moves up one space, and then double-aims his Flame Unit at an Alien approaching from the west. He needs a “9” or less to hit and gets a “2” - that critter is TOAST!
Vasquez double aims at the wave of Aliens approaching from the rear and fires! She needs an “8” to hit and rolls a “1” - success!
Frost moves up two spaces, Crowe maneuvers two spaces next to Apone and both Dietrich and Wierzbowski also move up two spaces.
Hicks moves two squares to flank Vasquez, then fires at the Alien in the stairwell. He needs to roll anywhere from a "0" to a "2" and scores a “2” which pastes his target!
Hudson then hustles up two spaces.
Again, there are no “Bonus Bugs”, but the lone Alien approaching from the north moves up and new Xeno’s appear at co-ordinates 7-2, 9-8 and 3-2.
Apone blazes ahead three spaces.
Vasquez takes a single aim action at the northern Alien, which is only two spaces away. She needs a “6” or less and rolls or “2”, which is a hit! She then moves up a single space.
Frost moves two spaces and flanks Apone, while Crowe moves up two spaces to trail the Sergeant. Dietrich moves two spaces, just behind Crowe. Wierzbowski also moves two spaces, squeezing in between Dietrich and Vazquez.
Hicks moves two spaces and shoots at a nearly-concealed Alien, requiring a die roll range from "0" to "2" to hit. He throws a “0”...success!
Hudson maintains formation, moving up two spaces.
Two Aliens in the western part of the room move four spaces towards the Marines. Mercifully, no “Bonus Bugs” appear, but new Xenomorphs pop up at 3-5, 5-2 and 8-5.
Apone double-aims his flame unit at an Alien that’s three spaces away. He needs “9” or less to hit and scores a “0”...resulting in a BBQ'ed Xeno!
Vazquez double aims at the stairwell Alien, which is four spaces away. She needs an “8” and scores a “5”, which mulches her target!
Frost double-aims his Pistol at an Alien two spaces away to the south. He needs to roll anywhere between a “0” and “6” but he misses with a “7”!
Crowe, Dietrich and Wierzbowski all keep pace, moving two spaces.
Hicks also moves up two and single-aims at the Alien menacing Frost. His target is three spaces away, so he needs a "2" or less...and gets a “2”, scoring a hit! Unfortunately, there’s a chance that Frost or Crowe might get caught in the resulting Acid Splash! They roll a “2” and an “8” respectively, which means Frost is Wounded!
Hudson move two spaces and then Hudson catches up to the pack by moving two spaces.
The Aliens rush the Marines! One bug, lurking behind the pillar, is exactly three spaces away from both Apone and Crowe, so a random roll sends it charging at Crowe. The Private tries to perform a double-aim snap fire at his assailant. He needs “6” or less and rolls “4”...a hit! The resulting Acid Spray rolls are: “6” for Apone, “8” for Crowe, “4” for Dietrich and “7” for Frost, so, by some miracle, no one is affected.
The one Alien in the west side of the room charges towards Apone and Crowe, while new bugs appear at coordinates 3-9 and 3-8.
The Sergeant fires a flame burst at this encroaching western threat and then moves two spaces. He takes a single aim action, which means he needs to roll anywhere between a "0" and an "8." He rolls a “0” which is a hit!
Vasquez and Frost both move two spaces and Crowe nestles in between Apone and Frost. Dietrich then shifts up two spaces, clustering in with the rest, along with Wierzbowski. Hicks moves up three spaces and Hudson closes up ranks, trailing two spaces behind Vazquez.
The Aliens nipping at the Marine’s heels move up, leaving one standing right next to Vazquez. New bugs then appear at 6-1 and 1-4.
Apone charges ahead two spaces.
Vasquez fires point-blank at the Alien about to pounce on her. She needs an “8” or less to hit...and an “8” is exactly what she rolls! Her Acid Spray roll is “6”, so she’s fine. She then pivots to fire at an Alien that’s three spaces away. She needs a range of "0" to "3" to hit and scores a “2”...success!
This gives Frost, Crowe, Dietrich, Wierzbowski and Hudson the freedom to move two spaces towards their exit point.
In a characteristically-heroic move, Hicks holds back to help Vasquez cover the rear.
The Aliens in the north and the west section of the room all converge on our heroes. Although no bonus bugs appear, new Xeno’s pop up at 6-1, 4-0 and 4-0.
Apone fires his flame thrower at the Alien reaching out to grab him! He needs an “8” or less and scores a “6” - a hit! He then moves up one space and fires a burst at a target four spaces away. He needs anywhere from a “0” to a “4” and rolls a “2” for another hit! He's literally a house on fire!
Both Vazquez and Frost hustle up two spaces. Crowe also moves up two, now leading Apone and Frost.
Dietrich double-aims at an Alien that’s three spaces away. She needs to roll anywhere between a "0" and an "8" to hit, throws a “2” and fries her target.
Wierzbowski leap-frogs past her. Hudson moves up two behind Dietrich while Hicks moves up three spaces.
Two Aliens loitering by the exit move up, leaving one close enough to give Crowe a not-so-friendly hug! New bugs appear at 3-9 and 1-9...both charging in from the rear.
Apone shifts up one space and flames the closest Alien. He needs an “8” or less and rolls “0” which is a hit! He then targets an Alien that’s two spaces away. He needs a “6” or less for this shot and scores a “1” for another kill! #MVP
Lagging behind, Vazquez moves up two spaces and so does Frost. Ditto for Crowe, who now leads the pack. Dietrich pulls in behind Apone while Wierzbowski closes up ranks with Frost, Apone and Dietrich. Hicks then scrambles three spaces and Hudson moves up 2.
The Aliens congregating in the east corner of the room move up. The closest is seven spaces away from Vasquez, so the Marines have a temporary reprieve, but new Xenomorphs also appear at locations 9-6 and 9-8.
Apone surges ahead three spaces and Vasquez moves up two. Frost pulls up next to Apone while Crowe jumps ahead of the pack. Still playing catch up, Dietrich moves into the middle of the group. Wierzbowski jumps in between Frost and Dietrich, while Hudson moves up to trail the medic.
Knowing that Vasquez is in danger of being overrun from the rear, Hicks comes to a screeching halt to guard her.
Four Aliens move, the closet now just three spaces away from Vasquez. New bugs appear at 2-3, 2-1 and 4-6 but at least there are no "Bonus Bugs"!
Apone shifts one space, close to the 2-3 Alien and takes a double aim action. He needs a "9" or less to hit and roll a “6” - smoked ‘em!
Vasquez backs two spaces away from the slavering horde. After moving, Frost is two spaces away from the exit, Crowe one, Dietrich four, Wierzbowski three and Hudson is just behind Dietrich.
Exhibiting nerves of steel, Hicks holds the line to guard his escaping comrades.
The Alien wave rushes towards the back ranks! New Xenomorphs appear at 5-4, right in front of Vazquez, and 7-9, waaaay behind the pack.
Apone also holds up, intending to cover his platoon’s escape.
Vazquez then uses her Machine Gun’s special ability to target two Aliens adjacent to one another. This is hella-risky because they’re both standing right next to her! She needs an “8” or lower to hit and she throws an “8”...success! Her first acid splash roll is “7”, which is a miss, but her second is “0”...which means that she’s killed outright! Yikes! Even worse: the adjacent Hicks also rolls a “0” and he's also killed! Double-yikes!
Frost and Crowe both escape the board, but Dietrich is still two spaces away from the exit. Wierzbowski is one space away from deliverance and Hudson is three away.
The Alien pack is now nipping at Hudson’s heels! New bugs also appear at 4-5 and 2-0.
Apone needs anywhere from a “0” to a “4” to flame the new arrival dropping into 2-0. He rolls a “1”, turns his foe into a briquette and then moves two spaces towards the exit. Both Dietrich and Wierzbowski leave the map, while Hudson retreats two spaces.
The Alien swarm bounds forward and one tries to hop on top of Hudson! He snap-fires with his Pistol, needing a “6” or lower and rolls a “0”, which is a hit! His Acid Splash roll is “7”, so he’s safe! A new bug then appears at 2-1.
Apone quickly scrambles off the board and Hudson is right behind him, which ends the scenario!
Here's my Board Game Geek-list observations about this one from waaaay back in 2007:
"My love affair with licenced games continued when a buddy of mine introduced our gaming circle to this beauty. I can't think of too many games that do such a fantastic job replicating the action of the movie it’s based on. This game also taught me that board games can devalue due to poor quality components or appreciate because they've suddenly gone out of print. As soon as I heard about E-Bay years later, this baby had to be mine!"
And here's the breakdown:
- The action point system makes everything super simple, allowing you to move, fire and aim with ease! Whereas Another Glorious Day in the Corps uses a complicated deck depletion system (oddly reminiscent of another defunct game, Decipher's clunky Star Wars Customizible Card Game), Aliens just uses those lovely, elegant little action points.
- The unique combat charts (flipped to a reduced side for Wounded characters) nicely distinguished the top-billed characters from the grunts.
- The A.I. used to run the Aliens is foolproof. Their movement is fixed, their attacks are resolved with one die throw and you have a round to knock them off your squad-mates before they get abducted.
- Acid spray! It's baffling to me that such an important combat risk in the movie is virtually non-existent in Another Glorious Day in the Corps. Here it's simulated elegantly and simply here.
- Co-operation is key. Not unlike Space Hulk, the odds are really against the Marines. If they don't co-operate or foolishly fritter their actions away, they're going to get decimated.
- Just enough crazy random stuff happens to simulate the chaos of the film. I mean, look at this play-through for example! With Drake, Hicks and Vasquez all eliminated, it makes me wonder how the rest of the scenarios would play out with minor characters thrust into the forefront! P.S. my money's on Apone!
- To that last point, the Expansion lets you play out an alternate history of the entire film, from the attack on Ferro and Spunkmeyer on the dropship right up to Ripley's Power Loader battle with the Alien Queen. Bonus: just like every set piece of the film, each scenario feels distinctively different.
- The rules aren't perfect, which led to some great, fan-designed articles in Avalon Hill's sadly now defunct General magazine and various online resources. Various fixes include imposing aim penalties on characters carrying Incapacitated Marines, introducing the ability to snap-fire at Aliens when they're about to pounce on characters, improving the practicality of Pistols, scaling down the insanely-lethal blast radius of Grenades and giving Ripley the opportunity to come to the rescue in the Reactor Room Scenario.
- At a single glance, you can tell that the game was produced in an era waaaay before companies like Gale Force Nine, Fantasy Flight and Days of Wonder turned the hobby into a visual delight for the eyes. The production quality here is rock bottom, with bland, monochromatic rule books, easily-worn paper maps and crappy punch out character cards and stand ups! Sadly this sucka is not built to last!
"Awesome movie tie-in nicely replicates the frantic action of the film. Easy to play, with just enough chrome and the expansion allows you to recreate the entire story. The co-operative gameplay is well-realized. One of my all-time faves!"