In space, no one can hear Ridley Scotts IP lawyers scream.
I first saw Nemesis at GMT East back in the spring. I hadn't heard of it and it sort of disappeared off my radar. Being a Kickstarter game, I figured it would disappear like so many other Kickstarter games. I think they only shipped the base game back then. Fast forward to this fall and the next wave starts shipping along with a lot of bonus content and I start hearing more about it. By this time however copies are scarce. So I mention it to a local opponent who is much more attuned to Kickstarter and he mentions seeing a copy in a local store. So I go over and snag it; by this time it isn't available online anywhere other than rapidly rising secondary market sellers. From what I gather a new printing is possible but nothing definitive. Yes I failed my FOMO check but so far I have no regrets.
Nemesis is basically ALIENS the board game. The premise is that the crew wakes up in the hibernation room in the center of the ship and other than knowing that the engines are in the back and the cockpit is in the front, don't know where anything else is.
The game can be played in either co-op mode with public goals, or semi co-op, with each player having two secret objectives, one of which must be chosen upon the first alien being discovered. The objectives range from somewhat benign (escape the ship with 7 items) to ....less benign, such as be the only survivor, or transport an alien egg back to Earth. The Paul Reiser objective so to speak. It supports 1-5 players. Player count scaling is achieved via number of aliens as well as each player adding another objective in full co-op mode.
Each turn is divided up into rounds, where each character takes two Actions, or one Action/Pass, or pass. Once you pass you are done for the turn, so you can't pass and stall. Actions are the usual move, shoot, search etc. Cost varies from zero to three points, being paid in the form of hand discards. Each character deck has a number of common cards, then each character has several cards unique to that character based on their special abilities. For instance the Soldier can discard a special card to avoid a surprise alien attack. The Scout can move without making a noise check. While not a deck builder, there is the chance you'll have Contamination cards clogging up your deck, which are useless and must be removed by going to certain rooms and scanning them; pray you don't have an Infected card (which is only revealed by passing the card through a scanner, a sleeve with a red filter, pretty cool) .
The tension throughout is very well done. Every time you move, you can either spend two cards and move quietly, or move "fast" and spend only one card and make a Noise check. If you move into a room that already has a character, no Noise roll is made. Nice touch as it represents the first one checking things out/covering for the next person. There is also a press your luck element in that while using all your cards allows more actions, passing with cards in hand decreases the chance of an alien getting a first strike on you when they appear. The reveal of the rooms amps up the tension until the Nest is discovered.
As you might imagine, Noise brings the increased chance of the aliens showing up. Even if you move quietly, after the action phase there is an Event phase where your characters might have to make another noise check or if you're in the Nest, the alien Queen could appear.
At the start of the game the contents of the rooms other than the engines and cockpit are unknown. Each space has a face down tile with an Exploration token on top. You flip over the tile to see which room it is (Armory, Lab, etc or the dreaded alien Nest). The Exploration token tells how many possible items there are as well as other special conditions - additional noise, Malfunction ( meaning the rooms special function won't work til repaired ), alien slime. Items can be searched for, costing actions and there are a very finite amount available. In a game with a lot of players, this can create the need to spread out as rooms get picked clean.
As play progresses and aliens start popping up, you'll either need to kill them or get the hell out of there. In the latter case, moving out of a room with an Alien triggers a possible attack. If you have the right action card, you can move out without an attack. Some characters have a Covering Fire ability to get both characters out this way. There are several levels of aliens, ranging from eggs to adults to the great evil Queen herself. The smaller ones are easy to kill, the larger ones take a fair bit of punishment. Sometimes they'll stand their ground, other times they'll retreat into the ventilation ducts - and heal any damage they have. Characters all start with some sort of weapon and can find more in rooms; many need ammunition however and that needs to be scavenged. Items can also be combined into things like Flamethrowers and Molotov cocktails. You can also discover weaknesses by transporting carcasses to a lab.
I've only played it in solo and 2 player co op mode so far but am really impressed from what I've seen. I think its best to start in full co-op mode to get the mechanics down and then progress to semi co-op with the secret individual objectives. The rules are fairly well written and I found them easy to explain to a new player and get started within a shirt amount of time.
As you can probably tell from what I've written, I really like the game. The tension is palpable throughout the game, I could hear the soft beeping of Hudson't tracker as we explored the ship and then the heavy blaster fire from Vasquez once combat started. The game mechanics place tough decision making on players with no easy choices in many cases. I could see some groups getting frustrated in that sometimes no matter how careful you are, bad stuff can happen in the blink of an eye - a player could be perfectly healthy at the start of a turn and wind up dead after becoming infested with a Larva and the wrong event card being drawn. But if it were too easy I think hard core groups would become bored, so I am fine with this aspect.
The production quality is top notch, the models are finely detailed and the player aids and other components are excellent. The custom inserts provided are some of the better ones I've seen. The replay factor for this is pretty high. Even if you are using just the base game, between the double sided board (the back side has a more difficult layout that takes more time to explore), six different characters, both full co-op and semi co-op modes as well as a number of different possible objectives there is a lot to explore. Add in the fact that the room layout is random and not all rooms come into play each game and you'll be assured of a lot of plays before it repeats itself. If you can track down expansion content, there are another six characters (which all play much differently than the base game ), new races of aliens that slowly drive you insane, a shuttle mapboard and more different game modes.
There is a downside to all this goodness however. As of this writing, the game is not only expensive at regular MSRP (about $140 for the base game) but pretty much sold out currently. It is difficult to ascertain the status of any reprint in the near future. On the secondary market prices are already getting crazy. If this review has piqued your interest, keep your scanner going, you may be able to still find a copy in a store or perhaps a copy will pop up again in the future.