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It’s Weylan, Not Weyland - Alien: Fate of the Nostromo Review

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MB Updated August 25, 2021
 
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It’s Weylan, Not Weyland - Alien: Fate of the Nostromo Review

Game Information

Publisher
Designer
Players
1 - 5
There Will Be Games

At the table, 1-5 players can hear you scream.

After being surprised and delighted by the image that greets you when you open the Alien: Fate of the Nostromo box, I found myself furrowing my brow and cluck-clucking as I looked over the components and saw “Weylan-Yutani” all over the place. I mean come on, it’s Weyland with a D. I took to social media and shook my nerd-fist in the direction of the QC department at publisher Ravensburger and also at designer Scott Rogers. Mr. Rogers responded to me almost right away, pointing out that in Alien, it is Weylan. Cameron and his people added that D along with the titular S. I was humbled, but also impressed at the attention to detail.

As I played through the first session – solo, with all five characters and the optional (but my in opinion not optional) rules that add Ash as an additional antagonist – I found myself continually delighted and thrilled by this simple ruleset with minimal components, available at a modest price from big-box retail. What’s more, as a lifelong Alien aficionado, I was doubly excited that this game completely delivered a bona fide sci-fi horror experience true to the film in such a compact package.

You’ve seen the movie, you know mostly what you’ve got to do. Survive. Kane’s Last Supper is over and the Alien is loose on the Nostromo. The remaining crew – Ripley, Dallas, Parker, Brett, and Lambert – are gathered in the Galley while Ash is over in the MedLab. You can probably guess that each of these characters has a special ability, except Dallas who apparently is just a little faster than the others. There are objective cards, because this time everyone not named Ripley has a chance to make it out alive. There’s one more available than there are characters, with each requiring the group to do tasks like take a piece of equipment to a specific room, drop off Coolant Cannisters, or meet back up in the Galley with each Crew Member carrying a piece of Scrap.

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There’s a crafting element to the game- you’ve got to gather Scrap from the ship to build Grapple Guns, Incinerators, and Cat Carriers. Ash will wander around the ship, stealing Scrap from rooms or from your characters. It can be pretty tough to get what you need built and taken to where it needs to go, and there’s always a tension between crafting what you need and building something you can use. Each item has a function, some of which are limited to two uses. Sure, the Electric Prod is three Scrap that you could trade to Brett so that he could make a 4-Scrap Incinerator with his discount…but maybe you are at the Bridge with the Alien right outside and you need that Prod like, right now.

At the end of each character’s turn, you flip an Encounter card. The Alien might move, and if it encounters a character, they lose Morale (sort of a group HP value) and have to flee three spaces. Ash might enact Order 937 and proceed to harass the humans by taking their Scrap, thus hampering the effort to craft tools. Or it may be quiet, and the primary effect is that some Scrap and a Concealed encounter token are spawned in a designated room.

The Concealed counters are revealed when a character moves into a room with one. They are either nothing, the Alien, or Jonesy. Jonesy hisses at you and you lose a morale, unless you have the Cat Carrier and catch him. If it’s the Alien, no matter where it is on the board it immediately appears there, does Morale damage, and causes the character to flee three spaces like when it moves into a space with a character. But here’s the really fun part. That fleeing move might trigger other Concealed counters, meaning that the Alien can effectively give chase. I adore this.

There’s an interesting balance built into the design of knowing where the Alien is and where it will predictably move with completely random appearances – there’s even a “Signal Lost” card that resets it all the way back to the nest deep in the bowels of the Nostromo. At first, I felt like this was a little gamey because you can effectively move the Alien out of the way by sacrificing some morale to reveal a Concealed counter but then it dawned on me that Lambert was essentially creating a distraction so that Ripley could move into the nest with an Incinerator and score a goal.

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There is also a mechanism with the motion tracker that plays off the Concealed counters that I think is fantastic. Once you build it, the character holding it can ping a Concealed counter to see what it is. If it is the Alien, it moves there automatically. So there again, you have this compelling mix of knowing exactly where it is and not having any idea where it could turn up next.

So if the Crew manages to survive and complete their objectives, this triggers a Final objective that comes from a different stack of large format cards. These task the group with a big, all-in mission to escape, neutralize the Alien, or produce a generally desirable outcome not seen in the film. By the time you get to that last mission, you better bet that your Morale tracker is going to be way low and every Encounter card flip or Concealed token reveal  gets tense.

I’m also in love with how the game creates tension over time without a “doom track” or similar device. Over the course of the game, you’ll draw Alien and Order 937 cards that cause cards with those titles to be reshuffled in the deck, but the “Quiet” cards that provide for minimal Alien movement and Scrap spawns never get reshuffled. So as the game goes on, it gets more dangerous even though there is no timer other than dwindling morale, which is never replenished or increased.

I think a common criticism is going to be that there is no elimination. But the design brief was for a co-op game without it, and to that end I think Mr. Rogers has solved for that demand brilliantly. The group morale works exceptionally well as each player has to be mindful of risk. The Alien one room over may not move this turn. But maybe the next it will, and it could be doing 3 Morale damage that time. Moving into Concealed tokens is always a chance but sometimes you’ve got to take it – Parker might be on the lower deck racing to drop off a Coolant Canister with one morale left and it seems worthwhile to take a chance – until Jonesy pops up and ends the game.

This is brilliant stuff in terms of mainstream, mass market game design and as a hobby gaming concern, it is equally magnificent. Games have been trying to capture that Alien feel going back to Awful Green Things From Outer Space and up through recent titles such as Nemesis and Lifeform. While some of those titles have been quite successful, none have been as direct and specific as this game. And there again, I keep coming back to how much this game does with relatively little.

There is a question of longevity and depth that I think deserves to brought up when talking about games like this. Ravensburger has put out quite a few very good to excellent licensed games over the past few years, but really only Jaws and Villainous have remained current in my opinion. Many of these titles have been fun and cool but have failed to maintain interest.  But this game is as good as Jaws and Villanous, and I think it has the depth, atmosphere, nuance, and quality of design to keep it fresh for years to come – even without expansions, add-ons, or the kind of cluttered, cruft content that characterizes crowdfunded games.

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And it is also a imminently accessible design- anyone can enjoy this and it plays 1-5 smoothly in an hour. The rules are easy (despite a few back-to-the-book questions) and it’s the sort of game where things just make sense. Alien enthusiasts in particular will cherish the excellent character art, details, and even the lovely vintage typography throughout the graphic design. It’s such a good looking game, and the miniatures may be the best I’ve ever seen for a game in this class.

This is a great game, indeed the best I’ve played this year to date. My kids are already getting annoyed that it’s the only board game I want to play with them and I’ve already told my D&D group for this Sunday to plan on spending the first hour playing it. Games that depict their subject matter and themes this efficiently, effortlessly, and modestly are increasingly rare these days, and Alien: Fate of the Nostromo deserves to be listed among the top titles of 2021.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
5.0
Alien: Fate of the Nostromo
A brilliant, thoughtful mass-market design that shows how much you can do with relatively little- and it’s also an amazing Alien experience.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #325240 05 Aug 2021 13:34
As I thought back when this game was announced, it sounds incredibly close to Camp Grizzly. I'm guessing that was a primary influence.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #325241 05 Aug 2021 13:36
I played this with Josh and Al, who discuss it in the It Came From the Tabletop podcast that also was published today. YES! This game is so good it is getting double coverage here.

It was so good that after playing it once, we reset and played it again immediately. We'll be buying our own copy as soon as it is released. It plays so smoothly, and the rules are so intuitive, that I know it will get pulled out played often. As you say, Scott Rogers does so much and builds so much excitement and tension with so little.

Just fantastic.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #325242 05 Aug 2021 13:36
With all the pre-release complaining about this game, I went into this expecting negativity.

Glad it was a good experience for you!
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #325243 05 Aug 2021 13:43

charlest wrote: As I thought back when this game was announced, it sounds incredibly close to Camp Grizzly. I'm guessing that was a primary influence.


Yes, it does feel a bit like Camp Grizzly. I wouldn't be surprised if Camp Grizzly was a primary influence.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #325244 05 Aug 2021 13:53
A surprisingly pleasant outcome! I must say this game didn't sound very appealing when I first heard of it. I'll have to find a Target. There are none in my city.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #325245 05 Aug 2021 14:36
Ravensburger keeps getting it done right, I guess. My first reaction to this, as it is with all co-ops, was to sigh in frustration, as I'm just not a fan of that type of game. But the description sounds cool and one serious upside is that, as Iain was also talking about today, this is a widely available title that can be sitting on the shelf in your average big box store. It's not like Nemesis, where you had to be in on the Kickstarter or be willing to pay 3x the price on Ebay. It's just a walk in and buy it (or have Target ship it to you, Hotseat.)

As an undying fan of the first film (and Ridley Scott's early work; when do we get a thoughtful Blade Runner game?), I just might consider picking this up. Thanks for the thorough review.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #325246 05 Aug 2021 14:58
Inhuman Conditions looks like an interesting “Blade Runner” game.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #325247 05 Aug 2021 15:21
Hard pass for me, due to the lack of character elimination. I am big fan of board games with a horror theme, and Alien remains one of the all-time greatest horror movies, plus I love Camp Grizzly. So this game should be an auto-buy for me, but I utterly despise this feeble morale damage mechanic. This game is based directly on a movie where characters got killed (and worse), but the close theming is a complete failure because there is zero chance of actually emulating the story told in the movie. No, in this lame version, attacks by a vicious monster are merely discouraging, like rain on your wedding day. This weak sauce design is aimed at a generation of overly sensitive BGG forumites who wouldn't recognize real horror if it ate their faces. Also, while the traitor mechanic has been overused in the last decade, it would have been a better choice for this game than treating Ash like the Robber of Catan. I don't care about the minis, but I do like the visual design of the rest of the components.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #325248 05 Aug 2021 16:55
While I think you (Shellhead) make sound arguments, I am just all secret-traitored out at this point. It's been closer to 20 years.

And yeah, the game could have used some good old fashioned elimination. But I don't see that as a showstopper. Putting other people's fate in your hands adds an element that I think is worthwhile. You can't just commit suicide to mess with the game in this one, and that's a reasonable element in a full co-op.

What would be a showstopper is that I have three or four unplayed games picked up over the last 18 months and I shouldn't buy this. But I have a Target gift card, and I'm only human.
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #325250 05 Aug 2021 17:43
Is this better than the RPG?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #325251 05 Aug 2021 17:48
I think you’d be surprised at how well this works and how much Alien is in the game, Shell, if you’d let go of some hardline dogma there. There’s nothing “weak” or “feeble” about it. It abstracts horrible deaths to make this game work doe it’s intended audience. The feeling of being hunted and characters being attacked while off in the bowels of the ship is 100% there. But, it is also not a simulation of the Alien film, nor is it intended to be. Parker lives...maybe.

I used to feel differently about player elimination but now I’m of the opinion that it is a very kind of gatekeepery, “git gud” mentality. Don’t care if the setting or subject matter suggests it as an assumed necessity. If the family sits down to play the game they bought at Target and one kid is eliminated in the first 10 minutes because THATS HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE LOSER...that’s not fun for anyone but the kind of smug asshole that sits there and insists that the game continues even though participants have been cut out of it.

The design brief was for a co-op game with no elimination. This is 100% appropriate for the audience this game is directed at, and it makes the game accessible and fun for everyone. This is not a fault or some kind of weird pandering to forums. Ash works absolutely fine automated and representing a secondary threat, not someone working against the group.

I get your grievances and understand where you are coming from but at the same time there’s that aire or “why isn’t this game made for me” about them. If you want an Alien game with brutal, direct player elimination, viscerally specific horror; betrayal, and all that...the Alien RPG totally has you covered.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #325252 05 Aug 2021 17:50
Totally different audience, approach, and level of commitment. This is a 45-60 board game with easy rules, accessible and inexpensive. The RPG is much more intense, very RP-heavy, has characters working at cross purposes, and isn’t limited to the Nostromo. Both are great.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #325254 05 Aug 2021 18:06
I said "character elimination," not "player elimination." I mean, yeah, I think that the best horror board games have player elimination, but I realize that is too hardcore for soft, pampered modern board gamers. Character elimination would reduce the crew and force the player of the eliminated character to switch to playing a non-deceased character, and there could still be player elimination near the end of the game if the number of living characters drops below the number of players.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #325255 05 Aug 2021 18:10
Fundamentally, this is a mismatch of theme and mechanics, though it might have been more tolerable in a game that wasn't modeled so directly on the movie. If the characters aren't facing death or at least infestation at the hands of the xenomorph, it makes them seem more like ordinary racists. Perhaps they are worried that the property value of the Nostromo will decline now that it has been defiled by the unclean hands of an unfamiliar life form.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #325256 05 Aug 2021 18:43
Ummmm...OK, not sure I follow what you are trying to say there.

but I realize that is too hardcore for soft, pampered modern board gamers.

Love ya bro, but this attitude sucks. There is nothing soft or pampered about wanting to stay in a game nor is it somehow more hardcore to have the iron will to be able to emotionally withstand elimination. With player elimination, this game goes nowhere and doesn’t reach an audience. It alienates rather than invites. But I guess that’s the theme, eh?

Look, if you want a $30 Alien board game that looks incredible, get this and just ignore the Morale track. If the Xeno catches somebody out, just eliminate the character. Use the gear to avoid the life loss and chase it away. Make Jonesy just an objective. Games will last about 20 minutes and it’ll be HARDCORE, following on what happens in the movie except Ripley dies too.

Something I think you don’t get here is this an alternate story- Kane has just popped, the Alien burned through the floor, and has nested. The crew have a shot at survival, nobody’s dead yet. After a few encounters they lose morale and thus hope. They all die off camera, essentially.
themothman421's Avatar
themothman421 replied the topic: #325257 05 Aug 2021 19:18
Just picked this up at Target, will be diving in with 3, possibly 4, players tomorrow. $30 for a game of this caliber is a goddamn steal.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #325258 05 Aug 2021 19:38
Interesting. Have you played 'Nemesis' by any chance? I ask cos I played it thrice and was thoroughly bored by halfway through my second play. I adore the original film and it'd be interesting to see how a much more compact affair treats the subject matter. If it's more 'Alien' than 'Aliens' in terms of tension and encounters then that's already a big win. Does this offer much autonomous agency for each player, or does the co-op impose a more of a 'turn by committee' feel?
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #325264 05 Aug 2021 23:05
Nemesis, to me, is very much Prometheus as opposed to Aliens. I enjoy it very much but would like to try this new game.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #325265 05 Aug 2021 23:54

Michael Barnes wrote: If the family sits down to play the game they bought at Target and one kid is eliminated in the first 10 minutes because THATS HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE LOSER...that’s not fun for anyone but the kind of smug asshole that sits there and insists that the game continues even though participants have been cut out of it.


This has always been among my arguments against the "greatness" of Dungeonquest.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #325266 05 Aug 2021 23:58

Andi Lennon wrote: Interesting. Have you played 'Nemesis' by any chance? I ask cos I played it thrice and was thoroughly bored by halfway through my second play. I adore the original film and it'd be interesting to see how a much more compact affair treats the subject matter. If it's more 'Alien' than 'Aliens' in terms of tension and encounters then that's already a big win. Does this offer much autonomous agency for each player, or does the co-op impose a more of a 'turn by committee' feel?


Whoah there. Nemesis is fucking awesome. One of the best emergent narrative games in recent years.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #325270 06 Aug 2021 01:14
Nemesis was fun at first but devolved into what felt a lot like busywork. Our narratives 'emerged' from yet another outbreak of fire, exasperated by the plod that cut the tension. The hidden agendas were cool but so often the obvious moves felt forced by necessity and not the result of an interesting decision space . I really wanted to love it.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #325274 06 Aug 2021 07:52

Michael Barnes wrote: I used to feel differently about player elimination but now I’m of the opinion that it is a very kind of gatekeepery, “git gud” mentality. Don’t care if the setting or subject matter suggests it as an assumed necessity.

Oh c'mon. What is not considered gatekeeping at this point? It's one of the most overused terms in gaming. Nobody is arguing for games where people are eliminated 10 minutes in so they can gloat at them like a bad sitcom villain. Nobody.

I agree with Shellhead on two counts. First, I absolute agree that death is a vital part of Alien. Having characters die "off camera" or become "demoralized" does diminish the horror of the story. Second, I agree that the push to avoid negative player experiences and pamper players regardless of the consequences has resulted in games with dulled emotional, mechanical and artistic edges. The rise of meaningless, multiplayer solitaire games where everyone ends up at two points from each other is a great example of it.

After all, you don't need to have the nasty sort of elimination where it stops being fun. Lately I've been playing Knizia's The Lord of the Rings which you consider a thematic masterpiece. And one of the reasons it is highly thematic is that it features player elimination. It's one of the most important drivers of the theme of sacrifice that permeates the novel. I can't see why Alien can't have something similar.

Above all, I think we can discuss game mechanics without accussing others of wanting to keep others from enjoying the hobby.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #325275 06 Aug 2021 08:15
Nobody is saying that Erik. And I’m not saying elimination can’t be a feature in a game- there are definitely valid artistic and thematic reasons for it. But not in a $30 mass market game with a big IP. The audience this game is reaching is not a player elimination audience.

LOTR is a great argument for player elimination, absolutely. Sacrifice is part of the theme, and player -making that decision- can exit the game and feel satisfied and still very much invested in the outcome- was it worth it?

And yeah I do think the attitude that a game like this - again, a mainstream release- can’t be successful without a more “hardcore” element like elimination has a gatekeeping tone, as does the notion that folks playing games today are somehow “softer” than they once were.

Specifically back to Alien...if you’ve not played the game and analyzed how the morale track works in conjunction with the Alien movement, the card mix, and other function then honestly I’ve got to say you don’t know what you are talking about as to whether or not this game succeeds at creating tension, terror, and drama. Because it absolutely does and it is to the designer’s credit that it accomplishes this without having to have this “essential” elemental of player elimination. The themes and atmospheres of Alien are all there. It was 100% the correct design choice to do this game with a group morale rather than as a player elimination thing...this is one of those issues where personal expectations of adaptation don’t seem to be matching up with audience focus or the parameters of the medium.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #325277 06 Aug 2021 09:35
I think that's frequently the case when IPs get involved. To Shellhead, Alien is a horror film and part of what makes it a horror film is that people were killed by the alien. Incidentally, ALL of the deaths in the film but Kane's happened partially or completely off-screen. The most horrific of them was Dallas, since he disappeared into dark tunnels with a lot of tension built before we finally just saw the alien next to him and then silence on the radio. So, yes, in the film there was "player elimination", but I'd argue that the fact that people were killed wasn't the essential part of the horror. It was the encroaching dread that they were helpless against this thing, no matter how they tried to stop it. That's what the game seems to be trying to replicate (and succeeding, by everyone's account on this site so far.) Using group morale as a representation of that dread seems to be a good way to keep everyone at the table involved and still keep a tense situation that everyone can revel in for the game's duration, no matter how close they get to the titular creature.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #325278 06 Aug 2021 09:55
Normally I don’t like digitally reworking movies, but the Weylan/Weyland thing seems like a good exception.