In theory, Alien: Fate of the Nostromo shouldn't work. The 1979 movie it's based on excels because none of the characters are safe - to quote science officer Ash, its crew is "expendable". And boy, do you know it. However, that doesn't make for a very satisfying tabletop experience. If players were bumped off early in the Alien board game, they'd be left twiddling their thumbs while everyone else had fun without them.
That's why Alien: Fate of the Nostromo is so clever. Rather than murdering its cast if they're unfortunate enough to stumble across the xenomorph, it comes up with other ways to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. OK, so the Alien board game can't match its inspiration's terror. But it's still an excellent board game for adults if you can gather enough willing victims to play with and is an equally great choice if you're hunting down good Halloween board games.
What is it, and how does it work?
Price: $29.99 / £29.99
Game type: Co-op strategy
Players: 1 - 5
Lasts: 60 mins
As you'd expect, the Alien board game is out to get you. Recreating the Nostromo starfreighter in all its '70s glory (complete with fuzzy CRT-style distortion), it puts the xenomorph at one end and you at another. Each player is then given a random objective that they've got to complete before moving on to a secret, final mission. Finish it and everyone's in the clear.
It sounds simple, but the reality isn't so straightforward. Besides forcing you to explore the ship in search of resources, everyone draws an Encounter card at the end of their turn. This dictates how far the xenomorph moves each round and how much damage is done if it catches you.
Well, I say damage. While your character won't die if the xenomorph ambushes them, things still go off the rails in a big way. As well as instantly ending your turn, the alien forces your character to run away before reducing crew morale (which is understandable, considering the fact that it's trying to murder people). Lose too much morale and it's game over.
Face-down encounter tokens that pop up as you progress through the game add salt to the wound. Players have to flip these as soon as they enter a room harbouring one, and although many are blank, some feature a surprise alien attack. This injects a sense of trepidation every time you cross a threshold, particularly because those tokens will always be accompanied by the resources you need to complete an objective.
Luckily, each character has a special action that can help swing the odds back in your favor (even if temporarily). Ranging from bonus turns to an ability that lets you check - and remove - the next Encounter card, they introduce strategies that make things a whole lot more interesting.
Craftable items help too. Some might reduce morale loss, others force the alien back to its nest if it gets too close, and yet more can let you flip tokens before you get to a room. However, many have limited uses and might need to be saved to win a mission.
No matter what happens, you'll have to watch out for Ash. The android acts as this game's optional 'hard mode', and it will lurch around scooping up resources you desperately need if you decide to want an extra challenge.
Is it any good?
I was disappointed when I tried Alien: Fate of the Nostromo at first. Having tackled it by myself and as a board game for 2 players, it felt too easy. We managed to evade the xenomorph's clutches and complete our objectives without any fuss, and - considering how it features one of cinema's scariest villains - that was deflating.
Then I tried it with more players.
Let's not mince words: Alien is at its best when you're exploring the Nostromo with four or five people. Besides giving you more objectives to juggle, the xenomorph becomes a far greater threat as a result. It's a simple numbers game; there are more of you scattered across the ship, so the odds of it cornering someone shoot up dramatically. Because that leads to you hemorrhaging morale (particularly if you've got no choice but to pass by the alien's space in order to finish your mission), caution becomes essential.
That's when Fate of the Nostromo really starts to feel like an Alien board game. Escape routes are cut off, areas become off-limits thanks to the prowling xenomorph, and rooms begin filling up with encounter tokens that might sick the creature on you. That forces players to constantly reassess their battle-plan, so good communicating and forward-thinking become the difference between winning and being turned into a xeno-snack.
It's where crew member abilities excel, too. The fierce odds make a well-executed turn more gratifying, and timing your special actions just right can feel like snatching a precious second chance from the jaws of defeat. Blend in decisions about which objectives to prioritize when resources are scarce and you're left with an experience laced with tension.
Adding Ash only adds to that creeping dread. Indeed, it's a necessity. Even though the android is only advised if you want to try the game at its hardest, I found it to be a satisfying problem to overcome. Fate of the Nostromo wouldn't be as good without it.
Overall - should you buy the Alien board game?
Alien: Fate of the Nostromo doesn't always get it right, and the experience is too easy if you're playing alone or as a couple. Adding more people to the mix results in a very different story, though. A full crew makes this a tense gauntlet where you truly feel that you're up against something fiercer, faster, and more brutal than you are. In that moment, it has a shot at being one of the best cooperative board games.