Aliens Adventure Game is a 1991 tabletop role-playing game (RPG) and accompanying 194-page sourcebook, written by David McKenzie, that was published by Leading Edge Games. As its name suggests, it is heavily based on the film Aliens and the United States Colonial Marine Corps in particular, although the sourcebook also contains new and at times apocryphal information on the Alien universe.
The game was designed by Barry Nakazono and McKenzie. Illustration and graphic design was by Toni Dennis and editing and production was by Irene Kinzek.
This Time It's War.
Now you can be a part of the danger and excitement of the hit movie ALIENS, from Twentieth Century Fox! From the ruins of the Colony that was destroyed by the Aliens to the chaos and greed of Earth itself, the ALIENS Adventure Game pits you against Aliens, other dangerous lifeforms, and corrupt Humans as you find out what it takes to be a member of the Colonial Marine Corps.
Another Glorious Day in the Corps!
The majority of the Aliens Adventure Game sourcebook simply details the mechanics and rules of gameplay, with sections explaining the game's table-based point scoring system and giving ideas for suggested campaigns to run. The book also features detailed Colonial Marine character sheets for creating player characters, with decent development and treatment of its Marine characters.
In addition to the pure gameplay details, the book also contains a substantial amount of background information about the universe in which the game is set. As well as covering the settings and basic events of Alien and Aliens, the book offers new information on the Alien universe, detailing the corporate culture, colonies and other life forms that exist within it. The book includes a summary of the history of space travel and colonisation leading up to the time frame of Aliens, expanding upon the role of the Interstellar Commerce Commission and introducing the ICC system of planets with an accompanying star map. Among the key concepts described in the history section are the development of Earth from a nation-based system to one of corporate control, the establishment of the ICC and the Colonial Marines as a force to "police" these corporations, and the subsequent war between the ICC and several rebellious corporate-run colonies.
Although the sourcebook is arguably the most comprehensive source of information on human history in this period of the Alien universe, elements of it are notably not contiguous with the universe portrayed in the films and other media of the Alien franchise. For example, the book explicitly describes the Colonial Marines as an independent, multi-national force under ICC jurisdiction, established alongside the ICC to act as its military arm; in reality, the USCM is part of the United States military and operates under United Americas command. However, other aspects of society detailed in the book fit very well with later Alien stories, such as the prevalence of sophisticated industrial espionage (as seen in Aliens: Music of the Spears) and corporations' use of private military forces (as is the case in Aliens: Colonial Marines).
The sourcebook also includes detailed information concerning Xenomorph physiology and behavior, as well as introducing new extraterrestrial species, such as a race of voracious, armored quadrupeds known as Harvesters. The Arcturians also feature. The book also sheds light on the nature of internet shopping in the time period of Aliens.
Alongside the text, the book is illustrated with still photographs and annotated with quotations taken from the film Aliens.
Inconsistencies in Xenomorph physiology
As the game was released prior to Alien3 and before a number of major stories in the Aliens comics line, it features a somewhat unique treatment of Xenomorph physiology. It features some notable discrepancies in its description of the creatures, several of which go against certain established premises from the films, comics, novels and video games. These include:
- Xenomorph Warriors are said to be capable of producing Eggs (harkening back to the deleted scene from Alien where Dallas and Brett are cocooned).
- Facehuggers are said to be able to implant Chestbursters even in dead bodies.
- The book also states Facehuggers can implant more than one embryo in a host, and that the exact number depends on the host's total mass.
- Warriors are said to produce Hive webbing from their dorsal tubes, rather than their mouths.
- Despite Xenomorphs lacking any traditional form of eyesight, "Alien vision" is described in the book, and the creatures are said to have a visual spectrum that extends further into the infrared range than humans, somewhat like the Yautja.
Released well before Dungeons and Dragons 3.0, which established a new norm in RPGs, the Aliens Adventure Game featured a mechanic that was unlike other role-playing games in that it did not rely on hit points (or HP). The system was instead largely based on the use of tables (as seen in the popular RPG Warhammer 40,000). The system used was actually a slightly toned-down variant of another game Leading Edge Games developed called Phoenix Command. The Aliens Adventure Game sourcebook in fact makes references to Phoenix Command in case players wanted further clarification on its rules.
The system served to add a degree of "realism" to gameplay by requiring reference to a number of tables to determine the results of almost every action in the game. The Aliens setting created was therefore incredibly realistic, but could also potentially take a very long time to execute. For example, in certain combat scenarios, if the player were to hit a target in a certain way, it would require referencing as many as nine tables to figure out precisely what happened to the character during a single combat sequence, which would actually represent just a few seconds of time in the game. Another expression of this "realism" was the fact that gunfights were excessively lethal in the game. The Xenomorph Queen, for example, was supremely deadly in combat, with a near 50% chance of instant death if she were to strike a player character with her tail.
Perhaps as a result of their complicated and difficult nature, the game's sourcebook regularly recommends that the rules included therein be modified by the game master (GM) to suit the palyers.
Originally received with mixed reviews, the Aliens Adventure game is no longer a popular or much-functioning game system, today. But the game remains a collectors item find on sites such as eBay and is still occasionally used as a basis for more fully fleshed out fan-created Aliens RPGs.
The major complaint from critics of the Aliens Adventure Game when it was released was that its combat system was cumbersome and rendered the game basically unplayable due to length.
If you thought combat in the Hero System using all of the optional rules was too long Aliens by LEG has it beat. We played it once and the first combat with 2 PCs against 5 or 6 aliens took about 5 hours to resolve. I kid you not that it took that long. Aliens was the "rules lite" version (of Phoenix Command), but it was so complex that required a minimum of five tables to resolve one bullet. When almost every weapon in the game were full auto with a 10 round burst that's a minimum of 50 table look ups for just one turn.
The reliance on the rules from Phoenix Command for further clarification was another common criticism of the game. Critics say that the Phoenix Command-lite rules weren't conducive to a good gaming experience.
There also was a sincere lack of background info on the human worlds. The book only covered the setting of the film and gave no information on civilians, culture or even the slightest hint of "normal" life. And that, in examples, it focuses too much on the newly created aliens, The Harvesters, than on the xenomorphs. The information on doing anything other than blasting xenomorphs was sparse, said critics, and far too Space Marine-centric and overcomplicated for the taste of some.
Another complaint about the game was that it was packaged with a very poor binding.
Defenses from criticism
A defense for the game's combat system is that the game is full of tables because of the era it was written. Back in the 80s, gamers wanted "crunchy" game systems with lots of detail. Some of the earliest game systems were "all" rules, no background. Nowadays, the focus is on quickness & playability & story. Modern players should note that this older system has more "crunch" (tables) than they're going to want for play.
Some roleplayers have said that game, its complicated combat system aside, is actually great for one-shots, perhaps just too cumbersome for campaign-style play. They say it was definitely playable, stating, basically, "Your characters didn't last long, but it was a lot of fun."
One technique that seems to have worked in making the game enjoyable was to have a bunch of non-player characters (NPCs) to add and have each player start with his own character and play with them till they die, then switch to the lowest ranking NPC in party and keep doing so, from lowest to highest, until all dead or mission complete, PC characters would gain exp or learning chance up until they die, which would be implemented in next session, which would continue to allow for a high impact game while still providing the players with a character they could expand on.
The sourcebook's Marine character sheets and development are also often mentioned favorably and have often been borrowed by roleplayers in making new fan-made Aliens RPGs.
As for some of the game's interpretations of the expanded Aliens universe being a little different, defenders say that one should remember that only the first 2 movies were around at the time to draw from as a resources, making for pretty thin background material. Saying basically, "Of course they're going to have to make stuff up. If they stuck with canon, the game would have been a pamphlet."
In one fan's favorable opinion: "The Aliens Adventure Game is a awesome experience that simulates, with perfection, all aspects of the movie. Even with the high rate of fatality and slaughter, all players compete to be the last standing against the unknown, perfect and unstoppable killer machines also called Aliens. The system is very realistic and lethal, you only survive 10 seconds when you confront the monster, but capture the spirit and terror showed on the second movie.
"Besides the game play, the book offer to all fans a detailed overview from the Aliens Universe, showing the colonies, corporate culture and other life forms... of course, the book also includes well-detailed information concerning the Alien physiology and behavior.
"If you want to experience to be a marine and face a Alien, this is the game! And remember, in space, no one can hear you cry..."
- The base plot presented in the Preface of the game's sourcebook is notably prescient of the plot of the video game Aliens: Colonial Marines, released some 22 years later. The given storyline involves a Colonial marine squad being dispatched to LV-426 to discover the fate of the Sulaco, its crew and the colony they were dispatched to investigate, and also suggests hostile "Weyland-Yutani military forces" may be present on the moon.