When I saw the pre-order call for Free League’s Alien Role Playing Game back in August I jumped on it. The wife encouraged me to go for broke and get the full set of stuff for the game, and after a long way (but really, not that long for most RPG publishers…) the game came in last week. The order came with a PDF of their “cinematic” adventure Chariot of the Gods plus a stripped down version of the rules, minus character creation and other parts of the rulebook, but after receiving the set, the PDF held about 2/3rds of the core rules.

IMG_0901.jpg

So here it is: For the bundle I got the rulebook (without the fancy cover option), the adventure booklet, a GM screen (with most of the needed charts in it), a set of specialty Alien dice and a set of yellow “stress” dice, as well as a deck of cards that for initiative, gear, and pre-gen characters for the Chariots adventure. Lastly, there’s a map of local space with the settled worlds, and a set of carboard counters for handling more tactical movement/fighting.

Production quality is high, as it was with their Tales from the Loop, and Things from the Flood games. The hardcover is well constructed, the binding superb, and the interior is well laid-out for ease of reading and finding rules. The print density on this thing is high with lots of black. A lot of the pre-order folks were complaining of intense chemical smells from the book and when I got mine in, you could smell the ink — this is due, most likely, to wanting to punch the product out before Christmas. The artwork, as with the other books I mentioned, is gorgeous and highly-atmospheric. The dice are well-done and seem to be rolling pretty randomly. I’m not one of those gamers that has to test the balance of my dice, nor do I obsess on their randomness, but after a few throws, they seemed to be pitching without any tendency to a particular number. The cards are pretty and used for drawing initiative, but otherwise they are pretty useless. The map is gorgeous; the counters are so-so.

The rules are a variation of Free League’s d6 dice pool where you need a 6 to succeed on a test (and sometimes more 6s to succeed at harder tasks, gain more damage in a fight, or get some kind of benefit from the extra successes.) If you’ve played Tales from the Loop or Forbidden Lands, the core mechanic will be familiar. Character creation is simple and quick, as with those other products — you have four stats: Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy, and each has three skills tied to them. You get to split 14 points between the attributes, and ten for skills. Your health is tied to strength. There’s a career specific trait you can take from some choices (or make your own up) to aid the character in a certain way, and there is the signature item — a thing that the character can use to relieve stress, as well as relationships — a buddy and an adversary — between the character and the other PCs/NPCs. There are also rules for playing a synthetic — whether a sleeper like Ash, or a more robotic version like Bishop. Synthetics have higher stats and don’t take stress, but they cannot push rolls, do not have signature items to assist them, and damage can affect them more more harshly.

Stress is the big mechanic for the game. When a character “pushes” a roll on a skill test, rerolling for a better result, they gain a stress die that is applied to the roll. On a 6, they’ve got a success; on a 1, they panic. When panicked, they have certain actions imposed on them. Some gamers might not like the mechanic forcing their characters to act in a certain way for a few turns, but getting players to respond realistically to fear is difficult, I find, and this is a way for the game to address that. This also means that a little stress actually is beneficial and can help the character, but too much and you might lose control of yourself. It emulates the reactions of horror movies pretty well.

There’s a lot of material on the world of Alien — some of the corporations, the politics, the governments are covered extensively and provide a lot of options for adventuring without even encountering the eponymous monster. There is a lot of data on the alien, but not so much on the Engineers. The other aliens that were thrown in are a bit bland, but there’s plenty of room to throw in your own stuff, and there’s a lot of folks already hacking the game for use with other horror franchises. Surprisingly, there are rules for space combat — something we haven’t seen in the Alien movies, but its a nice touch.

So is it worth it? The set cost me $100 (the core book was about $50 when last I checked) and yes it is. The production values are top-notch, the game system is light and ease to use and modify, and the background material is dense enough to allow even the most casual fan to jump right in. The pre-orders have been filled and they game should start turning up on store shelves by December 10.