An occasional column in which Lou Harry gets his game on with film-related tabletop titles.
Alien: Fate of the Nostromo
The Alien franchise seems ideal for a board game. In fact, it has already bred a few — including the mass-market Kenner game Alien in 1979 (the year in which the franchise’s first film opened), the deck-building game Alien vs. Predator: The Hunt Begins in 2015, and 2016’s Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game.
Now comes Alien: Fate of the Nostromo (Ravensburger), which distills the essence of the original flick into a brisk co-op game that’s high on thematics and a bit low on re-playability surprises. As an entry-level action selection game, though, it does the job.
The board features a layout of the two levels of the Nostromo, the commercial space freighter on which the first film takes place. Scattered throughout are scrap, coolant canister tokens and concealed tokens that, when revealed, could mean nothing or could feature a surprise attack from the alien.
The creature starts the game in its nest but soon is on the move. On your turn, you choose from a number of actions — moving, picking up scrap, building items out of that scrap, etc. — with the goal to achieve one of three objectives (i.e., bring an incinerator into the nest). After each player’s turn, an encounter card is flipped that may move the alien or cause other problems. If a player and the creature are in the same room, morale is lost and the player runs away. Nobody gets killed. But if your team loses enough collective morale, then all players have lost the game.
There are variations from game to game. Each player selects one of five crew members, each of which has a special ability. Only three of the 10 total objective cards are used in each game. Whichever three are chosen (at random) must be achieved before revealing and tackling a final mission challenge (randomly selected from five possibilities).
Set-up takes a notch longer than it should, with object tokens requiring placement in the proper rooms of the ship. There also aren’t any surprises in the objectives, which are mostly variations on the same idea. We were disappointed to win the first game without even once bumping into the alien.
We won the second game, too, even though we added Science Officer Ash, an element designed to increase the difficulty Like the alien, Ash moves around the board via encounter cards, but his main activity is collecting the scrap that you’re trying to acquire. As such, he’s more of an annoyance than a major obstacle. It’s a far cry from the problems presented by the character in the original film.
As long as you aren’t looking for face-hugging or stomach-bursting, though, the game is thematically sound. There is drama in entering a room to grab an object knowing that the tile sitting there could reveal the alien. Plus, Jonesy the cat even makes a few surprise appearances (including one before you even start playing the game).
The Goonies: Never Say Die
I’ll admit: When it comes to games based on movies, the ones I’m more apt to play first are rooted in movies that I like. Thus, Fate of the Nostromo hit the table almost as soon as I acquired it while The Goonies: Never Say Die (Funko Games) sat in my to-play pile for a few weeks.
I’m not a fan of the film. Maybe that’s because I saw it on initial release in 1985 when I, in my 20s, was a bit too old for it. I realize it has a passionate following now and I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum. Let’s just say I haven’t rewatched it since and only had the barest of memories of the Goonie details.
(Come to think of it, I may be remembering the Cyndi Lauper video for “The Goonies ‘r’ Good Enough” more than the actual movie.)
Opening the box is a bit intimidating because it packs in 15 different cardboard token types, eight different sets of cards, three different color dice and a batch of oddly shaped tiles in addition to the board and minis. There are also two booklets, one labeled Instructions (15 pages) and the other an Adventure Guide (27 pages).
It would have been helpful — and a reduction of both initial stress and set-up time — if it was clear from the get-go that many of these materials aren’t needed for the first adventure. I realize that such initial separation can add to production costs, but still.
The game offers a series of nine sequential but re-playable adventures. One of the players is the Goondocks Master (GM), whose goal it is to cause the other players to lose, making this a one-vs- the-rest game. For a two-player game, the adventuring players takes on two Goonies characters.
The Goonies’ goal is, well, they don’t know their goal until a point in each adventure when the GM reveals it to them. Think of it as Dungeons & Dragons with a lot more structural guidance. Plus, the degree to which the GM commits to storytelling depends on the mood of the person in that role.
For example, you might have a GM who says “You step cautiously into the room, lighting each wall with your torch. The first wall shows nothing but rock. You push anyway, hoping to find a secret chamber. Nothing. The second wall reveals more of the same. But that’s when you hear something … softly at first, then louder. You don’t want to turn around, but you do … slowly. And you freeze in place as your lantern lights the eyes of a dozen … no, two dozen bats, covering the wall from floor to ceiling. What do you do?” Then again, your GM could just say: “In the next room, there are some bats.”
Given that variable, I won’t venture to guess how long each of your adventures will last.
However verbose your GM may be, The Goonies: Never Say Die works fine as a dungeon-crawl variant. As with Alien: Fate of the Nostromo, no player is ever eliminated from the game. Wiping out a player’s health just brings the GM closer to victory. Plus, the single board allows for multiple maps thanks to those piles of tiles, which have a different orientation for each adventure.
While the quantity of components seem out of line with the game’s weight and target market, it plays smoothly once you figure out the system.
OK, I’ll say it: This Goonies is good enough.
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