A Review of Aliens: Bug Hunt

pic5520730

Introduction: Growing up, my friend CC used to love the Alien and Aliens movies! I remember him seeing the theatrical release of Aliens many many times! CC loves cooperative games as much as I do, and he loves Alien/Aliens, so he seemed like the perfect person to review Aliens: Bug Hunt for us! This is one of three cooperative Alien type games out now!

Game Overview

Aliens: Bug Hunt is a cooperative game for 1-4 players which pits the players, as marines, against a growing horde of Xenomorphs as they attempt to enter an infested facility, complete their missions, and escape before they are overrun.

The Marines

Each player controls a “squad” of three characters, including one named character from the movie (like Ellen Ripley or Bishop) and two unnamed “grunts”. These characters can take wounds and be killed, and they also get “depleted” when they fire on aliens (or other effects cause it), which prevents them from taking some actions. The named characters all have special abilities, and there are more named characters than there are players, so you can “mix and match” teams for different play experiences.

IMG_1201

At the start of the game, you randomly draw three missions for the squads to try to accomplish. The marines win if they complete the three missions and escape. The missions are very simple in structure; each mission simply requires finding and claiming three objective tokens on the map. After you have completed each mission, you get three uses of a special ability it affords, so it helps to strategize which mission to complete first. As with the named characters, there are many more than you use in a single game, so randomizing these missions adds some variety to gameplay.

The Gameplay

65306853012__78B48F13-F618-47FF-8FD4-48361BA74032(1)

The gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. On your turn, you have three “movement points” to spend to move your squad around the modular tile board, and then you can take one action. It costs one “movement point” to move to an adjacent tile, unless there’s a barrier, in which case it costs two, and you usually can’t move out of a tile with aliens in it. If you move into a new, unexplored tile, you simply reveal the tile, add the aliens and objective markers shown on it, and end your movement.

There are only four actions your squad can take:

  •  “Breach” a barrier between two tiles so that it only costs one movement point to move between them.
  •  “Shoot” at aliens in your tile or adjacent tiles, by depleting one or more squad members.
  •  “Claim” an objective token in your tile and add it to a mission card.
  •  “Reload”, which refreshes all your depleted squad members.

IMG_1200

Combat is exceedingly simple. The Xenomorph aliens are represented as dice placed directly on the tiles as you explore. To shoot at an alien, you just roll its die. Some characters can shoot at more alien dice than others, so you typically only deplete as many squad members as you need to shoot at all the dice. Your baseline unnamed grunt can shoot at two aliens, with named characters deviating from that based on their role (for instance, Bishop cannot shoot at any aliens, but has other capabilities to make up for it). Depending on the outcome of the alien die roll, and whether you are shooting at the alien from the same tile or an adjacent tile, the alien is destroyed, survives, wounds you, or moves.

Gameplay turns are driven by a deck of cards. Each player has several cards in the deck that, when drawn, indicate it is their turn, so you do not know what order your squads will act in. There are also alien cards in the deck; when they are drawn, they increase a counter that causes new aliens to be spawned into the map, causes them to move and attack, and sometimes causes other effects, such as a “facehugger attack” that forces each squad to deplete a character or suffer a wound.

That’s about all there is to the game. You lose if the aliens overrun the complex before you can complete your missions and escape. You win if they don’t.

Pros, Cons, and Tradeoff

IMG_1199

* PRO: Interesting onboarding. The way you learn this game is quite well done and evocative. Each of the four players has their own bifold that explains about a fourth of the rules, themed to a command position like Communications Officer. Each player is responsible for teaching and enforcing the rules on their bifold, which distributes the gameplay responsibilities and engages everyone in learning the game. If fewer than four are playing, the game recommends a setup, but of course each player has more overhead then. I played it solo, and it was fine, though, because none of the elements are very difficult. The rules are well-explained and clear. (The only down side to this approach is that when playing solo, you’re having to switch between different bifolds to reference rules, but honestly, the game is simple enough that it’s barely a problem past the first few minutes of the game.)

* PRO: Atmosphere. The art on the cards and tiles was evocative. The modular board that gets revealed as you go felt like you were really exploring a dark, mysterious facility. The minis looked nice (I imagine they’d be worth painting, because there are only four and you could reinforce the color coding by painting them with their relevant colors). The cards that spawn aliens into the complex are themed to the motion tracker devices, which was a particularly evocative design touch. And of course all the named characters are included, so you can play your favorite characters from the movie.

* TRADEOFF: Mission Variety. As mentioned above, there are far more named characters and missions than you use each game, which adds some variety between games. And the game board is a matrix of tiles that get shuffled for each game, so the layout changes with each playthrough. That said, there’s not exactly a LOT of variety here; they are different only by degrees, enough to make a small mechanical difference, but not enough to be particularly memorable or change your playstyle much. For some, it might be too little customization, but for others, they might appreciate different variations without making the game overly complex.

IMG_1201

* PRO: Small shelf footprint. There’s a lot of “spread” to this game and yet it has a very small shelf footprint. The game box has custom-molded trays for all the minis, the cards, the tiles, the dice, etc., and it all fits in the box comfortably. (Not sure if it would all fit as well with sleeved cards, but I suspect it would be fine.) I’d say it packs much better-than-average than most games I’ve seen; I’d expect this game to be a larger box from looking at the components. Despite that, setup and tear-down are quite quick. This is a very convenient game to store and play.

IMG_1200

* CON: Unnecessarily tedious exploring. Exploring the facility involved moving into a tile to reveal it, and then spawning aliens there. Since you can’t move when there are aliens where you are, you generally have to fight those aliens. If you don’t kill absolutely all of them, you’re stuck there again. This felt a little tiresome, because you never really had strategy for which direction you go. It also meant that you’re always fighting them in close quarters, which made some of the named character abilities seem largely useless (e.g., Vasquez gets to target +2 aliens if there are no aliens in her tile, but that was only rarely useful). I think I would have liked it better if you enter a tile and it reveals the adjacent ones, or if an action could reveal multiple tiles by “calling up complex schematics”, so that there were some strategy to how you proceed through the complex.

* TRADEOFF: Shallow actions. Quite often, you didn’t really have a choice what to do. If an alien is in your location, you can’t move. If your entire squad is depleted, you can’t do much unless you “reload” as your action. The rest of the time, you move into a location, shoot the things there, someone grabs the objective token if it’s there, and repeat. I would have liked to see more variety to the action, but again, this setup keeps the game simple and streamlined. For some users, this might hit the complexity “sweet spot”.

* CON: Tile variety lacking. You build the complex map as you go, but the tiles all look similar except for barriers. Apparently, this entire facility is just a bunch of corrodors leading to other corridors…? It seemed like a missed opportunity to bring in some locations from the movie, like the med lab, atmospheric processors, ventilation ducts, etc.

* CON: Missions are same-y. Every mission is completed the exact same way: find a room with the icon on it, and spend an action there to collect the icon. When you collect three, the mission is done. Whether you are “finding Newt” or “repairing water purifiers”, you’re just doing the same collect-a-token action, which wasn’t very evocative. I would have liked to see some variety here – perhaps hand in hand with variety in the tiles. “Destroy the sample: Find the medical lab, collect a token, and take it to the incinerator.”

IMG_1623

* CON: No Alien Queen! That’s right, the star of the show, the Alien Queen, simply is nowhere to be found in the game, despite it being the big image on the outside of the box! That struck me as a bit of false advertising – fans of the Queen specifically might feel bait-and-switched here. It’s a shame, really, because the game also feels like it could benefit from a “boss battle” climax; once you have got your missions done, it’s just a matter of running out the door, and a showdown with the Xenomorph Queen would be a fun way to end the game.

* CON: Also: No egg chambers! No chest-bursters! No cocooned colonists! No duplicity from Burke! Facehuggers and Newt only show up as flavor text on cards, and only if you happen to draw them. While the game does get in a lot of fan-favorite elements from the movie, there are some very notable omissions. This is almost certainly a concession to keeping the game simple, so maybe it was the right call on balance, but if you’re looking for an immersive Aliens experience, it falls down a bit in this area.

* CON: Inaccessible to colorblind players. The game relies on identifying many elements that are distinguished exclusively by color. There’s a “red” squad which you can only distinguish from the “green”, “blue”, and “yellow” squads by looking at the color of the ring on the mini or the color of their board or the color of their action card. Colorblind players might have a difficult time playing this game for that reason.

* TRADEOFF: Small tiles. The tiles are small enough that sometimes they cannot easily accommodate everything on them. One squad can fit comfortably on a tile, but all four squads cannot, especially if you also have several aliens, breach tokens, and an objective token there. (Perhaps the size is why they didn’t attempt to add specific locations.) Larger tiles would be nicer on the table, but the small tiles have one distinct advantage: they kept the shelf footprint small. For me, it’s a tradeoff I’m happy to make. It is seldom a problem during play, and it’s not like the game runs off the rails if a mini overlaps an adjacent tile a bit; it’s easily manageable.

* TRADEOFF: The game seemed easy (but maybe swingy?). My squad got in, completed all three objectives – saving Newt, restarting the water purifiers, and getting detonators – and got out without any casualties on the first try. I did not face significantly more challenge in my second game. I don’t mind cooperative games that are on the easy side if they have a good atmosphere – I’m content to relax a bit and enjoy the story and experience. And for young or inexperienced board gamers, this might be a spot-on difficulty. But I could see other gamers being a little disappointed at the lack of challenge. Also, the tile draws and attack rolls seem like they could drastically affect the overall difficulty of the game; finding your objective tokens near the entrance would make the game much easier than if they’re all bunched up at the far end. The way the game works, the aliens accelerate coming out over time, so I imagine some games end up with aliens overrunning the marines if you have to explore all the way to the back of the facility. So it seems like the game could swing fairly drastically between being easy and difficult. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it might really impact your first impressions of the game, which in turn can dictate how often it gets to your table.

Assessment

For me, the gold standard “Alien Board Game” experience is Task Force Games’ 1980 classic, “Intruder”. Intruder was a solitaire game that was essentially Alien with the serial numbers filed off. I found it on sale in a game store years after it was released and picked it up on a whim, and instantly loved it.

Despite being over 40 years old, “Intruder” still holds up. The production quality is quite poor compared to “Aliens: Bug Hunt”, with its folded paper board, little square cardboard chits, and a stapled rulebook that all come in a plastic baggie. But this modest game surprisingly manages to get in more story beats than “Aliens: Bug Hunt” does. Intruder has varied locations (like a specific engineering bay, where you can go to jury-rig flamethrowers, a freezer where you can try freezing the alien, etc.). The alien is terrifying and scary – you don’t know how weapons affect it (if they do at all!) until you try them. And it lurks hidden around the station, growing stronger while you hunt for it with your motion trackers. You use the terrain geography of the space station and motion trackers strategically to try to locate and confront the creature, and it is tougher than the aliens in “Aliens: Bug Hunt”. Etc.

So “Aliens: Bug Hunt” had an uphill battle for my affection. Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up to “Intruder” and failed to unseat it as the king of Alien games in my collection.

But it’s still a nice little game, and I will give it props for the things it does right. It’s far prettier on the table, easier to teach, more streamlined to play, and easier to win. And though I love “Intruder”, I can’t pull it out to play with friends on game night because it’s a solitaire experience.

The bottom line is that I would be happy to play “Aliens: Bug Hunt” with friends, which ultimately means it’s a thumbs-up from me; it evokes enough of the movie to be fun, is simple enough to get set up and playing quickly, and creeping through corridors fighting Xenomorphs with your smartguns is almost never a theme I’m going to decline. It’s not going to give the full “Aliens” experience, but it’s more than enough to scratch the itch. And it all fits snugly on your shelf.

A Review of Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write

Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is a cooperative roll-and-write game (boy, there’s a sentence that repeats itself).  It’s for 2-4 players.   Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is based on the original Escape: The Curse of the Temple: See below.

IMG_9910

The original Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a real-time cooperative game where players roll dice as fast as they can to escape the temple. The original game was cooperative partly because players can get “stuck” as they explore; players have to work together to “avoid stuckage” as the group explores the temple!

The interesting thing is that both games uses exactly the same dice:

In the original real-time game, each player gets 5 dice each. In the roll-and-write, there’s a pool of dice that gets passed to the active player: these are the same dice from the original game!! See above!! If you have exposure to the original game, there is a certain consistency in the two games (symbols, dice) that makes it a little easier to learn the roll-and-write.

IMG_7458

Let’s take a look at Escape: The Cooperative Roll and Write.

Unboxing

IMG_7460

One of the reason game studios like roll-and-write games is that they are so easy to produce. In our case, we just have some dice (just like the original Escape dice), some pads, some rules, and some meeples. See above. If you look closely at the art on the covers of the two games, you can see that the art was “reused”:

The pads do look very nice though! There’s two kinds of pads: one for all players to share in the middle of the board (see below):

IMG_7465

And then there’s the pads where each character will take a sheet during play:

These player pads are dual-sided: the front side is used for the normal game (see above). The other side is used is used for variants.

IMG_7474

IMG_7477

There’s some meeples which each player will use to mark their location on their sheet:

And some rulebooks.

IMG_7467

There are 2 rulebooks: in both English and German. (There are other rulebooks in other languages on their website).

… and that’s it for components.

IMG_7461

The game is a roll-and-write with dice and pads. The pads are nice and colorful (maybe too colorful, see later) and the dice are just like the original Escape. Overall, it’s a decent looking roll-and-write.

Rulebook

Overall, this rulebook is not great. It shows the game components (above) and set-up (below) okay.

IMG_7469

The description of the rules is just not great. There’s a lot of text in a bunch of paragraphs that has no pictures: the rulebook just kind of “barrels” through the description, leaving a lot to be desired. See below.

IMG_7470

Luckily, the next section shows a turn in full detail: this saves the rulebook from being terrible. 

The font was kind of small in the rulebook, which didn’t help readability. My friends and I think the rules suffered from being translated from German as well.

IMG_7472

Overall, this really wasn’t a really good rulebook. We learned the game, but had lots of questions that the rulebook just didn’t answer. I had to play solo a number of times and then multiplayer a few times (resetting our very first game) before we finally felt comfortable with the rules of the game. If you can find a video to learn the game from, that might be better than trying to learn from the rulebook.

Solo Play

IMG_7459

There is no solo variant (boo for not following Saunders’ Law). In this case, since all knowledge is public (on the pads and on the dice), it’s easy enough to play as if you were playing a 2-Player game (alternating turns): That’s what I did.

During my first solo play, I kept the rulebook between the two “characters”. There’s no special asymmetric powers in this game, so there’s no distinguishing between the two characters other than their meeple color: Both characters just have a temple they are entering (bottom left and right). The pad in the middle denotes the state of the game and some shared resources players can use.

IMG_7496

The game then proceeds to have a number of rounds, depending on the number of players: 2 in this case (even though it’s a solo game).

IMG_7497

Each player has to choose a different side of the temple to enter. The green player chose the left, the red player chose the top. To win the game, there are two conditions that need to be satisfied:

  1. All players must be in the room in the middle of their sheet (the exit)
  2. The players need to have collected enough gems (see below)
  3. IMG_9912

At the end of the last round, both conditions must be met or the player(s) lose as a group!

The “playing 2 characters” works fine as a solo mode, but it wasn’t great. I will be happy to admit that some of my “lack of enthusiasm” for a solo mode was that the rulebook was bad enough that it took away from my enjoyment of learning the game (one major reason for solo rules in a cooperative game). The mental overhead of hopping between 2 characters wasn’t a big deal: you could play this game solo as a 2 character game.

Gameplay

The active player takes the 8 dice (fewer if they get locked during gameplay) and rolls the dice two at a time. (The active player rotates every round). The active player decides whether to keep some, one, or none of the dice as they roll them. (See below). Some dice might get “locked” (see below: 1 die got locked: when the black totem symbol is rolled, it forces that die to be placed on the lock track).

IMG_7499

The dice taken by the active player are needed to to move through the personal temple! The cost to enter a room is in the upper part of the room! See below: Basically, the active player is trying to explore some room by rolling the symbols on the dice for the rooms adjacent to him. For example, if he rolls a torch and key, he can move to the room below him.

IMG_7511

The reward, is notated on the bottom part of the room. If the player moved to the room below, he would get a torch reward! That reward is then IMMEDIATELY MARKED on the shared sheet in the middle of the table. See the shared sheet below.

IMG_7507

A circle on the shared sheet means “it’s a symbol/reward the active player can use”. These symbols are useful because you are essentially “banking” symbols which the active player can use later to move through the temple. In the above picture, we have a key and unlock available to be taken, but we’ve used both the reroll and golden idol.

The active player needs to explore many rooms to get Gems (Gems are need need to win, remember? See the shared pad below where we have 6 Gems so far!)

IMG_7505

Remember that all players must end up on their personal exit space on the last round to win!

Now, what about the dice the active player DOESN’T take? This is a cooperative game, so the rest of the players can make use of the unused dice! The unused dice forms a pool where each “non-active” player make take a die (or two) and mark off some symbols on their “treasure map” (see above). If they mark off all the symbols on a single treasure map, they get the reward on the left (and potentially the gem on the right, if they mark that off too). That reward goes to the shared pad in the middle.

IMG_7499

In general, the active player rolls to move through his personal temple, and the unused dice are used by the remaining players to mark off their treasure maps (in hopes of getting some shared rewards).

When the remaining players take the dice, they are supposed to take them “one at a time, in clockwise order”. I think a better rule would have been “After discussion, the remaining dice are divided between the remaining players as they decide”. It adds more choices to the game and makes the game more fun (and that was exactly what we did: just choosing one die at a time around the table seemed anti-climactic).

Impressions

IMG_7588

Once you can get through the rules and figure out how the game works, the game flows pretty quickly. But, it may take a while to get to that point! One thing that really messed us up is that we didn’t figure that a round doesn’t end until every player has been the active player exactly once!! The rules aren’t clear on that. The game seemed way too hard until we figured that out.

IMG_7590

The multiplayer mode works much better than the solo mode, as the game simply feels more lively as players talk about the game: “What dice do we keep? What dice do I need? Can I take one of the rewards?” The game is richer than I originally thought, as there were a lot of decisions to make as a group. It definitely works better cooperatively, which might be why they didn’t add a solo mode to the game.

IMG_7504

As pretty as the pads were, sometimes it was hard to see what spaces you had already marked off. We used pencil in all of our games (see above) and it may have been better to use a sharpie or heavier marker. However, if you want to “re-use” some of your pads, the paper was good enough quality that an eraser worked on it.

My group had fun playing and ONCE YOU KNEW THE GAME, it flowed pretty quickly. We all said we’d play again, but we all hated the rulebook. (It got passed around a few times as we tried to figure things out). But this game didn’t quite resonate with us. We liked it, but we didn’t love it.

Special Powers

IMG_7502

One thing we all think the game needs: Special Powers! A cooperative game always seems so much more fun if the players can have special powers! One your turn, you might feel like you could do more: Here are some suggestions we had:

  • The Mapmaker: can fill out any extra space on his map when he maps
  • The Explorer: once per turn, only needs one of the two symbols to enter a room
  • The Lucky Guy: Can never get a locked dice
  • The Jeweler: Can get one extra Gem per turn if he gets a Gem

Making you feel special on your turn would have really livened up the game!  

Conclusion

IMG_7506

To our knowledge, Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is the only cooperative roll-and-write game currently in the market!  It fills a unique space in the roll-and-write world.  We didn’t love the game, as the game seemed a little samey from play-to-play, but we think the addition of special powers might really liven up the game!  As it is, the game is good: it’s worth a look to see if you’d like it.  Just be aware that Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write doesn’t have an official solo variant (although a 2-Player solo game will work), but the game does work well as a multiplayer game.

Top 6 Cooperative Board Games to Grab Before IDW Games Disappear Forever! (Was Top 5)

Recently, IDW Media Holdings (which owns IDW games) announced that it would exit the board gaming business. See here for official announcement. They were in the middle of fulfilling a few Kickstarters, but they did say they would finish those Kickstarters, so as not to leave their customers high and dry.

Although Vasel’s Law says that “a good game will always be reprinted”, here’s a list of some cooperative games you might want to pick up before IDW Games disappear forever. EDIT: Was Top 5, just added another to make a Top 6.

1.Batman: The Animated Series.  Gotham City Under Siege

batmanPic2

Batman: The Animated Series. Gotham City Under Siege is a cooperative dice game for 1-5 people. It made the 2nd place list on our Top 10 Cooperative Dice Games as well as our Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games. It’s a dice game by Richard Lanius (of Arkham Horror fame) and Michael Guigliano. It has a real nice table presence with little cardboard buildings (see below) and some mechanics for going from buildings to the city.

batman_pic1

Each player takes the role of some hero in the game (Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon), and each character has very different powers involved with the dice. It’s not just adding up dice, but activating special powers each turn to keep the crime under control. The game has been popular enough to spawn some expansions as well: Batman: Gotham City Under Siege – Masterminds and Mayhem Expansion (which adds more missions and a few new mechanics):

bat3


If you only pick up one game from IDW before they disappear, this is the one I would get! It’s thematic and fun! (Oh, pick up the expansion too!) [[ NOTE: There is also another game in this same universe called Rogue’s Gallery, but it’s not cooperative ]]

2. Batman: The Animated Series Adventures. Shadow of the Bat

bat4

We have to be careful here: Batman: The Animated Series Adventures. Shadow of the Bat (here) is a different game than Gotham City Under Siege (described above). Although they are both cooperative dice games, The Animated Series Adventures puts a little more emphasis on the adventure part of the game, and the game is a little more complex.

batt

The game also comes with 2 modes: a one-vs-many mode (the 3-5 player game) and a fully cooperative mode(for 1-4).

This is one of those games that is still in the middle of Kickstarting! It was supposed to fulfill earlier this year, but as of the time of this writing, it still hasn’t made it to backers yet. Some online places, like Miniatures Market and CoolStuffInc have this available for preorder, so you might still be able to pick them up. You might as well pick up the Arkham Asylum expansion (see below) when you do (it’s going to disappear as well):

ark

There were quite a number of expansions from the Kickstarter, but only the Arkham Asylum expansion seems widely available on major online sites.

Kevin Wilson (one of the designers of Shadow of the Bat) was a co-designer of Arkham Horror with Richard Lanius (one of the designers of Gotham City Under Siege). I guess to work on a cooperative Batman game, you had to work on Arkham Horror too?

3. Escape From 100 Million BC

bc

This is a cooperative pick-up and deliver game by Kevin Wilson. It didn’t do that well when it came out, but me and my friends enjoyed our plays of it. It’s a cooperative exploration game in the jungles of the prehistoric age!

b22

There’s some fun exploration mechanics as you run away or fight dinosaurs in this prehistoric world. It doesn’t look great on the table, but don’t let its looks deceive you! It’s pretty fun.

4. Planet of the Apes

planetoftheapes

This is Richard Lanius design (I am noticing a trend here: Richard Lanius or Kevin Wilson). It’s a wonky game (based on the reviews I have seen) and it supposedly tends to be on rails (following the plot of the movie), but there’s some really neat ideas here. Check out the Dice Tower review for more discussion. It’s a weird little game you should check out before it disappears forever.

planet2

Honestly, I just ordered it from Amazon! I have seen the reviews and have been wanting to pick it up for some time! I figure I’d better order it while I still can …

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

tmnt

I freely admit I have never played this game and the theme does nothing for me. BUT, people really seem to like this game! Check out the coopboardgames review here! There is a ton of content for this game! There’s a Kickstarter bundle you can find on Amazon as well as “City Fall” (a standalone expansion) as well as tons of other stuff!

This game (also a Kevin Wilson game), is one-vs-many or fully cooperative (like Shadow of the Bat). Be careful not to confuse this game with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past, as Shadows of the Past is NOT a fully cooperative game! (It’s a one-vs-many only).

6. Wayward

wayward

This one makes Honorable Mention because I just found out it’s an IDW game!! This cooperative game has always called to me: I love the art, that comic-book feel, and just the way it looks.  I have seen some good reviews on it.  I just never picked it up.  I struggled to find this: I looked at all the main places: CoolStuffInc, MiniaturesMarket, FunAgain, and GameNerdz and no one had it.  I finally got it for a decent price on Amazon and just ordered it about an hour ago.   Don’t wait too long if this one interests you…