Archive for June, 2019


Alien RPG Preview

27 June, 2019

I took a couple of years off roleplaying, mainly because it was hard finding other like-minded roleplayers in my area. The hiatus was well spent playing a lot of boardgames, preferably long, complex, multi-player games. But my dormant roleplaying interest has slowly crawled back to life. It might have been the announcement by Swedish publisher Fria Ligan that the licensed Alien RPG was landing in 2019. That got my attention.

Now, I saw—nay, witnessed—Alien in the cinema in 1979 with a good friend of mine. We were both teenagers and at the time we gobbled up anything that smelled of sci-fi, including Star Wars two years earlier, of course. But this one left a lasting mark on us both. I still remember us walking back from the cinema at night, not saying a word to each other, just gobsmacked from the experience. I remember enjoying the very slow beginning of the film, with all its nice spaceship details and the characters coming to life. I also remember the shock when something jumped from a rubbery egg onto one of the characters face. From that moment on, I was pretty much scared shitless—good times!

Fria Ligan has opened up for preorders for the new Alien RPG, and if you preorder, you get a quickstart-PDF with with the basic rules and an intro scenario. I did, and I am playing the scenario play-by-post, just because I couldn’t wait.
The quickstart is focused on one of the game’s two modes, called cinematic. The other one is campaign mode, which we don’t know a lot about so far. In cinematic mode you emulate the movies, which means the feel and storyline closely follow either Alien, Aliens or Alien 3, and to some degree also the later movies. In cinematic mode the player characters are very expendable indeed, not the least since the opposition is very deadly, and the emotions among the crew—some of which may not be what you thought they were at the beginning—are very tense from the outset.
The game system is a simple traditional machine with some nice features that stress the feel of the movies. To overcome obstacles, you roll a number of six-sided dice according to your skill plus attribute—game only comes with 12 skills, so everything is boiled down to give you that Alien experience. Any six rolled indicates a success, more sixes let you add effects to whatever you’re doing, something the game calls “stunts”. If you don’t roll any sixes, you can press yourself by getting stress, which is signified as an extra die in another colour, effectively giving you a chance of trying again with an extra die. But if the stress die comes up with a 1, then your character panics and all sorts of bad things can happen, especially if you have many stress points. And you will.

All in all the Alien RPG is very functional and streamlined and a lot of good fun to play.


Big Boom-Boom: Twilight Imperium Objectives Playtest.

4 June, 2019


Go to “Start Your Engines” for the actual playtest report. Keep reading for some background information about the game – nay, experience – called Twilight Imperium.
Twilight Imperium 4th edition was published in 2017, 20 years after the first handmade version was published. The game’s history is almost as exiting as the game itself, since a young Danish wannabee comics publisher left Denmark to try his luck in the US of A. Christian Petersen managed to publish his game and created a small publisher, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), which since grew to become one of the biggest players in the boardgaming publishing world. Google it.

I met Twilight Imperium (TI) in its 3rd edition, which at the time had been blown out of all sensible proportions – in a good way! – by two giant expansions adding numerous, sometimes ridiculous, optional rules, factions, units, systems, strategies and more. It was a joke at the time that if you swung the game box including expansions, it would create a rift in the space-time continuum, which was actually true. Thankfully no-one ever did it.
FFG decided to do a major overhaul of the game in time for its 20th anniversary, incorporating some of the good stuff from the 3rd edition and its expansions, plus tweaking some stuff to make it a more streamlined game experience and perhaps easier to get into. To say the least, TI4 did exactly that and more. Nothing wrong with TI3, it’s a sensational boardgame if you don’t mind playing 6-8 hours with heavy negotiations and politics. TI4 is the best version of the game so far – if fact, it’s nearly perfect, but hasn’t changed the 6-8 hours playing time or the politicking and negotiating.

Start Your Engines

If there’s one teeny tiny thing you could criticise TI4 for it would be the public objectives you score to actually win the game. They are solid and work, but not that exiting, especially not compared to thematic richness to everything else in the package. That’s why I decided to give a fan-made set of thematic objectives a go – on paper they all looked really good and only an actual play-through could find out if they were.
Before we started I had the set printed to look like proper objective card. My expectation was that given the sheer amount of cards available during play, the game would be quicker. Well, that was not the case. At all. The playtest lasted from around 10:30am to 8pm, without breaks.
First things first: I played the Mentak Coalition and came last.

Turn 1

The factions were, besides my Mentak, The Barony of Letnev (played by a newbie), The Federation of Sol (one game under their belt), The Emirates of Hacan (newbie), The Naalu Collective and The L1X1X Mindnet (experienced players).
We played the option where one of each (political, economic, military) objective was revealed each turn. First turn objectives:
Parliamentary Maneuvering (Control Mecatol Rex. Spend 6 influence. The Speaker may look at the top 4 cards of the agenda deck and rearrange them in any order.)
Distribute Bribes (Give one player 3 of your trade goods, then give a different player 3 of your trade goods.)
Seize the Throne (Win a ground combat against a player who controls Mecatol Rex. Spend 6 influence: Gain the defeated player’s Support for the Throne, if they have it.)
No-one scored anything in Turn 1, which isn’t surprising.

Turn 2-3

New objectives:
Hyper-admin (Spend 12 influence: Gain the Hypermetabolism technology.)
Economic Miracle (Exhaust 3 industrial planets. Another player gains 3 trade goods: Gain 3 trade goods.)
Politicise Conflict (Spend 3 influence. The attacker must have fewer victory points than you: No units may be moved during this tactical action. Gain a command token.)
The Naalu rushed to take Mercatol Rex, and later was able to score both Parliamentary Maneuvering and with the Imperial Strategy card for an early lead.
The first agenda phase saw voting on the Ixthian Artifact (The speaker rolls a die. 1-5: Destroy all units on Mecatol Rex & 3 units in each system adjacent to Mecatol Rex. 6-10: Each player researches 2 technologies). I think three Riders were announced for this vote predicting a for, and eventually it was me, as the Speaker, who decided against it.
Second vote was the fateful Shard of the Throne, which the Naalu managed to secure.
L1Z1X managed to score a secret objective.
New objectives for turn 3:
Restore the Custodians (Exhaust 4 cultural planets. Spend 4 influence: Remove all ground forces from Mecatol Rex and return the Custodian Token to Mecatol Rex.)
Open Source Technology (Spend 4 trade goods. All players gain a colored, non-faction technology that you have.)
HAZMAT Barrages (Exhaust a hazardous planet that you control. Destroy 2 destroyers in that system. Spend 4 resources: Gain Destroyer II.)
Turn 3 saw Barony score their first VP with Support for the Throne, I didn’t note from whom, but it was L1Z1X or Naalu. In the status phase Naalu scored Open Source Tech and the Barony HAZMAT Barrages. Naalu 5, Barony 2, L1Z1X 1.
My neighbour Sol decided to try and wipe me out because I refused to pay to get access to a planet near me, and it nearly succeeded, but I never recovered, and didn’t score any VPs until turn 4.

Turn 4

New objectives:
Regional Capitals (ALLIANCE: Choose 1-2 other players. Collectively Spend 20 influence: Alliance members each place a regional capital token on a planet they control. Control of each of these planets is now worth 1 VP.)
Development Assistance (Spend 5 trade goods. A neighbour with fewer VPs than you gains 3 trade goods.)
Premeditation (Spend 6 resources: When you score a victory point during the action phase, move your faction token from this card to that card and score an additional victory point on that card.)
Things started to heat up for real – Barony picked Imperial and made a big move and invaded Mecatol Rex (where Naalu had moved away and left only four infantry and a PDS), taking Shard of the Throne. They also scored Politicise Conflict in the status phase and jumped into the lead.
Mentak’s first VP was a Support for the Throne from the Barony, and then scored Hyper-Admin, while Sol got a support from the Naalu and also scored both Hyper-Admin and Spy Network. Hacan and L1Z1X both laid in wait by scoring Premeditation. Letnev 6, Naalu 4, Sol 3, Mentak 2, L1Z1X 1.

Turn 5-6

Objectives turn 5:
Uneasy Lies the Head (Spend 8 influence. If any player controls Mecatol Rex, remove a command counter from their strategy or tactics pool.)
Galactic Circuses (Spend 5 trade goods. A player with fewer victory points than you gains a command token.)
Rally Around the Flag (Lose a ground combat. Spend 8 resources: Produce 4 resources worth of units in your home system.)
Hacan attacks Mecatol and takes Shard from Letnev, scores Seize the Throne (and triggers the dormant point from Premeditation), which again let’s Letnev score Rally Around the Flag. Sol and L1Z1X also score Seize – this is Sol’s big turn, also scoring Politicise Conflict and Open Source Technology. Naalu, Mentak and Hacan all score Distribute Bribes.

Objectives turn 6 – all 2 points:
True Coup (Mecatol Rex must be controlled by another player. Spend 20 influence: Place 4 infantry units on Mecatol Rex.)
Hostile Takeover (Give 8 trade goods to a neighbour. Give 8 trade goods to another neighbour: Place a command token from each of those players on systems you control.)
Amass at the Border (Control 16 resources of units neighbouring another player. Spend 12 resources: If the neighbour has your Ceasefire, take back your Ceasefire.)
This the last turn was mostly everyone trying to avoid a win by either Sol, Naalu or Letnev, with Shard of the Throne flying round once again. Letnev almost managed to get the last word by attacking Hacan last. Four factions scored Amass at the Border, a very easy 2 points, one of them the winner Naalu.
End score: Naalu 10, Letnev 9, Sol, Hacan, L1Z1X 7, Mentak 5.


Main thing the players said afterwards was that this variant removes the need for technology in terms of scoring objectives. All the objectives we saw were based on resources/influence or trade goods. We missed the tech objectives a bit, even though they are a bit bland (have 2 tech in 2 colours, fx.).
While it would seem easier to score since there are so many objectives to choose from, it wasn’t in practice. I cannot remember a game if TI4 where at least one player hasn’t scored in turn 1. The many – and often complex – objectives open makes it hard to keep an overview of what you may be able to score as the game state changes.
All in all the game felt slower and longer, and the thematic objectives didn’t in fact bring more thematic goodness, almost on the contrary.