Aliens Boardgame – Creating New Playable Characters

The Aliens Boardgame is an awesome tactical game based on the movie Aliens, and published by leading Edge Games in 1989. Choosing to closely mirror the events of the movie rather than simply adapt the theme (as most other Aliens-related games understandably do), making for a highly focused but somewhat limited gameplay experience. However, the game still holds up today and is fondly remembered by many, especially Aliens fans. It is sadly long out of print (and wasn’t easy to find even when new) but thankfully is fairly easy to find as a print and play fan recreation, as a module for programs like Tabletop Simulator and Vassal, as well as even a fan-made digital conversion.

Because it is based only on the second Aliens movie, the only characters included with the game are those from that. There are no character creation rules for adding new material at all.

But, since I love this game so much and have done since I was a teenager, I decided to see if I could work out a character generation system myself, by reverse-engineering the ones in the game.

What follows is my ideas along those lines, as originally posted at BoardGameGeek here.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to add new characters to this awesome game, whether totally original or from other Aliens franchise sources (Dark Horse comics, other movies, etc.)

I started on this *many* years ago, but have returned to the game recently and thought it would be fun and interesting to share my work with others, and get some feedback re: balance, logic, etc.

 

MARINE CLASSES

The Marines in Aliens TBG are pretty much “templates”, with variations based on shooting stats, assigned weapons, actions and melee. To break them down to their core stats and values, I decided that you could easily divide the original characters into seven “Marine Classes”:

MARINE GRUNT
Actions: 2
Melee: 0
Shooting: Moderate hit chances
Examples: Frost, Hudson, Crowe, Wierzbowski, Dietrich.
Notes: Standard troopers.

MARINE SPECIALIST
Actions: 2
Melee: 1
Shooting: Moderate hit chances, but slightly higher than Grunts.
Examples: Vasquez & Drake.
Notes: Similar to Grunts, but with a slight edge in aiming and better Melee; also, can use Machineguns.

MARINE NCO
Actions: 3
Melee: 1
Shooting: High hit chances
Examples: Apone & Hicks.
Notes: Ultimate badasses; the best soldiers in your squad. Fast, good aim and decent Melee.

MARINE SUPPORT
Actions: 2
Melee: 0
Shooting: Moderate hit chances, but slightly lower than Grunts.
Examples: Gorman, Ferro & Spunkmeyer.
Notes: These are non-frontline military personnel; officers, pilots, etc.

CIVILIAN
Actions: 2
Melee: 0
Shooting: Very low hit chances (totally untrained in combat).
Examples: Burke.
Notes: Unless they have some “special rule” attached, these folks are just cannon fodder or targets in need of protection!

HERO
Actions: 3
Melee: 1
Shooting: Low hit chances (untrained in combat) but slightly better than normal Civilians.
Examples: Ripley.
Notes: Civilian “heroes” that aren’t military personnel, hence have low aim… but they’re fast and strong (and usually main characters), and thus remain powerful pieces.

SYNTHETIC
Actions: 3
Melee: 3
Shooting: Can’t use weapons at all!
Example: Bishop.
Notes: Great at close combat, but can’t use guns so limited in use.

EXAMPLES:
Each Marine Class matches their examples’ stats (on the original cards and expansion Additional Weapons Table chart), so:
* Grunt = Hudson
* Specialist = Vasquez
* NCO = Apone
* Support = Ferro
* Civilian = Burke
* Hero = Ripley
* Synthetic = Bishop

(Note that Newt is a “special case” in the original game, and not really applicable to custom characters.)

 

MARINE WEAPONS

Each Marine carries two weapons, typically (but not always) a Pistol and something else.

Primary Weapon Choices: Pulse Rifle, Flame Unit, Shotgun, Machinegun.
Secondary Weapon Choices: Pistol, Shotgun.

Note that this differs from the Marine loadouts in the original game, but that’s because those Marines were armed for specific scenarios reflecting the movie (for example, in the default Reactor Room scenario, the already-badass Apone starts with Frost’s Flame Unit, while poor Frost just has his Pistol). Logic dictates that a Marine doesn’t carry a Pulse Rifle and a Flame Unit (let alone a Machinegun and a Flame Unit!) normally.

 

VICTORY POINT VALUES

The original game assigns a completely arbitrary (gameplay-wise) Victory Point value to each Marine, to calculate “score” based on survival. Thus, Hudson is worth 4 points purely because Bill Paxton is awesome, even though his particular Marine is rubbish compared to Drake, who’s only worth 3 points. Likewise, Hicks is worth more than Apone even though both Marines are equally useful, just because Hicks – in the movie – is a more major character. Of course, Ripley is worth 6 points, the most of all Marines!

For a more balanced approach, I’d suggest assigning Victory Point values based on Marine Class, so that:

Grunts = 2 pts
Specialists = 3 pts
Support = 2 pts (except your Officer, who really should be worth 5 pts IMO)
NCOs = 4 pts
Heroes = 4-6 pts
Civilians = 1-5 pts (depending on if you want to encourage protecting/rescuing them or not)

Yes, while Gorman is useless and Burke is an asshole in the context of the movie, it is more realistic that the ranking officer and a corporate advisor (from the Company that’s paying for the mission) be worth more Victory Points than some random grunt. No offense. 🙂

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Although not explicitly stated in the original game, there are a few “abilities” certain Marines have that others don’t. For example, only Ferro, Spunkmeyer and Bishop are assumed to be able to pilot the Dropship. In the movie, only Ripley and Spunkmeyer are shown to be able to use a Power Loader. Dietrich is the mission’s only medic. Hudson is the squad’s “comtech” (computer tech/engineer). Drake and Vasquez have special abilities based on their Machineguns.

This means that optionally, you could add these abilities to the game and use them when creating new characters too. Using the above Squad Point rule, these would perhaps cost points to assign to a Marine. Alternately, they might be inherent to type; i.e. Support Marines (who aren’t your Officer) get the Pilot and Power Loader abilities, Synthetics get Pilot too, while each Squad has one Grunt who is the Medtech and one Grunt who’s the Comtech.

Why bother? Well, this would in theory, let the player pick who does what in a free-form scenario, such as if Ripley died in Operations so Ferro – sunglass-wearing badass that she is – gets to fights the Queen in a power loader at the end of the game. It could also let you design scenarios where a Comtech was needed to perform a certain action, or a Medtech being still alive between scenarios allowed you to heal one Wounded or Incapacitated character.

 

DESIGNER NOTES

Despite all the above, I’ve not come up with any concrete rules for guiding creation of your own characters/squads from scratch, which is another reason I wanted to share my ideas.

I see two obvious options:

OPTION A
The most flexible way to do this is to assign “Squad Point” values to each element, so that Marine Classes are each worth X points and weapons are worth Y points. You’d start with Z Squad Points to build your squad, then you’d mix and match Marine Classes and weapons until you ran out of Squad Points to spend. This of course needs more development and brainstorming to decide on the Squad Point values of everything!

OPTION B
The second, simpler way to do this (and how I’ve done it so far) is to just have guidelines you must adhere to. Under Aliens/USCM “lore”, for example, this would be something like:

  • A Marine Squad has 2 NCOs, 2 Specialists, 5 Grunts, 3 Support (one is an Officer, for VP reasons) and 1 Synthetic.
  • If playing the original scenarios, you’d also need two Civilian advisors (Civilian and Hero) and one colonist survivor (Newt).
  • Weapon-wise, all Marines carry a Pistol (an NCO may carry a Shotgun instead). Specialists may carry either a Machinegun, a Pulse Rifle or a Flame Unit. Up to three Grunts may carry Flame Units, the rest carry Pulse Rifles (you can have less Flame Unit Grunts if you prefer, though).
  • Generally, Civilians will be unarmed unless a scenario suggests otherwise (in which case I’d suggest a Pistol for corporate types or a Shotgun for security personnel and militia).

 

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