Tabletop

This time it’s war – Tomas Härenstam talks Alien

by on 18/06/2019
 

Despite the mixed response to the recent Prometheus and Covenant films, the Alien series still hold a special place in many geeks’ hearts.  The Alien and Aliens films are frequently praised and the colonial marine cosplayers remain a frequent sight at conventions.

There has been a slew of video game adaptations of varying quality, from the surprisingly good (Alien: Isolation) to the shockingly terrible (Aliens: Colonial Marines).  Despite the frequency with which the films have been mimicked, there have been far fewer board games based on the films.

The Aliens Adventure Game by Leading Edge Games, released in 1991, specifically focussed on everyone playing a colonial marine, with little choice of players taking on the role of any of the myriad of other characters within the Alien universe.  It also had an incredibly complex rules system, which made for a frustrating game to play.

It seems that I was not the only person who thought it was about time that we had a roleplaying game (RPG) where we could explore the rich mythology of the Alien universe.  Tomas Härenstam, of Free League Publishing, obviously thought the same, as he is the game director for the forthcoming Alien: The Roleplaying Game.

With the UK Games Expo (reviewed here) behind us, I had the opportunity to talk to Härenstam about roleplaying in the Alien universe and how in space no one can hear you scream…  Still…

How did you become involved in creating the Alien roleplaying game?

It started out in brainstorming session we had at Free League Publishing back in early 2018. We were discussing movie licences we would like to turn into RPGs, and we ended up with a very short list of dream licences. Alien was on that list – we’re all huge fans of the films, and we feel that their sense of wonder combined with the harsh and brutal world is a perfect fit for the style of games we design.

Shortly after that brainstorm, I happened to hear of Joe LeFavi, who runs Genuine Entertainment and works with brand management in Hollywood. I contacted Joe, and it turned out he was a big fan of our Tales from the Loop RPG. We immediately hit it off, and Joe quickly went to work on approaching 20th Century Fox on our behalf. We spent some weeks on a pitch for the Alien tabletop RPG, and after a short negotiation, the agreement was signed.

When is the game set within the Aliens universe?

It’s set in 2183 – that’s four years after the events of Aliens and Alien3. We chose the classical era, as it gives us so much amazing lore to draw from, both the older films and the new prequels. The only film that’s outside the scope of the game is Alien: Resurrection, which is set about 200 years later.

To what extent have 20th Century Fox been involved in the development?

20th Century Fox are the licence holders and as such, they review our work and make sure we stay true to the Alien canon. They have also helped put us in touch with other Alien licencees, so we can help each other out in different ways. Overall, Fox has been a great partner for us.

What characters will people be able to play in the game?

The full core game will include ten character careers, drawn from the Alien films and other media, including Roughneck, Scientist, Officer, and Colonial Marine. These careers work as character archetypes, great for quickly creating a character. From that stating point, there are lots of ways to fine-tune your character and make them truly unique.

Will the game be solely focused on Xenomorphs, or will there be other enemies?

That’s a great thing about creating this RPG; we get to explore the rich Alien universe that has been built throughout the decades, not only the films but also comics, novels, and computer games. There are many more dangers out there than the Xenomorphs – although they of course remain the signature Alien enemy to overcome.

Why did you choose to use the Year Zero engine and how did you adapt it to meet the demands of the game?

We feel that the Year Zero Engine is very adaptable for different themes and settings. It’s also built for fast and brutal gameplay with a high mortality rate for characters, which felt like a good fit for Alien. Thirdly, players familiar with Free League games will be able to grasp the system and get in to the game very quickly. Finally, the Year Zero Engine is tried and tested, and we knew it would do the job well.

That said, we have tweaked the engine a lot for the Alien RPG. as we feel it’s very important that rules and setting work together. For Alien, the key new mechanism is the Stress Dice. When you push a dice roll, or experience a stressful situation, you will accumulate Stress Dice. These will actually help you in at the start, making you sharper and more alert. But if you collect too many Stress Dice, you risk panic. It’s a little like a game of Blackjack – you’ll push your character to the limit, but if you push too hard, panic ensues.

How did you incorporate the variety of genres of the Alien films into the game?

We identified three core themes of the game – Space Horror, SciFi Action, and Sense of Wonder. These three themes are to some extent present in all official material for the game, but certain scenarios will focus more on one particular theme – just like the movies do.

How do the Cinematic and Campaign styles of play differ from each other?

In Cinematic play, you’ll play one-shot scenarios with pre-generated characters. All players are not expected to survive, and there can be a certain level of player-versus-player conflict – just like in the Aliens films.

In Campaign mode, characters explore known space freely, sandbox-style, using the huge star-map we’re making. In Campaign play, lethality is lower and characters are expected to last longer.

What expansions can we expect in the future?

Alongside the main book launch, we will release custom dice, a game master’s screen, and a set of maps and markers. After that, we’re planning two Cinematic scenarios which will be sequels to Chariot of the Gods, the introductory scenario in the core book. All three are written by our lead setting writer Andrew E. C. Gaska.

We’re also planning a source book for Colonial Marines, to be used for Campaign play, and more campaign books after that.

When can we expect the RPG to be released?

We plan the global release for early December.

Tomas Härenstam, thank you very much.

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