Like the film that inspired it, Alien: Fate of the Nostromo is a tense little experience. The new board game, published by Ravensburger and designed by former Disney Imagineer Scott Rogers (Pantone: The Game), it’s absolutely dripping with theme. While the miniatures are a little wonky, the gameplay matches the tone and pacing of the Ridley Scott film measure for measure. There’s even multiple endings that reward multiple sessions. With a playtime as short as 45 minutes, you’ll easily be able to fit a few of them in to your next game night.
In Fate of the Nostromo, players take on the roles of five human crew members from the 1979 film — Arthur Dallas, Ellen Ripley, Dennis Parker, Samuel Brett, and Joan Lambert. Players must work together in order to save themselves and their stricken ship, traveling around the board to retrieve scrap, which can be used to create useful tools, and coolant, which is in short supply and badly needed to allow for their escape.
Every character has their own unique special ability. Ripley gets to spend an action moving other players, for instance, while Lambert can peek at hidden information and share it with other players. Most importantly, your crew members can’t die. That helps to keep everyone involved and engaged up until the end.
In the beginning of the game, players draw random objective cards. They might have to meet together in the galley of the ship while carrying certain items, or check on and service the ship’s complement of hypersleep capsules. A deck of encounter cards slowly ratchets up the tension, moving the deadly xenomorph around the ship and while seeding its rooms with more loot.
Each encounter card moves the xenomorph one or more spaces on the map, but its true location is never clear. That’s because it can pop up unexpectedly on the back of special tokens that are also spread throughout the ship. So, you could move chief engineer Parker two spaces away from the eponymous alien, only to flip over a token at his destination that warps the monster into the room with him.
Tools like the incinerator and the grapple gun can help to push the alien back, but each one has limited uses before it’s destroyed. The best course of action is to travel in small groups, carrying a flashlight to reduce the amount of morale lost when confronting the alien, and a cat carrier ... to catch Jonsey, of course.
Once all the starting objectives have been accomplished, only then do players reveal the randomly drawn final mission card. There are five in total, and include options to scuttle the ship or blow the alien out of the airlock. There’s even a card titled “You Have My Sympathies,” which requires you to destroy the cyborg Ash before turning the incinerator on the alien itself. It’s a subtle tweak, but it really helps to infuse the game with a sense of excitement and unpredictability.
The art in this game is bright, but has that same beloved lived-in texture as the original film. Also, unlike this year’s Fast & Furious board game, it includes the likenesses of the original cast members. There are even little scan lines on the game board, making it look as though it’s being projected on a fuzzy old CRT display. The only frustration I have is with the miniatures. The bases are flat, heavy, and stable. They’ve got a nice texture to them, with the character names etched into the plastic. But the details are soft, and the poses are a little awkward. Dallas is frozen in an odd crouching pose, while Ripley is eternally stuck in weird posture of surprise, her arms outstretch as though she were falling through the air. The alien is also not very threatening, standing tall and lean above the other characters. I’d be curious to see if they look any better with a coat of paint on them.
Overall, however, this medium-sized box presents a lot of value at $29.99. Its quick playtime makes it an easy inclusion at your next board game night. It’s also surprisingly good as a solo experience. The game is currently available at Target.
Alien: Fate of the Nostromo was reviewed with a retail copy of the game provided by Ravensburger. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.