Sunday 22 April 2012

Review - Operation: Aliens

Because I'm lazy, I'm going to be porting across quite a few reviews that I wrote for the website rather than writing all new ones. This review first appeared in September 2011.

Operation: Aliens
Published by Peter Pan Playthings
Designed by some folk who don't want to admit to it
For 2-4 players, ages 6(!) to adult

Operation: Aliens
Operation: Aliens - Good, wholesome, family fun.

Okay, I have to mention this before I start any kind of review: The fact this game even exists is mental. To the best of my knowledge, it is based on an unreleased cartoon series set in the Aliens universe. Who thought such a cartoon would in any way be suitable for kids? I have no idea, but some other people thought it was a good idea too, as the wheels of industry began to churn out ill-conceived merchandise before the whole idea got nixed. You could even buy a plaster of paris molding kit ("hey, look mom, I've made a facehugger!").

Such merchandise is now quite rare, but not in particular demand. So, rare and not very valuable... sign me up!

Operation: Aliens - Hicks
Hicks... I don't recommend using an RPG on the spaceship.

I would imagine a lot of people might be interested in this game for the plastic playing pieces, so maybe I should start my review by disappointing all those people...

The contents of the game are pretty much what you would expect from a game made in 1993. The board is brightly coloured and covered with illustrations of aliens and the main human characters. It is actually quite a small board and a little bit too busy. It is quite clearly a board for a children's game, and just highlights how poorly the Aliens theme fits such a game.

Operation: Aliens board
My eyes! My eyes!

There are two decks of cards (event cards and alien cards) and these are simple text on thin cardstock. More illustrations would have been nice, but considering the theme, maybe it's for the best.

Operation: Aliens Face Hugger card
Sometimes having no art is the right way to go...

There are four character cards that have plastic dials for tracking health points, and there are a few thin cardstock tokens for tracking what weapons you are carrying and how many objectives you have completed (objectives come in the form of self destruct sequence codes in three colours, and you need one in each colour).

In one of the worst examples of cost-cutting cheapass game production, there is a single dice. Considering all combat involves two dice, this is poor.

Finally, there are the plastic playing pieces. First off, let me say that they are very cool. Really nicely sculpted, quite detailed, and with plenty of character. However, people with visions of using these pieces for custom projects, war games, the Leading Edge Aliens game or similar will be disappointed, because they are very small (Ripley is just over 1 inch high).

The four marines you can select to play are Ripley, Drake, Apone, and Hicks. Ripley is carrying what I think is meant to be a flame thrower, but it looks more like the minigun used in Predator, and Hicks is wielding a shoulder-mounted RPG, which is completely out of character. Apone is a good figure, he is throwing a grenade, but the best has to be Drake, who is carrying his smart gun.

Operation: Aliens Ripley playing piece
Ripley, ready for action.

You only get four alien pieces. FOUR. No big alien swarm here - not even enough for a mildly imposing host. And the aliens are called "Scorpion Aliens" and have three heads. Go figure.

There is also a very cool alien queen, but she is hardly the imposing queen you would expect - even though she is the biggest piece, she still only measures 1.5 inches high.

Operation: Aliens Alien Queen playing piece
The Alien Queen.

So, all in all, not the best production quality, but the figures are really nice (just too small and out of character from the movies to be of much use elsewhere).

The game itself is quite a simple roll and move game. One of the most interesting aspects is that everyone plays a marine (there is no alien player), but the game is still not a co-op. The aim of the game is to be the first marine to set the ship's self destruct sequence and escape, leaving all your mates behind to blow up! Remember, this is a children's game.

On your turn, you roll a dice to move, and then travel around the ship, entering named locations. Three of these locations will grant you a piece of the self destruct code. Once you have three of these (one in each colour) you must head to the self destruct space to activate the self destruct sequence. Then you have to get to the bridge to enter the escape pod. This process is complicated by events and aliens.

When you enter an event space on the board you draw an event card, which could be good or bad. Then, once you have finished moving, you draw an alien card. This will either spawn aliens onto the board, or allow you to move an existing alien of your choice to the space indicated. This means the aliens are being controlled by a basic AI system, with the player whose turn it is having a small influence over how that AI is implemented.

If a marine and an alien are in the same room, they fight. Roll two dice, add any benefits from weapons the marine is carrying (either +2 for grenade launcher, or +1 for smart gun or flamer thrower). Roll 2 to 7 and the marine loses, roll 9+ and the alien loses.

And that's it.

It really is a children's roll and move game (the box says for ages 6+) with a hideously inappropriate theme. There is no strategy - you just roll the dice and move around and hope aliens don't randomly land on the room you are in. The rules can be learned in minutes.

Despite the simplicity of the rules, the game does seem to have a lot of design faults. For one, for the first few turns the marines will lose almost every fight, but once they have a full set of weapons they are almost guaranteed to kill anything they meet, including the Queen. This means the game gets less tense as it goes on, which is certainly contrary to how I would like it to play. Furthermore, all of the marines are trying to activate the self destruct sequence - they are all going for the same codes. Once a set of those codes have been used, the escape pod on the ship becomes active and it is a straight-up race to get there first. The problem is, the person who activated the self destruct will be at the opposite any of the ship to where the escape pod is (what kind of crazy ship design is that?) and every other player has more chance of escaping as they are closer. There is very little incentive to be the person who actually activates the self destruct system.

The implementation of weapons is also poor as they just boost dice rolls by varying degrees. It would have been good if they had special powers, but these would be easy enough to house rule. There are also very few ways to lose weapons once you have them, so the game does get easier as it goes along.

Overall, I can't see myself playing this with my daughter when she is a bit older, but it will definitely be rolled out from time to time with my adult friends who will be able to enjoy the crazy theme on a dumb roll and move game. It is now a permanent resident in The Vault.

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