Have you ever seen the major motion picture “Alien”? Or it's incredible sequel “Aliens”? Or it's disgraceful third film “Alien 3”? Or that other one, where the thing gets sucked out of the thing and the swimming and so on and so forth? Or the one they fight the other type of aliens out of the alien film about the alien who hunts the soldiers? Well, if you've seen any of them, you'll probably enjoy playing this game about wee aliens. It's called The Awful Green Things From Outer Space.
THE AWFUL GREEN THINGS FROM OUTER SPACE
That name is a mouthful! And this is an old-ass game, published by Steve Jackson games as a shiny new print that isn't very shiny. It still has that old-school vibe to it, all little cardboard chits and old-ass artwork that is somehow awesome while being old-ass. Like, old-awesome-ass. It looks a little bit like a game you might find printed on the back of a cereal box, and somehow that just makes it better.
It's a 2-player game, with one player taking control of the crew of a spaceship and the other player controlling the invading aliens. Right from set-up, it's clear the game is going to be a fun ride. You're placing crew members into different areas of the ship, seeding the aliens, and stashing weapons all over the place. You're placing a big handful of dice by the board. This is CLEAN, OLD-FASHIONED, FUN-FIRST game design. It's designed by Tom Wham, who was based at TSR back in the day when cool stuff was just firing out of every orifice. (And in Forgotten Realms, The Whamite Isles are named after him.)
Yeah, so anyway – this game is just dripping with character. The ship's crew have a big clunking robot who can move round the ship bashing aliens on the head. I just wanted to get that out there right up front. I think the robot is only in the game because robots are cool. When it all kicks off, the crew members need to either eradicate the aliens or get to the escape pods and get the hell out of there. Then some weird scoring system kicks in – we'll come back to that in a minute. It's not important.
It's all old-school movement points and hit points stuff, with dice-rolling to decide encounters. The aliens are shitting eggs everywhere, and these eggs hatch into babies, and the babies grow into adults. And then those adults shit more eggs. And as the game progresses the aliens just multiply and multiply, Tribbles-style, until entire areas of the ship have turned green with alien scum. When you kill some aliens, there's the chance they explode into fragments that can grow into new aliens. So you could find yourself going HOORAY and OH MY GOLLY GOSH HELP ME from one breath to the next.
Let me talk about weapons now, because this is the coolest part of the game. The aliens are aliens, right? And what do we know about aliens?
That's right. We know nothing about aliens. If we knew about aliens we'd have a name for them, right? We'd be calling them Dojengalun Swarmpods or something. But these are just aliens – entirely alien – their properties unknown. So when the aliens smash into the ship, and all the crew members start grabbing weapons – get this....
NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THE WEAPONS DO TO ALIENS.
So you launch a gas grenade at a room full of aliens. Hey, guess what. They might like it! And you don't know until you try it out. (When you use a weapon for the first time, you draw a little effect chit from a bag, and that tells you what the weapon does for the rest of that game.)
MAN. Let me tell you – this is a game that really makes you laugh. Often a lucky hit with a weapon can backfire in spectacular and hilarious fashion. FIRE? YUM. GIMME MORE FIRE. And now you have aliens growing in the white heat that was supposed to kill them. And it's a neat little gameplay wrinkle too – a good player will experiment with the weapons first, with some caution, before launching anything into a room heaving with aliens. But even the best players need to hit and hope when things get sweaty, so the late game will often find players making blind draws and praying to their gods for a pleasant surprise.
The game flies by like this, with crewmates being eaten and aliens spreading all over the place. If things tilt too far against the chances of the crew, it's time to set the auto-destruct and get the hell off the ship. If things go REALLY badly, just fleeing the ship is an option too.
How cool is this – if any crew members DO get off the ship, you can play a little choose-your-own-adventure style game (printed in the rulebook) that tells you whether your people manage to make it home. The alien player reads it out and the escaping player makes choices and rolls dice. It's just another funny, silly layer that adds flavour to this funny, silly game.
This is a wonderful little game. It's charming and witty, and the look of the thing is so trashy and pulpy and beautiful. It's a game that will generate a story every single time. It's not a game for people who like games to be rigid and balanced and fair. It's one for people who enjoy a wild ride, and like to file gaming memories in a place marked “DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TIME...”
Today we see lots of cool little designs, and a lot of clever mechanics. But I'd like to see a few more flavourful, story-rich, fun little experiences heading our way. The Awful Green Things From Outer Space has a likeability factor that can't fail to win you over. Hunt it down!
I'll see you next week for my last column of the year!