The latest game in my collection is Aliens: Bug Hunt. You play as characters from the Aliens film, trying to complete missions, while Xenomorphs close in on you. The aliens are represented by custom dice. Let me repeat that: the aliens are represented by custom dice!!!
I am a huge fan of the films and Legendary Encounters: Aliens (also by Upper Deck) has been in my top-3 of games for years now. Just looking at the quotes on the aliens turn order cards puts a big smile on my face in anticipation.
Yeah, baby. Let's do this!
How does it play. Let's see. There are four rulebooks, each covering part of set up and gameplay. All four of us get right into character and will have to start acting as a team, as no one has complete information. Not even for set up. So ehm, as a solo player, you'll have to start reading four-handed.
After the game is set up, it's good to know what a turn looks like.
Communication Specialist, what are our options? You can move and then take an action. Oh cool, what kind of action? You can shoot Xenomorphs, capture a mission objective, breach a barrier or reload. Got it. I'd like to shoot.
Ah. I know the actions, but I don't know how they work. Shooting? Please tell us, Master Sergeant. Sure thing. Listen up, I'm only going to say this once. To shoot, you deplete your character(s)... Whoa, deplete? What's depleting Sergeant? I don't know son, you should do it, but we need to consult the Communications Specialist for this specific term. Back to you CS.
Ehm. It's not in my actions overview. Oh wait, here's a paragraph on depleting. It doesn't say when you do it, but now we know it's for shooting. Superduper. Was that all? I think it's a bit late for shooting, folks, the damned things escaped. I'd like to take another action then instead, what was it, capture an objective? CS checks his rulebook. It sure is. We'll have to consult the Platoon Leader to find out how that works though! I don't have the faintest idea.
And on and on and on. (And yes, I know by now you can download a condensed rules document from BGG, but not everybody does, and it shouldn't be needed.)
Once I was through all discussions with my four personalities, I started playing. I made some mistakes in my first three games as there are a few small rules that are hard to remember.
Like: you can't move to an adjacent tile if there's a Xenomorph on your tile, except when there's another squad in that adjacent tile, or on your own tile, except you still can't when there's a barrier on your tile or the other tile.
Or: you move the Hive tracker one space when you draw an alien turn card, and also when aliens escape as a consequence of actions that result from an aliens turn. It doesn't matter how many aliens escape, you just move the tracker up once. But you do this per sector, of which there are five - they forgot to make this clear in the rules but it was confirmed by the designer on BGG. By moving the tracker up because of these escapes, new aliens may be put on the board and also escape. It's not clear if these escalations are nested or are handled in sequence.
I'm sorry to go on so long about the rules, but they made it very hard for me to start playing, or enjoying the game.
I played two handed a few times, as I thought that's the minimum for solo players (I'm having doubts now I write this). It was way too hard. Or "hard" is not the right word. Too random or with the odds stacked against you - I don't have the math skills to know which one. Goal of the game is to complete three randomly chosen missions and then escape. You complete a mission by collecting three tokens. So you need nine tokens. While playing, you explore a complex by placing tiles while you move. There are 30 tiles, 10 of which contain a token. During the game more and more Xenomorphs will appear and get at you or escape, either slowing you down, wounding you or speeding up the game timer. I've had games where I kept turning over empty tiles, never completing my missions. I've had games being overrun by aliens and not being able to escape.
Randomness doesn't bother me too much in a short game, but Aliens: Bug Hunt takes an hour.
I decided to play four handed. As I said, you can move away from aliens, as long as another squad is close to you. So when going alone, you can get stuck and slowly die. With four squads, you can have two of them going out side by side looking for the mission objectives, and two others doing some crowd control. Much better.
There is real excitement as more and more Xenomorphs will get in the complex. And those close to you, will move towards you. You can shoot at them, and this means rolling the dice that represent the aliens. There's a chance of 2 in 3 they'll be killed, and 1 in 6 they'll wound you instead. Reasonable odds. If it's an alien activation turn, they'll wound you if they're on the same location, so it's better to attack first and try to take them out. When everybody in your squad is still alive, most of the time you can take on six aliens at once and really make room.
Of course your characters will be depleted then, and will have to take a turn to reload. But that feels very thematic. I also think the going in blind and turning over tiles adds to the atmosphere. Especially with four squads I liked my tactical options.
All named characters have their own special ability. Every time you find an objective, you put it on a mission card and it will turn into a "use once" ability. There are a lot of characters to choose from, and a large selection of missions. Combined with the layout of the complex that will be different every time, this gives the game much replayability.
I love the custom dice rolls for combat. Turn order cards come out randomly, which also means the Hive tracker goes up unpredictably - but things will get steadily out of hand.
Every single part of gameplay is thematic and well done. But the sum is less than its parts.
Yet another loss where I think I could not have played better, too many aliens escaped before I could get the very last objective.
All my plays ended in frustration. I want to like this game so much. But one hour of false hope leading to the inevitable death of all characters, while kind of true to the film, is not my kind of game.
Yeah, I'm a sore loser.