Battleshed Diaries

Tuesday 15 March 2016

They're coming outta the walls!

As some of the Battleshed visitors have commented whilst I suppled so-called background music from my phone, 'You never know what you'll get next!' 

And it's pretty much true with this blog I think. Dwarfs followed by 18th century British Regulars to...Aliens. Proper, scary, acid-for-blood type aliens. And cold-blooded Predators. And tooled-up Colonial Marines...

This week at my local club I had the opportunity to finally play Alien vs Predator: The Hunt Begins from Prodos Game's troubled Kickstarter.  

Club member Kevin backed this project and, after a lot of delays and IP disputes, finally received most of his order. Keen to give the rules a try he'd assembled the unpainted miniatures and read through the rules. Enough to get a basic mission going and provide some of us the opportunity to see AvP in action.

Although I'm a fan of the films, (although not equally), I never backed this Kickstarter so was only vaguely aware that all was not well with the delivery of this game by way of seeing random comments in the gaming press. So I won't dwell on it's difficult birth, which I suggest Probos may think is reminiscent of the alien/host relationship! At least Prodos have the retail version out now, with expansions in the pipeline. 

As the game was unboxed and the various Space Hulk style tiles were laid out, my eye was drawn to the (32mm) plastic miniatures. And they were fantastic! Detailed, well designed Aliens of different shapes and sizes so easily recognisable from the iconic films. Then there were three tall, baleful Predators with their distinctive dreadlocks and exotic weaponry. Finally, a group of intrepid Colonial Marines armed with Pulse rifles, a Smart gun, grenade-launchers and, of, course a flame-thrower.

Its here that I embarrassingly mixed up the Smart Gun from the Flamer. "Call y'self a fan!" was the cry! Quite right. I've seen the films often enough to know better! And to ensure I got my 22nd century weaponry right, I got to play the Colonial Marines! 

Kevin has selected the first of the 10 missions taking place aboard the USCSS Theseus: 

Whilst investigating part of the lower decks, squad Charlie finds itself locked behind the thick bulkhead that leads back to the crew compartments, with motion detector signals going off all around them...

Each faction had their own objectives. The Colonial marines had to make their way to a computer console in the Escape Pod to override bulkhead locks and then reach the elevator in the Engine Room. The Aliens just had to do their thing - kill five models from the Marine and Predator 'intruders'. The Predators were the busiest. They had to scan the Bridge, Engine Room and Hibernation Chamber or download schematics from the Escape Pod, with at least one Predator returning to the Predator Pod tile. Phew!

Example: Colonial Marine Stat cards
The mechanics were straight forward. The combatants have stat cards for each of their miniatures with the usual array of skill ratings and special abilities - which were handily explained on the reverse of the card. It's a D20 based game, with players rolling under the relevant skill to pass. So looking good for me already - low number required!

Example: Strategy cards
Players also have five Strategy cards in hand with various special abilities or boosts which can be played and refreshed at the start of each turn. For me, similar to Dead Man's Hand in some respects.

Players then alternative activating their figures after rolling for Initiative each turn. They can spend two Action Points to do things such as move, shoot, close combat, interact with the environment (e.g. pick up, drop open doors), go on Sentry - pretty much an Overwatch action or use special basic actions and faction unique extended actions, such as welding shut an air vent for the Marines.

With Kevin's guidance, our respective teams were soon stomping, crawling and - in the Colonial Marine's case - tiptoeing along the dilapidated corridors. The USCSS Theseus really was one junk-crate of a ship! The Colonial Marines started the game stuck behind a sealed door due to the first draw of an Environment card.

At the beginning of each turn, whoever has the Initiative draws a card which impacts the whole ship. So whilst the Aliens and Predators were soon at each other's throats, it's all the Colonial Marines could do to stand nervously listening to strange noises echoing through the ventilation system whilst a couple of comrades frantically worked on the door seal.

At this point I'll mention that the game uses a Ping system, whereby hidden markers are used until an enemy comes into line of sight, only then is the token replaced by a miniature. It certainly adds to the creeping, claustrophobic atmosphere.

By the second turn, the ships internal doors had finally shuddered into life. The Marines then cautiously started to make their way towards the Escape Pod. The ship also included a number of Air Vent tiles, which enabled fast travel but did not allow line of sight to shoot along. Just like the alien used in the original film. The Marines could use actions to try and seal them up. Or just get the hell out of there!

The delay with the dodgy door at the start proved to be quite beneficial for the Colonial Marines. By the time they'd progressed halfway through the ship the Aliens and Predators had kicked seven bells out of each other, given the large pools of acid-blood eating assiduously through the superstructure!

Combat was easy enough too. As the Marines passed a junction, an alien was spotted lurching from the flickering gloom fast towards them. Luckily, the Marine with the flamer was switched on enough to let rip. A successful roll against Ranged Skill sent a blast of superheated nastiness into the adjacent corridor, cooking the alien with an auto hit.
Later though, it was mostly down to gunnery, with the exception of one Marine crazily attempting to chiv not one but two aliens! (Alien film, Frost: What do you expect us to use man, harsh language?!) He even held out longer than expected, aided mostly by erratic blasts from a frantic colleague's Pulse rifle.

Combat is pretty much a D20 roll under the relevant stat, throwing the number of dice equal to ROF for shooting and, if successful, the enemy rolling for armour save, taking into account any modifiers in play. 

Faction miniatures have a Wound stat (mostly 1 for Marines, for example) which can vary depending on the individual character type. Aliens generally have 2 wounds and the Predators 3, although they could have more or less.

As the game progressed all sorts of interesting environmental effects affected play each turn. Apart from the jammed bulkhead doors at the start, the players had to cope with dodgy Sprinklers impacting close-combat roles, Billowing Smoke that reduced line of sigh and even Inertia Dampener Failure where any Move action resulted in a strength 5 auto hit! Great stuff!

By the latter part of the game, the Predators had all been wiped out by the Aliens. The few Aliens that were still prowling in the corridors and air ducts turned their attention fully to the Colonial marines nearing the Escape Pod. The Aliens had already achieved their objective but now they were done with their Predator main course they were for some Colonial Marine dessert.

Alien vs Predator Prodos Games
However, one of the Marines had reached and successfully interacted with the computer console in the Escape Pod and one of his brother-in arms had, somehow, managed to negotiate the tight confines of an air duct to take the direct route to the Engine room. He was bruised and battered after exiting the shaft uncontrollably with the ship's Inertia Dampeners still off-line. But the Colonial Marine Mission was finally completed.

Thoughts? This game undoubtedly has high production values. Especially the miniatures. And I think even this first game captured some of the essence of the films. Whether that can be sustained throughout the available mission remains to be seen. I suspect it could start to become at bit of a repetitive dungeon-crawl. However, with a point's system in place, large battles could be played and there are rumours of a 'tabletop' rule-set. So I can see plenty of possibilities here.

The rules in places suffered badly from ambiguity, which led to some debate, possibly a result of being lost in translation at the design state. However, they certainly aren't the worst I've seen and there is now plenty of online support.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with AvP: The Hunt begins. The miniatures are very well done and if you're a fan of the films I'd certainly recommend giving it a try. 

Finally, big thanks to Kevin (Double Six blog) for setting up the game. Cheers! 

Ripley: These people are here to protect you. They're soldiers.
Newt: It won't make any difference.   

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