I always thought somebody should make some kind of board game based on the Aliens universe. They've made plenty of video games based on the property after all, on everything from the 2600 to the modern-day consoles with the pending release of Aliens: Colonial Marines. There was also a fun "Aliens vs. Predator" collectable card game released in the 90s. Surely somebody somewhere thought about a board game, right?
Well, they did. It was called "Alien", it was released in 1979 as a board game tie-in to the film, and...well, let's just say video games aren't the only crap produced by licensing agreements. Your mission was to use YOUR alien to kill the other players while trying to stay alive long enough to get to the escape pod and screw everyone else out of life. You know, just like what DIDN'T happen on screen. *sigh* OK, so any other bright ideas?
Turns out there was. Called "Intruder", it came out in 1980 and while it's not officially part of the Alien mythos, it does a damn sight better job of portraying the isolation, horror and teamwork aspects of the film than the official version. Best of all, it's built for solo play. After I found out about this, I had to track down a copy (thanks, Craigslist!). Here's the rundown on why you might want a copy for your own.
"Intruder" doesn't try to copy the Alien film exactly; it plays a lot faster and looser with the storyline than purists will be comfortable with. But that doesn't matter. It replicates all the important parts though and manages to create a fairly tense atmosphere through the use of mystery.
At the start of the game, you have your crew (an assortment of command types, scientists and engineers) all working in different sections of the Prometheus, a scientific research station, when something goes wrong. An alert plays over the intercom and one of the specimens (known as the Intruder) escapes from its holding pen, upsetting a number of other research animal cages along the way. All of them scatter throughout the station, and it's up to the crew to find and destroy the Intruder before it kills them all. Face down, all the critters and the Intruder get mixed up and distributed across the map. Now you don't know what's a harmless puppy or a zealous xenomorph. Great.
Your crew now have to decide what tactics they're going to use to defeat the Intruder: do they set out at once with a bunch of cages to try and catch as many lab animals as they can to eliminate confusion, or do they try to manufacture some makeshift weapons (like shock prods or flame units) and wait for it to come to them? Do they try to tranquilize it with some sleep darts and re-cage it? Lure it into the freezer to put it on ice? Bust into the armoury and grab some gas grenades and blaster pistols? Lure it to the outer deck and blow it out the airlock? Panic, set the self-destruct system and get to the escape shuttles? A combination of all of the above?
Well, who wants to be a hero, right? Unfortunately, time is not on your side. So while you can spend time breaking out the heavy weapons or researching makeshift weapons, any time you're not spending trying to catch the Intruder is working against you. Because just like the movie, as time goes by, the Intruder gets stronger. It starts at Life Stage 1 (facehugger) where it's relatively weak but still deadly enough to kill the unwary. At this point, it's still possible to get it into a fresh cage by force alone. But leave it to its own devices long enough and it'll mutate. At stage 2 and each subsequent stage, it gains new powers and your options for dealing with it diminish: it might develop an immunity to fire, making those flame units worthless; it could grow strong enough that no cage can hold it; God forbid, it might even develop the ability to clone itself (and then you're REALLY screwed). Leave it alone too long and you can wind up with a creature immune to vacuum which shrugs off blaster fire and poison gas like mosquito bites and lays eggs everywhere. Hence, the self-destruct option.
What follows is usually a mad scramble of personnel to cobble together some cattle prods while a few brave souls venture out with portable cages and try to pick up a few of the distractions and maybe tranquilize the Intruder if they're lucky (and it's not immune). The Intruder (and all the hidden markers) move randomly via die roll, and the game map has all potential exits from each room marked with numbers so it's kind of self-running. The element of luck is also invoked when fighting the creature, trying to catch/cage an animal, and when the Intruder mutates and gains new powers. Finally, the Intruder gets a nice dose of indirect help each time it kills a crew member: this sends the rest of the humans on the ship into a panic and forces them to reconvene in the Command Module at the center of the ship to decide what to do next. In an amusing instance, killing an Intruder (if there's more than one on board) also triggers this, but as a "Yay, we got it!" celebration instead of a panic. Then the noises start coming through the air vents again...the designers clearly understood the horror film tropes.
At the end of the game, you're rated on victory points based on how well/poorly you did: speedily dispatching the creature gives you bonuses, while losing members of your team results in penalties. The game can also end in a draw condition if you are forced into the "least attractive" options available, like self-destructing the ship or blowing an Intruder with the 'immune to vacuum' attribute out the airlock. Nobody said it was gonna be easy...
While the rules for Intruder read like they were produced by a group of lawyer computer programmers, with sections, subsections, and sub-subsections galore, they're actually very easy to follow despite being pretty dense. There are a lot of state-based rules set up to account for various actions (such as under what conditions an escape shuttle can be launched, how the self-destruct sequence can be set, when the door to the freezer can be opened, what happens when caged animals are dropped in panic, etc...), so learning them all can take a while. Consulting them in conjunction with playing several games seems to be the easiest way.
Depending on factors of luck, the game can be over in a matter of a few turns or drag out over 30 minutes or more. There are rules in place for multiple players, so it's not strictly a solo venture (though it works best in this capacity, I think), and it plays fast enough that you can get in several games over the course of a few hours.
I really like Intruder, and I recommend it for anyone who's a fan of the Alien movies and enjoys playing games with healthy doses of randomness and suspense.