01 February 2016
[please insert your own appropriate favourite quote from the movies here]
Prodos Games | Survival | £75 | 1-3 players |120 minutes | www.prodosgames.com
It’s not really an exaggeration to say that AvP: The Hunt Begins has had a difficult ‘birth’. Rather than quickly popping out the chest of John Hurt and surprising the gathered onlookers, AvP’s launch was a laborious process more like the storyline in Prometheus. After successfully being funded on Kickstarter back in 2013, a dispute with license holders Fox (which has still seen the original Kickstarter page taken down) saw the game delayed significantly. But now the game has finally been launched, the question is… is The Hunt Begins a masterpiece like Alien or something best forgotten, like Alien vs Predator: Requiem (shudder)?
One of the first things you notice before getting to grips with the rules or anything like that is the sheer heft of the box. Rather than being the result of a heavy rulebook or lots of miniatures, this weight is due to the large amount of card tiles that are included with the game. There are more than 80 thick card tiles that can be used to create a range of environments for players to explore and each one is double-sided. In a world of Kickstarters it’s perhaps easy to take this impressive offering for granted but back in the day (start up your gramophones) we were lucky to get a handful of tiles and most of those were on flimsy card. So well done for Prodos from the off for providing such a wealth of beautifully illustrated playing tiles.
While we’re talking of beautiful things it may be a little strange to describe a Predator as beautiful but, once again, Prodos really has done a great job of bringing the Aliens, Predators and Marines to the tabletop. The detail on the miniatures is superb and, when painted, they look even better. However, there’s a downside to this and the models are a bit of a bugger to put together. We realise it’s a miniatures-based game and will appeal to those who have a degree of skill putting miniatures together but even we struggled to piece everything up – resulting in one Predator looking rather like he’s disco dancing. Meanwhile, gluing all the tails onto the Aliens is a chore, particularly as there are so many of the little blighters. Of course, it’s not an insurmountable challenge but it’s worth pointing out if you’re picking this up and expecting to play within a couple of hours.
Anyway, you’ve popped all the card tiles out (making the box slightly lighter luckily as you discard the unwanted bits) and you’ve unstuck your hand from the dining room table while gluing everything together… it’s time to play! Well, actually it’s time to read the rules, so let’s do that instead. Although AvP bills itself as an "action board game" on the box, the rules have a level of complexity that’s more common to wargames than board games. There are 66 pages crammed with info about weapon stats, dice modifiers, tile occupation rules… there even are two pages dedicated to just opening doors. It’s a daunting prospect for someone who isn’t used to this level of complexity – and that’s only the ‘basic’ rules. On the flip side, someone who plays the likes of Infinity or Dropzone Commanderwill get to grips with everything pretty quickly.
Right, you’ve got the tiles, the models are made, the rulebook is well-thumbed and now it’s (finally) time to play. A great touch is the inclusion of 10 missions to play through based around the USCSS Theseus on which the three factions are battling it out to achieve their objectives. The missions explain how to set the board up, where to place the miniatures and the conditions required to win, e.g. mission one sees the Predators trying to scan certain rooms, while the Marines must override the ship’s controls and the Aliens, well, the Aliens have to kill everyone. One thing to note is that the missions feel like they’re designed for all three factions and with three-players, AvP is an absolute blast because you don’t know which of your opponents is going to get in the way (although invariably it’s both). It’s not often that a game nails a three-player mechanic so well but AvP gets it bang on. However, the contrast to this is that the game feels a little empty with just two players and, once you’ve played with three, you keenly miss that third faction because it mixes up the gameplay so much.
On the subject of factions, Prodos should be applauded for really getting the ‘feel’ of the factions spot-on. You actually start off playing with a series of ‘Ping! Tokens’, these are cardboard counters that represent your characters before they’re spotted by the other players and you must reveal the models. It may sound slightly bizarre but this initial phase of just moving cardboard tokens around is full of tension… because you’re never quite sure what’s under your opponent’s Ping. That’s particularly true of the sneaky Predators because, although they only have three characters, the Predator player gets five Pings to move around the board to represent the Predator’s cloaking
ability. It’s a great twist when you finally corner a Predator Ping only for it to be revealed as a decoy, while the real one is sneaking up behind you.
Of course, once all the Pings are revealed then things really come to life and each faction has their own distinct play style: the Aliens are like a swarm, the Marines work well as a team while the Predators are simply bad ass with strong attacks and equally strong armour. What’s more, each has their own special abilities that take inspiration from the films, so Aliens can hide in ‘infected’ tiles to make them harder to hit, Marines can launch grenades or weld air ducts shut to stop the enemy advancing through them and Predators are simply bad ass… no, we mean that Predators can actually heal wounds (as if they weren't tough enough to kill already).
On top of this, each faction is given a deck of event cards that can be played throughout the game. These give characters extra movement, provide buffs or de-buff enemies. There’s also the super powerful grenade card for Marines that provides an autohit that can potentially damage all the enemies (up to eight) on a single tile and is perfect for clearing swarms of Aliens. Once again, the cards help to add to the ‘feel’ of the factions, with the Aliens often getting assistance in close combat while the Marines can enter sentry mode to shoot anything that moves.
However, even with these event cards, there’s a definite sense that one of the factions is underpowered compared to the others. The Aliens are a tough faction to play as because they have to get into close combat to attack their enemies but aren’t much faster compared to their foes and once in combat they actually get a negative modifier for being in an open space. Yes, they have the advantage of numbers but the odds seem significantly stacked against them. What may have helped the Aliens feel more rounded would be the option to automatically enter close combat once they’re in the same tile as an enemy. This would have been a neat way to represent their speed and their desire to hack and slash things. It’ll be interesting to see if Prodos tweaks the Aliens with future releases because at the moment, although it’s still fun to play as the Aliens, you do feel like the underdog.
As we’ve mentioned combat a couple of times now, it’s probably worth explaining how shooting and melee attacks work. Each type of character has its own stat card (something that’s more and more popular nowadays) detailing how far they move, their armour value and what weapons they have. The weapons can have different rates of fire telling you how many D20 dice to roll, along with their strength and any special abilities. After you’ve decided to attack an enemy you start off by rolling against a unit’s ‘RS’ or ‘CC’ values. Unlike most games you actually need to roll UNDER the value, rather than over it – so a Colonial Marine with a Pulse Rifle needs 14 or under to hit, for example.
If you successfully hit then your opponent needs to defend against the attack using their Armour stat… and this is where things get a little fiddly. You see, a weapon’s strength dictates how much it reduces or actually increases the effectiveness of an enemy’s armour. The base rate is 10, which is an unmodified test, so if the opponent’s attack has a strength of 10 and your armour stat says 13, you just need to roll 13 or under to survive. However, for anything over 10, you need to minus the difference away from your armour stat, e.g. a weapon with a strength of 13 takes three away from your armour, meaning you now have to roll 10 or under. Conversely weak weapons with strength less than 10 actually make your armour roll more effective. It potentially sounds more confusing than it is and by the second play you’re bound to have your head round it. On the plus side, the fact that AvP uses a D20 ensures there’s plenty of scope for different weapon stats.
In fact, scope for the future is definitely a key part of AvP and the board game is just the beginning. In a similar vein to the Terminator game from River Horse, AvP includes stats for other units not included with the game and there’s scope for much larger battles not based in the confines of the USCSS Theseus. Many of these units are already in the pipeline from Prodos and it’ll be interesting to see how it develops over the months to come.
It’s been a long time coming but AvP: The Hunt Begins has most certainly been worth the wait. Yes, it isn’t perfect thanks to some fiddly set up and rules that may turn less experienced gamers away, coupled with an underpowered Alien faction that can be frustrating, but with three-players it’s an absolute blast that recreates the tension and action of the movies superbly.
This article originally appeared in issue 2 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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