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Alien board game USCSS Nostromo accused of ‘stealing’ design

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An upcoming board game based on seminal sci-fi horror film Alien has been hit with accusations of plagiarism.

Alien: USCSS Nostromo, which is also referred to as Alien: The Board Game, is a co-operative survival game that involves the crew of the ill-fated mining vessel trying to survive an attack by the xenomorph. The game is being published by Wonderdice, which has secured the official licence for the franchise from 20th Century Fox, and is currently open for pre-orders ahead of a release this summer.

Following the announcement, designer François Bachelart alleged that the game was a direct copy of his own Alien-inspired design, Nostromo, that he had pitched to Wonderdice four years previously. The discussions reportedly went as far as Wonderdice proposing a contract to sign Bachelart’s game, which was ultimately never finalised.

The Société des Auteurs de Jeux, the French union of game designers, later released a statement supporting Bachelart and ‘strongly condemning’ Wonderdice’s ‘attitude’.

"In view of the information we have, it seems that the publisher has properly ‘stolen’ his game to this author by deciding to develop and edit without his consent, without his name, and without copyright,” it wrote.

The SAJ confirmed that, unlike artwork, games’ mechanical designs cannot be copyrighted or otherwise protected by law in France, making the best defence against plagiarism a community-led effort to ‘grill’ those that attempt to copy others’ ideas. According to the SAJ, local distributor Edge refused a proposed partnership with Wonderdice as a result of seeing Bachelart’s game previously and identifying the similarities between the two.

“In the absence of legal, expensive and in any case very uncertain reactions due to the ambiguity of the status of the board game, the only available means of action is to inform authors and players of the bad practices of Wonderdice, so that this publisher meets the failure he deserves,” the SAJ added.

Wonderdice has dismissed the allegations, claiming that its Alien board game is a “completely different” design to Bachelart’s Nostromo, as reported by French website Ludovox.

The company confirmed that it had seen Bachelart’s design four years ago and begun discussions with 20th Century Fox to secure the Alien licence, as well as talking with Rising Sun and Zombicide publisher CMON about bringing it to the US. CMON later withdrew, saying the game wasn’t the right fit for its audience.

Wonderdice says it then worked to develop its own game using the Alien licence, working for a year and a half to create a distinct design separate from Bachelart’s concept. The studio claims its game is more “gamer”-orientated than Bachelart’s “family”-style design.

“It's a game developed internally by our team,” reads the translation of a post Wonderdice wrote in response to comments on the Alien: The Board Game Facebook page. “We are currently victim of a little troll band which are unfortunately not part of the Alien universe.

“A game is created by a development team, not a single author, just as a video game does not have an author because it cast a shadow on the actually many people who worked on it. We do not put forward specific authors but our entire team, composed of graphic designers, illustrators, game designers [and] playtesters dedicated and passionate about making a joint project in this universe of which we are all fans.”

Following the controversy over the game, Wonderdice contacted Bachelart to propose publishing his original game with a family-friendly cartoon style, but claims it didn’t hear back from the designer. Bachelart, for his part, says he didn’t take the suggestion seriously, adding that he would like to publish his original design for Nostromo through another outlet. At the time of this story going to press, Wonderdice hadn’t responded to direct requests for a statement.

The question over the originality of Nostromo is the latest plagiarism debate to strike the tabletop world, following the cancellation of Vast: The Crystal Cavern spiritual successor Deep: Enemy Frontier as the result of alleged plagiarism by publisher Leder Games and the accusation made by Japanese studio Oink Games that US publisher Bezier Games copied its design for Insider in social deduction word game Werewords.

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