Friday, December 6, 2013

When franchises clash

The Aliens Predator Collectible Card Game was released in 1998, at the tail end of a slew of new trading card games that flooded the market in 1997. The concept seems like a shoe-in for a trading card game; the majority of the games in this format have followed Magic: the Gathering's concept of a duel between two players, and who better to duel than the iconic Aliens and Predators, especially when both franchises happened to be owned by the same studio?

The game is complex, but engaging. Cards represent characters, weapons, locations and actions, and each player has their own goal depending on whether they're playing the Aliens, Predator or the unfortunate humans caught in the crossfire.
  • Aliens players capture supporting characters, taking them to the Alien Queen in her breeding chamber to make more Aliens. The player's eventual goal is to use his hoard of aliens to convert all the locations in play to parts of the Alien hive.
  • Predator players earn points for hunting Aliens, human Marines and supporting characters. The number of points the Predator needs in order to win is determined by the amount of weaponry and equipment the player chooses to use.
  • The Marines win by evacuating a certain number of supporting characters -- even Jonesey the cat counts.
  • Additionally, any player wins if they manage to eliminate all the other players' main characters.
An expansion based on Alien: Resurrection adds a fourth faction, the Rogues, who win by stealing data and taking hostages.

There are two different scenarios detailed in the basic rules; both carry the same victory conditions, and are different mainly in determining what cards players get to start with, and in what manner the game's location cards enter play. The game stopped being officially supported years ago, but there is still an active fan community who have created many new scenarios and even new cards for the game. More interestingly, the same design team later created a card game based on the Terminator movies that is fully compatible with this one.

In our first game, Katherine played the Aliens and I played the Colonial Marines, using the rules for the basic Contact scenario. I had some trouble getting the locations I needed into play, and she was able to get her Alien breeding machine going relatively quickly. Soon she had a hoard of Aliens tearing through every location and converting them all to the hive, and killing most of my Marines in the process. It came down to me having one Marine left in play and needing to evacuate one more supporting character, but she had a choice of either hiving the last location in play or just killing my last Marine. Either way, she wins.

We enjoyed the first game so much that we decided to play a second. Looking through our cards we found that we had built decks for the second, more complex scenario. Katherine played a hunting pack of Predators, and I played the Cloned Aliens from Alien: Ressurection, who play a little differently from the natural born Aliens. My poor clones never had a chance.

Katherine managed to get a card into play early in the game which amounted to a short cut her Predators could use to get to my Alien Breeding Chamber. She was able to assassinate the Alien Queen right away, and then pick off my Aliens and Facehuggers one by one.

Collectible card games require a high level of commitment: they tend to have complex rules, and there is a lot of prep time involved in creating and honing decks. This is the reason the format is so popular and engaging, but also a detriment if you don't want to focus all your time and energy on a single game.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) We could easily play this game all day and then some, but it does have a steep learning curve, which makes it difficult to just jump into after not playing for a while.

Date played: November 29, 2013

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