This Time It’s War

My favorite board game ever has to be Aliens, published in 1989 by Leading Edge Games.


If you’ve never played it, there is a Flash adaptation available, which seems to be free.

I was introduced to the game in the early 90s by the same guy who taught me how to play Dungeons & Dragons – an afterschool counselor named Juan. Thus I entered the hallowed halls of Geekery. On the days Juan worked, a group of Aliens-addicted kids would beg him to break out the game and let us try the suicide mission of the Reactor Room or the even-deadlier Operations & Air Ducts.

I don’t remember if we ever “won” the game (a certain number of characters have to survive for that to happen), but the taste of imminent-if-unrealized-victory and the crazy teamwork the game inspired left a lasting impression on me.

The game was out of print even when I first played. For years, as a teenager, I looked for it in comic and hobby shops around southern California, to no avail. So I gave up – and time went on, as it does. Then, several years ago, I started trolling Ebay, and I eventually snagged a good condition set for $70. Apparently it had become a collector’s item.

Since then, I have played it three times (and won twice). The last was tonight, with my wife, who for some odd reason felt compelled to indulge me.

Unpacking the box, I felt like that same excited middle-school kid explaining all of the rules to her: the aliens’ acid spray, the characters’ movement, the layout of the board. I remembered Juan explaining the same rules to me, so many years ago.

It’s a goofy game, sure – a Sci-Fi combat strategy. But it’s fast-paced and fun, and I consider it part of my childhood. After all, I spent so many days and nights thinking through possible ways to beat the game – more time than I spent on my homework! And you can’t beat the team play in a game that forces you to carry around incapacitated team members to win.

So, about tonight … Maybe having a new recruit set me back, but when we finally called it quits, we were down four characters. All of them were mine! Part of the reason, I think, was that after a bad run-in with some aliens in the southeastern quadrant of the board, I retreated my team and we changed from a split formation tactic into one group. Always a bad move.

If you play the game, I suggest splitting into two columns, and remember to always bring either Drake or Vasquez.