27th Jul2017

‘Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins – 2nd Edition’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

AVP-THB-box

The Aliens vs Predator brand is now so strong and spans so many forms of popular media that sooner or later, a miniatures board game was inevitable. That particular game came in 2014, following Prodos Games successful Kickstarter for Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins – First Edition. The Kickstarter was not without controversy however, and Prodos were criticized for a lack of communication with backers and for pricing decisions, among other things. Whether these issues were a factor or not, Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins: First Edition launched with a few teething problems, but it was nonetheless a solid, Space Hulk inspired dungeon crawler with incredible miniatures.

Considering that so many games, movies and other products that relate to Aliens vs Predator are nothing short of appalling, this encouraging start resulted in a rejuvenated Second Edition of the game, and it is that re-release that is the subject of this review. The Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins – Second Edition is packaged in a smaller box, has slightly different floor tiles, and features a more compact manual. There are some minor clarifications and corrections, but as far as I can tell, this is largely the same game as the First Edition.

That’s actually not bad news however, because I did really enjoy my time playing Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins, and I’ve barely even scratched the surface. Aside from a number of scenarios described in the rule book, the game also features rules for much larger battles, team based skirmishes and survival modes. There is also a fair bit for solo players to do, which is a feature that I haven’t actually tried in Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins, but have been known to enjoy where available in other games, especially for rules familiarization.

Two player games are well catered for as well, but as you may have guessed, Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins is by far at its best with exactly three players. One each for the Alien, Predator and Marine factions that make up the opposing forces that find themselves on the USCSS Theseus, where the game is set. Each faction is represented by a collection of beautiful miniatures which, I must say, are among the very best that I’ve seen in any game.

Even though they are allegedly smaller than those in the First Edition, every sculpt is incredibly detailed and hugely dynamic. Some Aliens crawl between pipes to ounce on their pray, while others stand at their full height, swiping savagely with outstretched claws. There are more Aliens than there are Marines or Predators, but even so, each pose is only repeated twice, so there is a huge variety. Each of the five marines is unique, and every weapon is recognizable from the movie series. The Predators steal the show, even though there are only three of them. Set on 32mm bases, the first holds his spear above his head as if to throw it. The second is in the middle of swinging his Smart Disc weapon, whilst the third readies his wrist blades. The Predator figures are so detailed that you can see the mesh that covers their skin, and each of the Wolverine-style wrist blades is modelled individually.

The attention to detail is incredible, and not only are the miniatures exceptional, the box even includes a foam insert to store them safely. Sadly, I actually broke the Predator Wrist Blade because it snagged on the insert, so please beware that the detail on features like thinner weapons and Alien tails is amazing, yet extremely delicate!

I mentioned earlier that the rule book includes a range of missions, all of which centre around the USCSS Theseus. You can guess the story – the Marines wake up to find themselves beset by Aliens, and the Predators detect rich pickings for their trophy cabinet, and duly join the fray. Objectives range from simple kill orders for one faction, to more complex and multithreaded objectives for others. A simple example is the first mission, which tasks each race with a unique objective (or objectives) which will allow them to claim victory.

Even though many objectives are mechanically similar (go here and spend a turn doing something) they are thematically relevant and well thought out. I enjoyed the fact that Predators collect a trophy from each dead opponent, and if you get into the advanced rules and buy some miniatures that are not included in the base game, then you could have a situation (for example) where a Face Hugger kills a Predator, resulting in the birth of a Predalien. Fantastic!

There is no doubt about it, the Predators are not just the most impressive miniatures, but also the best individual fighters on the battlefield. Despite that, balance in Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins seems quite reasonable because of the number of each unit. If there is a slight inbalance, I’d say that the Marines have the hardest time, despite their versatile and deadly arsenal. When playing as them, there is never an opportunity for downtime or relaxation – the combined Alien and Predator threat is just too much to feel complacent about. Playing as the Aliens on most occasions gives a sense of inevitability, and you will throw wave after wave of your stalkers at the enemy, hoping and praying that your numbers will win the day. Predators, as I said earlier, are deadly in all situations, but they can be overwhelmed and are by no means invincible.

The incredible diversity that the factions bring (not to mention the differences between characters within each faction) add real longevity to Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins, and each race absolutely demands that players adopt a suitable strategy to accommodate their strengths and weaknesses. The range of potential options mean that I just can’t see myself getting bored of this game any time soon. If I do tire of the basic scenarios, then there are the other game modes I mentioned earlier, and I can only imagine what happens when you introduce expansions like the Loader from the end of Aliens, and the Alien Queen herself. What about those Face Huggers and Predaliens?

All of this excitement aside, Aliens vs Predator: The Hunt Begins is not perfect, and there are some things to be aware of. The rules are moderately complex, meaning that the game is much more than just a Space Hulk or Descent competitor. There’s potential for medium to large scale warfare in here, and as a result you’ll read a lot about stuff you just don’t need to know during your first few games. There are rules relating to line of sight in well lit corridors, and rules relating to Alien camouflage in corridors that have been infested. Predators can cloak, and Aliens can transform back into blip tokens and disappear. The Marines have complex weapons and items that do powerful things, but need to be properly understood. A quick start guide would have fixed a lot of these issues, and it’s a shame that one is not included.

The box, miniatures and board segments are excellent, but the cards that drive specific tactics, and show equipment, character stats and so on are below average. The artwork is good, but the feel is cheap and rough, and the text on many cards is kind of ugly. These points are minor and cosmetic really though, and barely detract (if at all) from what is a thoroughly authentic and enjoyable board gaming experience. Can you tell I’m clutching at straws? Well, I can.

Let’s pretend that you’re a huge fan of any of the Aliens, Predator or Aliens vs Predator movies, comics, games or other media, and you don’t have any other board game. Well, as long as you have the patience to understand it, this is the one you should buy. Let’s pretend you have a ton of board games, and you want a thematic miniatures game with decent combat and lots of life. Well, there are better miniatures games out there, but this is still a surprisingly good one. Finally, what if you found this page by accident, and you don’t like Aliens vs Predator or board games. In that case, if you read this far, then maybe you’re curious enough to buy this game and give it a go anyway? At worst, you’ll have a pile of beautiful miniatures for only £50, and you just never know, do you?

**** 4/5

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