15th Nov2019

‘Nemesis’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

nemesis-box

Whilst there have undoubtedly been many emulations and adaptions of the Alien universe, it is often the unofficial interpretations that capture the terrifying menace of the xenomorph most effectively. Nemesis (from Awaken Realms and veteran design Adam Kwapinski) is certainly not officially attached to the Alien universe, but its setting, cast of characters and subject matter are so clearly inspired by the IP that they might as well be.

In Nemesis, between one and five players will take on the role of survivors waking up from hypersleep following some kind of attack on their ship. A crew member lies dead before them and it’s clear that they didn’t go peacefully. In the standard game mode, the players will work semi-cooperatively to achieve a mix of personal and company objectives whilst also ensuring that they stay alive. I say semi-cooperatively because whilst Nemesis is not a cooperative game, it is necessary for the players to form alliances of convenience from time to time.

Included among the variant modes are options to have one player take control of the intruders, whilst another allows for completely cooperative play. The solo mode also has some slight variations to the standard multiplayer mode (which is designed for two to five players) but all of these play in a similar way, with tweaks to the base rules rather than a complete rewrite. Whilst the setup varies quite a bit from one game to the next thanks to randomised tiles, cards and tokens, there’s no campaign mode to play through.

Setup itself is daunting but self-explanatory and relatively simple once you’re used to it. The board is placed in the centre of the table and the large room tokens are placed onto the numbered spaces based on their backs. All number two rooms will be used (since they are likely to be needed in every game) but not all of the number ones will be. Similarly, an exploration token will be placed onto each room at random, and then tokens and cards will setup things like the current coordinates for the ship, the active escape pods and the engine status.

The players will then arrange the staggering number of cards, tokens and miniatures as best they can around the table, and set up the Intruder board to include a stash of eggs, as well as three randomly chosen weaknesses that will be researched and flipped over later on. The intruder bag will be setup based on player count, with a fixed number of tokens of each kind added at a basic level, and then the remainder added based on how many players there are in the game. With a few other bits of housekeeping done, the players will then begin to choose their characters.

At this point I should mention the component quality in Nemesis, which even by Awaken Realms standards is astonishing. The human character miniatures are all fine, with some unique models and poses including one character in a wheelchair who has some great detail, but the intruder models steal the show. From the gigantic queen to the tiny facehugger-esque creatures, every model is fantastic. The adult intruders are cast in several moulds (since you’ll see them the most) and there are loads in the box, each one towering above their human counterparts with murderous intent.

The remaining components include the large double-sided board, the clear and detailed room tokens, the plastic pieces that represent fire, ammunition, threat and many other things are all of top quality. My copy was received without bases for the doors, oddly, but that’s something I will hopefully be able to correct via contact with Awaken Realms (no word yet though.) The instruction manual is clear and detailed, with good examples and supporting information that helps players set up their first few games and explains variants in a good level of detail.

Once the game begins, it is deceptively simple, with players taking turns over up to fifteen rounds of play. Each round has the players take a turn, and then there is an event phase which will often cause the intruders to advance, attack or do one of a few other things to threaten the players. Player turns are card driven, with each player acting as a specific character that and using a matching deck of cards to take actions. At the beginning of their turn, the active player will always draw five cards and can spend as many as they wish to perform their two actions, with symbols shown on the cards acting as currency when those cards are discarded.

Most player turns include actions such as moving from one room to the next, searching the room, attacking an intruder or performing some context specific action that might be related to their class (medic, engineer, captain, scout etc) or the actual room they are in (sick bay, engine room etc.) Combat is relatively simple and the players will be able to find new weapons and armour throughout the game to equip either in their hands or place in one of their backpack slots. Only two large items (including large weapons) can be carried, so there’s a bit of strategy here. Ammunition must also be carefully managed.

Once the players have acted, the event phase happens. This phase is card driven and results in one or more of several possibilities, including having some or all of the intruders on the board advance towards the players and attack them if possible. They usually appear on the board as the result of player movement (which generates noise tokens unless the expensive careful movement action is used) and once on the board they can be very tricky to remove. Much as it is in the Alien mythos, the best plan in Nemesis is often simply to run away.

The rub of Nemesis comes from whatever your objectives are, really. You might be a double agent, sent to retrieve an alien corpse and escape the ship with no one else left alive – or you might actually have an agenda to support the other crew members (though only to a certain extent.) Sometimes you’ll need to send a message back to Earth, or retrieve an egg, or sabotage the ship – there are numerous possibilities and each player will keep their objectives secret. To achieve whatever it is that you need to do though, you’ll rarely want to alert too many intruders early in the game.

This leaves players with some tough and tense choices to make. You might need that alien corpse, but why make a load of noise this early in the game when you can’t escape the ship anyway? Alternatively, if you need to get to the engine room, why not try and lead another player in the same direction (since travelling together generates less noise tokens overall) only to then abandon them later when the going gets tough? One thing I have learned about Nemesis is that when it all hits the fan, it will usually mean “game over, man” since players can count themselves lucky to survive any encounter with an adult (or larger) intruder.

Thanks to the tense nature of the gameplay (and I think the competitive element adds to this a lot) and the exceptional quality of the miniatures and supporting material, Nemesis is quite a showpiece game. It will usually last between two and three hours for a game and players can be eliminated fairly early – it usually happens first around the halfway point – meaning that it’s an investment of a whole evening whenever it comes out. Like the Alien movies though (at least the first two) there’s a sense of occasion about it, and it never fails to impress or excite the players.

**** 4/5

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