We’re going on a bug hunt! Gonna catch a big one! We’re not scared! Well, okay… maybe just a little scared.
We’ve lost contact with colony LV-426, so it’s time to send in the US Colonial Marines!
What Is Aliens: Bug Hunt?
Aliens: Bug Hunt is a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players, ages 17 and up, and takes about an hour to play. It’s available starting today from the Upper Deck store, with a retail price of $39.99. Note for parents: the age rating seems to be primarily because the game is based on an R-rated movie, but the game itself isn’t R-rated. Some of the cards include quotes from the movie, and the strongest language included is “hell,” while “b*tch” is bleeped out. There are illustrations of the xenomorphs on the cards, but there isn’t any gore, so as long as the artwork doesn’t give your kids nightmares, the game itself can be played by younger kids. Obviously there is simulated violence as the xenomorphs and marines attack each other.
Aliens: Bug Hunt was designed by Ryan Miller and published by Upper Deck, with art by Caio Cacau, Daniel Reneau, and Vinz el Tabanas.
Aliens: Bug Hunt Components
The box is shaped like an ammo box: a narrow vertical box, with a lid that has a slanted edge.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- APC board
- 4 Player boards
- 30 Location tiles
- 20 Character cards
- 12 Named Character cards
- 8 Grunt cards
- 60 Tracking cards
- 15 Mission cards
- 30 Phase cards
- 13 Player Phase cards (3 per player color, plus 1 Lt. Command card)
- 17 Xenomorph Phase cards
- 4 Squad miniatures
- 4 Colored bases
- 30 Xenomorph dice
- 10 Objective tokens
- Wound tokens
- Breach tokens
- Hive counter
- Rules Dossier
The narrow box makes for a tricky storage space, but they did pretty well with the design. There are two plastic trays: one holds the cards and tiles, and the other holds the punch-out tokens and dice (with a snap-on lid). Each tray has spaces for two miniatures. There’s a piece of foam that goes in between the two trays just to provide a little padding. The player boards, APC board, and rulebooks tuck in along the side.
The xenomorph dice are small, six-sided dice, a dark but translucent smoky color. Four sides are blank; one has white scratch marks, and the other has red jaws, painted and engraved. They work fine, but the blank sides do feel a little boring, and (depending on lighting) can be trickier to see against the dark background of the tiles.
The four miniatures are each unique sculpts, with different poses and weapons. Based on the artwork from the cards, the four look like Drake, Apone, Wierzbowski, and possibly Hudson. (I’m not so sure about the last one, but I like the idea of having Bill Paxton in my game.) When playing the game, the miniatures each represent a squad and so it’s not as important who they are specifically. They all look geared up and ready for action, except the last one, who looks a little bit like he’s aiming his gun but also has to pee. (Again, maybe that’s Hudson.) There are four colored bases that are interchangeable so any player color can be any of the marines and so you can more easily identify which miniature is yours.
The cards themselves have a gloss finish like Legendary (also from Upper Deck), though maybe not quite as stiff—I always had a little bit of difficulty shuffling Legendary but these shuffle nicely. The illustrations on the cards depict the various characters in action poses; the xenomorph phase cards all use the same illustration of a group of aliens, though there’s a different quote from the movie on each card.
The mission cards have thematic titles representing what you’re doing, though what you’re mostly interested in is the special abilities they grant you. There doesn’t really seem to be much of a connection between the title and the ability usually. One thing I’ll note is that the spaces for the objective tokens have the same image as the token itself, so it can be hard to tell at a glance how many tokens are on a card. (For instance, in the photo above, the card on the left has 2 tokens and the card in the center has 1 token.) It might have been nice to have the printed icons be greyed out or something, just to make it a little more obvious.
The location tiles are fairly simple: each one is a top-down view of a four-way intersection, though some of the entrances may be barricaded, and some tiles also have hives (a number in a green circle) and potentially an objective icon. Each one also has a “lit” doorway to indicate the side where you entered the tile. The artwork is pretty dark on the tiles, which I suppose is thematically appropriate, but it does mean that the barricades can be difficult to see depending on the lighting. (And, in my case, playing over videochat meant I needed to highlight barricades with some extra tokens.) The APC board itself looks like a top-down view of the building exterior, with stairs leading to the entrance in Sector 3.
The hive counter, a small cardboard disc, is also pretty dark. Upon closer examination, it has the xenomorph from the box cover on it, but at a distance it just looks like a dark mottled circle, and it’s placed on the APC board, which has a dark background. Mostly you can tell where it is because it looks like one of the numbers on the track is missing.
A special note about the rules: the dossier contains four rulebooks—they’re simply folded cards, so each has only four pages (including the cover). The idea is that you give one to each player (there’s a card explaining how to divvy them up if you have fewer than four players), and then everybody is responsible for one portion of setup and rules. So the Master Sergeant does the bulk of the setup and knows how to shoot xenomorphs, but the Intel Sergeant is in charge of tracking the aliens and managing the xenomorph dice. It’s a clever system to distribute the learning process, but it does require a gaming group where everyone is willing to learn and teach—and when I was trying to learn the game on my own, it made it difficult to find information because I had to flip through four different booklets. There is a compiled rulebook that combines everything, though it’s only available as a PDF, not included in the game itself.
One fun detail about the rulebooks is that each one introduces you to your role in the marines—and each one tells you that your role is THE MOST IMPORTANT component of the mission. So get in there and do your job!
The player boards aren’t really exciting—basically there’s space to hold three character cards, sliding them up or down to make them “Ready” or “Depleted,” along with a player aid on the side. They’re mostly useful as a player aid and to indicate your player color, but there’s not a lot else to them.
How to Play Aliens: Bug Hunt
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to explore the colony, complete three objectives, and get everyone out safely. As with most cooperative games, there are several ways to lose.
Place the APC board to one side of the playing area, with the sector numbers facing the center—you’ll need room for up to a 5 x 6 grid of tiles adjacent to it. Place the hive counter on the first space of the hive track.
Shuffle all the location tiles face-down to form a supply. Place all the wound tokens skull-side-up and mix them up. Place these nearby as well: the tracking cards (shuffled), the xenomorph dice, and the objective tokens. Shuffle the mission cards and deal 3 cards face-up, and put the rest back in the box.
Give each player a player board, along with 2 grunts and 1 named character card. (Note that some of the named character cards may have additional setup rules on them.) The cards are placed on the three slots on the player board near the top, so that the word “ready” is visible below the cards. You can place the characters in any order, but note that the “point man” (on the right) is the one that will take damage first. Each player takes a squad miniature and a colored base that matches their player board, and places it on the APC tile in Sector 3.
Build the phase deck: include 3 cards for each player color along with the Lt. Command card, plus 1 xenomorph phase card per player. Shuffle the phase deck.
Draw the first tracking card: it will indicate which sectors have aliens waiting in the dark—place dice just to the right of the APC tile in the rows indicated.
Each turn, reveal a card from the phase deck, indicating whose turn it is. If the Lt. Command card is revealed, the players decide as a team who should take the turn. If a xenomorph phase card is revealed, move the hive counter up one space—more on that later.
When it is your turn, you may spend up to 3 movement points, and then take 1 action. (You may not spend any more movement points after your action.)
Moving through an open doorway costs 1 movement point, and moving through a barricade costs 2 movement points. When you move into an empty space, draw a location tile and place it so the bright light faces the direction you entered from. If there’s a hive (a green circle with a number), place that many dice on the tile. If there’s an objective icon, place an objective token on the tile. (Note that the complex does not extend above or below the APC tile, and is 6 tiles deep—you cannot move outside of those boundaries.) You may only enter and exit the APC through Sector 3.
Normally, you can’t leave a tile if there are xenomorphs on it—you need some covering fire! You can leave if there’s another squad in your tile, or if you move through an open doorway to join another squad.
After you are done moving (or stayed put), you get 1 action: shoot, capture an objective, breach a barrier, or reload.
To shoot, you must deplete any number of your ready characters by sliding them down (covering the word “ready” and revealing the word “depleted”). Each character has a number of bullets, indicating how many xenomorphs they can shoot. You must target aliens on your own tile first, and then aliens on adjacent tiles (but only through open doorways).
Roll the targeted dice on your tile. A blank face means it is dead and it is returned to the supply. White scratches means it survived and stays on your tile. Red teeth mean that it attacked you and you take a wound.
Then, roll any targeted dice on adjacent tiles. A blank face means it’s dead, and any other face means that it moves onto your tile (but does not wound you).
When you’re wounded, you take a wound token and place it on your point man character card. Each card has an armor value. Once you have that many wound tokens on a card, then you flip over a wound token each time you’re wounded. If it says “KIA,” then that character is killed and removed, and everyone else slides to the right, making somebody else the point man. If it’s blank, then you survive. (If you get really lucky and all of them are blank, then the character dies the next time they take another wound.)
To capture an objective, you simply spend your action to take an objective token in your space. Place it on one of the empty spaces on any of the three objective cards.
Each of the objective cards also has a special ability. Players may flip an objective token over (to the X side) to use the ability. Each card indicates when the ability may be used.
To breach a barrier, place a breach token over a barrier. That is now an empty doorway, even if a later exploration places a barrier there. It only takes one breach to open a doorway even if there are barriers on both tiles along that edge.
To reload, slide all of your characters up to “ready.”
If a xenomorph phase card is revealed, you move the hive counter up one space (or wrap back around to “1” if it is at the top).
Each time the hive counter reaches a number that has the xenomorph icon next to it, there’s a Xenomorph Phase with three steps: attack, move, and spawn. The steps are printed on the APC board next to the hive track as an easy reminder.
First, each xenomorph that is in a space with a squad attacks one squad, causing a wound. (If there’s more than one squad, players decide who gets to be the hero and take the wound.)
Then, each xenomorph that isn’t in a location with a squad moves. If it’s adjacent to a squad, it moves to the squad. (If it’s adjacent to more than one squad, players can decide where it goes.) If it’s not adjacent to a squad, it moves one space directly toward the APC. If it reaches the APC tile, then it escapes and is returned to the box—and you move the hive counter up 1. Xenomorphs are not blocked by barricades, and can leave through any sector of the APC.
Finally, the xenomorphs spawn: draw a tracking card, and place xenomorph dice into the indicated rows (and also trigger effects on the card, if any). When placing dice in a row, first place dice equal to the hive numbers on the tiles, starting from the APC and moving right (even if there are already dice on those tiles). Then, if you have leftover dice, place them in the empty space closest to the APC. If the entire row is filled with 6 tiles, then place leftover dice in the last tile farthest from the APC.
Each time the hive counter reaches the top of the track, where there is a card icon, add a xenomorph phase card to the phase discard pile.
Once all three objective cards are filled, each squad must get back to Sector 3 on the APC tile—if you do that successfully, you win!
However, if any of these occur, then it’s game over, man, game over!
- You need to place xenomorph dice but there aren’t enough left in the supply.
- A squad loses its third character.
- The tracking deck runs out of cards.
- You need to add more xenomorph phase cards but there aren’t any more.
There are a couple of ways to adjust the difficulty. If you need to make it easier, you can give players additional named characters, and/or skip the spawn step during setup.
If it’s not hard enough, spawn twice during setup, and/or start with additional xenomorph phase cards in the deck.
Why You Should Play Aliens: Bug Hunt
Let me start by saying that I’m not an Aliens superfan. I’m not usually much for scary movies in general, so it took me a while before I got around to watching the films, and even then I’ve only seen the movies once, so I don’t know them really well. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been exposed to plenty of Aliens-related pop culture, so I had enough familiarity to recognize a lot of the quotes on the cards. Two of my kids (ages 13 and 7) also played with me, though neither of them has seen any of the Aliens films and don’t know much about the franchise at all. So I think it’s safe to say that you can enjoy this game even if you don’t know anything about the films.
The theme of the game is based on the plot of the second film—they’ve lost contact with the colony and have sent the marines (along with Ripley, the sole survivor from the first film). But mostly all you need to know is that there are big aliens hiding in the shadows and they’re not nice to people.
The game mechanics are pretty simple, and each individual turn is pretty quick because you have limited movement points and only one action. In some cases, if you’re in a space with a xenomorph and you can’t get away, you don’t have any movement at all, so you just get an action. That narrows down the decision space a little bit per turn, but a lot of the discussion is about the overall direction for the team: do you split the party so you can cover more ground, or stick close together so you can help each other out of a sticky situation? If there are xenomorphs near the exit, do you send a squad back to clean them up, or focus on the objectives and let a few escape? Should you spend your precious action breaching a barricade, or just use some movement points to go over it?
All of those little decisions can have big consequences, of course. If you all stick together and explore slowly, you can prevent anyone from getting trapped on a tile by xenomorphs, but it could take too long to explore the compound. Because you gradually add more xenomorph cards to the phase deck, the longer you take, the more turns the aliens get. But if you spread out to explore, you may end up taking a lot more wounds. Letting one or two xenomorphs escape may not be terrible, but each one bumps the hive counter up, which accelerates everything: they’re closer to moving again, spawning more aliens, and potentially escaping to start the cycle all over again. Jumping over barricades lets you use your action for things that seem more important, like shooting or reloading, but it means that you have no way of backing up quickly if you run into a hive. And once you’ve collected all of the objectives, you might appreciate having a clear path back to the exit. These trade-offs are what make the game fun—and a bit nerve-wracking.
The xenomorph system is also really simple, but effective. Aliens in your space attack; aliens next to you approach; all the other aliens move toward the exit. The way they spawn, they appear as close to the APC as they can get, so you want to keep an eye on the hives. There’s not a good way for you to choose where hives show up, but once you’ve found them you know where they’ll be spawning. Shooting aliens is also easily resolved and very quick. Generally you prefer to shoot from an adjacent tile, because you’re guaranteed not to get wounded, but sometimes it may be a disadvantage to have aliens move onto your current tile. On the flip side, there are several characters who can target extra xenomorphs on their own tile, so you don’t want those abilities to go to waste.
I like the mix of character abilities, though there are definitely some I like better than others. Bishop is an interesting one—he’s a named character that is worth using as your point man because he has 6 armor but no bullets. Instead, you can deplete him to pick up an objective without using your squad’s action, so he’s kind of an extra action. Plus, with his 6 armor, he can soak a lot of damage—and once you’ve gotten all of your objectives, he’s basically useless otherwise so it’s okay if you lose him mid-game. On the other hand, Crowe is basically a grunt who can take on the special ability of a deceased character. That means that if everyone else has their named characters last, Crowe may not get to use any special abilities until late in the game, or not at all.
The objectives have titles that sound thematically appropriate, but completing an objective in the game consists solely of finding and picking up the token, and in that sense all of the objectives are basically equivalent. It can seem a little funny that you could walk into a room and then decide whether you’re rescuing a colonist or working on a reactor core, but I’m not sure you really want the game to be more complex to set up, so it works all right. It just pulls you out of the theme a little.
The phase deck is a fun way to handle the turns. I haven’t often seen a card deck used to determine turn order (Tiny Epic Defenders comes to mind), but it ensures that everyone gets the same number of turns on average, while making the actual turn order unpredictable. Sometimes you may get several turns in a row—great if you need to move quickly or break a barricade and pick up an objective, but not so great if you’re stuck in a space with xenomorphs and were really hoping somebody could come help you out. The phase deck also means that early in the game the xenomorphs are taking turns roughly once every three player turns, but they ramp up and eventually are taking turns much more frequently. Once you’ve hit a certain number of xenomorph cards in the deck, it really feels like you’re being overrun.
All information is shared by all the players, which has its pros and cons. The upside is that I was able to play Aliens: Bug Hunt with some friends over videochat. We set up the camera so it pointed down at the tiles; their player boards weren’t on-screen so they would just ask if they didn’t remember which characters were depleted or how many wounds they had. I did have to use some additional pieces to make the barricades a bit more visible, but otherwise it worked really well.
The downside is that it does mean it’s susceptible to alpha players taking over and telling everyone what to do. (Which is basically what you do if you play a solo game; the rules don’t spell it out, but I recommend playing with at least 2 squads, or else you can just get completely immobilized the first time you run into a xenomorph.) As long as you let everyone make their own decisions on their turns, though, it’s fine. Distributing the rulebook in four parts is presumably another way to break up both the learning/teaching as well as divvy up responsibilities so that everyone gets to play a part, and I’m curious whether it actually works.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed playing Aliens: Bug Hunt both with my kids and with some of my adult friends. It is perhaps not as involved as some of the other games I like, but right now it can be hard to get people on board to play a big, complex game (especially since my in-person gaming group often consists of a 7-year-old and a 13-year-old). And at the moment it seems somewhat appropriate to play a game about being walled in, squeezing through claustrophobic corridors, just trying to get a job done while being surrounded by ever-increasing numbers of invisible dangers. Maybe that’s just because I went shopping for groceries today. Despite some nitpicks about visibility issues, I think it’s a solid cooperative game—plus it’s nice to have something that my teen and my youngest will both play with me.
For more information, or to order a copy, visit the Aliens: Bug Hunt website.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.