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Weekend Warrior: Fightin' Facehuggers

Holden’s Log - I took this posting aboard the Nemesis to escape some bad sh*t back home. A decade in cryo sleep seemed like the perfect solution to my problems. Of course, we woke up early, klaxons blaring like some kind of military alarm clock. My pod opened and after I finished coughing up that f*cking goo they use to entomb us in these things, I looked about to see Jim’s body, propped up against his sleeping chamber, his guts hanging out like some kind of HR Giger themed party decorations.

I wasn’t alone, the pilot and the scout were awake too, had one of them been the b*stard that gutted poor Jim? I couldn’t be sure. We split up. I took the corridor to the east, heading for the laboratory, while the pilot made for the cockpit. It wasn’t long after that we heard the screams and the onboard computer confirmed the presence of intruders aboard the Nemesis. My comm beeped. The dot matrix display flashed up a new set of orders from the corporation. I was to gather as much intel as I could on the intruders and make it back to earth in one piece.

I was a warrior, not a f*cking scientist. Killin’s in my blood, I wanted nothing more than to hunt down the Queen and put a bullet between her ugly f*cking eyes. But I had my orders. I trekked back to the cryo chambers, the skittering noise of the intruders was all around me now and the chambers between me and the cyro room were filled with a foul smelling slime that dripped and oozed from every bulkhead.

I grabbed Jim’s body and hefting it onto my shoulder I made my way back to the lab. The pilot came in over the comm, his transmission broken but it sounded like he said engines 2 and 3 were down. I ignored him, I didn’t have time for that sh*t, I had my own crap to deal with. I placed Jim’s mangled corpse on the scanning table and out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow move.

There it was, bigger than a bear, black skin covered with chitin plates that formed a kind of armour. The creature struck at me with its tail, a protruding dagger-like a barb slicing through my fatigues like they were nought but paper. I unloaded my assault rifle into the beast and it went down in a heap, black blood oozing from the gaping wounds.

Cautiously I approached it, my rifle was out of ammo, so I held it with the butt of the weapon ready to be used as an improvised club. Suddenly the beast jerked to life, a claw like appendage rending my armour. I smashed my weapon against its armour plated skull, blood gushed from the wound, splashing in my mouth, but still the intruder thrashed around, latching onto my leg with it razor sharp teeth.

Pulling the dagger from my belt I plunged it deep into the soft and squishy bundle of veins beneath the creature's armoured head, pulling the blade and twisting as I did, hoping to hit something, anything vital, that would bring the conflict to an end. The beast quivered and shook and then went still. I finished my work with the scanner and bandaged myself up as best I could. My leg was in tatters and my gun was empty of ammo, but I was still breathing.

The scout came over the radio, escape pod A was unlocked. I looked around at the signage in the lab, escape pod A was in the next section over, all I had to do was make it there. Limping, I made my way to the pod. The door to the glistening white vehicle was open, my ticket out of here was waiting for me. And so was another intruder. I dodged it’s outstretched arms and made a dash for the pod. There was a mechanical hiss and clunk as the door closed, with me on the wrong side of it. I banged my fist on the access panel as the green light flicked to red. I cast a glance up at the security camera above the pod and signaled to our scout to open the f*cking door. There was no reply.

I ran. My leg was slowing me down and there were now intruders popping up at every turn. The ship was about enter hyperspace and if I couldn’t get to the cryopods my insides would be turned to goo by the g-forces. Screams came over the radio, something about the Queen. I ignored them, there was nothing between me and the cryo chambers now… nothing that was but fire.

Chunks of metal fell from the ceiling smashing the control console. Intruders scrambled through the vents and the air was filled with burning embers. Once again our scout’s voice came over the radio, Escape Pod B was open. Using my rifle as a crutch I began to run once more. The escape pod was two chambers over. Short cutting through the airlock was the fastest way…

Yet more fire blocked my way. I closed the bulkhead door and took shelter here, if anyone should find this record, know that I tried to make it back, and know too, that I was betrayed.

- - - Message Ends - - -

This weekend I went outside for the first time in 15 months for something other than shopping or work. A friend of mine from work invited me to the game shop in Chester for a game of Nemesis from Awaken Realms. We played with the shop owner, a nice man called Richard, who had set up the game for us before we arrived and taught the game with appropriate enthusiasm and gusto.

The shop in question is based in Boughton, not far from the Waitrose and is called Aspirations Play Game Shop. Inside are a handful of tables along with a library of games that players can check out and play. Richard himself is on hand to help with rules and to provide drinks and snacks which can be purchased from the till. The shop is clean and bright and welcoming and a good time was had by all that were in attendance.

As for the game… Nemesis seeks to immerse you in its theme, and to be clear, that theme is the Alien franchise, whether or not it says so on the cover. The game is fairly long and involved and problematically it also features player elimination. There is no mitigation for that either so if you are taken out of the game early on you could be in for 3 hours of watching everyone else play or you can use the optional rules to play as the Intruders.

The biggest problem I had with our playthrough was that I wasn’t immersed in the theme, because the mechanics just kept getting in the way. In an attempt to make the game feature as many nods to the source material as possible, Awaken Realms have rather overcooked the goose in my opinion. Every room tile in the game has special rules which need to be referenced from an oversized double-sided reference card. And at the end of every round you pull a token from a bag and have to look up what it does because the effects just aren't intuitive. And if you manage to survive the game and make it to the end there are four different checks to confirm your victory.

So, the game feels overwrought and difficult to grok, which compounds the issues of teaching the game to first time players once you add in the semi-cooperative secret objectives. At first the idea of a traitor seems super fun, but in practice, the game is so hard to survive and win anyway that having another player plotting against you feels rather disheartening.

This is specifically what happened with us. My friend’s objective was that I could not survive. I had completed my mission and was heading for the escape pod, I was infected so could have lost because of that but the odds were good I could survive. However my friend then went out of his way to stop me, not once but twice and in doing so doomed himself.

I guess my problem with this was that I was not being targeted because I was in a stronger position, I was just being attacked because that was the arbitrary win condition for another player. In our three player game this meant that the other player was largely un-harassed despite playing more selfishly and suspiciously.

Would I be willing to play again? I would. I’d like to see if with repeat plays the mechanics can take a back seat to the theme, I’d also like to explore different characters and strategies. I think I’d like to try the full cooperative version too and see if, without the suspicion aspect, the game can still work or if it needs that edge to maintain the suspense. Nemesis is definitely a game that falls into my wheelhouse, but this first play has tempered my enthusiasm if not my curiosity.

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