Full review here: https://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/18/18421.phtml
Probably best known for their award-winning Tales From The Loop (2017), Free League continues its tradition of implementing their six-sided dice pool mechanic, dubbed Year Zero Engine. The basic resolution method is to roll a number of six-sided dice based on your character's skills and attributes, with any roll of 6 being a success. Multiple successes allow your character to do extra things, called stunts.
Characters have four attributes: Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy which can vary between 2 to 5 during character creation based on choice of career and allocation of starting points. A characters Health equals their Strength score. Each attribute has 3 skills associated with it. The skills and their associated attributes are fairly intuitive. For example, Close Combat is a skill under Strength, while Ranged Combat is associated with a character's Agility attribute. During character creation, players allocate a number of points to their skills, and based on their career choice, these skills levels will vary between zero and 3, at least initially. Future character advancement can bring a skill level up to 5.
There are 9 career options for characters in Alien: The Roleplaying Game. Careers include the iconic Colonial Marine and the less obvious Kid or Medic. Each career archetype comes with one key attribute (which allows a starting score of 5), 3 key skills (allows a starting score of 3), and 1 talent. The talent is chosen from a list of 3 options for each career and can be thought of as a feat which allows the character to do something outside the normal skill system. Upon character advancement, more talents can be acquired later. Starting characters are also given a selection of starting gear depending on the career chosen. It is interesting to note that android is not a career option, but the game does provide rules for synthetic player characters. Androids can have any career and can be open about their artificial nature or pretend to be human. Obviously, this secret would require some discussion with your GM as the rules are slightly different for synthetics.
While still utilizing the dice pool mechanic, the game designers have definitely ratcheted up the complexity when compared to Tales From The Loop. The biggest change is the addition of Stress Dice (also six-sided dice). As characters interact with the sci-fi/horror of the Alien universe, their Stress Level will increase; for example, by pushing rolls or seeing a Xenomorph. When a character attempts an action requiring a roll, the player will also roll a number of Stress Dice equal to their Stress Level. As with the normal dice pool, a Stress Die roll of 6 is also a success. However, a roll of 1 on a Stress Die requires a roll on the panic table to see what happens. So, the Stress Dice have two effects: one is to increase the chances of success, and the other is to provide a chance for the character to panic. Depending on the panic roll and current stress level, the character may start to tremble uncontrollably or go berserk and immediately attack the nearest person or creature. Of course, there are many other results on the panic table besides those two. I like the panic roll mechanic because even though it might take away player agency (at least temporarily), it does create interesting situations and forces the characters to really act out their fear in ways that the player might not be willing to.
The core rulebook provides dice pool game mechanics for almost all actions in the Alien world: skill rolls, armor and cover, running out of ammo and other consumables, spaceship combat, explosions, fire, decompression of a spaceship, and radiation. Initiative and critical injuries are two game mechanics that don't use the dice pool system. In this game, initiative order is handled with a simple card draw (regular playing cards could be used) and critical injuries are rolled on a table (2d6; 11 to 66) whenever a character is reduced to zero health.
Campaign vs Cinematic
One of the biggest strengths of this game are the two different modes of play: campaign and cinematic. While both game styles utilize the same game mechanics, they are very different in feel and intent. Campaign mode is self-explanatory if you have played roleplaying games like D&D: A group of players work together to advance a larger story over many play sessions, while the characters themselves advance in skill or power. Cinematic play is intended to be a one-shot or a few sessions that emulate a movie in the Alien universe. Players select from pre-generated characters that are assigned motivations and goals for that particular scenario. Character's goals will sometimes conflict and so player versus player combat is likely. As in any Alien movie, character deaths will be common and even total party kills are possible. My favorite aspect to cinematic play is that due to its one-shot nature, it is possible to have a player or two pretend to be something or someone they are not and sabotage the party. Is that pilot actually a corporate spy from Weyland-Yutani? Is our science officer a xeno-loving synthetic trying to make sure the crew is expendable?
This book includes about 4 pages dedicated to the Engineers, but game statistics are not provided so the assumption is that characters will not be fighting the Engineers. Instead the book describes the architecture and the technology of the Engineers so the characters can stumble upon one of their colossal Juggernauts or explore their ancient temples. But what about the eponymous Aliens? All seven life stages of the Xenomorph are detailed and statted out (egg, face hugger, chestburster, etc). Nine different adult forms of Xenomorph (drone, soldier, worker, queen, etc) are provided to stalk your player's nightmares. Alien Covenant's Neomorphs are also included with 5 different stages from egg to adult. Perhaps the coolest wrinkle here is that the Xenos and Neos don't just make normal melee attacks, they have signature attacks that can be randomly determined by rolling on a table. These signature attacks do interesting things such as causing victims to drop their weapon or forcing a panic roll in addition to causing damage. And if that's not enough to keep your players on their toes, there are four other extrasolar species detailed in the corebook.
One of the strongest aspects of this book is the amount of quality material that went into describing the Alien universe. To start, the inside cover provides a map of the galaxy, color-coded by controlling faction. There is an entire chapter dedicated to describing the governments and corporations of the Alien universe, including the quasi-governmental body, the Interstellar Commerce Commission. In order to provide places for your space truckers and colonial marines to explore, this book describes 21 different star systems and some systems have multiple worlds of interest. And if that's not enough, multiple pages of tables are provided for industrious gamemasters who want to create their own star systems and planetary bodies. These tables include size, atmosphere, temperature, terrain, and colony size. To assist in sandbox-style campaign play, more tables are provided for generating job missions and complications whether your group is made up of explorers, cargo haulers, or marines. If you need a base of operations for your campaign, Novgorod Station is detailed here with maps, interior details, 5 unexpected events to spark an adventure, and 4 key NPCs to interact with. After that, a short scenario with maps is provided, called Hope's Last Day. This could be played as a cinematic prequel to Aliens, since the scenario takes place in the Hadley's Hope colony prior to Ripley's second visit to the moon LV-426.