GameJoy: ALIEN: Colonial Marines Operations Manual Impressions

This week I was given a download code for a PDF of the newest ALIEN RPG release from Fria Ligan and 20th Century Studios. This 352 page beast of a book details all the rules and tools players and game mothers need for making a whole campaign centered around the ALIEN universe’s team of “ultimate badasses” featured in James Cameron’s Aliens.

This book marks the first big release in this game since 2020’s ALIEN Starter Set and the Marines adventure box Destroyer of Worlds. It borrows heavily from the latter for its lore, plot, and framework.

So is this book worth enlisting for, or is it ‘game over man’?

What’s In The Book?

The Colonial Marines Operations Manual (CMOM) is 50% player tools and character building, and 50% adventure missions for Game Mothers to run. Within its pages are seven parts:

  • History & Organization – the inside story of the illustrious USCMC.
  • Creating Marines – expanded character creation rules for grunts of all kinds.
  • Weapons & Vehicles – an extensive chapter with new gear, gloriously illustrated.
  • The Frontier War – the framework and backstory for a Colonial Marines campaign.
  • Factions on the Frontier – the powers that be and their dark agendas.
  • Marine Missions – six thrilling missions for your marines, playable in any order.
  • The Endgame – the showdown against a deadly enemy, finally revealed.

For Every Fight, A Special Marine

The part of the book I found the most useful and liked the best was the chapter on creating your own colonial marines. Despite loving the hell out of Aliens, I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the colonial marines as a persistent concept. Playing Vietnam-war analogues in space, or even more modern ideas about ‘space marines’ isn’t my first choice when it comes to the world of ALIEN.

Leave it to this book to have me, and I imagine a lot of other players, covered. The CMOM introduces 8 marine specialties to customize and individualize your characters, including standard assault troops, bomb defusal specialists, medical corps, scouts, snipers, search and rescue, and more. Despite all playing the same class (or career), it’s not hard to make your marines feel unique and distinct from one another.

This chapter also introduces a bevy of random tables for giving your marines random bits of backstory from previous missions, which helps define them and their relationships to their squadmates.

Homage, Comics, and Lore

The CMOM, having its action moved the furthest away from the established events of the films, is burdened with doing the most new worldbuilding compared to the previous book and adventures. It leans heavily on the biggest source of inspiration available for what’s written about colonial marines thus far: the long running Dark Horse comic book series. There’s a human-like alien species in the Arcturians (a one line reference from Aliens originally), new types of spacecraft lifted from the comics, as well as a whole series of NPCs and items that draw heavily from them.

On top of this, nearly every line of dialogue from the films has been combed over and either expanded upon or given tremendous significance. Just like how Parker’s one line from ALIEN “Can I finish my coffee first? It’s the only thing that’s good on this ship?” became lore that Weyland Yutani’s coffee is famous and sought after for being the best of all the corporations, so too have many lines from the films been taken hyper literally and made into lore.

Arcturians, bug hunts, stand up fights, dealer’s choice, every little line has been blown up into world building or mechanics. Some of it is clever, but now we’re at the point where it’s starting to feel slavish to its source material. There are, however, some original pieces of worldbuilding that add a great deal of tech noir cyberpunk flavor to this world, and they are worth seeking out for the novelty alone.

The Frontier War

The seven mission campaign framework that the CMOM sets up follows the events of ALIEN: Destroyer of Worlds. It’s a pretty well developed structure that sets up a two-fold mystery of who is bombing colonial border worlds between the UPP and the United Americas, as well as who is behind the xenomorph experiments on either side of the conflict.

The missions are varied enough to provide a sense of newness and variety to each one, though I wish the book had been structured a little differently to make it easier to reference. There is a LOT going on in these missions and a lot of critical information is spread across multiple chapters. For new Game Mothers, expect to take a lot of notes and make reference materials handy.

There is definitely a fun war yarn within this game, and if your players are chomping at the bit for some bug-stomping space military action with a side of espionage and mystery, it’s a very good fit.

Final Thoughts

ALIEN: Colonial Marines Operations Manual is a lot of fun and is chock full of lore and worldbuilding, with some choice bits of new rules and mechanics. While I don’t know that I’d be up to running a full campaign of colonial marine action, this book definitely provides a ton of inspiration, maps, and materials to supplement any game set in the ALIEN universe. I think it’s worth checking out!

While the PDF is useful, I’d recommend a physical copy of the book. The layout and tables are set up on a 2-page spread that reads more easily with a physical book.