05 August 2022

Military Sci-Fi Oddities: There was ALIENS and TERMINATOR RPGs?!

During the RPG and boardgame craze that started in the late 1970’s, there was a massive amount of all types of RPGs and boardgames made and for all different types of setting. You could be the captain of a Federation starship, a Bard singing in Waterdeep bar, a tank commander in a post-WWIII European battlefield, a zelot genetic engineered killing machine in a space hulk cutting down monsters with a chainsword, or even a pilot of 11 meter tall walking tank on a far-flung human colony stalking other walking tanks.You are never quite sure what you will find when you wander around the dusty back sections of your favorite local comic book store back in the 1980's and 1990’s...and during my hunting days in those back corners of Starbase 21 in Tulsa. During this time, I came across what I would later learn was the Leading Edge Games ALIENS role playing game. I can still recall the boxed RPG sitting on the back RPG shelves at Starbase 21 comic book store in Tulsa. Never bought, never knew anyone that did...but I wanted to see what the hell was this game about my favorite movie was all about. Recently, while watching Spoony's Counter Monkey series, he displayed the Leading Edge Game ALIENS  game and that got me to Googling...then I made a profound discovery: not only was there an ALIENS RPG, but there was an Terminator one as well! WTF?! In this blogpost, we will explaining and exploring the ALIENS and Terminator RPGs developed by Leading Edge Games in the twilight hours of their existence. 

Who the Hell was "Leading Edge Games"?
The graveyard of game companies that were founded in the apex of the popularity of RPGs in the post-D&D world are many and the publisher of ALIENS and Terminator 2 RPGs is among the headstones: Leading Edge Games. Founded in by Barry Nakazono and David McKenzie in 1982 in Pasadena, California and closed around 1994. One of the most interesting facts about the founders of LEG was that Barry Nakazono is currently a propulsion engineer at CalTech and David McKenzie is a writer and designer. 
This level of talent was involved in developing several noted in-house titles besides the licensed titles that LEG managed: Living Steel and Phoenix Command. Phoenix Command is infamous today (and even then) in the old-school RPG realm due to it’s vast and hard-nosed detail to realism when it comes to wound ballistics in combat situations from specific weapons. Using this system for gaming would allow for a certain caliber of round fired from a specific weapon that impacted in a certain area of the human body to calculated and the damage laid out at the anatomical level. The fun will now commence. Living Steel, published in 1987, was a pen-and-paper-with-miniatures military sci-fi game that was used by LEG as a vehicle for their Phoenix Command Combat System (PCCS). The game takes place on the colonial world of Rhand during an alien invasion and the human resistance in powered armor suits waging a war of survival against the invaders. These two games put LEG company on the map and into the gaming consciousness. Later on, LEG would get the license for ALIENS, Terminator 2, The Lawnmower Man, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula that allowed the company to fuse those properties with the PCCS. The complexity of the PCCS and bad word of mouth among the gaming community may have ended the company before they could change and save the good work they did with their licensed properties.    

ALIENS Adventure Game (1991)
This RPG game was centered around the US Colonial Marines in the 22nd century and the base game of around 200-page manual was sold for $21 in 1991 ($47.75 in 2022 money). One of the interesting and odd elements of the ALIENS Adventure Game is that there was previous LEG ALIENS boardgame released in 1989 that was much loved and sells for big money today. Unlike that 1989 boardgame, the 1991 ALIENS Adventure Game used the nuclear-launch code complex PCCS developed by LEG for several of their games. Given the use of miniatures and the focus on the military science fiction element of the ALIENS universe, it was slow game that dealt with the reality of combat on off-world colonies with all manner of alien lifeforms. Leading Edge Games did some nice work on fleshing out some of the background information on the ALIENS universe that included stellar cartography, the xenomorph themselves, USCM equipment and vehicles, and even other ships besides the Sulaco. While the game manual seems impressive, when have to remember that this is context to the time when published. The 1996 ALIENS Colonial Marine Technical Manual is far more detailed than the 1991 game manual and there was no original art inside the game manual to speak of, save for the star maps. Some of the photos used in the 1991 game manual were rare and some were only available in the official 1986 movie magazine (which is awesome!). Some have said that the ALIENS Adventure Game is too centered on the USCM and there is a lack of the RPG character roles and personalities seen in titles like Twilight 2000, Traveler, Star Frontiers, and D&D. Despite coming out three years prior to the end of LEG, there was no additional modules developed. There was a adventure module developed  for the ALIENS boardgame, but for the RPG.   

The ALIENS Adventure Game Miniatures 
The 25mm pewter miniatures were the work of Bob Ridolfi, who is a noted figurine sculptor. These miniatures, while a little rough, are still held in high regards and command high prices on the 2nd market. The entire team seen in the 1986 movie were recreated in a complete line of figures that was all 13 Colonial Marines with the support crew of Ripley, Burke, and Newt (and even the bloody cat!). 
These were blister sold in sets or in theme boxed sets including one having the Haley’s Hope colonists being attacked. Crazy. One of the standouts of the ALIENS 25mm figures was the vehicles. The Cheyenne Dropship, Powerloader, and the M557 APC are considered holy grails by collectors. One of the mysteries of the line was the mention on some sites of set number 20309, the USS Sulaco. There is nothing in the way of concept drawings or a prototype that hints that vehicle was more than planned by LEG before the company shut down.
Here is the complete list (list is from www.cs.cmu.edu/~tpope/sol/leading-edge/aliens.html) :

Boxed Sets
•     20300  Alien Warriors #1
•     20301  Colonial Marines #1
•     20302  Colonial Marines #2
•     20303  Queen's Lair
•     20304  Colonist's Last Stand
•     20305  Alien Warriors #2
•     20306  Power Loader
•     20307  APC
•     20308  Dropship
•     20309  Sulaco (never released)

Blister Packs
•     24101  Alien Warriors #1
•     24102  Alien Warriors #2
•     24103  Alien Warriors #3
•     24104  Alien Warriors #4
•     24105  Alien Warriors #5
•     24106  Alien Warriors #6
•     24107  Alien Warriors #7
•     24108  Alien Warriors #8
•     24109  Alien Warriors #9
•     24201  Ripley, Hicks, Newt and Burke
•     24202  Dropship Crew (Ferro, Spunkmeyer, Frost)

•     24203  Machinegunners (Vasquez, Drake, Wierzbowski)
•     24204  "Game Over" (Hudson, Bishop, Crowe)
•     24205  Apone (Apone, Gorman, Dietrich)
•     24301  Sentry Guns
•     24302  Facehuggers
•     24303  Alien Eggs
•     24305  Colonists Attacked by Facehugger
•     24401  Powerloader and Cat

TERMINATOR 2: Year of Darkness Miniature Combat System (1993)
One year prior to the closing of Leading Edge Games, one of the last products rolled out: T2: Year of Darkness Miniature Combat System. Based on the Human Resistance verse the robotic armies of SkyNet as seen in the future war scenes in the only two Terminator films, the game was designed to be a 25mm miniature combat game, which have a popular type of RPG games since time began. There is little on this game due to its rarity and even less information on what it was like to play the game. Even scans of the manual are nearly non-existent. To me, this might tell us that the game was not in wide circulation due to the game being released one year before the closure of LEG. The following section is taken from Terminator Wiki site had to say and it is one of the only pieces of information on the game: Taking place in 2027(?), Year of Darkness is an long out of print 25mm tabletop miniatures skirmish combat miniatures war game for 2 players, it was a squad level combat system, which one player assumed command of Human Resistance forces and the other player commanded SkyNet forces. Each player collected, assembled, and painted his army of 25mm pewter miniatures composed of either the human Resistance soldiers or the extensive SkyNet robotic army of endoskeletons, infiltrators, HK tanks and HK aerial units. 
These 25mm warriors would engage on the a homemade post-apocalyptic battlefield usually on a large 6×4 table and fight in strategic skirmish battles using multiple 6-sided dice for weapons attack outcome. The movement of the forces was determined with tape measure (inches or mm) and unit movement value was designated for each unit in the core rule book. The rule book contained 94 pages in black white print for basic rules and all advanced rules also included were extremely detailed diorama explaining in depth knowledge on weaponry, unit formation, Skynet HKs and Terminators and optional building and ruins layout for combat scenarios.” There is only one photo set of what this could look like along with seeing the LEG HK Tank

The T2: Year of Darkness  Miniatures 
As with the ALIENS Adventure Game 25mm pewter miniatures, the ones for Terminator game were the work of Bob Ridolfi, who is a noted figurine sculptor. These miniatures are much rarer than the ones for the ALIENS game and are highly regards by fans of Terminator and command a very high prices on the 2nd market. Until the recent 2015 Terminator Genysis War against the Machines 28mm miniature game, the 1993 LEG miniatures were the only game in town and it some ways, the LEG miniatures still are. The Terminator Genysis game is based on a film that is likely not canon and does not match the style of the first two films. The 1993 LEG miniatures fit within the accepted style of the Human Resistance fighters seen in the 1984 and 1991 films, not the 2015 abortion of a film that Genysis is. 
Typing that word “Genysis” makes me throw up in my mouth alittle each time. Like the ALIENS miniatures, there was some boxed set and some little blister sets sold and given that these were released one year prior to the closure of LEG, some of these set were made in a very limited numbers. The mystery of the T2: Year of Darkness miniature line is the SkyNet HKs. It seems that the HK “tank” ground attack unit was released (very rare), but the proposed HK aerial unit may not have been. I’ve never seen a scan of it in my research and it is likely it was never made. Here is the complete list (list is from (https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~tpope/sol/leading-edge/terminator.html):

Boxed Sets:
•     71100  "Hasta La Vista, Baby"
•     71101  Endoskeleton Boxed Set
•     71102  Future Soldiers Boxed Set
•     71103  Infiltrators
•     71104  Hunter Killer

Blister Packs
•     74102  Human - 40W Plasma Rifle
•     74103  Human - 40W Plasma Machinegun
•     74104  Human - 100W Plasma Rifle
•     74105  Human - 100W Plasma Machinegun
•     74106  Human - Demo Charges
•     74107  Human - Nitro Bombs
•     74108  Human - Bolo Grenades
•     74109  Human - Heavy Weapons
•     74201  Endoskeleton - 40W Plasma Rifle
•     74202  Endoskeleton - Dual Weapons - 40W
•     74203  Endoskeleton - 100W Plasma Rifle
•     74204  Endoskeleton - Dual Weapons - 100W
•     74301  Infiltrators - 40W Plasma Rifle
•     74302  Infiltrators - 100W Plasma Rifle
•     74303  Infiltrators - Plasma Shotgun

Why are these games an “Oddity”?
While RPGs based on a known media property is certainly not usually, it is odd how unknown these games are now and how complex they were. I can remember seeing the ALIENS Adventure Game around in back section of Starbase 21 in Tulsa and I believe there were some ads for the game maybe in Dark Horse Comics and Starlog Magazine. However, I do not remember anything about the T2: Year of Darkness game, despite being a massive fan of the War against the Machine seen in the only 2 Terminator films. Even today, the game is rare and expensive, (along with the excellent miniatures) and there is a lack of information on the T2: The Year of Darkness game to this very day. 
One of the standouts was the miniatures produced for the games, including the vehicles of both franchises. The thing about the miniatures is that they were pretty damn epic and bold in their concept to bring this to market. Included in the miniature lines were: ALIENS Powerloader (w/ Sentry guns), the Cheyenne dropship, the M577 APC, the HK tank, and even infiltrator Terminators. Included in the T2: The Year of Darkness miniature line was some T-800 Endoskeleton earrings and they are super rare today. 
Despite the lavish detail on the game manual, the extended background information, and the miniatures; the game mechanics were based on the chunky and unwieldy PCCS. From reviews today and at the time of release, the RPG community was not impressed with how long it took to fire at a target and determine damage and place of those10mm explosive tipped caseless rounds. The review I read in issue number 57 of Challenge Magazine from February of 1992 praised some of the elements of the game, but said in opening paragraph of the review that LEG took the ALIENS universe and gave it an “RPG butcher job”. The reviewer basically suggests to use the source material in the game manual for other military sci-fi game settings. Ouch.

Why Did these Games and LEG Fail?
Within the vast world of pen-&-paper RPGs, there are some infamous examples of way-too-complex systems that require tons of dice rolls and tables. Some examples are Aces & Eights: Shattered Frontier, Legend of the Five Rings, and FATAL. In a Counter Monkey video about the Legend of the Five Rings, the Spoony One discussed the pain in the ass that realistic RPGs can be and how they suck the fun out of the game when every single action, like drawing and firing a gun in a duel, is divided up into dozens of steps with dice rolls and table consultations accompanying to each move. This is coupled with the fan that you can die easily. Often mentioned in the realm of the games above is all of the LEG catalog of games save for the 1989 ALIENS boardgame. While some do love the LEG games, there is much criticism for their take on realism within an entertainment setting. These criticisms were leveled at the LEG titles at the time and these poor reviews and bad word of mouth impacted sales. By 1994, the party was over, and Leading Edge Games was no more.   

The Impact & Legacy of these Games
When the ALIENS and Terminator 2 games were released in the 1990’s, we do not know their direct impact on the RPG market or the fandom of the community. From the online community that has discussed these games at the time of release, we know that many were excited by the prospect of RPGs set in these franchise coupled with the line of metal miniatures and vehicles. Within a few years after the release of these games, the company shut their doors and that can give us the true measure of the impact of these games. Until the advent of the internet, online classic RPG sites and shops along with video hosting services, most had either forgotten that LEG existed or never heard of them. 
I was reminded that the ALIENS Adventure Game existed due to me spying on the book shelve of the Spoony One videos ( I was hoping for a Spoony Experiment video on the LEG ALIENS game…but that will never happen). One of the elements that helps us measure the legacy of these games is their price on auction sites and the these games and especially the miniatures sell for big money today, especially when they are unpainted and in their original awesome plastic and foam cases. The legacy of these games is similar to the Greek myth of Prometheus. Leading Edge Games reached for the sun with some of the best military science fiction licenses ever and they did not listen to those that wished for the jettison of the complex and unenjoyable PCCS resulting in the company getting burned and drowning. One of the best legacies of the material developed for the ALIENS Adventure Game was that some of it was used in the excellent ALIENS: The Colonial Marines Technical Manual from 1996.

Next Time on FWS…  
Within the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, there is the last stronghold that is designed to be the last bastion of that society. It could also be the last human city, or colony, or even the last warship. This concept has been used for centuries in human storytelling and mythology with stories like Noah’s Ark all the way to the Last City in Destiny. In the next installment of What We Will Fight Over, we will be discussing the concept of “The Last Bastion” in sci-fi/fantasy and in the real world.