Nemesis Review: I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, but It’s Aliens

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Are you a fan of H.R. Giger’s infamous xenomorph, Games Workshop’s loveable Tyranids, or do you simply enjoy board games with punishing mechanics or the opportunity to backstab your friends? If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’ll probably love Nemesis, the much-talked-about semi-cooperative sci-fi survival horror game by Polish designer Adam Kwapiński.

Check out my Nemesis board game review below for all you need to know about this gorgeous and expensive love letter to the “Alien” franchise and all other grimdark sci-fi epics out there.

Rating:7.5
Playing time:1.5 to 3 hours
Number of players:1 to 5
Age:12+
Complexity:Medium
Genre:Thematic, sci-fi, horror
Release date:2018
Publisher:Awaken Realms

Pros

  • Gorgeous art style and cool mechanics
  • Fun and diverse playable characters
  • Well-designed solo mode

Cons

  • Can be a bit slow and complicated before you get the hang of it
  • Rather difficult to beat

Nemesis: Game Overview

A huge Kickstarter success story, Nemesis made over $3.5 million during its stint on the platform, drawing more than 30,000 backers. The collaboration between Awaken Realms (of This War of Mine and Lords of Hellas fame) and Rebel (Drako and Dream Home) is one of the platform’s all-time success stories. But what is Nemesis, exactly?

If you’ve ever watched any of the Aliens movies or played Warhammer 40k, you’ll feel right at home with the setting and plot. In the grimdark world of the future, you’re an unfortunate crewmember of a doomed spaceship who wakes up to a rapidly deteriorating vessel infested with hungry aliens. The objective is not only to survive but complete several class-and-player-specific tasks and reach an escape pod before becoming xenomorph grub.

Player character about to get eaten - Nemesis board game

When playing with others, this can often become even harder, as different players and classes may end up with non-complementary objective cards at best and opposing ones at worst. Each player starts the game with two secret objectives but will have to discard one as soon as the first alien appears.

Nemesis games can be single-player affairs or accommodate up to five players, with both full co-op and the game’s default semi-co-op “everyone for themselves” approach. The ideal player count is 3-5, but you can play Nemesis however you like –  there is even an option for one player to control the xenos if that’s your jam. If all of that isn’t enough, the numerous Nemesis board game expansion packs include several new mechanics, miniatures, and ways for the big uglies to ruin your day.

Presentation

There are no two ways about it: Nemesis is one colossal board game and a real table hog, coming in a chunky box filled to the brim with goodies. The original Kickstarter “Core Box” cost 70 British Pounds or over 80 US dollars and came with 280 cards and 25 miniatures, including a massive alien queen that makes for an impressive WH40k figurine in a pinch. 

nemesis board game

There is also a detailed Nemesis rulebook, character trays, plastic and cardboard tokens galore, custom dice, a very cool infection scanner, and several other game components we’ll get to later. 

And that’s all without even going into expansion territory, which adds new characters, monsters, and mechanics, complete with new cards and miniatures. The base game, for example, features the Captain, Scout, Soldier, Scientist, and Pilot. 

The Kickstarter backers also get the Engineer class, full co-op and intruder modes, additional dice, and more, while the expansions add new aliens with related mechanics and a slew of cool new classes, such as the Bounty Hunter and Therapist. Suffice it to say that the game setup can take a while, especially if it’s your first game.

It all looks gorgeous, too, from the massive 84 x 56 cm cardboard map and beautifully painted character trays to the event and contamination cards and detailed miniatures. In short, Nemesis is a board game that pulls out all the stops when it comes to the presentation, but how does it play? Let’s find out.

Playing Nemesis

Looking at the rather hefty manual, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Nemesis is an overly complex title. In reality, though, the game plays out a fairly simple loop, whether in standard semi-co-op modes, full co-op, or solo play. That said, one game session will take anywhere from one to several hours, though player elimination will very likely cut that time short for several crew members.

So, how to play Nemesis, then? In the following paragraph, I’ll give you a brief overview of the og Nemesis game and the core mechanics of its semi-co-op mode, with my thoughts on each.  Bear in mind that expansions such as Nemesis Lockdown, Aftermath, and Voidwalkers add additional mechanics, random events, and challenges, but let’s forget about those for the moment.

As mentioned earlier, the players take on the roles of various crewmembers of a derelict spaceship who start the game waking up from cryosleep. They each need to complete a unique (and hidden) objective before making their way to the escape pods, hopefully with all their limbs intact and no parasitic alien roommates making themselves at home in their fragile meatsack bodies.

Soldier player card

Of course, this isn’t Star Trek or other rare optimistic fiction, so everything that could go wrong will – or already has. The basic concept is that the ship consists of several rooms, most of which have specific functions (i.e., computer room, armory, comms, ER room, generator, etc.) Room tiles are shuffled and randomly placed on the board before each game to keep each session feeling fresh.

In addition to five special rooms that are always present in a Nemesis game (cockpit, three engine rooms, and a hibernatorium where you start), there are also escape pods that need to be unlocked, and a pool of additional rooms, some of which are randomly chosen before each game. 

These include stuff like airlock control and a canteen, but, just like most other rooms, they may be damaged or unusable to start with, which can be helped if you have the appropriate class skills to fix it.

This is where the nice interplay between playable characters comes into play. Each crew member may have special actions available in certain rooms, and, generally speaking, playing to your character’s strengths will usually be in your best interest if you wish to live longer than a few rounds.

Nemesis board with closed and opened room tiles

The game is split into the player phase and the event phase. In the former, players each draw cards until they have five in their hands and then proceed to the action phase. As a fairly classic board game, Nemesis keeps things simple here: each player can perform up to two actions per turn or choose to pass. 

These actions can be standard or silent movement (which you’ll quickly grow to appreciate when the xenos start showing up), the use of character-specific abilities or items you’ve picked up, or actions related to the specific room a player character is in (fixing broken machinery, using a computer or a sickbay, etc.)

The kicker here is that players have no idea what awaits them in the next room and make noise as they traverse the ship, alerting our friendly neighborhood biomass enthusiasts to their location. 

Once everyone is done with their actions, we get to the event phase, in which various (terrible) things start occurring on the ship: the game’s timer progresses (particularly bad news if a self-destruction sequence has been initialized, for example), and our little alien friends start growing from larva to more complex forms and moving about the ship. 

The event cards dictate the intruder movement and tell the players about potential crap going wrong around the space vessel, such as machinery and systems malfunctioning. As a player, you can only avoid the alien menace for so long, and once both you and an oversized bug thing with a penchant for the other red meat are in the same room, a combat encounter will start. 

As every Nemesis board game review out there will tell you, your chances of fighting off the alien menace in direct combat are pretty slim, though some classes will naturally be better at it than others. Ranged combat expends your limited ammo supply, but going fisticuffs with a melee attack risks grave injuries, death, or at least contamination. 

Optimistic solider vs. Alien

This cute little mechanic makes your character infected with alien cooties, which has a chance of giving you the infected status, planting the seed of alien-human cohabitation, and killing you, chestburster-style, if you pick up another larva before the first one’s cured. 

The game pulls a clever trick here: not all contamination cards give you the infected status, but none of them can be removed unless you scan them first, and most require special medical treatment or rest, both of which you’ll be in short supply of. 

checking for contamination in Nemesis

Without getting rid of them, you’ll get permanent (and useless) new cards to fill up your five-card deck, limiting the number of other actions your character can take each turn and bringing you all the closer to the loving embrace of space Cthulhu.

While they can differ greatly depending on the circumstances, all semi-co-op Nemesis games have a summary that’s largely similar: wake up, find out what your objectives are, discover that you’re surrounded by hungry aliens, choose which objective to pursue and which one to discard, and try your damn best to survive long enough to accomplish it. 

“Winning” at Nemesis works a bit differently from how it does in other games – the best you can hope for is completing your objective before the aliens infest the entire ship, or it simply blows up and then high-tailing it to the nearest evacuation pod or hibernation chamber, depending on your task. 

As mentioned earlier, the problem is that your objectives may often put you in direct conflict with other players, as a scientist may want to infest a whole colony with alien germs or at least procure a key ingredient for the world’s most dangerous omelet, while another player may play a corpo agent who was sent there to ensure the untimely demise of the aforementioned alien enthusiast.

Things, of course, work best when players have similar goals, but not only can they not share them with each other, but they also cannot directly attack other players. Nemesis quickly manages to create a sinister atmosphere, where you never know if a crew member has gone ahead to scout out the place or is planning to lock you into a room with an alien so they can go about their nefarious business undisturbed.

Some of the cards available in Nemesis

Things work very differently in full co-op mode, where, for once, humanity bands together in a scary post-apocalyptic setting, which may turn off all your backstab-happy friends but creates an entirely different game dynamic and atmosphere that’s equally worth experiencing. 

There are plenty of other Nemesis mechanics I’ve not even mentioned, such as the intruder bag and surprise attacks, and a whole lot more to think about once you start adding in stretch goal content, such as solo and intruder modes. Then there are the expansions, which add a ton more new stuff, though not all of it makes the game better necessarily.

For example, Voidwalkers introduces proper space horror with mind-attack-focused mindflayer-type aliens that add some frustrating new sanity mechanics, and Aftermath lets you pick entirely new characters and play a shorter epilogue after the conclusion of the main game, discovering how your space blunders have affected the Nemesis spacecraft and its crew.

Even so, the game never gets overwhelming with its mechanics as long as you get familiar with the basics first, which is definitely a plus in my book.

Summing Up: Is Nemesis Worth It?

Assuming you didn’t skip straight to this section, let me first congratulate you on making it through the entire article without running off screaming. Yeah, there is a lot to this game, and even scratching the surface of its various mechanics takes a fair bit of time.

Is bigger always better, though? I’d say this really depends on the kind of gamer you are. The key advantage of Nemesis is that it allows you to play it the way you want to. Love intrigue and backstabbing your friends? The default semi-co-op mode is perfect. Enjoy playing dnd-style story-driven co-op content without being a dick to everyone? You can do that, too.

Alternatively, embrace your dark side fully and become a proper Starcraft Zerg aficionado, turning the hordes of oversized bugs on your friends. Don’t have any friends, or simply prefer not to let their grubby hands anywhere near your expensive copy of Nemesis? The solo mode is there for you, friend.

Close-up of Nemesis' game components

All that said, the game isn’t perfect. There are plenty of Nemesis rules and mechanics to keep track of, and the game can simply be way too slow for some people, especially when first facing the alien threat and not knowing all of the tools you have at your disposal to complete your secret objective.

Worse yet, the game revels in its punishing difficulty, often wiping out entire player teams before any major objectives have even been completed. Even without that, though, it often simply takes too long for a player to complete their turn, and once your character meets their grisly end, all you can do is sit there and watch the others blunder about, which can potentially take hours.

It’s a good game, clearly made with a lot of heart, artistic talent, and larger-than-life ideas. That said, not all of them always work, but hey, that’s the nature of game design. It’s also a fairly expensive game, regularly retailing upwards of $100, depending on which version you find on the market, now that the Kickstarter campaign is long finished.

Either way, Nemesis gets the Boar Gamer seal of approval and a hearty recommendation for anyone not afraid of putting in the hours to master the game. Do let us know what you think in the comments below, and share with us your craziest success stories – we’d love to hear from you!

FAQ

  1. Is Nemesis a good solo game?

    Yes, absolutely. While not the primarily intended way to play the game, you can certainly enjoy yourself with the game’s solo mode, which switches up several mechanics to make things more fair for the lone player.

  2. How long does a game of Nemesis take?

    As almost every Nemesis board game review online will tell you, the game’s length depends on numerous factors, such as the gameplay mode chosen, the number of players, and their familiarity with the systems. Newbies playing their first session may take over four hours, while experienced players playing with only a few people at the table can finish things in around an hour or so.

  3. Who makes the Nemesis board game?

    The game was originally published by Awaken Realms in collaboration with Rebel. It has since received numerous editions and localizations worldwide, with publishers ranging from Arclight Games and Asmodee China to Funforge and Hobby World.

Ivan Stevanovic

Ivan Stevanovic

Ivan is our wordsmith extraordinaire and a passionate board gamer and RPG veteran. A gaming nerd since an early age, he got started with computer gaming back in the ZX Spectrum days (yeah, he is that old) and with board gaming while playing Monopoly as a kid.