Welcome to the Marines - a Mephisto review
Colonial Marines Operations Manual
The Colonial Marines Operations Manual is the first major sourcebook for the Alien roleplaying game and focuses on the organization that is probably the most interesting for many players: the Colonial Marines. The book starts with background information on the history and organization of the military.
Of course, a chapter on character creation is not to be missed in this book, and here the focus is on the so-called Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), which allow for additional differentiation of Marine characters. There are also random events for the characters' backstory, as well as a few new talents. In this respect, the character material is limited, but this is not a disadvantage from my perspective.
More tangible help is provided to the player characters in the form of a detailed equipment chapter, which presents an arsenal of vehicles, ranging from the classic APC to interceptors, artillery guns and spaceships, in addition to various weapons and armor for both the Colonial Marines and other organizations.
The fact that only about 100 of the 300+ pages are devoted to this background, with the rest focusing on the included campaign, clearly indicates that this volume is intended to be less a sourcebook than a comprehensive campaign book. To that end, the book first introduces a Marine unit to which the player characters belong. Of course, the unit's frigate as their headquarters is part of the description. The chapter also explains typical missions and thus provides hooks for designing your own missions and incorporating them into the campaign as regular intermediate missions. The chapter also has insightful advice on how to deal with the issue of non-player characters, especially in terms of ranks and combat, and provides helpful information here.
As a preparation for the campaign, first, some new star systems are introduced, which play a role in the campaign, but also expand the overall background. In particular, a human-like alien species from the Arcturus system is presented. The game mother gets insights into various secret military projects that also make their appearance in the campaign. The introduction of the larger setting follows, namely the border war that breaks out between the UAC and the UPP (which apparently involves additional parties). In fact, this border war is already touched upon in Destroyer of Worlds, and here the plot continues accordingly. The actual campaign includes seven missions described in detail, which lead the players further and further into the war, but above all into a sinister conspiracy. Of course, the Xenomorphs are involved, but other complications play important roles as well. It's up to the player characters' choices, on which side they position themselves and how much they reveal the conspiracy.
I found the first background chapters with timeline and various military operations confusing to read, as many abbreviations are used and the compact information overwhelms with a great deal of trivia so that the larger context is sometimes lost. Still, it helps to get an impression of how the Colonial Marines fit into the world of Alien, what their role is, and who their opponents are. The character chapter provides some small additions instead of essential material. While this start seemed somewhat slow, the campaign could fully convince me quickly. Of course, the campaign uses aspects that you would inevitably expect: conspiracies and corporate intrigue, horrific alien lifeforms and the constant fight for survival. However, these are aspects that are so deeply rooted in the basic setting of Alien that anything else would have been surprising. Here, in my view, both typical elements of the Alien universe like the Xenomorphs and also the Engineers and the corporations are used, but combined with new elements like the border war with the UPP. The book even reflects the original Alien setting in the 80s, as e.g. the Cold War is reflected here in the confrontation of the American Colonial Marines against the Union of Progressive States. Nevertheless, the book refrains from painting this conflict in black and white. The campaign should be very challenging for the player characters and also requires some preparation by the game mother to cover the various plot threads and options. The comprehensive maps of the facilities, bases and starships help to illustrate the setting. Besides, the book offers the fitting layout of the core rulebook, supported by impressive illustrations. If you want to play Alien with a Colonial Marine campaign, you will probably need this book less because of the rules and background material, but you will be provided with a comprehensive and challenging campaign that should captivate you for many sessions (but might also cost one or two player characters).