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.
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!).
• 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)
• 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)
• 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
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):
• 71100 “Hasta La Vista, Baby”
• 71101 Endoskeleton Boxed Set
• 71102 Future Soldiers Boxed Set
• 71103 Infiltrators
• 71104 Hunter Killer
• 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”?
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.