Alien RPG Building Better Worlds review: "Carrying on the quiet momentum of one of the best TTRPGs out there"

A figure stands in relief against a door, shining a torch into the foreground
(Image: © Joel Franey)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Building Better Worlds is a stalwart addition to an already great RPG system. At its worst, it leans a little too hard on the science over the fiction, but quickly shakes off the more tedious bits to lean into developing exciting new mechanics, monsters, and missions alike.


  • +

    Artwork continues to be spellbinding

  • +

    New monsters and missions demonstrate an unending well of creativity

  • +

    Campaign provides a good balance of freedom over direction


  • -

    Time spent on lore isn't particularly exciting

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The Alien: Building Better Worlds RPG expansion is aptly named - a module dedicated to the very act of worldbuilding itself. Yes, whereas the previous expansion was all about detailing what it meant to be one of those meathead Marines, here we have a module on exploring the expanding frontier of space, looking for fresh worlds to inhabit, and the challenge of terraforming new environments until they become halfway survivable. And if it turns out there's disconcertingly Freudian monsters that take objection to our wandering around their neighbourhood… well, at least try and rearrange your spilled organs into a helpful warning for future explorers before you die, OK?

Building Better Worlds features & design

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Price$44.99 / £31.99
SystemYear Zero Engine / Alien the Roleplaying Game
Players2 - 6
Lasts3 - 4hrs per session
PublisherFree League
Play if you likeCall of Cthulhu, Ten Candles, Traveller
  • New mechanics for explorers & colonists
  • Art is as gorgeously haunting as ever
  • Lots of worldbuilding

Building Better Worlds can roughly be split into four elements: developing the lore of the Alien canon, adding new mechanics based around terraforming and exploration, a selection of new monsters, ships and equipment, and an adventure module that makes use of the new elements introduced.

Let's get the sticky stuff out of the way first - the worldbuilding and lore as shown here is not particularly engaging. God bless developer Free League for trying their best, but Alien's lore has never really been its appeal - hence why the more iconic Alien movies don't even bother with it, and why fans have been pulling faces at the franchise's attempts to fill gaps in its lore more recently.

The image of a monster leaping forward and attacking humans can be seen on the page

(Image credit: Joel Franey)

But that obligation is harder to avoid in the context of the best tabletop RPGs, as GMs at least do have to understand the setting they're playing with. Consequently, the first quarter of BBW (stop laughing) is a rather dry recounting of the history of elements like Weyland-Yutani, government powers, and all the megacorp shenanigans that the films specifically didn't bother to bring up. What, you don't want to read about ICSC Investment Group, or the New Albion Protectorate? 

More worlds to explore

Alien: The Roleplaying Game starter set and components

(Image credit: Matt Thrower)

New to the Alien RPG? This is one of many expansions by Free League. Alongside a Core Rulebook, the (excellent) Starter Set begins a story that's continued in the marine-focused 'Destroyer of Worlds' and finished during 'Heart of Darkness,' which is set on an eerie space station. Alongside them, the 'Colonial Marines Operations Manual' helps you run a full campaign as the iconic corps.

One wonders why they put this much lore in this book specifically, considering that the stated goal is to have players immediately bolt to the uncharted sections of the universe and communicate with civilization through periodic picture postcards.

Fortunately the lore section doesn't overstay its welcome, and it's not long before we're getting far superior tidbits and mechanics to play with, all focused on being either frontier explorers - well-paid and well-respected adventurers, but who tend to die like flies - and the struggling colonists setting up settlements on the newly-discovered planets. They also tend to die like flies. I think that's just standard practice in this reality.

The black, inky pages mean that the illustrations always loom out of the darkness towards you

On the subject of aesthetics, it practically goes without saying at this point that BBW remains as gorgeous as the books before it - the black, inky pages mean that the illustrations always loom out of the darkness towards you. In fact, the Alien RPG books are pretty enough that I'm happy having them pull double duty as (somewhat macabre) coffee table books when I'm not planning to traumatize hapless players.

Building Better Worlds gameplay

Pages of a book show a woman smiling and holding cards

(Image credit: Joel Franey)
  • Brilliantly eerie new foes
  • Sandbox campaign impresses
  • Worldbuilding falls short

Building Better Worlds comes with a scattershot of on-theme new options for players, including two new careers - the charismatic Entertainer, a broad generalization for anybody in the service industry, and the Wildcatter, a vague, flannel-wrapped aggregation of prospector, mechanic and surveyor, whose spirit animal is probably a callus. New weapons and ships get added too, most of which are less about direct warfare and more about either exploration or shifting freight - those colonists gotta get their supplies somehow, right? It's all solid enough, bundled with some details on the standard colony tasks that players can expect to wrestle with in the downtime between facehugging fun.

Speaking of, flip through those sections and you'll reach the real good stuff - all the new Aliens to fight, including various horrors from the movie Prometheus like the serpentine Hammerpede and poor humans mutated by the black goo. Now, say what you like about that movie, but I don't think its choice of monsters were the problem, and Building Better Worlds does superb work developing those on-screen horrors. It also brings in some other fun additions, like the "Empress" Alien, a psionic behemoth so deadly it feels like the Xenomorphs' answer to the Tarrasque from DnD books, and the legitimately eerie Biomorph, an aquatic Alien that glows with natural phosphorescence.

New horizons

Images of trees alongside text and a diagram of a star system

(Image credit: Joel Franey)

If you'd like to go off the beaten track, you can actually create your own 'better world' via a section toward the end of the book. It features tables for generating everything from the solar system's sun to planetary politics. 

I have to say, there's real creativity here - for several books now it feels as though everybody's been waiting for the moment where Free League runs out of ideas on how to adapt the rather svelte mythology of Alien, which has always been pretty streamlined when compared to other sci-fi and fantasy settings. But so far the writers don't even show signs of slowing down - impressive considering the narrow tone and aesthetic they're working within.

The final third of the book is dedicated to fresh adventure - a playable campaign called The Lost Worlds that takes the players on odysseys to colonise new planets and find out what happened to all those other nearby colonies that have gone mysteriously silent in recent years… probably nothing, right?

A page of text with a star chart diagram in one corner

(Image credit: Joel Franey)

Expect at least a dozen sessions in this sandbox campaign that can be tackled in mostly any order, but with a larger peril and narrative that threads them together, as it turns out a malevolent force is curious to see who's come to visit - and to retrace humanity's path back to unsuspecting civilization.

It's a nice, punchy campaign with an emphasis on sandbox freedom - characters can spend as much time as the GM allows developing settlements between adventures, or leave that Minecraft malarky to NPCs if they're so inclined and run off to antagonize all the worst hornets nests that the galaxy has to offer.

Should you buy Alien RPG Building Better Worlds?

Boxouts of text display information on the world of Alien

(Image credit: Joel Franey)

Again, I'm impressed by the sheer diversity of situations that the writers have summoned to mind - and that's a microcosm of how I feel generally. Despite starting off like an unwanted history lesson, Building Better Worlds is carrying on the quiet, undeniable momentum of what is revealing itself to be one of the best TTRPGs out there.

Buy it if...

✅ You want a mix of sandbox & structured horror
The Lost Worlds campaign is an intriguing fusion of freedom and focused experiences that can be shifted around according to the GM's whim.

✅ You want to expand the limits of what the Alien franchise can be
Now firmly past the influence of the more iconic movies, Building Better Worlds is still finding new sources of inspiration while cleverly exploiting the darker corners of the franchise.

Don't buy it if...

❌ You want a more action-orientated focus
New guns, gear and player options are about playing technicians and colonists, not those who feel comfortable with guns.

❌ You want a weightier campaign to play
The Lost Worlds campaign is slimmer and slighter than many might be used to, only comprising a third of the book total.

How we tested Alien RPG Building Better Worlds


We reviewed Building Better Worlds using a copy of the game provided by the publisher.

This review is the result of weeks spent reading, preparing, and playing through sections of this book. We also delved into the wider Alien RPG library to provide a direct comparison in terms of how Building Better Worlds stacked up against its predecessors. 

You can discover more about our process in this guide to how we test board games and tabletop RPGs, or the more general GamesRadar+ reviews policy page.

Want something else to play? Be sure to check out our roundup of the best board games, or these must-have board games for adults.

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Joel Franey
Guides Writer

Joel Franey is a writer, journalist, podcaster and raconteur with a Masters from Sussex University, none of which has actually equipped him for anything in real life. As a result he chooses to spend most of his time playing video games, reading old books and ingesting chemically-risky levels of caffeine. He is a firm believer that the vast majority of games would be improved by adding a grappling hook, and if they already have one, they should probably add another just to be safe. You can find old work of his at USgamer, Gfinity, Eurogamer and more besides.