Yet I'm a huge fan of the game. I maintain the only actively updated CE news site on the interwebs, for crying out loud! And I like variable-power games in general, so it should stand to reason that I would like discussing new powers, right? But I can barely focus when I begin reading a homebrewed-alien discussion, and I almost never stick around to the end. Why? Sadly, I'm a big believer in the following:
It's all been done before.
That's right: there's basically very, very few original ideas that are left to explore. The pod-moving alien someone scribbled down on a napkin and then posted to FFG.com? That's just the wild flare from some other homebrew first posted to the old CE newsgroup in 1995. That math-based creation you've got tucked away in your old Eon box? Sorry, it's too similar to alien X or Y from Eon Expansion #7. That flash of inspiration you had while playing Human or Fodder or Hacker for the first time? Bzzzzt! That was published way back in Encounter Magazine. Or ...
- ... it's too much like this wild flare;
- ... or that super flare;
- ... or it's just a weak version of this alien;
- ... or a stronger version of that one.
- ... it's too specialized and can only be used maybe once per game;
- ... or only you understand it;
- ... or it requires 20 minutes to explain and needs to be reproduced in 4-point type to fit on even the huge FFG alien sheets;
- ... or it flat-out breaks the game;
- ... or it's just not any damn fun.
Anyone looking to author, say, an ally-based alien (just to use one traditional and easily-understood CE mechanism) needs to take a look at the long history of such powers, which dates back all the way to the original Eon box and includes numerous aliens, both official and unofficial. Have all the angles been covered? That's a legitimate question, and one that can only be answered by studying the relevant official aliens (Parasite, Crystal, Magnet, Observer, and their friends ... even Philanthropist would need to be examined) and also attempting to research the literally hundreds of homebrews that are accessible on the Information Superhighway (most easily, probably, at The Warp's excellent database). Even if our hypothetical homebrew author's new idea still seems original enough, there's always the specter of flares to make him think twice and want to go play Fireball Island instead. Because without researching a metric butt-load of flares — many of which include some sort of "use as an ally" mechanism — our author can't really be sure that his idea wasn't first conceived and published to the webs in like 1992.*
Here's a case in point: the author of this thread at FFG.com posts 11 homebrewed creations and pretty quickly gets the feedback he was asking for. Within one page, a number of questions have been raised ... and within three pages, his ideas have been riddled with enough lead to open a pencil factory. Or, as one user puts it, none too gently (spelling and grammar errors left intact):
Unfortunately most of these aliens you suggested are EXACT copies of already existing one's on The Warp or are way to close or are close but inferior, and therefore are pointless to add to The Warp since they already exist and would just clutter things up with spam. And unintentionally plagiarized spam at that.Egads. That's pretty harsh, and it's not exactly how I would have phrased it**, but it does get to the gist of what I'm arguing here. Maybe not literally, but in a very basic sense, there's no new alien ideas remaining out there. Or, at best, very few ...
I'll type the names of your version and the one's that have existed in the Warp or in Eon/Mayfair for years to clarify.
Hitchhiker = Jack Reda's Stowaway; Strategist = Eon's Worm; Quarker = Jack Reda's Ninja; Colossal = A worse version Cendric Chin's Terminator; Aegis = FFG's Observer; Mechanism = Jack Reda's Engineer; Fanatic = FFG's Kamikaze
We've talked about the alliance mechanism, but it seems fair to say that the same problems would apply to basically any standard CE operation. Card movement, card alteration, hand manipulation, Negotiate cards, Attack cards (and Attack cards of certain values), Destiny, ship movement, the Warp, the other powers in the game, artifacts, and on and on. All of those areas have dozens of already-established aliens, both official and homebrew. When I find myself reading a homebrewed-alien thread — whether at FFG.com, BoardgameGeek, the CE forums, or anywhere else CE is discussed — I usually don't get very far before I begin (much like our friend who is quoted above) mentally checking off problems, something like this:
Too similar to Trader ... that's just the Virus flare ... a weak Pacifist ... that one causes too much book-keeping ... that one looks like it's written in Aramaic ... that one just sucks.It's like I can't help it. And it certainly doesn't make me want to stop what I'm doing, dress these aliens up in Photoshop, print them out, and actually use them. I've already got Philanthropist, Sorcerer, Reserve, Fido, Dictator, and Hacker; I really don't need minor variations of them.
Now, just to be clear, I won't go so far as to say that every angle, literally, of every CE mechanic has been covered. For one thing, it's impossible to prove one way or the other — in fact, I'll even agree that the existence of brand-spanking new aliens in the FFG box at least partially damages my theory. For another, I suspect that the real cream of the crop of homebrew authors (and, frankly, beyond Jack Reda***, that's a pretty short list) can still come up with some interesting variations. But they will be diamonds in the rough, and there will be acres of chaff to wade through to get to this sort of nourishing wheat.
So where does that leave the concept of homebrewed aliens? Am I saying that the entire idea is not even worth the effort? Not exactly. What I suspect is going to happen — and we're already seeing some of this — is that a different type of homebrew is going to begin to grab most of the spotlight.
Frankly, the CE system does not need a 200th variation on collecting compensation; what could be of benefit, though, are entirely new concepts: Tech-based aliens, "planet-manipulation" powers that take advantage of the independent planets in the FFG edition, aliens that play off the Hazard Deck concept that the FFG rulebook practically admits will be in the first expansion, and — last, but perhaps more important — alternate-win aliens that are as clever as Masochist and Tick-Tock, which are already claiming a large part of the attention currently being lavished upon the new FFG aliens. Some of these concepts have even been featured at this very site, which was one of the first to say, "Hey, look how cool these planet-based powers can be!"
If I was a homebrew writer — and, for the record, I most assuredly am not, at least as far as aliens are concerned — those are the areas I'd be looking at. I'd want to be the first guy to write an uber-cool Hazard-based alien rather than the 99th guy to write a "new" Trader. And as a fan of the game, I can guarantee that aliens based upon those new concepts are the only ones that I'll actually be paying much attention to as CE prepares to enter its fifth decade.
It's probably a safe bet that a couple of completely new aliens will be published for the first time in the upcoming CE expansion set, much as Remora made its debut in the recent big box. I'll be very interested to see those aliens and to guess why they were considered good enough — and different enough — to be worthy of publication.
I can't help but think, though, that those aliens will definitely be the exception to the rule. The cosmos is already pretty much filled up, as far as I can tell.
* To say nothing of Moons, which should also be researched. There's a number of good Moons out there, and many of them essentially have an "alien power."
**And can I just add, quickly, that I really can't stand the "So-And-So's Alien" vernacular? It's from the heyday of the CE newsgroup in the mid-1990s, and some of those guys have a hard time rembering that not every current CE player was involved with the game a dozen years ago. I don't mind giving credit for an alien creation, but let's not get too crazy about it.
***Who, BTW, the first two images in this article are shamelessly stolen from.