James Wallis levels with you

Hide & Seek & Aliens Among Us

The third Hide & Seek Weekender is kicking off in a couple of days, and should be fantastic. Three more days of brilliant, gorgeous and eccentric social, street and pervasive games, in and around the South Bank. I’ve been privy to a lot of the plans and preparations—Spaaace has been sharing office-space with Hide & Seek for a couple of months, which is a truly sweet deal—and there are some very cool things coming up. Head over to the Weekender’s own website for a glimpse of what’s coming up, and if you’re anywhere near the National Theatre in London on Friday, Saturday or Sunday then you’d be a fool not to drop in.

Of special interest to traditional gamers is an event I’m running on Friday night: ALIENS AMONG US. This is a post-Werewolf/Mafia game, which is to say a social game for a large group in which a minority of the group are intent on killing everyone, and the rest of the group has to work out who they are and kill them first. The difference between Werewolf/Mafia and Aliens Among Us is that in Aliens Among Us everyone has big guns.

AAU is not my game. Well, okay, this iteration of it is, but I didn’t come up with the core idea. The game was originally devised by Erick Wujcik, sometime in the early 1980s—which makes it extraordinarily early for a game of this type, predating Mafia/Werewolf by five years. The thing is, he never published it. In fact, as far as I can tell and I’ve asked a bunch of people, he never even wrote it down as a playtest set of rules. He did, however, play it with many groups at conventions and gatherings around the world, and he would describe it enthusiastically to fellow games designers, such as myself. I only heard the description once. Once was enough to know it was genius.

In the James Wallis 12″ dance-remix it goes like this:

  1. Earth has been invaded by aliens. Lots of them. The human-to-alien ratio is about 10:1. Aliens and humans look identical, and can only be differentiated after they are dead.
  2. Aliens want to kill all the humans. As a result the humans want to kill all the aliens.
  3. You are a member of the Ultimate Defence Force (because the Penultimate Defence Force didn’t really work out.) You are tasked with seeking out and destroying all aliens. Some collateral damage is inevitable, of course, and is expected.
  4. The UDF has itself been infiltrated by aliens. Some say it’s been heavily infiltrated—so heavily that the ratio of humans and aliens in its ranks is more like 5:1
  5. Humans get 5 points for killing an alien, minus 1 for every human they kill. Aliens get 1 point per human they kill, minus 5 if they kill an alien.
  6. The number of points your character has when they die (and they will die) is the number of points you have to generate your next character.

Erick ran the game as a conventional post-Gygax/Arneson RPG, with GM and players. I’m not doing that: I’m going to brief the players and let them get on with it, intervening only to deliver updates on the situation. I’ve also wonked the character-generation bit for a more general audience. In my version you don’t buy attributes or skills; you buy the two things that really matter in a game like this: (a) your rank in the UDF, from boy scout to general; and (b) your weaponry, from pointy stick to portable 22-kiloton warhead.

Erick Wujcik, as some as you know, is someone with whom I had a troubled history. He started off as my mentor in the industry, stalled my career for three years and ended up shoving an enormous blade into my back. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2008. The thing is, whatever he was like as a person or a business associate, there’s no question that he was a brilliant games designer. Also there’s no copyright in game concepts, and I firmly believe that Aliens Among Us is too good an idea to let die with its creator.

So there’s this playtest at the Weekender, and if it comes together then I’ve been talking to an American games designer about various possibilities, and—well, if that comes together too then it will do so with a rightness and a pleasingness that I think will satisfy anyone who knew Erick or his work.

I’ll keep you posted.

Categorised as: game design | street games


  1. JamesG says:

    How did the Aliens Among Us go? It sounds entertaining.

    • admin says:

      Objectively it went well; but subjectively it wasn’t what I expected at all. I thought I’d created enough systems and structures that it would generate its own direction and momentum (including a couple of straight lifts from Keith Johnstone, which bizarrely didn’t work at all), but in fact it turned out to be much more traditional-RPG than I’d expected–people looked for me for the narrative. But there was a huge amount of player death and a good deal of laughter, which was all promising. Needs work but will repay it, I feel.

  2. Tom Parker says:

    Any plans on publishing a larger set of rules e.g. the ranks, points and weaponry data you used? I’ve run a few Werewolf games now, and this looks *much* more interesting. Even if you’re still tweaking it, I’d love to see what you’ve got so far, even if I need to fiddle around with a few things to get it working!


    • admin says:

      Discussions are underway about getting a version of Aliens Among Us into print. I don’t want to say too much at the risk of jinxing the project, but I would really like to see this happen. The game–my version of it at least–needs quite a bit of work before it’s ready for publication, but I know what direction it needs to go and what potholes need to be avoided now.

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