When people think of themed card games, they will usually think of the trading/collectible card game format made famous by Richard Garfield and Magic: The Gathering. Science fiction has certainly had its share of TCGs or CCG. Star Trek and Star Wars has certainly had several incarnations.
Aliens and Predator even had one. Back in 1997 a company called Precedence started publishing the Aliens Predator CCG – with a Terminator one to follow. It followed a new game system and lasted a complete total of 2 sets (with Terminator having 1).
How effectively the Aliens Predator CCG replicated the feeling of the movies, I couldn’t possibly tell you as I’ve never been able to play it. Instead, several starter decks hibernate in a drawer and a near complete premiere set sits in a folder on my shelf. None of my friends were interested in attempting an ancient game when they could be playing Magic.
So when I first saw the news of Upper Deck’s Legendary Encounters – An Alien Deck Building Game I was filled with excitement! A modern Alien card game! I watched eagerly as the release date drew near and I snapped up a copy as soon as I could.
The game has been selling incredibly well and it’s been really difficult to get hold of a copy in the United Kingdom. I tried all my local friendly gaming stores (I like to buy locally if I can) to no avail. Eventually I took to the Internet and found Beer and Pizza Games. Thank you so much guys!
The first thing to note about Legendary Encounters is that a Deck Building Game is so completely different to a Trading/Collectible Card Game. One of the biggest differences is that in you get everything at once with the DBG. There are other differences as well including the very core mechanic of the game. Instead of showing up with a pre-built deck, you start with pre-set basic starting cards and then recruit cards from the Barracks to construct your deck. After each turn is complete you discard your hand and draw a new hand out of your deck. This continual cycle means that your deck is being constantly reshuffled as you recruit more and more cards.
Legendary Encounters – Alien typically costs around £50 which might seem like a big bite of the wallet for a card game. However, you need to consider the fact that in the box you get 500+ full colour cards and a swanky mat (unlike most of the Legendary Marvel games) and that you receive the game in its full for that price.
Instead of shelling out £100 for a box of random boosters, you get a complete set in one. This might be disappointing for those of you who like to collect but when you find out just how fun the game is you really will not mind.
Legendary Encounters is based on the existing engine Upper Deck uses for its Legendary games. There are some minor twists on the engine to fit the films. I couldn’t believe how thematic it felt. I’ll try and summarize how the game plays but you really should check out some of the gameplay videos on YouTube.
The game comes with scenarios for each of the four Alien films but they break down in such a way that it allows you a great deal of customization in how you play the game. Each film comes with a Location (this specifies what Hazard cards trigger), 3 Objectives and their corresponding mini-decks and 4 sets of character decks that make up the Barracks.
The aim is simple: complete all three Objectives to win. To do this you fight against the Hive deck which is comprised of three objective mini-decks and additional cards from the Drone deck. The cards drawn from the Hive deck have to progress through the Complex – 5 locations based on generic locations from the films – and to the Combat Zone before they start attacking you. You need to scan and fight the Hive cards before that happens. You do this by spending combat points.
Cards come in facedown from the Hive deck – a minor difference from the Marvel versions of Legendary – and require you to scan them before you know what they are. This is a bit of a double edged sword as they could be Aliens which would mean they’d be revealed for you to fight, they could be parts of the Objective you need to find or it could be Newt or Jones; I love that these are in the Hive deck, meaning that you don’t encounter them until you progress through the game. It adds that little bit extra taste of flavour – as if delving further into the narrative.
However, they could also be Hazards or Events. These generally activate negative effects. For example, Events trigger the hatching of any revealed Eggs, so the choice of when to scan and when not to can really increase the tension.
You are also required to recruit more cards into your deck through the spending of recruitment points. This is where the deck building in deck building game comes from. You recruit from the Barracks, another deck that is comprised of 4 different character decks and various different versions of their character cards, each with different abilities.
Every different character card has different abilities and classes that trigger off of the presence of other cards. This requires some consideration in the cards that you recruit, adding some tactical elements into the game. You can generate some really interesting combinations via this.
One of the most simple, yet effective, is a card that my housemate is very fond of. “You Want Some Of This” Hudson gives you +1 attack if a USCM card was played before him. Chain him with other versions of the same card and you can find yourself with quite the pool of attack.
Recruitment points can also be spend to activate other card effects – such as Bishop’s head to scan whatever room he is attached to or the Airlock Controls to move an Alien card to the Airlock.
Thematically the game has quite a lot of flavour in it that just makes it feel right. As I mentioned before, you can find Newt and Jones in the Hive deck which makes it feel as if you’re progressing through the story. To name a further few elements, The Perfect Organism, the final enemy in the Alien scenario, can only be killed whilst in the Airlock. And there are various cards that help you shuffle things around to facilitate that – the Airlock Controls let you pay 3 recruit to move an Alien to the Airlock and Electric Prod Parker lets you move an Alien to any clear room in the Complex.
The Runner Alien in Objective 1 of Alien 3 scenario moves an extra room every turn, simulating its speed. Ash requires you to co-ordinate with another player to kill him – co-ordinates are cards that you able to play to help another player – simulating that it took all 3 of the remaining crew of the Nostromo to finally subdue Ash. In Aliens the second Hazard you pull, “They Cut The Power”, has you fill the Complex, flip all revealed Aliens face down and then shuffle all the Hive cards together and place them all back out into the Complex again. Except this time you don’t know where all the various Aliens are.
It’s all the little touches like that which work well with the core mechanics of the game to really simulate the feel of Aliens. And as well as that, it’s a really fun and engaging game at its core. I’ve played this with casual Alien fans and hardcore fans, both of which really enjoy the game. My housemate, in particular, is a casual fan of the series but loves his games and he was consistently asking him to play.
As I mentioned earlier, the characters from the films show up in the Barracks for you to recruit from. As a player, you have an avatar which doesn’t represent a specific character from the films but an archetype with a corresponding specialty card. The Gunner gives you +1 attack for the objective you’re currently on (+1 for Objective 1, +2 for Objective 2, etc), the Synthetic has every single class on it giving you versatility in your deck building.
Legendary Encounters comes with 10 of these avatars. However, it can only be played with 5 players due to the number of starting cards. The difficulty of the game scales up considerably with the number of players. This is because you don’t have as many rounds to recruit and build your deck before the Complex begins to fill. I found the sweet spot to be around 3 players.
It can also be played with just one player. The community is already creating various modifications and variants that allow you to adjust the game to the difficulty you prefer.
The game comes with 2 additional sets of “advanced rules” that differ from the Legendary – Marvel. These are Hidden Agenda cards and the Alien deck. The Hidden Agendas are a separate set of cards in which players pick from a mixed set of “good” and one “evil” agenda – the idea being to represent a Company operative. These agendas are discovered when Secret Revealed cards are found in the Complex (one for each player is shuffled into the Hive deck).
The “evil” player has to impede the progress of the others but without being too overt about it. It’s a fun set of additional rules but its best when played with a group of 4 or more players. It allows for some interesting suspicions to formulate.
The Alien deck is a fun one too! If a player is killed by drawing a chestburster card after being face-hugged, he can become an Alien. There are 4 Alien avatars and one is selected randomly. The player than takes the Alien deck and it is full of devastating cards. It really is in your best interest to work to get rid of those face-huggers – something I learnt the hard way!
My biggest problem with these additional components is the artwork – they use the same image for every card within the Alien deck, the same image for all the Good Agendas and the same for all the Evil Agendas. It lacks the visual diversity of the main decks and can be dull to look at. It also means you aren’t able to reconigze the card text from the artwork alone.
But that brings me onto one of my issues with the game – inconsistent artwork. All the cards are full art, as opposed to screen captures from the film. It’s a nice change from the limitations of screen captures but due to the sheer number of cards that had to be designed, Upper Deck opted to use multiple artists to do the work.
This isn’t a bad issue in itself but the fact that some of the cards are simply terrific and some are ridiculously cartoonish and undetailed is a massive concern for me. The contrast is really frustrating.
I can understand the reasoning behind using different artists but Upper Deck should have at least tried to find artists who had the right “feel” for the license, especially as they had managed to get the thematic feeling right with the gameplay.
They also missed a huge treat on getting people like Den Beauvis, Dave Dorman or Raymond Swanland involved. It would have been such a huge treat to see new artwork from such artists as those legends! Seriously, get these guys on board if you do more!
Legendary Encounters can also be quite time consuming which some may find a disappointment. When you open the game for the first time the cards aren’t packaged in any meaning or sensible way. I found it took around an hour of sorting to get the cards into their corresponding mini-decks. All the cards tell you which mini-deck they belong to but I was greatly helped by this checklist from BoardGameGeeks.
The games themselves can also take a bit of time to setup and packed away correctly as it’s a lot of messing around with constructing the Barracks or Hive deck when building them out of the mini-decks, the additional cards from the Drone deck or the Agenda cards. It’s not a massive concern but it can be a problem for those of us lacking the patience.
The biggest problem that is to be found with Legendary Encounters is the frequency in which missing components are being reported. It’s vital to sort and check your copy as soon as you receive it as many have reported missing cards. I was fortunate in that I was missing a single objective card that didn’t impede my ability to play the game.
However, many have reported missing more than a single card. Fortunately a simple e-mail to Upper Deck’s Quality Assurance will result in replacements being dispatched – usually on the day – but this can take up to 4 weeks to be received. It’s great that Upper Deck are being so quick on the replacements being sent but to be shelling out £50 for a game that I might need to wait for replacements for is a real disappointment.
All-in-all I’m still really happy I brought the game. I’ve enjoyed it playing solo, I’ve loved it playing with fellow hardcore fans and I’ve had plenty of enjoyment playing it with casual fans. I’ve yet to play with a single person who didn’t enjoy it!
Upper Deck have already announced they have the rights to produce Firefly and Predator variations of Legendary Encounters and given how they’ve also produced several expansions for the Marvel counterpart, I think there plenty of life left in this game. The game engines do mix so when the Predator version comes out you can mix them in as easily as the Marvel version will (if you’re into that kind of thing, the rulebook does come with some guidance on how to do that).
The fact that the game comes with only 4 characters a movie was also alluded to by Upper Deck as meaning that there is potential for future expansions with different characters. I’d also love to see further expansions for Alien vs. Predator, Prometheus and some of the Expanded Universe would be great!
The ability to create completely different setups thanks to the inclusions of mini-decks is great fun – and for assistance with that there’s already a randomizer setup online – Table Monkey’s Encounters Randomizer
I can wholeheartedly recommend people pick this up, especially if you enjoy card games! From Aaron Percival, here at AvPGalaxy, I award Legendary Encounters – An Alien Deck Building Game 7/10