I Can't Lie About Your Chances But. . . You Have My Sympathies! - Legendary Encounters Review

If you ask me what I believe to be the best horror movie franchise of all time, I would quickly say the Alien films and specifically the first two. Nowadays so many films that call themselves “scary” rely on jump scares which to me is a giant cop out because anybody can be scared by something effectively going BOO at them! Forget “It Follows” or “Poltergeist” or any of the “Paranormal” films, give me something like “Unfriended” – creep me out, don’t go excessive on gore and don’t just go for shock value all the time. “Alien” I believe was a timeless classic that got it right. Atmosphere oozing from every part and if you haven’t played Alien Isolation on the PC yet, check that out because it nails the franchise perfectly.

To throw in my likeness for the movies, Aliens is an excellent action flick, Aliens 3 is actually fine if you stick to the Directors Cut version and Alien Resurrection. . . . . . Ok it’s not good but I don’t think it’s complete dirge either, just a shame that Fox interfered so much with Joss Whedon’s script ideas. But despite this I still love the Alien franchise whether in movie form, book form or even TCG form – oh yeah who remembers the old classic Aliens vs Predator trading card game? . . . . . I miss that one.

Sadly though there aren’t many examples of this franchise being put into a board game despite the fact it’s ripe for it. Level 7: Omega Protocol came close with a cool sci-fi dungeon crawl, but it’s just not the same. But Upper Deck has now taken their Legendary system, switched the license from Marvel to Alien and made some tweaks to give us a new deck-building game that stays true to the franchise.

Needless to say, this got me hyped, being one of my most anticipated releases of 2014. But despite the fact I love Marvel Legendary as a game, I had some initial fears. Deck builders tend to struggle with theme because of the mechanical nature of the game. Legendary Marvel also has its thematic issues because everyone is mixing all the heroes together in their deck rather than having one identity. Of course that’s a minor nit-pick, but this is why Sentinels of the Multiverse has a lot more superhero theme for me because you have your own personal deck for your hero.

So could it be done? Can the Alien franchise work in the board gaming world and particularly as a deck builder? And how do I get out of this chicken**** outfit?








Designer: Ben Cichoski, Danny Mandel
Publisher: Upper Deck
# of Players: 1-5
Ages: 14+
Play Time: 45 Minutes + 
BGG Rank/Rating: 89 / 8.05

NB: - I'm done writing rules explanations - so many other sources exist and I'd rather talk more about how my feelings towards the game. Rules explanations are the most boring part! #smileyface


A Perfect Organism. Its Structural Perfection Is Matched Only By Its Hostility


As with all deck builders you get a lot of cards in the box. However these cards have been met with some negative feedback in terms of the organisation and graphic design. The artwork for example varies a lot across the game as obviously multiple artists were used and it has a very wide range of quality. Some cards such as the Strikes and the Hive decks are actually pretty decent with a small level of gore present in certain cases so the Aliens themselves look pretty good. 

The hero cards are however, a bit more hit and miss with some like Hicks for example looking downright weird. They still tie in to the theme and the character, but if you like consistency you won’t find it here.

Secondly the initial organisation of the cards is a big task. There’s been no effort prior to packing to sort the cards in any particular order so you are going to have to spend a long time arranging the cards into their respective decks and when the text at the bottom that tells you where they’re from is so small this makes the job harder.

That’s assuming all of the cards are even present as some players have experienced missing ones including myself. Thankfully Upper Deck are aware of this and were very quick at supplying me with replacements. And yet again we have those same boring dividers as from Marvel Legendary that have no headings on them. Seriously check out Sentinels of the Multiverse; that game got it right from the start, more publishers should take note.

As such you will find that there’s a long pre-gaming process that you’ll have to go through to get it ready for the table. And I HIGHLY recommend you go the extra mile and invest in some coloured deck protectors for the Hive, Strike and Alien Player decks (whether you sleeve or not) and print/laminate some custom dividers from BGG. I’ve done to this mine as you’ll see from the pictures and believe me this investment pays off in spades when you’re setting the game up and packing it away.



That’s not to say it’s all bad. The box is large enough to accommodate expansions which are definitely on the horizon and the neoprene mat for the cards is nicely produced, detailed and very functional. It’s a welcome improvement from the original flimsy board.




Game Over Man! Game Over!!



Legendary Encounters ups the ante for difficulty from its predecessor. Aliens are constantly coming at you from the Hive deck, events and hazards are messing up your game plans and strikes have potential side effects from morale loss for example. You barely get a chance to take five and recover, the pressure is always on, but it never feels like it’s being overly punishing. The tension is present throughout the game especially when scanning hidden cards, a mechanic I approve of greatly. That being said, scalability is a small issue. This is an excellent game played solo and utterly brilliant with 3 players. With 4 it’s still really good, but tougher because you encounter the aliens quicker than you can recycle those purchased cards. So have a guess what 5 players is like. . . . . . . . yeah I am reluctant to play this with 5 again, you’re already encountering aliens while still on grunts and it makes the scenario crazy hard as a result. With 2 players it’s a little too easy, but simply play two hands per player and that issue is sorted.

But all of the hard elements of the game amount to one of the most thematic experiences I’ve ever had in a deck building game. You can mix the objectives around but it’s always more fun sticking to the movie layouts provided and the hazards encountered really match the films well.


In Alien you have to lure the organism to the airlock before you can kill it, in Aliens you have to set up sentry guns in open locations and in Alien Resurrection the complex floods with water making combat ineffective. Even the characters you can meet and add to your deck are true to the films. For example, Pervis from Resurrection can appear and you can sacrifice him to kill Dr Wren, an adversary from the Hive Deck – sound familiar to you Alien fans? You can tell that the designers have paid attention to detail when capturing the essence of the films.

Player elimination is possible but usually they won’t have to wait around long for the game to finish and there is a variant Alien Player deck rule where they can come back and screw around with the players. This ramps up the difficulty considerably for the remaining players, but hey, who said killing Xenomorphs was easy? However it does turn the player into essentially a mindless automaton as they don’t really have any meaningful choices to make about what they can and should play. It’s a cool idea, but it’s currently flawed and more of a gimmick than a fleshed out mechanic. 


However this game manages to come up with the best way to ever be eliminated from a game – chestbursting! If you encounter a face hugger (Ok, seriously those things still scare the crap out of me whether in movie, game or picture form so why did I put one in this review?), you have your turn and the next players turn to kill before it lays an egg inside you. You then add a Chestburster card to your discard pile and when it eventually ends up in your hand, it bursts forth and you die! Seriously, how cool is that? Painful, but cool!


Get Away From Her You B****!!


There wasn’t a great deal you could do in Marvel Legendary to influence the other players or aid them on their turn, which was a flaw for me. Here however this has been improved upon not just by the general difficulty of the game, but the key word mechanics on the hero cards as well, particularly Co-ordinate and Mobilize. The former allows you to play the card on another players turn to aid them and the latter confers an immediate benefit usually on any player the buyer chooses. Other aspects such as healing strikes can also be distributed to more than just yourself.

As a result, there’s a greater sense of teamwork present in Legendary Encounters. Players are actively assisting each other, not simply just discussing plans for the next turn, which of course you’re doing anyway


You Don't See Them Screwing Each Other Over For A Goddamn Percentage!


 As a full co-op, this game shines. However it is also possible to introduce a traitor in which one of you is working for the corporation in secret and wants to kill off the other players in order to steal an Alien specimen. Now when I heard about this, I was excited; a cool thematic twist to a deck building game. Unfortunately I was set for disappointment in much the same way as with the Alien player deck.

This almost feels like it was tacked on at the end and hasn’t been developed that well. For starters you are allowed to search through anyone’s discard pile which makes hiding your claims that you haven’t the attack value to kill a facehugger for example impossible. Such an obvious issue that has to be house ruled. It also means you’re essentially a player down so expect your scenario to be harder as a result.


This variant almost never sees play now and it’s such a shame because the idea is so cool. Maybe a future expansion will improve on this and the Alien deck, but given Legendary’s history of simply pushing out more cards as opposed to mechanics, I remain dubious.


Verdict


Rarely does hype pay off for me in board games. You get all excited and then usually end up with disappointment when it doesn’t meet your expectations. That’s not the case here. Oh hell no! This deck builder really does manage to capture the Alien theme well especially if you play the scenarios according to the movies using the characters associated with it.

The theme is actually stronger here than in the Marvel versions especially with the hive decks mimicking hazards from the movies and the constant threat of the aliens keeps the tension up and makes this game a good challenge without making it impossibly difficult. Teamwork is also stronger here thanks to some interesting card mechanics like Co-Ordinate that allow you to influence other players actions

There is the issue of the initial sorting out and potential improvements as mentioned, which you must accept when you buy this game. It’s a hassle, it’s annoying, but it’s worth the time. It makes future games much easier to manage and thus you can enjoy them more. Also avoid playing with 5 players and stick to a fully co-operative experience.
If you’re a fan of the Alien franchise and you enjoy Co-Op games, then this needs to be on your wish list. And with more expansions on the way as well as the upcoming Predator standalone game that can be mixed with this, it’s only going to get better………..CLICK…..LET’S ROOOOCCK!


You Will Like This Game If:

  • You are a fan of the Alien franchise – this is a fantastic embodiment.
  • Teamwork is a big part of a co-op for you – working together is the key here.
  • You enjoy deck building games generally, but want something more thematic.

You Will Not Like This Game If:


  • You want authentic Alien artwork/film stills – it’s a hit and miss affair here.
  • You aren’t prepared to go through the initial sorting out process on purchase.
  • You were banking a lot on the Alien player and traitor variants.

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