The movie Alien was all about silence. Aliens was all about noise. Alien 3 was all about mumpy skinheads. And Alien Resurrection had cool, swimming Aliens. We don’t talk about anything ‘after-but-before’ because sadness ensues…
In 2014, Upper Deck, with a 20th Century Fox licence attached, released ‘Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck building game’. They couldn’t take my money fast enough. Just the box art alone, with its evocative, radar-green image of a hatching egg, opened my wallet like an Alien egg pod.
But can a deck building board game ever evoke the atmosphere, tension and outright creeping panic of a franchise like Alien?
Read on… we’re on an express elevator to hell, going down!
Components — “It’s very pretty, Bishop, but what are we looking for? ”
The box is a beautiful, shiny thing, weighing in at 2.2kilos, and as you might expect from a deck builder, the box has cards, cards, and more cards…… 600 to be precise!! The backs have the ‘Legendary’ logo emblazoned across the middle but the cards are blue, which I thought was a little at odds with the green branding of the box and play mat.
Ultra Pro Matte Green card-sleeves (63.5mm x 88mm) soothed the unease. The cards are decent stock, but I can see that after a lot of shuffling, which is a large part of any deck building game, they might show wear… though not when dressed in their smart green combat jackets they won’t. No Sir!
The art on the cards is good, but not outstanding – you’ll find most of the main movie characters and their likenesses, along with Aliens, of which their are too many to mention. The game would definitely not have the same appeal, nor be as engaging, if the art did not reference the movies and characters.
There is no board in the game-board; it is a heavy neoprene thing of beauty. It unrolls with a satisfying slap onto your game table. The images and words, familiar if you know the movies, are all strangely… dare I say it… Alien – Ventilation Shafts; the Hatchery; the Hive; and Strikes! Oh dear god, Strikes!
And that’s it for components. Upper Deck has given some thought to the box layout, which is divided into three sections. The play mat rolls up and sits in the middle while the cards sit on either side, and they also had the foresight to supply square foam inserts to separate different card types from each other and believe me, this is a real time saver when you remember that the card backs, sleeved or un-sleeved, are all the same colour.
Set-Up —“Jonesy… here Jonesy!“
Once you’ve separated the cards into their correct piles, setup is quite straightforward. Each player has an Avatar card, whose sole purpose it to help track your character’s health-points.
Each player receives the same starting hand of 12 cards, along with their own character card (the same character as shown on their Avatar card). You will need to position the following decks, face down, on the play mat:
- The Scenario Location.
- The Hive Deck — This deck contains the main Alien threats in the game, along with the crew’s objectives for the chosen scenario. This deck of Aliens and objectives is seeded in such a way that objective-1 is in the top third of the deck, objective-2 in the middle, and objective-3 in the bottom third.
- The Strike Deck — Only bad things happen here!
- The Barracks Deck — Recruit crew members here. Populate the HQ with the top five cards of the Barracks, face up, and they offer specific skills or abilities that will (hopefully) delay your character’s decline during the game.
Gameplay —“They mostly come out at night, mostly.”
You begin your turn and immediately a card from the Hive Deck advances, face down into the Complex, which has six spaces to fill. These cards move inexorably towards the Combat Zone where, revealed or not, they turn over and you need to kill them or face the Strike Deck. Oh dear god, the Strike deck!
The two currencies in the game are Recruit and Attack points. You shuffle your starting hand of 13 cards then deal yourself six. A card will either have Recruit OR Attack points listed on it, but never both.
Recruit points allow you to ‘buy’ characters from the HQ. As soon as you take a card, the top card of the Barracks deck fills the vacated space. Attack points allow you to do one of two things:
- Pay the cost to reveal (flip) a card in the Complex.
- Pay the cost to kill an already-revealed Alien in the Complex or Combat Zone.
You can do any of the above with enough Recruit and Attack points on the cards in your hand. When you have played all the cards that you can or want to, all of those cards (including unspent ones), along with any newly recruited characters, go into your Discard pile.
You draw six fresh cards from your remaining hand, play passes to the next player, any cards in the Complex move one area to the left, and the next card in the Hive joins the Complex.
When all of your cards are in your discard pile, or you need to draw a card and there are none, you shuffle the discard pile and deal those to create your next hand. This is when those new recruits appear, boosting your next recruitment drive or attack.
To win, players must resolve or complete the objectives seeded in the Hive deck before their life-points drop to zero.
Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game
— “This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.“
Be under no illusions – Legendary Encounters: An Alien deck building Game is brutal. I have played it a lot and I still haven’t survived long enough to complete any final objective.
BUT it is also a brilliant game. From the beginning there is tension. The creep of cards in the Complex, seen or unseen, makes the whole game experience immersive. You become Pavlovian in your anticipation of how bad the next bad thing will be, and it is usually pretty bad.
You can play through each of the four movies, or you can mix-and-match characters, scenarios, locations, and objectives for a hybrid experience, though I would definitely recommend working your way through each ‘movie’ first, as I think this will give you the best experience with the game.
If you play solo, it is advisable to control two or more characters. Otherwise, the swarm of bad stuff will overwhelm you very, very early in the game. And there is so much more: Co-ordination, Character classes and Sergeants to name three, but they all add new layers of depth to an already great game.
If you like Aliens: Buy it – if you like Deck builders: Buy it
“I can’t lie to you about your chances… but you have my sympathies.”