Beep. Beep. BEEPBEEPBEEP!
There are a few reasons why I’m not the ideal person to review Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game. For one thing, I didn’t play Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (because I don’t really read comics), so I can’t talk about how this version compares. Second, I don’t like most deck-building games all that much. And third… Alien³ is totally the best Alien movie, right after the utter perfection that is Alien: Resurrection.
Okay, go ahead and scrub that last sentence from your memory.
Legendary Encounters is sure to lure in the bulk of its players with the promise that you can reenact the broad strokes of the first four Alien movies. And if nothing else, it does a surprisingly adept job of getting across the idea of being trapped in some remote and claustrophobic location, whether a dilapidated space-freighter or backwater colony, while being hunted by an unfathomable, nigh-unstoppable, and wiener-headed alien species. Sure, it takes some degree of license with its, um, license. For example, by filling up your starting deck with a bunch of colonial marine “specialists” and “grunts,” even when only one of the four movies really jives with that setup. And in order to keep things interesting, it sees you mixing in random “drone” cards with each set of threats, so it’s possible that your sojourn aboard the iconic USCSS Nostromo will be interrupted by a fully-formed xenomorph before that film’s alien has made its debut appearance out of poor Executive Officer Kane’s chest cavity.
But you know what? None of that matters, because Legendary Encounters understands what the Alien franchise is about.
It starts out slow, a few motion detector blips in the ventilation shafts, then the power station. No worries, you figure, nobody goes down there anyway, and it costs a whole mess of attack points to scan those sectors so you might as well hold off. After all, you’re too busy buying cards, which seem to represent the ideas floating around your characters’ heads rather than the characters themselves. For instance, Chief Engineer Parker is found on cards like “Repair the Ship” or “Electric Prod” rather than just showing up on his lonesome, and you’ll never recruit Warrant Officer Ripley herself. After all, everyone wants to be Ripley. Instead, you’ll get a card representing her first aid skills or her quarantine procedures or whatever. The Aliens deck even lets her make use of a queen-battling Power Loader, which is possibly where the term “badass” originated when it was collectively uttered on July 18, 1986 through Jungian coincidence by ten thousand theatergoers.
So you’ll be focused on that, happily assembling your own little deck. Then, with a gasp, you’ll look up and realize that all those motion detector blips have nearly overrun the complex. Whatever’s out there, they’ve moved past the weapons locker and med-lab, and they’re squatting in the airlock. One more card and they’ll begin spilling over into the combat zone — and that’s the point where someone will inevitably start quoting Private First Class William Hudson. “Game over, man!” they’ll shout like fifteen times, scraping your eardrums like a cheese grater on a chalkboard. Even so, they aren’t wrong, because enemies in the combat zone make you draw those damnable strike cards. Some aren’t too bad, stuff like flesh wounds or close calls. Others are awful, like getting an alien tail-spike driven through your tummy.
Moments later, you’re debating with your friends over how to allot your resources. Some aliens become harder to kill once they exit the complex, so should you spend more time scanning for enemies? Or should you deal with the enemies that are already in your face? And is scanning such a good idea when you might draw an event card instead of an alien, which on the current objective means an alien would jump straight into the combat zone anyway?
It’s tense, it’s tough, and it encourages players to closely coordinate their actions. There are even a bunch of cards that can be played on other people’s turns, a nifty idea that helps keep everyone engaged and means that solo play works best when you play with two separate decks.
I mentioned above that Legendary Encounters understands Alien. Here’s proof.
In our first game (after spending an hour and a half sorting the game’s 600 cards), my friend Geoff reached a turn where he had a huge quantity of attack points. “Great!” we said, though probably we said something more like, “Okay, take your turn faster,” because we’re grumps like that. Still, this was good news because it let him take out this really terrifying xenomorph that was about to enter the combat zone and become pretty much invincible. After murdering the alien dead, he had a few points left over. “Should I scan the power station?” he asked. Well, of course you should, we replied. Then, whatever you find, we might be able to kill it sooner.
Unfortunately, none of us had been paying enough attention to our cards. When Geoff revealed a facehugger, he groaned and ended his turn, the creature happily mating with his face. “I hope you can kill this thing before it turns me into an alien,” he said to the next player.
Problem was, we totally couldn’t. Once the next player had failed to remove the parasite, Geoff had to shuffle a chestburster into his deck, and the card promised that if he drew it, he would “suffer extreme pain and die.” Which he soon did, transforming into an alien and getting a new role and deck and spending the rest of the game hounding the rest of our characters until he’d murdered every last one of us. We were surprised, and frustrated, and a little bit scared each time his turn came around.
And really, that’s more than I can say for nearly every other deck-building game I’ve played. Where most deck-building games feel like they’re set on autopilot, Legendary Encounters offers some truly difficult choices without ever becoming complicated. That, combined with its creeping horror, difficult co-op experience, the ability to give players “agendas” that might place a traitor in their midst, among other things, makes this one of the better deck-builders I’ve played in recent memory.