Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In space, no one can hear you deck build

Back in 1989, Dark Horse Comics published the first issue of Aliens vs. Predator, an idea that seems inevitable now but was pretty radical at the time. It opened up a floodgate of comic book crossovers, with the ubiquitous Aliens and Predators in the thick of it, fighting everyone from Superman and Batman to Judge Dredd and the Terminator, and of course each other.

So it makes a kind of sense that Upper Deck Entertainment would release Legendary Encounters: an Alien Deck Building Game as an expansion to Legendary, their Marvel super hero deck building game, although it should be pointed out that Marvel never jumped on the Aliens/Predator crossover bandwagon in the comics.

Interestingly, Legendary Encounters is a complete, self-contained game which uses some elements from the Marvel game (enough that crossovers are possible) but plays somewhat differently. It's a fully cooperative game, not unlike Arkham Horror, which makes sense given the Alien universe's almost Lovecraftian atmosphere of doom and futility. Players work together against an encounter deck composed of Aliens and other plot complications, depending on what scenario elements the players choose to add.

The game consists of four different three-part scenarios, based on the four Alien films. Each part of each scenario consists of a set of story-specific encounter cards that are added to the deck. In an ingenious bit of game design, the scenario parts can be mixed and matched, so that, for example, you can put together a scenario consisting of the first part of Aliens, the second part of Alien Ressurection, and the thrilling finale of Alien 3. This increases the game's replayability exponentially, as does the fact that for each game, players are also required to shuffle in a random assortment of additional Alien cards.

Another wonderfully theme-appropriate game mechanic is what happens when a player is infected by an Alien embryo. In the films, Alien facehuggers implant embryos in hapless human hosts, who then give grisly, explosive birth, usually at the most inconvenient of times. In the game, if a player is unlucky enough to lose a fight with a facehugger, they shuffle a chestburster card into their deck. When the chestburster makes it to the top of the deck and is drawn, it's all over for that player, leading to some great tension as each card draw is a nerve-wracking experience. There are even a few (but not many) cards a player can play to choke down the little monster and keep fighting a little longer.

The designers seem to really understand the source material, even to the point that each scenario's tone matches the film it's based on. The scenario for the original film is tense and atmospheric, with very limited resources for the players to use in fighting the Alien. The second one is much more action-packed, with an emphasis on equipping the players with weapons and gadgets. The less said about Alien 3 the better, and the Alien Resurrection scenario is as bombastic and over the top as the film.

As if the near-endless scenario combinations weren't enough, the game also includes several optional elements such as secret objectives that can result in one or more of the players being a hidden traitor, and even an Alien player deck, so that a player who has been killed by a chestburster can play as the Aliens. Great stuff.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) A terrific, engaging game that is ingeniously designed and very true to its source material. Can't wait to see the Predator edition...

Date played: September 14, 2014

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