Friday, January 29, 2016

It came from another planet for the thrill of deck building

Upper Deck's Legendary series of deck building games is proving to be a pretty versatile game system. My experience with the Marvel superhero version is limited, but it seems to reflect the idea of a big super team battle very well. Legendary Encounters: an Alien Deck Building Game absolutely nails the feel of the Alien franchise, with the different scenarios even allowing for the differences in tone between the four films.

Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game is another success for the series. It manages not to be just a simple re-skin of the Alien version, but its own game with a tone that is in line with the first two Predator films. It's really two games in one: players can choose to play a fully cooperative version as the humans in their struggle to survive the Predator's hunting expedition, or they can play a competitive game as Predators, seeing who can hunt the most humans and occasionally getting into duels with each other.

"Instead of complaining, maybe you should help."
The cooperative version is arguably more difficult to win than any of the Alien scenarios. There is a much greater emphasis on teamwork, with many cards that are only effective when played in coordination with the other players. It calls to mind the scene in the first Predator film where Dutch and his crew are setting traps for the Predator, and even naysayer Dillon and prisoner Anna are drafted to help. The idea of military camaraderie is further reinforced by cards that encourage players to draft a variety of different cards rather than focusing only on cards associated with a particular character.

In the competitive version, players get to play as Predators carving a path of destruction through either the jungles of Central America or the streets of Los Angeles. It manages to be recognizably the same game but also completely different. Game play is mainly focused on hunting human characters, beginning with no-name thugs and minions and working your way up to the main characters from the films, with the game ending once someone has defeated either Arnold Schwarzenegger's character from the first film, or Danny Glover's from the second.

Each kill is worth honor points, with bonuses for heavily armed characters or disarming traps. Additionally, several cards allow the players' Predators to duel, swiping away at one another in an attempt to directly knock out the competition. An advanced game variant adds Test cards which award extra points for meeting certain conditions such as healing damage or wiping out multiple humans in a single turn, and Challenge cards that give each player a personal goal to work towards (other than killing everything in sight).

It's clear that the game's developers put a lot of thought into making this game feel uniquely like the Predator films, while at the same time fitting it into the established rules framework of the Legendary series, and I think they succeeded admirably.

The game can be freely mixed with Legendary Encounters: an Alien Deck Building Game, allowing the characters from Predator to jump into the Alien scenarios, and vice versa. It's even easy to mix different scenario elements: imagine a South American jungle crawling with Aliens, or Predators descending on the doomed colony from the second Alien film.

This mix and match is definitely part of the fun of having multiple games with different licensed properties using the same game system. The next two announced games in the series are Firefly and Big Trouble in Little China. Now imagine the Serenity crew stumbling across a derelict ship full of Aliens, or Jack Burton going up against the Predator...

Rating: 5 (out of 5) Another terrific game in the series, it manages to be its own game while fitting seamlessly in with what has gone before.

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