Play Time: 45 mins.
Legendary Encounters is an Alien Deck Building game that is the successor to the popular Marvel Legendary.
Theme is a very powerful component in games of all kinds, and tabletop games are no exception. Some people are swayed by theme far easier than others, and I am definitely in that group of people. There are also genres of games that also can draw players towards them time after time.
Combining these two powerful points of attraction into one package should be an almost surefire way to create an engaging product then, right?
This was my thought when I first picked up the Legendary Marvel Deck Building Game from Upper Deck. I’ve been a fan of Marvel comics since I was a kid, and have loved the movies, loved the shows, even the weaker Fox/Sony movies are pretty watchable when they come on TV.
Given all of that, I wanted very badly to like the Marvel Deck Building game. The first two or three plays were fun, just seeing the combinations of heroes, but as I played it more, there was just something that felt hollow. Pinpointing just what was missing wasn’t easy to do, either. The end result was a huge box full of cards, and one small expansion that was never played after the first week or so. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a bad game – but I couldn’t help the feeling while playing it that it could have been so much more
Because of that experience, I had a lot of apprehension about picking up another product in the same line, that shared many of the same mechanics of the Marvel Game. I’ve been let down by more than one Marvel boardgame before, would a love of another IP be treated similarly? It was only after seeing a live play, and a Saturday-afternoon-Aliens-came-on-TV-and-I-left-it-on event that it seemed like a good time to take another look at this follow-up offering from Upper Deck.
Would the Legendary Encounters Alien game melt through the old feelings of indifference? It’s time to stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen and find out if this Alien board game has what it takes.
Light/Medium Weight. Easy to understand if familiar with DeckbuildersLegendary Encounters is probably not the game to pull out with a fresh crowd of board game novices, unless they are huge fans of the theme.
If anyone in your group has played another deckbuilder, however, it should be pretty easy to pick up and understand relatively quickly.
Here’s the thing about the Alien series of films, and this isn’t typically disputed: The first one is great, the second one is great, the third one is a turd, and the fourth one should have been aborted.
Legendary Encounters flips the script on that progression of good to bad right out of the box. Opening it up for the first time presents you with the biggest mess of cards in no discernible order than you have ever seen
The game boasts having 600 cards. It then goes one step further to make sure you’re painfully aware of just how many cards it has by making you sort every single one out. You’ve got 4 movies that need sorted, 16 different characters to sort out, drone cards, hatchery cards, alien decks, player role cards, and strike cards.
“We’re on an express elevator to hell, going down!”
…and that’s not the end of the box opening brutality.
Upper Deck also included a bunch of blank cards. Why? Who knows. There is probably a good reason for it, somewhere along the lines of helping production costs. That doesn’t help at all when you’re first opening the box and are bewildered by the sheer amount of that’s there AND needing to understand just how to sort it.
There are more than enough dividers to separate all of the types of cards once you do have them sorted, but they’re all blank, so guess what? You have more work to do after sorting everything out to write down all of the types of cards.
To be fair, every game has a bit of first-time-setup that takes place. Card packs have to be opened, tokens have to be punched. Little spinny scoring pieces have to be assembled. I get it, that happens.
Legendary Encounters Alien Deck builder goes a notch or two beyond anything I’ve seen before, in terms of sheer obnoxiousness. You will feel like you’re at some sadistic, shitty office job for about half an hour.
It reminded me setting up the Broken Token Mage Knight Oganizer. – although, in that same vein, the beginning was where the pain began and also where it started to quickly fade.
Following the reverse-suck-order of the Alien franchise, once you have everything sorted out Legendary Encounters starts to look more like this:
The first thing that stood out to me, and wasn’t really apparent in watching videos or even seeing pictures, is the neoprene mat. Even in the picture above, sure, you can see how it separates all of the areas very cleanly, shows you where cards are supposed to go, and has player aids written right on it.
What can’t be seen is how perfectly it lets cards slide right across, and allows for them to be easily picked up. It was a small detail that I never really paid attention to until this game, and especially when comparing it to Legendary Marvel.
That game (and the other deck builders) I had played before all came with flimsy fold-out glossy paper boards to lay things out on. It did the bare minimum of showing you where everything should be placed, but it always felt awkward to have to place on a table and play on. The creases were always present, and cards could easily slide all over the place.
Legendary Encounters Alien Deck Builder has made neoprene mats a gold standard going forward, for me. I know Marvel had one available, but including it in the base version of the game was a great decision and one that hopefully future deck builder games will follow.
The cards and art style are the other point of note. The cards (identical in thickness and backs to the Marvel cards) are just a tiny bit on the thin side. For a game that requires a good bit of shuffling, this is a mark against it. I never sleeve anything, but my cousin sleeves all of his Legendary cards, and I can see why.
As for the artwork on the cards, I’m a huge fan of the stylistic choices and end result. I have read some wildly varying opinions on this, and for that reason would recommend checking it out prior to purchase if the art style is a make-or-break it point for you.
It also must be said that this is one of those deck builders where you’re going to be shuffling. All. The. Time. So, if you don’t like shuffling your friggin’ brains out, seriously consider whether this game is for you.
Instructions and Rules
The rulebook for Legendary Encounters Alien Deck builder is sufficient. The writers did a nice job of making the differences between this game and Legendary Marvel also pretty clear.
I hate to go back to the first opening of the box, but this is another area where they could have included a page early on detailing the card types and just a simple set of instructions that guide the player on what piles they should set up. It’s not something I would mark as a strike specifically against the rulebook, but it is clearly a missed opportunity.
On the plus side, the developers of this game went above and beyond in coming up with different ways to play with the alien decks included in the game. The base game is a full co-op, with player elimination. There is an included variant there that adds transforming into a pvp alien player. Then there is also a version which includes hidden roles. This game does not skimp on offering different ways to play along with instructions for simple ways to increase or reduce the difficulty.
The Legendary Encounter Alien Deck builder stands out immediately with some key differences to separate it from Marvel Legendary. The first one is a major improvement, and sets it apart not only from Marvel, but also from the other deck builders that I’ve played to this point: player roles and variable player powers.
This is awesome, plain and simple. Typically in a deck builder you start out with a bunch of boring-as-hell weak fighting people and then some boring-as-hell weak buying people. The first couple of turns in a deck builder are traditionally the most mundane and lame turns in any type of board game.
Granted, in other genres of games, there are slow early turns – but when you buy an upgraded card in a deck builder you might not see it for two turns!
Legendary Encounters corrected this by giving each player a unique avatar and then respective card that they shuffle into their deck to start off. These cards typically allow you to draw another card when you play them, so they don’t clog up you hand preventing you from getting to your other cards.
The Priest card above is a great example of how this can turn turn one or two into a fun early turn. Typically you’ll draw between 3-4 points of buying power (stars) on your early turns. This card guarantees that you’ll have 6 buying power on turn one or two, allowing you to pick up one of the stronger cards in the game, or two weaker cards right away.
Other player role cards are unique and exciting as well. One role increases the attack value of the card as the game progresses. Another allows healing of a wound every time you play it.
The other important part of the role is that it gives each player a health value (and an armor value for PvP play) – which is another big switch from Marvel. In this game, players can be killed and eliminated.
The Location cards are the Settings for each of the Missions in the game. Each mission has one setting and then three objectives, with typically increasing difficulty in each objective. The standard version of the game is to play through each “movie” which has a prescribed location and set of three specific objectives.
This was a great idea, and successfully executed concept of translating theme to a game perfectly. Being a fan of the franchise, I was consistently smiling as I played through each of the objectives in each movie. Parts from each are well translated to a card game, and the escalation maintains a need to try and stay on pace, otherwise a lot of people start dying.
The hazard cards that pop up are associated with the Location and these are nasty. Preparing for these is one of the crucial strategies for success in Legendary Encounters.
The objectives also list what happens when one of the event cards is pulled. These cards are littered throughout the Hive deck and when they are flipped over something specific (and usually bad) to the encounter takes place. If these get set off near to the Hazard cards mentioned above, things can get very ugly very quickly.
Completing each objective puts it on the bottom and reveals the next one, and completing the final objective is the only way to win the game.
The Complex in Legendary Encounters is another seemingly subtle, but huge change to the formula that never really worked that well (for me) in Marvel.
Enemies come into the Complex face-down. As a new enemy comes in, that pushes the enemies already there further over to the left. If any enemy is pushed off the farthest left point, they flip face-up and go into the combat zone. Each enemies in the combat zone will strike the current player once if they aren’t defeated before the end of the turn.
Complicating matters is the need to spend combat points to “scan” a room and flip a card over. Enemies can’t be fought until they’re flipped over. However, some enemies have reveal effects that will pop up when they are flipped. (voluntary or otherwise) Events and Hazards can be revealed as well! There’s also even worse things that can be revealed, which we’ll get to in a moment.
This is another area where Legendary Encounters Alien Deck Builder blows Marvel away. In Marvel, at least in the basic scenarios, there’s little danger in letting the enemies go. The game focused on winning the objective, and then being the player who scored the most points by killing the most enemies. There are even characters that give wounds out to other characters, hindering their efforts and muddling the whole experience.
In stark contrast, Legendary Encounters is much more truly cooperative, in that if aliens aren’t killed, you all lose. There’s no scoring, no points, no quasi-competitive coop nonsense. You win, or you die.
The character cards will be immediately familiar to anyone who played Marvel, and this is pretty welcome. There’s recruit/buy value, and combat value. There are also special abilities that could require cards of a certain group or class to have been played first.
One of the keywords included in Legendary Encounters is another point of difference that elevates this game above it’s progenitor: COORDINATE
The Coordinate cards allow you to play them face up on the table during another player’s turn. That card then basically allows them to play the coordinated card as if it was theirs. Once it is played, you just put it right back into your discard pile.
The other subtle, but important, rule about Coordinating is that you get to draw another card immediately to replace it, so it is almost always advantageous to help out your buddies.
Coordinate brings this game together in a way that Marvel never really did. It provides a real opportunity for giving the player something to do on their turns, at least occasionally, and rewards the whole team for working together.
The strike cards are the way of delivering damage to the player avatars. Since each player has health now, holding on to these is what reduces that health, and potentially kills you. They are also incredibly random, in a good way, with some being misses, and some being incurable.
The variety doesn’t end there, as there are a few strikes which can fire off events, or even the dreaded, horrible, and biggest culprit of tension in the whole game: the Facehugger…
I love the addition of these two cards into the game. If you reveal a Facehugger card, from strikes, or the complex, or otherwise – you’re on a time limit. You have to kill that Facehugger on your turn, or the next player has to kill it on theirs.
If it isn’t killed, that nasty little bastard impregnates you with a Chestburster, and you’ve got a few turns left until you’re dead. There’s extremely few ways to remove a Chestburster from your discard pile, so it’s almost a guaranteed death sentence.
The tension this causes is stunningly beautiful to behold, and primarily for one reason: In Legendary Encounters, every single reveal of a card could end up being a Facehugger. This means that if you don’t have 3 attack remaining, you might be in trouble.
If you’re looking at that one card, with 5 attack value left, and thinking about scanning it to flip it over, you will have to second-guess each time whether it’s worth the risk. What if the next player only has two attack available as a backup?
It may come off as a bit cheap, or unlucky, but I think it’s perfectly crafted and fits right in with the theme of the franchise remarkably in terms of gameplay functionality as well. Player death and elimination is the ugly byproduct of these unpleasant surprises, though. This can also happen through accumulation of strikes that weren’t healed in time. The other odd thing about player elimination is that it doesn’t really hurt the players in this game – since it’s more challenging with more characters an elimination actually makes things a bit easier.
In games that run this long, player elimination is not welcome, so I strongly recommend playing with the Alien Player variant. This means that a player eliminated by a Chestburster takes on that little bastard as their new role, having Alien Decks to choose from and can go against the remaining players. It makes an already-hard game that much more challenging and is a fun way to punish everyone for a critical mistake.
Legendary Encounters has a lot to offer in the box. The box provides quite a lot of content for the price. The game includes the 4 movies of the franchise and 4 characters for each of those movies. This provides for a very clear set of missions to start out with, and playing through the movies with 3 or more characters provides a very compelling challenge that will likely not be beaten one after another.
Following that, it’s very easy to start to mix up the crews from each of the movies and create new missions with objectives from each of them as well.
The variants are also a great way to add replay value to this Alien board game. The hidden role cards include some traitor mechanics that can make a PvP experience, and the aforementioned Alien Player is an awesome way to turn a Cooperative game suddenly into a Competitive experience.
One gripe that we ended up with was just the feeling of wanting more once we had completed the four main movies. While Marvel Legendary went on to fix most of the early issues with expansions, Legendary Encounters is largely a self-contained game. Luckily an expansion for Legendary Encounters is on the horizon, and if you really do want to mix things up you can add the Legendary Encounters Predator Card Game in, to get all of your favorite aliens together in one box.
Legendary Encounters Alien Deck Building game is one of the rare gaming experiences that really captures the feeling of the movies in the game, and that’s not something that I would ever say or write lightly.
Almost all of us who have been playing games for long enough have had the bitter taste of an Intellectual Property that we loved get pimped out for a shitty game, just to make a few bucks. While this concept is much worse in the realm of video games, tabletop games have seen their fair share of it. (Although, the last few years have seen some excellent games based on popular movies and shows)
You’re no longer just some abstract person who is managing a bunch of superheroes, sitting far away from the combat in some base of operations. You are taking on the role of a character IN an Alien experience, and the only person to hear you scream are your friends sitting next to you.
The tension is immense, and even when there are the more peaceful moments in between, you quickly become aware that they are almost always short-lived. The next terrible thing is just around the corner, and by the time it is you turn again, you might not be any stronger or more prepared to handle it than you were last turn.
You’ll be looking to your friends, asking what they have to help, or alternately buying cards just to try and give the player next to you the break they need to survive to the next round.
It also plays very well solo, although I would strongly recommend playing solo with at least two and probably three characters. It might sound like a bit of work, but it is well worth the hand management for the higher level of challenge that the game provides at the higher player counts.
We were able to make it through the first four movies, and only beat one of them on the first attempt through. Alien 3, bastard of a movie as it is, actually turned out to be my favorite scenario of all four, surprisingly.
…and trust me, you will be dreading the moment that nasty Facehugger emerges from an egg to jump up and latch on your face.
Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Builder – The verdict
Legendary Encounters Alien Deck Builder nails the theme and fixes the sub-par Cooperative formula from its predecessor to create a tension-filled challenging series of missions.
What we Loved about Legendary Encounters: Alien Deckbuilder
– Gets the theme of well-loved IP right, and ties it in with gameplay in such a satisfying way.
– Cooperative, without a trace of quasi-coop nonsense.
– Pvt. Hudson
– Truly unsettling implementation of Facehuggers and Chestbursters.
What we didn’t Love as much about Legendary Encounters: Alien Deckbuilder
– One of the worst unboxing experiences in all of tabletop gaming.
– Player elimination should never be an option in a game that plays this long. Note: Included Player Alien Variant fixes this
– Lots of shuffling.