This review of Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building game appeared in Episode 78 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio.
Back in 2012, Upper Deck Entertainment released the prolific and long-titled deck builder, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. The game, designed by Devin Low, resonated with fans of card games and Marvel comics so much that at the time of this recording, there are about a dozen small box expansions and six, big box stand-alone games that can be mixed in with the original game. In 2014, Upper Deck Entertainment released an Alien movie franchised themed version of its legendary deck building game, the equally long-titled Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game.
Designers Ben Cichosky and Daniel Mandel took Devin Low’s Legendary design and infused it with a heavy dose of Alien theme. Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building game plays out like most other deck-builders. You draw cards, some of which you can use to buy more cards for your deck, and some that let you carry out actions and attack enemies. Primarily, A cooperative game, Legendary Encounter: An Alien Deck Building games has you and up to five players battling against the eponymous Xenomorphs of the movie franchise while trying to complete the three objectives that’ll win you and your tablemates the game. Narratively, the game takes place in any of the first four Alien films, Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection. Physically, the game takes place on an included neoprene mat which has plenty of room for the various decks that make up the game’s playing area. And oh, boy, there are so many decks. More decks than on the medical research station, the USM Auriga from Alien Resurrection…or something, sorry about that.
The back of the box boasts that there are over 600 playable cards in the game! And while we all know that quantity is no substitute for quality, you have to admire just how many cards that is. There’s a chunky deck that gorily details the varying ways one can meet their demise in the Alien movie universe. There’s decks upon decks of characters that serve as the barracks from where players can buy cards representing some of their favorite characters from the first four Alien Films, There’s a Hatchery Deck that supplies facehugger and chestburster cards when the game calls for them, but honestly, I feel that it’s primarily there to remind the player that the game has some nasty surprises in store.
But the game revolves around the Hive Deck, a cardstock analogue for a typical Alien movie screenplay. Setting up for a play of Legendary Encounter: An Alien Deck-building game involves creating the deck you’ll be playing against from a decent selection of cards representing objectives, enemies, hazards, and events. What you end up with is a three act scenario that covers some of memorable beats of each of the first four Alien films. It’s a very modular process and you can choose to recreate one of the movies or just create a remix of your own, which goes a long way towards keeping the game fresh after multiple plays.
Once you’re all set up, and ready to play, at the beginning of each player’s turn a card from the Hive Deck is placed in the complex, as soon as another card comes out it pushes the previous card forward. The game leans into its theme here by having the cards remain face down until a player scans them. So, those ventilation shafts you’re tasked with barricading as one of three objectives, well, those cards are hiding somewhere in the hive deck and in the complex with all the xenomorphs, face-huggers, and other enemies. I love this little touch that brings some of the suspense that that the first movie is known for.
Cards from the Hive Deck that are pushed out of the complex’s five spots enter the combat zone and once there, they cause the active player to draw strikes from the strike deck at the end of their turn. It’s a mechanism that the Alien game shares with its Marvel predecessor, but fits better with the Alien theme. You often end up feeling a bit overwhelmed as more and more cards fill up the complex in a conga line of extraterrestrial terror. And that’s great, because it manages to capture the feeling of the second Alien, movie, Aliens, in which the characters are swarmed by hordes of Aliens and what more can you ask of a movie-licensed game than for it invoke some of the mood that underscores the sources material. And it’s so strange and wonderful to me that a card game can convey some of the tension and excitement of these films. But I have to ask myself, is this a game that stands on it’s own design merits? Does it really too heavily on it’s nostalgic ties to its filmic material? Well, kind of.
As a deck builder, the Alien themed version of Legendary Encounters doesn’t exactly break the mold. It’s pretty much your standard deck-building fare– you play and buy cards, striving to put together a deck of cards that you can combo together for progressively stronger and more efficient turns. And here’s where the game kinda gets in its own way. Cards that let you remove other cards from your deck are pretty limited. So, making a streamlined deck is difficult and if you’re not careful your deck can get clogged up during those crucial final moments when you really need a great hand. It’s something something minor that keeps the deck-building aspect of Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck-Building Game from being something spectacular. Having said that, I do enjoy the game for what it is: a competent deck-builder that loves its source material and makes some pretty effective connections between theme and mechanics.
Whether it’s something that you’d want to add to your collection or even something you’d like to play depends on two factors– do you like the Alien movies? Do you enjoy deck building games? If you like deck builders but not the Alien franchise,there are other games in the Legendary Encounters series with different TV and movie ip themes. There’s Firefly, James Bond, The X-Files, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. If those are your particular brands, well, it’s like Mark Twain said about the weather in New England, if you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes.