Monday, 26 October 2015

Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game

Plays: 2Px2.

The Game

Legendary is a game series, which includes a Marvel heroes themed version. This Alien version uses the Alien movie series as its setting. This is a deck-building game, like Dominion and Ascension, but it's a cooperative game too, which is something I had not tried before among deck-building games. There is a non-cooperative variant, but I have not played that yet.

Gameplay is scenario-based. There are four scenarios for each of the four Alien movies. Each scenario contains 3 missions, and you must complete all three to win. In the four standard scenarios, the missions are all based on the corresponding movies. Each mission comes with a deck of mission cards, which are mostly alien cards or event cards that you need to fight or survive. When you set up a game, you shuffle the mission decks separately, and stack them with mission 1 on top and mission 3 at the bottom. Within each mission deck you shuffle in some unknown extra cards, which create uncertainty. Even if you have played a mission before, there will still be an element of surprise.

Aside from the mission cards, a scenario is also defined by the character cards. These are the cards you will be able to buy during the course of the game, to build up your player deck. The deck-building mechanism is more like Ascension and less like Dominion. You don't get to buy any card you want. There is a card row with 5 cards and you have to pick from there. Only after a card is bought a new card will be drawn to take its place. Cards in the game give you two kinds of basic values - money which you use to buy more cards, and strength which you use to kill aliens or scan unknown objects. Many cards have other powers, but these are the two basic currencies.

In the top row there is a deck of face-down cards. That's the mission deck, full of aliens and events. Most are bad, but some are good. Every turn one card will leave this deck and march towards the players, along that row at the top (which is now full). This row of mission cards is like a queue of ants marching steadily towards you. Any card that reaches you will be flipped over (it not already revealed), and it will need to be resolved. If it is an alien, it attacks every turn until it is killed. This means you are under constant pressure of kill or resolve these mission cards before they reach you. While they are marching towards you, you can expose them by spending strength points to scan them. You can only attack an alien after it is revealed. If you kill an alien in the top row, you create a hole in the queue. This slows down the march, because that hole needs to be filled (i.e. the cards behind it need to catch up) before the whole queue starts moving again. It buys you a little time, but just a little.

The middle row is where you place mission cards which have reached you. They are all face-up. The bottom row is the card row of cards you can buy.

One special type of alien card in the mission decks is the facehugger. If you reveal one, you are in trouble. You must try to kill it immediately within your current turn, or you must ask a teammate to kill it for you before the start of your next turn. Else this facehugger (a parasite) enters your body (gets added to your discard pile), and after your next shuffle, when you draw it, you die a gruesome death. This is a well-known scene in the movies. When playing the game, you need to think twice before revealing any mission card, in case it is a facehugger.

Every player gets a role, which determines your starting health. You also get one unique starting card, but it's not particularly strong. It's just a small advantage and a little flavour.

The rightmost card is a bought card. The rest are weak starting cards.

The overall feel of the game is a steady stream of aliens and events marching towards you, while you hurriedly equip and brace yourself to face it. It is a race against time. You must upgrade yourself efficiently or you will not be able to handle the build-up of attacks. Yet you cannot just hunker down and buy buy buy because the march of the aliens is relentless.

The Play

Han and I did the second standard scenario, which is based on the 2nd movie in the Alien franchise - Aliens. I have watched this movie before and still remember parts of it. Our first game went rather badly. Our purchase decisions were not very well thought out, and the cards we bought didn't jive very well. We couldn't push them to their highest potential. We were overwhelmed by events and aliens, because our abilities never quite grew enough. Not satisfied with such a loss, we decided to give it another go.

The second game went much better. We shopped more responsibly. He tried to focus on one icon, and I another. If you get to play cards with the same icons within the same turn, you often get some extra benefits or abilities. In addition to that we also made good use of a type of card which can be played on your teammates' turns. When you play such a card for your teammate, you get to draw a new card, so you are not really sacrificing much. Unless we saw that the card was crucial for our next turn, we always played the card to give each other a little boost. We won our second game quite comfortably. Neither of us were injured much by the aliens. We killed the alien mother with time to spare.

The second mission in our scenario was a good thing. We had to set up attack robots to help us fight the aliens. So this mission was a preparation step to help us with the third mission, which was the boss fight.

Whenever you need to take injury from an alien attack, an injury card is drawn from the injury deck. So you never quite know how badly you'll get hurt. There may be other effects too, other than losing health points. Some cards let you heal. However some injury cards explicitly forbid healing. This injury deck creates some uncertainty and excitement. It makes good story-telling.

The Thoughts

It is refreshing to play a deck-building game with a story element. It is an immersive experience. One worry that comes to mind is how replayable the game is after completing all four of the movie-based scenarios. You can mix and match missions to create your own scenarios, but I suspect such scenarios would feel weird. After all you can't just string together sections from different Alien movies and call it a new movie. However, as I think further, I realise that if I can play all the scenarios that come with a game just once each, then it is already good value for money. Tragedy Looper has 10 scenarios out of the box, and I'm not even halfway done yet. The recently released T.I.M.E. Stories has created much heated discussion around replayability, since the base game comes with only one (1) scenario. The idea sounds interesting, and I hope to be able to play it some day, but I haven't decided whether to buy a copy myself.


Ivan Ho said...

Yup, not much replayability here once u had done all 3 movies, i had since sold it once done. Also want to mention the difficulty scale to number of players are bad, with 2 its quite easy & with 4 its near to impossible

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Ha ha... no wonder our second game felt rather easy, after we had a better idea what to do and what not to do. But there are four scenarios based on the movies I thought? Not three?

Glenn said...

Hello, if i'm not mistaken the face hugger stays in front of you and if not removed before end next round you put it out of play and put a chestburster in your discard pile :-) love to read you blog . Greetings from belgium.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Oops... I misremembered some of the details of the facehugger. But I thought it would infect you by the start of your next turn (as opposed to the end of the next round)?

Thank you for your comment! :-)

Glenn said... turn, next round....:-) by the start next turn it is ;-)