It’s that’s time again, kids, the time when I don’t really feel much like gaming. In a manner of speaking, it’s kind of good because that feeling of malaise that I get when I sit down with the intent of finding something to play often drives me away to do something else.
This time around it was to take my daughter shopping. She’s been piecing together elements for some Hetalia cosplay, and needed some kind of kerchief. We hit up a few dollar stores looking through their copious hair-product aisles, but didn’t find anything that met her exacting criteria. While we were out, though, we stopped by one of our FLGS (friendly local gaming stores) because I’d never been to this particular outlet, and left with a copy of Legendary Encounters: The Alien Deck Building Game.
I have the Marvel edition of LE and have played it exactly once. It’s fun, but extremely difficult. Being way more of an Alien fan than a Marvel fan, though, the Alien edition was always on my radar, but with the aforementioned malaise going on, I decided now was the time to jump.
We got the game home, and for the next hour and a half I cursed Upper Deck for being a bunch of myopic imbeciles. Like the Marvel edition, the Alien LE has hundreds of cards that represent different aspects of a story. In the case of Alien, there’s a strike deck which deals damage, a hatchery deck which represents the facehuggers, a barracks deck which represents characters you can recruit, a hive deck which represents the enemies you’ll encounter, and a few other decks with various purposes. The cards need to be divided up into these discreet piles, but UD made zero attempts to help you out in this regard. The cards were shuffled together in bundles bound by plastic sleeves, so my first order of business was to spread these cards out, read the microscopic text on the bottom of each card, and sort them appropriately. Thankfully UD had the foresight to provide cardboard dividers for when you the customer sort the cards according to the rules, so with proper vigilance you’ll never have to sort these things again.
The game itself was tense. There’s four options for play, each following one of the four (current) Alien movies, and knowledge of the movies is not required to play, though I suppose you’ll get more personal benefit if you’re familiar with them. We played Alien and had three objectives: find the S.O.S. sources, lock down the ventilation shafts, and secure the airlock. We needed to complete objective one — find the S.O.S. — before we could move on to the second, and objectives are completed by slowly plowing through the hive deck. The hive represents the aliens, and at the start of each turn a new card comes off the hive deck and into play face-down, pushing previous hive cards across the play mat until they are revealed in the “combat zone”. If any aliens reach the combat zone, they start to deal damage, so we have to scan each location prior to the combat zone and hopefully take out what is reveled there before it progresses. That’s the elevator pitch version of the rules.
Despite the PITA of having to sort the cards, the game is not overly complex to learn. Learning to play effectively is where the fun lies. The game we played was just my daughter and me, and we were doing OK at the start. We had progressed through the first objective cards pretty quickly and had found one part of the two part S.O.S. when tragedy struck.
The hive can reveal alien eggs. These do not move from where they’re revealed, but if the hive gives up an event card, then whomever flipped that event card earns themselves a facehugger if there’s an egg on the board. That was me. I got hugged. The thing about the huggy is that anyone can kill it while it’s on a player, but if no one does and the turn order comes back around to the person being hugged, that huggy is discarded, and a chestburster card is shuffled into that player’s draw pile. When that player draws the ‘burster…game over, man. Game over. With a group of people there’s a lot of time to get un-hugged, but with two people, the luck of the draw dictates whether or not anyone will have an opportunity to take it out. My daughter could not take it out, and I lasted only another two turns before the ‘burster killed me.
I actually expected my daughter to stop there, since she’s been lukewarm on my previous attempts to introduce her into these more complex games, but she was determined. She plowed through the rest of the game like she was possessed by the ghost of (actual, not cloned) Ripley herself, completing objective one, then two, and starting objective three.
Objective three requires the airlock control card to be on the airlock space on the board because the overall goal of the first scenario (Alien) is to kill “the perfect organism”. And of course the only way to do it is to catch it in the airlock and blow it out into space (per Alien). That is an extremely narrow window of opportunity since all hive cards in the pipeline move at the start of each turn. Considering there was only one player, my daughter only had one chance to muster the amount of attack power needed to kill the alien in the airlock space.
She wasn’t able to do it. My daughter was disappointed, which made me happy not because she was upset, but because she had become invested in the game. She’s not overly competitive, but like me she tries very hard for a positive outcome and is let down when it doesn’t manifest despite a best effort. That she cared that she wasn’t able to win was a good sign that she liked the game enough to play it again later.
We played again with more people a few days after, and the results were disastrous. We couldn’t even kill the aliens before they reached the combat zone, which served as a good lesson in how to approach this game when contrasted to my daughter’s earlier and more successful rampage. Players need to work together to prevent the aliens from reaching the combat zone, need to assist one another whenever possible, and need to recruit characters every chance they can get (characters help boost play-options on your turn). When people aren’t working together, or when people have different goals or different approaches for how to reach a common goal, you will lose the game. It actually might be easier to play solo, though, which I’m going to try this evening.