To watch a How to Solo video for this game, click here.
What is this game about?
Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game is an awkwardly-named board game with an awesome theme. It's part of a larger family of Legendary deck builders, but Legendary Encounters: Alien stands on its own as a game worthy of your consideration, whether you like the Alien movies or not.
Legendary Encounters: Alien is a thematic deck builder that allows you to play through all four Alien movies, encountering characters and plot points that are true to their source material. As in most deck builders, players begin with a starting deck and acquire more powerful cards as the game goes on.
To win, players need to progress through three different objectives, each of which has its own mini deck. Objective cards are stacked together to form one big, nasty enemy deck. Enemies in this game are formidable and occasionally scary—especially the face huggers. Yes, there are face huggers in this game, and they could pop out at just about any time. A player who can't get rid of a face hugger quickly enough is "impregnated" and has to shuffle a chest burster into his or her deck. This is basically a death sentence, so the face huggers add enormous tension to the game.
Dealing with alien encounters (see what I did there?) is even more nerve-wracking because enemy cards approach you face down. To find out what they are, you either have to scan them (and potentially have something bad happen right away) or allow them to reach the combat area and give you a nasty surprise.
On the player side of things, each player chooses a role that allows him or her to make unique contributions to the game and to add a role-specific card to his or her starting deck. This is an excellent addition to standard deck building, because you start out with a cool card in your deck instead of playing only generic starter cards for the first 2–3 turns.
To improve their decks, players purchase cards from a "barracks" deck. The barracks are built from smaller decks of cards that are based on characters from the Alien films. For example, there are Warrant Officer Ripley cards, Bishop cards, etc. that really add to the flavor of the game. While the movie-based scenarios tell you which character cards to put in your barracks deck, you can also choose to mix and match.
During the game, players can collect cards with matching symbols that allow them to chain abilities and also to "coordinate"—play a card on another player's turn to give someone else a boost. Trying to build a strong deck as quickly as possible, and to set yourself up for success, is what makes Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game so satisfying.
How does it play solo?
While it is technically possible to play Legendary Encounters: Alien with only one character, and some people do play that way, I strongly recommend that you control two. Playing two-handed allows you to take advantage of your cards' coordination abilities, as well as to get a better balance of character skills and card symbols to work with. Also, if you have only one deck, it can really limit you if you draw a bad hand—especially when you're trying to deal with a face hugger!
Legendary Encounters: Alien is interesting in the sense that it doesn't scale perfectly, and actually gets more difficult when you add more players. Enemies multiply and move every single turn, and when there are more players, no one person has many turns to bulk out his or her deck before things get messy. If you start out playing two-handed but want to ramp up the difficulty, bump yourself up to three characters.
I think this game is awesome. I am a big fan of the Alien franchise, and the thematic touches in Legendary Encounters are spot on. I particularly love seeing characters and scenarios I recognize, but with original art instead of screen captures from the films. It is true that the art can be a bit uneven, but I think it helps make the game its own special experience.
I also enjoy trying to chain card effects and get the most out of coordination cards. I like deck builders in general, but I particularly love games that let me get clever with card effects. My biggest quibble with Legendary Encounters, however, emerges from that same desire to set up cool combos. It can be difficult to thin out your deck and get rid of weaker starter cards. That means that sometimes you will just have blah turns and there isn't anything you can do about it.
The other possible issue you might have with this game is its replayability. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty in the main box—the first four movie-based scenarios are just starting points, and frankly, I have gotten and continue to get a lot of gameplay out of them, especially when trying out different role combos. If you don't want to stick to the original movie plots, you can also do crazy mix-and-match stuff. That means you could theoretically play a game using all four versions of Ripley, one from each of the movies. You can also mix and match locations and objectives to create a different game every time. But the game still "feels" contained somehow, at least to me. I think it's because the movie-centered scenarios are the ones that make the most thematic sense, and therefore the ones I prefer to play.
Fortunately, Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game has a very good expansion that adds two new scenarios and several character cards to the game. It also introduces "hard mode" to breathe new life into all of the original scenarios.
Additionally, you can do something I haven't tried yet. If you pick up Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game, you can combine it with Alien. If you enjoyed the ridiculousness that was AvP, you might get a kick out of doing this. I am definitely curious. If you have tried this, please let us know about it in the comments!
One more possible warning about Legendary Encounters: Alien: Initial card sorting for this game sucks. When you open up the box, the cards will be in no particular order. As in, almost deliberately in a crazy order just so you will have to sort it all out. You might want to read the rulebook first so you have a sense of which cards ought to go together. Also, you might want to sleeve the cards. I haven't had issues yet, but the cards don't quite feel premium to me. The game does, however, come with a neoprene mat that is awesome.
Do I recommend it?
Definitely. I believe that Legendary Encounters stands on its own as a quality deck building game, even if the Alien theme isn't your favorite. In my opinion, it is one of the most thematic and immersive deck building experiences on the market. It has minor imperfections, but this game grabs my attention and holds it every single time I play.
Overall Rating: 4.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.