Cardboard Children – Game of the Year 2014

Hello youse.

I’m here to tell you about what I think is the best game released in 2014. We will call this column the “GAME OF THE YEAR 2014” column, to get that idea across. A good idea, I think. Anyway – this was a game I played very late in 2014, but it made a huge first impression on me. And then I played it again, in a different way, and I was BLOWN CLEAN OUT OF MY BOOTS. At this point, there is no doubt in my mind – this is the best new game I played in 2014. And that game’s name?

LEGENDARY ENCOUNTERS

Legendary Encounters’ full name is “LEGENDARY ENCOUNTERS: AN ALIEN DECK-BUILDING GAME”. What a mouthful! They really should have had the confidence to call it THE ALIEN UNIVERSE: THE GAME or something, because this is a cocky, swaggering beast of a game. Not a beast to play – it isn’t complicated at all. You can teach this game quite easily. But it’s a beast of story – capturing the feel of the Alien films not just in tone but in little snapshots of gameplay that reflect some of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. And it does all this through cards. Hundreds of them, sure, but still – just cards.

The Legendary game system isn’t one I’m familiar with. I haven’t played the Marvel Deckbuilding game, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it – and this game is based on that system. In fact, you can mix the games to an extent, sending superheroes in to do battle with the Aliens, but I think that would just undo all the great work Encounters does in delivering an accurate Alien experience. Let me explain how it works.

The game comes with a beautiful play mat, made from the type of material you find in mouse mats. You roll this thing out and then start to stack sets of cards in the appropriate places. There is an Objective stack, telling you which goals you have to complete and the order you have to complete them. There is the Hive deck, where the story is told through encounters with various cards. The Character deck is a bank of cards that you can buy throughout the game, adding powerful character abilities to your own personal deck of cards. Your own deck, from which you draw six cards every turn, is all you can count on to defeat the Alien.

The game is co-operative, as any great Alien game should be. It’s you and your friends against the Alien. You each choose an Avatar of some kind (Commander, Mercenary, Medic,Synthetic) and put its unique power card into your deck. Every card in your deck has a Recruit Points value and/or an Attack Strength value. When you play out cards featuring Recruit Points, you can buy new character cards from the Character Deck. These newly bought cards go into your discard pile and will come into your hand later. By playing Attack cards you can start dealing with the Aliens as they flood into the Complex.

The Complex is a row of card positions near the top of the playmat. Cards come off the Hive deck and move into the complex face down, moving from the air vents into the labs and closer, ever closer to your face. You have no idea what these cards are until you scan the rooms the cards are in. You need to spend Attack Points to scan the cards, and at the start of the game it’s unlikely that you’ll have enough cards in hand to scan more than one room. It’s only when you scan the cards that you can actually attack whatever the card shows. Scanning cards also lets you seek out the cards that will let you meet your objective. For example, when you’re playing the Aliens scenario, you need to find the sentry guns before you can start to set them up in empty Complex rooms. YES, YOU CAN SET UP THE FUCKING SENTRY GUNS OUT OF ALIENS. Sorry.

When cards travel right through the Complex, they reach the Combat Zone, and that’s where the Aliens can start attacking the players. Every time a player’s turn ends with an Alien in the Combat Zone, that player has to draw a card from the Strike deck. These are essentially wounds – but wounds of differing strengths, and wounds that tell a story. You might draw a strike that only causes a flesh wound that takes 1 health point from you. Or you might draw a strike that injures your hand – and actually injures your hand of cards, losing you two of your cards in your next turn. Or maybe your strike will cause a spray of acid blood that not only hurts you but also forces the player to your left to draw a strike card. It’s very cool. You know you’re getting hurt, but you’re never sure exactly how.

The game is all about those objectives. To win, you have to complete three objectives from your chosen scenario. The Hive and Character decks are always specifically tailored to each scenario, making sure that the film you’re playing out feels just right. When you play through Alien, your first objective is to trace the distress signal. You do this by scanning and searching through the Hive cards in the complex for the SOS beacons, but you’re probably going to uncover a load of eggs. Oh, those eggs. You know what eggs mean in Alien, right?

Facehuggers. Facehuggers can appear at any point in the game. Sometimes they’re randomly seeded into the Hive deck, no matter what scenario you’re playing. And if you find one? IT JUMPS ON YOUR FACE. And then all the players can try to kill it. And if they can’t? You put a CHESTBURSTER into your discard pile. Which means that once you’ve gone through your deck and need to shuffle them all up again, you could draw that Chestburster at any time. A ticking time bomb in your deck and your body. It’s a magnificent feature of the game.

Back to those objectives – consider the Aliens scenario. You’re in Hadley’s Hope, and you need to kill a number of infected colonists. You know – “Kill meeeee…” All that good stuff. But you hit a Hazard card and all the lights go out. Every room you’d already scanned goes black. The cards are turned face down, shuffled, placed back into the complex. You don’t know where anything is. Horrifying. And then you hit an Event card that means all the players have to fling away characters with attack values. Why? Because for that round you can’t fire a weapon. Remember? Like in the film? What are we supposed to use? Harsh language?

Meanwhile, every turn, the Aliens flood forward.

When I first played the game, I was playing through Alien. It was slow-paced and creepy. We were uncovering eggs and dealing with facehuggers. We were hunting the Alien through the Nostromo. It was spot-on.

The second time I played, going through the Aliens scenario this time, it was entirely different. It was an onslaught. Aliens were coming from everywhere, attacking constantly. There was barely a moment to gather your thoughts. It was pure survival.

I’ve yet to play the Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection scenarios. There’s no real rush. This game has nailed the feel of Alien and Aliens with a simple and elegant card game, and that’s going to be enough to keep me occupied for quite some time. There are variants too. You can choose to have dead players become Alien players (with their own vicious playing decks), ramping up the difficulty hugely. You can play with a secret traitor at the table, a player that represents the sinister company, working to make the other players fail. There is a huge amount of game in this box.

The game’s art is beautiful. It’s all illustrated, no screen-grabs from the film here. And the artwork is gruesome too. One particular Strike card, one you never want to draw, has the Alien’s horrid second mouth hammering straight through its victim’s skull in a spray of blood and bone. Oh, ya dancer.

One negative before I stop. This game is a pig to organise. When you open the box, there’s a shitload of cards and no real information on how best to organise them. It took me some hours to sort them all out. So this isn’t a game for people new to board games, I don’t think. Although – I think players new to board games will enjoy it just fine. Just don’t ask them to set the game up or pull it down. They will start spewing milk like a synthetic.

GAME OF THE YEAR 2014

Games like Splendor and Sons of Anarchy and One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Tragedy Looper ran it close, but there is something so rich and impressive about Encounters that just sets it apart. Depending on scenario, the game can be intimate and thinky, or wild and brutal. You will scan for Aliens and find harmless cats that will lick your wounds clean. You will meet Carter Burke, that bastard from the Company, and he will put all your character cards in peril. You might find the power loader, and maybe then you’ll have a chance of taking down that Alien Queen.

Legendary Encounters is Alien in a box. I love it. It’s my Game of the Year 2014. Check it out, and soon.

22 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    Rab:

    Shared this with my board-game-store-running colleague, and he retorted with this: link to thebrokentoken.com

    Looks like it should help a lot.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      $23 for a few small pieces of plywood cut on a CNC machine? I realize this stuff is a niche market but piss right off. A cereal box and scissors will suffice.

      • airmikee says:

        I’d love to see you make a decent board game from cereal boxes and scissors. I’m calling your bluff.

        • Eleriel says:

          not the entire boardgame, just the dividers for the different decks.

      • Tacroy says:

        I dunno, messing around with cereal boxes and scissors never ends well for me.

      • Premium User Badge

        Wisq says:

        Well, if you actually want plywood as opposed to cardboard, $23 is a pretty good deal compared to buying a CNC, learning to use it, coming up with the pattern, having an extra machine around the house that you use once in a blue moon, etc.

        It’s not like everyone knits their own clothes, grows their own vegetables, etc. We live in a specialised society. Owning a machine that can make stuff and knowing how to use it is a reasonable way to make a bit of money. Especially from the point of view of people who have a decent amount of money and not much time.

      • barney says:

        I don’t know what the average wage is where you live, but I would quite easily pay £15 rather than spend time buying and making parts and building this thing – it’d probably work out more expensive and broken. It is a niche market, isn’t it?

  2. Skull says:

    Man, this game looks right up my street. What a great idea and a fantastic concept. If I had friends, I would be buying this right now.

  3. marlowespade says:

    I agree with Rab that this game is brilliant – and it adds some very good mechanics to the Legendary system. The avatar mechanic should be adopted by the Marvel game straightaway, it’s that good.

    What it lacks for us though is replayability. Once the four movies have been beaten, our group didn’t feel any particular desire to go back and replay the scenarios; yes, you can mix up the objectives between movies, but that created a weird “not-quite-right” feel, whereas the movies feel (obviously) of a piece. Hopefully this game gets if not an expansion then a companion system (I hear tell Predator is the next license they’re working on). Right now we love the game, but we’ll be going back to the endlessly replayable Marvel Legendary soon.

  4. INCyr says:

    Got this this year, and I completely agree. Great game, a lot of fun – and the best thing is that you can play it solo. Those nights when you want to break a game out, but have no one to play with? This is your game. It gets a bit easier by yourself, but there are ways to “fix” that if you really oppose.

    I actually picked this up as a christmas present for my brother-in-law, as he’s a huge aliens fan. We had a hell of a first game – playing through the Alien scenerio, he managed to get a facehugger. I couldn’t kill it, so he ended up with a chestburster in his deck. Game over, right? Not quite – he managed to survive through all of his deck except 2 cards, and my turn showed up. I had Quarentine Prodecure in my hand – the one card in that scenerio that allows you to draw the top card of a deck and discard it. He had a 50% chance of the correct card being on the top of the deck – and it was. He managed to live, and we eventually won the game. Let me tell you, there wasn’t a better way to introduce him to the game – he loved it when he saw it, but that experience of coming so close to losing the game, it was the best way to get him completely hooked.

  5. Runty McTall says:

    Just wanted to say Rab that I love your columns – your enthusiasm is infectious and your writing always gets me super excited to add another game to my collection (and indeed re-introduced me to the hobby a couple of years back).

    My birthday’s just around the corner and I’ll be getting this for sure.

    • DodgyG33za says:

      I totally agree with this sentiment. I love reading Rab’s articles even though I have no intention of buying a board game in the foreseeable future.

      Definitely a highlight of RPS. Keep it up Rab.

  6. liquidsoap89 says:

    Is it possible to clarify why you wouldn’t recommend this to people new to the hobby? Is it strictly because of the issues had with organizing the cards, or is there more to it than that?

  7. Brosecutor says:

    Read the article, ordered the game immediately.

    I’m weak.

  8. Agnosticus says:

    I’ll probably have a look at it, once I’ve played through Firefly and the newly acquired Dead of Winter and Sons of Anarchy. I wish I had more time for board games!

    BTW, thanks a lot Rab for your great reviews. :)

  9. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    This sounds so good! I’ll probably have to pick it up soon. I’m playing Isolation for the first time so I’m on a bit of an Alien buzz anyway.

  10. jonfitt says:

    How does this compare mechanically to the LOTR LCG or the Space Hulk card game?
    link to fantasyflightgames.com
    link to boardgamegeek.com

    They were both good in their own ways.

  11. Hensler says:

    I really liked Alien Legendary – but I spent too much time comparing it to Marvel Legendary, another game that I loved. I ended up liked Alien, and it’s in my Top 10, but Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem is #1 on my list this year. It’s such a great game with a full table.

  12. GameOverMan says:

    How did I not know that this game existed? 600 cards, wow. Thanks, Rab.

  13. EvilG says:

    Where’s the video Rab? Where’s the video and your exultant voice? Where, for that matter is your sassy director and the emotive hat?

  14. blainestereo says:

    For some reason I’ve read the title picture text “an alien debunking game”. Now that would be something interesting, wouldn’t it.