Legendary Encounters: Free Hugs … for Your Face

LegendaryEncounters
I’m not actually playing the game here. I’m just sorting the cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Components:

  • 1 playmat
  • 600 playable cards
LegendaryEncounters playmat
I’m not typically a playmat sort of guy, but I was impressed with this one. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The playmat is really nice. It’s huge, at 14.5″ x 33″, and has spaces marked for various decks, discard, and so on. The only disadvantage is that because it’s a wide rectangle, it doesn’t leave as much room for any players sitting on either end (if you’re using a card table, for instance). And, of course, some players will have to look at it upside down or sideways, but that’s not much different from most other games. The playmat is rubber with a neoprene surface, thinner than your average mousepad so it rolls up nicely, but thick enough that it doesn’t shift around while you’re playing.

I list “600 playable cards” because that’s what the box says. I suppose that’s to distinguish it from the 60 or so unplayable cards that also came in the box—more about that later. First, here’s the card breakdown:

  • 10 Role Avatars
  • 10 Role Character cards
  • 35 Specialists
  • 25 Grunts
  • 10 Sergeants
  • 224 Character cards (16 characters, 14 cards each)
  • 4 Locations
  • 12 Objectives
  • 132 Hive cards (12 mini decks, one for each Objective)
  • 24 Drone cards
  • 14 Hatchery cards
  • 40 Strikes
  • 4 Alien Avatars
  • 36 Alien Player cards
  • 15 Agenda cards
  • 5 Secrets Revealed cards

The cards are a nice quality—they’re glossy (I usually prefer linen) but they’re nice and sturdy and have a good snap to them. The illustrations are nicely done, although they’re not all in the same style—some are more photorealistic and some are more cartoony. And, as mentioned above, there are some pretty gruesome images, so be warned.

You can mix and match games, in case you’d like to have Captain America and the Hulk battling xenomorphs, and there’s a page in the back of the rulebook that explains how rules carry over. Since the game uses the same engine as previous Legendary games, there are icons carried over to this one but with different names. But these icons are pretty small (as in the original game) and may be difficult to read, particularly from across the table.

And here’s a mini-rant about the card organization. In most games I’ve played (particularly deck-building games with hundreds of cards), the cards are organized in a way that makes them easy to unwrap, sort, and get put into the box. Most of the time they’re just stacked in order, arbitrarily separated into decks, and then shrink-wrapped. You might have some identical cards that get split across two decks, but it’s fairly easy to resolve. Sometimes the cards are all in alphabetical order, or grouped by type, or something like that.

LegendaryEncounters
There were 5 of these identical decks that needed to be collated. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

For Legendary (and this was true of the Marvel-based version, too), it seems like the game was packaged straight from printing. So if there’s a sheet of cards with 60 cards on it, that gets cut, stacked, and shrink-wrapped. And then you get 5 copies of that deck, which you will then need to manually sort into 14 different piles yourself. It also didn’t help that there’s very tiny text at the bottom of most cards telling you which deck they go to. I didn’t see that right away: there are Facehugger cards that go in the Strike deck, the Drone deck, the Alien Player deck, and some Objective decks. They look entirely identical except for this very small text at the bottom.

Legendary Encounters
My gripes. Top left: Can you spot the difference between the two Facehugger cards? Bottom left: unlabeled divider cards, and extra unplayable cards that aren’t even good as spares. Right: all my handwritten divider cards. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

In all, there were 13 shrink-wrapped bricks of cards, and it took me just about an hour to unwrap them, sort them, and put them back in the box with dividers. Oh, and the divider cards just have a logo on them and a white strip across the top so you can label them yourself. It would have helped tremendously to have at least the dividers labeled so I could tell how the cards should be sorted, or a section of the rulebook that explained how to identify cards. Oh, and the “unplayable” cards: there were about 60 of these cards that just had the Legendary logo on front and back—I’m sure they’re just filler, extra cards on the sheet, but I don’t know why they were also packaged and wrapped. I’m sure it’s much more efficient to pass all the sorting work on to the consumer.

Legendary Encounters contents
The box was clearly sized for the playmat, not the number of cards. Enough extra room for another deck-building game in here. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Okay, that’s my rant. Once you’ve spent that hour getting your cards sorted out, the game is actually quite fun. Or buy it used, so that some other poor schmuck has already done the work for you.

Legendary Encounters
The playmat in action: playing through the first Alien movie—it’s time to block the ventilation shafts! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to play

There are actually a couple ways to play Legendary Encounters: fully cooperative, fully cooperative until somebody dies, semi-cooperative with a potential hidden traitor. I’ll explain the fully cooperative first, and then explain the other variants.

In the basic cooperative mode, the goal is to accomplish three mission objectives before everyone dies—these objectives will be selected during setup.

In case you’re already familiar with Legendary Marvel, there are a few key differences, which I’ll outline first, and then get into more detail later:

  1. Hidden enemies: Enemy cards aren’t revealed as soon as they’re taken from the deck. Instead, they enter the Complex face-down and you must spend Attack points to scan the rooms to reveal them.
  2. Strikes: Instead of Wound cards that just fill up your deck with useless cards, there are Strike cards that sit next to your Avatar card and do damage. Take too much damage, and you die.
  3. Roles: Each player starts with the same deck of Specialists and Grunts, but then gets an additional role character card that gets shuffled in, giving each player a slight specialization.
  4. Alien Players: If a player dies because of a Chestburster, they can become an alien with a new objective: kill the humans.

Ok, on to the setup.

LegendaryEncounters
Specialists give you Recruit points for buying new cards; Grunts give you Attack points for scanning rooms and attacking enemies. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

First, each player gets a starting deck: 7 Specialists and 5 Grunts. In addition, you’ll pick a role card: the Avatar card goes in front of you on the table, and the Character card gets shuffled into your deck.

LegendaryEncounters Roles
Each of the 10 roles has an Avatar card showing your health and defense, and a character card that gets shuffled into your deck. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are a couple decks that just go on the playmat in their proper places: the Sergeants, the Strike cards, the Hatchery deck. Then you build the Barracks, where you’ll get characters that you add to your deck throughout the game. You’ll take the cards for four different characters and shuffle them together. The top five cards of the Barracks are turned face-up in the HQ area—these are the ones that are available to “recruit” into your own deck.

LegendaryEncounters Ripley
Each character is made up of 14 cards: 5 each of two “common” cards, 3 “uncommon” cards, and 1 “rare” card. This is Warrant Officer Ripley. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Next is setting up the Hive deck: this is where all the bad guys (and the very occasional good thing) go. First, you’ll pick three objectives—they’re sorted by level 1, 2, and 3, and you’ll choose one of each. If you want to play through the plots of the four films, there are specific sets of three that you’ll use.

LegendaryEncounters
These three objectives make up the plot for the first movie: The S.O.S., No One Can Hear You Scream, and The Perfect Organism. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each objective has a corresponding mini-deck. Most of these are enemies, but some are good things, and some pertain to the specific objectives. For instance, in The S.O.S., the objective is to find the two parts of the S.O.S., which are represented by two of the cards in the deck.

You’ll add some cards from the Drone deck (based on number of players) to each mini-deck. These are just some other random enemies or events that will pop up just to add a little variety to the game. Then, each mini-deck is shuffled individually, and then the three are stacked to form the Hive deck.

LegendaryEncounters
Four locations are included, one for each movie. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Finally, you’ll choose a location. These will determine the effect of Hazard cards that appear during the game. (Each objective’s mini-deck includes one Hazard card.)

Your turn consists of a few phases (helpfully spelled out on the playmat):

  • Hive phase: put a card from the Hive deck face-down into the Complex, shifting cards to the left if necessary to make room. Any cards bumped out of the Complex are revealed and placed in the Combat Zone.
  • Action phase: play cards, use their abilities to recruit cards, scan rooms, and attack enemies.
  • Strike phase: for each enemy in the Combat Zone, draw one Strike card and place it next to your avatar card.
  • Cleanup phase: discard all the cards you’ve played and in your hand, and draw six more cards.

Since the cards in the Complex are face-down, you’ll have to scan them to find out what they are. This costs Attack points, as indicated on the playmat. Some cards have special effects when revealed. There are also Event cards; if you draw an Event card, you refer to the current objective to see what happens. Some enemy cards also have Event effects—for instance, there are Eggs that will hatch if an Event is revealed, turning into a Facehugger. Finally, there are Hazard cards: for these, you refer to the Location to find out what happens.

To kill an enemy, you must spend Attack points equal to the health indicated on the card, at which point it is discarded.

Legendary also uses a chaining mechanism for some card effects. There are five “classes,” represented by little icons at the top left of each card. Each card has at least one class. Many cards will have a class icon followed by an ability in the description section—to use that ability, you must have already played another card with that icon on your turn.

There’s also Coordinate effect: some cards say “Coordinate” in the description section. During a player’s turn, each other player may play one Coordinate card and draw to replace it. The active player may choose to use that card as if he played it, counting any card effects (including the class icons). It’s a way to share icons for needed effects, as well as boosting attacking or recruiting power for a player who needs a few more.

If your Strike cards add up to your health, you’ve died and you’re out of the game. To win, the players must fulfill all three objectives before everyone is dead.

LegendaryEncounters
As you might expect, getting hugged in the face is a bad idea. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

And now, a word about the Facehuggers. There are a lot of these, and they can crop up in a couple different ways. If you get a Facehugger, it sits in front of you, and you have until the end of the next player’s turn to kill it. If it isn’t killed, then you put a Chestburster card into your discard pile. As it says: “When you draw this, you suffer extreme pain and die.”

LegendaryEncounters
Four alien avatars and a pile of nasty cards to play on the humans. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

This is where the Alien Player variant comes in. If you want to make life even harder for your friends, you can throw in this option. When somebody dies from a Facehugger/Chestburster, they become an Alien Player. They get one of four avatars, each with its own strength and abilities, and a deck of Alien Player cards that let them wreak havoc on the remaining humans. They win by killing off all the humans before they reach their objective. If you manage to kill an Alien Player, then they’re really and truly out of the game.

LegendaryEncounters
Agenda cards are used for the hidden traitor variant. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

And, finally, if you don’t like fully cooperative games, here’s a way to introduce one more twist: a potential hidden traitor. Each player gets a hidden agenda card—these are kept secret, and the setup is done so that there could be one traitor, or none at all. There are Secrets Revealed cards added to the Hive deck, and when those are revealed, the active player chooses somebody to reveal their hidden agenda card, which then gets added to that player’s deck and gives additional abilities.

The traitor (if there is one) wins by preventing the other players from reaching their objectives. Basically, they’re trying to get everyone killed off before that happens, while remaining alive themselves. And, of course, if you throw this in with the Alien Player rules, then you could make things very hard for the good humans indeed.

The Verdict

I’ve played Legendary Encounters a few times since bringing it back from Gen Con, and I’m a fan. I do like the Marvel version of the game and have played that a few times, but there are several aspects of Encounters that I think are really well done.

First, the role cards are a fun way to tweak each player’s starting deck. It’s only a slight tweak, to be sure, but it’s enough to nudge you in a particular direction of play, and may motivate you to favor certain characters in your deck over others.

Also, the hidden cards in the Complex make for some good, tough choices. Certainly you want to deal with things before they reach the Combat Zone and start attacking you—but at the same time, flipping over an Event or Hazard can be brutal if it happens at the wrong time. (Facehugger!) There are some objectives which require you to clear out a room before you can do something with it, so you’ll have to expend a lot of Attack points if you need to scan and clear it on your turn.

I have mixed feelings about the Strike cards. On the one hand, I do like the tension of flipping one over to see what happens. They range from 0 to 5 damage, but there are some that cannot be healed, some that force you or another player to draw another Strike card, and there’s even a Facehugger that can pop up unexpectedly. When you’ve only got a few hit points left, you never know if the next card might kill you.

On the other hand, player elimination can be annoying in a game that may take an hour to play. Chances are you won’t get killed right away, but if you’re playing without the Alien Player variant, a Facehugger could do you in early in the game. Sitting and watching everyone else finish out the game isn’t nearly as fun. In one three-player game, we had two players die before the third one secured victory—but we died near the end, so it wasn’t too bad.

I enjoy deck-building games a lot, and I think the Legendary game engine is a solid one. I do wish the text and icons were easier to read on the cards, especially since you’ll need to sort out the cards after each game and it would be nice to have them more easily distinguished. Oh, and please, Upper Deck, sort the cards into proper stacks before shrink-wrapping!

Overall, I’ve been enjoying Legendary Encounters. I haven’t played through all four movies yet (though I admit I’ve only seen the first three films), but I’m eager to try those before doing some mixing and matching. I don’t think you have to be a fan of the movies to enjoy the game, but if you do like the movies then you’ll enjoy playing through them.

And, hey, at some point I may have Ripley cross over into the Marvel universe to battle Dr. Doom or something.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

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