I’ve talked before about my love of deck building games (see my pieces on Clank! and Clank! In! Space!) My main problem with these games though, is that my fiancee is a former ranked Yu-Gi-Oh! player and she’s an absolute badass at competitive deck building games.
Now I don’t mind losing, but I like to feel like I have a chance sometimes. With that in mind, I went looking for a co-op game that would scratch the same itch. It’s here that I stumbled across the bio-organic, acid dripping, twin-mouthed horror that is Legendary Encounters – An Alien Deck Building Game (LEA). It’s a spin on the Marvel Legendary game, set in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe and featuring characters, locations, and scenarios from the first four Alien movies. It’s suitable for 1-5 players, though you may need to play two hands or mess with rules regarding facehuggers in single player games. By all accounts it takes the ideas presented in the Marvel version and really refines it down to a more thematic experience.
LEA comes with a large and beautiful, neoprene mat, with a complex area at the top, featuring six spaces that will slowly fill with enemies. These areas fit very nicely with the theme. There’s vent shafts, a med lab, even an airlock to blow your enemy out of (should the scenario allow). If you fail to scan and deal with this disturbing horde by the time one is pushed off the complex and into the combat zone, you’ll suddenly find yourself under attack by a xenomorph or playing tonsil (or stomach(?)) hockey with a lively facehugger.
Campaigns can be put together from any three of the scenario pieces, but it’s best to try playing through each according to the movie they’re based on at least once. You’ll have a location – such as the Nostromo, and three objectives. Each objective has its own mini deck of cards which are shuffled individually, and then stacked to make the Hive Deck. From here all enemies, deadly hazards, dramatic events, and eventually – the final enemy (eg the alien queen) come forth.
In order to change the difficulty of the game, based on the number of players and their skill level, you can add additional cards from the drone deck to each of the mini decks, before they go into the Hive stack. This adds yet more replayability to the game as you never know what you’re going to get.
To go with the film scenarios, you have a set of four characters that appeared in those films. Each of the four have a mini deck of cards, and these are all shuffled together to make a barracks. As mentioned earlier, if you’ve played through each of the movies, there’s nothing to stop you just picking any four characters you like for your team. Heck, even a supergroup of each version of Ripley is a possibility (I’ve tried it, it’s pretty awesome).
Players are dealt a random avatar and given the associated character ability card to put in their starting deck of basic grunts (good for small amounts of damage or scanning the complex) and specialists (to help you buy new characters from the barracks). Games play out in about an hour, and there’s extra rules you can add in (such as good and evil hidden roles) which add even more variety.
One quick thing, I want to jam in here (because I’m not sure where else to put it) is the initial setup of the box – not individual games, the box it comes in – which is an absolute pain that the manual doesn’t do an amazing job of explaining.
When you purchase LEA you’ll receive a sizable box filled with six blocks of cards wrapped in plastic (600 cards in total), foam spacer blocks (just to keep the box in order, the playmat, a bunch of little divider cards and some additional paper to pack out the space. As you unwrap the blocks of cards you’ll likely be utterly confused. Some appear to be the same cards, in the same order across multiple blocks. Some will appear – to the untrained eye – to be identical to other cards (I’m looking at you facehuggers and event cards). It’s a big, confusing mess that can be very intimidating to a total newcomer.
I looked online and couldn’t find a video to help with this so I made one of my own, but according to one comment, even this didn’t completely clear things up for people. The problem is that the same art (and even description at the top of the card) is used on multiple cards, belonging in multiple mini decks.
You’ll need to identify the characters, and group them by which crew they’re associated with (designated by a symbol in the top left corner) and then separate them into each character (all of Lt. Ripleys cards will go in one pile, but you’ll probably want them in the box near to the mini decks for Hudson, Hicks, and Bishop).
Once characters are sorted, you’ll move your attention to the avatars and unique abilities for each of them, and finally flick your eyes down to the very bottom of the cards. You’ll notice some have a scenario name along with a number, then there’s hatchery deck (facehuggers and chestbursters), drone deck, strike deck (damage markers), as well as good and evil agendas.
Once all these are divided up, you should have a good grasp on everything and how you want to put it back in the box. It’s a big ole task, made even bigger if you chose to sleeve everything (which I recommend as these cards are a little flimsy and prone to scuffing.
In the last year or so, this game has been coming out a lot more than Clank! Partly because even with the expansions, Clank! never seems to have as much variety game to game, and partly because I just enjoy the co-op nature a lot more. Even if one of us dies with a chestburster ripping through us, on the living room table, if the other one makes it to victory, I still count that as a win. The thing is, we’ve kind of ‘solved’ LEA at this point. We’ve not even come close to losing in some considerable time. As such, we tried things like adding extra objectives to our campaign (we ended up massively OP by the end), and we tried playing only higher level objectives (we were still winning fairly easily). Nothing quite worked.
With this in mind, I looked around online to see if there were any house rules or similar, that could help us get some more challenge out of the game. What I came across was the first expansion box. The first thing most people online seem to say about this box is it is HARD. Bingo, just what I want.
A few days later 400 new cards arrive and need sleeving and suddenly I’m recalling how unhelpful these blocks of cards are, as they come from the factory. Additionally, the box contains a mini playmat (for someone to play as the Alien Queen Mother), more dividers, and more of those foam blocks.
As well as two new locations and their associated objectives and scenario decks, there’s a hard mode for all locations and objectives (including the 4 from the base game), a deck and avatars for a Queen Mother player (pro tip, feed her fish, she’ll choke on a bone. At least, that’s how it worked with the British QM), new player avatars, new types of strikes, new good and evil agendas, new characters to flesh out the barracks (there’s two extra characters for each crew (movie) and an Ellen Ripley deck, which has cards spanning each of the crews, so good for making sure you have representation of each when building custom barracks), and three decks for soldier aliens.
Even on normal difficulty, the new scenarios are nails hard. On our first playthrough with the evolution scenario, I took two huge strikes which finished me off one turn before we defeated the final boss. That said, the game had been pleasantly challenging all the way through. This may be because of the new matrix for setting up your hive decks by adding drone cards, or because of the new soldier aliens. These decks are numbered 1-3 and one from each is placed into each scenario mini deck, before they’re stacked to make the hive. They’re much stronger than their drone deck counterparts and keep the challenge up throughout the game.
I would definitely recommend Legendary Encounters – An Alien Deck Building Game to anyone who enjoys deck builders or just the Alien franchise. For anyone who’s played the base game to death and found the best strategies, I’d definitely recommend the first expansion as it adds a huge amount of replayability and a whole extra mode (though that’s best played with more people than the current lockdown will allow).
- Lots of replayability
- Multiple rules variants to change up play
- Expansion adds even more variety, challenge, improved setup, and a whole new, nails hard playmode with the Queen Mother.
- Initial setup of the box is a poorly explained chore that can be extremely stressful.
- Queen Mother mode is so difficult that even the manual proposes that you treat it as a score attack game and don’t expect to win it as humans.
- Solo play is best done with either homebrewed rules or playing two hands.