1-5 players, Cooperative/Competitive, Deck Builder Chest Popping Cardplay
Designer: Ben Cichoski, Daniel Mandel
Publisher: Upper Deck Entertainment
Release Year: 2014
Now I’ve always been a huge fan of the Aliens movies so getting this game was really only a matter of time for me. Had it on my wishlist for quite some time and finally pulled the trigger recently because of the release of another expansion. At the time of this writing I haven’t yet picked up either of the two expansions yet……is the game good enough for me to warrant spending more money to expand the game? Let’s find out.
Overview of Gameplay
This game is a full on objective based deck building card game. For those unfamiliar with deck builders each player will start with the same hand of cards (with one different card based on their selected character class) and through the course of the game, players will be buying more cards to add to their deck which will enhance it.
This particular deck builder is built around the Aliens theme, particularly the first four Aliens movies. It’s also set up to play via objective based gameplay. So, for example the very first game you play it is recommended to play the “story” from the first movie, Alien. You have three particular objective cards that you will use and a specific stack of character cards that you will be acquiring throughout the game. There is also a special build for the deck of “Hive” cards, which are the aliens and events and hazards that you will experience as the game goes on. This hive deck is also where you will find the answers to most of the objectives you need to complete.
The rounds are lightning fast typically and very easy to follow along with. Each round players will be drawing one facedown Hive card and placing it facedown along The Complex path. The Complex path is a series of smaller sections that are based on locations from the movies like ventilation ducts, airlocks, weapons locker, etc. Anyway, you will draw the card and place it in the right most spot in The Complex, pushing any other placed cards to the left one space. This represents the aliens slowly making their way through the complex towards you. Every players turn you will be doing this and if a card every gets pushed off the far left spot, it enters the Combat Zone space. Now cards in this area will cause players to draw Strike cards at the end of each of their respective turns. These cards are how players receive damage and can be killed.
Now of course there is a way to prevent ALL of that from happening. After the above draw hive card phase, players will play their 6 drawn action cards. These cards will usually all get used but the order you play them is important since some of them have specific icons on them that activate abilities on other cards. Of course none of this matters at the very beginning since the main cards you have in your starting hand are either “buy” cards or “attack” cards. Using the “buy” cards you draw you can purchase cards from the “HQ” space where there is always a selection of face up cards to choose from. These bought cards go directly to your discard pile and once you have to draw on later rounds and your draw pile runs empty, you will shuffle up your discard pile to draw from again. It’s a pretty standard deckbuilding mechanic but always fun.
Now the “attack” cards serve a couple of purposes. Firstly, those sneaky aliens up there moving through the complex are all hidden from view. I mean your objective could be one of those cards! And the sooner you expose it, the sooner you can win this game. So, to do that you have to “scan” an area of the complex. Each location of the complex has a scanning “price” below it where you have to pay that amount of attack to flip the card located there. Once you do that you resolve any “when revealed” actions if any and then go about your business. Now you are a bit more knowledgeable on what is coming and can properly prepare. And considering aliens typically cannot attack from the complex areas you have some breathing room so to speak. ALSO, you can attack and kill those newly revealed aliens with attack points later on, or right then if you have enough. This is important because when you kill or remove a card from the complex it creates a gap in the line. That means the next turn the hive cards being pushed will just fill that gap instead of filling up closer to the combat zone.
So, after you play all your cards and do all your actions, any aliens in the combat zone will make you draw strike cards and then you discard your hand and draw up six new cards and start the whole process over again. Since this is primarily a co-op game if players are able to complete all three objectives of whatever scenario they are playing they win the game! However if all players are killed then no bueno.
This game is made entirely of cards with an included play mat. There are no other tokens to keep track of or anything else to focus on which is a nice relief to be honest. The cards themselves are ok quality, a little too slick for my taste and I have already started to see a bit of edge damage forming from the constant shuffling. Of course card sleeves will solve this little problem easy enough although you will have to buy those separately.
Now I really love the play mat. It’s made out of that mouse pad material and it about the same thickness as a standard mouse pad but it does an incredible job at keeping everything organized and ensures maximum ease of play. Each spot on the mat is labeled and has artwork stylized all over. On top of that it has the round structure and turn phases labeled on the bottom right of the mat and is very easy to read and reference. I have zero complaints about the mat and honestly these are the kind of game mats that I just love. Ones that not only look cool, but serves a gameplay function.
The box is surprisingly standard, and yet……….serves as a decent storage solution. Picture this, an empty box and then you slide in a small partition the length of the box and toss in a few card separators and foam pads. Boom, you now have a workable storage solution that I’m sure is on the cheap. So the partition I spoke of is for storing the game mat, rolling it up and sitting it in that to hold it secure. The card separators WORK but none of them are labeled so you still have to search around for what you need. And the foam pads basically just serve to eliminate any excess space in the box so the cards don’t flop around like fish outta water when the box is on the move. Again, nothing mind blowing about this box and storage solution but it works.
Visual Appeal /Theme
And then we come to the theme. I mean, this is why most of us are here is it not? Granted the game play is good enough to stand up on its own but I’m willing to bet that if you enjoy the Aliens theme it will improve the game even more for you. And this theme is incorporated DEEP within the gameplay. The objectives you are completing are all focused on Alien situations, all the cards you will be drawing are from actual characters from the movies, there are eggs that can hatch and become facehuggers and then proceed to face hug you. Which, if you are familiar with the movies is definitely NOT a good thing. In this case, just like in the movie it means instant death.
The artwork on the cards is hit or miss. Some of it looks really good, highly detailed and portrays the aliens/characters really well. And on others it looks pretty sloppy, with the characters not looking anything like the familiar faces you see in the movies and muddled. That said, for the most part it’s good with the aliens themselves looking the best.
Ah, this rulebook. So, it didn’t take me very long to get through it and start playing BUT that’s because I am already very proficient with deckbuilders and have also played a “Legendary” style game before. Coming into this I basically already knew how to play. HOWEVER, if I was completely new to this style of game, this rulebook would be a total bear to get through. It’s got a terrible layout, there is no index or card list. And let me tell you this is a game that NEEDS a card list. I guess this is the spot where I bring up my biggest problem with the game even though it has nothing to do with the rulebook but kinda goes along with what I was just saying………
The way this game comes package to you is HORRENDOUS. The cards are completely mixed up and packaged into multiple wrappings. When you open these cards you will literally have no clue where they go, what they mean, if you should even mix them up or sort them out. There is nothing in the rulebook that lists what the different styles of cards even mean. A page or two at the front of the book with pictures of the different kinds of cards with labels showing what each part means would be helpful. Heck, even a page just detailing how to sort them would have been nice. So expect to spend about an hour or so figuring all that out and sorting ALL the cards into their respective decks. I’m going to save anyone reading this a whole lot of trouble right off the bat. When you are sorting find the small text at the very bottom of each card and just match that with all the like text. This will still take quite a bit of time as there are NUMEROUS different piles but that small text helps tremendously.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
There is an interesting bit of player interaction incorporated into some of the cards in the form of the “Coordinate” skill. This allows players that draw a card with this skill to set that card aside, draw a new one and go about their turn as normal. Now another player can utilize the ability on the card whether it’s an attack or buying power on their turn. This is an interesting way to have players work together and believe me, they NEED to work together if they hope to survive. The aliens are relentless and brutal.
Now there is player elimination in this game, which, is something that I’m not a huge fan of, especially in longer games. BUT, this game has an interesting, albeit, more difficult for the surviving players twist. The first player that is eliminated from the game can grab up the Alien deck which is a deck comprised entirely of………..aliens. Now this player is an alien, thematically they were grabbed, facehugged and chestbursted. In any case now on that players turn they draw from the alien deck and work AGAINST the rest of the players, making the game even that much more difficult for the survivors. Now of course you don’t have to play with this if you don’t want to, you can instead go make a cup of coffee and sit back and watch the rest of the game unfold….mmmmmm coffeeeeee. But it’s a nice addition to have if you want to try it out.
As far as fun goes, this game knocks every other basic deck builder out of the park. I mean I have rarely had this much fun with a deckbuilding game aside from the Clank! games. This is deckbuilding done right, it adds interesting objectives, follows the movies and has all the suspense and dire situations that you would expect from the Aliens franchise.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
For player count this would be solo and two player. Solo is crazy fun and you have the pick of the litter when it comes to the HQ cards and to top it off the game plays VERY WELL solo. You can single hand it or double it up playing as two characters if you want, personally I prefer just playing as a single character. In the two player game you can work together more easily and fully utilize those coordinate cards as well, not only that but the way the game mat is setup it’s much easier to sit two people next to each other and see everything. Playing more than that and the game difficulty ramps up significantly do to the constant influx of hive cards and the additional cards in the hive deck. Also sitting more people around the game mat just makes it awkward for some players to see what’s happening easily.
Replayability is very high with this game as well. I mean you have the basic setups for each movie/scenario and it tells you which cards to use. That alone is four completely different games use completely different sets of HQ characters and objectives. The “drone” cards (which are general alien cards) are shuffled and just a few randomly added to each hive deck every game so those are always different. And even once you complete all the regular movie setups, you can feel free to mix and match character cards to create different interesting HQ decks to use. The same could be said for the objectives, wanna use objective 3 from the first movie with objective 2 from the fourth movie and objective 1 from the second movie? Ok sounds good. Going even further, there are a BUNCH of different starting classes to choose from ranging from a commander to a technician and each of them has a single specific card that does something different from the next. These are meant to give each player a tiny bit of difference between the starting decks and are pretty neat I won’t deny.
Positive Final Thoughts
This game is ranking right up there with my favorite deck builder games. The gameplay works perfectly with the theme and you really get that sense of urgency and horror that you had with the movies. I also love how they include cards and objectives for the first four movies to give lots of replayability right out of the box. It’s exciting and thematic all the way.
Negative Final Thoughts
I mean the biggest complaint I have with the game is the way it comes packaged. Beyond that there is a lot of randomness with the card draws and it’s very possible to hit a string of bad draws, such as an event that forces you to draw a two more hive cards which pushes them onto your combat zone and then one of those cards being another event that does that again. Bad luck is for sure a thing here. Also even though the facehuggers are super thematic AND you are given ample opportunity to avoid them, player elimination is always a bad thing in a game longer than 15 minutes. The rulebook also needs a massive overhaul with a card list and index.
The Bottom Line
If you are an Aliens fan and enjoy deckbuilders then this is a must buy. I would say even if you don’t much care for the theme then you would still enjoy the gameplay however. There are currently two expansions released for the game which I do plan to pick up so the game is still supported at the time of this writing which is always a good sign. Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game is an excellent choice for those looking for a great solo deck builder with tons of theme and because of that I am happy to give it The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction.
The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction