Captures all the best bits from the films.
So highly thematic and thrilling choices in the design.
Feel's like a desperate battle against overwhelming alien odds, but you always want to go back for more.
Prepare for an afternoon sorting cards before playing.
Card quality could have been better and I would certainly sleeve all 600 of these precious creatures.
It's pretty tough to beat.
Ever since Upper Deck announced their plans to release an Alien themed version of Legendary I’ve been staying frosty in anticipation. The film series is something I’ve adored since I first encountered everyone’s favorite Xenomorph back in 79, whilst not quite of age to see Alien on the big screen I devoured issues of Fantastic Films or Starburst that my devoted father passed me when mum wasn’t looking, I was besotted by the films amazing visuals the dark twisted designs of Giger and the cramped interiors of the Nostromo as envisioned by Scott, even now with multiple plays under its belt this is a series that I never tire from watching. But aside from Leading Edge’s fantastic board game the series hasn’t fared so well reaching our tables, Kenner gave us an Alien game in all its 1979 roll and move glory and the bizarre attempts in the 90’s to make Aliens kid friendly with the failed Operation Aliens came and went faster than the creative teams attached to the ill fated Alien 3.
This has been a tricky license for designers to get right (Don’t even mention the video games) So would Upper Deck deliver? I’ve played and enjoyed Marvel legendary but for me it suffered from some disjointed theme issues with the heroes and crippling downtime when played with four or more, and lets not get started on the set up and tear down time on that one. So it was with some hesitation that I approached this new edition.
Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen!
Designers Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel have managed to work wonders by tweaking the elements of what works within the existing Legendary system and adding enough spins of their own to embrace the Alien theme and have taken this series in an exciting new direction (sort of like Prometheus only much better). First off they’ve made this a pure co-op it really was the only way to be sure, its us against the bugs and it manages to successfully mesh the deck building mechanisms with theme to pull off something a bit special.
Each of the four movies are included in the box, composed of three separate decks which are combined to create that mission, played alongside these are location cards and objectives whose triggered events include many nod’s to classic moments from the films with goals based around major plot points, all these work together to give a greatest hits of the Alien’s movies. Replacing the four color heroes of Marvel are a gristle’d bunch of survivors from each of the films with abilities tailored to fit thematically with those scenarios and caps doffed to some clever choices here with some interesting powers that managed to reflect those characters little quirks or moments from the films. All of this nerdery helps to dunk you into the theme like a rich tea in a hot cuppa and really ties the game together with each scenario capturing its celluloid counterpart, there are moments when you really do feel like you’re on an express elevator to hell.
Besides all of this card based joy we also get a play mat instead of a board, which I have to say is a brilliant feature, it looks stunning on the table and makes manipulating the cards a lot easier than trying to wrestle them up off a board, I hope that we see more of these coming along in the future.
As I progressed through the films the game seemed to get increasingly harder to beat, with some of the big bad’s causing Hudson levels of histrionics when they appeared in all their brown stain inducing glory. What’s so great is how the designers have managed to layer in so many neat little thematic elements from the films to help put you into the heart of the action, from the macho posturing and gun laden fun of Aliens to Alien 3 where the game I played felt suitably desperate, with you constantly struggling with resources and a savage creature that echoed the dire situation the characters found themselves in that movie. I really like what they have accomplished here and it feels much more thematic and challenging than Marvel Legendary did.
Another glorious day in the Corps!
Another nice new touch is that each player now gets an avatar which also works as health meter, each of these classes receives one specific card that goes into their deck allowing everyone a little something different and special to bring to the fight. And as your character has such a limited health score it really builds on that sense of dread and threat that the game thrives on and also helps to make you feel part of the action rather than just playing a set of cards each round.
Another change to the basic mechanisms is how the cards spawn from the hatchery, to further enhance the feeling of encroaching menace they now move across the complex face down representing the doom-laden bleeps of a motion sensor as they edge closer to your hiding spot. The only way of flipping these is to use your attack and depending on where they are in the complex will alter how much it costs to flip them, often resulting in exhausting all your attack in the early game to uncover something unpleasant. Its not all horror and death, hidden among these cards are those objectives that you need to complete to progress through each scenario and also some neat little Easter Eggs from the movies. There’s a really ticking clock to this part of the game because you don’t want to dally as those cards keep coming and if objective two problems and monsters are spawning and you’ve still not resolved the first its likely you’ll have a rotten afternoon.
Boy is this game hard! And the more players you add to the mix the harder it seems to get, there are a few new kinks that have been included on the cards that do help. There is the new co-ordinate skill which allows you to play a card from your hand on another players turn allowing you to add that cards resources and perks to the current players total, really handy for dealing with some of the nastier surprises or if you get a bad draw. To stand any chance at successfully winning the game you’ll going to need to embrace this new ability and for a simple little addition it really adds a cool cooperative element to play.
There’s so many neat little thematic design choices buried in the game, one of my favorites is the facehugger’s. These can hatch from eggs which add some peril to proceedings and will often force you to use those precious attacks on wiping them out, but if one of these skittery little swines hatches it latches onto the active player and they have their turn and till the end of the next players to kill it, if that doesn’t happen then everyone has a problem because a chestburster card is added to that players discard deck, and when eventuality dealt will kill that player. There is nothing worse than knowing that one of these cards is hiding in your deck and the palpable sense of dread as everyone watches breath held each new deal you make. There are a few slim opportunity’s to avoid this situation but generally once you’ve been fertilized then its just matter of time until you’ll be ruining somebodies breakfast table with all the gurgling, thrashing and spurting of your runny bits.
There are a bunch of optional add on’s that help to spice up proceedings, there’s the Alien deck which essentially means that after you’ve gone through the agonized labor pains of birthing your new xenomorph then you can pick up this deck and play as an bad guy, great fun but it will usually result in the pretty swift death of everyone else at the table. And then there’s the option of secret agenda’s that adds a traitor mechanic to the game and some cool cards to peoples decks and really sells that evil corporation idea from the movies. Both of these are great additions, but I strongly urge you waiting until you have a few plays under your belt, especially the Alien deck as that’s evil.
I admire its purity… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
So summing up time, well lets quickly address a few issues that this series has suffered from. First is the initial sorting of the cards, yep its involved and you should easily put aside at least an hour to do this. A comprehensive list of the cards to check off in the manual would have helped with this, the ones on BGG are great and without them the task would have been a nightmare the manual really doesn’t explain the process as well as it could and like legendary the text to identify the different sets is minute. The dividers are also a cheat considering most other deck builders like Thunderstone come with pre-printed ones. I printed mine from the BGG files and they look great just a shame that upper deck cut this particular corner. And the card quality seems a little insubstantial, I’m not convinced that these will withstand too many uses before starting to show wear, I don’t usually sleeve my games but I’m thinking that I will this.
That’s really all the negatives aside from some inconsistency in the card art, most of it I love but there are a few that look rushed but nothing that distracts from the game. Oh and that set up and tear down process seem’s a lot quicker here, and can be further improved if you decide not to mix movies.
If your a fan of the films then you’ll going to lap this one up, I hovered for a while on this as I already own a few deck builders and I think barring anything revolutionary coming along this will be my last, its a tough little son of a game and is certainly a challenge. All the new tweaks made greatly improve upon the foundations built by Marvel legendary, the co-op along with the different modes of play give this some decent longevity and have reduced that terrible downtime I encountered playing its predecessor. I’m quite excited to see how this works with some of the Marvel stuff and Guardians Of The Galaxy seems a perfect fit for this and i’ll be giving that a try, I’m also looking forward to what Upper Deck have planned for this series as there are plenty more characters from the films that have yet to make an appearance not including the Predator movies or indeed Prometheus, although I’m not entirely sure how the latter will work with this but I await to see.
Whilst this is not doing anything new or revolutionary its a solid mesh of theme and mechanics working in harmony to produce a tense white-knuckle roller-coaster ride from beginning to end, which considering its subject matter makes this just about perfect.