It Ain't No Man. We're All Gonna Die - Legendary Predator Review!

Welcome ladies and gentleman to one of the toughest reviews I'm going to have to do in 2015 or perhaps even since I started The Broken Meeple. Take a game system I already like (Legendary), attach it to the Alien license (one of my all time favourite IP's in existence), do the same thing with Predator (a license I also really like) and then put them head to head against each other. Thank you Upper Deck! 

Alien Legendary was my #2 game of all time on my Top 75 list back in July 2015. I like the deck-building mechanic and I adored how they'd managed to capture the theme of the movies in those Hive decks. Add the wide variety of characters and movies to choose from and it was a auto-win for me. It wasn't flawless though,  the traitor and Alien player mode were tacked on and not particularly well and it was a pain in the neck to sort through all the cards and obtain some decent dividers. But I enjoyed the co-op game so much that with anything less than 5 players, I'm always keen to get this to the table.

So naturally some of you will have seen on social media that I was rather gasping for the Predator version to come out. A chance to play through those iconic movies, a new Player vs Player (PVP) mode where you can control Predators and the chance to mix everything with Alien and fulfil the dream of establishing an Alien vs Predator synergy that would join the ranks of the classic PC games and novelisations. Not the films, no no, we don't acknowledge their existence, in fact that will be one of the first things I take care of when I return from the future in . . . . . the future. . . . ok this is really segwaying franchises here, let's get on with the review, there's a ton to cover!

Designer: Ben Cichoski (2015) Publisher: Upper Deck # of Players: 1-5 Age: 17+ Time: 60-90 Minutes Rank / Rating: RRP: £49.99 Brothers In Arms The co-operative mode plays out exactly like the Alien version. The players as a group will attempt to complete a set of objectives usually keyed to one of the iconic movies in the franchise before they all perish in one grisly form or another. As with other deck building games, everyone starts off with a basic deck of low quality cards, except they get to add a unique card based on their chosen character at the beginning. Over the course of the game, players will purchase additional cards relating to specific movie characters to add to their deck. As their deck grows more powerful, they will attempt to complete the objectives while dealing with all of the nasty stuff that the game throws at them, from debilitating hazards/events to frequent enemies including the "hard as nails" troupe of Predators. Cards will help not only their owners but also other players at times of need when the group needs to work as a team to overcome the next obstacle in their way. Completing the final objective will result in victory, otherwise expect to find yourself somewhere up a tree in the not so distant grim future. Alternatively you can put yourself in the shoes (although technically they don't wear shoes, if they did it would look weird) of the Predators themselves and hunt down human prey. This is a competitive mode with players competing against each other for the most honor. The game will play out in much the same was as the co-op mode, except players can now duel each other for extra honor and instead of buying character cards, they are acquiring various types of gear/kit such as camouflages, weapons, claws, etc. The CIA Got You Pushing Too Many Pencils?

One of the biggest gripes that everyone has with all Legendary games, but especially Alien is the amount of sorting that is required upon lifting the lid off the box. Well sorry guys, Upper Deck have not learned their lesson and you're going to have the same amount of fun here. The cards are in no particular order in their shrink wrap and you'll have to separate more decks than before before you can even think about sleeving. The only advantage you have here is that it seems that the text at the bottom of each card showing which deck is front is a little easier to read especially for the Predator decks which are written in green. It's a slog and I can't fathom why they can't simply give us the cards in at least some kind of basic order, but stick with it and maybe put on the original Predator movie to pass the time!

You're also stuck with the basic Legendary dividers that have featured in both Marvel and Alien which at best are for scribbling on until you hop onto BoardGameGeek and print out some decent ones. It's a bugbear of mine why publishers can't all do decent dividers, but that's just a trait of the board game industry. Smash Up Geeky Box and Sentinels of the Multiverse will always be remembered as the card games that got dividers right! Now with sleeves I highly recommend you use some coloured sleeves as well as clear ones to distinguish some of the decks. I did this with Alien and it speeds up the setup and takedown tremendously. Three different colours should be sufficient to cover the essentials and you can tailor this how you see fit.

It's not all bad though and to be fair one of the component gripes is more of an initial setup issue than a ongoing quality issue. The artwork across the cards is of a good standard and there are some very cool graphic images of characters meeting grisly fates at the hands of Predators. I think it's actually a step up from Alien in terms of the gore factor and as such parents should take heed of the age rating on the box cover. The original films were rated 18 after all. The playmat is very nicely produced using my preferred Neoprene material and manages to incorporate the needs of both modes of play despite one using more decks than the other without sucking up your gaming table. 

If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It One of Alien's shining graces was that unlike previous Legendary iterations there was a way for players to directly influence another players turn. This was done by the Co-ordinate mechanic which allowed a player to effectively copy the card from their hand to use on their turn. The person doing the co-ordinating didn't always lose out however as they got to draw a new card to replace it. This mechanic is repeated here but there is a greater emphasis given to it, with the keyword appearing on more cards than before. But there is a new ability to supplement this in "Call for Backup" which grants an ability for the turn that gets better depending on how many players coordinate with you afterwards. This adds a new element of teamwork to the cooperative game although it's a small pain that it can only be found on the unique avatar starting cards. The ones from Alien had a special ability that always worked no matter what, but here you will have an ability that is a dead draw for half the game until everyones deck builds up. Even though the latter is closer to the teamwork vibe, I much prefer having the constant ability as it added that extra level of differentiation to your avatar. In Predator, they seem a bit too similar now. And you will need these abilities because the difficulty is just as high here as it was in the original making this an equally challenging venture as the Alien version was. Unfortunately it also carries the same scaling problem as well. Playing this game solo works well as the lack of any Co-ordinate abilities balances out been able to tailor your deck as you see fit without player intervention. From 2 up to 5 players it's a constant upward scale of difficulty where 3-4 players seems to be the sweet spot, but 2 will seem fairly easy and 5 will be tough as nails, possibly even impossible at times. There is however a tweak to the setup now in that you get an additional turn in a 5 player before enemy cards start spewing out, which helps, but it's still punishing. Also the table used to dictate how many mercenaries/youngbloods are placed into each objective deck has changed slightly for balance reasons and the rulebook even states to use this as a replacement for the one in the Alien system though I've not had a chance to try this change out. He Didn't Kill You Because You Were Unarmed. No Sport. This is the big selling point of Predator Legendary which distinguishes it from the Alien version. Being able to effectively turn the game on its head and play not only from the perspective of the enemy, but also in a PVP style. The gameplay is very similar to the co-op but there are some tweaks as to how the enemies function. I was scared going into this as I remembered how the traitor setup was very tacked on and unpolished in the Alien version, and if this mode followed suit, it's a giant chunk of the game that becomes unplayable in comparison. However I'm pleased to report that it actually works quite well and in some small ways, even better making this a mode that will actually have players legitimately debating which one they prefer. Buying cards is no different from before, however they make more sense as to what each set actually does and you don't have to feel guilty about taking this time. There are four types (Intel, Strength, Survival & Tech) and you can get a general feeling from their headings alone what kind of cool stuff you'll get through the cards. Fancy some nice shiny blades? I'm pretty sure you'll find them in the Strength pack. How about a nice new Plasma Caster? Head over to Tech. Granted some back knowledge of Predators in general will help on this front, but let's face it if you went out and paid the money and then spent the time sorting this box out, I'm pretty sure you know what Predators are and how they work. In contrast if I buy a Dutch card in the co-op mode, that doesn't tell me much about what to expect. 

Tests and Challenges function like little mini-objectives that you can aim for to get more honor and thus give you more options. Enemies can also obtain gear from a side deck which buffs them up in various ways allowing for good variety and sometimes some hard nut foes to ruin your day, but then they're also worth more honor so quit your moaning, you didn't see the first Predator whining when Mac grabbed that minigun! It might have been cool to see that incorporated in the co-op mode, but maybe that would pushed the difficulty to new levels. Dueling will however worry some players because being able to hit each other means you can potentially kill each other and no-one wants an early elimination. Well thankfully it's not as simple as that. The duel keyword isn't on every card and a Predator dying is one of the end-game triggers, therefore you would only want to do that if you think you're in the lead already. This stops the classic problem of picking on the weak to an extent as prematurely ending the game won't always be a good move and they can always hit you back if they grab a duel card as well. 



Get To Ze Choppa!


Oh come on, I had to put it in somewhere! Whether you prefer the Alien or Predator theme is going to be a purely subjective matter and may even influence which one you'd prefer to get assuming you don't get both. The co-op objectives in Alien perfectly represented the events of each movie and I'm pleased to see that it's the same case here albeit with some minor blemishes here and there. Firstly the objectives in Alien had more room for mixing around to create varied games, but Predator's are quite strict in their layout. For example you can take out the guerrilla camp from the first movie, but then why would you suddenly be back in Los Angeles hunting for clues in the city about Predator killings?  The first objective is also a little disjointed from the latter ones as it deals with a relatively mundane human threat before building up to taking on the ugly one himself at the end. Now of course this is the fault of the movies, but it almost feels like you're playing out two separate mini-movies each game.

A new addition that I greatly approve of though for thematic reasons is the introduction of alternate goals in co-op mode. You can go for a major victory by taking out the hunter, but each movie has it's own alternative minor victory condition that you can go for if the kitchen is getting a bit too hot for you. And these aren't necessarily easy in themselves. A very tense game I played had us on the backfoot being battered by multiple enemies at the end to the point where we knew we couldn't take on the main hunter and survive. However the alternate goal of (you've guessed it) getting to the chopper became available and we just managed to evacuate ourselves out of the game to fight another day. This was a good implementation and I would like to see Alien eventually get a similar set of mini objectives in the future - an expansion is hinted at by Upper Deck for the future so fingers crossed. 

 Speaking of Aliens and theme, naturally one of my biggest desires with Predator Legendary (and I'm sure this was a shared one among the fans) was the possibility of mixing everything together. I've already done that with my Marvel Legendary/Villains collection and even though I'm not bonkers enough to mix them with Alien, who can resist the urge to mix Aliens and Predators together and have them go up against each other. Of course the worry was how seamless this would be and actually it's been handled pretty well. You have to accept that the terminology on the cards have to hold a double meaning, but other than that there isn't a great deal to change and the rulebook gives plenty of detail as to how to mix in objectives and how to calculate honor points for when you send the Predators in to hunt the Aliens.
Verdict


I went into this expecting that I would be faced with the toughest question of all. Alien Legendary or Predator Legendary? It's still a tough call, but I believe that it comes down to two main considerations. Firstly the games are essentially identical aside from some minor rule tweaks and the new PVP mode so you have to ask yourself which theme do you like better? For me it's Alien hands down, no questions asked. Secondly the new PVP mode as mentioned is unique to this set and essentially 50% of the game so you will have to like this aspect in order to get the most out of Predator. However it's a solid twist on the game and actually beats a lot of competitive deck building games for me by itself. 

Alien Legendary was my #2 game of all time on my Top 75 list. I still love it and think it's the best Co-Op deck builder game in existence. Legendary Predator is also a great game, though I feel it doesn't quite measure up to the Alien version. However these are mainly due to minor nitpicks with some of the rule changes and most of these affect solo play anyway. There's definitely a greater emphasis on teamplay with more Coordinate cards and the new Call for Backup ability so I feel that solo play suffers a bit in this version, but it feels more like a co-op overall.

Even if I think Alien Legendary is the better game overall, this is still an excellent addition to the system and the ease of mixing the two together means that fans of the franchise will get even more value out of it. Pick whichever side you like the most first, then if you're happy, grab the other set and go nuts. 

YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You like the Predator theme - it's well represented in both modes of play.

The PVP mode is something you are keen on, it's easily 50% of the value here and not simply tacked on.

You already enjoyed the Alien version and desire the need to mix everything together - it's so satisfying!



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You didn't enjoy Alien Encounters for mechanic reasons - it's a very similar beast and therefore is unlikely to win you over.

You are concerned about the graphical art work and use of language - the game is rated 17+ and deservedly so.

You aren't likely to play both sides to this game - it's a big money sink and time investment for just one of the two modes of play.

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