Best to get this out of the way right at the start. Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game – 1-5 players, from designers Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel (Super Awesome Games), and publisher Upper Deck – isn’t Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game. I know, “duh.” But what I mean is that this Predator rendition, while mechanically very similar, doesn’t really “feel” the same.
Whether or not that’s a deal breaker is entirely up to personal preference, but you should know going in that it’s nowhere near as panic-inducing or tense as its Xenomorphic predecessor. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Just different.
This may come as a shock but most of us at Gameosity are kind of in love with An Alien Deck Building Game ( I still refuse to type out the entire title unless I have to).
Andrew: Damn straight.
Right. Anyway, the reason we’re so smitten with it is because of how well it manages to capture the feeling of begin hunted by acid-blooded monsters simply by making clever use of different types of cards and other deck building mechanics. It even manages to capture the essence of each of the four films, with matching scenarios that somehow evoke the tone of its respective movie. It’s kind of ingenious, really. Okay, it’s very ingenious. The thing is, while A Predator Deck Building Game is obviously trying to do the same thing, but with Predators, it doesn’t quite manage that same level of brilliance.
It’s not bad, though. It’s actually still really, really good. It’s just not as good as the earlier game. But I definitely have to give the designers credit for cleverly adapting the Legendary Encounters (and by extension, Legendary) system to fit both the original Predator film and the sequel. The progression through the encounter deck follows the story pattern, with mostly regular human enemies in the beginning until the Predator starts to pop up here and there, until you’re finally forced into a showdown with the extraterrestrial hunter.
Rob: I especially like how Marking works.
Andrew: Yeah, I don’t know what that is. We didn’t play-
Rob: Don’t spoil it early! I want to lead up to that!
Andrew: O… kaaaay…
Rob: Marking is a pretty clever adaptation for Hazard cards. In An Alien Deck Building Game, Hazards would trigger some really bad stuff that would usually affect all players and was meant to fit the scenario being played. Here, the player who reveals a Hazard becomes Marked, which means they take it and keep it next to their avatar card.
Andrew: I get it. Because it’s like in the movie when the Predator tags people with the three dots and then things die.
Rob: Exactly. And in this game, there are several cards that can do bad stuff to you that gets exponentially worse the more marks you have.
Andrew: Sounds neat.
Rob: It is. Not as mind-blowing as the way cards move through the Complex in the first game – or the Wilds in this case – but I think it fits really well.
So for the most part, A Predator Deck Building Game is like the first Legendary Encounters but without the Aliens and a not quite as much dread. In fact, this one actually seems easier. Granted I’ve only played a two-player game as the humans, and things probably get more hectic with more people, but we kind of breezed through it.
Andrew: Ah-ha! You just said “as the humans!”
Rob: I did indeed.
What really sets A Predator Deck Building Game apart from its predecessor is the way it handles its scenarios. The older game had a total of four – one for each Alien film – but there are only two Predator movies (AvP doesn’t count. For anything. Ever.). So rather than simply having two scenarios to choose from, each scenario also has two different versions to play: one as the humans, and one as the Predators. The humans are trying to survive and complete objectives, while the Predators are competing with each other for Honor (i.e. trophy points for kills).
Oh yes, everyone can play as a Predator in this game. And it’s… okay, I guess? I know it sounds blasphemous to say playing as a alien big game hunter armed to the teeth with fancy gadgets isn’t all that exciting, but it actually isn’t all that exciting.
Andrew: Not at first anyway.
Rob: Yeah… I’ll let you take this one.
Andrew: I mean playing as the Predators was functionally very similar to playing as humans in An Alien Deck Building Game, but it started out really, really slow. We kept utterly destroying any of the humans that would show up, usually bought equipment cards just to buy them, and generally spent a lot of time waiting for something to happen.
Rob: No argument here. And the fact that we were playing cooperatively rather than fighting each other on top of everything else meant that there was even less to worry about.
Andrew: Right? Playing cooperatively made such a large number of the equipment cards feel either pointless or overpriced.
(The rules in Predator allow for Predator players to play co-op style, which removes Dueling each other as a mechanic, but allows players to aid each other as compensation. Unfortunately, a huge amount of the badassery on Predator equipment is specifically tagged ‘Duel’ and is apparently only usable against your fellow hunters.)
Rob: Though I do think that we might’ve missed something in the rules about using Duel abilities in a co-op game. Or we could’ve house ruled it to where we could use Duel abilities on regular prey.
Andrew: That definitely would’ve helped, I think. Still, it wouldn’t have made the early game any less plodding.
Rob: Agreed. Although I liked the way they replaced objectives and locations with gear and traps that give human prey all sorts of random and nasty advantages.
Andrew: Yeah, that was great. Annoying, but great. It really helped to mix things up in the worst/best possible ways.
Playing as the Predators does get more difficult, though. Significantly more difficult. Once the recognizable human characters from the films start to pop up you’ll be scrambling to keep things under control. And to be honest, We all thought the second half where things started to get away from us was a lot more interesting and fun. The problem was all the dull stuff we had to wade through to get there.
Andrew: Playing with five people probably didn’t help.
Rob: Yeah, I could definitely see that. Playing with two or three people seems like the best way to go since it means that turns come up more often and it’s a little easier to keep the proverbial poo from hitting the proverbial fan.
It’s also possible to combine the Alien and Predator sets to create your own Aliens vs. Predator scenario where everyone plays as a Predator and hunts Xenomorphs for honor. It’s functionally the same as playing a regular game as the Predators, but there are a few tweaks such as using the Alien play mat, location cards, and objectives. Granted I haven’t had the opportunity to try this mode yet, but it seems interesting. Hopefully it’s a little more balanced out than the regular Predator scenarios, though.
Rob: You know what else I found problematic when playing as the Predators?
Andrew: No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.
Rob: Separating out all the cards and packing them up.
Andrew: Isn’t it pretty much the same as it is for An Alien Deck Building Game? It never seemed to bother you then.
Rob: It’s kind of the same, but a big difference is how the Predators use equipment cards instead of characters and how you have all these different strikes and prey cards to worry about. When you’re trying to sort the different character cards and a few strikes from everyone’s play area once the game is over it goes pretty quick. Not so much when you have strikes that cause damage, strikes that remove honor, prey that gives you honor, prey that removes honor, and a bunch of equipment cards that look like they could be prey or event cards at a glance.
Andrew: Oh. Oh, ick.
Rob: Yeah. There was a lot of scrutinizing and re-scrutinizing when I was putting everything away. I wasn’t a fan.
I know it sounds like I don’t like A Predator Deck Building Game but that’s not true. I do like it, but just not as much as An Alien Deck Building Game. The thing is, there isn’t much in the board game world that I like as much as I do An Alien Deck Building Game, so it’s hardly a dig against it.
A Predator Deck Building Game, perhaps unfairly, had a lot to live up to. The fact that it comes up a little short, I think, speaks more to just how fantastic the first Legendary Encounters is than to any major shortcomings. Granted, there are definitely shortcomings to be found, but I’m still very impressed with how well the designers were able to re-adapt an already adapted deck building system to line up with yet another sci-fi film franchise about humans being hunted by some nasty alien killing machines.
Long story short, the Alien version is better, but this one is still really good. If A Predator Deck Building Game sounds like your kinda awesome, you can grab a copy here!