Science-Fiction movies have always offered us, mere mortals, a look into the future. Sometimes it's about the expanse and the exploration of the vastness of space, boldly going where no one has ever gone before, and sometimes it's about discovering new planets, locating new species and killing them. When the Predator movie first hit the screen it opened our eyes (even though it wasn't the only movie of its type) to the possibility that an Alien race may be walking amongst, invisible to our eyes and senses, waiting for the moment when we intrude upon the region/area they have decided to inhabit and then they strike like the deadly Predators they are.
UPPER DECK's "The PREDATOR BATTLES" is not just an expansion to the VS SYSTEM, although obviously the 200 cards it contains can be joined with Core game or expansion box cards for future adventures they are predominantly for creating opposing Human vs Predators combat decks. This boxed set for the VS System card game contains a full, coloured and illustrated, rules booklet, as opposed to the 2-sided single sheet of glossy paper found in VS expansions. Take a look on the shelves at your local games store where you should find several VS System 2PCG games and expansions.
UPPER DECK's "The PREDATOR BATTLES" is, do I really need to say this? well, yes I suppose so, based on the 20th Century Fox 1987 movie "PREDATOR" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers and the following two sequesls. The main characters from the films are also the main characters of the Human Team (aka "Prey") with fairly decent likenesses on the cards to the portraying actors. Dutch (Schwarzenegger), Harrigan (Danny Glover), Royce (Adrian Brody) and Isabelle (Alice Braga). The main villain characters are The Jungle Hunter from Predator, The City Hunter (aka Mr. Black) from Predator 2, and Falconer and Ghost (aka River Ghost) from Predators the third movie. I imagine that most Predator fans will be as impressed as I was with the illustrations. As always there are Level 2 gold-edged cards ready to take over from the Level 1 silver-edged cards for each of the four main Villains and the four main Prey characters.
There are 7 Plot Twists found in the sealed decka, 3 Prey and 4 Predator, each carrying the subjective icon for their set.
PREY: Death Trap / He Couldn't See Me / Sxxx Happens!
PREDATORS: Anytime / Over Here / Turn Around / Vocal Mimicry
This set also contains equipment cards though there is a 1 - 6 minority on the side of the Humans - they get the superlative M134 MiniGun - whereas the big bad dudes have Active Camouflage, Combi Stick, MediKit, Net Launcher, Self Destruct Device and Smart Disc (someone wants the Predator's to win ... or so it seems).
Action takes place in Locations: Headquarters / Los Angeles / Earth / Val Verdan Jungle (PREY) and Trophy Area / Predator Ship / Space and The Game Preserve (PREDATORS). Some Locations are "Specials" and advantageous fro both teams whereas others are more helpful to the team from which deck they are found in.
I know I'm probably asking a little too much but I would have loved to have seen a jungle styled game mat released specifically for this edition of the game. I know tat a lot of the action doesn't take place in the jungle, especially as all three Predator films are accounted in the game but to me and I am sure to many people when I think of Predator my first thoughts go to the near-invisible form moving through the trees and overgrown underbrush of the jungle. A special play/game mat wouldn't make any difference to the way the game is played but it sure would have added that extra bit of atmosphere. Predators are creepy, sneaky and deadly and you want to feel like they could pop out at you at any time. Naturally because it is a card game and you are playing against one or more opponents it is almost impossible to build up the height of suspense the movies do, but as someone once said "every little helps".
So what's new as far as the rules go? Well I particularly like the new fun skill that certain cards have, the "Bond" characteristic. No this doesn't mean they drink shaken not stirred martinis and walk around in a tuxedo but it does mean that you can discard a lesser supporting card to activate another character's super-power, very handy when it looks like you might be in a bit of a fix situation. Death Trap and Edwin have excellent peculiarities, especially Edwin who starts Good but can quickly flip. Main character Falconer has a start-up supporting Drone, The keyword "Tracker " appears for each of the different Power Symbols; Vocal Mimicry sounds like it should be more enjoyable than it is, but my overall favourite is Mr Black's Enhanced Bio Mask as it allows him to attack face down cards, ensuring that they cannot use their Powers - as a Thief layer in D&D I do love a good back-stab.
There are rules for 3-4 players and 2 v 2 plus a variation of 2 v 2 called amusingly 2-Headed Teammates but these are all slight variations on the main rules. If you have played any of the VS SYSTEM games then you will have no trouble diving straight in the Predator Battles head-on and raring to go; just like Dutch.
PREY: Anna / Billy / Blain / Dillon / Dutch / Edwin / Harrigan / Hawkins / Isabelle / Keyes / Lambert / Mac / Poncho / Royce
PREDATORS: Falcon Drone / Falconer / Ghost / Greyback / Gunslinger / Hell Hound / Jungle Hunter / Mr Black / Primeval Hunter / Tracker / Yautja Prisoner
Every card has a number of symbols on it. The type (and colour - card types can immediately be identified by the colour on the card) of card depends which and how many symbols are on it. Some can be found common to most cards; Name, Team Affiliation, Type, Powers, Text, Health, Att/Def. Some have a Cost (supporting characters and equipment specifically) which is paid by spending Resources - these being the face down cards and Locations (face up to begin with). Each turn you may play any card face down to be a resource but once played as such you lose the ability or effect/power it has. Locations are played face up and may be paid to enable you to use a Super Power when they are turned face down; they may also be playede (and discarded) from your hand for this effect. Once face down resources do not deplete, they are tapped (turned sideways) when used and turned back straight at the start of your next turn. Many combat based card games use this mechanic as it has been proven time and again to be an easy to learn, quick and simple to explain manner of gaining resources. Where you, as the player, have to be careful and clever (and a little bit lucky) is when deciding which, if any, of the cards in your hand to put face down as a resource (for the remainder of the game, unless a card allows for it to be returned to face up). Put too many of the same card down and you won't have one when you need it. Don't play enough cards as resources and you cannot bring necessary cards into play. I generally do my utmost to get resources into play early in the game and either hold in my hand or simply hope that the better cards will come out midway through the game when I can afford to bring them into play immediately.
Of the Prey's main characters I prefer to use either Dutch or Isobelle as they are both tough cookies at L1 - Dutch for example gains an XP whenever an enemy character makes a solo attack. Couple that with his other power, that enemy characters cannot team attack on their next turn, and he becomes real nasty to play against. Mac and Royce make excellent supporting characters if you like games with plenty of action, sublety isn't a word bandied around in the Predators edition of the VS System.
Once again the artwork is excellent and the level of information on each card isclear and concise but you do need to ensure you know what each of the symbols mean if you want the game to zip along at a trendy velocity. I haven't as yet integrated the Predator cards into any other deck but I have played the Predator and Prey (Human) decks against decks made up of Marvel Super-Heroes and Heroines and of course Super Villains and Evil Super Heroines, always playing the "Bad Guys" versus the "Good Guys". Not surprisingly decks made up from The PREY have failed more often against Super Villains/Villainesses decks, than the Super-Heroes/Heroines have against the Predators deck. I say "not surprisingly" because that is how I figured it would go, but then Lady Luck may have been choosing sides and riding high.
To be fair I am pretty sure that these cards will integrate with those from other sets and having had some degrees of success, and a lot of fun, playing 20th Century Fox against Marvel, it is going to be very interesting to see how amalgamated Predator/Villain decks do against integrated Hero/Prey decks. That's next on our agenda.
The expansions and stand-alone games for the VS System are very much subjective to the likes and dislikes of the players. If you are not, never were, and couldn't stand the Predator movies you are not going to give your all when playing games involving them; of course this is true of any theme for any game, but possibly more so for a deck builder. I enjoy playing with the Predator decks though my favourite characters can still be found amongst the Marvel expansions.