Man Versus Machine - Legions of Steel Reviewed

By Nik Gaukroger 21 Jul 2015 0

First there was Legions of Steel the boardgame (which I must confess I hadn’t heard of), then French development studio, Studio Nyx, started a Kickstarter campaign to develop a digital version. Alas this was not successful; however, a Plan B emerged with a partnership with strategy games publisher Slitherine and 18 months later the game has finally hit the (e)stores being released for PC (including Steam) and iPad.

We now take time to review the game. Most of the playing time we have had has been on the PC version, however, with the release of the iPad version we have managed to get some time in on that forum as well and so can comment on how well it works on tablet as well.

I guess that one thing that needs to be mentioned is that Legions of Steel, whilst superficially appearing to be quite similar, isn’t a Space Hulk clone/variation. OK, it has human troops fighting an alien enemy in corridors and rooms, however, after that it is quite a different game not least is that the graphical style is different – this different look and feel means you shouldn’t be confusing this with the 40K offering.

However, possibly the biggest difference, and it is a biggie, is that where as in Space Hulk you’re facing off against high speed close combat alien killers, in Legions of Steel both sides are technologically based troops with ranged attacks, grenades and the like. Thus this game is dealing with much more symmetrical warfare unlike Space Hulk’s distinctly asymmetrical style. Just to pre-empt an obvious question at this point – the two sides in Legions of Steel do have different sets of weapons and capabilities and so it isn’t just 2 identical teams playing off against each other.

Right that out of the way lets have a look at the game itself.

 

 

Some basic facts: you can play as either the United Nations of Earth commandos or the invading Machines; there is a tutorial “campaign” and a full campaign; there are 15 scenarios to play in skirmish mode or multiplayer mode; and there is a new Tournament system implemented by Slitherine for running an online competition (non-knock out Swiss style). $17.99/£12.99/€17.99 on PC from Slitherine and $9.99/£7.99/€8.99 on iPad.

The tutorial campaign is quite extensive and walks you through a lot of the basics of the game, and also some useful tactics such as strafing which will stand you in good stead when you play the proper campaign or the skirmish/multiplayer missions. However, I did feel that the tutorial went on a bit long and that some of the missions could have been combined – but that is a case where your mileage may vary. And you can skip them if you so wish.

Possibly a more serious criticism of the tutorials is that they don’t cover a couple of rather fundamental parts of the game. Most obvious is the initiative roll that starts each turn and which determines which side moves first in that turn. This is a simple opposed dice roll with the side that scores higher choosing whether to move first or second – although when playing the AI it always chooses to move first (it is coded this way). Linked to this are the Leadership points that the Sergeant and Corporal’s have as these can be spent to boost your initiative roll if you wish, making it more likely that you will win the initiative. Because of this I’d recommend reading the (useful) manual as well as playing the tutorials.

 

 

The tutorials also usually have shots automatically hitting, something which most definitely does not happen in the game proper, and so can give a misleading impression. However, as long as you bear this in mind it shouldn’t be much of an issue – and you quickly learn that shots can miss …

The game interface is pretty clean and easy to use and most players will find it very quick to pick up. It has also clearly been designed to work as effectively on a tablet as it has on the PC – and for our conclusions on the iPad version see below. Graphics are really smooth even on a low end PC. Scrolling around the screen and zooming in and out caused no problems whatsoever. Whilst the look and feel of a game is pretty subjective thing, personally I like what has been done with Legions of Steel and think it is pretty good – and importantly is not trying to look like Space Hulk.

One thing I do think is missing, however, is the ability to set a unit in a certain stance (covering fire down a corridor for example) and that this carried over into the next turn. As it is you have to give orders to all units each turn otherwise they default to doing nothing. A button to tab through yet unmoved units would help here as well.

 

 

Combat, as mentioned above, is ranged shooting and not hand to hand. There are a few different weapons in the game, however, the most common units have a blaster which can fire once per turn or twice per turn if on Automatic but this reduces accuracy. Accuracy is also affected by how far you are from your target, whether you have moved that turn (and if so how fast), whether you are shooting past a friend, and whether there is an effect in play that reduces visibility. There are also grenades which can target an area, and can be lobbed around corners so your trooper isn’t vulnerable to being shot when doing so, and force wall grenades which can (hopefully) seal off a passageway for a time.

The campaign missions present a number of different challenges depending on the scenario, and you will not always have the same number of troops which adds a twist as you will need to tailor your tactics accordingly. Some missions require you to get your troops off the board within a set number of turns, whilst others will require you to reach a certain point and destroy a terminal or similar. The AI is reasonably competent on the Normal difficulty setting (I haven’t tried the harder setting yet – there are only 2) and can provide a challenge, but is from time to time a touch predictable. Don’t expect it to just rush at you, however, it knows about how to exploit setting up overwatch type situations which can discomfort you if you are not careful.

 

 

As this is a boardgame conversion it is no surprise that in the default mode you get to see the movement of your opponent all the time. However, there is an “Electronic Warfare” mode which brings in fog of war where you only get to see what your troops would be able to see – plus a scan tool which allows you to spot enemies that are out of sight but only on a limited basis. I have yet to try this out; however, I think it will certainly make the game a lot more tense and change the players risk/reward calculations significantly. Certainly I’m looking forward to trying it out – and no doubt getting a good kicking to begin with as I sort out my tactics.

As I mentioned at the top of this review I had not even heard of Legions of Steel before Studio Nyx started their Kickstarter, and so I am unable to say whether this PC/iPad version is a full recreation of the boardgame or just inspired by it. However, the feel is that it is a pretty close recreation of what I would expect from such a boardgame (if that makes sense) when translated into a digital format. Readers who have played the original may like to comment on this of course.

 

 

iPad Version

OK, as mentioned we have just managed to get a look at the iPad version after having a reasonable go on the PC version.

This may be a very personal view but I felt that the game actually worked better on the iPad than it did on the PC. In many ways I couldn’t say why, other than for the style of the game the tablet format just seems more natural. I think this may well be because the individual missions are relatively quick (30-45 mins say) and so Legions of Steel works very well as a pick up/put down sort of game where you don’t need to invest a large chunk of time at any one sitting.

Certainly the interface works perfectly on the iPad and, if anything, the game ran smoother (not that it is bad on the PC, even an oldish one, far from it). Multiplayer is compatible between platforms as well, so given a choice I’d personally take the mobile version to be honest.

 

Conclusions

Keeping this simple, Legions of Steel is an excellent game and heartily recommended. It’s easy to pick up, plays very well and, thanks to the skirmish, multiplayer and tournament options should have a great deal of replay value especially given the price point. Really, you can’t go wrong.

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