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The Apex Legends board game needs less looting, more shooting

Apex Legends: The Board Game offers unique battle royale mechanics, but will fiddly components and a busy Kickstarter release schedule hold it back?

Apex Legends board game preview - Glass Cannon Unplugged photo of a painted mini

Apex Legends: The Board Game is a tabletop title with some stiff competition. Kickstarter’s videogame-to-board-game pipeline is so flooded, Apex Legends’ crowdfunding campaign launch was sandwiched between two other licenced titles. With Dead Cells: The Rogue-Lite Board Game launching on May 16 and Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game on May 18, we had three straight days of licensed board game announcements.

It seems fitting that a battle royal board game should drop under such competitive conditions. But with so many videogames vying for a spot on the best board games list, can the Apex Legends board game live up to its own legendary title?

Courtesy of publisher Glass Cannon Unplugged, I took an early peek at the game’s rulebook. My early impression is one of optimism, but with a heavy dose of caution. There are intriguing mechanics hidden amongst the loot drop, but these might be dampened by fiddly features.

Apex Legends board game setup showing minis on a multi-level map

Apex Legends: The Board Game is a head-to-head skirmish board game. It aims to represent the final showdown of an Apex Legends game, with two teams rushing to grab the best loot and mow each other down before they’re hit themselves. When you’re on a time limit, a well-timed consumable, the right bit of armour, or a lucky shot can save your life.

Like the battle royale it’s based on, you’ll play on an increasingly small patch of land. Apex Legends uses a deck of cards to decide how the map will shrink, as well as plastic components to represent the invisible wall of death closing in on your Legends. Apex Legends isn’t the first board game to adapt this most famous of battle royale features, but there aren’t many tabletop games out there sporting this unique idea.

Perhaps the most novel part of the game is its combat system. Different weapons can fire varied numbers of shots and pack different levels of power. Stability and recoil can impact the accuracy of your aim, and headshots can deal devastating damage if your opponent isn’t wearing the right gear. This is all accounted for with the aim board and its aim cards.

The aim system is an elegant way to distil the complexity of combat. Not everyone loves the randomness of a deck of cards, but you can’t deny it adds excitement along with a bit of swinginess.

Apex Legends board game setup

Apex Legends is looking to give you a rush, leaving you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see if a crucial shot has hit or missed. It’s a 90-minute game with ten set rounds, so we’re expecting the pace to be relatively breezy. But the mile-a-minute shooting feels a little bogged down by the looting.

My first issue with the loot is the design of the components. For how small these tokens seem, there’s an eye-watering amount of symbols and numbers squeezed onto them.

The mechanics surrounding loot seem as fiddly as the cardboard pieces themselves. The loot you receive is random, picked up when your Legend first enters the map or spends an action looting a Supply Bin. By the sounds of it, not every loot token you pull will be useful – or even useable, as each weapon has certain specifications that must be met before you can equip an attachment.

Apex Legends board game tokens, cards, and minis

With limited space in your Legends’ backpack, you may find yourself needing to drop redundant loot. Gear and weapons can be discarded for free when you want to replace them with a new find, but it costs an action to dump attachments or items. This means you might need to spend your turn actions (of which you get very few) rearranging your inventory like you hopped games and wound up in Resident Evil 4.

Naturally, there’s only so much you can garner from a tutorial alone. Glass Cannon’s early draft of the rules is comprehensive (without being too dense), but I won’t really know how the game feels until I’m thrown in the deep end with a live game. Still, there’s enough in the design that has me intrigued to play that first battle royale. The combat system appears unique and well-designed and should be a lot of fun if the loot mechanics don’t slow things down too much.

Perhaps the bigger concern here should be how the game’s environment will affect its success. While Apex Legends: The Board Game gives me plenty to look forward to, and it’s already more than met its funding, I’m not sure it’ll be the licensed Kickstarter board game to remember this Spring.