Review: Star Wars: Legion30 Jul 2018 1
Review: Star Wars: Legion
Released 22 Mar 2018
Fantasy Flight have had one toe in the world of miniature wargames for years. Some of their board games have enough figures to pretty much qualify by themselves, but now they've gone the whole hog with Star Wars: Legion. It's a fully-fledged figure based game replete with ranges and rulers.
Looking at the design, it’s clear they still can't quite leave the world of board games behind. It’s a fertile crossover - The card-based rules make it a little more complex than other streamlined skirmish games on the market, as Legion has to go toe-to-toe with the likes of 40K’s Kill Team, Warmachine/Horde’s Company of Iron and more. But this hybrid design is a good thing - it elevates Legion from a vanilla set of firefight rules into something far more interesting.
Part of picking your army is choosing a leader and the initiative cards that they can use. Both players pick one of these at the start of each of the six rounds, face down. They're revealed simultaneously and determine two things: First, a pip score in the corner determine who goes first. Second, they let you determine the order of activation for some of your units. Everything else is random.
It is both inevitable and realistic that most cards don't let you do both. You can't both go first and organise a lot of units for activation. Right away, this ensure every turn starts with a deliciously difficult blind choice. What are your priorities? How much do you need to go first against ensuring you get to issue the orders you need? We've all been in situations where I-go, you-go games have hinged on activation or attack order. Legion solves that problem by turning it into a brilliant mini-game in its own right. FFG’s Star Wars space battle game, Armada, has a similar process where you can ‘bid’ to become first player or not, but it only happens the once and is fixed for the rest of the game.
The actual mechanics are smooth and sparse. Unit cohesion is so minimal that it's barely worth checking. Instead the focus is where it should be, on moving, defending and firing via the two actions each unit gets when it's activated. As you might expect from a Fantasy Flight title there is a dedicated movement tool and some custom dice. Nothing so convenient as an everyday tape measure and six-sided dice here. On the plus side these accoutrements do help speed up play. There will be few arguments here over what gets to move where around which scenery.
This spartan approach applies throughout play, resulting in a fast, exciting game. Cover, for example, simply protects a target from one or two hits non-critical hits. Tactically the foundation is a series of rock-paper-scissors trade-offs based on keywords. Units with the "armour" keyword, for instance, can ignore non-critical hits. But a weapon with the "impact" keyword can convert all non-critical hits to critical ones.
Between them, they create enough meat to keep the tactical and positional bones of the game juicy with interest. A good general can't just rush forward but must make good use of scenery and defence actions to minimise casualties as they manoeuvre. The strength of cover rewards flanking actions without the need for complex rules. And the keywords working against each other gives a real sense of combined arms tactics. Co-ordinating units so that each fills its proper role is critical for success.
Simplicity isn't always a good thing, though. The streamlined nature of Legion sometimes makes it feel like a generic firefight-game more than an authentic Star Wars experience. The included leader figures, Luke and Vader, do have the Jedi ability to reflect fire with their defence actions. But mostly it comes down to the considerable visual appeal of the box contents. Made of slightly soft plastic, the figures are easy to assemble but lack the variety and detail we've come to expect from modern sculpts. They still look great arranged for battle, and it's good to see some basic scenery included in the box too for a change.
On the other hand, it's less great to find each side only has half an army - and an insufficient quantity of dice - in the box. Veterans of expandable miniatures games might expect this, and indeed if you play any of FFG’s card games you might also be used to the idea that a single core-set is not enough. For newcomers attracted by the IP though, it could come as a shock. Although it keeps the price of the core set reasonable (and thus, tempts you into buying more of them), it does mean that the best part of the game - those initiative cards - fails to shine. With only a few units on the board it's often easy to balance the requirements of going first and ordering the units you need. The thrills and excitement of random activations for the rest only rarely come into play.
Once you've added some more figures to the table top, though, the whole game comes to life. As well as the thrills and spills of initiative and manoeuvre, it showcases Legion's other key card-based innovation. At the start of a game, you deal out three sets of three cards that determine the scenario: objectives, environment and deployment. Players then take turns to eliminate ones they don't like until there's one of each left. It's a great little system that offers a lot of variety while helping prevent too much metagaming. Bringing a one-trick army to the table is dangerous when you don't know what tricks the scenario might call on it to perform.
The trick will be seeing how well Legions adapts and scales to the inevitable releases of new expansions and figures. X-Wing had to be rebooted because of flaws in the original design, although so far Armada is proven more resilient (on the other hand, they’re not releasing as many new ships either). Expansions are definitely coming for Legion – right now it’s a stimulating, streamlined title that walks a fantastic line between miniature and board game. Will the inevitable bloat of new keywords and effects ruin this balance? Only time will tell. Adding more picks to rock-paper-scissors does nothing to improve the game.