Writing this review was kind of weird for me. I felt a similar pressure starting as I did when I penned my highly opinionated – albeit heavily considered – reflective on The Last Jedi.
Star Wars has a tendency to polarise opinions one way or the other. The irony of that isn’t lost on me at all and I hope it isn’t for the super fans, although I suspect it is.
A double dose of irony, like a double espresso is enough to make anyone on edge.
The timing of Star Wars Legion couldn’t be more opportune for Fantasy Flight Games. It’s at a time when Star Wars has never generated so much money but has also never been more divisive.
With the early reviews of Solo: A Star Wars Story as mixed as a bag of liquorice all sorts we can expect the fanbase to get their collective panties in a wad things might start to rupture.
Use the Force(s)
So just as well then that a tapletop wargame should appear on the scene that allows fans to recreate battles for the Galactic Civil War. Or, as most people around my age will claim – the proper Star Wars.
It’s no accident that FFG have played it safe with the initial releases because they know that’s where the money is. But – in their defence – it’s also the part of the Star Wars universe that feels the richest.
Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader leading Endor gear Rebel soldiers and classic Stormtroopers oozes broad appeal not to mention a strong awesome factor. I can’t think of a single wargamer I’ve met over the years who isn’t positively erect at the thought of getting to paint and game with 25mm versions of the most recognised hero and villain double act in modern history.
Of course what makes it an even easier sell is we’ve had over 40 years for the characters, weapons and vehicles to become iconic. I mean who wouldn’t want a T-47 or an AT-ST?
Plus the sheer deluge of – albeit defunct – books, comics and video games helped to make the Galactic Civil War and the core characters feel very real. Although Marvel certainly isn’t wasting any time churning out properties that fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. So there’s that too.
For the fans that are still smarting from The Last Jedi and already deriding Solo it’s an opportunity to tell the story the way they want. To play out the civil war the way they want. And that’s fine.
For the rest of us we get to play at being Star Wars heroes and villains without resorting to shoddy cosplay outfits bought off eBay.
Although it goes without saying we’ll still make the appropriate sound effects whenever any of the models do anything.
This is where the fun begins…
Speaking of which – the models are very nice.
The core set comes with Bespin Luke Skywalker, two units of Rebels, a Rebel AT-RT, Darth Vadar, two units of Stormtroopers and two speeder bikes which makes for pretty reasonable starting forces. Plus the deluge of counters, cards and other chuff FFG like to stuff their games with.
There’s no denying the boxset is incredible value when you consider individual unit prices. Two core sets between mates is the absolute best way to start collecting Legion.
I’ve always straddled the fence whenever it came to FFG playing pieces. Although X-Wing and Armada models were amazing, the Rebellion pieces were only okay. I understand the Imperial Assault was a big leap in quality but they are also the company who produced the Horus Heresy game. And those playing pieces were the poor side of average.
To be clear, this ins’t a criticism of any one particularly title more highlighting the inconsistency.
Star Wars Legion however has seen the love.
The models do have limitations however. For a start they aren’t posable. They’re multipart in the sense that you have to glue the arms on but there are 7 Rebel poses and 7 Stormtrooper poses and that’s it.
So if you buy more you’ll end up with an army of identically posed miniatures. This is rather disappointing and I”m not entirely sure what Fantasy Flight were thinking.
This is clearly their first proper foray in to the world of tabletop wargaming (the messy divorce with Games Workshop makes much more sense now) so I guess they’re testing the waters in terms of their capabilities verses expectations.
I suspect most fans are still so hyped up about the game existing at all that they’re willing to forgive a lot. Including the price tag. Those 7 plastic 25mm blokes with set you back £20 or more. That’s Games Workshop money and at least they’re properly multipart and 30mm.
However the level of detail is pretty good (not stonking but good enough) and the casting quality is excellent. I genuinely can’t fault that.
I have the core set and an additional squad of Stormtroopers and Rebels and they’re all pretty much perfect. So props to FFG on that.
Ultimately though the lack of variety is going to sting the Rebel players the hardest. Stormtroopers are faceless instruments of the Emperor’s will so beyond the unit leader, ranks of identical soldiers isn’t an issue.
It doesn’t work quite so well for the Rebels and only gets worse when you add in models like the AT-RT as that only comes in one pose too.
Admittedly the are opportunities for conversions and that’s all fine but I’m of the opinion that a conversion should be a choice not a necessity to stop your army from looking like the Stepford Rebels.
It’s made worse by the key cut joints (I fucking hate that) so – again – short of carving up your very expensive models, there is no freedom with poses. I think this is a mistake on the part of Fantasy Flight. Aside from giving games more freedom, sculpting models with flat body and arm joins is both easier and cheaper to produce.
So they kinda screwed everyone with that decision. It feels like FFG thinks of the models more like playing pieces than scale miniatures so to them, lots of repetition isn’t an issue.
Of course it doesn’t impact of the playability of the game but to ensure longevity and engagement Fantasy Flight need to up their game.
Yes it’s Star Wars but they need to recognise they’re breaking into an incredibly saturated market and competing with their former business partner. Who do this sort of thing incredibly well. And has done for decades.
Control, control, you must learn control
Reading the rules I’ll admit to feeling a little frustrated. Fantasy Flight have a really annoying habit of assuming that everyone picking up the rules is – in some way – a moron.
I don’t necessarily think it’s ego because surely they know they’ve written a really straight forward – albeit poorly written – game. However, they felt the need to split the rules into a ‘learning battle’ section and ‘advanced rules’.
First of all – they’re not advanced rules. Advanced rules implies they are in some way optional. If you want to play the game correctly you need to read the whole thing. That’s a fact. Secondly it actually makes the game harder to understand by explaining the rules only to then discover an entire list of rules that tie in with them.
Except their not in a logical order. They did it with X-Wing and it was annoying as balls then too.
On the basis that the wargaming hobby is incredibly well established with millions of gamers around the world enjoying hundreds – if not thousands – of rules sets far more complex than Legion or X-Wing, it’s safe to assume that a traditional lay out works fine. That is to say all the movement rules in the movement section, all the shooting rules in the shooting section etc.
It’s not that the rules are overly complicated, it’s just easier to read all the related rules in one place. It also makes it much easier to find rules for reference.
I do understand then motive to make the game easy to learn but the assumption is that the game is hard to learn in the first place. Which it isn’t.
Although the annoyance goes deeper because there’s a 50 page PDF of complete rules which not only includes rules not in the core box rules – which means you have to read it – it’s better written. So having spent some time trying to fully understand certain sections of the rules I have, there was a better version on the internet.
I would have gladly paid slightly more money to get a book of the complete rules in with the box.
Star Wars Legion works on alternating activations – which seems fairly common practise these days – activating a single squad, character or vehicle and carrying out two actions each.
Fairly predictably those actions are move, shoot, melee, dodge and a couple of others.
This is nothing particularly groundbreaking but that’s absolutely fine. FFG have a penchant for needlessly complicating things for no obvious reason so this is joyous.
Where it gets fruity is – unless a unit receives an order from a hero – the units activate in a random order. This may seem a bit mental but it actually keeps things really balanced. No army can steam roller another because there is an added layer of unpredictability.
It also forces you to keep your eye on achieving the objective because you can never fully rely on the combat effectiveness of your army. It also makes the inclusion and use of heroes significantly important – but more on that in a bit.
One of the coolest things about Legion is the set up rules. Much like 40k’s Open War deck, Legion uses deployment, objective and condition cards to keep the game interesting.
The nice thing is that these cards are always drawn after you’ve set up the board forcing you to to think on your feet. It also stops people from covertly setting up the board in a way that’ll favour them, because the deployment card could properly spoil your day.
The important thing to remember here is that Legion isn’t like 40k or – in fact – most other table top wargames. It isn’t about kick as much face as possible, it’s about achieving mission objectives.
After all the plucky Rebels lacked the military might to take the Empire head on. All of the engagements were chosen carefully…or reluctantly.
The emphasis on achieving your mission keeps players on their toes and encourages balanced force building.
Of course units and characters have various upgrades available to them to give that competitive edge. What’s cool is that some upgrades are only available to specific unit types which elegantly prevents units or models from becoming overpowered.
Legion also has a command phase.
I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of skipping over phases like this in games because they usually add very little and slow down the rate of play.
However in Legion it’s actually pretty important and rather elegantly represents the chaos of war and the limited yet powerful influence a single hero can have on the outcome of the game.
In Star Wars victories have always been down to great leaders on both sides whether it’s General Veers on Hoth or Han on Endor. Okay, he had help from the Care Bears but you get my point.
As such heroes play an important role in Star Wars Legion. They are unusually capable warriors but also bring with them skills to augment the soldiers around them.
More immediately they are able to issue orders to units within ranges 1-3. This is significant because any unit given an order by a hero can activate when you choose rather than in a random order as described earlier.
The dilemma then becomes about how to use them. It’s almost like fighting a war is hard or something…
The rules for moving are simple in so far as a model has a movement value and you can move that model or unit of models up to the stated value. This is groovy and fairly standard across most – if not all – games.
However rather than using good old reliable inches or centimetres, Legion uses a sodding measuring tool. This was fine in X-Wing and Armada because abstracting space combat is hard and generalising movements of either tiny tiny snubfighters or slightly less tiny warships in this way works.
For Legion it seems unnecessarily restrictive and awkward as balls on a busy tabletop. Hilariously FFG even acknowledge this by specifically stating that – when circumstances prevent players placing the movement tool on the board – it can be held over the model instead of in base contact. So why not use a sodding tape measure and make everything easier for everyone?
In fairness it does makes sense for the vehicles as some – such as walkers – are naturally clumsy and difficult to manoeuvre but it feels like the rules make a concession in the wrong direction in the interests of consistency.
The reality is that most of the time you won’t bother to use the movement tool properly – at least not for the infantry because there’s just no point.
Shooting and Melee
These rules are actually pretty cool as they’re simple and requires involvement from both players so between that an alternating activations, no one ever really gets the chance to be idle in the game.
The attacker simply rolls dice for every model firing which keeps shooting simple yet satisfying. Some weapons get more than one dice but as a base line you get a roll for every model on the board more or less.
You can buff this by spending an action aiming at your target or with upgrades. The right up grades and the right combination of actions can make units utterly savage in a fight.
The defender then rolls defence dice to discount hits. This can augmented by upgrades, character bestowed buffs and cover. The cover rules aren’t brilliantly defined in the standard rules I’m pretty sure at one point they contradict the line of sight rules but hey-ho.
Any unsaved hits are translated to wounds and models are either removed as casualties or accumulate damage – such as vehicles.
Where it gets cool though is being shot at – even if no one dies – earns your unit a suppression token. Earn too many and you lose an action. This presents a really interesting tactical element – on top of all the others – as you’re constantly forced to choose between resting your models or pressing the attack.
Whilst resting for an action removes a suppression token, you can give your opponent room to breathe. It’s a simple yet highly effective way of adding in psychology without it being a massive faff.
Melee works more or less the same way. I’m giving it as much attention as the rules do purely because most thing are armed with blasters. Yes you can charge Luke or Darth into combat and when they do it’s hilarious but they are very much in the minority. This game is all about blaster death.
The mechanic makes the game feel very fast and doesn’t allow you to stop and think. Considering engagements in Legion are meant to be relatively small scale and objective based, this keeps the pressure on and gives the game a sense of authenticity when compared to the movies.
Shooting does, however, require a range ruler, much like moving. Again, I fail to see how a range ruler would be better than a tape measure and makes less and less sense as you work your way up the levels of destructive potential of the weapons you employ.
Whilst I accept that a laser bolt can be less effective over distance, the kind of distances we’re talking about in the average game of Legion doesn’t make any sense.
Especially when you consider that the laser cannons on a T-47 Airspeeder have a significantly longer range than any given hand held weapon. It could be argued that because of the speed they’re moving at – which isn’t that far because that’s limited too – that it can only effectively target units at close range.
This is of course utter bollocks and limiting both movement and range will inevitably make certain units identical in all but name.
I’ve seen it happen before with games like Dystopian Wars. When the mechanic doesn’t have enough flex then inevitably points of difference become arbitrary in an effort to appear original.
When you consider how powerful the laser cannons are, limiting the range could be a way of preventing it from being overpowered but it still doesn’t make sense. There are more logical ways of making a unit balanced but the mechanic doesn’t allow for it.
However this a relatively minor bug bear when you consider the overall experience and the fact that Fantasy Flight aren’t intending this to be anything close the kind of games Warhammer 40,000 can support. At least not yet.
That doesn’t mean they’re not going to release all of the things – especially as the fans will want 25mm scale Y-Wings for bombing runs and T-16s to bullseye womp rats. They’re only human after all.
With this in mind the mechanic may have been better suited to a 15mm game instead of 25mm.
From a certain point of view
You’d be forgiven for thinking that I don’t like Legion very much.
There are things wrong with the game. Aside from a poorly laid out and written rule book, the movement and shooting distances are too limiting. This will undoubtedly cause problems with scalability in the medium to long term.
I can see what they were trying to do but if you want to keep things simple then actually keep them simple, abstracting an abstract is dumb.
There are also other ways you can prevent units from being overpowered.
In reality these rules don’t ruin the game but inevitably there will be balancing issues that will mean – like X-Wing – models coming with their own set of rules because they simply won’t work any other way.
However, those grievances aside, Star Wars Legion is a very fun game.
It’s as expensive as balls but there’s no ignoring the fact that you get to field an army of Rebels against an army of Stormtroopers. That’s hella cool.
The mechanic itself, with the random activation element, the balanced importance of characters and the slick dicing make for a fast paced game that really makes you work hard.
The set up deck and the heavy emphasis on objectives over blasting everything you see actually makes you play for the win rather than resorting to overwhelming force.
This makes it a very difficult game to power game with. This is good news. Although the range is still evolving so that could change.
Of course blasting your opponent to oblivion is always an option but you won’t necessarily win the game in the process.
What would be cool is an expansion deck with objectives and mission types around certain formations and types of terrain. It’ll prolong the life expectancy of the game and incentivise Gale Force 9 and 4Ground to make Legion scenery other than rocks and the industrial stuff.
One of the great things about the Star Wars Universe is the sheer variety of alien environments so the hobby element from a scenery board making point of view is endless.
This is particularly good as a rule set needs to do more than be a great game. It needs to inspire great games to be played. Playing over a Tatooine settlement is one thing, busting stuff to look tough on Mustafar is quite another.
To get the most out of Star Wars Legion you have to accept its odd quirks and limitations and take it for what it is: a fast and fun objective driven Star Wars strategy game.
For those use to playing games with more depth this could be frustrating but equally its overarching simplicity means it won’t take you as long to learn, master or play. Once you’ve got the rules down you can play a decent sized game in just a couple of hours. Including all the time spent making ‘pew pew’ noises.