Prior to beginning this review, I was looking through my growing collection of games which would be familiar to many. It includes wargames, card games, Euro games, dungeon crawls, Ameritrash, dice and so on, as you may expect. What it doesn’t include is a tabletop miniatures wargame, and there’s one very good reason for that; not even one has gripped me enough to want to continue playing it after the first few games, I’ve liked a few but have yet to love one. Sometime in 2017 (I really can’t remember when), I heard that Fantasy Flight Games were releasing such a game, only this one would carry one of, if not the biggest, franchise names that a game could possibly own, that being Star Wars. Having already owned several Star Wars games, my interest was instantly piqued, and I’ve looked forward to Star Wars: Legion’s release ever since. So, for a long time in a reviewer’s house far, far away, I’ve waited with Jedi-like patience to see if I can be tempted to the dark side of gaming. Let’s find out!
Star Wars: Legion takes place during the civil war between the evil might of the Galactic Empire whose forces are led by the fearsome and, let’s be honest, the ultimate bad guy of all: Darth Vader, and the heroic Rebel Alliance who have stumbled across a farm boy from Tatooine named Luke Skywalker. Before we get into the gameplay, we’ll see what we get in the box.
Legion comes with 33 miniatures that include the leaders, two squads of infamous Stormtroopers, two squads of rag-tag Rebel troopers, two 74-Z Speeder bikes and a stolen Imperial AT-RT now used by the Rebel Alliance. The minis are 35mm in height, with the AT-RT standing at double that and the Speeder Bikes sitting in between on mounts to give the impression that they really are flying through the forests of Endor. Each squad of troopers consist of seven minis that include a unit leader, four individually moulded soldiers and two specialist weapons, such as HH-12s (shoulder-mounted rocket launcher) and Ion cannons.
The sculpts of all the minis are fantastic, loaded with detail and with a variety of poses that look even better once painted up. The only complaint that I have with these are that a few of the joints leave gaps, such as Vader’s cloak to his body and some of the troopers’ arms to body; easily resolved but worth pointing out. As with any tabletop miniatures game, terrain plays a massive part in gameplay, and that is recognised by FFG in this core set with the inclusion of 8 nicely detailed plastic barricades. Love to see this, and hats off to FFG for doing so.
Several aspects of Legion are resolved by dice rolling, so it’s no surprise that the game comes with its own set of 15 custom dice: 8-sided attack dice and 6-sided defence dice. Usual complaint with almost every FFG game, they only provide half the amount of dice that is required to be able to play without having to re-roll already thrown dice. This, of course, is to effectively force players into buying the dice pack expansion, which annoys the life out of me and many others, but whilst we continue to buy the extra dice, FFG will continue to sell them to us.
Movement of troops and vehicles in Legion is controlled by movement tools which come in 3 sizes and have a joint in the middle to allow alterations to the left and right. No more tape measures or even those fixed cardboard ones from X-Wing, these tools allow for good maneuverability which will change depending on the unit type. All 3 tools also have different designs, meaning each can be painted uniquely to personalise your game. The fit between tool and base can become too tight once the tool is painted, which is a shame.
There are tons of cards and tokens in the game, also which are at the usual high quality for FFG with good artwork, clear text and symbols that correspond well between the components. Legion comes with a 32-page A4 ‘Learn to Play’, not to be confused with a rulebook which is a living document online. The learn to play is like nearly every other one released by FFG: looks great with loads of art, pictures and diagrams, walks you through the basics which include a learning battle before adding more complex rules and ends with a quick reference guide of the back page. FFG are now in the habit of putting out awesome rule/learn to play/campaign books that it is simply expected now but should not be overlooked.
That’s enough on the components; let’s see how Legion actually works:
Most tabletop games end when one side is completely wiped out or players get bored and call it early. Legion’s gameplay is designed around 12 battle cards which will change deployment zones, battlefield conditions and victory conditions each time you play. This adds a load of replayability and also introduces an interesting tactical battle between players before a single soldier is deployed. This is due to the 3 types of cards being dealt randomly in 3 horizontal rows, players then take turns removing cards which they do not want to use from the left of the rows, and once four cards have been removed, then whichever leftmost card remains in each row is the deployment, condition and victory card that will be used. Due to play styles and army builds, this can be crucial part of the game and can have massive consequences on how the battle will unfold. This is a great way to begin a wargame, and I look forward to more of these battle cards being released whether by FFG or the Legion community.
Overall, I think players will feel very comfortable with Legion, whether they come from a tabletop background, a board gaming background or are entirely new to the hobby. I thought the stripped down rule set of a tabletop game and the comparatively cheap price of the core set allows easy access to the hobby that previously may have been denied to many. I love the back and forth flow of the game, with each phase of play offering a different tactical challenge, from choosing the initial set-up to deployment of units, picking the right activation card for each round and then making off with the unit type that you have drawn randomly out of the bag. Legion is literally a battle with your opponent from start to finish, which I find absolutely brilliant. Due to the activation process, players can really feel a ‘fog of war’ element to the game, and one thing that really stood out to me was trying to get the best out of your commander whilst keeping him in range of you other units to protect them and issue them orders.
I realise that I have called Legion a wargame, but a skirmish game might be more appropriate as you’re likely to be commanding 30 troops rather than many trays of 30. Before the battle players will construct and army using no more than 800 points; this will include troops, vehicles, upgrade cards and special weapons. For example, the legend that is Darth Vader will cost you 200 points, and if you want to equip him with Force Choke, that will be another 5 points, as well as several others which I will not spoil. Whereas a Stormtrooper unit of 4 troopers costs 44 points, it will cost another 11 points to add a 5th trooper and more to add special weapons. As one might have expected, players won’t get a full 800 points from one faction out of the core set, this will require them to buy expansions, but it will easily provide players with more than enough to experience gameplay, I still very much enjoyed the 400 point games that I played (although not as much as the 1,200 point game I have just played).
Once the battlefield is constructed, conditions are set and squads built and deployed, it is time to begin. The game will last no more than 6 rounds and will only end before the 6th round if one faction is wiped out. I’ve heard quotes from designers at FFG saying this would be difficult, but I have seen this on a number of occasions. Rounds are tracked by a round counter which is passed between players between rounds, giving that player priority.
Each player will then look at their hand of battle cards, using one at the start of each round. These battle cards will state the number of order tokens that a player can assign to units and may have special abilities/conditions that accompany them. For example, the generic ‘Standing Orders’ card allows players to issue an order to a single unit, whereas the ‘Assault’ card allows orders to be given to three units. Your Commanders will have their own battle cards which may allow Luke to attack more than once that round, or Vader may decide to choke his own troopers in order for the others to work that little bit harder. Once a card is played, then it is discarded from the game with the exception of standing orders which will always remain in your hand.
These battle cards also have pips on them; the player whose card has the lowest pip value will make the first move that round which can be hugely important, and again, adds another layer of strategy to Legion when deciding the right time to use those low pip cards.
During a unit’s activation, it may do 2 of several actions, although it may only ever attack once (some cards negate this rule). A unit may be moved up to its range twice or take an aim token which allows attack dice to be re-rolled or take a dodge token which helps when defending. A unit may take a recover action which can ‘un-tap’ exhausted upgrade cards and remove suppression tokens. There is also a really cool ‘standby’ action that allows that unit to lay in wait for an enemy to get too close then attack outside of its normal activation. These are the basic actions, although the extended online rulebook offers more.
Players can’t simply decide to activate a unit as they may wish too: In turn order, players activate only one unit until all have been used or destroyed. For those units that have not been assigned an order token, their tokens are placed in a dice bag (or stack) and drawn at random, meaning a lot of the time you will have to improvise or change plans to fit with which unit you have drawn, again throwing that bit of randomness in there and adding to the strategy level. Play will continue in this manner until the end of the 6th round when the victory condition will be scored. This could be to control certain battlefield objectives or to break through the enemy lines.
Before going into my summary, I want to talk about certain aspects of Legion which I have not already covered, the first being suppression. Any trooper unit that comes under fire could receive a suppression token, and this can help in the first instance as it may increase that unit’s cover value which negates hits against them. However, each unit that is suppressed must Rally when they activate which can cause them to receive one less action that round if they fail the dice role. Too much suppression and the unit could panic, meaning they will run towards the edge of the table. Commanders can increase a unit’s courage value (how much suppression it can take), but I won’t delve into that now.
The units themselves are incredibly thematic: Stormtroopers would struggle to hit a Star Destroyer at 10 paces, but their armour gives them good defence, whereas the lighter, more nimble Rebel troopers use heavier attack dice but weaker defensive dice. Also, Vader moves so slow across the battlefield but can absorb hits and even send those blaster bolts right back at the attacker. When he gets close, however, he is an absolute monster who can obliterate a whole squad of troopers in a single attack. Luke darts and jumps across the battlefield, enabling lightning attacks before moving behind cover, but he isn’t as devastating as his father.
Legion uses a ‘true’ line of sight mechanic during combat; basically, if you can see your target from the eyes of the attacker, then you can shoot at it. This brings us on to how cover works which is a massive part of the game and needs to be used correctly if players are to be successful. Cover comes in the form of any in-game terrain, such as barricades, buildings, shrubbery and many others. Terrain will either give miniatures cover 1 or cover 2 which can negate several of the attackers’ hits, meaning cover can be of huge benefit.
FFG have already shown that huge investment has been placed into progressing Legion, with commanders such as Leia Organa and General Veers already announced, as well as core units such as Snowtroopers and Rebel Commandos. They are also trying to fuel the growth of a community with tournament packs encouraging a competitive arena. As we all know, FFG will pump out as many expansions as we will buy, so based on previous experience and the hype of release, it doesn’t appear that Legion will be fading away anytime soon, something I am most thankful for.
Designer: Alex Davy
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Release: March 2018