Star Wars: Legion (the new miniatures tabletop wargame from Fantasy Flight Games based on the Star Wars IP) dropped this past weekend after months of anticipation. It just so happens I was one of those in anticipation, so I made sure to check it out!
To help orient where these impressions start from, I am not a veteran tabletop wargamer by any stretch of the imagination. I played Warhammer 40K once in the 90s and got trounced. I used to love playing Axis & Allies and I enjoy the occasional game of 2nd Fleet. I can play a mean game of RISK. I play some HeroClix. I’ve played more than my share of video games dealing with tactical warfare…
… aaand I realize none of that matters and I am a ROOKIE with a capital R in the actual tabletop miniatures wargame genre.
I have, however, been waiting to make my entry into minis wargaming when the right game came along that I could get on the ground floor without a massive financial and “years of rules” investment like Warhammer 40K seems to require, so that coupled with the Star Wars IP sold me on trying Star Wars: Legion.
And yes, this is obviously Fantasy Flight Games putting out a Warhammer 40K style game backed up by one of the most well-known and instantly recognizable science fiction and pop culture IPs in the world.
I’ve seen enough Warhammer 40K played over the years to notice the similarities without instantly grasping the intricacies and differences. My guess is that FFG is targeting potential customers like me who want to dip their toe in the miniatures wargaming scene but are reluctant due to the barriers of entry to Warhammer 40K (cost, opponents out there with decades of experience, breadth and depth of unit types and rules to learn, etc.), plus fervent Star Wars fans who may have no interest in Warhammer 40K but get all gooey over the Star Wars miniatures (“Sweet T-47 airspeeder, man… wait is that a game…”).
To put it another way, imagine you have no experience with minis wargaming and you walk into an FLGS looking for something different from a boardgame or tabletop RPG. Warhammer 40K and Star Wars: Legion are in the same aisle. Which will the average person reach out to look at?
Right. May the Force be with your credit card.
As for how crunchy the two games are rules-wise compared to each other, the only thing I can say is that the veteran wargaming dudes I was learning to play with seemed mildly annoyed that Legion uses a 3′ x 6′ playing area and they mentioned some of the Legion mechanics reminded them of Warhammer 40K 7th Edition (seventh. edition. See what I mean about I want a game I can start with?). Don’t ask me for details because I don’t know! My impression is that the Warhammer 40K rules set is crunchier and more varied based on games I have watched, but that’s not to say I feel that Legion is rules lite.
Okay so my experience playing two games, the “learning scenario” game and a full rules game:
The learning scenario has a smaller game space (3’x3′ compared to standard 3’x’6′), you don’t choose your units and you can’t buy add on options for them, and many of the rules like suppression/panic and terrain height aren’t used. The game board is set up exactly how the book instructs you, both units and terrain. All units from both sides of the core set are used.
This scenario teaches you about command cards (a mechanic that can adjust the tempo each turn in your favor if you choose well), activating units, moving units, differences in melee vs ranged vs vehicle units, weapon types and ranges, damage and defense dice mechanics, special actions like aim and dodge, basic terrain mechanics, and game length (6 turns in each game).
The turn counter moves back and forth between players each turn to indicate which player rolls on tie breakers during the command card reveal (this seems to be kind of pointless since the tie breaking roll is 50% either way so it really doesn’t matter who rolls it).
The commander unit is important as they must be within a certain proximity to activate and issue orders to other units on the map. The commanders in the core set default to Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and you can appoint a new commander if your commander goes kablooey.
Three different plastic movement rulers are included, with each end grooved to place unit bases for accurate unit placement after moving. The rulers can turn on a center joint to account for angled movement.
There are also four plastic range rulers that can be connected together into longer rulers, up to four range lengths total. They snap together and back apart easily.
Once combat begins both sides pound on each other until either every unit is removed on one side, or you arrive at the end of turn 6. If use up your turns, the learning scenario has you count who has the most units left on the map. If that’s a tie, you go to point values.
We used up all turns in our game, and I won this scenario as the plucky Rebels mainly because I took out Vader by focusing multiple units on him (the next game I didn’t take him out, much to my ultimate detriment) which gave me the win both by units on the map and point value if it would have come to that.
As a rookie, I feel I grasped the basics well enough and enjoyed the back and forth warfare of the game and the tactics involved. My opponent was experienced at minis wargaming and did most of the initial rules study so I’m sure that helped.
We decided to dig in to the full rules game after one game of the learning scenario.
As with graduating training and landing on a real field of battle, Star Wars: Legion got more complicated immediately while the basic principles remained.
Instead of being told what units to use and where to place them, you shift over to a more standard point buy system and you have more freedom in placing units on the map. With the units available and time in the evening remaining, we chose 600 points (I think the standard for Legion is 800) and built our lists. See, I said list like a real minis wargamer. I rock, baby. Lists.
We added a new unit type for each side, the AT-ST (aka “Chicken Walker”) for the Imperials and the Airspeeder for the Rebels.
Each unit has a basic point value, and then can be upgraded at additional point cost per upgrade. Upgrades (depending on unit type) include extra unit troopers (and special weapon troopers), comms, targeting, abilities, pilots and weapons. Upgrades to any unit are limited by both type they can accept and how many slots they have for accepted types.
In the one standard game I played, I went with fewer units but lots of upgrades per unit and was handily defeated. That could have been my own inexperience rather than an upgrades over units game balance issue.
In addition to the 3′ x 6′ map size, the full rules map also gets complicated by cards that determine legal zones to place units, objectives that introduce victory points, and battlefield conditions such as visibility. These factors are determined by laying a grid of 9 cards out, with three cards for each type and then the players taking turns removing cards until the cards that remain determine the scenario.
For our game we dismissed the objectives because neither of us felt like dealing with them while still in learning mode (plus it was getting late), and after choosing the battlefield condition (limited visibility due to a storm) we promptly forgot to use the limited visibility rules during the entire game. Oopsy.
New rules such as suppression and panic came into play, as well as more command cards (giving players a more varied chance of owning tempo for a turn or disrupting their opponent’s tempo). This can make a difference, as one of my Rebel trooper units was pinned down by suppression for a couple of turns, and the turn that saw the tide shift to my opponent came directly down to the tempo established by the command cards we led the turn with.
UPDATE: Although I didn’t realize it during my initial session, there are also advanced rules for Star Wars: Legion that must be downloaded as a PDF and are not included in the rule book that comes with the core set. I am not familiar at this time with what the advanced rules add and/or change.
The full rules allow for damage on vehicles before they are destroyed. After a certain amount of damage is taken, it’s possible they can suffer movement restrictions and lose upgrades.
Unit facing is important of course… not only does it apply to weapon firing arcs, but I was able to get my T-47 airspeeder directly behind the AT-ST and then pivot (thanks, Wedge!) and unload my blaster cannons directly into a weak spot of that menacing steel gray chicken walker. Another turn I was able to blast the AT-ST with my airspeeder’s forward laser cannons while using my rear weapon (which I had paid points for as an upgrade) to blast away at some stormtroopers.
Alas, it wasn’t enough. Once Darth Vader dealt with his rebellious son Luke the writing was on the wall. My airspeeder and AT-RT were on their last legs and by the time my suppressed troopers rallied it was too late.
Still, very fun.
Overall I enjoyed both the learning scenario and the full rules. Legion is accessible enough that a rookie like me can be up and playing quickly, but crunchy enough for challenge and variation over time. I definitely enjoyed making attack runs on the Imp’s chicken walker with my airspeeder, and literally stepping on stormtroopers with my Rebel AT-RT was incredibly satisfying. I also really like the command card mechanic for gambling on how you can activate your units each turn.
The strategy and tactics of learning and using the units and their weapons and the various rules was the right amount of challenging and fun. There seems to be a good mix of unit types on both sides to keep the game from getting stale as long as new units are introduced fairly regularly. There are already plans for new commanders, such as General Veers and Princess Leia.
You get a lot of cool Star Wars miniatures. I’ve never been a huge fan of mini painting for tabletop RPG games, but maybe I’ll try my hand at this aspect of the hobby as well and give my minis a personal touch. Which will likely make them look ugly as bantha poo, but hey why not right? It will be interesting to see if FFG gets into selling prepainted minis, as long as price wasn’t too much higher I could be definitely interested in that. Regardless, I am sure there will be a cottage industry for stores and individuals to make some extra money painting minis for those that just want to play, not paint.
The minis I played with over the weekend were the core set that the FLGS had already assembled and primered (plus the vehicles we popped open for the full rules match, which were flat gray plastic). During the evening a couple of minis popped off of their bases with not much force applied, and a small fin popped off of a speeder bike, again without a lot of force applied.
The employees said the plastic seemed to be inferior to other minis games, and the cement they normally used wasn’t working well and they recommended super glue. They also said they had to wash all the pieces before applying primer and they had issues with applying primer in general. I’ll take their word for it on the quality of the plastic and painting issues.
It’s also interesting to note that the minimum unit types requirement for a standard rules game CANNOT be met by the units in the Legion core set. Which is kind of jerky. No worries, we did it anyway because we own our own destiny muah ha ha ha!
UPDATE – Received this comment from Jesse Bates on the Star Wars: Legion Facebook group: “One small point – not getting enough for a ‘minimum’ army in the core set is a feature of all miniatures games. FFG isn’t doing anything unusual here. Or, if a core set does include the barest minimum for the force org, it’s a looooooong way from enough to field an army, whereas with SWL you need very little (comparatively) extra to field a full 800 point army.”
One thing I specifically don’t like about Star Wars: Legion is the special dice, which are basically standard d8s and d6s but with special facing schemes. I don’t like games that do this, I never feel what they bring to the system is justified by the extra cost and learning factor of using them.
The FFG Star Wars RPG special dice are the same way for me, nothing they add to the game is worth the tradeoff. I feel like they are just there to have a sell up for the publishing company. Games like Warhammer 40K have used the trusty d6 for decades and that’s a pretty complex game. My guess is Legion could do the same with standard d6s and d8s. The special dice aren’t enough to keep me from playing, but it feels like a cash grab on top of a relatively expensive game and cashes out some of my goodwill for FFG.
Not to end on a negative note, however: overall I’m very glad for the time I spent playing and hope for much more Star Wars: Legion game time. I certainly want this game to grow so I can grow with it and make it my own.
May the dice (and command cards!) be with you.