21st Mar2018

‘Star Wars Legion’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

sw-legion-box

Whilst I must admit that I was a little bit surprised when I first saw the announcement for Star Wars Legion, that surprise soon turned into excitement when I realised that a battalion level miniatures game was in the offing. Although it shares a few concepts with other Fantasy Flight Games set in the Star Wars universe (specifically Imperial Assault) it has a grander scale, requires no board and delivers a number of hobby features. In particular, the miniatures are of a higher standard and require a degree of assembly (including gluing) that is unusual among FFG products.

The game itself will be immediately familiar to fans of any other miniatures combat game, with probably Warhammer 40k from Games Workshop being the most similar both in the way it looks and in how some of the movement, cover and firing mechanics work. In terms of the technical complexity of game play, Star Wars Legion is pretty close to modern 40k, although I would probably be willing to argue that it is perhaps slightly more straightforward and a little bit faster to play. It’s a fine margin though, that may even be because the core box that I am reviewing has relatively few complex characters and units to come to terms with.

As with all games of this sort, Star Wars Legion begins with players forming their armies based on a set number of points. The core box includes two opposing forces (the Imperials led by Vader and the Rebels led by Skywalker) that cap out at around 500 points each, although some flexibility is available thanks to different weapon loadouts, special powers and so on. The general consensus is that for a proper game of Star Wars Legion, you’ll need around 800 points per army, so players are certainly encouraged to invest in some of the add-on packs (such as the already available AT-ST or the Snowspeeder). Another option, of course, is simply to invest in a second core box.

Once the battle is joined, unit movements and actions are determined using order cards and then the creation of a randomised pool. The manual (and Rodney Smith’s excellent Watch it Played! video) both explain the nuances of order cards in a level of detail that I won’t go into here, but what you do need to know is that each army has one or more commanders (just Vader and Skywalker in the core box) who each bring their own specific order cards to the game, with various strengths and weaknesses.

Each order has a different priority that is indicated by a number of pips on the card. More powerful effects tend to be slower, whilst quicker ones will affect less units and offer less opportunity to modify the standard rules for movement and action. This is important, because once order cards are resolved (which involves placing tokens on the ordered units) then a token for every other unit is randomised and placed in a pile – so aside from units that receive specific orders, the players will not know which of their units will activate next.

In the core box (I have no idea what’s coming next) there are basically three kinds of unit known as Troopers, Ground Vehicles and Repulsor Vehicles. Movement for trooper units is quite straightforward and is based on using one of the included range rulers. Ground and repulsor vehicles are slightly more complex, with rules for circumstances like passing through ground units or moving fast (and potentially crashing) for example. All the same though, they still use the included range rulers based on a clearly identified pip system shown on the associated unit card. Range rulers always slot cleanly into the base of vehicle models to make moving them easy, whilst trooper unit movement is based around measuring movement for the lead mini and then placing all support units within a specific range.

On most turns (and in most cases) a unit can both move and take an action (like firing) in a single turn, or they can move twice as far and take no action. When the shooting starts, Star Wars Legion offers a refreshing simple set of rules that adhere almost perfectly to common sense, with complexity only rearing its head in very infrequent situations. Firing on a unit is a simple case of rolling a number of appropriately coloured dice as shown on the unit card for the unit that is firing. The defending unit rolls defense dice to cancel hits and takes wounds equal to any shortfall.

Of course, this is a miniatures game, so the equation is almost never that simple. Firstly, most units have one or more weapons that affect the basic dice roll in some way – for example among a trooper unit, there may be special weapons to either add into the roll or roll separately for, whilst vehicles can have more than one weapon. Hits, critical hits and surges can appear on the dice and much as they do in Imperial Assault, each can mean different things to different units – including sometimes nothing. Similarly, some defending units have special effects that are dice dependent as well.

Star Wars Legion also features a straightforward (at least where the core set is concerned) cover system that simply negates one or two hits depending on some sensible rules for what constitutes light or heavy cover. There are other effects that can alter the effectiveness of either attacking or defending, such as aim tokens, dodge tokens, suppression and panic. As you can imagine, panic will cause units to retreat towards the nearest table edge, whilst rally effects and the presence of nearby leaders can prevent this from happening.

Ultimately, the winner of each battle will be determined based on the completion of agreed objectives as stated on a set of included cards, by defeating the enemy army or as the result of various tie breaking scenarios that occur at the end of the sixth round of play, should the game reach that point. I’ve played relatively few games of Star Wars Legion at this point because I wanted to publish this review before the game launches, but of those I have played, it seems that games that relate to the core box only have a decent chance of being resolved within the six round limit.

Materially reducing or destroying one side is definitely a likely scenario, especially given that I have no scenery to use beside from the standing barricades included in the box. Should you wish to use your own scenery, then the rules can accommodate a wide range of terrain types, buildings, wooded areas and so on, which should make the Star Wars Legion system very appealing to gamers with an existing collection of terrain pieces. The fact that barricades are included in the core box suggests to me that official scenery will be available, though I can’t confirm it either way.

To summarise, Star Wars Legion is a very good game that does absolutely nothing wrong. It has some excellent miniatures and a very sensible rule system that makes it easy to learn and logical to manage even when the battlefield situation gets complex. I haven’t discovered any rules that I found to be at odds with common sense yet and I quite like the way that the order cards offer a degree control before the chaos of battle takes over and other units simply move under their own initiative.

If I were to criticise Star Wars Legion at all, I would probably suggest that 33 miniatures is a bit stingy for the recommended retail price, especially given that the expectation is set that a second core box or some further expansions are basically needed to complete a full scale game. Saying that, the inclusion of barriers is nice and the cards, tokens, dice and supporting components are all good. Even whilst I stand by this minor criticism, it certainly shouldn’t be something that puts anyone interested in the idea of a Star Wars miniatures game off - Star Wars Legion looks like a sensible long term investment and even based on what the core set contains, it is very enjoyable.

**** 4/5

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