Am I saying that it's a perfect experience? No, hardly any game will ever be perfect, and I'll get into that, but I do think it's one of the best gaming experiences you can get at the moment, if you don't mind doing the whole hobby thing or if you at least enjoy Star Wars to some extent.
The main positive points I want to discuss are:
- List Building
- Initiative and Priority
- Game Mechanics
- Ease of Rules
- Mission Design
- Cost of Entry
The negative points I'm going to bring up are:
- Quality and Availability of Sculpts
- Accessibility of Rules
- Lack of official List Builder
- Upgrade Card Hunting
- Unique Characters Galore
- Suppression Tokens, Suppression, and Panic
Before we get into it though, I had to split this article up into two parts. I didn't expect this to be as massive as it turned out to be. To help with digestion and to make it a bit easier on the eyes, I've broken this up into two parts. The first part will be what I like about Star Wars Legion and part two will be about the things I don't like.
|We'll come back to this little rascal|
Some of you may or may not know this, but after I started PoR up again, I've been playing a LOT of games with my significant other. In fact, she helped bring me back into tabletop gaming after I went on a bit of a hiatus. However, one thing she absolutely loathes about playing these miniature wargames is list building. She hates trying to nit-pick a perfect list, micro-manage units, upgrades, and whatever else to meet some arbitrary points limit. To me that's the fun! Trying to brew up the perfect list that balances all of the meta things you need to consider while also trying out something unique each time. It's like putting together an elaborate puzzle. She looks at me like I'm some kind of idiot because that is the opposite of fun for her. List building in Legion, though, is something she actually enjoys. Yeah, the person who hates list building enjoys list building when it's Legion. Of course, this doesn't mean she does it for fun or when she gets free time, but she doesn't whine or ask me to finish a list for her whenever we sit down to play. She just does it. I think that speaks volumes about the quality of a game when someone who loathes a certain aspect can actually enjoy it.
That's because of several reasons, but mostly because she doesn't feel obligated to meet the points limit. She doesn't -have- to micromanage her points to reach the points limit or feel like she's gimping herself. If she's feeling a little lazy that day, she can skip out on trying to micromanage to the limit and be 7 points short and not feel like she's already at a disadvantage. In fact, she gets an advantage for it. This is what is termed as a bid; the points bid to see who gets to pick first player and use their battle cards (mission, condition, and deployment). And, to be honest, we use hers a lot of the time because of that! We'll get into this a bit more in part two, but using your own decks helps you win the game before you even put models onto the table because you can tailor these decks to be optimized with your list.
Another point she likes about the list building is how straightforward it is. You need your obligatory leader (Commander), regular troops (Corps) and then can take certain quantities of the other types of units. If you've played Warhammer in any fashion this will be familiar to you. However, Legion's unique take is clearly presenting to you what kind of upgrades each unit can take. It's like a checklist of cool stuff each unit can take without having to read lines of text or trying to figure out if/then conditions like: "if you take this heavy weapon, you can't take this comms upgrade". It's clear cut.
|Captains and Specialists are powerful upgrades, but choose wisely!|
Lastly, almost all upgrades are universal, which helps with familiarity and making lists in the future. It's not an impossible task of trying to remember unique upgrades for each unit in the game or forgoing upgrades entirely. It's recognizing that this little symbol means "Training" and I like the "Hunter" training upgrade, so I'll toss that on. Or, seeing the "Coms" symbol and realizing that since this unit will be far ahead of the bulk of your army, you might want to attach "Long-Range Comlink". Which brings me to my next point:
Which reminds me, another superb part about list building in Legion is the way combos work. Very rarely do you build up a lean mean death star machine, but it's more like a well-oiled machine. Rather than some monster combo like in Warmachine/Hordes and Warhammer games, it's more like an excellent (and fair) deck in Magic the Gathering. You help your units become more efficient at doing their jobs and not more efficient at wiping away your opponent's agency. Plus, when you add on an upgrade of the same Keyword to a unit, instead of it being null, it stacks...just like Lincoln Logs!
But most importantly, Legion actually allows players to build a list and micromanage what they put in. Rather than putting in Stan the Barbarin (*shrug* I have no idea what this pertains to, but please play along) with a preset list of abilities that cannot be changed at all, or Wazloo the Necromancer who has a full book page of different upgrades to take that all have different and unique game-altering effects, you have Legion in the middle. Being able to micromanage a list and not feel over- or underwhelmed with options is one thing I really appreciate about list building in Legion and my significant other agrees.
Initiative and Priority
Out of every game I have ever played, this is almost always the weakest part of it. It's established with some irrelevant dice roll, established by irrelevant rules that will never be important again, or some stupid thing like "who pooped most recently gets to go first". It's been a lackluster part of gaming for years and no on ever tried to innovate with the idea much, just taking the fact that it'll be lame no matter what, so let's get it over with as soon as possible. This is probably Legion's most unique and innovative component and the one thing that had me on the fence about the game since it came out (besides the first few sculpts being quite poor). But before we break it down, I want to touch more on that bidding concept I mentioned above.
"We're using my Cards, so Deal with it!"
Like I've already said, when building a list you can decide how important it is for you to use your battle cards and establish the flow of the game. Is it so important that you want to gamble 15 points and know you will almost definitely beat out your opponent, but be short of 15 points when your opponent brought a full list? Or, would you rather be only 5 points short, so you don't lose too much, but you still might have a chance to use your own battle decks? This kind of meta game is brilliant and adds a lot of depth to the game, but that's not where it stops either.
As the player with the highest bid, you get to decide if you want to use your battle cards or your opponent's (duh, your own, but the option is nice to have), deciding then who becomes the "blue" and "red" players which is important for picking deployment zones and sometimes the mission itself. There are three decks: mission, deployment, and condition. When making these decks you get to pick four out of the whole selection of cards and primarily you want to focus on cards that are the least disadvantageous for the list that you're playing. Once your decks are done (these are compiled during the list building step not right before you play, but I didn't want to bloat that section anymore), you then draw three cards out of each deck and put them in order, meaning that even though you have control on what cards you use for your decks, you are not guaranteed any particular card. Then this is when things get really interesting! You now go back and forth with your opponent eliminating cards trying to play a mind game with them to create the perfect line-up for your list to play against your opponent's list. So, again, just because you created the decks does not mean you are guaranteed to play the mission setup that you want to play. Once this is all done, you finally deploy and setup any other things on the table as needed and deploy your units, etc. etc. Pretty standard stuff, but then, right before you start the first round is probably one of my favorite mechanics Legion has....
Let me set the scene; you have a hand of seven command cards with a 4-pip, two 3-pips, two 2-pips, and 2 1-pips. You want to go first to lay down some long range fire to cripple those weak Rebel scum before they get a chance to move, but the catch here is that your 1-pips, the cards that almost guarantee you go first, only allows you to order troopers or specific characters. The thing you want to activate first is your AT-ST, so you can't use those! So, do you gamble on using the 2-pip that states units and hope you don't tie and result to the die roll to determine first player or that your opponent played a 1-pip? Choices, choices, which do you pick?!
Side tangent: This is another beautiful part of this game. You constantly have to think about what you're doing. Very rarely are there times when you should always do this and always do that, as the game involves so many choices that you must make and so many risks that you take, it's beautiful. That's the one thing I loved about playing Infinity: the Game, constantly having to think about your decisions and doing risk assessments; however, Legion encapsulates this idea better. While yes, there are a lot of choices to be made and consequences to suffer, it's a far more forgiving system. Just because you took a riskier play and it didn't pay off, doesn't mean you lost your best unit to a lucky shot you're pretty much screwed now. No, it just means your opponent has a bit of an advantage and you'll need to come up with a different plan. Sure, you didn't get to go first with your AT-ST, but at least now you can active Veers and buff that AT-ST to make it have some stronger shots. It provides you with choices that don't brutally punish you, similar to the differences of a rogue-like vs. a rogue-lite. Now, back on topic....
Again, this is done as part of the list building process and I didn't include it there because I mostly play Republic with one commander, so it's pretty uneventful for me at the moment. However, dabbling a little in the Empire, I can see where this really gets fun during the list building part and another reason why my significant other enjoys building her lists. Each faction has the same three generic 1-3 pip cards available, Empire and Rebels have generic faction -specific 1-3 pips to use, and then EVERY commander and operative has their own suite of 1-3 pips to use, so you get the idea. Even more player agency and choices to make! For example, if you were to play Rebels with Leia, Luke, Sabine, and Chewbacca, you would have six, SIX, 1-, 2-, and 3-pip cards to choose from when building a list! Currently there's only one 4-pip in the game and hence why I didn't mention that.
To elaborate further, your hand of command cards dictates the initiative priority and determines who/what you can assign orders to. As slightly explained in the example above, you can decide how important going first is when compared to have a better control over what units you get to activate and when as well as whether you need or want that command card's ability during that turn. Yeah, those little command cards? They do three things, actually: help you gamble for player priority that round, dictate which units get orders, and apply the command card's effect. If you were disappointed at the idea that almost all units have the same abilities as each other, so what makes unique characters unique, these command card abilities do exactly that.
Like I said in the intro, Legion isn't an entirely new system, it doesn't buckle the system of miniature wargaming, but it does remold it. It takes some of the more interesting and core parts of several games and melds them into an homage of the genre that I personally feel blends everything into one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had. I personally think the bulk of the innovations of this game comes in the form of pre-game rather than during the game, but that doesn't mean it isn't an excellent game to play! It just means that you've probably seen most of these mechanics in other games and personally, I'm fine with that. That's what helps with the accessibility of the game, which we'll discuss more in part two.
To me though, as someone who's only played a demo of Bolt Action and the one thing I dreaded the most about Legion, the best game mechanic is the order system. When I first saw this in action in a learn to play video about Legion over a year ago when I thought about getting into it, I turned the video off, shook my head, and said "Nah, that's not for me. I'm good". Ironic really, because now it's one of my favorite game mechanics of all times and let me explain why.
At this point you're probably wondering what I mean by issuing orders to your units, if you're unfamiliar with Legion. You might be thinking about some historical game, like Bolt Action, where you're creating a plan in advance and then executing it in alternating order with your opponent. Well...yeah, pretty close actually.
As mentioned above, you use command cards to dictate how many orders your going to place that turn, as well as a few special rules that might help you mitigate the process or add in more orders than you normally would be able to. Krennic's Death Trooper Entourage ability always allows you to issue an Order to a unit of Death Troopers even if you played a command card that normally would only allow you to issue an order to Krennic. The B-1 battle droids are another great example of this, with their Coordinate ability. This means that anytime a B-1 unit would be issued an order, they immediately issue an order to another B-1 unit and the best part is you can just keep going until they are all issued orders! The important part about issuing orders is then you can activate these units whenever it's your turn. You don't have to activate them first, you don't have to wait until every other unit has activated. The order only means that you have the option to have a choice when you do use them.
|Get those Entourage orders from Krennic!|
You're probably wondering right about now, 'what about the rest of my units that were never issued an order' and that's a great point. The rest of the un-issued orders then form your order pool. When it's your turn you have the choice to either use a unit who's been issued an order or to draw from the order pool and then activate a corresponding unit type. Do note that each order token denotes a class of a unit, so not a specific unit name or a broad spectrum of units. For example, you're playing Republic and your list has Rex, 6 Phase I clones, and 2 BARC Speeders (one of my typical lists). You issue an order to Rex using his 1-Pip command card, so now you have an order pool with 6 Corps and 2 Support. This can lead to some really interesting mechanics when you play a more diverse faction and need to ensure a certain unit activates, but don't play the right command card to issue it an order. Take the same list above and play a command card that lets you issue an order to three units, so this time you issue an order to Rex and the two BARCs. Now your entire order pool are Corps tokens, so when it's your turn you have the choice to activate any of the BARCs, Rex, or any of your Phase I's, but wait, how do you know you can activate any of the Phase 1's? Because any token you draw from the order pool can be used to activate any Phase I unit. Again, it comes down to those choices and the multiple layers this game provides...kind of like onions and ogres.
"Wait, I don't have to measure from each model, heck yeah!"
You can probably discern from the descriptive heading what this is about, but let me explain the beauty of this mechanic. In Legion, ranges and movements are all measured from the unit leader (or the model itself if it's a unit with one model). This was another one of those mechanics I thought I was going to hate as I hate having to check for unit coherency and shuffling models around to make sure they don't stray too far from the leader seemed tedious and ridiculous to me.
However, after playing around 23 games of Legion (regular and skirmish), I can say I actually don't mind it. The idea of measuring from the unit leader and then placing the rest of the units in coherency helps speed the game up and remove a lot of the tedious work of shuffling every little model 6" or trying to slice those pies. Plus, it still adds some depth to how you place them. Sure, at first you might think about placing all of the big guns in the front, like I first did, but then you're hamstringing yourself. As I said, range is measured from unit leaders, so if your unit leader is behind all of your big guns, but your opponent has their unit leader in front, then they actually have a range advantage. "Oh, okay, PoR, well obviously I'll put the leader in front and everyone behind them". Good retort, but again, if you put the unit leader in front it's possible it might be one of the only models in the unit your opponent can draw line of sight too and they'll be one of the first models to go ka-poots (but since unit leaders are important for the unit, you'll just replace any other generic model with the unit leader model as they're now promoted, yay). or the unit won't receive cover as the rest of the unit isn't properly placed to receive cover.
While range is measured from unit leaders, line of sight is from each individual model, so you can't exactly hide your heavy weapons and keep using them. This also means that you can't only have the heavy weapons and leader standing out from behind cover as they'll be the first ones to heave over. You can only shoot with what can see and you can only kill what can be seen. So, sure, range and distance is measured from the unit leader, but the rest of the models in the unit aren't arbitrary either. They still play an important role and honest, it looks pretty cinematic on the table too when you have a unit with a Z-6 and you're outside range, so you keep them hidden, but then when you move the unit and you know you're in range to spray some laser bullets, the Z-6 trooper sprints ahead of the rest of the unit and starts enacting Space Opera law.
Addition is Fun!
Another wonderful mechanic and design choice Legion takes is another mechanic that helps streamline the miniature gaming experience (this might be a trend). Picture this, you have a squad of folks ready to demolish the enemy unit, but they stop right before they shoot to argue about who should shoot first to optimize damage and killing potential. Should the rocket launchers fire first to ensure a few models die or should the small arms fire to soften the target up in hopes that the rockers can kill even more? Or, you have a squad of another kind of folks who want their squad leader to shoot at a target and instead of using their own heavy weapon, they pull out a similar weapon to the unit leader, even though they only brought one type of the leader's gun, and provide some fire support against the same target as the squad leader even though they're 6 feet away and can't see the target. Sure, you think, it doesn't make sense in the universe, but it works mechanically, so that's just the way things should be.
Nah, Legion has a better idea. All weapons of a unit, if chosen to be fired together at the same target, add ALL of their special effects and weapon dice. No weapon is left behind in Legion, as every single weapon gets to be used and it doesn't matter in which order because they're used at the same time. This is another prime example of how synergy is the name of this game. You take a Snowtroper unit with a flamethrower, which is a range one weapon. A great idea would be to load that same unit up with grenades since they're usually also range one and see what kind of hilarious keyword smash ups you can create! Or, do you even bother worrying about getting more weapon keywords and use it to increase the effectiveness of the rest of the unit's weapons for when you get the flamethrower in range one, allowing them better attack dice? I have no idea, but you probably should at least take some kind of grenade...or do you not take the grenade and use that as a bid...?
Of course, you might be thinking, "that just sounds kind of overpowered, especially if you can pile up all kinds of broken offensive keywords and steamroll the opponent's defense" and yes, that would be correct. I want you to recall though that each unit can only take one heavy weapon, so you only get the weapon keywords the unit originally started with (which is very rare), the heavy weapon's, and the grenade's (if you so choose). This means you won't be adding up a whole lot of crazy keywords to do some mega combo hits, but you can add in a few little things here and there to make the standard weapons of the unit pack a bit meaner punch.
It's also worth noting that yes, you can obviously shoot every model in a unit at a target unit, but you can also split fire. You can't split an entire weapon pool up (i.e. you can't shoot two standard rifles at one unit and three standard rifles at another, all rifles have to shoot the same target), but different weapons can be shot at different units; however, if you do this, then the weapon keywords no longer add up. If you shoot your Supressive mortar at one unit and your regular rifles at another unit, only the unit hit by the mortar suffers from the Suppressive keyword. This does mean that if a unit has a heavy weapon, and grenades, you can potentially shoot three different units and apply Suppression tokens to three different units and that's just mean. Of course you then lose the chance on stacking three weapons worth of keywords for one mega attack, but what can I say? Legion offers you a lot of options, all of which are good ones, and it's down to you to decide which one is best for the situation.
Ease of Rules
This has been briefly touched upon in the other sections, so I won't beat it to death here like a Taun-Taun on Hoth, but I do think it's important to iterate. If you've ever played a miniatures game before, then Legion will be no monstrous change for you, but it will feel vaguely familiar. It's kind of like if you really enjoy authentic burritos and then you decide to try some Korean BBQ burritos; you know it'll contain the same basic concepts and components, but the real meat and potatoes will be different and what you'll come back for.
Being easy to pick up and play is one of the main strengths of Legion, especially when most of the keywords you'll need to familiarize yourself with on printed on the cards themselves, again very similar to how MtG uses its keywords. I would like to take a moment and point out that not EVERY single keyword is explained on every card and sometimes you might have to reference the Rules Reference Guide to clarify what something means. This is especially true when it comes to unit keywords which are never explained on the cards themselves (i.e. Clone Trooper or Creature Trooper). This does somewhat tarnish the ease and accessibility of the rules, but that's for when we get into the negatives. I only brought it up now to be honest at face value and not try to hide it in a negative section.
The tiny little starter rulebooks you get from the starter sets are actually pretty decent at breaking down the core rules and organizes them quite conveniently with a basic and advanced rules section. Surprisingly for a game of this genre, I didn't find myself having to flip through pages and pages to read one tiny obscure paragraph in a section that barely pertained to the rule I was looking for. Reading straight through the rulebook is like reading an excellent story plot of rules that doesn't involve any plot holes. Again though, another weakness I'll slightly touch on is that these rule books are the core rules of the game, or whatever you want to call them. They hardly touch on every rule or keyword in the game, so you will need to download the Rules Reference Guide and refer to that, which is a bit more of your typical wargame disaster to navigate, unfortunately.
I've always found missions in miniature gaming to be lackluster, pale ideals of what the games potential could truly create. Have the most models stand here, have the most models kill some stuff, have the most models do this, blah blah blah. Honestly, it really burned me out and what led to my tabletop gaming hiatus. Yeah, sure, I could design my own missions to do what I had envisioned, and I did, but hardly anyone wants to play homebrews. Games could have some really fantastic mechanics, aesthetics, and lore, but then be ruined by utterly dull mission designs. Or the opposite was true, a game could be great in every other way, but then the mission would be so ridiculously convoluted and over the top, it felt more like I was playing against the mission itself than my opponent. My opponent and I could have had a truce and simply tried to navigate the mission parameters alone and we still wouldn't have been able to score maximum points.
While I don't think Legion's missions are the best, per se, I do think they try to capitalize on that excitement a bit more. Legion's missions are more about capturing and holding things which I think are some of the better mission designs you can have. Forcing players to converge in an area to take and hold an objective leads to some of the most interesting games I've ever had, especially if you have to interact with the terrain piece. Not only that, but it's also a little more cinematic and being cinematic is cool! There really isn't much more to say about the missions themselves; they at least all play differently and force players to deal with their opponent and deal with the mission as well.
Side tangent: If you want to try out a miniature game that I think does a great job with mission variety and doesn't resort to simply changing the conditions of the battlefield to do that, I recommend checking out Marvel Crisis Protocol. Yeah, not exactly kosher to pitch another game in an essay review about Legion, but I felt it was important to give credit where credit's due. I think Crisis Protocol is the one game that does mission design the best out of all the games by making every mission feel and play differently, but also by imposing two mission objectives at once.
However, we're not really here to talk about the missions themselves, nah. We're here to talk about the three different battle decks again! Those three decks are, again, one of the more unique mechanics that Legion has to offer and another component that helps make this my favorite game. You aren't just playing the same mission every time, because deployment and the conditions are always different and really spice things up! Maybe you play a game where you need to run across to the opponent's deployment zone to score points *yawn*, I know, but get this. Your forces are deployed into opposite corners across the table from each other, as well as your opponent's ("Disarray" pictured below). Hmm, already kind of sucks, but you also can't shoot any weapons on turn one past range two. Oooooof! That'll definitely change how you play the mission and your list! Alright, so you play the same boring get units into your opponent's deployment zone, but this time you get some reinforcements to para-drop in outside range 2 of your opponent and now you've deployed short-ways on the table meaning you have less of a gap to cross. With the core set alone, you get access to 64 possible missions since you get four different cards of the three types. This doesn't even include any additional narrative-only or tournament missions that Legion has released outside of the starter sets. And let me tell you, the ability to slightly change how a mission plays each time REALLY helps to make each game feel different and not the same monotonous miniature wargaming drivel you've done before.
It's not always about having a wide suite of different missions to play, but it's about how you make the missions -feel- different and same games focus on quantity so much so that you just end up getting a slightly changed mission with the exact same feel. Having the most points in one quarter of the map feels the same as having he most models in one quarter of the map. Having one objective in the middle of the table that can only be captured by a particular unit type feels the same as having the same objective in the middle but changing what unit type can claim it. This might be the most nit-picky argument I've made in favor of Legion so far, but to me it's an important distinction and it might be so much to someone else. For you, having different deployment zones or weird conditions but the same objective just sounds exactly like what I'm complaining about especially since how you score is the same, but the other games' examples I provided at least offers different ways to score. I realize this isn't my strongest argument here, but for me I don't care too much about different ways to score as long as each game feels distinct without always having to resort to changing my list to do that.
Cost of Entry
My last positive point is probably one of the most important one as people love not having to break the bank. Legion, surprisingly, isn't too bad on the wallet. When I was doing my initial research into the game, the models seemed on par with your typical price for miniatures and quite inexpensive points wise. I didn't realize that the upgrades could have a huge impact on that, especially heavy weapons and personnel since you already get those in the box.
You can easily do a decent Legion army for less than US$200 and includes a fair bit of unit options and a ton of different upgrades, especially if you double down on those starter set deals. Most armies will only use 9 to 11 units, so if you get a starter set, you start with 4 units right there and then only need to pad it out with the units you like. Characters are a great way to pad out your points as well as small vehicles and unit boxes that include two different units in them (like Scout Troopers, Rebel Commandos, Rebel Veterans, and Shoretroopers). For a large army-centric game, it's pretty cost-effective, but I won't push the point any further. I can't tell you what's a decent standard price or not as your own finances will dictate that for you, but I do think it's important to note that for the stigma these mass army games have for costing too much, Legion is a bit fairer. Even when compared to some skirmish games and large-scale skirmish games, the cost of entry is reasonable and so is the cost of staying relevant.
However, I do see one potential warning flag about the cost of Legion. The upgrade cards are the life-force of this game, similar to X-Wing. There might be times when you find yourself having to buy one unit to get this particular upgrade card that you've been wanting. Thankfully this hasn't been a problem yet, as Fantasy Flight has been doing their best to spread the love and not keeping any particular upgrade locked behind a particular faction. You will, at the moment, not have to buy units for a different faction to get all of the upgrade cards that you want and rarely do you have to buy units within your own faction that you don't care about for upgrade cards. The only example I can of for this is the pilot cards of the Occupier Tank and the AT-ST, where the AT-ST doesn't have all of the pilot cards and you might have to buy the Occupier to get them all. Otherwise, Fantasy Flight has released a tiny little upgrade card pack to help you get started and includes newer upgrades in newer packs, like the recently released Unit Expansions where every faction now has easy access to electrobinoculars and smoke grenades without having to buy the card pack or the new Clone Wars stuff.
|Got any more of those upgrades? Yes. A whole pack|
Lastly, one final warning, the starter sets don't include enough rulers for two people and hardly enough dice for one person. Like a typical Fantasty Flight game, you are advised to go ahead and buy an extra set of rulers if you plan on splitting one starter set and an extra set of the dice, but that's really the peak of any financially predatory moves that Legion has so far. Other than that and upgrade card hunting, the game is very fairly priced and respects its consumers' wallets.