Monday, February 17, 2020

Why Star Wars Legion is my Favorite Game: The Bad

Welcome back for part two of my Legion review (or welcome for the first time if you decided to read the negative stuff first)! Like I said in the first article, Legion is not a perfect a game, as I don't think such a thing exists, but it's probably one of the closest things for me that there will ever be. However, the points in this article are the things that I think hold Legion back from being my perfect gaming.

The negative points we're going to be discussing are:
  1.  Quality and Availability
  2.  Accessibility of Rules
  3.  Lack of Official List Builder
  4.  Upgrade Card Hunting
  5.  Unique Characters Galore
  6.  Suppression Tokens, Suppression, and Panic

Quality and Availability

Star Wars Legion has definitely come a long way from its inception with the quality of its sculpts, but it's hard to ignore the fact that those early sculpts are a bit rough. For example, if you take the early Stormtroopers and compare them to the Stormtroopers that came out in the Unit Upgrade kit, you can tell a significant difference. The quality of the details, the better poses, and the superior kits (allowing for more model customization rather than slotted pegs in holes) really help the newer sculpts stand out, but man! Some of those first few sculpts are pretty rough and it would be wrong of me to not mention them. To be fair, they really aren't that bad, but it's a main reason why I didn't try to pick up Legion when it first came out and how poor they are is really accented by the quality of the newer sculpts and then having to use the two next to each other.

Thankfully the newer sculpts have really improved and look up-to-par to the industry's standards, but the real issue here is the availability of these products. I honestly have no idea what the issue is, so I won't extrapolate much, but I do know that most places have a hard time getting Legion in stock. Most stores can't meet the demand of Legion and that's pretty evident when you look around on stores online. Products can go out of stock for months in some places with no real idea of when they'll be back in. Not only that, but new products are consistently delayed and again with no real idea when they'll be available. Sometimes they'll get pushed back several months, sometimes they'll be widely available months before they were planned, or they'll be released months apart depending on what country you live in. It's honestly a crap-shoot trying to figure out when stuff comes out or how long a restock will take and it can really kill the excitement of the game at times. For example, the below AAT was announced in August of 2019 and with still no actual release date in February 2020. That's SIX months and still no real information of when it's coming, why it's taking so long, and how much longer will it take to hit shelves. 

This poor tank has been delayed three different times now with still no actual release date

While the quality of the sculpts has drastically improved and really isn't too much of a problem as long as you're buying the newer sculpts (which you can't necessarily do if you play Rebels or Imperials as you'll need some of the early sculpts as fundamental pieces for your army), but Fantasy Flight's distribution network can make it, at times, frustrating to play and enjoy Legion.

Accessibility of Rules

This is probably a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, but I think it's important to note. When trying to learn a game, I personally think the most important thing a game can do is to create an easy presentation of the rules. While the little rulebook that each starter set comes with has a great presentation and flow, those things don't have all of the necessary rules in them. For that, you need to download and refer to the Rules Reference Guide (RRG). And that is the problem.

The RRG is a glossary of game text and keywords, which is fine by itself, but not a great way to help new players to learn the game. There's no flow beyond alphabetical order and hardly any great reference for how each phase plays out. You have to look up a game mechanic and read the text under it and then reference to the other sections that it directs you to. This document would be greatly improved by at least presenting the different phases of the game to you, like the rulebooks found in the starter sets. Sure, it does this for a few things, like how to build an army, vertical movement (would be great if there was a whole section about movement instead of just one facet and why is this one mechanic so important that it warrants its own chapter in the RRG?), and how to setup for a game, but it doesn't include anything about how attacks work, for example. It doesn't go into depth about the movement phase, it doesn't lump all of the different trooper types into a 'Trooper Type' category, etc. To really learn the game, you'll need the the 'Learn to Play' document that you can also find with the RRG on the website or from a Starter Set as well as the RRG and that's clunky. It took me several games until I felt comfortable with the rules and that's primarily due to me missing some minor rule from the RRG because the presentation and layout of the RRG is poor.

I really do appreciate the glossary style of the RRG and I can respect them for trying to keep it slimmed down, but it's already a whopping 80+ pages with some things that would be better served elsewhere (like point updates and card text updates). I don't think 5-10 pages helping streamline and pleasantly present the rules would hurt. Or maybe recreate the 'Learn to Play' booklets, but tack in the more advanced stuff and provide a more encompassing flow of the game instead of the watered down one to help keep the bloat of the RRG down. 

Lack of Official List Builder

While not as important as my concerns with product availability and accessibility of rules, it's still an important note to bring up. Star Wars Legion currently has no official list builder. There are some really great unofficial ones though, but it always helps with the flow of the game if there's an official one. This is especially true for when you need to update points or rules and don't want keep bloating up that RRG, as I mentioned above. This also helps cut out some of the awkward moments where opponents use different list builders that might have different errors in them and then have to sift through the 80+ page RRG to figure out whose list builder of choice is correct. So far, from my experience, this hasn't been a problem yet, but it's still a point worth noting.

Also, I always feel a little uncomfortable about a corporation that's making a pretty penny who doesn't want to sink the money into further developing or improving a product and instead relegates that duty to unpaid volunteers and fans *cough* buggy Bethesda games *cough*. Oh, excuse me! I most have gotten a hair in my throat or something. 

Upgrade Card Hunting

This is by far my biggest concern with the game and thankfully hasn't come to fruition yet. If you're familiar with X-Wing 1.0, a big problem with that game was having to buy ships because of the upgrades that you wanted to fine-tune your list and this especially became problematic when you had to buy ships from factions you didn't even play just to get one upgrade that you needed. Nothing burned my biscuits more than that and why I never got too far into X-Wing and played it only casually and very rarely with upgrades because of that.

I think Fantasy Flight has learned their lesson and won't try to do that again, but doesn't mean they never will. It'd be so easy for them to paywall off some of the better upgrade cards and turn the game more into a LCG than a miniature wargame. However, they've shown that this isn't the plan so far and thank goodness! They've done a good amount to make sure new cards are widely available to all factions by releasing new products for all the factions and packing the new cards with those new products, even if they don't exactly make sense to be paired like that. They've also released a rather cheap and individual card pack of upgrade cards to help new players build up a collection as well as putting newer cards in there to help update Rebel and Imperial players without forcing them to purchase Clone and Droid units. At this point, I think really the only instance of upgrade card hunting that exists in Legion right now is getting all 3 of the Imperial pilots for your Heavy Support choices. Since the AT-ST came out before the Occupier tank, it only has the pilot it came with which really only works with it, while the Occupier came out with two other general pilots that are pretty useful with the AT-ST. Other than that though, it's not been a problem and I hope they keep it that way.

Unique Characters Galore

I know, I know! Star Wars has always about the characters and their journeys, but I've never really been a big fan of having to use unique characters in my miniature games. Yeah, this is a pretty small gripe too, but for some people it is important and I wanted to at least mention it. In Legion, you can take a generic leader (only for Rebels and Imperials right now), so it's not like you're used to take unique characters, but you really gimp yourself if you don't. You have fewer Command Cards available to you and the unique characters are obviously far stronger than the generic ones. You aren't exactly -forced- to take unique characters (except for Clones and Droids until future releases come out), but it's strongly encouraged you do.

Imagine Darth Vader fighting Count Dooku, that'd be kind of weird....

This does kind of hurt the immersion a bit since then you'll have things like Luke Skywalker fighting Luke Skywalker or Padme blasting Leia or Boba Fett going toe-to-toe with Captain Rex, but you're probably used to that if you've played most miniature games. Unique characters are almost always stronger and including them in games can be really thematic and cool, but mostly end up being odd like "why is Captain Rex and Obi-Wan leading an army of the 327th on a mission to destroy these moisture vaporators on Tatooine while fighting against Leia and Sabine Wren leading an army of  heavy-clothe Hoth troopers and poncho-wearing Endor scouts". But hey, that's kind of part of the charm too! A lot of weird things happen in Star Wars and a lot of things happened behind the scenes that we never get to read or see, so maybe some of these wacky fights did happen and you're tapping into some undercover Star Wars lore (excluding any time or loyalty issues, like Obi-Wan trying to kill Luke and Leia, etc.). I would still really appreciate some great generic commander options and especially ones that are a bit more modular so I can try to recreate the power of the named characters.

Suppression Tokens, Suppression, and Panic

I spent the first article of this two-part-er pretty much doting over the wonderful game mechanics of Star Wars Legion, but this is one mechanic I think that could have used a bit more thought. Then again, I don't think games really ever do an excellent job including courage mechanics, but that's a discussion for later.

To run through how Legion addresses this issue, every unit in Legion is provided a Courage stat. Every time a unit is hit by a range attack (even if all of the hits are mitigated), they take a Suppression token. If a unit has a number of Suppression tokens equal to their Courage, they're Suppressed. While Suppressed, a unit can only perform one action. However, if the number of Suppression tokens is equal to or greater than the double the unit's courage (or a Commander's within range 3), they Panic. The Panicked unit, since they're still Suppressed too, then has to spend their own action moving towards the closest board edge. Pretty simple, right? And honestly it is, it's streamlined, it makes sense, but it still feels kind of clunky and awkward.

When talking about poor game mechanics,
it always comes back to courage mechanics for me

Having to manage Suppression tokens, remembering how many your units have, and checking if certain conditions are met is not fun and really breaks the immersion of the game, helping it feel exactly like what it is. I do appreciate its application in the game, allowing you to Suppress your opponent and crippling their action economy as they try to scramble to get the Suppression off or only perform their one action, it's a fun side game you play with your opponent, but it still doesn't feel right. Maybe it's because Suppression tokens are easy enough to remove through Inspire or the automatic before activating recovery step or maybe it's because of how game-y it feels. Or maybe because it didn't feel very Star Wars-y where everyone engages in nonsensical acts of heroism and courage. It could also because, as I said above, it feels more like a side part of the game than a main feature. You see Suppression , Suppression tokens and Panic mentioned in the rules quite frequently as well as in the keywords, but it hardly feels as relevant as the rules and keywords try to make it sound.  My main recommendation would be to remove courage entirely and have Suppression act as a keyword and weapon effect by itself. If a unit would be hit by a suppressive weapon, take a wound, or lose a model from the unit, then they enter the suppressive state and go from there. However, in the grand scheme of things, if this is really the biggest problem I have with the game, something that comes up infrequently (or rarely in the case of Panic), then I think that's a really good indicator of the quality of it.

In all honesty, I don't like this mechanic at all and I feel it is by far my biggest complaint with the game and one of the very few things that holds it back from being perfect in my eyes. Sure, the other points I bring up are things I also don't feel are good about the game, but most are pretty insignificant or have nothing to do with the game itself (like the availability of the different products or layout of the rules). To be fair, that's pretty impressive. That's the sign of an excellent game in my eyes.

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