Hello everyone. This is a guest post from our friend Jake Petersen. He got to play Legion and was cool enough to share some thoughts for us. -Joe
Since its announcement at GenCon, Star Wars: Legion has been a major talking point in the Star Wars gaming community. Is it good? How does it play and feel? Will Legion cause the death of Imperial Assault Skirmish? Having recently participated in a demo game of Legion, I can provide my own thoughts and speculations on these questions, as well as those of my friend Ana who played the demo with me.
For those who already have a good knowledge of Legion and don’t care about my opinion on the rules, feel free to skip ahead directly to the battle report at the end of the article for a blow-by-blow recollection of our game.
Is the game fun?
Yes. Moving on.
Oh, you want more? Legion has all the hallmarks of an FFG minis game. This means a few things: there are proprietary dice, a lot of tokens, and complicated (but intuitive) rules. All of these aspects combine to make Legion the most fun experience I’ve had with a non-grid wargame.
The dice in Legion are interesting. The use of hits, crits, and surges provide an interesting combination of the X-Wing and Imperial Assault dice systems. The attack dice are most obviously similar to X-Wing’s, sharing both the shape and the same basic symbols: a number of hits and one crit result on each die. Unlike X-Wing, though, there are several different types of attack dice that vary in effectiveness, ranging from the terrifying black die with hits or surges on all but one of its faces, to the middle of the road red die, to the “stormtrooper special” white attack die, which has hits or surges on only half its faces.
The defense dice are almost completely new. These d6s are used to mitigate damage. The more effective of the two types, the red, has 3 blocks and one surge, while the measly white has but one block and one surge.
All of the dice have one thing in common: one of the faces shows a “surge”, which vary from unit to unit. Some units, like the Rebel Troopers, have a “Surge: Damage” ability, which basically means that their attack dice have an extra damage face. However, the armored Stormtroopers have a “Surge: Block”, which means that their defense dice essentially have an extra block over any other white defense die unit.
The other interesting part of of the dice mechanics is the way defense is calculated. During an attack, the attacker rolls dice and applies modifiers such as aim, surges, and cover, then the defender rolls dice equal to the number of hits rolled. The blocks cancel the hits, much like evades in X-Wing, and then the defender takes any damage left over.
In this system, the attacker is greatly favored. During my demo game, it was common to see 2-4 damage go through on attacks, in a game where the highest health score was 8. I actually really like this aspect. As an attacker, it can be severely frustrating to deal with a defensive powerhouse that is nearly impossible to put damage onto, such as X-Wing’s Soontir Fel or Imperial Assault’s Han Solo/Threepio combo. The heavy favoring of attacking units in Legion will mean that games are unlikely to descend into stalemates of unhittable units attacking each other fruitlessly round after round. Hopefully, matches of Legion will move along nicely, with each side giving as good as they get.
Another aspect of Legion that will feel very familiar to those who have played past FFG offerings is the number of tokens on the field. I would have to ask a developer to be sure, but I would not be surprised to hear that the FFG charter states that “All games must come with an inordinate amount of cardboard tokens.”
Joking aside, Legion actually had surprisingly few token types. There are commander tokens, order tokens, damage markers, and aim and defense tokens.
The commander token and the order tokens interact to determine order of play. At the start of each round, each player chooses an order card. This card has 2 important numbers: initiative and Command. The card with the lower initiative value claims the initiative that round, then that player places faceup order tokens on a number of units within range 3 of the commander equal to the command value of the card. Then, the non initiative player places their faceup tokens. When it is your turn to activate, you may choose one of your units with a faceup token.
What happens to the rest of the order tokens? Well, dear reader, that leads into my least favorite aspect of Legion: the remaining order tokens that were not placed faceup on units are put facedown into an order pool. If you choose to not activate a unit with a faceup order token, you instead draw a facedown order token at random and activate a unit with that type. This means that unless you choose an order card with a command value one less than the number of units you have remaining, the order in which you activate units is left at least partially up to chance. In my demo this wasn’t so bad, seeing as each side had only 4 units, but in a full sized game this will make it very difficult to make tactical decisions.
While this is an interesting mechanic for a casual game, a nice little “fog of war” effect, it inhibits tactical play. I hated the fact that I had to rely on luck to be able to make the correct choice in what unit to activate next. While many I’ve talked to enjoy that aspect of the game, “I hope I pull my AT-RT token or else Vader is going to wreck my face” is just not a fun gameplay experience to me.
My friend Ana, who was playing the evil Stormtroopers on the other side of the table, had this to say: “I REALLY dislike the ‘pick a random chip and hope you get the unit you want’. This kind of game is already waaaay too luck dependent with dice rolls, I really don’t need to add more randomness in which units I get to use. It is neat how the mechanic is tied to the initiative cards, and how that makes an interesting little sub game, but it comes at the detriment of the overall play experience.”
The best part of Legion is easily the intuitive ruleset. I have very little experience with non-grid wargames, and my friend has none. Even with that lack of foundation, we were both playing smoothly and correctly by the end of the second round. To me, this is a marked improvement over the other wargames I’ve tried, which required constant diving into rulebooks and tables on every attack. The keywords were helpfully defined on every card, and once we had the attack steps down we rarely asked for rules assistance.
The lone exception occurred whenever we were trying to determine cover. Legion uses a ”true line-of-sight” system, meaning that you have to physically get behind your model’s head and look to find out what figures they can see and whether they are behind cover. I still don’t fully understand what constitutes cover and what does not. Hopefully that will become intuitive in time.
Other than the cover/LOS rules, Legion played wonderfully. Like other Star Wars games, the units and rules felt very thematic. Vader in particular felt very good as a slow, nigh unstoppable juggernaut easily slicing through my units. I also liked the unit cohesion rules for trooper squads. It has always felt strange to me in Imperial Assault that you can split figures from the same unit off in separate directions. Legion feels more so like a squad level battle than IA does, almost like a board game version of the Battlefront video games to Imperial Assault’s XCOM-style grid system.
Prepare for Ground Assault
Speaking of Imperial Assault, many in the Imperial Assault community are afraid that Legion is going to be the death of the Imperial Assault Skirmish scene. The main concerns people have been having are that Legion will draw away players from the already small Skirmish scene and that FFG will stop supporting IA after Legion releases in much the same way they stopped supporting Star Wars: The Card Game after the release of Destiny.
To the first point, I think that there will definitely be some draw from IA to Legion. I’m not too worried about the survival of IA though, for several reasons. The first is playtime and space: while a match of Imperial Assault can usually be completed in forty-five minutes to an hour and fifteen, a match of Legion feels like it will take at least an hour and a half. This extended play time can be a major turnoff to a lot of players. Also, the fact of a 3×6 board necessitates a lot of space, requiring that one either plays it at a store or dedicates a lot of home table space. Another reason I am not worried about the continued existence of Skirmish is the issue of random activation. To many players, the inability to activate units at the perfect moment will make Legion feel a lot less tactical and a lot less tight than Imperial Assault. Finally, there’s the fact of scale and general feel. Legion felt like it took place on a much grander scale than Imperial assault. While this can lead to really cool cinematic gameplay, it felt a lot less personal and interesting than Imperial Assault. Imperial Assault feels a lot more like the heroic efforts of the Death Star escape or navigating Cloud City, with small groups running around blasting each other over specific objectives. Meanwhile, Legion felt more like the Battles of Hoth and Endor, with large groups of combatants vying for control of a specific battlefield. Both are very fun to play, but they scratch different itches. I think the best comparison is X-Wing and Armada: while on the most surface level they seem to cover a similar subject, the actual gameplay is radically different enough that neither game is an existential threat to the other. Having played Legion, I firmly believe that it has the same relationship with Imperial assault that Armada does with X-Wing: good games with a lot of player overlap but not eating into each other because of the emphasize different play styles.
As to the second point, I don’t think FFG is anywhere near done with Imperial Assault. Even now, three years after release, there are still many units that the community is clamoring for, and that is even before other time periods like Clone Wars and Sequels are considered. On sheer interest, I think Imperial Assault will survive. However, I also have some extra info. When I was talking with one of the developers at World Championships in May, he was very excited about the future of skirmish even beyond Heart of the Empire. While at the time of this writing there has been no announcement of what’s next for Imperial Assault, the future looks bright with the amount of cool units from Rebels, Rogue One, and other time periods that have yet to be released.
For this demo game, I took control of the heroic Rebels while my friend Ana commanded the evil hordes of the Empire. We deployed on opposite sides of the field. Our commanders, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, were each flanked by two squads of Troopers with a vehicle unit (the Rebel AT-RT and the Imperial speeder bikes) on the edges.
In the first round, all of the Troopers moved up into cover. My AT-RT took up position behind the homestead while her speeder bikes moved to blitz the middle. I moved Luke up the middle as well in order to position him for an attack the next round. Her Vader stuck with the Troopers. A few shots were exchanged, and a few Rebel Troopers went down.
At the beginning of the second round, the speeder bikes moved to a flanking position right in front of Vader and within easy reach of Luke. Being a die-hard aggro player, I took the bait and moved Luke to attack the speeders, dealing a few hits of damage and removing one of the two speeders. I paid for this with a large hit on Luke, who survived with one health left at the end of the round. The troopers continued to exchange fire, killing several on both sides. The AT-RT gave supporting fire, killing a Stormtrooper..
In round three, Ana activated first to kill Luke with Vader. In exchange, I was able to finish off the speeder bikes with troopers. The AT-RT started attacking Vader, barely scratching the Dark Lord’s armor. My Troopers shifted their fire to Vader at this point, getting a few minor hits in while they weathered fire from Stormtroopers.
In rounds 4 and 5, we started to reenact Rogue One as Vader mowed down my Rebel Troopers with the help of his loyal Stormtroopers. My walker continue to plink damage onto Vader as much as possible.
In the sixth round, Vader finally fell to the cannon of the Walker. From then on, our battle transformed from Rogue One into Fury as my Walker mowed down the remaining Stormtroopers while taking only 3 of its 6 total health due to its thick Armor.
Overall, Legion was quite a fun game, but the random activations and the more linear gameplay (nearly every round of the demo consisted of “this unit aims and shoots” going back and forth across the table) will prevent it from supplanting Imperial Assault Skirmish as my primary Star Wars miniatures game. However, I do intend to at least buy the core set to be able to play with the many other people in my area, and to test the waters for Organized Play events as well. I’ll be watching this game’s career with great interest.