Our Hands-On Impression Of ‘Star Wars: Legion’ – FFG’s Newest Miniatures Game

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For miniature wargamers and Star Wars fans alike, there is something truly tantalizing about the prospect of playing out and recreating the epic ground battles of the Star Wars franchise movies.  At Gen Con this year we not only got a special preview of the land-based, large-scale, Star Wars miniatures game but I even had a chance to take to Tatooine and shoot some blasters at fellow G&S writer Raf Cordero’s Imperial scum.

Let’s answer the most important question first: Does this game feel like Star Wars? Ultimately, the answer is simply yes.  Every element of the game, from the miniatures, the unit cards, upgrade cards, and even the hinged rulers oozed with an in-universe production level and detail-focus that we’ve come to expect from Fantasy Flight. The minis are detailed and have multiple dynamic poses. The art is compelling and dramatic.

The second question and perhaps the more interesting one is: Is this a game that can turn non-miniature gamers into miniature gamers? Is this the kind of game that can inspire people who have never clipped sprues, glued bits, or painted miniatures to get on the bandwagon?  That one’s a little more complicated, but I also think the answer is yes, and as a result, I think this game is a boon to the overall miniature wargaming hobby and community.

The mechanics demonstrated on the convention floor are accessible and basic. There’s a very slight flirtation with the precise and fiddly movement of games like X-Wing and Armada because of the hinged rules which are pressed up to the edge of model bases but this is not a game of precise movement.  Large units can be moved by the literal fistful, as movement is measured from unit leaders (who are adorned with a flourish like a shoulder pauldron or fancier coat) who are placed using the hinged rules, and with their subordinates placed in a haphazard manner around them within a specific distance to complete the move. There is no cumbersome measuring of movement for each individual model, and as such, unit movement feels like a battlefield scramble for position. It also cuts down on time spent pedantically moving units and gets to the fun engagement (or as I call it, “pew-pew time”).  Moving vehicles (like speeders) have the hinged ruler pressed up against their bases, but the model can move along the ruler any distance along its length. It’s no more difficult than using a measuring tape to move units, nor is it more or less precise. It does beg the question as to why the movement widgets are even needed, though it seems as arbitrary as using inches for a game’s movement in a country where the metric system is standard (and make no mistake, this game is going to be internationally released.)

Shooting is intuitive and straightforward. Ranges are measured (again with custom widgets), attack dice are rolled,  hits and crits are tallied on FFG style D8s (familiar to players of other FFG miniature games with sides that indicate hits and crits), and defense dice are rolled (again, with custom dice that indicate straightforward successes or failures in the form of shields or not-shields).  There is some modifying of dice that are specific to units (surges can become other things depending on the unit). Because no complicated comparisons between units are needed (or any tables used to remember what numbers are needed to hit or defend) it’s all quite straightforward. Cover rules were used in the demo. Cover simply negates a standard hit, but does not negate crits, and this negation occurs before you roll defense dice. I cannot stress the following enough: a cover mechanic that can be summarized in a single sentence is the simplest I’ve yet encountered as an experienced wargamer, and speaks volumes to how accessible the game design is intended to be.

In our product preview, we got to see tokens that represented pinning as a product of morale in the game, though it wasn’t present in the demo. Similarly, melee in the demo is presented as straightforward as shooting, though I suspect that in actual gameplay it may have some rather janky dice-modding mechanics since melee is typically reserved for Force wielders, who are also full of tricks.

Activation is alternating, meaning each player takes turns activating a unit. One of the unique qualities of the game is the fog of war, which essentially limited which units could be activated by player choice. The command cards we were presented indicated turn initiative (who got to activate a unit first in a given round) and how many units (of which type) each player could elect to activate rather than randomly draw to activate. The more choice a player has in terms of unit activation, the lower their initiative.  Think of it as an exchange: for the ability to go first, a player forfeits the opportunity to activate all but one unit on the turn they want and is forced to draw randomly to activate a unit of the drawn type every other turn that round. FFG touts this design decision as something to simulate the chaos on the battlefield.

It has a way of making players feel extremely clever when they make the right choice and mercilessly punished for making a bad call on the table (or being stuck with no options) because the system doesn’t have the forgiveness of letting players make the optimized choice at every opportunity.  That’s actually a hallmark of FFG miniatures game design. It is akin to X-Wing’s simultaneously revealed movement dials, or Runewars Miniatures Game’s initiative being tied to the action, both of which force players to make choices at the top of a turn that commits them to a set path for the rest of the turn. Miniature gamers coming from non-FFG games and those new to mini games both may acutely feel a lack of agency on the tabletop and somewhat hamstrung by this mechanic, but at the same time, it injects a level of tension and anticipation that I appreciate.

Glancing at the unit cards, it’s clear there’s a fluency that’s required with the conventions of Fantasy Flight’s quick references (the uninitiated may not interpret a dot next to a unit’s name indicating it being a unique unit and therefore limited to 1 per force) but even by the end of a 20 minute demo game, I could easily interpret most of the information on a given unit card. Because the card system FFG leverages for units and upgrades, building a force and referring to its stats quickly is very streamlined and a far cry from the spreadsheet or rulebook/army book juggling act Warhammer 40K players may be familiar with – again, another point of accessibility for Star Wars Legion.

There isn’t a lot that I experienced in the demo that was particularly novel or groundbreaking in the gameplay, but everything was so polished and presented with the white glove treatment. That said, we didn’t have our hands on the production miniatures (we played with resin casts) and FFG admitted they’d be less detailed than the ones presented in the demos and likely similar in quality and material to the miniatures of the  Runewars Miniatures Game. 

Overall I think that this is a strong interpretation of the Star Wars license in the realm of miniature wargaming. There’s something to be said about universes that can inspire people to get to painting miniatures, building terrain, and expressing their passions by playing more games, and I’m all for it.

What do you think? Is a Star Wars game enough for you to pick up some glue and paints and get you into the hobby? Tell us in the comments!

Image Credits: Teri Litorco

Teri Litorco is a mini wargaming YouTuber (who broke the Star Wars: Legion demo), the author of  The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming (a survival and etiquette guide for gamers), and a social media oversharer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram who loves it when people her photos of their painted minis and games.

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