Do we really need another Star Wars wargame? Yes, and this is it
If you’re a Star Wars fan, you may have felt a recent disturbance in the Force. Don’t be alarmed, though—it’s just the upcoming (March 22) release of a new tabletop game from Fantasy Flight Games, and it’s set against the backdrop of the titanic struggle between the heroic Jedi and the villainous Sith Lords.
This is not the publisher’s first foray into the Star Wars franchise, of course. In fact, FFG already offers a dizzying array of games set in a galaxy far, far away. Are you looking for intense, adrenaline-pumping dogfights between squadrons of elite fighter pilots? Then you’ll want to try the X-Wing Miniatures Game. Prefer a grand-scale strategic clash between fleets of colossal ships? Star Wars: Armada has you covered. In the market for a mission-based game that plays like a sci-fi dungeon-crawler? That’ll be Star Wars: Imperial Assault. Then there’s the collectible dice game, the four-hour galaxy-spanning epic, and the three separate tabletop RPGs.
It’s enough to make you wonder whether there’s any aspect of the Galactic Civil War that hasn’t already been exhaustively explored on the tabletop. But, as it happens, there is.
Star Wars: Legion is a miniatures battle game that pits armies of Rebel and Imperial troops against one another in deadly tactical combat. Where X-Wing and Armada let players fight it out in the cold void of space, this new release takes the action planetside, with ground-based clashes between forces of infantry, vehicles, and giant mechanical war-walkers.
At first glance, Legion is a similar proposition to the iconic dark-future wargame Warhammer 40,000. You’ll collect plastic troops, super-glue them together from multi-part kits, and paint them before deploying for battle. But while it has some superficial similarities to games that have come before, it soon becomes clear that Legion has plenty of innovations of its own.
You’ll face some tough decisions before you even get your troops to the table. For each battle, you’ll need to decide which units to field and which characters will lead your forces. Will you recruit a mass of basic infantry squads, overpowering the enemy by sheer weight of numbers, or will you upgrade your troops to elite status, with a smaller but deadlier army packing heavy weapons and specialist equipment? Will you deploy speeder bikes that race across the battlefield, attacking enemies and getting out of harm’s way before they have a chance to strike back? Or will you rely on slower, heavier battle walkers armed with devastating laser cannons that rain death on anyone unlucky enough to come within range?
Once you’ve chosen your units, it’s time for hostilities to commence. Legion does a fantastic job of combining tactical challenge with fast-flowing gameplay. At the start of each turn you and your opponent will choose from a selection of command cards, placing them face-down on the battlefield before simultaneously revealing them. These dictate who gets to act first, but they also control the order in which your units activate. You’ll constantly need to ask yourself which is more important to your battle plans: greater control over your troops or the chance to strike before your enemies can.
The game uses a split turn structure, with players moving and attacking with a single unit at a time. This means that the battle is in a state of constant flux. You’ll need to continually reassess your position and respond to your opponent’s moves. You’ll maneuver your way across the battlefield, ducking behind cover, unleashing volleys of laser fire and charging into hand-to-hand combat, with casualties steadily mounting on both sides.
Speaking of combat, it’s handled by a slick and elegant dice-rolling system that will feel familiar to X-Wing veterans. Units roll color-coded custom dice representing their skills in ranged or close-quarters fighting. With hit and block symbols on the dice themselves, there’s no complicated combat math to bog things down, and fights resolve quickly and intuitively.
It all adds up to a polished and elegant mechanical experience. But what’s really impressive about Legion is how faithfully it recreates the cinematic feel of the Star Wars films themselves. And that’s especially evident in its array of characters, units, and vehicles, which all behave exactly as you’d expect from the movies.
Stormtroopers are abysmally bad shots, rarely managing to take out more than a handful of rebel troops over the course of a game. But they’re useful for laying down suppressing fire, pinning down enemy units and stopping them from getting to the heart of the fray. Luke Skywalker is appropriately heroic, charging into battle and deflecting laser blasts with his lightsaber. Darth Vader is a slow-moving menace, stalking towards your troops before effortlessly tearing them apart. Then there are the vehicles, an assortment of speeding, shrieking, stomping death machines that strafe, blast, and claw their way through enemy lines.
It makes for some incredibly dramatic moments: generals colliding in fierce lightsaber duels, infantry squads wiping each other out in a hail of cannon fire, plucky troops sneaking behind a towering Imperial walker to target a weak spot in its armor. The story of the game soon becomes as much a part of its appeal as the unfolding contest of wits and cunning, and it can be positively exhilarating, even to someone like me who (please don’t tell anyone) isn’t all that interested in Star Wars.
It all comes at a price, though. The game’s starter set includes Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and enough Rebel and Imperial minis to fight small-scale skirmishes. But if you want to play bigger battles, you’ll need to do some shopping. New units will set you back anywhere from $12.95 to $49.95 for larger vehicles. You’ll also have to invest time and effort into building and painting your models, which means that Legion really isn’t a game for casual players. To get the most out of it, you’ll want to go all-in, and that’s likely to be expensive. Also annoying: the base set comes with only a tiny handful of dice, and you’ll need to buy more separately, which just seems stingy.
But if you’re a Star Wars fan looking to recreate the thrill of the series’ spectacular battle scenes, this is a slick, polished translation from screen to tabletop. It’s a fast-paced, tactically challenging rollercoaster, and it’s impressively faithful to its source material. The Force is strong with this one.