Why I’m Not Going to Buy SW:Legion

There’s a game sitting in the garage of my friend’s house. My friend is a “miniatures guy”, and he’s my mentor when it comes to all the fiddly bits of the hobby, things like painting, airbrushing, assembling and gluing. The game is called “Runewars.” Not the board game, mind you, the “starter set” edition of the miniatures game.

I was immensely excited when I first heard about Runewars. I had previously played a fair bit of X-Wing, and taking the dial-driven game-play of that game and applying it to a fantasy, rank-and-file tabletop game seemed, to me, like a match made in heaven.

Fantasy Flight made a great leap forward with X-Wing, for all miniatures games, when they came out with X-Wing. Part of it’s success can be attributed to it’s license, but I think a larger part can be attributed to a low entry cost, pre-painted minis (that were painted well), and the dials. The dials in X-Wing let you “plan out” your moves before each turn starts. You do it simultaneously with your opponent, and then “reveal” your moves as the turn develops. This front-loaded decision making cuts down on the cruft of playtime immensely, since you’re no longer faced with trying to make a new decision each time you activate a unit.

Runewars, unfortunately, didn’t really take off. As near as I can tell, FFG is still supporting it (somewhat), though their focus has clearly shifted onto Legion. Also, I’ve heard that Runewars, like X-Wing before it, is now plagued with balance issues, where certain lists and factions run roughshod over the competition.

Burned once, I was already skeptical of Legion. Then I played it, and boy howdy, was the skepticism warranted.

Fantasy Flight often does this “two steps forward, one step back” dance when it comes to their mechanics. They did it in the transition from X-Wing to Armada, and they’ve done it again going back to Legion. They’ve ditched the dials, arguably the most innovative mechanic they’ve introduced, and replaced it with the bog-standard you-move-I-move that has been leading to 4-hour-plus miniatures games since before I was born.

A game of Legion, like a game of Armada, is capped at six turns. I have never played six turns of either game. Why? Because I didn’t relish the thought of playing more than four hours. Every time I tried, I would inevitably run out of time. As with Armada, I’ve yet to finish a game of Legion, despite investing 10+ hours in the attempts, not to mention more in watching You Tube videos trying to decipher the rules.

Legion’s rules are finicky and complicated in other ways too. Line of Sight and range bend in bizarre ways. There was obviously a desire to focus everything around an infantry troop’s “leader” model, but when that butted up against reality weird edge-cases became the order of the day. The dice-rolling is arbitrary and highly randomized, and the symbols and how they interact with one another change from case-to-case. Balance has already been thrown off with, in what could almost be a punchline to a joke, the most expensive models being considered the most tactically useless.

Still, I’m getting the feeling that Legion is going to be successful. At least for a little while. Penny Arcade put out a comic about the game, and Penny Arcade doesn’t really write about games that are niche, unpopular, or destined for obscurity. Their seal-of-approval is going to move units. Any unlucky, enterprising indie designer who shelled out for a table at PAX is going to find their game overshadowed by Fantasy Flight’s offering.

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