A Long Time Ago in a Wargame Far, Far Away…

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Star Wars: Legion is coming. I’m a fan of wargames (and traditional RPGs), so mixing the traditional tabletop rules and terrain and miniatures with one of the most widely recognized franchises on the planet just seems like a good idea. A profitable idea. How much? (“I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit.”) Well, Fantasy Flight Games has X-Wing Miniatures that is still one of the top-selling by units miniatures games around based on CoolStuffInc.com’s 2016 Top Selling games (and Imperial Assault also made the 2016 Top 10 List by dollar amount from CoolStuffInc). So it should come as no surprise that FFG might look for more game options to explore in the SW Universe.

SWL Box

When talking about wargaming, no bigger name exists right now than Games Workshop’s Warhammer franchise. The latest version is out (8th edition) and one of my local gaming stores seems to receive new miniatures and books on a weekly basis for Warhammer 40K. And judging by the number of tables that are playing the game on any given day of the week (and the sheer volume of games on weekends), Warhammer continues to reign as the king of wargames. This isn’t even counting the reduced ruleset skirmish spin-off, Age of Sigmar. Between these two games, Games Workshop seems to be maintaining its monopoly on the modern wargame.

I don’t play Warhammer. It’s never appealed to me, but even if I wanted to play it, I’m not willing to spend my money on the what seems to be a near-infinite amount of miniatures and books and terrain that are available to players. This is not a complaint; I occasionally watch a game and can appreciate the rich set of rules and the variety of options spread across numerous factions. Instead, I tend to favor smaller wargames. Frostgrave is my go-to wargame because it’s more of a skirmish-style—smaller number of minis are required by each player, reducing the cost/investment AND keeping game times shorter (a big deal for me as I have two boys and a wife who do enjoy seeing me on a regular basis).

But now Fantasy Flight Games has tossed a wargame into the mix based on the Star Wars Universe. It’s got the traditional terrain and miniatures and squad-based plus individual combat rules, but it’s also got some unique elements that are typical of FFG that include special dice, special “rulers” used in combat and movement calculations, and the upgrade cards for providing special abilities. Players of other FFG Star Wars games are familiar with how these elements factor into gameplay, so it’s no surprise that FFG has ignored some of the more traditional wargame elements such as measuring tapes and standard d6/d20 dice rolls. Honestly, this doesn’t really bother me… I’m quite used to specialized dice for certain games I play. (Mutant Crawl Classic from Goodman Games uses d5, d7, and even d40 dice!)

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I got a look at the Star Wars: Legion miniatures and overheard some of the basics of gameplay while at Gen Con 50 a few weeks back. All in all, I’m quite excited. While I’m often a bit resistant to adding more games to the list I play, come on… it’s Star Wars. If the game’s designers are SW fans in addition to having some wargame design chops, it’s probably going to be a home run for FFG.

But questions are being asked online and in game shops around the world right now. Do we need another wargame? Will SW: Legion eat into Warhammer sales? What about those players of Imperial Assault who have already made larger purchases of miniatures? Will this weaken or strengthen the wargame community? At both Gen Con and at my local gaming store the past few visits, I’ve managed to participate in a few conversations about SW:L and Warhammer, and some of what I’m hearing is a bit troubling.


First off, it’s Star Wars: Legion. Not Starhammer. Not Warshammer. And most definitely not Star Wars 40K.  I laughed at the names myself, but within minutes of seeing the game on display at Gen Con, I overheard two players calling it Star Wars-Hammer and commenting that it’ll never be as good as Warhammer. I don’t favor knocking one game to build up another, but I get that players can be very defensive when it comes to their games. Let’s just try to be civil, shall we? And how about we wait until we’ve got more information to decide whether a game is good or enough? Suffice to say, I think the reveal at Gen Con went well, but a lot of folks were very critical of it without any real examination of the rules or gameplay.

Back home from Gen Con… things haven’t been much different.

Believe it or not, I overheard one Warhammer gamer recently complain about SW: Legion and all the potential newbies the game would bring to the store with their annoying questions and inexperience. That’s a problem? Creating new gamers is a negative? Listen, wargaming is a small enough niche in the overall gaming world that includes video games, board games, RPGs, and card/dice games. We don’t need to be criticizing new players. As a matter of fact, wargaming needs a new influx of gamers to keep the hobby going, so worrying about new players and crowds showing up to play a new wargame seems counterproductive. In my opinion, novices and those new to any games should be welcomed and helped. I know that some gamers feel a sense of ownership after years and years of driving to a game store and spending money and playing at a favorite table, but that kind of attitude needs to be left at the door.

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Yet another gamer complained that the store didn’t have enough tables to support both Warhammer and SW: Legion. Seriously? Not enough tables? If I’m not mistaken, tables aren’t reserved at the store except for scheduled tournaments, so if someone shows up to play SW: Legion and takes a table, are Warhammer fans going to throw tantrums (or vice-versa)? I hope not. I think the store will view a table shortage as a GOOD THING and figure out how to add more tables.

Another person stated that FFG was just trying to pilfer some profits away from GW. That’s just idiotic.  I imagine FFG is simply thinking that a Star Wars-based wargame would appeal to a large base of potential players and be another popular title to fill the coffers. I have friends who aren’t gamers but are HUGE Star Wars fans, and I have no doubt that some of them are likely to buy and play SW:L after they see the game in action. Look, FFG has purchased a license to Star Wars and knows exactly how to read a profit/loss spreadsheet in order to determine if a new game has potential to be a winner. I seriously doubt that GW is worried about losing Warhammer players to SW:L, but if they are… what would be the reasoning? FFG knows Warhammer is profitable and popular, and I doubt they’re looking at SW:L as a way to take money from GW. Instead, they’re simply betting on an established franchise to bring in their own profits.

Speaking of Star Wars fans—BlackJack Legacy stated in a recent YouTube episode, that many adults (himself included) are comfortable wearing their Star Wars shirts out in public, but not a lot probably feel the same way about wearing their Necrons Forever jersey to the school picnic. I agree that a Star Wars game just seems more acceptable for a larger percentage of the population to see themselves playing.

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Yet another complaint was that the game didn’t seem “crunchy” enough. Maybe, but I don’t think that enough information has been released about the game’s core mechanics yet to justify that statement. And even if true, a lot of wargamers (myself included) don’t like rules-heavy wargames. I love crunchy 4x board games, but not wargames. I like simplified rule sets that help speed games along and don’t require two-dozen flippings through six rules books to find some obscure rule to determine whether the miniature doing jumping-jacks on a floating barrel to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger” during a thunderstorm at sunset will be at -2  or -3 to hit. If SW:L is not crunchy enough, so be it… some players will love it, others not so much. That doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have its merits.

One valid concern that I enjoyed discussing was the lack of factions. As it stands right now, the only two factions shown at Gen Con were the Rebellion and Empire. Scenarios are going to be popular, I imagine, but the game will likely get old real fast if the only two options are rebels or stormtroopers. Here’s hoping that the designers have more factions planned. Just a few that come to my mind include Jabba the Hut and his misfits, Boba Fett and other bounty hunters, Smugglers, Snowtroopers, Wookies, and Jedis. (Just no Ewoks, FFG. Please.) I’m not sure yet how I feel about miniatures being made from the prequels, Clone Wars, or Rebels—the idea of the Clone Army versus Luke and a bunch of Endor-camo’d rebels seems too strange to consider.


At this point, there’s really not a lot of details on Star Wars: Legion floating around out there. My guess is that the team may still be playtesting and making adjustments. February 2018 seems far off, but it’s not really all that much time if you think about packaging and shipping requirements. I haven’t heard how long this game has been in the works, but just from some of the early examinations of the cards, it looks like some serious design work has gone into the mechanics.

It’s my hope that Star Wars: Legion is a hit. If I’m going to add yet another wargame to table, the fact that it’s a Star Wars wargame takes some of the sting away (from both my bank account and my free time). I’m hoping that SW:L and 40K players can get along and understand that variety is never a bad thing when it comes to games.

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SW:L isn’t here to replace 40K. 40K players probably shouldn’t worry about being overrun at the tables by hundreds of SW:L players rushing through the game store doors. The fact that SW:L is a wargame will reduce the number of potential players. Cost will probably also eliminate a percentage of possible players. Having to glue and paint the minis will reduce that number further. What remains will be a core group of SW:L players who will be looking to FFG to expand on the core game and keep it interesting. Star Wars has an amazingly large roster of characters (take a look at this LEGO Star Wars minifig list if you doubt things) and way too many locales to remember. The options for terrain and missions and miniatures are unlikely to ever be exhausted by FFG. All this means that with the right game design team at FFG, SW:L could join… not compete… not beat… 40K as a favored wargame for years to come.


Did I say somewhere that I cannot wait for this game to be released? I get more excited the more I see photos and read about the game’s mechanics. While I wait, I decided to go ahead and try my hand at creating some terrain for the game. Below is a video I recently uploaded that shows how I made a Mos Eisley structure, a moisture vaporator, and the shield generator bunker. A zip file is available to download that contains instructions, STL files for 3D printing, and PDF files for dimensions.

 

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