Star Wars features some of the greatest battles in sci-fi history, which is appropriate, considering the name and all. From when the Empire Strikes Back against the Rebels at Hoth to the Attack of the Clones, these iconic punch-ups are baked into the titles of the movies themselves. This begs the question: “Is simulating Star Wars battles in tabletop miniature form a huge amount of fun?” The answer, dear reader, is yes. Yes it is.
There are a whole bunch of Star Wars tabletop games, with X-Wing and Armada taking care of the space battles, and the forthcoming Shatterpoint doing character-focused skirmishes in the vein of Marvel: Crisis Protocol.
Star Wars: Legion, meanwhile, is all about ground battles between squads of troopers, vehicles and some of your favourite Star Wars characters. January saw the release of a brand new edition of the rules - which provides me with an excellent excuse to tell you about one of my favourite games right now.
Star Wars: Legion features battles between four classic Star Wars factions. From the original trilogy we have the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, while the prequel era provides the Grand Army of the Republic and the Separatists of the Clone Wars - generally better known as clones and droids, respectively. Infantry models are roughly 1/47 scale, which puts them around 35 to 40mm. This makes them bigger than your typical 28mm miniatures, but still in the same ballpark, especially if you’re used to chunky Warhammer minis.
Vehicles range from one-person speeder bikes right up to AT-STs (those two legged walkers from Return of the Jedi) and some pretty hefty tanks. They tend to be closer in scale to the infantry than in a lot of games. If you’ve ever wondered exactly how ten Space Marines are supposed to fit into a dinky little Rhino transport, Legion may be the game for you. The Rebel Alliance’s A-A5 speeder truck is not only clearly big enough for a full squad of six troopers, but has a fully detailed interior and a removable roof so you can physically put them inside if you want. What this all means is that a typical Legion army will have around 20 to 40 models, depending on the exact composition, and may or may not include a large vehicle or two in that.
One thing you won’t see Legion players lugging around is a big pile of rulebooks, which stands in stark contrast to Warhammer.
A standard game of Legion takes place over six turns and uses alternating activations. (Each player takes a turn moving and shooting with a single unit, rather than their whole army at once.) In addition to their armies, each player has a hand of seven command cards, which are used to determine who gets initiative and how many orders they get to hand out. This is important because only units that are assigned orders in the form of tokens placed next to the unit on the table are allowed to be activated at will. Order tokens representing the rest of the units are put in a stack or thrown into a bag.
When it’s your turn, you can either activate a unit that has an order token or pull one at random from your stack. Each type of unit, such as corp infantry, special forces or commanders, has a different token. This means that if a unit doesn’t have an order token, you may not be able to activate it precisely when you want to. Balancing your chances of going first, the number and type of units you can give orders to and the special abilities that appear on character-specific command cards is a huge strategic element of Legion.
One thing you won’t see Legion players lugging around is a big pile of rulebooks, which stands in stark contrast to the assorted codices, tomes and handbooks of Warhammer. In fact, the only physical books that exist for Legion are the quickstart guides included in the starter sets. (There are two: Empire vs Rebels and Clones vs Droids. Which one you pick up is down to your faction preference.) Up until this year, there wasn’t even a single core rulebook. Instead, the quickstart guides taught the basics and everything else was contained in a mammoth reference document.
While the lack of expensive books to purchase (and re-purchase in the event of a new edition) is a definite plus, the old reference document made it really tricky to transition from the basic rules to the full experience. The new rulebook is a much more player-friendly document, although it still has some organisational issues.
What Legion does have is a lot of specialised paraphernalia required to play the game, although everything you need is either included in the starter sets or in the boxes of models themselves. Each unit has a card containing all the information you’d expect, such as speed, attacks, defence and any special rules. Upgrades come in the form of incredibly cute mini-cards and cover things like heavy weapon troopers for infantry units or Force powers for Jedi characters. Building an army ends up being a little like building a deck for a card game. There’s also something weirdly satisfying about your army list being a stack of cards in a resealable bag instead of a piece of paper. Range and movement are both handled with measuring sticks instead of tape measures, and there are custom attack and defence dice rather than the standard numbered kind. There’s also loads of tokens which are, again, all included as standard.
This way of doing things has two huge benefits. Firstly, buying new Legion minis is a much more pleasant experience than in most games. This may just be me, but it’s nice to open a box of miniatures and find a sheet of tokens and some cards alongside the grey plastic. It’s a nice reminder that you’re expanding a game, instead of just getting another hobby project to do. Looking through the cards is much more fun than just throwing another sprue on the to-do pile.
Buying new Legion minis is a much more pleasant experience than in most games.
More importantly, it makes the game a lot easier to learn and play for people who tend to tune out when confronted with reams of text and lots of numbers, particularly neurodivergent folks. My partner who is, to quote one of their favourite TikToks, “riddled with ADHD and has a touch of the ‘tism” loves playing minis games, but struggles with list building or doing calculations on the fly. Even with a carefully-prepared cheat sheet, they often find gaming a frustrating experience.
When we first played Legion, the difference was immediately noticeable. With everything physically laid in front of them in the form of cards, and attacking being a case of rolling a specific number of coloured dice and counting the hit symbols instead of remembering to-hit numbers and wound charts, they had the basics down within a couple of turns, instead of a couple of games. Being able to lay out the upgrade cards available for each unit and pick between them has helped them engage with list-building more than tables full of equipment choices ever could.
Legion supports a wide variety of playstyles with the one ruleset. There’s a healthy competitive scene with an ever-changing meta that has evolved and shifted over the five years the miniatures game has been around. It’s weathered both the COVID pandemic and publisher Asmodee shifting development from original creator Fantasy Flight Games to Atomic Mass Games (the brains behind Marvel: Crisis Protocol) remarkably well.
For Star Wars-loving, narrative gamers like myself, there’s lots of fun to be had putting together fluffy, narrative lists that represent specific forces or time periods. For example, my Rebel Alliance list is focused on the early days of the Rebellion and features characters like Sabine Wren of the Rebels cartoon and Cassien Andor, while my regular opponent’s army for the same faction is based entirely around the Battle of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back. Supporting this is several prolific digital miniature sculptors producing hundreds of variant 3D-printed miniatures. Whether you want a particular look for your Luke Skywalker or an entire army of proxied models based on your favourite Star Wars movie or show, you’ll be well catered to.
Last year, Battleforces were added to the game, giving even more options. These are variant lists that give you special rules for portraying specific forces, like Anakin Skywalker’s 501st Legion or Moff Gideon’s Imperial Remnants. There’s even a Battleforce, the Shadow Collective of mercenaries and criminals formed by Darth Maul, that exists outside of the four existing factions.
Legion does a great job of recreating the feel of conflicts in the Star Wars universe, so much so that you can almost hear the hum of lightsabers and pew-pew of blasters. The miniatures are a heck of a lot of fun to paint and the included accessories make for an accessible, tactile game that carries the hallmarks of original developer Fantasy Flight’s board game experience. At the same time, it’s a game with a huge amount of strategic depth that will provide a meaty challenge to competitive-minded gamers. May the Force be with you!