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Something Borrowed, Something New – Arcane Legions Reviewed October 22, 2009

Posted by webofwebhead in CMG, Reviews.
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ArcaneLegions_LogoAfter a preview and limited release at GenCon this year, Arcane Legions finally made its way to local game stores about a week and a half ago.  I was finally able to pick up a some figures…so here are some thoughts on the game.

Arcane Legions is a squad based tabletop combat game, and though it borrows elements from other games (many of those understandably being WizKids games), it combines those elements in new and unique ways.

The major innovation of the game is the way in which squad “trays” are used.  In many minis games, squad trays are just that, small wood boxes with low edges designed to easily move groups of figures around.  Legions develops this into its central gameplay mechanic.  Squad trays have rows of peg holes that are partially covered by overlays that describe the squad’s layout and powers.  Each figure occupies one of the open slots, and the configuration of those figures within the tray dictates the stats of the unit as a whole.  When squads take damage, figures are removed, and the remaining squad can be adjusted to a new configuration.

This mechanic is innovative…but if it feels familiar, I think it’s because it feels similar to Clix style games.  Think of it this way, if you took a Clix figure with 10 clicks of health and instead represented each of those clicks of health by ten separate figures on the same base…you’d have a game like Arcane Legions.  Now what’s really clever is that while most games with squads have very linear declines in squad strength when figures are eliminated, because of the regrouping mechanism, you can choose the way in which your squad declines.  Imagine a Clix figure that takes three points of damage, and instead of just losing stats across the board, you decide if you want to sacrifice speed and range or defense and damage.  Even the concept of pushing is handled in much the same way, with a pushed squad losing one figure, comparable to the click of damage a pushed Clix figure takes.

Squad movement and range will be familiar to anyone that played the Pirates’s game by WizKids.  Movement and range are both measured in terms of tray lengths in much the same way Pirates used card lengths.  Movement is different in the way that squads “snap” to one another and to terrain…put simply, when you base another squad, you square off to them instead of remaining on angle.

Combat is handled using handfuls of six-sided die, which should be familiar to just about anybody that has ever been a gamer.  Dice rolls are compared highest to lowest, with each higher value counting for a hit, whether it be for the attacker or defender.  Excess dice must beat a roll of 2 (called the phantom dice), assuring that you must roll well even when you have numeric dice advantage.  And in another instance reminiscent of Clix, three natural sixes result in a critical hit worth an additional point of damage.  As mentioned above, when you squad takes damage, you lose figures (of your choice) from that squad.  Of special note here are multi-slot figures, like Calvary.  The Romans bear squad figures have 4 post slots, which means they take 4 damage.  Once you begin applying damage to a figure, you must continue to do so until it is defeated…that turn.  However, if you fail to take enough hits in a single turn, the excess damage sloughs off at the end of the round, allowing your heavier hitting figures to act as tankers.

Speaking of the Romans, let’s talk about theme for a moment.  The game’s setting is an alternate history of 37 B.C.E. and as such, the powers that be are the Romans, Egyptians, and the Han of China.  However, the game takes place five years after a wave of magical energy has enveloped the world, allowing the historical Roman Legionnaires to fight against mythical Greek Minotaurs.  Figures are in 25mm scale (slightly smaller than Clix figures), and some are pre-painted, while others are only marked with color details.  There is also some assembly required, though nothing more than would necessitate the use of an exacto knife and some super glue.  I actually found the assembly time less than that of the various Pocket Models games.

Collectability is another area which is similar to a hodge podge of current gaming trends.  The two-player starter is a good value, and includes over 100 fixed figures spanning all three armies.  Boosters are random but sorted, a little like World of Warcraft Minis, except you can buy random figures for a specific army.  However, if you buy a bundle of 8 boosters, you are guaranteed a complete set, like Monsterpocalypse.  There are also non-random infantry and Calvary packs that help you flesh out your army with troopers.  To put this in perspective, if you chose a single army and split a starter with a friend…msrp on a “complete set” of one army would be right around $150.  Now…that’s assuming you only get one of each army builder set…so that number could go up from there.

So who is this game for?  I think any Clix player could take to this in a heartbeat…concepts are similar, but the scale of the battles is much different.  As the packaging promises, you can kill hundreds of figures in an hour or so.  It seems tailor-made to pick up any Mage Knight players still looking for the next big thing.  I think it will compete with Monsterpocalypse mostly, as it doesn’t have the same feel as the more in-depth minis games like 40k.  If you have 1 or 2 gamers that will split a starter with you, you can certainly give the game a fair chance with out too much investment.

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