Thursday, October 15, 2009

Arcane Legions

Arcane Legions by Wells Expeditions

Here's the "big ole" Arcane Legions post I promised. Above is the large starter box that I won in the raffle at last week's launch party. The starter box comes with three skirmish sized armies, these are the three factions in the game; Roman, Han (Chinese), and Egyptian. The Romans are fairly straight-forward as a martial army, supported by some steampunk type heavy muscle and brutish fantasy elements like the Minotaurs of Crete. The Egyptians, as you may have guessed, rely heavily on the undead such as mummies and zombie types. The Chinese rely a lot on ranged attacks and mystical elements. You might be able to put together a full fledged army of one faction for smaller games, but you'll have to ally factions (easily done) if you want to get in on larger games. Nothing in the starter is random.

I've only got a couple of demo games under my belt, but I'll do my best to try to give a review of what you can expect if you plop down for some Arcane Legions action.

A good place to start is the official website, which is pretty impressive as far as being informative. There are a number of video tutorials on there too which explain different facets of gameplay; mind you, the guy doing the explain is dressed up like a Roman officer, accompanied by a scantily clad Egyptian princess, but once you get past that, they're pretty informative. They've also got galleries of all their figs.

Arcane Legions is 'technically' a collectible game, but not really. It's only collectible as much as you want it to be, and you can totally play it without any "random" aspect at all. The above pic is what I bought that night, three booster packs and a cavalry box. The cavalry box (and the infantry box) contain no random units, what you get is what's listed on the box. In the cav box you get fifteen mounted troops; x5 heavy cav, x5 medium, and x5 skirmishers w/ bows. The infantry box gives forty foot troops. Both boxes are $15 bucks.

So far, with infantry packs, cavalry packs, and the starter box, nothing is randomized or "collectible" and before I go on, I'll say the game is perfectly viable if you stopped here. You can put together a totally competent army with basic troops. The starter box also comes with a pre-painted leader figure as well. Then there's the booster packs...

The booster packs will give you a total of six new units, one Unique unit card and pre-painted figure, two Uncommon or Rare unit cards and pre-painted figures, and three Uncommon or Rare unit cards for use with figures from Booster Packs and Army Packs. You can get "up to" eleven pre-painted figures in a booster box for $12 bucks. You are guaranteed six new units, but the catch is the random part, which is a turn off in the first place. The boosters are the only place to get the cool and funky units like minotaurs, elite centurions, named characters, beasts, and the like. They're not game breakers, and you still have to pay points for the units themselves, but they do offer abilities you don't normally see.

It didn't seem like I had a lot of stuff, but once I got home and spread everything out on the table, yeah, it was a lot of stuff. It was almost overwhelming at first, but then again I did open everything up at once and dump it all out in a pile. I will give a disclaimer, bring an x-acto knife with a brand new blade and a sharp pair of clippers. These figures are like the soft, ABS plastic, old-school 1/72 troops, and you've got to meticulously trim out every last one of them. Not only that, but they're usually attached to the sprue by three or four contact points. Some pieces required a little bit of assembly too. I used Testor's plastic glue and it worked pretty well. Like I said though, this is a very tedious process overall.

Here's an example of the what you get in the random boosters. As far as pre-painted figs go, these guys aren't bad, they're not great, but will work well enough. I was surprised at the variety of figs you get too; Yeti, animated constructs, heroes of reknown, ghost spirits, and even Ogres. The only reason I picked the Han faction was because they had Yetis on their box, I'm a sucker for all things missing link! Luckily enough, I did get a unit of Yetis, although they look more like albino gorillas. The neat thing about the units you get in the boosters is that they include a card for their unit by themselves, but also include a unit card that lets you combine the rare unit with your common troops. The Yeti Pack for example came with a card to field just them, but it also came with a card to field a mixed unit of Yeti and heavy cavalry. Some cards will let you combine multiple rare units together as well.

I keep talking about units cards. Above is what these look like with random figs stuck on. There are two base sizes, large rectangles (unit stands) and half-sized stands (sorties). The stand has a number of holes in it, and all the figs have pegs in the bottom to hold them in place. The number of pegs a fig has is the number of hit points it has. When a fig loses its last hit point, you remove from the stand. Since things like attack, defense, and special abilities rely on what figs you have on the stand, the more you lose, the less effective you become. Some figs fit too tightly, and are only attached by an ankle or thin part, not wanting these to break over time, I tried to whittle some of the peg away. For the most part this worked, but some ended up being way too loose. Just a warning for those of you out there.

Is this a miniatures game? I would say no. There are miniatures, but they're more like game pieces, not "miniatures" per se. I know there's a lot of people painting the common troops out there, and it looks nice, but not necessary. Arcane Legions plays fast and plays with tactical strategy, plus, everyone uses the same size bases, so it becomes more a game of maneuvering, flanking, and attacking; the figs are mostly secondary. If I had to draw a parallel for Arcane Legions I'd say it's more like a 3D version of the excellent card game Battleground. Actually, the more I think of it, this comparison is a pretty close one.

Here's some of the heavy cavalry...

When it was all said and done, and after about two days of trimming, cutting, and gluing, here's my completed Han army. It's a little over 11, 000 points of troops, and since the max game size suggested in the rulebook is 10,000 points, I'd say I've got everything I need to go to war. This used just about all the figs I had, with very little leftover.

Here's a good example of the unit cards. The center unit here is lead by a pre-painted rare fig, General something-or-another, I forget his name but he's some immortal tactician of the Han army. He is surrounded by a good number of common foot troops, meaning he will have a lot of staying power on the tabletop. If you'll notice, it's a nice wedge formation to boot, with him leading from the rear, the unit has more movement points. There is one empty slot front and center, and you can reorganize during your turn. If the commander moves up, leading from the front of wedge, you get additional attack dice.

Sample unit cards...

These are the two units I didn't have enough figures to finish up. The one on the left is a duplicate of the leader that comes with the starter box, so I really don't need that unit fleshed out. The other one however is a unique, named hero, but his formation has a ton of foot troops on its base. It was either field him, or the tactician shown above.

So, is this a miniatures game? No, not really. You use miniatures, sure, but it's more of a tactical, maneuvering type game. Like I said, it's like a 3D Battleground. Although I wouldn't consider is a miniatures game exactly, it still looks impressive when you have your massed armies out there duking it out. Is it a historical game? No, it has steam powered soldiers, mystical mages, mythological beings, and the list goes on. It is set in the historical year of 37 BCE, but an alternate history after the world undergoes the "Night of Mists" that changed the fabric of reality and gave flesh to folk tales and legend.

I've obviously bought into to it, it's a fun game, end of story. It's worth taking a look at, the price point has a very low cost to start out with, and it makes for an easy to learn game that lends itself to a 'pickup' game night for newcomers. Play it between more involved miniature games, or when you have to cancel a scheduled game when some people don't show up. It's also fast enough where you play out a full campaign in no time at all. If you're looking for something new that won't require a lot out of you in terms of painting or storage, and is fun to play, easy to learn, and tactically challenging, then Arcane Legions is for you.


  1. Mik,

    Thanks for the review, I was looking at this product the other day and wondering if it was worth picking up.

    I think one of my gaming stores is demoing it this weekend so I may just go check it out.


  2. I'd say it's worth a closer look, you can make it as casual or serious as you want. It'll certainly see a place in our rotation as a side game.

  3. some interesting gameplay ideas from reading the webpage, but soft plastic - bleh. I guess it keeps the price point low and judging from the number of people I see playing 40K at the FLGS with completely unpainted forces, probably not going to really affect their target demographic...

    What are the scale of the figs Mic? Could you get clever and find a way to use better looking figs if you wanted?

  4. These guys are true 25's, and given the range of historical 1/72 figs out there, you could certainly switch them up. The only trick here is that they still need the foot pegs to hold them on the tray.

    Of course, you don't even need the figs, you could just as easily play with colored glass markers on the trays...

  5. it is too bad that this game died out... it was a lot of fun.

    the good side though, is that now you can get the stuff cheap as dirt (entire collection is 150 on miniature market)