Considering the history of Wizkids, when I first learned of Wells Expeditions and Arcane Legions, I was a bit skeptical. Fortunately, I was in for a pleasant surprise when I actually got to play the game. Arcane Legions has its rough patches, but the game play is generally smooth and a lot of fun. There is one obvious and ugly downside. Arcane Legion's miniatures not only don't look very good, but the overall construction quality is poor at best. If this one problem can be overlooked, Arcane Legions is a definite must play because this game really does change the world of mass action miniatures combat.
Movement and Combat
Arcane Legions speeds up and streamlines many aspects of the mass action miniature combat experience. This includes both the movement rules and combat system. Warhammer Fantasy's movement system is complex and slow. Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring sacrifices tactics for speed. Arcane Legions manages to strike an excellent balance between speed and tactics. All movement distance is measured using empty unit bases and turning is performed with a simple and effective turning tool. The only time I actually had a problem with this system was when turning into combat. In rare situations, it would be impossible to legally base an enemy unit because of the final placement after a turn would leave the attacker in an illegal position. When these situations occurred, I just resolved them by “altering” the rules a bit.
Combat in Arcane Legions is best described as “Super-Risk”. When combat occurs, the attacker rolls their attack dice while the defender rolls their defense dice. Each player orders their dice from highest to lowest and damage is calculated by comparing the dice. Since most combat in the game will occur around critical control points, this mechanic does turn Arcane Legion battles into a bit of a meat grinder, but at the same time it forces players to make tactical choices about where to send troops. One important point to note is that Arcane Legions does not have a traditional psychology system. Units will never break and run. Instead, they will always fight to the death.
Aside from being a fast playing mass action miniatures game, Arcane Legion's other innovative mechanic are the formation bases. The position of the figures on the formation base dictates the stats of that unit. Each potential figure location gives the unit a combination of attack dice, defense dice, movement points, and special abilities. Throughout the battle, due to orders or casualties, the location of figures will change. This results in changing the stats of the unit. When a unit starts to take casualties, players will be forced to make critical choices about how their units will perform for the rest of the battle. Unfortunately, once a unit has suffered heavy casualties, this mechanic has produced useless or strange acting units. For example, the Roman Armored Commander can find himself unable to do anything but stand in one spot and swing his sword around.
First Gen Rough Spots
Game play quirks aside, Arcane Legions does have a small number of other oddities. The rules are short and simple, but some areas of the rules are not explained very well. Even some of the diagrams are a bit confusing. A command point system limits the number of units a player can activate in a given turn. When implemented well in a scenario, command points add more tactical choices a player must consider. When poorly implemented, the command point system severely degrades the game play experience. This brings me to the topic of the standard scenario. Not only is the command point system poorly implemented in this case, but players line up along the short edges of a 6' by 4' battlefield. As a result, slow moving infantry is relatively pointless to outcome of a battle. It is simple to create your own scenario, so this last concern is more or less irrelevant, but worth noting.
For their first game, Wells Expeditions has created a fun and enjoyable experience. Poorly constructed figures are a bit of a turn off, but considering an entire army costs well less then a Warhammer Fantasy Battalion, this problem can be overlooked. Check in with local hobby stores to find a demo because I recommend giving this game a try out.