Designer of Wildlands, Martin Wallace, is normally known for economic ‘Euro’ games like Brass, but every now and then he surprises us with games like AuZtralia and, well, Wildlands. Described as a skirmish game, that is a game where players are fighting each other usually with miniature figures across a map, Wildlands brings some of Wallace’s Euro experience to the genre.
Typically a skirmish game, like Warhammer Underworlds, will use dice to resolve battles and therefore contains a high amount of luck. There are ways to mitigate this luck but it remains present. Fans of skirmish games enjoy the tension that comes from everything hanging on one fortunate roll. Wildlands somehow maintains that tension with no dice present.
In the core box there are four factions of five figures each. Each faction also comes with it’s own deck which specialises in a certain action, ranged attack for example. This, added to the varying health of the different figures, adds a different feel to each of the factions. This means that if you have a figure with a lot of health for example, you can use them to protect weaker figures.
You will use the cards to move around the map, attack other players and pick up crystals. There is a strict hand limit of seven cards, which sounds like a lot until you remember it takes three cards to pick up a crystal and you are only allowed to draw three cards at the end of a round. So do you make a bold play leaving yourself less options in the next couple of rounds, or do you save cards to use defensively? Somewhere inbetween? These kinds of decisions really make the game as you not only make your own plans but react to others actions.
Wildlands works well at all player counts, and this will be improved on further with the planned expansion factions. The first of these, The Unquiet Dead, can be used as a faction or play as another feature of the board. The second faction are rumoured to do the same.
In Wildlands you have a smart, easy to get in to skirmish game that does away with some of the luck and collectability of rival games, without sacrificing the fun. If you haven’t gelled with other skirmish games then this ‘Euro skirmish’ may be the game for you.
Player count: 2-4
Time: 60 minutes
Age rating: 14+
Wildlands is a 2018 release from acclaimed designer Martin Wallace. Known by many for his heavy, industrially themed games, many people were surprised when Wallace’s name was attached to this project. Why? Because Wildlands is a fantasy-themed miniatures gamein-which players play cards to move their characters, fight and claim treasure.
Published by Osprey Games and featuring superb art from Yann Tisseron and Alyn Spiller, Wallace’s miniatures game plays in just 30-60 minutes with 2-4 players. That’s right; Wildlands is not a sprawling, weighty dungeon crawler or war game. Instead it’s a slick, polished mid-weight game that you can pull out and play in under an hour.
From the get-go I was excited by Wildlands. My first impressions after a demo were also very good. Does it still stand up after a few more plays?
How does Wildlands Play?
There are two ways to get the five points you need to win a game of Wildlands: knock out opponents or collect your faction’s coloured gems. These two objectives are at the heart of what makes the game’s strategy so compelling.
To set-up the game, each player chooses a five-character faction and takes their unique deck of cards. They then select where their characters and one opponent’s gems will start by picking locations on the board from a hand of 10. In your first few plays, don’t expect to get the strategy right from the start. I’ve found that randomly distributing the locations can be a nicer way to get into the first play.
Throughout the game, players will reveal their characters’ locations and play multi-use cards to move those characters, attack, defend and collect gems. Every action in the game is denoted by simple symbols on these clever cards.
Every regular card will feature two or three of your characters’ symbols. You use these symbols to move a matching character or take a different action, which will be denoted by a coloured marker next to the symbol. Some cards will let you attack, others defend and others may give you new movement options. Crucially, though, you can only take one action per card, then the card is discarded.
This mechanic means that managing your cards to make sure you always have the right options available is a core skill in Wildlands. It’s an endlessly fascinating and highly interactive puzzle as you try to optimise your own moves at the same time as responding to your opponents. The more players involved in the game, the more likely it is that you’ll be forced to adapt to what someone else is doing.
The other highly adaptive mechanic is the interrupt. Wildcards allow players to interrupt each other and take actions during each other’s turns. This means you always have to be alert to the possibility of someone jumping in to attack you, run away or steal your knock out. Their presence in the game also increases the activity that the other players can take when it’s not their turn and stops the game from being a mechanical, linear progression of turns.
Wildlands is an excellent example of a game that has superb production quality without falling into over-production. The beautifully designed components all have clear functions and, for the most part, fulfil those functions well.
Take the miniatures, which in Wildlands are definitely not unnecessary add-ons. The miniatures serve the dual purpose of making it easy to read the board state at a glance and making it easy to tell your characters apart (with the possible exception of the gnome faction, whose miniatures are not quite so easy to differentiate as those in the other three factions).
The cards also serve their purpose well. They do a good job of communicating the different actions and which characters can take them through symbols. As with any game that’s reliant on symbols, there is a slight learning curve as players match the icons to the actions, but I’ve never seen a player struggle once they’ve got the hang of the game after one or two turns.
The only cards that could be clearer are the wildcards, which have different symbols to the others. Still, rather than being a major issue for the game, they’re just something that you have to take care to explain properly when teaching. Though I’ve seen players struggle to grasp them initially, I’ve never had them stop someone from enjoying the game.
It’s worth mentioning that the overall aesthetic appeal of this game is fantastic. The board is one of the most colourful, attractive boards I’ve ever seen. The miniatures are pre-washed, giving them a bit of life that grey minis don’t normally have. And the cards are colourful, evocative of the theme and clear. Wildlands gets a 10/10 for component quality.
Final Thoughts on Wildlands
I haven’t tried to hide the fact that I think Wildlands is an excellent game. I’ve enjoyed playing it with my wife, who normally doesn’t enjoy combat-centric games that much, and with groups of people with varying tastes. I think the unique feel to each faction and the dual win conditions of gem collections and knock-outs give Wildlands a wider appeal than more linear miniature combat games might have.
I’ve never played it at three, but I’ve enjoyed multiple games at two and four players. At two players you have more space and combat is definitely harder to pull off. If you like lower interaction, play it with two. At four players, you’re likely to run into another character at every turn, which ratchets up the tension and increases player interaction noticeably.
As much as I love the game I don’t think it’s one for everyone. The fighting, fantasy theme won’t appeal to every player and the symbol-heavy, card driven actions might seem dry to some. I can also see people trying the game at two and feeling like the experience falls a little flat; it’s certainly not the high-octane experience that four players gives you, even though my wife and I really enjoy the puzzle it presents.
But I think it’s okay that Wildlands doesn’t appeal to everyone. It just means that it’s all the more tailored for those that do like it. It’s a game that will reward you for multiple plays as you try to draw out the finer points of its strategy and tactics. It’s a game with beautiful pieces that you’ll never get tired of looking at and playing with. It’s polished and tight, with the right number of different actions to allow factions to specialise in one thing or another, without tipping the balance into over-complexity.
I’m confident that the people who click with the gameplay will want to play Wildlands over and over again. I’m already looking forward to the next time it hits the table.