When a designer like Martin Wallace brings out a new game, it's hard not to take note. The veteran designer of Brass and Age of Steam is highly regarded by others in the industry, though I have personally never played one of his titles. In fact, Wildlands caught my attention before I was aware of any of this context. Having seen it in an unboxing video on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I was very happy to have the chance to play it at Tabletop Gaming Live.
Designed by the aforementioned Martin Wallace, published by Osprey Games and featuring the art of Alyn Spiller and Yann Tisseron, Wildlands is a two to four player miniatures combat game being released at Essen this year. Players each take a team of five warriors who will fight other teams in order to gain points through knocking out opponents and claiming crystals in their colour.
The contest takes place in a new fantasy world, with players choosing either the dungeon or ruined city setting on the double-sided board. Each warrior is a named character in this world, represented by a character card, unique symbol and beautiful, pre-washed miniature.
All of the actions in the game are dictated by decks of cards that are unique to each faction. These 30 card decks form the core of the actions available to the players. Each card is multi-use, containing a couple of actions specific to one or two of your characters, and often another action that any character could take. Cards can be spent to allow the characters represented on them to move, fight or defend against attacks. Each deck also have a handful of wild cards that allow any character to move, let you draw two more cards, or interrupt another player's turn to take a couple of actions of your own.
A key skill in Wildlands is knowing how to manage your cards. Your cards will let you deal damage to opponents, knocking them out when their damage equals or exceeds each characters hit points. They also let you claim crystals by spending three cards that match the character you're using to make the claim. There's no limit to the cards you can play but you only get to draw three at the end of the turn, so you can quickly run low on cards.
The management of these multi-use cards was a fascinating puzzle, and I don't think I was particularly good on my first try! Even when you're down to just three or four cards in hand, the number of options available to you quickly add up. Thankfully, the state of the board will often give you a hint as to what you should be trying to do, helping to avoid the analysis paralysis that could otherwise strike.
As it was, I didn't feel like the game dragged. There's the potential for a player to need a thinky turn here or there, but the majority of turns in my first game were pretty fast, and there's always the potential that you'll need to defend your warriors when it's not your turn. All in all, the downtime was minimal.
The factions in Wildlands all have very different flavours as well. Although they operate on the same basic mechanics, each faction has strengths and weaknesses that come out in the actions available in their unique decks. The faction I played was better at melee combat, while another faction was good at moving around the board quickly. The differences between the factions mean that mastering the game will take a long time, giving players plenty to discover.
We do need to discuss the components. Those miniatures are fantastic. They're just the right size to fit comfortably on the board and look unbelievable. They're pre-washed, giving them a visual appeal and definition that plain grey miniatures don't normally have. They each capture an individual character excellently, and coloured bases make it very easy to see which miniatures belong to each faction. They're so well-made, in fact, that I think they're genuinely better character markers than any other tokens, meeples or standees would have been.
The other components are all equally well made. The board is colourful and vibrant, with plenty of space to hold the miniatures. The plastic jewels and hit point cubes are also clear to see and easy enough to handle. The all-important cards possibly steal the show, however, featuring brilliant artwork on thick, high-quality material.
Wildlands is not a complicated game. In fact, for the kind of game it is, it's surprisingly accessible. The core rules are easy to teach; the complexity just comes from working out how to best manage your multi-use cards. I was also surprised by the extent to which combat was a part of the game. Sure, it was important, but the crystal-collecting element was prominent enough that it felt like there was more to do than simply fight. I think that collection aspect will give the game a wider appeal than it would have had if it been purely focused on fighting.
Ultimately, the fact that it's a fantasy-themed skirmish game with miniatures will turn some people off, but it will also pique the interest of many others. From my first play through, I think this game will satisfy a lot of the people who are currently anticipating it.
I'm interested to see how I'll feel about the game once I've had the chance to play it more and try out the different factions. I hope that it delivers on the depth and variability that it seems to have. It won't be long before I find out - I enjoyed my demo enough to pre-order the game, so I hope to be able to write a full review in the weeks to come.
If you're going to Essen, keep an eye out for Wildlands. If you're not going but you like the sound of it, I think you'll be making a very wise choice if you click that pre-order button.