Author: Geoffrey Heffernan
What is it?
Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: Osprey games
Artist: Alyn Spiller, Yann Tisseron
Year of publication: 2018
Number of players: 2-4
Play time: 45 - 90min
Price: $81 AUD
Hand Management 70%
Area control 15%
Hidden Deployment 15%
In Wildlands each player commands an asymmetric faction of 5 warriors. Players deploy in secret, revealing at least one character each turn, then playing cards from their hand to move, attack, defend and pick up their factions crystals. Players can play as many cards as they desire each turn, but only draw 3 replacement cards at their turns end. Players also use cards to defend against enemy attacks and may play interrupt cards to take actions out of turn in an attempt to catch opponents off guard.
Most of the faction asymmetry comes from the composition of the decks. All cards are multi-use and most cards are only playable by certain characters and only for certain things, meaning players must make tough decisions about what the best use for each card is and cannot rely on any one character to do it all.
Winner is the first player to 5 points, with 1 point awarded per enemy kill and per collected crystal.
The minis are of very good quality and the sculpts are well designed, they don’t require any assembly. The decision to provide a pre-wash is an excellent idea, highlighting the details for those who are not planning to paint or just haven't gotten around to it yet. There is a slight usability issue with the sculpts not matching the art on the character cards, and some toons look a little similar making them hard to distinguish on the board.
The double sided board is very well illustrated and the color palette is brilliantly chosen with the brightly colored bases and crystals giving the game an impressive table presence.
The insert is top notch allowing for easy setup and breakdown, sleeved cards fit and all the minis are securely held, no room was allowed for expansions though so one-boxing may not be practical in the long run as expansions are released.
There are as mentioned a few hiccups, the reference cards for some factions are misprinted and lack some important information. They were an excellent idea for reducing experience bias but poorly executed. The location 6 and 9 cards are hard to tell apart and while the card art is pretty good for the most part, but strangely some of the humanoids characters look comically bad and are actually quite amateurish.
Why play it?
The miniatures skirmish genre is traditionally more of a hobby experience than a gaming one, players must typically learn a complex rule set, assemble and paint expensive detailed miniatures and endure a long and involved play experience that often involves rolling a tonne of dice in the absence of any real strategic depth.
Wildlands is the antithesis of this and perfectly capitalises on the Martin Wallace’s trademark clever card-play mechanisms to provide a smooth, fast, easy to play, hard to master gaming experience with no barrier to entry for the casual player.
The card-play is the standout mechanical feature with a lot of tension between all the possible options a hand may offer. Occasionally a turn will end up playing itself, but more frequently play requires careful thought and planning to maximise the value of your cards. Wild cards, for example, are the most interesting and important to use optimally, usually its best to use them to draw more cards, but a well timed interrupt may be game changing and the option of being able to move anyone comes in handy quite often. Interestingly some of these decisions get crunchy enough that there is a little bit of AP at times, its very player taste dependant if this is a good or a bad thing, but it's a noticeable factor worth mentioning. Realistically though even the slowest game of Wildlands is a lot faster paced than similar games.
The hidden deployment is a strong feature and a well planned deployment strategy is definitely key to winning, as is knowing who to reveal next and luring opponents into traps.
The factions are well designed and seem to be quite well balanced both in an overall sense and within all the possible match-ups. The most enjoyable feature of the asymmetry is the soft definition of roles, you don't necessarily feel forced to use your characters in a particular way all the time. Occasionally you will have a hand that lets a slow toon move 2 squares and attack in one turn, or a hand that strangely gives your sniper the option of making 3 melee attacks, some games the rally ability may be awesome and then it may not be used at all in the next. The slightly loose theming widens your decision space, creates a lot of variety between plays and makes the game feel less predictable.
On the topic of theming, the overall theme is a pretty lackluster post apocalyptic fantasy setting, that isn't really developed at all in the rulebook. In this regard Wildlands is a big downgrade from your average minis skirmish game that often have a tonne of fluff with a fully fleshed out universe and back story for the main characters. Having said that the various toons definitely have mechanical distinctions that give them personality during play and you will find yourself forming favorites over a few plays.
The game plays well across all player counts, but it certainly has a different feel and players will probably find they have a slight preference a certain player count after a few games.
Who is it for?
This is a particularly difficult question to answer as Wildlands seems to oddly alienate some players who you might otherwise expect to be interested in playing it.
Unfortunately, I have seen most experienced minis skirmish players stumble on the mechanical differences Wildlands brings to the table, even despite the fact that the mechanisms are objectively more simple. The deterministic card play is a confronting contrast to the expressed odds of dice rolling and the guesswork involved can be frustrating for some. The interrupt mechanism requires players to pay attention and act before your opponent declares their next action, which can be hard if you are used to tuning out during your opponent's turn. If you are accustomed to acting with each warrior each turn, then having to make the most of a hand which doesn't allow you to do exactly what you wanted might put you off. I could go on with more examples, but basically if you have been trained into any concept of normalcy by the industry you will find some level of dissociation with Wildlands to be inevitable.
This game is in some ways the mins skirmish game for people who don't like minis skirmish games. If you have ever been drawn to the aesthetics and table presence of a minis game, but simply don't have the time or desire to dive into the hobbyist lifestyle, then Wildlands offers the perfect middle ground. The short playtime is a godsend for the design, Wildlands can be played in the time other similar titles take just to set up. Ironically despite sometimes struggling to find a perfect audience Wildlands will probably hit the table more often anyway, simply due to its accessibility.
If you enjoy the hobby, but are bored with some of the lackluster mechanisms of many thematic, skirmish or wargames, then you might find Wildlands a perfect departure from the industry norm.
Typically I have found the players who get the most out of Wildlands are those with an already diverse collection, who play and enjoy both light euros and heavy miniature games and can appreciate the blend of these styles Wildlands successfully achieves.
If an evocative theme is something you require to draw your interest to a game then Wildlands is a hard pass, there is just nothing of substance in that regard. It's interesting to note, that a follow up game is being made with a Judge Dread theme, which is probably worth waiting for if your a fan of that IP.
Where does it fit?
Wildlands by design intentionally does not fit in any clear mold. Play style is actually more similar to a dueling card game like Magic the gathering than a traditional skirmish like Necromunda.
The closest skirmish game I can think of is Malifaux due to both having excellent card based combat mechanisms, but Malifaux is still a far way off Wildlands in terms of complexity and playtime.
Perhaps the most apt comparison is Memoir 44 which is a totally different game, but takes the same design approach of streamlining a classic genre into an accessible format.
Niche: This is one that hits its target market well but does not necessarily have universal appeal. It's in the pack or worse for most people but will be a clear standout or classic for a select minority.