iPad Game Review: Legion
Slitherine looks to cement its place in the wargame genre on mobile devices with their newest release, Legion for iPad. Can Slitherine duplicate the success of last year's iOS release, Battle Academy?
Last summer Slitherine released a fully-ported Battle Academy on iPad and, by all appearances, the game was very successful, despite a higher than normal price tag for a mobile application. This spring (can we please start calling it that?) Slitherine has followed that success with another full port--this time of the 2002 PC turn-based classic, Legion.
Legion is a fairly robust turn-based strategy game for iPad and, despite the original being eleven years old; the iPad version is one of the deepest games on the mobile market. Wargamers, worried that Slitherine would strip the mobile versions of their games down and simplify it, can rest assured that this is, as best as I can tell, a full port of the original game. When the game starts, you are given the choice of seven different campaigns and, if you're new to the game, there is also a short tutorial to get your feet wet. The tutorial is very simple and could probably be a bit deeper but if you've never played Legion before you'll still benefit by playing the tutorial first. Also, what the tutorial lacks the manual more than makes up for it. The game comes with a phenomenal twenty two page manual and I don't think it's a stretch to say, this might be the best manual for any application in the iOS App Store. After picking your scenario, you are then tasked with picking your faction: the game includes maps of Italy, France, Spain, England, Scotland, and Germany, and the factions vary accordingly. In total, there are more than twenty factions from which to choose. An impressive assortment of tribes and kingdoms adds to the longevity of the game. That being said, it doesn't seem that there are many differences between most of the sides. The primary difference is merely the power a side starts with--some start as small petty city states while others are poised for conquest with a corner of the map already under their control. Before getting into the actual game play, it's worth noting that when you choose your scenario, you can also choose between historical settings and ahistorical settings, allowing you to customize the setup of the map, your opponents, and your own culture.
Once you get into it, you'll quickly realize that the most important aspect of the game is city management. Cities produce up to three types of resources--food, ore, and wood. Certain cities are fairly balanced, while others (typically located near mountains) are more suited to mining or logging. The game has a basic overlay of your production and demand, allowing you the ability to effectively manage your resources. This simplicity is absolutely vital, since it is the most important element in your bid to conquer the known world. Make sure you spend some time planning how you want to expand your cities, because each building you add increases upkeep, and as your military expands, it too will require more food, ore, or wood. You can meet these demands by tapping on one of your cities and a pop-up window will allow you to manage the city's production. Cities generate manpower, which is based on the size of the city, and you can assign workers to the various buildings in your city to boost production. You are also responsible for managing the buildings your workers will populate. You can upgrade your city into a fortress by spending resources or building a small fort, a medium fort, etc. Or, you can expand the city's production capabilities by expanding an already existing mine, building a new farm or lumber camp, and even allow the city itself to expand by building a more advanced city hall or other buildings, such a shrine, which grants production bonuses. In addition to building your city's structures and managing its workforce, cities are also where you build military units. Various buildings allow you to expand the type of troops you can build, from mere auxiliaries to full blown legionaries, and equites (cavalry). Also important to consider is the manpower drain your army will put on your cities. Do you expand ore production by adding workers to the mines, or do you let the mines produce at a lower capacity so that you can raise that badly needed legion?
All in all, the city building of this game is not only the most important and easiest, but it is also the most enjoyable aspect of the game, as it seems to have the most strategy and importance to the course you plot in your game.
The second main aspect of the game is combat. As I said, the game has a very simple user interface. When you decide that you want to go to war with someone (or they attack you), you simply click on your army displayed on the map and tap the point where you want it to go. It will often take multiple turns for your army to get to its desired location, so plan accordingly.
The game consists of four turns per year, one for each season, and production is always completed in spring. Regardless of the season when you start a building, it will always finish the following spring. This can allow some unrealistic play styles where rather than building a unit in the summer you wait till the spring and get the unit a month after ordering it. It's worth noting that I haven't seen any impact on battles based on the seasons you’re fighting in though terrain definitely plays a role. Winter battles play out pretty much the same as battles fought in the summer.
Speaking of battles, when an army collides with that of an enemy army, or attacks a city, a battle will occur. The first thing that you're greeted with is a map with an animation of all the units you brought to the fight. Here you can pick your unit's formations and also place where they will start on the battlefield map. You can choose numerous formations, but not all units have access to all formations. For example, Line is a formation melee units can use, but ranged units are unable to select. You are also tasked with picking your unit's orders. You can choose from anything between pouncing on your enemy with a rapid advance, or order your units to hold for a long period of time before advancing. The options are sufficient, though there could be more variety. It would be nice if you had options such as flanking, or maybe the ability to launch feints, such as falling back and then holding. You can accomplish some of these tactics if you time your advance right but it would be nice if it wasn't as nuanced and you had more explicit orders. When issuing your orders, make sure you don't ignore terrain. Sending cavalry through a forest or heavy infantry through rough terrain is asking for trouble. In addition with being presented with a map of where you are setting up your army, you’re also given a map of the enemy setup. This is probably the strongest aspect to the fog of war. Your scouts will show you the layout of the enemy, but only partially. On the bottom of the screen you'll get a notice saying if the deployments shown are thought to comprise the bulk of the enemy force, or if there are substantial elements which remain unaccounted for. This is one area where the composition of your army is important. Light cavalry and infantry act as scouts and help improve your pre-battle intelligence, so don't neglect them; similarly if the battle occurs near a watch tower you will get more information on the enemy army. I tend to play with more of a holding approach, letting my missile troops wear down the enemy first, and then having my heavies advance. Basic concepts, such as flanking, apply to the game, but the way battles are resolved makes it very difficult to carry out more advanced tactics. That's because as soon as you're done placing your troops and you advance to the actual battle, you lose all control over your troops. Basically the actual battle, while looking pretty enough, is more or less a simulation that you get to watch. Often it looks like you're winning, and moments later your army is fleeing from the field. I even had the odd experience of having every unit in both armies routed in the same battle. It appears that a tie goes to the defender, as the game told me I lost the battle. This manner of combat resolution is based on historical fact. It's true that in Roman times and before, its combat command was seriously limited. Generals would issue a strategy and orders but, once those orders were issued, making adjustments was incredibly difficult. The concept of a combat commander making changes on the fly simply wasn't possible and, while this is definitely a historical approach to the game, it likely won't be fully understood by many casual players who pick up the game. That said, watching a battle unfold with no real control over the engagement is probably a more appealing experience than rushing around in a click fest trying to stave off defeat. All in all the combat in Legion is unique and entertaining, though not for everyone.
A quick mention of units. There are ten different types of units. There is also a fairly respectable variety of specific units from skirmishing units like Tribal Archers and Velites to heavy troops such as Auxilia and Legionaries. All told there are twenty one different specific units and the manual has a nice breakdown of information for each. The graphics for these units is adequate for a mobile game and colorful and bloody dead soldiers litter the ground by the end of battle. My best practice is to leave a line of melee troops in front with missile or ranged troops behind while holding firm. I have found very little use for cavalry.
After the battle, you’re greeted with a casualties screen which shows you how many men your units lost, and likewise what the enemy lost. Routed units are destroyed, but other units will regain troops over time and recover. Units also gain experience and can be upgraded, given time. I do find the idea of routed troops being destroyed somewhat annoying, as it means any battle you lose is a battle of annihilation. It seems every battle is a Cannae but it does at least make the player think twice before rushing off to war with a neighboring city.
There are two smaller features of the game which do play a part and are worth mentioning. First there is a screen you can access from the main map screen which basically gives you access to a leader board. The screen shows you the number of victories, defeats, enemies killed, men lost, cities held, and your overall power. This screen is useful in determining your progress in the game and how you're doing relative to other powers. There is also an element of diplomacy. I neglected mentioning diplomacy to this point, because while effective enough, it really is a minor element to this game, at least in my mind. Diplomacy takes place on a mini-map that shows all the boundaries of the various sides, and your relations with the nations are color coded--red meaning at war, yellow or brown is neutral, and green is allied. You can also get information on the other tribes/kingdoms on this screen. Here you can offer terms of peace or alliance with the mere tap of a finger. In addition, you can demand tribute from nations that you're beating. That is a useful way to boost you resources without having to expend more men in fruitless campaigns when they could be fighting somewhere else. An annoying aspect is that I could not find a way to select how much of a good I wanted from a nation, so you are basically left with accepting what the other side offers, or demanding more. The negotiation process is all terribly abstract.
In summary, Legion for iPad is an incredibly deep game for iPad. While some grogs out there might consider this as more of a beer and pretzels game, akin to Panzer Corps, it certainly is among the most well-thought-out and full-fledged games on any mobile platform. I don't think it's fair to compare this game to most PC games, despite the fact that it's a port. Instead it should be compared to its competition. The game far outshines Total War Battles, for example, and is a clear step up in the complexity of mobile games. There are downsides: combat and diplomacy could have more options and the graphics, while adequate, could be improved for retina displays. With that said, this game is an impressive port and is a must have for any gamers who want to give strategy gaming a try on the iPad. I'm excited for the future of mobile gaming, and by extension, war gaming. For a long time there has been a legitimate concern from many wargamers about the lack of depth being brought to the mobile front. Slitherine, however, appears to be one of the few companies willing to take a shot and develop more PC-like games for these devices, and I can only hope that they continue. For now, we may have to settle for simpler games like Legion but with the direction Slitherine is going, and the rapidly advancing technology on mobile devices, it's hopefully only a matter of time until Slitherine attempts a more ambitious port. War in the Pacific anyone? One can only dream.
Review written by: Matthew Flanigan
About Matthew Flanigan
Matthew Flanigan is a recent college graduate with a double major in History and International Relations who’s been playing war games for over 15 years. He loves any type of war game, from games like Panzer General, to FPS’ such as ARMA IIand even epic’s like War in the Pacific: Admirals Edition. In addition to making videos for his Youtube channel, Matthew's even begun the slow task of teaching himself the basics of computer programing.
Forum username: mflanigan