Wildlands (2018) review
Wildlands is one of the latest games by designer Martin Wallace. If this name still does not tell you anything, it's high time you go and find out more and try out his games. He has created a few dud games, but usually, most of them are very good, and is one of the most original and talented authors since the 90's. He is credited with titles such as Age of Steam, A Few Acres of Snow and God's Playground. All very good, I tell you. In 2018, there were no less than three publications of his games that were available. Two from a Kickstarter: Auztralia and the new Brass: Lancashire. And one that went direct to retail: Wildlands. It is this title that we will talk about here.
Wildlands came out at Essen 2018 from Osprey Games, a rather surprising English publisher. Little known to the general public, Osprey Publishing specialize in book publishing or wargame rules. Their origins include famous wargames / figurine games like Frostgrave, Dracula's America or Bolt Action. They did not neglect the board game, by branching out and creating Osprey Games, with titles like Escape For Colditz, The Lost Expedition, London (another Wallace). An editor searching since a few years to stand out.
Following a fierce battle between Good and Evil, the capital of the kingdom has been ravaged. It is indeed in the middle of this territory that the final struggle took place. The victory of the Good was not without consequence and the capital was carried away leaving Wildlands (hence the name of the game) devastated.
Today, enemy factions find themselves in search of treasure, glory and fame. These are your goals, as you play one of these factions and impose yourself against others.
Wildlands is a game for 2 to 4 players, based in a fantasy world. Each player embodies a faction composed of several miniatures (5 per faction in the base game). The four factions are The Guild, The Lawbringers, The Gnomads and The Pit Fighters (one per player, of course!). Each offers a different gameplay. Not in the mechanisms, but in the way of apprehending and controlling them. To impose yourself? Nothing easier. You just have to be the first to win 5 points. You will earn one point if you manage to recover a crystal of your color or if you knocked out an opposing figure. A character out of play will of course not return. Once a player loses all their miniatures, he loses. So beware of being too adventurous.
In the game, there are two types of actions: default and flags.
When you play a card with your character icon :
Each card has several icons. When a card is played, you can activate only one miniature regardless of the image and the number of symbols. Yes, the whole game is based on choice. Doing this or that action will deprive you of other choices.
You also have Wild cards that give you three choices : move any character, draw two cards or interrupt. Interrupt is another rather malicious gaming mechanism. With such a card, you can intervene in an opponent's turn.
Once a player has finished an action during his turn, you can play a card for its interrupt ability and play as if it were your turn. But be careful, that player too can do the same, as too can the other players. Very quickly, everything can come one after another and can lead to hurt. Once each player has stopped and played their actions, the game returns to the current active player.
That's all? Almost. The game gives you the freedom to play as many cards as you want, but at the end of your turn you will only draw three cards, with a seven card limit to your hand. And when you interrupt a player's game, you won't draw again until the end of your turn.
With an air of a skirmish game (clash of small bands), Wildlands offers a little more than that. You can try to kill the characters of the other faction but you can also very well win without doing a single point of damage. And claim the shards of your color. Or even do a mix of both. It's a very competitive point race. You must constantly pay attention to what the other is doing. The interaction is very strong especially with the potential threat of an interruption on your turn.
We are clearly in a game that will not please everyone. Its strengths can also become its weaknesses. The impression of an omnipresent chaos (linked to the interruption mechanism). The great presence of luck (linked to the draw of cards that will determine the possible actions). The immediate victory without finishing the round. And the ease of access are some of the many points which can scare or even remove many players.
But Wallace is a well-known designer for cleverly mixing German-style gaming mechanisms with Ameritrash style. Wildlands is no exception to the rule.
Chance is indeed present, whether from the set-up or in full play, it is the cards that will allow you to carry out your actions. Sometimes, when you don't have a good hand, it can make you angry. But it's also one of game's wills, to force you to adapt to each situation. It is almost impossible to get stuck if you know how to change strategy at the right time.
The ability to interrupt the game of another brings, it is true, a little surprise effect, but it is far removed from "great chaos". Performing this action is both dangerous for the opponent but also for you. Because if you miss your shot, you will start your turn (and enemies' turn) with greatly reduced possibility. And it can hurt.
As for the immediate victory, which isn't very rare for a skirmish, it adds a real pressure to the game.
Wildlands seems like a simple game, maybe too simple. And yet it's not.
It has the huge advantage of offering high accessibility. The rules are short but above all very easy to understand. Even if you can explain the game in less than 5 minutes, it does not mean that a player will master it. Each faction offers a very different gameplay in its reactions. For example, while one will go more towards melee confrontation, the other will go to dodge and speed. You will have to try to adapt, to best your opponent, who will do everything to take the advantage. It isn't uncommon to think and search for the best use of your hand, what card to play or not to play. And when is the best time to play it. The interaction is really ubiquitous. Whether it is your turn or not, you must always have an eye on the situation.
Freedom and adaptation are two words that fit perfectly well with the game. You have many choices, and you have a lot of freedom to accomplish them. But each action will be done to the detriment of another. You will therefore have to think carefully and accept the fact that we can't control everything. At the same time, this is not the goal of this type of game where the "take that" is very anchored.
Contrary to what you think, the game is short, or very short if you do not pay enough attention. This duration thus makes it possible to avoid the impression of not being in control and the frustration that can result from seeing one's actions fail while the plan of the other unfolds without a hitch. But it also offers the opportunity to play the revenge and try the different factions without having an impression of weariness. Still, of course, you have to like the style of games.
So, what's in the box? Inside, we will find the four factions with their deck of cards and colored bases, gems, damage tokens and a double sided board. Yes that's all. There is not necessarily a lot, but it is true that for the price of the game, it may surprise you. Going a little further in the inspection, we can see why and understand it.
The general composition, without being exceptional, is well made. The front and back board offers two battlefields with slightly different rule sets. The rendering is clean and visually pleasing. The art is by Alyn Spiller and Yann Tisseron. Particular care has been given to the miniatures. They are sculpted by Bobby Jackson (CMON) and Tim Prow (expansions of Cthulhu Wars). Despite a style a little retro for some, they are beautiful, fine and detailed. They have benefited from a black wash (rather well done) that gives them a real stamp (a bit like in Mechs vs. Minions). Good to be honest, when you remove the inserts (plastic), it's still a big empty box. The inserts are a little smaller and space to accommodate future expansions would have been appreciated. We also hope in the future, new colored base to avoid having to remove from the miniatures at the end of each game (at the risk of damaging them).
We still feel that Osprey took care to do a great job and wanted to offer a visually attractive game at the expense of a high price.
Wildlands is a game a little too much unnoticed after Essen 2018. It clearly didn't have the success it deserved. The price is unfortunately not foreign to me. It's really too bad especially since it's a good game and it does, not matter the number of players. In dual, it will offer you a more tactical challenge. At 3 or 4, the tension is higher and situation reversals can occur at any time.
Although it is true that the theme is quickly forgotten, the game is nervous, immersive, fun, fast, smart and cunning. Due to its high accessibility and simple rules, it could easily be used to introduce to non-skirmisher players.
Wallace and Osprey have already announced to follow their range. A first expansion was released shortly after the base game : The Unquiet Dead. This one offers a new faction (made up of 6 nice miniatures) that can be used instead of another, or that can serve as a neutral encounter. Be careful though, this expansion doesn't allow to play 5 players.
In 2019, other expansions are planned: whether new factions (the Adventuring Party with new rules) or new map.
A very good surprise, if you have the opportunity to try it do not hesitate a second.
Technical Score 8.5/10
Even if there is sparing amount of components, everything is really good. The miniatures are beautiful, detailed and well done. The wash effect is great. The rules are short and effective.
My BGG Score 8.5/10
(Very good - enjoy playing and would suggest it.)
Easy to play, easy to get out, easy to learn but not so easy to master. The game is super fun and offers a good challenge.
Combined Score 8,5/10
And now it's over to you...