Review: Slitherine's Legion

By Owen Faraday 08 Apr 2013 0
Live to fight another day, eh lads? It's all gone Pete Tong.

We talk a lot about iPad tactical wargaming masterpiece Battle Academy around these parts. Battle Academy might be Slitherine's first iPad game, but it's far from their first game: the British development house has been around for over a decade, making PC wargames of every shape and size.

With such an extensive back catalog of titles, it was only a matter of time before Slitherine decided to dust a few off and squeeze them onto your iPad. The Classical Roman grand strategy game Legion is the first such game -- a title originally released to middling reviews in 2002. How has the passage of time and the influence of a new form factor treated Legion?

Not too badly, as it turns out.

Legion comes from the days when games arrived on your desk in a box, with an honest-to-god printed manual packed in. Legion expects you to read that manual, which is now available in-game as a PDF. It's too proud to stoop to indignities like tutorials. If you want to get something out of Legion, you need to put something in.

Scipio maneuvers. Setting up battle plans is where Legion's gameplay earns its salt.

Already, that is going to disqualify a lot of folks who are accustomed to modern games that bend over backwards to ensure your comfort and confidence before venturing forth. More will be turned off by the UI, which is competent, but clearly originally designed for a different platform from back when the only touchscreens you ever saw were on Star Trek: Voyager. And that's too bad, because there's a lot to like in Legion.

Legion puts you in control of a province or nation in one of the game's numerous scenarios and tasks you with the expansion of the same. There's a diplomatic engine that you can use to forge alliances, extort weak neighbors, and bribe aggressive ones. You can build up the settlements and cities in your provinces to increase your production of food, metals, and wood -- and then use those resources to train up armies to act as the pointy end of your diplomatic efforts.

This strategic layer to the game is surprisingly robust -- it's better than most of the 4X games on the App Store -- though believe me when I tell you that you need to read the manual. Read the manual. When you jump in and start playing and find that you're out of wood after three turns, you'll come back and say, "Owen, I should have read the manual." I will nod sagely, cinch my bathrobe, and go back to watching Adventure Time.

Soon-to-be-dying Gauls. Tough crowd.

The rewarding (if somewhat inaccessible) strategic layer is good, but the real star of the Legion show is the tactical combat. When your legions meet another force in the field, your scouts will reveal some (but not all) of the enemy formations, which you will set your maniples up to counter. You can put your cavalry into a wedge to break through the enemy's line, or an echelon to cover a flank. You can tell your skirmishers to march double time or to wait a beat before setting forward. Once you commit to your plan, though -- that's it. The battle goes into motion and all you can do is watch. And hope.

No doubt this unconventional approach was part of the reason for Legion's lukewarm review scores eleven years ago -- but this model has improved with age. It's ideal for iPad gaming -- and it prefigures the widely admired Got it where it counts. The city screen would have been much nicer in Retina. Alas.[/caption]

Legion is not for those looking for a jump-in-and-play wargame -- you'll be better served by Battle Academy, Battle of the Bulge, or Tank Battle North Africa. But if you want a game you can sink an hour into every night and keep coming back to, Legion is one of the most rewarding games on the App Store. It's not going to win any style awards, but it's certainly got substance.

Just don't forget to read the manual.

Review: Slitherine's Legion

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