Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: Osprey Games
2-4 players, 45-75mins
Price: £40-50 (approx)
I’m tempted to describe Wildlands as a lazy person’s small-scale skirmish miniatures game, if only because it allows every player to get straight down to getting their hands dirty within a matter of minutes, but it probably deserves a tad more explanation than that, so here goes…
In Wildlands, you’ll take control of a team of fantasy characters (hereafter called a faction), each with their own unique miniatures, character cards, action deck, strengths and weaknesses, etc. and will pit them against the other factions in the game. The winner is the first player to get to 5 points, and these are earned by knocking out other player’s characters or by finding and collecting your own colour crystal shards on a very tight, small-scale map. Indeed, each map has just 42 numbered spaces, and since at least 20 of these will have characters and/or crystal shards on them when the game begins (with up to 40 being occupied in a 4-player game), you should be able to see why it doesn’t take very long for things to start happening!
Combat in the game is also simple and effective, with everything driven by the cards in your hand (drawn from your faction’s unique action deck), which allow a useful mix of combat abilities, options to interrupt other players, and the ability to defend your characters from attack.
If there’s one thing Wildlands does really well, it’s in allowing players to dive straight in with minimal set-up and worry: the rules are easily explained within 10 mins or so, and the various factions varied enough to allow for a bit of replayability. What’s more, once you’ve picked your side and grabbed your crystal shards, miniatures and action deck, you’re pretty much ready to go.
Game set-up is a form of drafting in which you start with 10 cards, keep five cards that indicate where on the board each of your characters will start (this is known only to you at the start of the game), and pass the other five cards to the player on your right – these five cards are where your opponent’s five shards will start the game. Of course, your own shards will be in the five numbered spaces indicated by the cards you’ve just received from the player to your left! You also start with seven action cards from your deck.
And your choice of factions are? Well, I’m glad you asked…
The Guild are a team of mages who might not be too hot in the toughness department, but do know more than a handful of cool tricks and spells to cause damage from a distance, whereas The Pit Fighters are all about getting up close and personal and getting into a good old fashioned hand-to-hand scrap, and they’re tough buggers to bring down! Meanwhile, we also have a Lawbringers faction who are relatively weak but have a good range of defensive skills and can also dish out a bit of damage both up close and at a distance, while The Gnomads are somewhere in between all the above, with an extensive set of flexible movement skills and half-decent combat abilities, but somewhat limited both at range and up close. At time of writing a couple of other factions (miniatures and decks) have also been released as expansions, and there’s another double-sided board / map to fight on if you get bored with the one included in the core box.
As well as a combination of attack and defence cards —often limited to a few select characters in your faction depending on whether their icon is on the card— within each faction’s action deck are a handful of ‘wildcards’ that allow players to Interrupt, Move any character, and/or Draw additional cards into their hand.
Wildlands is also quick and easy to play: you basically reveal a single character if you have any that haven’t been revealed yet, play as many cards as you wish (and reveal other characters if you want), and end your turn by drawing three more cards from your action deck into your hand. Of course, other players can interrupt your actions with defensive and/or wildcards when the opportunity arises, and in turn you get to do the same back at them!
The card-driven gameplay seems to work really well regardless of which faction you’re actually playing, but like any game that relies on cards being in your hand, you can still find yourself in a bit of a pickle if the luck of the draw goes against you and the cards you have do not activate the characters you really want to activate. Of course, given the very limited playing area and such fluid gameplay, you’re never really stuck long enough for it to matter, with most games likely to end within an hour or so, and your own turn (and the opportunity to interrupt) always just around the corner.
The overall ease and simplicity of the system is one of the enduring appeals of Wildlands: it’s fast and furious in the best way possible, and will pitch players against each other within a very short space of time. Also in its favour is the ability to use the symbols of ‘knocked out’ characters to help you claim shards (which you usually claim by revealing three of the same character icon symbol from your hand when you’re in the same space as one of your shards), which means that regardless of how things are looking and how many characters you’ve still got to play with, you’re always in with a chance of snatching a win. The endgame, like the rest of it, is usually a frantic scramble for the last shard or final ‘knock out’ blow against another character.
All told, and as you’ve probably guessed, I rather like the ease with which Wildlands throws its players into the thick of things from the start, and trying to work in tandem with other players is a recipe for disaster: this game really is all about self-preservation. I like it, and I’m pleased with how the publishers are trying to support it with new expansions in the form of different factions and boards to play on. It’s a game well worth playing if you get the chance, imho.