That gaming nightmare, that horrific situation where your enthusiasm for something leads you down the track of almost being an apologist, where not even your energetic cheer-leading can save you from the faces of the truth staring back at you. That no, you weren’t exactly lying, but you weren’t exactly telling the truth either, and like payment protection from the turn of the century, they feel slightly missold, and might be searching for compensation.
I blame myself, because there were five of us at the table, and two were reading the new rules for Adeptus Titanicus, with its tables and statistics and huge numbers of rules, and hardback finish and robots for goodness sake. I decided to teach the rules and sit out, not wanting anyone to miss out on the chance to control a team stealing gems or taking out their rivals.
So I sat instead, reading through a rule book of another game needing a critical eye, making sure the quartet were on their way to joy and excitement, before I was asked if I wanted to wrangle some zombies in a tiny epic world instead, at another table.
On reflection I should have maybe stayed and let someone else control the undead horde, while I pumped the air and infected those that were there with the unadulterated fun I had experienced only two weeks previously. I wanted my friends to have the best first experience, and somehow I felt I had let them down.
With Wildlands, you’ll read the rulebook within five minutes, and then you’ll read it again to make sure you haven’t missed out on anything, and then you’ll refer back to it on occasion to keep you straight, but you’ll probably search the box to see if you’ve maybe lost the big rulebook.
This is a Martin Wallace game after all, and to have something so deceptively simple, simply causes confusion, and suspicion, because I’m expecting long periods of analysis paralysis and surely a numbered board with no dice and action cards and miniatures is never going to… OH to be so wrong. To be so wrong but at the same thing to be smiling because very quickly you realise that Wildlands is about choices, and not just choices for the round you’re playing, but for the next three moves, and sometimes further on. Those times in the future where you can crow like Pan because you were so clever in predicting what was happening, or curse yourself for bad planning and watch as your opponent collects a gem from under your nose.
It’s all about the cards, because each of them offers you the chance to take an action with one of your stunning minis, whether it be moving, or smacking someone in the face, but only if the symbol on the card matches that of one of your four crew. Sometimes you’ll be able to take advantage of a wildcard to build up your hand further, or interrupt your opponent mid move, or take a free move. You’ll need spend three cards to pick up a gem, which in itself takes planning and sometimes risk.
Unlike a lot of other skirmish type games, you can keep playing as long as you can keep laying down cards, instead of the restricted move / action that you see in other games. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour here, as you can only defend attacks with your cards with specific symbols and its not unusual to be caught out, until you learn how Wildlands flows. Losing a character means a point for the other team, so combined with gem collecting, rounds can last easily under an hour.
The roster of characters are imaginative, from kilted beasties to circus performers, and each group specialises in a particular style. Some will be strong in melee, others in movement, and all look lovely with their dark washes and coloured bases. Funnily enough, the imagination that has gone into the characters is more than expected, or even required, but welcomed, as this isn’t an IP, so the normal leashes simply don’t apply. There’s a lot of production to enjoy. Wildlands is a self contained little empire of fun.
Damn. Truth be told, when I first played Wildlands, it was a two player thirty minute entire hemisphere of fun, because there was enough back and forth that it felt like you were attacking and counter attacking, blocking and running for crystals and it was all very immediate. And while the cards brought in the random elements, you still felt you were making decisions that had a direct effect. It was a war on only one front, and because of that, it felt like an intimate race.
In a bigger group, the need to react becomes greater, as you’re pushed on top of each other in tighter spaces, which doesn’t give you ample room to breathe, and cards can be burned through just keeping you from falling to the sword or the axe, which in turn effects your options when your turn comes around. A lack of ability to gain back health or steal crystals from other players means that sometimes some luck and a strong hand of cards full of wild cards allow you to pull ahead and leave everyone else scrambling about.
You simply can’t approach a four player game the same way you do with the tighter, smaller one on one. So my friends who sat and played Wildlands were probably never likely to have the same first time experience I did, and were left waiting between turns and discovered the next move they planned had been thwarted by the time it came back to their go. To them, there wasn’t the depth that I found when playing, there wasn’t as much of the chess-like planning that I found, and as one of them commented, it was all so much lighter than they expected, in terms of decisions and move sets.
They were politely telling me the latest recipe I had prepared for them was actually a plain ommlette, with awkward smiles and shuffling of feet. But there’s mushrooms, and bacon, and cheese.. I promise you.
The thing is, I want to learn how to win in a four player situation, after playing with two, though I’m not sure I’m going to get the same response from my friends. I want to have that conversation though, and show them the kind of fun Wildlands can bring to the table. It’s been a while since I’ve got something so accessible to the table, something with such a quick set up, that caused an immediate positive emotional response, that it is pushing me to try again, to go back and ask them to give it one more go.
For those wanting to up the ante, and change the teams they bring to the table, can I suggest a stab at the two expansions that have been recently released? With both the Adventuring Party and The Unquiet Dead, you can substitute out one of the normal teams in for either the squishier Adventurers who have the ability to heal, or the Undead who have the benefit of less restriction in terms of their moves choice. Martin Wallace has decided to bring in additional strategy for the placing of the Adventurers, as you now have a direct choice of where you assign each member of the team as they become available to play, which adds an element of additional decision making to the game. As well as that, the Party also brings in a welcome heal ability to counter act their general weakness for staying alive and the fact there are only four in your party. This allows a bit more risk to proceedings, but does push you to staying together as a unit and travelling in a pack to make sure you can counteract some of the bigger hitters from the original set up. What is interesting about the Adventuring Party is the inclusion of a secondary mode in which the AP can be treated as their own autonomous group, stealing gems and attacking those that get too close. It works well as an alternative solo mode for those who have a spare 45 minutes to kill and want some solo player goodness without the over complication of the Automata. I must say, I totally adore the sculpts by Bobby Jackson for the AP. They really suit the part and funnily enough sit nicely outside the Wildlands Universe.
On the other side, or beyond the veil, we have The Unquiet Dead, where there are six members of the party instead of the usual five, and there are only two symbols across all six characters. This can lead to the Undead team having the ability to have much more choice in who can move where, but to counteract that, they need to exchange four cards instead of the normal three. There’s a larger chance of the Undead having the ability to swarm their opponents, especially since the character symbols are so prolific, and some people might consider them to have an almost unfair advantage. Again, your mileage will vary based on the experience of the people you are playing. Like the Adventuring Party, They Won’t Stay Down is an additional mode, but where you replace fallen characters with members of the Unquiet Dead, and they move like your fallen allies, but they can’t pick up shards, or gain points if they knockout another or they themselves are removed. It kind of works as a way of preventing your opponent from outnumbering you if they are quicker at knocking you out, but there is the argument to say that it also removes that strategy. Out of both expansions available, The Adventuring Party just edge ahead over the Unquiet Dead, but only because I really liked the mode it included. Both are definitely worth checking out. though I must admit I’m frustrated that these additions are replacements as opposed to actual additions, but don’t let that put you off. Combined with the new map packs available, the replayability on Wildlands just continues to grow.
If you want to read about the Map Packs, you can read our Twitter thread about it here, but check out some of the photos below.
To me, Wildlands is special because it doesn’t need a forty page rulebook with exceptions and side boxes you have to remember. It’s move and fight and collect, and that’s it. It’s immediate. It didn’t need a play through video in preparation like so many modern ‘exciting and shiny’ games.
It had me thinking about it after I had finished playing it. It’s genuinely competitive instead of dull and popular cooperative. It’s almost like the Apex Legends Videogame of the tabletop world, a game based around the simplest premise and mechanics. There’s a purity here which I found refreshing, and knowing there’s expansions out there with variant powers, just makes me more excited about what’s to come. Lovely.
Wildlands is published by Osprey Games and you can purchase it HERE