Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Wildlands may be the slickest, simplest fantasy skirmish game ever made

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |

Fast and furious —

Easy to learn but satisfying to play.

Owen Duffy

Hexbyte - Tech News - Ars Technica | Wildlands may be the slickest, simplest fantasy skirmish game ever made

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at

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Miniature battle games have been around as long as the tabletop hobby itself. From industry giants like Warhammer 40,000 to competitors like Frostgrave, The Walking Dead, or the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, there’s a huge range of options if you like to lead plastic legions to flaming, spiky, or splattery deaths.

But while mini-wargames are a thriving subsection of gaming geekdom, they’ve always existed in their own fortified compound, separated from the wider gaming audience by the complexity of their rules, the cost of their models, and the time and skill required to build and paint their armies.

Wildlands, a new release from veteran game designer Martin Wallace, aims to bridge that gap—and in the process, it turns many of the assumptions about these kinds of games on their head. A squad-based game of fantasy skirmishes, Wildlands hands players command of teams of wizards and warriors, throwing them into intense five-on-five clashes. Along the way, it combines elements of miniature battle games with clever card play, and the result is a tense, tactical experience that combines board-game-style accessibility with the competitive intensity of a full-blown wargame.

Before you play, you’ll choose one of four factions to command, each with its own set of characters and tactics. There are hardened pit fighters who aim to rush their enemies in hand-to-hand combat, evasive rogues who use speed and agility to stay out of harm’s way, magic users who employ powerful arcane attacks, and ranged combat specialists who attempt to perforate their foes while remaining a safe distance from the fray.

Once you’ve chosen a side, you do battle on one of two environments on the game’s double-sided board. The first, an underground dungeon, is full of twisting passages to traverse as you attempt to outmaneuver your opponents. The second, a ruined city, comes with areas of high and low ground—offering enticing opportunities for well-placed snipers.

Whichever battlefield you choose, though, your goals remain the same. You’ll claim a victory point every time you defeat an enemy character in combat or pick up one of the magical crystals scattered around the board. The first player to reach five points wins, and the result is a frantic scramble to claim points through violence, resource-grabbing, or a carefully calibrated combination of both.

So far, Wildlands might sound like any number of similar skirmish games. But what sets it apart from the pack is its radical simplicity. Where other battle games rely on complicated systems of stats, charts, and dice-rolling combat, Wildlands boldly hacks away at any unnecessary complexity. What remains is a bare-bones mechanical core that still manages to generate a succession of dramatic moments and thorny tactical dilemmas.

You’ll command your troops using a deck of cards—a different deck for each of the game’s factions. Every card comes with a collection of symbols letting you issue orders to the characters under your control: moving, shooting, and attacking in melee combat. But you’ll only be able to choose a single order to activate each card you play, and picking one means forgoing the chance to use the others.

Thus, on every turn you have to carefully read the state of the board and weigh up a host of different priorities. Do you want to attack a vulnerable enemy? Pull weak or wounded troops out of danger? Consolidate control of an important area? And how can you most efficiently use the cards in your hand to pull off your evolving plan?

  • The front side of the board, showing the primary map layout.

  • The card tableau for your squad.

  • The reverse side of the gameboard, with an alternate map.

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