Board Game Review - Legions of Steel

Last week I review Space Hulk, which is my new favorite game, and one of the finest games I've ever played. I spent years trying to run down a copy of the old version, and while I was waiting, I also was working to get an astonishingly similar game called Legions of Steel. If I couldn't get my sci-fi dungeon crawl one way, I would get it another. And so two months before Games Workshop announced that I could order Space Hulk, I managed to secure a trade for Legions of Steel.

When I say that Legions of Steel is a similar game to Space Hulk, what I mean is that the designers of Legions played Space Hulk, saw it making a ton of money, and said, 'hey, we could do that!' then made yet another space-combat-in-tight-corridors dungeon crawl game. Only to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit, they changed stuff.

The first thing they changed was that now, the bad guys had guns. And they weren't bugs any more, they were robots. And the corridors aren't in a huge floating space derelict, they're beneath the surface of the planet. And the good guys weren't space marines, they were commandos. So except for the guns and a few words, it was the same game.

But those guns make a world of difference. When you make the two forces roughly equivalent, it stops being a contest of strength versus speed, or maneuverability versus firepower, or quantity versus quality. Now it's more of an even contest, and you lose one of the most important features of Space Hulk - the claustrophobic, paranoid feeling that inhuman monsters are about to crawl out of the air ducts and chew on your head. Now it's basically a miniatures game played in a rat maze.

Still, though, miniatures in close quarters can be loads of fun, and while Legions of Steel completely fails in the originality department, it does succeed in being an entertaining game. It moves fast, has minimal bookkeeping, and manages to still deliver a very cool tactical tabletop gaming experience. Plus there are robots.

The basic mechanics are not all that different from Space Hulk, with some very notable exceptions. For one thing, the creators of Space Hulk realized that even in a fistfight, a gun is the weapon of choice for nearly anyone with a lick of sense. Instead of saying, 'OK, the bad guy is coming closer, so I'll put away my gun and pull out my sword, because that'll probably be way more effective than just SHOOTING HIM IN THE FACE,' the commandos don't even have close combat rolls, just a ludicrously good chance of hitting anything that gets close enough to stab them. The bad guy robots don't drop their guns to whip out kitchen knives, either, because they also have enough sense to know that a sucking chest wound is worse than a knife to the kneecap.

Legions of Steel also expands on the overwatch mechanic, by saying that any soldier who doesn't fire on his turn is automatically covering, and will get a shot before anyone who enters his line of fire. And if he doesn't move first, that soldier can lay down suppression fire, and really light up anybody he can see. Of course, most players will have the sense not to step into an intersection full of hot bouncing lead, so the suppression fire does more to block areas than it does to actually hurt people. Which is actually pretty cool, because that's what suppression fire does in real life.

There are a few other interesting changes - grenades, for instance, and a big robot with a pitchfork and a face like Scooby-Doo - but mostly, Legions of Steel is just Space Hulk, but both sides have guns. It's not the theme-heavy game you get with Space Hulk, especially because so much of Space Hulk is rules meant to enforce theme, and the rules in Legions of Steel are made to make a balanced, fluid game. But it is a whole big fat pile of fun.

The miniatures ain't bad, either, especially for a game from 1992. The commandos have cool powered armor and cool guns (except for the plasma gunners, whose weapons look like Dyson cordless vacuums), and the robots look like they just stepped off the set of a Terminator movie. The robot rottweiler with the giant salad tosser is a little silly, but this was the early 90s, so you gotta give 'em a bit of a break. They're not as cool as Space Hulk minis, but then, nothing is.

The tiles that make up the board tend to be a little less impressive than the miniatures, though. I mean, you do get a whole huge lot of them, and they're incredibly diverse, so you can make pretty much whatever twisted corridors and rooms you want. They're all fully illustrated, which was pretty cool in 1992. There are a few issues with black edges where there are supposed to be gray, or tunnels that don't exactly line up, and they're a little drab. Where Space Hulk has all these little touches - steam pipes, spent shell casings, floor grids askew - these tiles just basically all look pretty much the same.

If Legions of Steel had been made before Space Hulk, it would have been the cat's pajamas, and probably would have lasted a while longer. Unfortunately, the guys who made Legions of Steel were thoroughly unoriginal bastards. The game is really fun, with great rules for a cool gunfight in tight corridors, but it's got all the creative genius of a bowl of vanilla pudding. The commandos wear power armor and carry bolters, so they're just like space marines, but different (except not very different at all). The bad guys are killer robots who look just like the robot at the end of Terminator after Arnold loses all his skin and stuff. The backstory has all the brilliance of a pool of warm beer.

But originality isn't the only way to make a fun game, and Legions of Steel is a great gaming experience. I love Space Hulk, and I love Legions of Steel. They're similar, but the few tweaks found in Legions make it a very different gaming experience from Space Hulk, which means I have twice the amount of fun corridor-stomping to do, and can play whichever immersive, theme-heavy gunfest I want for a good long time to come.


Just like Space Hulk, except for being completely different
Great tactical contest, because the teams are pretty well balanced
Easy to learn, and plays pretty fast
Miniatures are mostly cool (except the ones that are dorky)

A few dorky figures
Mediocre art on the floor tiles and doors
About as original as a 'Got Milk?' joke

I don't have the foggiest idea where you can find a copy of Legions of Steel, but if you see it and you like gun-toting shoot-em-up games (you know, like men play), you should see if you can snag a copy.