This article will offer some thoughts on what faction to choose if you are just getting into Star Wars: Legion.
One of the most common interactions I will see on social media is a new player asking “I’d like to get into Legion, what should I play?” And being met with a chorus of “Play what looks good/fun!”.
This is, unfortunately, a frequently unhelpful exchange that tends to leave the initial person unsatisfied. That said, neither party is acting in bad faith. Without specificity, it’s hard to tell what you might want out of the game that can be recommended to you, while the people saying to buy what looks fun is giving an honest answer, but the definition of “fun” is subjective. Using your favorite characters/units can be fun, painting cool models can be fun and winning can be fun!
The goal for me today is to try and explain what faction you should look at, based on some of the major reasons someone may want to get into this hobby. Wargaming is an involved hobby, it requires a (sometimes significant) monetary investment, and consequently some forethought to guide your faction decision.
A short aside on “Get What Looks Cool”
Many a first reply to what faction to get into is to buy “what you think looks cool” or “buy what you like”. This is a frustrating reply because it’s not particularly helpful. Looking cool is subjective, and Star Wars is a known property. If someone knows what faction they like from the films or TV shows they generally aren’t asking about that.
The vast majority of people likely choose factions based on what they already like from media. Their decision has been made and so they’re not likely to need help. The ones who want the help are often asking a deeper question, even if they’re not sure themselves what their criteria is. The vagueness is what leads to such open ended replies like this. So I’m going to try to look at some of the other popular reasons to pick a faction that will help narrow down the search.
What is Easiest to Start With?
Now we’re getting somewhere. Learning curves can be a real challenge, especially for people who aren’t used to war games. There is a lot of technical skill involved and even knowing the basic rules isn’t always enough, there are combos to learn and weird rules interactions and it’s…a lot.
So what factions make this transition easier? Generally speaking I would recommend the Galactic Civil War factions: Rebels and Empire. These factions lack a high concept “gimmick” that you must learn to manage in order to get the most out of the army.
In my personal opinion, Empire is a little easier to learn. Almost everything has Red Defense Dice (the better defense dice) so it can be more forgiving when you’re shot at and are still learning proper use of cover and line of sight blocking. The damage output isn’t always as high on similar units, Stormtroopers are firing with white attack dice (the worst kind), for example but it’s sufficient.
Rebels on the other hand are much more delicate, but their units are a bit more specialized. Almost everything in the army has a “thing” they do which is generally clear and immediately understandable to a newcomer. Nearly everything has white dice for defense making them more vulnerable to attack, but better attack dice than Empire.
The Clone Wars factions have a steeper learning curve. Both have a high level mechanic that is essential to learning how they play. Clones need to stay in groups in order to share tokens, and droids need to stay clustered in order to pass out orders, because without them they are at the mercy of their programming. To their credit, droids are also one of the easier factions to paint, so if that is a concern then it is worth considering.
That said I don’t think any of these factions are “unlearnable” to a beginner. The difficulty curve overall isn’t too bad and with enough persistence you can learn the Clone War factions just fine.
What is “Good”?
Generally when people ask if something is good they’re asking these questions:
- Is a faction good, or will I get stomped into the ground?
- What is their playstyle like?
- If I decide on a faction what should I get?
There is a sometimes a stigma around wanting to pick a “Winning” faction; some consider it bad form to focus on a faction’s win rate and not some amorphous idea of what “fun” is. Some really don’t consider losing constantly as fun, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If someone is coming into the game with no foreknowledge, they have no way of knowing if the balance is out of whack and it is understandable to want to avoid a faction with a 30% win rate. It’s worth highlighting the experience of players from other games where some factions are really bad.
The good news: Legion is fairly balanced compared to those other games, and no faction is beyond winning. There are only four factions and while they trade spots as for the best win ratio, they’re not as far apart as many other, similar games. As of this writing, Droids/CIS have the highest win rate. Rebels and Empire exist around the middle at about the same rate, while Republic has had their skill cap raised quite a bit since their primary faction mechanic was severely nerfed, though they are not without significant victories either. This isn’t 40k where some factions have a 20% win rate and others are at 80%; we are (currently) talking about the difference between about 45% on the low end and 55% on the high end. Feel free to check out Legion Stats if you want to browse.
There is an argument to be made that none of this is permanent, there have been shifts in the meta before. For example, Empire went from the worst faction in the game by quite a bit, to the best for a time and now is in a pretty good place balance wise. The challenge is we can’t anticipate what balance changes could come in the future. It could result in Republic becoming top dog next year or no meaningful change at all. All I can reliably give you is the here and now.
One Final Note: All factions are very playable and can win. Frequently it’s going to come down to knowing the missions and what you can excel at rather than just picking the best army. Player skill is, by far, the most decisive factor in Legion, not your faction. There’s no harm in wanting to win, but how to get there is often a bit more complicated.
Sometimes aesthetic isn’t enough. Experienced wargamers especially want to know if a faction’s “Style” will appeal to them. There’s no use in having a bunch of cool models if you just do not jive with how they work on the table.
I’m going to go into the short, elevator pitch for how each faction generally plays. All four factions have been out long enough that there is enough unit variety that you often have several options for playstyle. Every faction has some sort of strong troop option, special forces and vehicles that you can make a list around, with the characters to support them. These summaries are just the general jist of how the faction tends to work on the table.
In addition, I will list some of the units I recommend grabbing after the appropriate starter set. These aren’t all required, nor are they a strict limit on what to buy. What’s good is going to depend on how you use it and what units you bring with it to support it. I will merely be listing the units that see a lot of action on the table.
In all cases I highly recommend getting the starter set with your desired faction. If you can find someone to split with, it is an excellent deal on all the tools and generic cards you need to get started. The Commanders included are also unique to these starter sets.
While Starter sets used to be almost mandatory buys, this soon won’t be quite as essential. In June 2022, Atomic Mass Games will release an “Essentials” kit, which includes all the plastic bits and generic cards you need, allowing you to bypass what was previously Starter Set only. The Starters are still an excellent deal on enough models to get you started, but if you can’t find someone to split with, then you can just get the Essentials kit.
The Rebellion play like the guerilla fighters you’d expect. The faction has a “Glass cannon” feel, as most of their units have white defense dice, but above-average attack dice. This encourages you to use cover wisely and strike from hiding before retreating back. The units tend to be very specialized and accomplish a specific task well. If caught outside that role it can be a lot more difficult.
Rebels also have some of the best Heroes in the game, covering just about every different role. Luke Skywalker comes in two flavors, commander and operative and his operative is in competition for best Jedi of the game. You can also use his command cards on both versions, giving you a total of 6 possibilities. It’s distinctly possible to play a hand with just Luke’s cards. Cassian Andor and Han Solo are some of the best gun heroes in the game, while Chewbacca is an excellent bodyguard.
- You love playing Hero-centric lists
- You want units with a clear role that excel at their task
- You love the thrill of ambushing the enemy and sneaking away
What to buy
- Operative Luke Skywalker
- Cassian Andor
- Rebel Trooper Upgrade Pack (for the DLTs)
- Wookie Warriors
- Commandos (for the strike teams)
The other side of the Galactic Civil War factions, the Empire is almost the opposite of rebels. Units are much more durable, with red defense dice instead of white. Units generally cost more, which gives them a slightly more elite feel than Rebels. Every loss hurts a bit more.
The higher defense dice mean it’s usually easier to press up the field than with Rebels, and can be more forgiving if you’re caught out in the open. Suppression tends to surround a lot of your units, as many of your units have access to give out suppression (Fear will keep the systems in line, after all) but also cause suppression on your own men to compel them to act. Without careful management this can cause them to be unable to act, or run away entirely, so watch out!
Since a recent glow up Vader is one of the best force users on the field right now, which allows a much wider variety of empire lists than was previously possible.
- You want durable troopers who win through sheer force.
- Want to suppress an opponent to deny them actions.
- Have access to one of the most terrifying close combat characters in the form of Vader
What to buy
- Operative Darth Vader
- Iden Versio
- Imperial Special Forces (ISF)
- Director Krennic
- Stormtrooper upgrade pack
Republic are probably the most “Elite” faction of the bunch. Even your basic troopers are on the more expensive side. That said they’re not always the best autonomous operators, and rely on cooperation and friendship to maximize their abilities.
Clones are able to share tokens with each other in close proximity, which means that as a collective force they tend to fair much better. Most of their heroes are intended to provide support, and buff the forces around them. Republic needs to rely on teamwork or the whole castle comes crumbling down.
Sadly, they are a bit of an uphill battle for newcomers. Their core mechanic was nerfed and the point cost per models has remained high. Most lists involve using Anakin or Yoda with Padme to use Exemplar to share more tokens than usual. That said they are not a total loss, so if you’re really interested in them give them a shot anyway! They are just very difficult to play and not forgiving of mistakes.
- You enjoy an army that focuses on buffs to maximize the power of a unit.
- You like an elite force with fewer models but that can dish out pain to compensate.
- You like tanks and Jedi.
What to buy
- Saber Tank
- Phase 2 Troopers
- Phase I Upgrade Pack
- Wookiee Warriors
Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS)
CIS is the polar opposite of Republic. Almost everything in the army is delicate and expendable, but priced to move. While they, on average, have terrible dice on both the attack and defense side of things they get to throw so much dice at an opponent that stuff is bound to hit. You’re playing a numbers game and can very quickly overwhelm other armies with volume of fire.
CIS are probably one of the hardest armies to learn, since they live and die by their mechanic. Certain units, when issued orders, can grant an order to another nearby unit. This becomes a game of learning to “Chain” orders between units so you can get as much of your army with a face up order token as possible. If they don’t have a face-up order token, they are forced to blow their first action on a prescribed action (AI), which might not be what you want! So I recommend starting easy, with a lot of B1s (because they are the most flexible to chain orders around) and slowly working in more big stuff. More activations is always good, anyway.
As of right now CIS are considered the top of the meta, Magna-Guard and Spider Droids are both nasty at their job and Maul, if played right, can really wreck house. Finally, they are probably the easiest army to paint, since they’re mostly a lot of metallics (assembly is another matter).
- You like dominating the field with sheer numbers.
- Enjoy tactically positioning your army for maximum efficiency.
- You love throwing fistfuls of dice.
What to buy
- Darth Maul
- Count Dooku
- Dwarf Spider Droid
- BX Commandos
- B1 Upgrade Pack
A note on Shadow Collective
At this time, there is a lot of buzz about Shadow Collective. A “Scum and Villainy” faction, similar to what exists in X-Wing, has long been asked for by the community. It is likely going to be a draw for people looking to get into the game, as there is a high demand for playing such a faction. As of right now their launch looks like it will be next month, so it won’t be long before we see them on the table.
Atomic Mass Games has stated they won’t be a proper faction but a “Battle Force”. Which, quite frankly, feels like splitting hairs. Essentially, they function like mercenaries in Warmachine and Hordes or Malifaux. Shadow Collective has several mercenary units that can be “hired” by other factions, or played in their own list. So you can collect them to augment your own forces, and get a new army in the process.
They will also have their own exclusive units, like Gar Saxon and his Mandalorians. The “Battle Force” distinction feels like a distinction to cover up the factions early lack of unit variety, for example they will not launch with any vehicles of their own, but those will be coming in future months.
If you want to get into the ground floor on this faction, be aware that it’s just too early to get an idea of how they will play, and may be a poor choice as your first faction. Consider picking one of the other 4, and picking up a Shadow Collective Starter Set to augment them. You can always expand into them as a “second faction” later.
That brings us back to our initial question “What faction should I buy?”. If you’re asking that, there’s probably a deeper reason. Are you asking about ease of play, what’s going to win games or what fits your playstyle? All of these are perfectly legitimate reasons and it’s good to examine what you want out of the game and go from there. It’s impossible to answer every reason you might want to play but hopefully these give you a bit of a head start. If you can’t decide based on a personal favorite, maybe you can get working on finding the right choice for you.
All current armies are absolutely playable, though some can be more challenging than others. I’d also like to know what made you choose your first army. Sound off in the comments or on our facebook page.