I remember all of the reasons why I wanted to buy Wildlands (2018, Osprey Games): cool artwork, Martin Wallace, multi-use cards, and a couple of very strong reviews from other peers in our space.
But for reasons that I still can’t fathom, no one is ever talking about it.
Martin Wallace is a luminary in the tabletop space; between Wildlands, Brass: Lancashire, Anno 1800, and some of his other older designs that I’ve had the chance to play (London, Automobile, Age of Steam, Tinners’ Trail, Hit Z Road, AuZtralia), I can’t really say I’ve had a bad time ever playing a Wallace game.
But Wildlands is a little different in one way: it’s a miniatures-driven, skirmish-style, direct conflict wargame-adjacent experience. In this way, it’s got that Wallace grit—people are coming right at you. They may not be coming for your money this time around, but still, they are coming for you!
I won’t claim to be an expert in the skirmish space, but Wildlands is absolutely fantastic. It’s clearly doing something right, because the game has spawned 8 expansions and a reskin using characters from the Judge Dredd universe.
Wildlands has just enough of a story to put it on the table: rival factions built as teams of five characters skirmish across the landscape in search of jewels, kills and glory. Each faction is better at one game element over the others; some move faster, specialize in melee attacks, or move in tandem with another character in the same move action.
Each player scatters five jewels of their faction’s treasure on the board across 5 of the roughly 40 spaces to begin the game, while secretly holding five cards with numbered spaces where their characters will magically appear on the board.
Each player also has a hand of 7 cards, and in classic Brass style, managing this hand of multi-use cards becomes the key part of the game. Cards can be used to move specific characters from a faction, used in combination to pick up jewels, or even to interrupt the action of the active player to take over a turn as if it was your own.
On a turn, players must reveal at least one of their five characters on the board before playing any number of their hand of cards. That means you could be the first player, reveal a character on the map, then move to an empty space to set up your next turn. Then the next player might reveal, say, three of their own characters, and they all happen to be in spaces near that first player’s character.
Combat, then, is common. Chipping away at the health of other characters is key, because whoever lands the killing blow of a character will score one of the 5 points needed to win. Remember the Interrupt action I mentioned earlier? Wildlands allows for any player holding one of their Interrupt cards to jump in even during a combat sequence to try and attack other players. You might even have multiple players interrupting the action before play returns to the original active player.
Turns in Wildlands can really be wild.
Some players might want to avoid combat altogether—each faction’s characters have varying levels of health—and spawn on the map to just loot, hunt, and grab as many treasures as quickly as possible. That’s an option, but typically, a mix of that loot hunt with 2-3 well-timed kills will win a game.
Win conditions? Simple. The first player to score 5 points, by grabbing jewels for a point each or knocking out another player for a point, wins.
The low health of almost all of the characters, mixed with good situational awareness to use cards to pick up jewels on the map, means that games of Wildlands are always close and always a hoot, because knocking characters out of the game is always tense.
Defending your characters from attacks will cost you cards, but if you use too many cards against one player, the next player may swoop in to finish you off; players don’t draw cards again until the end of their turn, and even then, they will only draw 3 cards each time they are the active player.
Many games claim to feature “asymmetrical gameplay”, but Wildlands really has it. Save for everyone holding a deck of cards, each faction has a different deck of cards to suit their faction’s attack and defense style. Some factions don’t have access to certain actions at all.
It Just Works
Every time I put Wildlands on the table, it is a blast: easy to teach, confrontational, stabby, but not evil. You know if you’ve got characters low on health (none of those health points can be healed, either, ensuring that bodies are constantly falling), other players are coming for you.
Wildlands has cool miniatures, solid card stock, a well-drawn and mapped double-sided board offering two distinct ways to skirmish with friends. Playtime is snappy; even at four players, this thing can be knocked out in an hour, even with new players.
I really love the iconography on the cards. It’s easy to tell which of your characters interact with each card. Understanding how to defend characters using each icon is even easier: a melee attack is used to both attack another player and burned by the defender on a card showing the melee icon.
Swooping in with an Interrupt card to snatch a jewel on another player’s turn is one of the coolest ways to win a game. I’ve done it, and I’ve had it done to me, and in both cases, I just had to laugh. Read and react, tactical gameplay fans will absolutely love how situations unfold in a game like this.
One open question: player count. The game plays 2-4 players, but in my 8-10 plays I have only ever played it at exactly 4 players. I prefer a full player count for almost every game I own, and Wildlands is no exception. My guess is that the element of surprise is just less interesting with fewer players on the map.
If you like what the base game has to offer and want more, Wildlands has you covered.
Wildlands has so much expansion content that you can turn it into its own hobby. In addition to more factions, Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter even gives you a new base Wildlands experience with characters from the Judge Dredd universe of comics. (Thankfully, nothing in Helter Skelter is based on the Sylvester Stallone movie version.)
Last year, Osprey released Wildlands: The Ancients, and my hope is that I’ll get a chance to review that content soon.
Wildlands is criminally underrated. If you enjoy a good skirmish experience, check this one out!