Ex illis – First impressions

After a couple of weeks spent gluing plastic together, last night saw the first outing for Ex illis, the new wargame from Bastion Inc, a tabletop wargaming company from Quebec, Canada.

First game set-up

OK, grey plastic figures aren’t the most visually appealing of subjects, but given my record on painting figures, if I’d have waited until the figures were painted before we played the game, this blog entry wouldn’t be written until next year…

A unit of Evocati (Angels) led by a Decurion

The figures themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. Some are relatively simple and unremarkable, whilst others are very fine indeed.

It’s interesting that one of the general comments about all the figures last night was “the heads look too small” – whether or not this is just a comment on what we are used to seeing in 28mm figures, or more of a comment on the style of the sculpting, I’m not sure.

Franc Chevalers attack Hobelars

My favourite units are the Angels (above) and the cavalry (Franc Chevalers & Hobelars). These units are very visually appealing – especially the Hobelars which have a fantastic pose, although there is a question mark over the size of the horses, as they look a little big.

The rest of the units (including Bowmen, Billmen, Arbalestiers and demonic creatures) are well detailed, and are of varying complexity to construct – but the overriding impression is that the minis are very nice, but somewhat delicate to handle…not neccesarily the best thing in models which are supposed to be handled during a wargame.

The game takes place on a board that is divided into  a grid – the ‘standard’ starter set uses a full colour printed mat, which is well produced and fully laminated. The deluxe starter set is provided with plastic terrain squares instead.

The other part of the game, and the most important part, is the software. This is the heart of the game. The software holds all the game rules, moderates initiative, calculates all the combat results and stores all the results for uploading to the web later.

I must admit, the software surprised me. Why? Well, I intended to run the game on my laptop. This is a T61 Thinkpad – not top of the range, but a pretty decent machine. However, I was only able to run the game at it’s lowest definition, which was OK, but probably not showing off the game to it’s best. So, you will need a decent machine to get the best out of the software.

I’m not going into detail about the game now (I’ll leave that for the podcast review) but I will say this…when I first heard of this game, I was extremely sceptical. Now I’ve seen and played it, I am being won over. There are still several issues I think the game has, but on the whole Bastion Inc have done an extremely good job.

So, onto the game last night…or should I say games. What other wargame do you know where you can turn up knowing only the very basic of rules of movement and combat and then play 3 very fun games in under 3 hours.

It is true that the computer screen dominates the game play – although you look at the board to see the tactical situation, everything is done on the computer, and you have a tendency to screen watch, rather than looking at the board. All movement and combat are fully animated on-screen (although remarkably without sound) – it’s a fun visual (at one point, virtually the entire game group was gathered around, watching the game)…I especially like the way that the corpses of the dead troops remain mapped on the screen, so as units either fight or move through areas that have previously seen combat, they end up moving between the dead from earlier in the game.

Overall, the gaming experience is quick and fun, and we haven’t even touched on the meta-gaming aspect of the game as your troops gain experience and you can train them online.

I played the game with Dave Luff. His verdict…the game was a complete hoot.

Having played my first games I must admit I am eager to play again, and I’m already got several ideas for possible expansions to my forces (although this may have to wait, as one of the major downsides of the game is its price and current lack of UK distribution) – it will be a few more weeks before we’ve played a few more games and can then record a podcast review, but it’s a good start.

7 Comments on Ex illis – First impressions

  1. ah come on Neil, you know I’m a geek/wargamer with tendencies to get caught up in new shinny things. I’ve purposely kept away from this game because it clicks too many buttons for me but there you go and give it the thumbs up

    now I’ll have to investigate it more

    damn you sir 😉

  2. Mike

    To be honest, it’s a very qualified ‘thumbs up’. I enjoyed the game far more than I originally expected to. The models are generally pretty good, and the gameplay itself, whilst having a ‘lite’ feel, does actually have a lot going on in the background.

    That said, as I hope I hinted at, the game has several issues – especially for the more ‘traditional’ wargamer. One of the biggest things I missed was rolling dice – because combat is computer moderated, the player is left with simply clicking a mouse and removing casualties. The arguement is that because you don’t have to worry about the ‘little things’ – like ‘is my unit in charge range’ or ‘which combat modifiers do I need for this unit’ – it leaves you to concentrate much more on the tactical gameplay, so you get to act more like a General in an army: “I will order my Billmen forward to engage the enemy”.
    I can’t knock the concept of playing on a grid, as it makes life so much easier, and takes away all the potential hassle and arguement about movement and range, and the software covers things that you might forget – like the fact that on a couple of occasions Dave wanted to engage my unit of Angels, and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to, until we twigged that he couldn’t because the unit was flying – again, less hassle on the players part.
    The game is deceptively simple – there is actually an awful lot to consider with unit strengths and weaknesses – I lost my games primarily because I wasn’t using my army properly, so contrary to first impressions, you still have a lot to learn.

    There is no doubt that the game relies hugely on the ‘gimmick’ of watching the battle unfold on the screen, and as with any gimmick, what happens when the novelty wears off? Would it actually become annoying?

    I am hoping to discuss all this in depth when I review the game on the podcast, so it promises to be an interesting show.

    It will be interesting to see what my son makes of it all. I suspect that at 12 he is the ideal audience, as it mixes fantasy, tabletop wargaming and video game all together – and it is ideal as you have almost no rules to teach initially – you just set-up, play and learn by your mistakes (hopefully). From that side of things, it’s and ideal ‘lads and dads’ game, and would be a great joint christmas present 🙂

    This comment has gone on far longer than I intended, so I will leave it there – listen to the podcast episode for more details 🙂


  3. No Neil tell us more

    we cant wait for a podcast 😉

  4. Sounds interesting. I too wonder if the game isn’t better served as a computer game? Are the miniatures and map of any real benefit? Do you find they help you visualize and make a better plan for the end result on the computer? I love minis but if the aren’t “essential” to the game, then I probably won’t buy them. The good news is you can try before you buy as Bastion does have a 30 day free trial. You can use proxies to go with the game…


  5. dapreacherman // October 11, 2010 at 18:51 // Reply

    I found this game about 6 months ago. To address a few items in the threads, yes you need minis and no its not a computer game. I have tried to play it as just a ‘computer’ game on my ipad, and using it that way is not fun. The program only gives you the location of the current unit. With one starter split between 2 players, you probably could track 4 units a side in your head, but when you get to two full starters plus additional units plus heroes, it is very diffucult to keep all that info without the minis.

    “the heads are too small…” yeah, i’ll give that to you, but very early on in the development, one of the goals is to give the minis a correct anatomical style with realistic weapons. The two handed swords are proportional to the actual size of a 6′ 5″ angel. How do you get that? The minis are 3d computer models cut out by using a high resultion dental milling machine. That’s right, no traditional green stuff scupts. I thought that was cool as well. It allows for greater accuracy, and therefore not limited to the oversized weapons and expressions found on an ‘orc with choppa.’

    I have played warmachine, the GW line, and alot of the old Mage Knight (where I started into minis). Here is some more perspective. We had a game night a few weeks ago at church, and I brought my ipad and my exillis starter. It sat there quietly for about an hour. A 6th grader and an 8th grader asked me about it. I started the app on the ipad and showed them the 2 armies. That’s all. they played 3 games, and by the end of the evening, 2 other kids had played as well. No rules, no fuss, absolutely no experience. The 8th grader has since looked at getting into miniature games because it was so fast and cool. I demo’d warmachine for him, and while he liked it, he said he would start with exillis because it was so easy and fast to play.

    One last observation, the more you play, the better your figures get. this is because they ‘level up.’ You can always play them at a lower level, but you cannot play them at a higher level. For instance, at lvl 1, my villein (peasants) and billmen (halbardiers) would run away as sissies just about any time a mounted unit attacked them. Now at level 5, they will usually fight back, and take a few more causualties before they flee. Put a hero with them, and they will even go on the offensive amd fight even longer. The units ‘personalities’ have changed.

    The game system adds leveling, specializations, choices, morale, fatigue, all in a few screen shots. The calculation and die rolling mechanics would take several minutes to accomplish the same depth of possibilities.

    • Larry

      Yes, I agree with everything you said – as I said, I gave some first impressions, but I’m really holding back to give all my thoughts on the podcast review – which should be out in a few weeks…

      The more I look at this game, the more I like it. I’ve got a week off next week, and I’m planning on taking the paper mini sets with me on holiday to teach my son how to play – the minis do make a great deal of difference, but I’m expecting to have fun anyway.

      I really didn’t want to like this game – I’ve failed dismally 🙂


  6. yosefbender // November 5, 2010 at 10:52 // Reply

    love this Exillis game as an old war-gamer I like depth and realism, this is the most playable war game that has realism that I have played in my 35 years as a gamer , I played over a hundred games and still have not master the depth that is in the system.

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