Thursday, 24 January 2013

Review of X-Wing Miniatures Game

Thursday, January 24, 2013

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So maybe flimsy cards is not your thing, maybe abstract battle on a large scale doesn't suit you. Fear not! There are plenty of Star Wars action to go around. Today I will review Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight Games.

This was also announced around the same time as the card game and roleplaying game and I was initially not all that impressed. I've always been a fleet scale kind of guy when it comes to spaceship battle games - Full Thrust, Starmada, Firestorm: Armada, Task Force Zeta, whathaveyou - whereas X-Wing is a much more intimate game focused on dogfighting. Around Gencon the same year there was a debate about wheather X-Wing is simply a re-dressed Wings of War and designers and industry folk on both sides of the fence stepped forward to tell their view on things. In the end I think most people settled on something like "the two games are very similar, but so are many other games within a given genre". Nevertheless I think X-Wing does owe a lot to it's predecessor, even though they are also different in several regards.

An early X-Wing prototype showcased during GenCon.

Anyway, as FFG ramped up their previews of the game I found myself becoming more and more interested. I mentioned that my enthusiasm for Star Wars has dampened quite a bit during the past 15 years or so (wonder why...), but the starships and space battles from the original trilogy have never ceased to enkindle my imagination! I love the design of the ships and the non-Newtonian (hell, non-scientific!) style of WWII in space actually works in Star Wars. So by mid 2012 I realized that I would at least have to get the core set to see if the game itself was any fun - the previews looked good, but some hands on experience was needed.

A few months later and I eagerly went to the post office to pick up my copy of X-Wing! Contrary to my original plan I had also ordered another X-Wing and three(!!) Y-Wings as well. Just couldn't help myself. Luckily my friend Anders picked up the slack on the Imperial side and bought extra TIEs so we could play larger battles.

Our inital impressions were very positive (you can read my thoughts here) but I think we played a bit too intensively and burned out a little after the first couple of weeks. Luckily by the time the Kessel Event rolled around to Sweden we were all eager to play again! Taking part in a tournament and facing several different players (and sides) taught me a lot about the game and I've come to appreciate it more I think.

So let's have a look at the game, shall we? I will be doing this review more on the game as a whole, rather than about the specific core box. While you definitely can have a lot of fun with the three ships you start out with, it's once you expand out and buy more and different ships the game really blooms. I also won't cover the rules in any real detail, if you are curious about them you can simply download the rulebook or watch the detailed video tutorial put out by FFG. In fact if you are at all interested in this game I strongly suggest you watch the video, preferably before you continue reading this review. I'll wait.

Done? Ok, here we go. This review might seem a bit backwards, but bear with me...

Building Your Squadron

A sample Rebel squadron showing the models and the corresponding cards.

The standard size of a game is 100 points which will give you between three and eight ships depending on which side you play and what ship loadouts you bring. Rebels have more expensive ships and usually end up with three or four (although they can push the limit and field five) while Imperial ships are cheaper and five or six seem to be the most common number. This helps to bring out the Star Wars flavour as the Rebels are virtually always outnumbered and really need to use the higher quality of their ships to their advantage. Fail to do that and the Imperial swarm will get you.

When building your squadron it's not only about choosing which ship types to field and wheather they should have proton torpedoes or not, there's a lot more to it. With each ship comes a set of cards with generic and unique pilots who all have different Piloting Skill and different abilities. Depending on the pilot and the ship there are also various upgrade slots available so an X-Wing can take an Astromech droid and an ace Obsidian Squadron pilot can take an Elite Pilot ability. This all combines to make squadron building a big part of the game, for better and for worse.

This is not Infinity where "it's not your list, it's you" (although that's not entirely true in Infinity either) but neither is it 40k where you can just look at your opponents list and see who will win. X-Wing sits safely somewhere in between where squadron building is important and some builds simply aren't viable, but a reasonably balanced list has a good chance of winning if played right. Personally I enjoy the squadron building in this game. It's fun trying to squeeze as much firepower as possible out of your squadron and make sure the different abilities synergize well together. It's not overly complex or time consuming though, so you'll be at it pew-pewing quickly nonetheless. To make it even quicker a couple of online squadron builders have popped up here and here.

The Rules

A couple of manuver dials and templates.

A game turn starts by assigning secret orders to all your ships. This is done via the maneuver dial and different ships have different maneuring capabilities - TIEs being very nimble and Y-Wings being flying bathtubs! Once all the dials are out you start revealing them and moving ships in order of ascending Piloting Skill, meaning more skilled pilots will move last and can take advantage of knowing where the opposition is. After moving a ship you also decide what action it will take, stuff like Lock-On, Evade or Focus. Generally Rebel ships can take offensive actions like Lock-On while Imperial ships are more defensively minded and can Evade and Barrel Roll.

Wedge, the most skilled Rebel pilot.

Once all ships have moved you go back and every ship (who didn't crash into an asteroid at least) get to fire. However, unlike ship movement this is done in order of descending Piloting Skill, of course meaning that better pilots get to shoot first. This can have a huge impact as ships can be destroyed before they get to shoot at all! It's not super important to have all high skilled pilots, but having one or two to be able to attack a critical target before it gets to attack is usually a good idea. Once shooting is taken care of there is a short clean up phase and you move on to the next turn.

Movement is taken care of by a set of templates that come in the core box and while the rules are similar to Wings of War the templates are a lot more user friendly than the cards ever were. While you can't actually collide with other ships you can "bump" them, meaning you lose your action for that turn. There are also certain hard maneuvers that incur stress on the pilot doing them, forcing him to make an easy maneuver in a future turn to get rid of it.

Shooting is handled by special eight sided dice - red attack dice and green defense dice. You want to roll more hits than the target rolls evades, and there are of course several ways of manipulating the dice. Focus, for example, allows you to change some dice results to hits or evades while Lock-On allows you to re-roll some or all of the dice. This is a game that favours aggression though so the attack dice are slightly stronger than the defense dice. The standard firing arc is 90° to the front of the ship, however some ships and upgrades allow for different firing arcs.

All in all the rules are straightforward and easy to learn. There are a couple of details concerning asteroid/ship collisions that are easily overlooked, but generally reading and understanding the rulebook shouldn't take much time at all. FFG has a reputation of writing convoluted and messy rulebooks, but I don't think X-Wing suffers from this (and I don't think the "problem" is even remotely close to what some people claim).

How the Game Plays

A practice game just before my first tournament.

In our first couple of games we were simply digesting the rules system and felt quite satisfied with the balance of details versus speed of play. There are a few abstractions and no detailed ship management, but on the other hand you can play a 100 point match in 45-60 minutes! After a few games I remember feeling a bit concerned that perhaps luck was a larger factor than I felt comfortable with, and I was also worried that the balance of the game favoured the Imperials as the TIE simply seemed to bring more bang for its buck.

In a game with dice like this luck is always going to be a factor, but as I played more I learned how to better stack the odds in my favour and how to use maneuvering to my advantage. You know... basic wargame stuff. It does feel like it's even more crucial in X-Wing than in many other wargames though. Perhaps it's because you have so few units to begin with (especially as a Rebel!) that you have to make sure that every move counts! Generally I think Rebels are a bit more challenging to play, at least in the beginning, as many of their abilities "buff" friendly ships, requiring them to stay close to each other and make use of teamwork. The Imperial ships don't have as many abilities like that but are more focused on individual ship advantages.

As I played more with my Rebels I realized that the balance is probably not as skewed as I first feared, in fact I think it's pretty well balanced as long as you don't go too extremes (I still think the eight ship TIE swarm is the strongest squadron right now). The key is learning how to maneuver in formation and how to make best use of your abilities.

Playing the first scenario - Escort Duty.

At first it's easy to just race ahead like disorganized rabble which usually ends up with a large chaotic furball in the middle of the table where the deciding factor usually ends up being luck. But as you learn what kind of maneuvers your ships can make and how to stay in formation (which really is surprisingly important!) things quickly change. Then there's the whole mind-game aspect of X-Wing where it's about out-smarting your opponent just as you try to figure out where his ships are going to end up during the next maneuvering phase!

Some of my most successfull games have been when I've managed to do the completely unexpected, forcing my opponent to commit to where my ships no longer are. It's great fun when you succeed, but it can be tricky to pull off.

The Components Ships

My slightly re-touched ships: Red 5 flanked by Red 2 and Gold 2.

Yeah, the components are usual FFG fare, high quality cardboard tokens and nice linen finish cards. Yadda-yadda-yadda. There. Now let's talk spaceships!

The ship models are the obvious big draw of the game and FFG knew that very well. There are actually a couple of pages in the rulebook where they talk about the design process and how they decided on which scale to use (1/270). The ships have all been modeled digitally and 3D printed to get a detailed master and then made using hard-injection plastic. The quality of the ship models vary a little bit from ship to ship, but overall I think it's very good. Not as good as some true model ships, but for "game pieces" they are pretty darn good. The larger ships like Millenium Falcon and Slave I especially are really beautiful pieces!

I have had some problems with malformed ships. So far only X-Wings which I guess stems from the fact that they have the most amount of parts - there have been a couple of crooked guns and engine exhausts, but nothing that couldn't be corrected with some modelling tools.

The Millenium Falcon and Slave I from the yet to be released Wave 2.

The ships also all come pre-painted and although I'm a miniature painter myself I'm a great fan of this. I don't feel that it infringes on my creative freedom or taints the model, I simply think it's great to be able to use them straight out of the box! I'm sure I could repaint them and get a better result, but to be honest I see no reason to. They look good as they are on the tabletop. What I have done is added some extra details here and there - the personalized markings on the Red Squadron X-Wings and some engine glow etc. - but that is just me "pimping" my ships. They really do look good as they are.

How to Get Started

Playing with just the core box.

So you think this sounds like fun and want to know how to get started with X-Wing? Well, getting the core box is of course the essential first step. If you are unsure wheather you'll like it or not simply get the core box. The game is good even with only three ships and there are three scenarios in the rulebook that are pretty fun to play! So say you like it and want more. Now there are two options, either you feel like more variety would be good in which case I suggest getting a Y-Wing and a TIE Advanced. They both bring some new stuff to the game and the Y-Wing in particular is great fun with its turret that can fire 360° around!

However, if you really like the game and want to get serious about expanding it getting a second core box is the way to go! You'll get another X-Wing and two more TIEs (as well as another set of dice, cards, templates etc) which will go a long way to getting that 100 point squadron. After this you can get the expansion ships you like and go from there.

Of course, with Wave 2 just around the corner things are about to change as the Millenium Falcon and Slave I can eat up a whole lot of points, while the A-Wing suddenly allows the rebels cheap(ish) ships in their squadron. That being said I still think that two core boxes will be an essential purchase if you really want to get into the game proper.

My Thoughts

Trying out the scenario from the Millenium Falcon expansion. Smugglers be smuggling!

I think X-Wing is a very fun miniature game with great looking models and rules that are balanced between ease of play and tactical options. If you are looking for a crunchy games with options like where to project your shields or power resource management X-Wing isn't it, and I'd advice you to track down the old WEG game Star Warriors instead, however if you would like something fast, with dice but still crunchy enough to include squadron building and tactical maneuvering you're in luck! Of course, if you are a Star Wars fan who even remotely enjoy miniature or board gaming it's really a no-brainer; you need to at least try this game. In fact, I think X-Wing is a great gateway game and a way to get into miniature gaming in general. Easy rules, few models and nothing to paint makes it very friendly for beginners!

Just like in most wargames you get a great sense of fulfilment as you start to learn how to use your chosen faction effectively. Which maneuvers work and which don't, how to make the best use of the pilot abilities in your squadron and making sure to fly in the formation where you can take advantage of the different Piloting Skills of your ships (and not bump into eachother). As I mentioned in the introduction post to Star Wars week I'm going to write an X-Wing tactics article from a Rebel perspective so expect more on this later.

As the game looks right now I don't think there are any huge, gaping flaws apparent. In casual play I think there's a slight lean towards the Empire being the stronger faction, but it's not by a large margin. However it's a bit more problematic in tournament play where it's actually the other way around. As tournaments are structured now a standard game is 60 minutes which is fine if you play Rebels vs Imperials or Rebels vs Rebels. In those matchups there's a decent chance that one side will get destroyed outright (rendering a full 5 points for a match win). Imperial vs Imperial matches on the other hand are usually long, drawn out affairs as TIEs lack the firepower to reliably hit nimble ships like themselves. Add to this the fact that most Imperial squadrons consist of around six ships (which take longer to manuver and shoot with than three or four) and you soon realize why almost all Imperial vs Imperial games only end in a 3 point partial victory.

Rebel mirror matches tend to be short and bloody.

So basically, if you play Imperial and end up with an unlucky draw and have to face three other Imperial players you'll have a very hard time getting more than 9 points. Now this is not something you need to pay attention to as you start out, or if you're not interested in tournaments (I wasn't... until I saw the prizes FFG offered!), but it's still an issue with the game that I'm unsure of how to resolve.

Besides that I don't really have any serious complaints about the game! I'm very happy with my investment and I think it will see a lot of play time in the future!

Next up on Star Wars Week here on Fire Broadside will be my first impressions of the Star Wars Edge of the Empire Beginner Game... that is to say, FFG's new Star Wars rpg starter box. Until then young padawans!

May the Force be with you!

5 kommentarer :

  1. A really well thought out review. Thanks!


  2. Thanks! Glad you guys like it! My reviews often end up a bit "rambly" but I generally find that more interesting than straight up rules regurgitations. :)

  3. No, not rambly at all, still some of the most solid geek-blog writing out there and I thank you for that. Good stuff, looking forward to the same treatment for the RPG!

  4. @Mik - Thanks Mik, that means a lot. :)

    Expect the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game first impressions today or tomorrow...


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