A long time ago in a Blog far, far away... I wrote an article about Fantasy Flight Games getting the Star Wars license. Three products were instantly announced, there was going to be an RPG, which for me personally was a bit 'meh'. I've never been a big fan of RPGs, I've given them a go but I've never really gotten into them, they're just not for me. Then there was a card game announced too, something that at the time I was starting to enjoy more and more, mainly as filler for when wargames or boardgames ended early. Indeed the card game was slated to be the first product out of the Fantasy Flight stables bearing the Star Wars branding... turns out there were some issues with it, and it still hasn't seen the light of day. I still have it on pre-order somewhere, I just can't remember where! Finally there was the X-Wing Miniatures Game, which lets be brutally honest here, probably got most geeks I know a trifle moist. However, I was a bit down on the announcement at the time because of the awful news that the miniatures would be pre-paints... Luke I am your father... Nooooooooooooooooo!!! OK, so I've had the game now for a short while, and I've played my allotted amount of games before I feel safe in making my judgements, as always there's no rush on my part to get a shallow knee jerk review out. So what do I think of Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars based dog fight simulator?
It's a game in a box! It's a game in a box gurl!!! Except it is, and it isn't. In effect the core boxed set, which is what is being reviewed, is actually presented as a typical Fantasy Flight Games, game in a box. As a game in a box for RRP circa £30 it's not bad... but there are add ons to the game to help 'personalise' it. In the box you get two pre-painted TIE Fighters and an X-Wing, plus 3 swanky (but brittle) plastic flying stands to put them on. There are also six custom D8's, a shed load of card tokens, including a card range ruler and maneuver templates. As is always the case with Fantasy Flight products these come on a thick, good quality card. There are three ship Maneuver Dials, 51 cards for various game functions, a quick start set of rules and then there is the 28 page full colour rulebook. Again Fantasy Flight include a number of zip-lock bags to put your various bits into, which helps with storage and is a nice touch. As a quick point, the box comes with a cut out for shelf display purposes that shows off the aforementioned pre-painted miniatures. Great sales ploy, but if you throw away or lose the clear plastic cover for your mini's... well it becomes a bit of a design flaw because those pre-painted ships will no longer stay in the box. Consider yourselves well and truly warned!
Gameplay 6.5 out of 10
Before you go any further into my review, may I humbly suggest you follow this Link and view Fantasy Flight Games four tutorial video's, I think it'll give you a much better idea of what I'm talking about as I wade through my thoughts on the game. It will also basically teach you to play the game. Are you done with those? Good, lets proceed. Firstly I have to say that in terms of raw mechanics at the heart of the game, yet again Fantasy Flight Games have churned out another eminently playable set of rules. There's nothing that makes you want to poke your own eyeballs out with a blunt spoon, and equally there's nothing that makes me want to buy a ticket to the Bahamas and have a dirty weekend with it. It's simply put a very slick and solid game, if unremarkable. Those of you who are familiar with the Wings of War game, which itself used to be published by Fantasy Flight Games, won't be too shocked by what you find here. True I think the underlying system has been simplified and streamlined a bit, but fundamentally we're talking about the same chassis. So as I say, the game is built on fairly sturdy foundations.
It's just that the core game hasn't really built all that much on top of these sturdy foundations. Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game feels like it is the bare minimum required to make it a game. The test of a good wargame, I was told many years ago, was did it work well as in pitched battle scenario's? I still think fundamentally it's a damn good litmus test of any wargame you could care to mention. True, a lot of games now work better with missions, but if the fundamentals are right the game should work well as a straight up fight. X-Wing in my humble opinion does not. This is for a few reasons:
- The sides aren't balanced. Sure the X-Wing is a better ship than the TIE Fighter in a one-on-one, but point for point the extra TIE's do give the Empire the edge in a straight up pitched battle.
- The superstars might be a little bit too 'super'. A tooled up Darth Vader is nigh on impossible to get a bead on... conversely a maxed out Luke 'whinge-bag' Skywalker is virtually indestructible. Games therefore can descend into a boring bind between these two, or Wedge.
- There are only two factions. Therefore there isn't enough variety in the game to keep you coming back for more, and tweaking your 'army lists'. Once you've seen one TIE Fighter you've seen them all pretty much... yes regardless of pilot!
- They say the game is designed to be played at 100 points, you don't get a lot for 100 points. As a Rebel player you're splitting hairs on three ships pretty much. But at higher points the game sloooooows down considerably. It also starts to struggle with the suggested 3' by 3' gaming space.
Obviously this is looking a bit further than what is in the current starter box, and includes the initial four ships that are available as optional extra's. Truth is currently there's not really much to it. Although I concede that might change with Decembers four expansion packs (TIE Advanced, Slave I, A-Wing and Millennium Falcon).
|The A4 sheet that contains the quick start rules. You have my permission to skip these!|
I have to mention the quick start rules briefly. Firstly the game is so bloody easy to pick up that most of you out there who read this Blog will probably view the quick start rules as a personal affront to your gaming prowess. If you know what a dice is, and the concept of miniatures in games doesn't completely baffle you, I think it's safe to say that after 30 minutes reading the actual rulebook you'll be fine and dandy... and more importantly playing the game as Darth Vader intended. The quick start rules I think are there for those who will be totally new to the concept of miniature wargaming, and young kids who have been brought up on a diet of pawning punk ass n00bs on CoD. The quick start rules actually leave out some quite fundamental rules though, such as stress tokens that are actually of paramount importance to how the game ultimately plays. Without these rules you aren't actually playing the game at all. It's more a facsimile of the full blown game, and it actually skews the balance a fair degree and makes those X-Wing poorer maneuverability not so much of an issue. There, I've spoken about the quick start rules, or "not X-Wing rules" as I've come to call them, so lets dissect the game as it currently stands.
Firstly we need to consider the core fundamentals of the game, which are the phases, the set movement arcs, including red and green movement along with the association of stress tokens. Attacking and Defending, plus Pilot Skill. If you watched the four tutorial videos I linked too you'll no doubt know enough about the mechanics to be able to play the game. So you don't need me rehashing the the mechanics of gameplay, so I'll discuss the implications on gameplay. The game is split into three quite simple phases, the Planning Phase, Activation Phase and Combat Phase. The Planning Phase is where you decide what flight path each of your ships is going to take, using the ship dials in secret. I've had a number of conversations with people about why it's all done in secret and at the same time. The truth is, if you knew what lower skilled pilots were doing before you got to choose what the better pilots were going to do, then Piloting Skill would be utterly bent! You'd pretty much always be able to keep out of firing arcs or put your opponents into your firing arc if you had higher skill. It also adds a nice poker face element to the game, I've seen two ships heading towards each other chicken stylie, only for both to flinch at the last minute and dive away. It's actually fun to see the game movement unfold in this way. However, it's only right to point out that certain maneuvers are considered 'stressful', and these will be marked red on your dials. They will dump a stress token on your ship. Having stress tokens on your ship is pretty harsh as it stops you taking Actions in the Activation Phase. The only way to lose these stress tokens is to perform what I term lame maneuvers (the green ones) that leave you a sitting duck because they're so simple. It's all about the risk reward people.
|The actual rulebook, there's not much to it so give it a read.|
So in the Activation phase you reveal what each of your ships are doing that turn from lowest piloting skill to highest. Obviously the piloting skill has little impact on the game at this point, simply because the decisions have already been taken mainly, and the higher piloting skill just really enables those better pilots a clearer understanding of what 'action' they should take for the ensuing combat phase. Honestly, piloting skill at this stage is really just a miniscule impact on proceedings, although it does confer a slight benefit to the higher skilled pilots, I've found it to be negligible. Although it does tend to make players with lower skilled pilots more cautious with actions and more defensive. Nope, it's in the Combat Phase that having the higher piloting skill really takes effect. Those better skilled pilots get the chance to blow their opposition out of the sky first, as the higher piloting skill means you get to go earlier in the phase, so a hapless bumpkin of a pilot might be blasted to little pieces before they get the chance to shoot. However, if you get your tactics and movement wrong with that higher skilled pilot, it really doesn't matter, because a more skilled tactician might just as easily dupe you and blast your ass to space dust.
So when you shoot at your opponent how does the whole attack and damage thing work? Well firstly there are special Star Wars dice. They're basically D8's with special symbols on them. The attack dice are red and contain three normal hit icons, one critical hit icon and two eye icons that can be used in conjunction with the Focus action. the defence dice are green, and are pretty much the mirror opposite of the attack dice, with four evade icons (there's no critical evade), and two eye icons for use with the Focus skill. So it's a simple compare and contrast dice mechanic, I roll my dice you roll your dice, we compare results. An evade cancels out a hit, or a critical hit. Any hit's left over cause damage, either to Shields or Hull Value. For normal damage you just place a damage card next to the damaged ship. If you cause a critical hit though you flip the damage card over to see what it has done. Now the last sort of card damage mechanic I came across that bore a passing resemblance to this was Dreadfleet, thankfully this card damage mechanic works, and isn't totally arbitrary. In fact it's quick and actually has a lot to commend it as again it's a good way to visually keep track of what is going on in the game, and is simple to understand. Mechanically I find little to fault in the core game, sure I have issues with certain upgrade combos, and I'm not so sure about the limited choice of maneuvers available to each class of ship is right, but technically it's a solid if unremarkable game.
The second thing that needs to be considered though is the difference between the basic ships themselves, those obviously being the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter. For now I'll forget the Y-Wing and TIE Advanced exist. At a shallow analysis level the difference appears to be that the X-Wings are slower to maneuver (Agility 2), while dealing a heavier amount of damage (Primary Weapon Value 3). The X-Wing also has two shields, which adds to the appearance that it's more fighter bomber than pure fighter, as it can take a little bit extra damage before it explodes in a terrible 2D special effects fireball... with all the bad acting that goes along with it. The TIE Fighter on the other hand has no shields, but the same base amount of Hull Value as the X-Wing, 3. The difference though is that the TIE Fighter has less damage output (Primary Weapon Value 2), but is more nimbly pimbly (Agility 3). Those stats are important because it means that once somebody has the other in their firing arc they are just as likely to cause damage on each other because of the specialist D8 dice mechanic. When a TIE is shooting at an X-Wing you will both roll two dice, either for defence or attack, with the exact same probability of scoring a hit as your opponent has of scoring an evade. With the roles reversed and the X-Wing attacking it's the exact same, except each side rolls 3 dice each. Welcome to bindsville.
Maybe that's not so bad all things considered, but in such a small scale game, especially at roughly 100 points, it means that one lucky dice roll can swing the game drastically. For many that won't be too much of a problem, it's not for me actually, you just rack them up again and give it one more go. Simple. But, for those of you out there who get annoyed by such things if lady luck deserts you for a few games in a row it could possibly leave you seething with animosity at the injustice of it all. Then there's the lack of balance. On the face of things the differences between the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter's don't really cause too much eyebrow raising. However, in a game that is all about maneuverability having double the amount of options as your opponent is always going to be a boon, regardless of shields and pilot skill levels. On average you are getting two TIE's to one X-Wing. That's two fire arcs as opposed to the one, and that 6 Hull Value as opposed to 3 with 2 shields, but more tellingly it's four Primary Weapons Value as opposed to three... and they are two targets. In a straight up pitched battle, it's not really a fair fight. Had this been the case in the films the Empire would've kicked ass and taken names.
Those aren't the only differences though. Each ship has a number of specialist actions they can take. For the Rebel scum these involve Target Lock, which increase your chances of causing damage on a target locked ship (allowing you to re-roll any number of attack dice), or Focus allowing you to change the 'eye' icon on either an attack dice roll to hits, or on a defence dice roll to evades. The TIE's though have a better collection of skills for my money. Like the X-Wings they get Focus, with all the benefits that offers. They also get barrel roll, which considering the lower skill of their pilots means they are at the disadvantage of moving first, can actually be enough to cause the Rebel player headaches, as they have to think harder about where to move and how fast, as a barrel roll thrown in for fun can cause headaches. The final ability of Evade sounds good on paper, but actually isn't that grand at all. What it does is allow you to do is add an evade result to any defence dice roll you make, I've found the Focus skill with those three dice is just as likely to give you the one extra evade and might yield you more if you roll enough eye icons. Trust me having seen someone go for 'Evade' to see them roll three eye icons, as I rolled two critical hits and a normal hit, I bet he wished he'd gone for Focus. But yet again, it shows that although the X-Wing is more than capable of obliterating an unfortunate TIE in one round of shooting, something a TIE simply can not do to an X-Wing, the reality is that two TIE's are more than an equal match for an X-Wing in a straight fight!
Luckily though there are missions in the game, so it's not all about straight fights. Sadly there are only three missions. Fantasy Flight Games also missed out on HUGE nerd points for calling them mission 1, 2 and 3, instead of Episodes IV, V and VI... come on guys, I thought you employed nerds!!! With that bitter disappointment out of the way, the three missions actually work quite well, and offer a degree of variance. They have been designed though to work with what comes in the boxed set, and actually don't scale too well. It would have been nice if there was a section for each mission expanding on what adjustments needed to be made to make them work, say if you are playing at the 100 point level, rather than the forces they suggest from the starter set. As it is though there is a Rebel Escort mission, that actually works really well as an introduction mission, an asteroid mission that doesn't work quite as well, and a sort of capture the flag mission about satellites, that although I thought it wouldn't work too well, actually works perfectly and is arguably the best mission of the bunch. However, here's the issue in a nut shell for me. The game only has two 'factions' as it were and only three recognised missions. Yeah a gamer of my advanced years and experience can, and has, already easily come up with more missions, but for many the missions out of the box will be all they have to work with. Longevity is clearly an issue, and the game from the box will get tired pretty quickly... and adding more 'expansions' to the mix currently doesn't add enough 'balanced' spice to keep things fresh.
This might change with the addition of TIE Interceptors and A-Wings etc. and I really hope it does, because otherwise it'll be a purchase that people make, play to death for a few weeks and then put on the shelf. Maybe that will be enough for Fantasy Flight Games, as it'll certainly turn them a profit. However, for those who purchase it, it might just become another dust magnet. I hope not though, because despite it's limitations as a game right now, there is great scope for growth as a product. As long as Fantasy Flight Games realise quickly that the scope for that growth isn't just more ship expansion packs, and that what the game actually needs is significantly more balanced, and varied missions to play, not just at 100 point levels but possibly higher values. You see, I can accept that there are only two factions as a limiting factor. Hell, I can accept that there actually aren't that many ships you can have on each side, given the limitations of the franchise, and what was depicted in the films, and even the wider universe. However, given that the game as it currently stands only really works as a fair challenge with missions, I can not accept that there are only three officially sanctioned missions. As things stand that's the games real Achilles heel, and what will hurt it in the long run if it isn't addressed soon. True the Millennium Falcon and Slave I expansion packs will each include a new mission, but is that enough to keep people happy? Plus we have to wait until December to get them. No, sort the mission issue out with a decent missions book, that actually encourages you to want to buy more of those expansion packs and we'll be cooking on gas. As things stand, I've found it a mildly amusing diversion, but it needs more to grab my attention long-term.
Detail 7.5 out of 10
Right I'm going to get this out of the way right now. I wasn't the worlds biggest fan of the announcement that the X-Wing game would have pre-paints, although from a business point of view I could understand why that was the case. However, they're not bad. I'm still not a complete convert, and I'll probably never be a huge fan, but I can live with them. Even if the ones that I've got don't look anywhere near as good as many of the ones used in promo shots by Fantasy Flight Games... methinks they might not be the same 'pre-paints' the rest of us get. If so, naughty, naughty Fantasy Flight Games! However, the ones you do get are not bad, and are probably much better than many of you young whipper snappers could achieve with your foundation paints and Devlan Mud... bah humbug! They're better than some pre-paints I've seen, but worse than others. For some they will be better than what they could hope to achieve, for others they won't be, and it might cause you annoyance, but you could always re-paint them. So many of you will be quite pleased to find they are a pretty decent tabletop standard to play with right out of the box. This does mean that you're able to actually have quite cool looking games the moment you get the product home, something that non-gamers will I'm sure appreciate greatly, and I'm pretty certain a few other gamers out there (I'm talking about myself here too) will appreciate the fact that there isn't yet more miniatures being piled onto workbenches around the globe. Thankfully they're not awful.
Speaking of the miniatures themselves though, the X-Wings look like X-Wings and TIE Fighters look like TIE Fighters, which lets face it was the bare minimum expected. I've heard people eulogise about how awesome the miniatures are. How great the detail is, and how fine they are. I have to say I don't personally see it. They're not finely sculpted miniatures, they're actually pretty bog standard, in terms of surface detail, and finery for a miniature from a wargame. Seriously, look past the slightly blurry paint jobs and you'll see there's actually not that much texture really to the surfaces. Sure part of that is down to the source material, but a good chunk of it is down the the fact that these are mass produced simple PVC miniatures. There's nothing wrong with that but lets not make them out to be something they're not. Actually considering some of the miniatures Fantasy Flight Games has put out for the likes of Dust Tactics / warfare and Gears of War, they're not actually up the the best they themselves have to offer. They're simply passable, and the paint jobs as I said above are simply passable too. For many that's all we were asking, and at the price of the starter set I'm going to say it's all you should really expect too. I'm neither disappointed or ecstatic about the detail on the miniatures, I just think that once the Star Wars sheen wears off them you're left with pretty average looking gaming pieces.
|A collection of those pilot cards.|
So if they're so average why isn't the detail score lower? Well, you see it's a Fantasy Flight Games product, and they do the little extra details very, very well. For instance the range ruler has the green Imperial laser shot on one side, and the red Rebel laser shot on the other. Simple things I know, and on their own they don't amount to much, but the playing cards, the tokens, the base inserts... everything has been liberally sprinkled with that Star Wars design magic. It is undeniably a Star Wars product and nothing, not a single piece of artwork or logo looks wrong or out of place. They're all so easy to read and understand at a glance as well. I'm often told that good design makes everyone's lives that little bit easier, and if your as avid a wargamer as I am, you'll grow to understand that where wargames, boardgames and card games are concerned, good clear crisp design that can be read and understood at a glance is a great help. The base inserts, the upgrade cards, and the ship cards themselves all tell you at a quick glance what is what. There's no need to ask your opponent what's going on with their ships it's all there in the open to see. I like this, and it certainly moves the detail score northwards a point and a half of where it would be, if we were just talking about the miniatures. Even what the miniatures come on are a nicely designed idea, the flight stands come with two interlocking pegs that mean ships can be either high or low, to stop them 'clashing' when close together on the tabletop. They also hold those base inserts very nicely. It's not all good news though as you'll read in the quality section.
Quality 6.5 out of 10
I'm always surprised by the quality of product that Fantasy Flight Games are able to continually put out at really reasonable price points. As always I'm pleased with all the card components, from the playing cards to the tokens. They're all of a good standard that will stand up to a bit of punishment, although I am on the look out for some enterprising laser cutting acrylic firm to produce a nice set of acrylic range rulers and tokens, but for now what comes in the box is more than suitable. the usual plastic dial spindles for those card ship dials work as well as they always have in every Fantasy Flight Game, hell even the small rulebook is actually printed to a pretty good quality. Even if I do have slight concerns about its long-term durability. Nope, despite the hype it's the miniatures again that are responsible for pulling the score down by a point. Lets be honest, under the slightly grubby looking paint jobs there isn't a massive amount of detail. It's also clear that there is scope in the production of these miniatures for construction to go slightly array. One of the engines on my X-Wing is at a wonderfully jaunty angle and I've seen wonky TIEs as well, plus the odd bent laser on an X-Wing or two. As I've said before, for ready out of the box pre-paints they're not bad. But, if you look at them long enough you'll realise they aren't all that, and a packet of crisps. They look passable, and so is their quality. Also those flight stands that are a nifty design idea also make me equally exasperated. The pegs are so fracking delicate!!! Seriously without doing much I've snapped two pegs already, and to make matters worse one turned up 'pre-snapped'... cheers Fantasy Flight Games... I am disappoint! I hear that Litko or Corsec Engineering has come up with sturdier solutions though so maybe I'll need to look into those.
Service 8 out of 10
Well this came from OG Games, and they've never really let me down yet. It was all well packaged and was sent in a reasonable time-frame. Can't really grumble can you?
|Specialist dice are fun... but boy are they expensive!|
Price out 8 of 10
Price wise I think the starter set is actually at a really reasonable price point. The RRP is £29.99, which isn't too bad for a game where you don't have to paint anything. You do get everything you need in the box to play the game, along with two TIE's and an X-Wing. However, no one I know is actually selling it for £29.99, OG Games sold it for £26.99 and at that price I personally think it's a bit of a bargain. Firestorm Games and Wayland Games also have it at the same price point. Regardless of the games current limitations, you will definitely get £26.99 worth of fun out of it.
Overall 7 out of 10
As I sit here pondering exactly what score to give this game, I find myself questioning exactly what the Star Wars X-wing Miniatures Game is as a product. I'm struck by it's awkwardness in terms of it fitting into preconceived industry pigeon holes if you will. Let me explain further, it is ostensibly a wargame in mechanical terms, much in the same vein as any other wargame you might find. However, it is set in quite frankly the most dichotomous universe you're ever likely to see. You're either 'Rebel scum' (good guys) or Darth Vaders bitches (bad guys). There are two sides, or factions and that's it. There isn't going to be a Trade Federation fleet, no Twi'lek or Ewok only factions. This is it, good versus evil, so it doesn't really have enough about it as a wargame in terms of factions to sustain long term interest in most wargamers on this score. So do Fantasy Flight Games expect people to collect either the Rebels, or the Empire as people would do with a normal wargame? Choose a faction and stick with it? If so Empire players will be expected to spend a fair bit more money than their Rebel counterparts. Or is it more like their boardgame products where you collect everything for it yourself, including all the expansions, or maybe the better analogy is one of their Living Card Games.
Because here's the thing, that's going to be a very, very expensive in the long run, and that makes this game a hard sell to shrewd customers. The question is I guess how shrewd are us geeks when confronted with Star Wars? Those expansion packs (which I'll be talking about tomorrow) don't come cheap, and collecting two balanced and competitive fleets could get a bit costly, for what is ultimately a very limited product. But here's the thing, it is fun, and it is Star Wars, so no doubt it will sell and I guess it deserves to be a success because it's giving fans exactly what they wanted. I just think as a product-line Fantasy Flight Games might need to understand what they've got on their hands a bit more, and realise that as things currently stand they need a hell of a lot more missions to keep gamers interested long-term, and coming back to buy those expansion packs. So ultimately I think it's a mixed bag as a product launch, sure there's more positive than bad, but I'm not so sure whether the Force is strong with this one yet. I'll be keeping my eyes on it to see how Fantasy Flight Games expand and support the game... subtle hint guys, you need a mission book rammed with missions. Peace out!
Just a gentle none Star Wars reminder, I'm actually running a Dark Age story competition that you can read about here. The prizes are awesome so do check it out.