By Robert Florence on October 7th, 2012 at 1:29 pm.
This week’s column will be straight to the point. It will barely be a review. It will be a body of text designed to make you hurry into action. There will be no photos. I want you to google and find the photos yourself, on your way to buying the game. The X-Wing Miniatures Game is going to sell fast, guaranteed. I’m hearing talk that it might not reprint until January, and that would be a disaster for you, because you really should have this to play on Christmas Day.
I dunno. Maybe the whole Star Wars thing doesn’t appeal to you. It’s possible. I mean, Star Wars is, as we say in Scotland, “in the bin”. The whole Star Wars thing has been cheapened to the point that very little of the Star Wars universe has any shine to it any more. Yoda is a little green puppet for rent, hawking all sorts of shit in countless terrible marketing promotions. Darth Vader’s mystique has been shredded by his terrible backstory and his appearances as a comedy character in Christmas advertisements. The film prequels are considered worthless on the whole, and the original trilogy has been tampered with so often that it’s difficult to remember when and why you had any emotional connection with them.
But some things remain. Star Wars had iconic scenes. And some of the most striking scenes featured dogfights between the Rebel Alliance’s battered X-Wings and the Empire’s fast, nippy little TIE Fighters.
When I was a boy, I had lots of the Kenner Star Wars action figures and some of the vehicles to go with them. I loved my AT-AT, sure. And I treasured my two Speeder Bikes. But the X-Wing (with battle damage) and the TIE Fighter were special. They were special because they were the ships that flew into that Death Star trench. They were the ships of “RED 5 STANDING BY” and “GREAT SHOT KID THAT WAS ONE IN A MILLION”. More than Luke Skywalker, more than Vader, more than Yoda, the X-Wings and the TIEs are Star Wars to me. Everything that was great about Star Wars is captured in the design of these beautiful, logical ships.
The X-Wing Miniatures Game lets you play out X-Wing and TIE Fighter battles on your tabletop. The miniatures are beautiful. They are pre-painted, solid little things that float on clear plastic stands. The base of each stand has a slot that allows you to change pilots and ship stats. You just slip in the token that corresponds with your chosen pilot, and you have all the basic stats you’ll need printed right there at the foot of your miniature. On the table, the game looks fantastic and remains completely practical.
HOW IT PLAYS
In X-Wing, you start by building your force. Every pilot card or additional equipment card has a points value printed in the corner. You agree a total with your opponent and assemble your shit. In a 60 point game, you might choose to bring in Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles. You’ll have a few points left over to buy some additional cards. Maybe an R2 unit of some kind, or a tactics card. Then you find the Luke and Wedge tokens, slip them into the bases of the X-Wings, and get ready to fly.
The first thing you’ll do in a turn is choose a manoeuvre for your ship. Every ship has its own little dial that lets you secretly choose your move. Each ship is capable of different things. The TIE Fighter can make tighter, neater turns than the X-Wing can. This makes the dogfights feel right, as the TIEs zip and nip around the X-Wings like elusive little bastards. The turning of that manoeuvre dial becomes a moment of drama later in the game, when hulls are almost completely destroyed and opposing ships are heading straight at each other. You choose your move and place your dial face down with a real sense of “This could be it…” Many a time I’ve chosen to turn left in the hope I’ll escape an attack, only to find my opponent choosing to swing right and ending up directly behind me. There are difficult manoeuvres on the dial too, and performing these causes your pilot to become stressed and unable to perform any actions. You need to perform an easy manoeuvre to de-stress yourself. That’s some major shit.
How do you execute the move? This is nice. For each move you choose on your dial, there is a corresponding movement template. You take the cardboard template and place it down in front of your ship. Then you move your ship to the other end of the template. Job done. Your next decision is which action to take.
Each ship can only perform certain actions, bringing the theme more cleanly to the surface. The TIE Fighters can perform a barrel roll, and this is often a real game-changer. A well-timed barrel roll can move you out of an enemy’s line of fire, or move yourself into an attacking position. The X-Wings can take Target Lock actions, and these allow dice re-rolls on ships that have been targeted. Other more common actions include Evade (which lets your ship evade one successful hit) and Focus (which lets you convert Focus symbols on the dice to either Hits or Evades, depending on when you choose to spend the Focus – more delicious choices).
Beyond that, the additional cards you select enable more actions. And the pilot cards themselves offer bonuses too. Luke Skywalker can use the force to always convert one Focus roll on a die to an evade. That’s thematic, but annoying when it’s your TIE Fighter that is pursuing his midichlorian-guided arse
Combat is simple. Every ship has a firing arc, and if something is within it you can fire a shot. You check range, check how many combat dice you should roll, and let loose. Your opponent rolls as many defence dice as their evade stat and can cancel out hits with successes. Then damage cards are assigned. Once you have as many damage cards as the total strength of your hull, you are dead like Boba. The cool thing is that there are critical hit symbols on the dice too and when you are landed with one of these you have to take a damage card and turn it face up. The critical damage can blind your pilot, fuck with the mechanics of your ship, or even be a Direct Hit, taking two points off your hull. This lends a real sense of excitement to the critical hits. They can change the whole momentum of a battle.
And that’s pretty much the game. It’s a simple, quick, dogfighting game set in space. Oh, and you’re in control of the best spaceships in movie history.
X-Wing just feels great. There’s something so tactile and lovely about laying down your manoeuvre templates and moving your ship around the table. When the fights get up close and personal, your decisions are thrilling. A bank to the left, a barrel roll, and you could be looking good for a win. A failed gamble, like a difficult manoeuvre that leaves you stressed and doesn’t move you out of trouble like you hoped it would, can bring the whole game crashing down on you. The game is streamlined, tight, exciting and fast. It’s everything a dogfighting game should be. It’s everything an X-Wing game should be.
But it ain’t cheap. In the base pack, you get one X-Wing and two TIEs. That’s enough for a nice balanced battle. But you will want more. (You are going to want more, believe me. I’ve got two base sets, an extra TIE, an extra X-Wing, a Y-Wing and a TIE Advanced.) Each additional expansion ship is 10-12 quid, coming with additional pilots and cards. It’s just… expensive, kinda. But it’s just… It’s just so…
It’s just so fucking cool.
All those words you’ve just read up until this point look dull and restrained, because I’ve been holding back. Jesus. Look at this sentence I wrote up there. “Combat is simple. Every ship has a firing arc, and if something is within it you can fire a shot. You check range, check how many combat blah blah blah blah.” How fucking crappy is that? That’s because I’m holding back. Let me just…
It’s just so cool. Little X-Wings and TIE Fighters on your table, fighting it out. Dice flying. RED 5 STANDING BY! R2-D2 performing heroics. TIEs smashing into asteroids. X-Wing pilots fucking up and getting themselves surrounded by three TIEs. Secret decisions. Lucky hits. TOYS. TOYS. TOYS. Toys with a beautiful little game bolted onto them. NO! NO! YESSSSS! The Millenium Falcon incoming. USE THE FORCE, LUKE. Vader takes two actions? WHAT?! ARRRRGHHHH! KABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! Slave I incoming. GREAT SHOT FANTASY FLIGHT THAT WAS ONE IN A MILLION.
Go. Run. Don’t risk fucking up Christmas. It might be your last, after all.