When speaking to Steve Horvath – head of communications and digital business for Fantasy Flight Games – at Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, his enthusiasm for their new X-Wing Miniatures Game was palpable. Their booth was busy, professional, and friendly to the legions of Star Wars fans looking for new ways to enjoy their favorite fictional universe. But he was supposed to be excited, right? That was his job. He and his team were there to pump up the fans about a new product.
That’s an easy attitude to have in this age of cynicism and doubt, but Star Wars isn’t about cynicism and doubt. The tale of Darth Vader, and his redemption by the hand of his son, Luke Skywalker, is ultimately about hope, even though that hope is achieved through the fall of the Old Republic, and the rise and destruction of a Galactic Empire.
Any “journalistic” cynicism concerning the enthusiasm of the FFG booth was dashed when playing the X-Wing Miniatures Game. It’s a great product, due out September 19, made by guys pretty obviously excited about Star Wars, and focused on not only creating those “movie moments” Horvath spoke about, but succeeding at it.
Pretty heady stuff for a miniatures game, review, eh?
The breakdown of the X-Wing Miniatures Game is pretty simple: One player chooses the side of the Rebel Alliance and its X-wing fighters (a Y-wing expansion is sold separately), and a second player – the math works out best for two teams at this point – takes the role of the Galactic Empire, with Imperial TIE – Twin Ion Engine, for those out there looking for some geek cred – fighters (a TIE Advanced expansion is sold separately). Each craft has its own benefits and limitations, modified by the abilities of their pilots. There are familiar characters – like Luke Skywalker and Biggs Darklighter – and some less familiar names, like “Mauler” Mithel. There are also the faceless Red and Obsidian Squadron and Academy pilots, just to round things out and establish different skill levels for the different drivers. And the factions face off; the different Missions available in the starter set determine which player wins, based on what objectives they must fulfill. (A quick-start set of rules is included with the starter and serves as an excellent introduction to the X-Wing basics.)
Gameplay happens in a series of rounds, consisting of a “Planning Phase,” or choosing a maneuver for each of the ships, an “Activation Phase,” when those ships are moved across the playing area and take a single action, determined by cards and pilot abilities, a “Combat Phase,” when ships in proper range of each other attack, and an “End Phase,” when “destroyed” pieces are moved and any other applicable changes are made, based on damage cards, pilots, or the various upgrades.
The Planning Phase is done clandestinely, rotating a ship-specific dial and placing it facedown in the playing area. While not considered a fault necessarily, the game doesn’t require the use of, or include, a board. This probably cuts down on the game’s overall production cost, but could lead to some confusion over the parameters of the playing field (though the rules do dictate players set aside a 3’ x 3’ area, but different sizes can be “experimented” with). This is actually important strategically, as “flying” off the game board results in that ship leaving the battle and in most cases being “destroyed.”
Once maneuvers are determined, players reveal their moves in ascending order of their pilots’ skill level indicated on a card attached to the miniatures’ bases, as well as a second card players keep separate. Though there are many rules, the numbers and symbols are clear and color-coded, so there isn’t much confusion (once all the symbols and numbers are understood, which isn’t long). Included cardboard pieces fit into notches on the back and front of each base, which makes movement a little wobbly, but easier – and more specific to the physics of Star Wars battle scenes – than grids and measuring tape. Players can also perform actions during the Activation Phase, including “Focus,” which helps their attack chances, and “Evade” and “Barrel Roll” which makes it more difficult for opposing players to attack.
During the Attack Phase, a simple range ruler (included), along with a “Firing Arc” on each ship’s base, is used to determine whether ships can attack each other. Players can also “Target Lock” and use proton torpedoes – based on their pilot and ship’s capabilities, adding to the Star Wars flavor. Players roll included colored dice – red for attack and green for defense – to determine the outcome of the attacks, in conjunction with the aforementioned bonuses and limitations. When a ship is damaged, that player receives “Damage” cards, which hamper their abilities. When a player receives a number of Damage cards that equal their combined “Shield” and “Hull” scores – or modified scores based on how much damage they’ve sustained – that ship is destroyed. The End Phase is simply the clarification of damage and removal of modifying tokens for the next round, where everything is done again until one of the players achieves victory.
The most interesting thing about X-Wing is how it successfully emulates a Star Wars battle scene. Despite being a game played using plastic miniatures, it’s reminiscent of LucasArts’ X-Wing and TIE Fighter series of PC simulators from the 1990s. Most of the game is spent maneuvering and choosing shots, while always attempting to stay one step ahead of the opponent. At first, the inclusion of only three pieces – one X-wing and two TIE fighters – seems limiting, or boring even, but the dynamic gameplay of X-Wing and its included missions makes its $31.99 price point a good value.
Also, the production values of the X-Wing Miniatures Game are gorgeous. The miniatures come pre-painted and finely detailed. They’re not flimsy, with the plastic pegs used to keep the ships on their bases specially cut to firmly interlock and support the plastic. The cardboard pilot cards – which are interchangeable based on which character a player chooses to be controlling their craft – fit snugly into the bases. In fact, all the cardboard pieces – and there are several – are robust. And the art on each cardboard template is clear and helpful.
Right now, X-Wing is designed only for two sides, which is a little disappointing for an old-school HeroClix collector. As the game gets more popular, the rules will likely be accommodated for more factions on the field at a time. (Though the storytelling complications of more than two factions do get a little tricky, so it’s a minor quibble.) And it’s sad to see the lack of capital-sized ships – like Star Destroyers, Corellian Corvettes or Mon Calamari Star Cruisers – but that will probably be reconciled with future releases, either scaled up for harder-core scenarios, or kept at the same scale. (A Star Destroyer broadside bristling with guns would be a great deluxe piece for FFG, after all.)
The set-up time is a little lengthy. It takes a while to break apart all the cardboard tokens and figure out how everything fits together, but once it’s done, it’s done. Disassembly and clean-up is cake, even though a few extra bags for separated pieces would’ve been nice (again, though, it likely keeps production costs down). The cardboard pieces – though durable – have paper surfaces that, after just a few sessions of play, were already beginning to wear on the corners. Hopefully, these pieces will be easily replaceable through the expansion packs or online ordering, but there isn’t any evidence of that just yet.
Because X-Wing takes place in the vastness of space, the movement of pieces is a little wobbly, and could lead to some heated arguments between more passionate miniatures aficionados. A cut edge on the square corners of the base could help clear up fuzzy firing arc ranges and directions. Keeping the piece square is likelier easier for packaging, but an octagonal shape might have worked better for the bases. Again, though, this is a minor concern.
The Final Verdict:
X-Wing Miniatures Game if a five-star product with a caveat: It could be considered too complicated for new players, and maybe too simple for hardened hobbyists. While it seems to be trying too hard to be too many things for too many people, the fact game designer Jay Little had that much passion can’t be considered a complaint. Experienced tabletop players might find it too simple, but the combination of Damage cards, upgrades, and pilot abilities forces the players to think strategically, which is rewarded when done properly. The multiple variations of play offer up the possibility of so many rich and varied experiences, but for new players, or tween-aged kids whose parents are lifelong Star Wars fans and are interested in running a few dogfights, it might be a little intimidating.
All of this, though – even the “problems” – does better service to the Star Wars license. Movement might be a little loose, but space is big, and it was never easy for Wedge Antilles to get all those TIE fighters. Plus, it encourages friendly gameplay, where rules decisions need to be quickly rectified so the rush of the dogfight can continue (there are rules, however, on how to resolve disputes using the custom dice, so even that’s covered). It’s a real, quality Star Wars product made not only for tabletop gamers and Star Wars fans, but for those fans that truly subscribe to the series’ hallmarks of adventure and fun.