I’m not sure if it’s because I’m cheap or because I’m a natural-born skeptic, but when it comes to gaming, I’m what one might call a “late adopter”. I didn’t get an Xbox 360 until 2010, I didn’t start playing Heroscape until Wave 6, and I didn’t get Mage Knight: The Board Game until about 3 weeks ago. This is especially true with anything collectible or “living”, because the price for buying into a miniatures game is very high if you make a poor choice. So, while I played Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures game some months ago, I wasn’t excited enough to jump in with both feet and start building fleets. I have maybe three thousand dollars in miniatures and terrain, books, and whatnot, so a game has to be pretty damned good in order for me to even consider buying it.
Well, I had a buddy over yesterday for an X-Wing game day, and after playing my third game, I was hooked. If you want me to just cut to the chase, here goes: X-Wing is the smartest, most entertaining fighter skirmish game I’ve ever played. This says a lot, because I’ve played probably twenty of these games, from Full Thrust to Renegade Legion to Battle Fleet Mars to A Call To Arms; I’ve got a lot of experience with these games and X-Wing is easily the most approachable and tightest. The draw, for me, is that the game hits that magical sweet spot where complexity and practicality intersect. Very few games ever hit that spot, generally erring either on the side of simulation or oversimplification. X-Wing, however, gets it absolutely perfect, with enough complexity to make it a game worth playing while having very simple, understandable, and intuitive rules that don’t get in the way of the players. It literally blows every other fighter combat game into itty bitty rippy bits.
Now, there’s been a lot of praise about the miniatures on popular bloggers’ sites, on the dreaded BoardGameGeek site, and in the press. From the perspective of someone who is used to buying Descent, with grey, unpainted miniatures, well, maybe that’s true. But from the perspective of someone who has bought and painted hundreds of miniatures, I’m just not all that ultra-impressed. They’re quite good, I’ll totally grant that, but they’re not so good that I’m all bat-shit crazy over them. The attention to detail on the model sculptures is very, very good, but the paint jobs are no better than your average Star Wars Miniatures Game model. That’s not to say they’re bad, because they’re not, they’re simply not what I would call a ‘gold standard’.
At ten dollars a pack, which comes with one miniature, a modular flight stand, and some cards, it’s a pretty good deal, when you consider everything, but the miniature itself doesn’t command that kind of price. They’re also very fragile, and I can see some of the Tie Fighters, especially, having their wings broken off, requiring glue. The flight stands are also kind of cheap, with the posts being very thin, maybe a tenth of an inch in diameter, and I can see those snapping off as well if you’re not pretty careful, especially since cleanup requires that you break the flight stands into their component bits. Litko makes some replacements that I think surpass the original design from a “monkey-proof” perspective, but I don’t think I’d buy them unless I broke a stand.
Now, the core set comes with all the bits you need to play, such as tokens and whatnot, and it comes with two Tie Fighters and an X-Wing. It’s about $26.00 US all over the internet, and I think that’s a better deal than buying the expansions for ten bucks a piece. There’s a bunch of cards in the box as well, and you can spend some of your battle point allotment buffing up your ships with all kinds of upgrades, like cluster munitions (banned by 108 countries, but not the Empire) and mines, crew, and other goodies. Each ship also has several pilots, which define what abilities its associated model has with it. All in all, it’s a big bunch of stuff in the box, and quite honestly, if you just wanted to buy the box, I think you’d have plenty of adventure for a while until you realize that getting more stuff means more adventure, more variety, and ultimately, a prolonged experience with the game.
The first wave had the core set, Tie Fighter, X-Wing, Y-Wing, and Tie Advanced expansions, and the new wave that just released has several expansions: Millenium Falcon, Slave One, the A-Wing and a Tie Interceptor. After the three plays I had, playing with everything but the A-Wing and Tie Interceptor, I went online and purchased two core sets, two Tie Advanced, two Y-Wings, one A-Wing, the Falcon and Slave One. I paid $144.00 at Miniature Market for the whole lot of it, if that helps you out, and I spent money set aside for a new shotgun, which if you knew me would make you think I’d lost my mind. It’s simply that good. I could play it all day, I suspect, because when my buddy left last night, I was so wound up and itching for another game that it reminded me of how I feel about Heroscape; I could literally play that game for a couple days straight and never get completely worn out on it. Add to that the fact that you can play two to four players, and that it has some interesting scenarios included above and beyond the standard “kill them before they kill you” formula, and it’s a total win.
The game’s core mechanic, the one that really makes it shine, is how it handles movement and turn reconciliation. At the beginning of your turn, each ship has a little disc which you program it’s movement on, and then you put it face down. Each ship then moves and assigns actions from worst pilot to best pilot, and afterward, each ship attacks from best pilot to worst. It’s a very clever system that doesn’t sound like it’s all that novel, but it works so damned well because it provides amazing balance to the asymmetrical forces. You can load up on cheap Tie Fighters, but they’re going to be moving first and shooting last, so the more skilled Rebel pilots may blow you out of space before your cheap ties ever get a shot off. It’s just brilliant.
The thing that really struck me as the pinnacle of the game’s brilliance is that in a game like this, luck can play a huge role, since dice are used for combat resolution, but there are enough options to mitigate bad luck that it makes for an engaging experience. You can expend your ships’ single action per turn to allow re-rolls, to automatically block hits, or repair shields. There’s also range bonuses so that you can think ahead to where a ship will potentially end its movement, allowing you to roll an extra die if you charge in for the kill, or stay back out of harm’s way. In short, it rewards smart play and risk taking proportionally, which is really hard to do in a game that involves dice.
The only thing that I think might turn some people off is the ruler-based movement system. I think it’s really well done, and it comes with movement templates, but if you’re the kind of person who is really stuck on hex or square movement, it might be a detractor. Luckily, the movement rules are very intuitive and contingencies are built into the rules so that you won’t have to guess at what to do when two ships come into contact with one another. It’s a smart system, and since I’m used to using tape measures to play miniatures games, I thought it was a refreshing departure from the standard hex-based systems. It allows a lot more flexibility, and when it comes to fighter combat games, flexibility is where the tactics are at. There’s nubs built right into the bases, so there’s no room for making mistakes or having rules lawyers get all pissy, which is a welcome design feature that’s often overlooked.
This is a must-have game, no doubt about it. It has everything I want in a game. It’s furious, fun, and matches last about an hour from first move to last dying breath, making it quite fast. It’s an amazing game, and with the large variance in game play based on the fact that each model has maybe thirty permutations when you consider the pilot, weapon, and upgrade cards. I think the only thing that will cause this game to flame-out will be about six months after the point that they stop making new ships. I’d bet there’s going to be dedicated fan-sites if there’s not already, and there’s already a big tournament scene, so maybe, like Heroscape, the game will continue on well past its shelf life has expired. In any event, I know that I’ll be playing it for a very, very long time and my only complaint is that I’m starting so late that I missed out on a lot of the events such as the recent Kessel Run.
Why X-Wing’s Force Is Strong:
-Incredibly approachable game play with simple to understand rules
-Very clean design that’s quite smart without being overburdened by complexity
-Very flexible ship design system allows for a lot of variation in squadron builds
-Scaling of the luck factor allows smarter players to win, although luck is a factor
-Nice ship models help immerse you in the game
X-Wing’s Failures To Launch:
-It’s a bit on the expensive side for a miniatures game
-The models are nice, but the paint jobs are just above average
-The flight stands seem to be on the flimsy side
-Ruler-based measurement can be a turn off to some people.
If you like miniatures games, get this today. It’s simply one of the best examples of a mature, well conceived design in recent history. There are a tremendous amount of reasons to buy this game, and the only things I think that might take a bit of the shine off of it for some people is the price, which is a little bit high for a game of this type, and the ruler-based movement, which I love but some people might take exception to. It’s simply brilliant in every way, and I cannot recommend this game highly enough. I put my money where my mouth is, too, and I think for a cheap ass like myself, this is the highest honor I can provide a game – its purchase.
Learn more about X-Wing at Fantasy Flight’s page here and watch the tutorial:
Read the rules, too:
Litko’s Flight Stands, which I think are superior: