Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Star Wars: X-Wing is the New Hope for Miniature Gaming - by Seth Oakley

So I’m sitting in Gamescape playing D&D Next (aka 5th edition) when my ears twitch and I hear something over my shoulder:

“No, I have an X-Wing tournament to run that day,” Shane Case says to somebody, and I whip my head around. Whhaa?!?! Is this a lead on a competitive game that I can write about for the Ace of Geeks blog and get one more story out of the way in my quest to win back my soul? I dash over to him and hover until I there is a socially appropriate time to interject and ask awkwardly worded and poorly prepared questions. Case is completely unprepared. I can only imagine this would be like someone seeing Spider-man fighting crime and then turning into Peter Parker so that he can be a reporter for a moment.

Case is happy to answer questions for the leading competitive gaming reporter for the largest blog that starts with the letter “A” and ends with “ce of Geeks.” He tells me about the game and gives me the time and location of the event.  I’ll show up there next week, after I get some Dropzone Commander squeezed in.

Star Wars: X-Wing is a fast paced, space ship based dog fighting miniature combat game produced by Fantasy Flight Games. When they say “fast paced,” they really mean it, game turns last only a handful of minutes each, and the rules are structured so that you don’t have a lot of down time and always have to pay attention. Two players build a force of small ships and go head to head on a 3’ by 3’ table with scattered asteroid debris for terrain. Unlike some of the other games I have reported on, Star Wars: X-Wing comes pre-packaged with its a lot of the tools you need to play. There is no measuring tape, players each have their own movement tiles that they use to measure out their movements. They use a range marker that measures out ranges of weapons and special 8 sided dice that determine what happens when you shoot other ships. Stat cards and markers and decks of damage cards also come in the basic set of things you need to play the game.

"Isn't that a transport ship?  Aren't we all transport ships?  Can't we all just get along?"
The models come assembled and painted, but that did not stop some of the players from modifying their ships to fit their own personal tastes.  This is the point I am trying to make with the unsubtle pun in the title: miniature games that are coming out now are trending toward self-reliance.  Players who came up through the days of buying lead figures and flocking their own trees are going to play with their toys come hell or high water.  Newer players are going to look at a starter set and say, "You want me to give you $80 for some plastic and then go and buy my own dice, tape measure and cardboard buildings? Yeah, right, I'm going to play Bananagrams."  But Star Wars: X-Wing doesn't look like a tabletop miniatures game.  It looks like a board game.  You have pieces and you move them around the board and you roll dice.  There is no painting or gluing or any need to buy an X-Acto knife.  Unless you want to.  And that is why this is the New Hope of miniatures games: you come for the Star Wars genre and ease of entry into the hobby.  You stay for the collectables you told yourself you would never buy. (No, really, I've spent too much damn money on this game. -Ed)

This tournament was 100 points, so people have between 2 and 8 ships of various sizes. One guy has 7 TIE fighters, about 25 points each. He filled out the rest of the points with upgrades. You can buy veteran pilots or even special named characters from the movies. One player had a rebel force with two Corellian YT-1300’s piloted by Han Solo and Chewbacca. Case says that these styles of play are characteristic of the older state of the game when it first was released. There were two sides: Rebels with very specialized ships that were fielded in limited numbers, and Imperials that used more swarm tactics. Since then, more ships have been released for each faction, which allows more options for the players when they build their forces. Additionally, more upgrades are available for the players to add to their ships. Every four or five months Fantasy Flight puts out four more ships, two of each faction.

"We could use those two extra ships right NOW!"
The tournament was smaller than I expected, but it did not disappoint. I think I recall about half the players wearing Star Wars related t-shirts, and there was an MP3 player set up to play the soundtrack. Games lasted about 45 minutes in total, and the winner was the player who had destroyed the most points of the other persons stuff. The tournament was scored Swiss style, with four rounds. When I showed up, there were 2 undefeated players competing for the top spot in the third round, but people kept going in the fourth round any way. There were awards for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, so people were keen to stay in it.

Fantasy Flight provides prize support for tournament organizers in these formats. The winners get medallions, acrylic tokens that are used to mark focus or stress on ships, and alternate art cards for different pilots. Case says that he likes this style of prize support because it does not compromise the game balance, but still provides an incentive for players to try to win these limited availability promotional cards. It also creates a secondary market for the limited edition stuff, so even if you only play for the glory and not the alt art, you can sell them later.

Case is set up for a maximum of 16 players, and had 9 sign-ups. When I showed up, they had a few drops, but still finished with enough people in the running that the last round was important. Tuesday nights is Fantasy Flight Nights at Gamescape, and Case runs these small tournaments every two months. He says that this style of skirmish size game appeals to people who don’t like the hyper competitive deck building games that change every 3 months. You can buy a few models for one force and it will stay relevant for a long time. And hey, you just might run into your friendly neighborhood D&D players and dive down that rabbit hole.

Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 91 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back. If you want Seth to cover an event in particular, leave a comment to let him know. His next article will (probably) be coverage of an Apocalypse game of Warhammer 40,000 or the Seaside Slaughter Blood Bowl Tournament, so if you have a catchy title for that, post it. I’m terrible at that part, and you people have to read them, so give me something good.

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  1. This game ROCKS. Ready to go right out of the box! By fat the best new game in a decade at least!

  2. Great article. Thanks for covering this awesome game. =)

  3. Found this on Reddit, great article. It's good to see one of my favorite games getting some attention.

  4. Josh: If you know of any other favorite games that you would want to see covered, please let me know.

  5. Awesome Dude .......... You had wrote an amazing article......
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