There’s a local game store Shaterri introduced me to when we randomly found ourselves in its area. He’d heard about it billing itself as a “gaming pub”. It’s bright, clean, has more floor space for playing than it does for product, and has a dozen flavors of ice cream and microbrews on tap. Checking their weekly schedule, I noticed they ran Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures Game every Thursday. I’d been hankering to get involved with some kind of hexmap or tabletop spaceship combat game. Given that the store was close, unemployment gave me extra free time, and that sort of game was not going to break out any time soon in any of my usual gaming circles, I stopped by on league night.
Long story short, I’m a regular now. I’ve been playing mostly Imperial, for no particular reason beyond it’s cheaper to buy lots of ships for one side than for both and this happens to be the side I bought more of first. I think I subconsciously prefer the look of TIEs over the various Rebel fighters.
(Before we continue, let’s be honest. From an aerospace engineering point of view, the TIE Fighter is probably the single most brain-twistingly bad design for a dogfighting spacecraft in the history of film. It wouldn’t shock me if it’s in the Top Five Stupidest Ships in SF. You’d need intentional effort to construct something that stands up to torque and high-G acceleration less well than this:
And solar panels? Solar panels? WHY? You can’t maintain facing toward a star when someone is shooting at you. You usually aren’t close enough to a star to collect meaningful energy anyway. They’re just dumb. But the craft’s profile is incredibly iconic, and Lucas was making a movie, not applying to Northrop Grumman. I have to hand this one to him.)
Okay. Enough asides about mechanical engineering. How is the game?
Simplicity. The rules are easy to pick up. The basic framework is almost bare:
- All players secretly assign a movement order to all their ships.
- Going from low to high Pilot Skill, each ship executes the movement it was assigned, then performs one of its available special actions (typically an offensive or defensive bonus or a short additional maneuver).
- Going from high to low Pilot Skill, each ship makes one attack.
Game balance. Point costs are good overall. No one side, ship, or strategy dominates. (Caveat: that may have just changed. That said, it’s still a mark of praise that two years and five expansions elapsed before that happened.) In fact, generic pilots flying basic ships comprise ⅓ or more of many competitive fleet lists.
Tactical importance. Unlike a few other miniatures games (Warmachine comes to mind here), the combination of powers you’ve built into your army is less important than what your units do during the game. That means fewer matches are foregone conclusions.
Model quality. They’re pre-painted, and well, and the ships are both nicely detailed and accurately scaled with the direct help of ILM experts.Popularity. It’s still big in the greater Seattle area. Finding players and tournaments isn’t hard.
Price. The core set retails for $40 and is necessary for basic components. It contains three ships — enough to play a simple matchup that’s about half the size of the smallest standard game. Additional fighters cost $15 apiece or $30 for larger craft like the Millenium Falcon. (There are even larger ones in the $60–$80 range, but they require special rules and aren’t commonly played.) A 100 point game, which is the most common, requires at least two more ships, bringing the minimum typical financial outlay to $70. (Drop all prices by ⅓ if you buy exclusively online — but then expect to have nowhere to play when all the Friendly Local Game Stores go out of business.) And even though you don’t need paints like with Warhammer and its ilk, there will still be the overhead cost of storage cases ($5–$20, maybe more).
Component distribution. Every ship comes with optional upgrade cards that give it better stats, bonuses, or abilities. These cards are not limited to that ship, though. They can be used by any ship that accepts the same categories of improvements. Although cards aren’t packed randomly as they are in CCGs, specific upgrade cards are scattered across the entire product line, so you may find yourself needing to buy two different ships to put a specific combo together. When there are upgrades usable by any ship that appear exclusively in one of the $30 boxes, and even unique cards in with the super-expensive ships, being able to field any legal fleet is prohibitively expensive.
Rules spread. As short as the rules are, they are spread across multiple sources. There are the basic rules, the tournament rules, and the official FAQ, all of which intersect with, clarify, and sometimes override one another. The official rules for some mechanics, like dropping bombs and cloaking, appear only on inserts packaged with ships that use them.
Slippery pieces. Ships are way too easy to bump out of position on a smooth tabletop.