Friday, December 14, 2012

The Force Is Strong With This One: "X-Wing"

First, A Long-Winded Preamble...

When The Phantom Menace came out in 1999 I went to the theater three times to try and convince myself that the movie was good.  During this period of denial I bought several prequel-flavored Star Wars board games.  They included, but weren't limited to...

and God help me...the Star Wars Game of Life

Eventually I joined the rest of humanity in its appraisal of the prequels and subsequently back-lashed pretty hard against them.  So, even though I collected and enjoyed the "Rebel Storm" Star Wars Miniatures set, I flat-out refused to invest in the "Clone Strike" expansion or anything else involving Phantasmal Menaci, Attacking Clones, or Vengeful Sith.

Until I saw this stupid thing:

Fuck you, Genndy Tartakovsky for making something I loathed seem cool for awhile.  

Anyway, long story slightly less long, I invested pretty heavily in every Star Wars Miniatures set up until "Champions of the Force" came out.  Eventually I grew weary of "chasing the collectible dragon" and gave up in frustration.        

A Quick Flashback...

Back in the late 80's, when there was the Holy Trilogy and nothing else, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game really helped keep Star Wars fandom simmering at a low boil:

Included in this product line was a stellar star fighter combat table-top game called Star Warriors

Beyond the amazing cover art by Ralph McQuarrie, the game let players pilot every major starship in the Star Wars universe.  Not only could it be played as a stand-alone board game, it was perfectly compatible with the RPG, which meant that your characters could hop into an X-Wing and blast the bejesus out of Advanced, Interceptor, Bomber and pain ol' vanilla category TIE fighters whenever they wanted to.  

As great as the game was, it used a wargame-era paper hex-based starfield map and cardboard chits to represent the starships.  Although we had an absolute blast playing Star Warriors at the time, I always longed for real miniatures and a less grognardian rule set. 

Back To The Future... 

Towards the end of the Star Wars Miniatures line they produced a series of ships for their Starship Battles game.  Unfortunately the rules were extremely flyweight, the quality of the minis were bend-a-licious and the scale for the ships was completely and totally wonky.  Just check this out:

Okay, so that TIE bomber looks like it's about the same size as the Rebel Blockade Runner.  What kinda horse shit is that?  Unimpressed, I involvement with the game was fleeting at best.

My moratorium on buying Star Wars games continued until I saw an add for this thing:

At face value X-Wing looked as if it had it all.  High-quality minis forged precisely to scale.  Excellent components.  A core game engine similar to the highly thematic yet imminently playable Wings of War. I knew right away that I had little hope of avoiding this one, especially after reading the borderline pornographic description of the game provided by publisher Fantasy Flight: 

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is a tactical ship-to-ship combat game in which players take control of powerful Rebel X-wings and nimble Imperial TIE fighters, facing them against each other in fast-paced space combat. Featuring stunningly detailed and painted miniatures, the X-Wing Miniatures Game recreates exciting Star Wars space combat throughout its several included scenarios. Select your crew, plan your maneuvers, and complete your mission!

Whatever your chosen vessel, the rules of X-Wing facilitate fast and visceral gameplay that puts you in the middle of Star Wars fiercest firefights. Each ship type has its own unique piloting dial, which is used to secretly select a speed and maneuver each turn. After planning maneuvers, each ship's dial is revealed and executed (starting with the lowest skilled pilot). So whether you rush headlong toward your enemy showering his forward deflectors in laser fire, or dance away from him as you attempt to acquire a targeting lock, you'll be in total control throughout all the tense dogfighting action.

Star Wars: X-Wing features (three) unique missions, and each has its own set of victory conditions and special rules; with such a broad selection of missions, only clever and versatile pilots employing a range of tactics will emerge victorious. What's more, no mission will ever play the same way twice, thanks to a range of customization options, varied maneuvers, and possible combat outcomes. Damage, for example, is determined through dice and applied in the form of a shuffled Damage Deck. For some hits your fighter sustains, you'll draw a card that assigns a special handicap. Was your targeting computer damaged, affecting your ability to acquire a lock on the enemy? Perhaps an ill-timed weapon malfunction will limit your offensive capabilities. Or worse yet, your pilot could be injured, compromising his ability to focus on the life-and-death struggle in which he is engaged...

The Star Wars: X-Wing starter set includes everything you need to begin your battles, such as scenarios, cards, and fully assembled and painted ships. What's more, Star Wars: X-Wing's quick-to-learn ruleset establishes the foundation for a system that can be expanded with your favorite ships and characters from the Star Wars universe.      

And so, on my first day at Hal-Con this year, I decided to bite the bullet and drop forty beans on the core game.  After procuring an additional TIE Advanced and a Y-Wing to round out the assortment, I began the process of digesting the rules.  Which, as it turns out, was a fairly easy task thanks to slick instructional vids like this:

Looking to explore the true nature of the Force?  Well, in the famous words of a certain laconic smuggler: "Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe that there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything."

What is real, however, is Fantasy Flight's support for the game.  You can even read X-Wing's entire rulebook right here.  
Anyway, a couple Wednesdays ago, me and Mike had a chance to through down in a mano-a-mano dogfight to the death.  Here's how our two forces stacked up:


Darth Vader...29 points
"Mauler" Mithel...17 points
Black Squadron Pilot...14 points
Concussion Missiles Upgrade for Advanced TIE...4 points
"Swarm Tactics" Upgrade for "Mauler" Mithel...2 points
"Squad Leader" Card for Darth Vader...2 points
"Expert Handling" Card for Black Squadron Pilot...2 points

Total Squad Point Cost: 70


Luke Skywalker...28 points
Horton Salm...25 points
Ion Cannon Upgrade for Y-Wing...5 points
R2-D2 Upgrade for X-Wing...4 points
Proton Torpedo Upgrade for both X-Wing and Y-Wing...4 x 2 = 8 

Total Squad Point Cost: 70


As the two squadrons closed the gap with one another, Vader Targeted the Y-Wing and managed to hit it at long range, damaging two of its Shields.  Luke returned fire at the Sith Lord, but Vader avoided the effect with a primed Focus.  Unfortunately, this put him right into the sights of Tim Horton' Salm's Y-Wing, which managed to graze Vader at long range for a point of damage!

During the subsequent pass, Vader took another pot-shot, this time at Luke.  Mike conjured up two Evade die results, nullifying the one hit.  Luke fired back with three dice, scoring a Critical and a regular hit on his pappy.  Not a good start for the Empire!    

As the two squadrons flew through one another and broke up, only the Y-Wing's 360° Ion Cannon had the capacity to fire.  The subsequent zap ionized the Black Squadron TIE, scoring three solid hits and sending it spiralling out of control!  

After the fighters come hard about, "Mauler" Mithel attempted to fire back at the Y-Wing but it managed to Evade.  Meanwhile, Vader scored two hits on Luke, bringing down his Shields.

Horton Salm lit up his twin Taim & Bak IX4 forward-mounted laser cannons, threatening "Mauler" Mithel with two hits.  The Imperial ace performed a quick slip maneuver, avoiding one point of the damage.

Salm kept peppering Mithel with a tenacious hail of close-range laser-fire but the wily veteran continued to duck and weave.  Two potential hits fell by the wayside.    

After the last lethal fly-by, the fighters spent a tense turn jockeying for position.  Both "Mauler" Mithel and the Black Squadron Pilot were forced to incur some major G's while performing hairpin turns.

Setting himself up as a nominee for the "Galaxy's Worst Father", Vader drilled down on his son's X-Wing.  After rolling only a single hit, I spent a Focus token and dialed up another.  Luke responded with a flurry of evasive moves, shaking off his Dad's withering attack.

Looking to take advantage of Vader's preoccupation, Horton Salm opened up, scoring one potential hit and upgrading a Focus result into another.  At the last second, the Sith Lord rolled two Evade results and pulled up out of the crossfire.

Intent on blasting Vader into atoms, Horton Salm didn't notice the Black Squadron TIE bearing down on him like a shark.  After the Imperial pilot scored one Crit and another regular hit, Mike rolled two blanks, forcing him to deduct his Y-Wings's last Shield marker and take a point of hull damage.  

On the verge of flying off the battlefield, Luke invested a turn flipping around.  Unfortunately, this did precious little to throw off Darth Vader's Target Lock and he was soon forced to contend with two incoming blaster bolts.  Luke managed to Evade one hit and his Shield soaked up the second.  Stressed by the extreme maneuver and the hail of laser fire, Luke's counterattack on Vader was a stone cold miss.         

"Mauler" Mithel took a bead on Horton Salm's Y-Wing.  Mike rolled two blanks on his Defense Dice and got blasted right in the exhaust nacelle ("I hate when that happens!") for two points of damage. Sensing blood in the water, the Black Squadron Pilot trowelled another point of damage onto the Y-Wing. 

Luke served up three potential hits on the Black Squadron TIE but the wily pilot avoided two of them with a proficient Evade roll.  He tried to counter-attack but Luke effortlessly avoided the single strike like Neo in The Matrix.  Now officially in the zone, "Mauler" Mither blasted away at the close-range Y-Wing.  After nailing him for a point of damage, Mike fumbled his defense roll and Horton Salm was instantly reduced to fine-grain space dust.      

Not long after, both Vader and the Black Squadron Pilot were forced to pull a u-turn in order to get Luke back in their sights. 

Lord Vader tried to laser lance Luke (wow, try saying that five time real quick) but the cagy young Rebel handily avoided it.  In order to get back into contention, he was forced to pull a 180° Koiogran maneuver, putting him under Stress and turning his X-Wing into the equivalent of a space piñata.  He managed to dodge one in-bound Crit from the Black Squadron Pilot and then frustrated him even further by cleanly Evading two follow-up hits.  He wasn't so lucky against his pops, however, who dealt out a solid smack.  Despite the extreme range, "Mauler" Mithel also conjured up one regular hit and a Crit against Luke who's Defense Dice could only assuage half of the pain.   

Vader sniped Luke for two points of long range damage but half of that was turfed by Luke's defense.  The young Jedi switched on his targeting computer and took a bead on the inbound Imperial ace "Mauler" Mithel.  Mithel proved his mettle by evading two points of potential damage and then lobbed back two in return.  Thrown by his rival's ferocity, the Rebel pilot whiffed his defense roll and was forced to eat twin bolts from the TIE's SFS L-S1 laser cannon.  Luke managed to recover just in time to roll away from two more promising strikes courtesy of the Black Squadron Pilot. 

As the remaining four pilots closed to within lethal distance of one another, the dogfight suddenly turned into a knife-fight.  Vader clobbered Luke with twin Crits, causing three points of damage in total!  At this close range, "Maulter" Mithel became a sitting dianoga and Luke was more then happy to blast him into oblivion with a whopping four points of damage!  As Luke flew through the resulting cloud of debris, the Black Squadron Pilot tried to avenge his wing man.  Ever the consummate pilot, Luke managed to shuck and jive, taking only one point of damage on three big hits.    

The three ships blew by one another, resulting in a near-collision.  The agile TIE's managed to quickly come hard about, intent on polishing off the lone Rebel pilot.  

After a great deal of tricky piloting the two Imperial ships managed to get Luke back into  their cross-hairs.  Vader squeezed off a few shots but his two hits were quickly countered by a great Evade roll. The Black Squadron Pilot was similarly frustrated after Luke succeeded in juking his attack.

Vader pelted away but his three hits were very nearly shrugged off with pair of  Evades.  One hit got through, however, chipping away at Luke's incessantly regenerating Shields!  The Black Squadron Pilot piled on the abuse by scoring two hits and temporarily eliminating the Rebel pilot's Shields.  

Luke just couldn't seem to shake his pursuers.  Once again, R2-D2 managed to patch up the T-65's Shields and stave off certain doom.  Curse those plucky little astro-droids!  Sensing weakness, Vader scored two hits on his spawn, but Luke managed to Evade a point of the damage.  This left him open to a follow-up strike from the Black Squadron Pilot, who also scored a hit.  

Now firing away at point blank range, Vader scored three hits including a Critical.  Mike rolled his Defense Dice and got one blank and two Focus results.  The first hit was nullified by an Evade result, the second blew out Luke's last Shield and the final shot managed to find its mark.  Red Five's fuselage was instantly ruptured, resulting in a massive internal explosion.

With the budding Jedi Knight killed in the resulting ball of fire the only hope for the Rebellion was destroyed!  The Empire stood triumphant! 

Although X-Wing doesn't have all the chrome of Star Warriors it's a perfect example of just how much board games have evolved over the past twenty-five years.  Indeed, after reading the rulebook for X-Wing I was afraid that the game's face-value simplicity wouldn't "feel" like starfighter combat. Mercifully the Maneuver Templates, Barrel Rolls, Target Locks, Pilot Stress Tokens, Critical Hit Damage Cards, Focus Die Results and the secret Movement Dials all add up to a reasonably authentic experience.  

In other words: where Star Warriors tried to sim starfighter combat with an admittedly evolved wargaming ruleset,  X-Wing succeeds in filtering just enough of the same elements through a simpler and more intuitive design.  Granted, it doesn't feel as "real" as it's predecessor, but it's a helluva lot more playable.  In fact, the ability to throw the game down on any available surface (instead of a crappy paper hex-map) is awesome enough.

We did have to pause and sort out some rules ambiguities a bit more often then I expected, but that's probably more my fault then the game's.  Admittedly, I only breezed through the rules earlier that day and I'm confident that the next time I revisit them the answers to the following questions will be made apparent:
  • Stressed pilots can't take actions but is firing a weapon included in this ban?
  • Does a successful Ion Cannon Attack Die roll completely negate a Defense Die roll?
  • If a ship is under Stress can R2 still repair its Shields?
Regardless of these lingering questions, I really enjoyed X-Wing and I'm really looking forward to adding more expansions.  Needless to say I'm positively drooling at the prospects of getting my hands on an A-Wing, TIE Interceptor, Slave I and the mother-fuckin' Millennium Falcon, yo.

X-Wing scores five pips out of six.      


Wanna cram a Photon Torpedo up your friend's Thermal Exhaust Port?  Click on the pic below to order X-Wing from Amazon and help support this here blog...                

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