Monday, 26 August 2013

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, Part 2: Gameplay & Verdict

Our last post took a look at the substantial box contents of Fantasy Flight's X-Wing Miniatures game.  Now it's time for us to climb aboard our starfighters and take the battle to the enemy, as we run through the gameplay and give it an overall Games & Tea verdict!
The first players must decide upon is the points value of their fleets.  Each pilot's points value is shown in the lower-right corner of their pilot card, with more experienced pilots having a higher value than those fresh out of the academy.  Various ship upgrades can add points to each fighter, but for the purposes of this basic runthrough we won't be adding that complication.
For this battle the Rebel Alliance is fielding Luke Skywalker, with a points value of 28.  The Galactic Empire is sending out Night Beast and an Obsidian Squadron Pilot to face him, with values of 15 and 13 respectively.  This gives both sides a total value of 28, and so should lead to a close-fought battle.
The numbers down the left hand side of the card are the physical stats of the ship and pilot.  From top to bottom they are:
  • Pilot skill (orange) - This determines which ships move/attack first.
  • Attack value (red) - The number of attack dice rolled during combat.
  • Defence value (green) - The number of defence dice rolled during combat.
  • Hull rating (yellow) - This shows how many hits the ship can take before it is destroyed.
  • Shield level (blue) - This shows how many hits the ship can take before it starts suffering hull damage.
With the pilots chosen the ships need to be assembled, complete with base-inserts appropriate to each pilot.  They are then set up in each player's starting area on the 'board' (usually the very edge of the playing area), and any asteroids can be randomly scattered about to add an extra tactical element.
Once this set-up is complete it's time to move!
Seeing as X-Wing is supposed to simulate a constantly-moving dogfight, the ships MUST move each turn.  The course they take is determined by the Movement Dials, as shown in our box contents overview.  There is one dial per ship, and by twisting the dial the players can cycle through a wide range of movement options.  Each ship has to have their course plotted in secret, with the dial placed face-down beside its corresponding model once it has been selected.  When every ship has had its Movement Dial placed, they can begin to move.
The order of movement is determined by the pilot skill values of each ship.  The pilot with the lowest pilot skill moves first, so in this case it's the Obsidian Squadron Pilot, with a skill of 3.  His movement dial is turned over, revealing a movement of 2 with a curve off to the left.
The appropriate Movement Template is placed at the front of the Obsidian Squadron Pilot's base, and the TIE Fighter is moved forward, so that the end of the template is flush with the rear of the base.
Night Beast is the next pilot to move, with a skill of 5, and once he's moved then Luke Skywalker's skill of 8 allows him to make the final move.
After making its move, each ship is allowed to take a single action, and the available actions are dictated by the ship types rather than the individual pilots.  These actions are shown by the symbols in the blue/grey bar at the bottom of the pilot cards (next to the shield value), and are also on the right of the base inserts.  There are a wide range of actions across the various ships in the game, but for the purposes of this review we're going to show you the three most-used actions by having each pilot utilise a different one.  Obsidian Squadron Pilot has used a Dodge action, Night Beast has used Focus, and Luke Skywalker has used his Target Lock ability to lock onto Obsidian Squadron Pilot.  Each ship has a token of the appropriate type placed beside the miniature, and then we can move onto combat.
When it comes to combat, the pilot with the highest ability shoots first, and so Luke Skywalker opens fire upon the Obsidian Squadron Pilot.  The measuring ruler is used to determine that Obsidian is within range 3.  Seeing as this is the maximum range of Luke's lasers, Obsidian gets one extra defence die to try and avoid a hit.
This is the first point at which X-Wing stumbles as an out-of-the-box experience.  The box set contains 3 attack dice and 3 defence dice, but TIE Fighters have a defence value of 3, and X-Wings have an attack value of 3, so if either are receiving a bonus then there aren't enough dice for a single roll.  The only option (aside from buying further dice, which defeats the point of being able to play the game straight out of the box) is to roll once, and then re-roll one of the dice (preferably a miss) to add to the previous 3.  It's a point which could have been easily addressed by simply putting 4 of each dice into the box set, and it seems like Fantasy Flight let themselves down a little after making such an effort to get so many other aspects of the game spot-on (see the box contents section for details).
So Luke and Obsidian roll off at the same time.  Luke rolled 1 hit and Obsidian rolled 1 dodge, which, combined with his Dodge action, gives him 2 dodges.  Tough luck, young Skywalker!
But wait...
Luke expends his Target Lock, allowing him to re-roll his dice.  This time the force is definitely with him, and he rolls 3 hits!  Obsidian's 2 dodges allow him to avoid destruction, but the third hit makes a dent, and the Obsidian Squadron Pilot suffers a point of hull damage.  The Dodge and Target Lock counters, having been used up, are returned to the game box.
The Empire Strikes Back!  Night Beast makes his attack on Luke, who is within range 2, so both ships roll off with just their face-values.  This means 2 attack dice for Night Beast, and 2 defence dice for Luke.
Night Beast gets one critical hit and once focus symbol.  As he used a Focus action this turn he can discard his focus token to turn that symbol into a hit!  Luke, in the meantime rolled a focus symbol and a miss, but his special ability (see the pilot card) allows him to change one focus symbol into a dodge.
With these effects applied, Luke has dodged one hit, but the other hits home, reducing his shields by 1.
Finally, the Obsidian Squadron Pilot gets to have a shot at Luke.  We already know the range is 3 (from Luke's attack on Obsidian), and so the dice are rolled.  Obsidian rolls 1 hit and a focus, Luke rolls 2 dodges and a miss.  Luke has successfully dodged this single hit, and the combat phase is now over.
After the combat phase, any unused Dodge or Focus tokens are removed from play, but any unused Target Locks remain in play.  Let's take a look at how the ships are faring after this round...
As you can see, Night Beast is cruising around, having taken no damage this turn.  Luke's hull is in-tact, but he has just 1 shield token remaining.  Obsidian Squadron Pilot has suffered the worst though, and has taken a hit to his hull, as indicated by the explosion poking out from the top of his pilot card.
The game continues in this fashion - movement, combat, cleanup - until one side has been completely wiped out, or until any predetermined objectives have been met.
This, once more, is a nice element which gives X-Wing more of a standalone/board game feel than that of a tabletop system.  In most tabletop games, battles are played to a predetermined number of rounds, and at the end of the final round the victor is usually decided based on the points value of their remaining units.  With X-Wing you actually feel as though you're achieving something, as the game doesn't end until the mission has been accomplished.  This not only gives a tremendous feeling of satisfaction, but also makes the game exciting to play, especially towards the tail-end of a mission, when ship numbers are dwindling and both sides are anxious to scrape through with a victory!
The actual mechanics of the game are well thought out, as we touched on in part 1 of our review.  The simple idea of templates for movement and measuring firing range remove a lot of the typical tabletop clutter, and the combat system of rolling hits against dodges is fast-flowing and intuitive.  The mountain of tokens supplied in the box set are easy to keep track of, especially when each ship only has a limited number of available actions (an Imperial player, for example, will never have to worry about Target Locks with this beginners box).
The Quick Start rules give a nice balanced battle, and contain less detail than we've addressed here in this review.  Once these have been mastered then players can progress up to the full set of rules shown here, and from there can move on to include ship upgrades.  It's an excellent 3-tiered system which allows new players to ease into the game without feeling overwhelmed.
The big question though, is how satisfying is it as a standalone game?  Does it require a further investment of ships, or is the starter box enough to keep you going?  Well it's certainly satisfying, but as a complete game it is slightly flawed.  The main flaw being that if the Rebel player chooses Luke Skywalker and upgrades him with R2-D2 then he's effectively invincible, and the Imperial player will quickly lose heart.  The other niggling flaw is the dice issue, as raised earlier.
When we reviewed Puppet Wars a few weeks ago we were let down by the fact that it wasn't playable straight from the box, and the worry with X-Wing was that it was going to suffer similarly.  Well, we can definitively state that it doesn't!  Whilst perhaps feeling a little incomplete (you'll find yourself lusting after a wider range of ships fairly quickly), X-Wing does work as a standalone game.
For comparison purposes we've also played a couple of large-scale 200 point games, and the two experiences are very different.  With the larger games it does feel good to be in control of an entire fleet of fighters, but entire turns will often pass by with no damage being dealt to ships on either side, and frustration can quickly seep in.  Whilst you do have turns like this in small-scale skirmishes, the fact that the turns pass by so quickly means that these are quickly forgotten in the mad frenzy to stay alive!
The nice thing, however, is that if you do decide to expand you can do so at a slow pace and keep the costs down as a result.  After trying out the box set we went out and bought one extra TIE Fighter and an A-Wing, and the simple addition of these two ships has given enough variation to keep the game from going stale here at Games & Tea.
The Good Points
  • In the X-Wing Miniatures Game, Fantasy Flight have succeeded in making a tabletop system that doesn't feel like a tabletop system.  This makes it incredibly accessible and very easy to pick up and play.
  • At the end of the day, it's Star Wars!  Classic Star Wars!  Most gamers will have grown up loving these films, and it feels a bit like living a childhood fantasy.
  • Further ships can be bought to expand the set at a very reasonable price, so it doesn't need to break the bank if the decision is made to add a little variety.
  • The quality of the minitaures is high, although a little shelf-by-shelf comparison may be required to make sure you get the best ones possible.
The Bad Points
  • The X-Wing starter box really should come with one more of each dice.  Any game which will require you to roll 4 dice at some point should provide the players with those 4 dice.
  • Combining Luke Skywalker with R2-D2 is an instant way to make the Rebels unbeatable with the box contents, which is a pity seeing as Star Wars fans will want to have them flying together.  They are a perfectly valid combination in larger-scale battles, just not against a pair of TIE Fighters with no backup.
  • X-Wing is limited to just 2 players, so isn't really an option in a large gaming group.
Recommended Number of Players: 2 (no other option)
As mentioned above, the only way to play X-Wing is with two players.  There are no options at this point for a third faction to enter the fray, and it can't be played with just a single player.
Average Game Time: 30 minutes
Using one of the missions in the rulebook and playing the X-Wing vs 2 TIEs balance from the started box, a game will last half an hour on average.  The addition of extra ships will obviously lengthen games, and large-scale engagements can take anything up to a couple of hours.
Replay Value: High
With the range of different pilots, upgrades, and missions, it's fair to say that no two games of X-Wing need necessarily be the same.  Once players have got their heads around the mechanics of the game they can even start to create their own missions, or even ongoing campaigns.  X-Wing is certainly not a game which will go stale for quite some time.
The Future: Bright
The Future of X-Wing is in the additional ships being released by Fantasy Flight.  At the time of this review, the currently available ships are; X-Wing, A-Wing, Y-Wing, Millennium Falcon, TIE Fighter, TIE Advanced, TIE Interceptor, Slave-I.  The next batch of releases is set to include the B-Wing, HWK-290, TIE Bomber and Lambda Class Shuttle.  With other Extended Universe and prequel ships still to choose from, Fantasy Flight have the potential to continue releasing new ships for a number of years.
Price: £30
The box set for X-Wing will cost roughly £30, and for that you'll get a good all-round 2 player experience.  The smaller fighters retail for around £12 each, and the larger ships (The Millennium Falcon etc) will cost around £24.  As we mentioned, we picked up two extra fighters to give a good variety of gameplay options to our set, and by visiting our local hobby store we were able to buy everything we needed for £45, which is a decent price for a specialist game.
Availability is one of the only let-downs for X-Wing, as Fantasy Flight unfortunately don't seem to be matching the demand with their supply.  X-Wing is such a popular game that most ships are unavailable from many retailers until October (we were very disappointed not to be able to add a TIE Interceptor to our collection, opting for that third TIE Fighter instead), and even the latest wave of releases have already pre-sold out in many places.
(9/10 with the inclusion of 2 extra ships)

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