I am a huge Star Wars fan. In terms of time, energy and money… it is my number one hobby. But, if I were to have another hobby, it would definitely be board games. I have always been a gamer, but somewhere along my path of growing up I moved a little bit away from video games and into board games. Epic, 60 hour RPGs just seem exhausting to me now, while sitting around a table for 20-60 minute sessions with friends is a lot more appealing. There are many types of tabletop games, and I generally enjoy all of the ones I try. The one genre I had not really given a shot until Celebration VI was the tabletop miniatures game.
You can imagine that I had been counting down the months to the release of, and reading all of the news I could find about, Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures game. I had been around enough miniatures/tactics games to understand the basic setup. I will start at the beginning.
For a detailed look at what’s included in the starter set and initial expansions, check out Nathan Butler’s unboxing series at the Star Wars Beyond the Films Facebook page!
So, my best way to define the type of game you are getting with X-Wing is that it is a tactical warfare, board game… without the board! This means that a huge focus of the game is figuring out on your own how you will navigate around the playing area, which is just a 3′ x 3′ square. Not only is this a cool way of simulating space, it draws you into thinking: “What would I do if I were the starfighter pilot?” Right away, just like an actual starfighter pilot, you are anticipating your opponent’s move and hoping you can get where you want to be before the other pilot gets to where he or she wants to be! Moving around proves to be the most exciting part of the game and the one that requires the greatest amount of strategy.
The game has some actions that get thrown in but, with one exception, I find them to be pretty boring. Most of the actions rely on modifying the dice to improve your chances in your attacks and blocks. Because these actions are fairly easy to use for almost every turn, and most players use these actions the same way, it does not seem like they really impact the game in a significant way. The exception to this is the amazing Barrel Roll technique, which is unique to the TIE fighter units. This move isn’t dice-based and, instead, helps you move your TIEs into optimal positions by allowing you to move left and right in addition to the standard forward moves.
There are also pilot cards and ship upgrades and these can have a drastic impact on the game. Each team usually starts with a certain number of building points to spend on ships, pilots and upgrades. Obviously, with some pilots and upgrades being more powerful, they will cost more build points to use. As would be expected, a Luke Skywalker X-Wing with an R2-D2 upgrade is nearly unstoppable!
Pilot cards help you customize your fighter team.
This takes me to the two sides of combat. In true Star Wars fashion, we have Empire vs. Rebellion. The Empire’s TIE fighters are developed for high-maneuverability swarming. They have low health, but more movement options. The X-Wings, on the other hand are designed to be tanks. With shields, they can absorb more base damage and are less vulnerable to critical hits. But, a big factor to keep in mind is that when building your teams, you can usually have around 2 TIE fighters for each 1 X-Wing on the field. This creates interesting combat mechanics in smaller games, but based on initial playing, seems to really bring things out of balance in larger scale combat… more on this later.
Let’s talk a little bit of strategy.
Because the TIE fighters are more numerous and more maneuverable, the goal is to close in and swarm an X-Wing. TIEs are often able to use their barrel rolls at close range to stay outside of an X-Wing’s firing arc while maintaining their own ability to fire on the Rebels. Being able to close in early and dance around an X-Wing will often bring victory to the Imperial side.
An X-Wing, on the other hand, is able to use its superior firepower to take down TIEs pretty efficiently. While the X-Wing strategy is far less clear or obvious than the TIEs, I have found that my most effective games are when I can keep a distance and close as slowly, and directly, as possible. This leads to a strategy where I try to approach slowly, getting as many shots in as I can before I am swarmed and then I try to break away as soon as I can to put some distance between myself and my tailing TIEs. Then I repeat the process. With good rolls, I can sometimes take out a TIE fighter during my opening volleys.
With that basic setup, I can say that the core set is incredibly well balanced and fun to play! Having the two TIEs take on the one X-Wing leads to fun matches that are pretty unpredictable. Like any game, the luck of the dice can really skew the results and I have seen that work in both sides’ favor. This would be my strongest complaint about the game: sometimes one really lucky roll ends the game before it feels like it has even begun. I have started experimenting with house rules that would increase the durability of the ships, but it is hard to do that in a balanced way because the Empire gets two ships for the Rebels’ one.
Another complaint, which I have gathered from reading online forums, is that in large scale battles, the Imperial team seems to be too powerful for the Rebels to stand a chance. Being able to flood the board with TIEs seems to be the winning strategy because no matter how powerful you make an X-Wing, it cannot stand up to being in the targeting range of, say, 6 TIEs during one turn. On the smaller scale of the 3 ships provided in the basic starter kit, though, the teams truly seem balanced to me.
With those complaints aside, I really have to say that I have enjoyed this game a great deal. I have played with several people and have yet to find someone who walks away unsatisfied. Some players enjoy the combat tactics, some enjoy the spatial dynamics and EVERYONE enjoys moving X-Wings around and saying “pew-pew”! It’s a game that is complex enough to keep a strategy gamer interested in the long run and is simple enough to teach to my mom in one sitting.
Hands down, the best aspect of the game is how well it captures the spirit of Star Wars. Being a huge fan of the X-Wing series, it is easy to put myself in the mind of Corran Horn or Wedge Antilles while playing. Guessing my opponents’ moves, having to discipline myself to certain strategies, looking for the moment to break away and surprise an opponent: All of this exists with the game and makes me feel like I am in a great space battle!
Who hasn’t dreamed of piloting the Falcon?
I am looking forward to experimenting more with the existing, and upcoming, expansions. What fan wouldn’t be excited to throw the Falcon and Slave I into the mix!?
Overall, I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys Star Wars and enjoys strategy and tactics games. If you pick up a copy of the game, share your opinions and your battle stories in the comments below.