RogerBW's Blog

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures 31 July 2014

Star Wars X-Wing is clearly designed to be a gateway game, encouraging players to buy lots of expansions. As I'm probably going to do. But before then, how well does it do at being playable out of the box?

What you get in that box is quite a lot:

  • One X-Wing and two TIE Fighter painted minis, with stands
  • Manoeuvre dials for the above
  • One set of manoeuvre templates and range ruler
  • Six custom dice (3 attack, 3 defence)
  • 8 double-sided ship tokens to go on the minis
  • 13 ship cards
  • 33 damage cards
  • 5 upgrade cards
  • 19 action tokens (4 evade, 3 focus, 6 pairs of target lock)
  • 13 mission tokens (shuttle, tracking, satellite)
  • 6 (flat cardboard) asteroids
  • 2 shield tokens
  • 3 stress tokens
  • 3 critical hit tokens
  • 27 ID tokens

Which is not a bad bundle, and some of it (like the target locks, of which you'll only ever need three pairs with these ships) is clearly designed for later generic expansion. The only real problem is the number of dice: it's easy to get into situations where one's rolling four attack or defence dice, and having to reroll one of them makes the game feel stingy. I would recommend that anyone who enjoys the game and plans to play it reasonably often purchase either an additional dice pack (they're available separately) or an additional copy of the basic set. The latter also gives one a second set of manoeuvre templates for players' convenience, and three more ships potentially allowing larger games, for rather less than they'd all cost individually.

The ship tokens and ship cards are used to assign a pilot to each ship (ranging from generic rookies to named figures like Luke Skywalker); the basic ship stats stay the same, but the special actions they can take differ, and some of them have unique abilities. So that already gives a bit of variety on the basic scenario of two TIEs vs one X-Wing. Perversely enough, one face of one of them can't be used: there are two copies of the unique TIE pilot "Mauler Mithel", and one's only allowed one of any unique character in a game.

There's a cost system used to balance scenarios, and this also applies to the upgrade cards, which are more special abilities such as proton torpedoes (a one-shot heavy attack that needs a target lock) or an astromech droid to repair damage. The standard squad cost is 100 points, but with just the contents of this box you'll be looking at more like 30 points. Even so, there's a reasonable amount of tweaking possible to the basic two-on-one scenario.

After one's exhausted that basic scenario, which has clearly been pretty heavily balanced, there are three "missions" in the rules, which have goals beyond simply blowing up the other side. These have been cut down to work with the ships in the box, but can be expanded to full tournament-legal 100-point squads, so they don't become obsolete once one adds to the game. All three of them give one side a job to do, while the other side receives infinite reinforcements (as each ship is destroyed, it gets a new one). They are:

Political Escort: Rebels try to get the unarmed shuttle from one side of the map to the other.

Asteroid Run: Damaged Rebels try to survive four turns at low speed before fleeing.

Dark Whispers: Imperials try to scan (get close to) several fixed satellites, then flee with the information.

They're perhaps a bit similar, but do at least rub in the point that there are options other than just destroying the enemy. I must admit I'd rather see more asymmetric forces with the weaker force given an easier mission (all right, with this box that means one X-Wing and one TIE rather than two) but that may be personal bias.

So what's the gameplay like? Pleasingly simple. Each ship has a dial that shows which manoeuvre templates it can use (these come in lengths from 1 to 5 arbitrary units, and angles of straight ahead, 45 degrees, or 90 degrees; not all ships can use all templates). Each turn, each player chooses a manoeuvre for each of their ships, turn the dial to show it, and puts it face-down by the ship to which it applies. In increasing order of pilot skill, each ship is put through its manoeuvre, and may then perform a single action: Evade makes you harder to hit that turn, Focus lets you have the option of either hitting harder or defending more effectively, Barrel Roll lets you shift sideways, and Target Lock lets you designate a specific enemy ship for more effective weapons fire. Particularly hard manoeuvres make you stressed, which means you can't perform actions or other hard manoeuvres until you take an especially easy manoeuvre to un-stress (but you can still shoot normally).

Then, in descending order of skill, everyone fires. Pick a target, roll attack dice based on weapon, target rolls defence dice based on ship. Various modifications are possible (based on range, evasive manoeuvres, target lock, etc.) but basically you end up with a number of hits, some of which may be critical hits. Normal hits are face-down damage cards, which deplete the ship's shields first, then if they equal the ship's hull strength will destroy it; critical hits are face-up cards, which also have specific results impairing the ship or pilot.

And that's basically it. Move and fire, move and fire. A small game with the contents of the box can take as little as twenty minutes, and individual turns go past very quickly. Status indicators are clearly on the map or on your ship card. It's a very cunning system, because the slowest part, making decisions about how you're going to move, is the part that everybody does at the same time.

The impressive thing for me is that, in spite of these simple rules, it's fun. It feels a bit random when you're rolling two or three attack dice vs two or three defence dice, but (much as in BattleTech) the point of the game is to use the deterministic manoeuvre phase in order to get into position to shoot more effectively than your opponent in the random damage phase.

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