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Star Wars X-Wing miniatures game

There's two versions of this game available now. The original one was released back in 2012 and was based on the original Star Wars trilogy. With the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, Fantasy Flight released a variant core set based on the new movie. The variant set includes miniatures based on the new Resistance X-Wings and First Order TIE Fighters, as well as some revised rules.

I haven't played the variant set with the revised rules, so this review will focus on the original release of the game. My understanding is that the rule changes in the updated version do not alter mechanics, but rather it makes some clarifications for some circumstantial edge cases. If I ever do get a chance to play the revised rules, and find that they substantially alter the game, then I'll either write a separate review of that, or I'll add to this review (depending on how extensive the changes are).

I've had this game for a few years, but didn't play much of it over that time period. Lately, however, my girlfriend and I have gotten really into it -- trying to play a game every weekend or two -- and have been buying lots of expansion ships. So I decided that it was time for me to finally get around to reviewing the game.

Miniature games are a dangerous thing to get into. The core set for X-Wing contains only three ships: a single X-Wing and two TIE Fighters. Without expansions, this leaves the game with relatively little replay value, as there's only so much you can do with such a small roster of ships. There's a handful of pre-made mission scenarios and character cards that can add a bit more variety. The ships themselves are very high quality models - nearly collectible-quality models. Screw having a box, when you're not playing the game, you can display these miniatures on a shelf or in a curio cabinet somewhere! Other components in the set have good production value, which is one of the trademarks of Fantasy Flight games.

Star Wars X-Wing - play area
The game has no board, but is played on any 3'x3' playing surface. Fantasy Flight does sell optional play mats.

Since this is a miniatures game, there is no actual game board. Instead, you'll need a 3 foot by 3 foot playing surface for the play area, plus some extra room for ship cards and components. Fantasy Flight sells play mats with various patterns, along with numerous other accessories. You can also get away with a solid black sheet of 3'x3' felt or cloth from your local craft store, or a bigger sheet if you want larger play areas (you can fold a sheet of cloth to any size you need). In lieu of such a play surface, the game box includes a set of 4 cardboard "corners" that you can use to delineate the borders of the play area. The play area can also be decorated with asteroids or other cardboard obstacles that come packaged in the game.

Plastic dogfights

The game itself is a four-phase process. In the first phase (Planning Phase), each player secretly selects a maneuver for each of their ships using a cardboard dial. This maneuver will determine the ship's movement during the following phase.

Star Wars X-Wing - maneuver
The maneuver templates make ship
movement simple and intuitive.

The second phase is the Activation Phase, in which each ship executes its planned movement. Each ship has a pilot assigned to it, which has a skill level on that pilot's card. Ships are moved ("activated") one at a time in ascending pilot order (lowest skill pilot goes first). The ship's chosen maneuver is revealed, and ship movement is handled by slotting a cardboard maneuver template into the front of the ship's base, picking up the ship, and finally slotting the back of its base at the far end of the maneuver template. In general, movement is a pretty easy mechanic to execute.

It gets a little more complicated if there's overlap between objects in the play area. In the event of a collision, the ship moves as far along its maneuver template as possible before it collides with the other ship or obstacle. By default, collisions don't damage the colliding ships; instead, the colliding ship loses its action for the turn, and neither ship can target each other with an attack so long as their bases are in contact. If it didn't collide with something, each ship can also take one of several actions during activation, which can allow the ship to make a barrel roll, take evasive maneuver, target lock an enemy ship, and so forth. These actions modify the ship's movement or its ensuing attack or defense dice.

The combat crap shoot

The third phase is the Combat Phase. In order of descending pilot skill (highest skill pilot goes first), the ships take turns firing at one another. In order to make an attack, an enemy ship must fall within the area of an attacking ship's firing arc, and must be within range of the range ruler. The attacking ship rolls a set of attack dice based on its weapon's attack rating, and the defender rolls a number of defense dice based on its agility value. The attack and defense dice can be further modified by abilities of the ships or by the range of the attack. At long range, the defender gets an extra defense die, and at close range, the attacker gets an extra attack die.

Star Wars X-Wing - attack crap shoot
Dealing damage is a crap shoot. Even the best-executed attack can be nullified by an unlucky roll.

If the number of "hits" on the attack dice outnumber the "evade" icons on the defense dice, then the defender takes damage. These dice are the source of perhaps the game's most enduring problem: dealing damage to an enemy can often feel like a crap shoot. Sure, a skilled player can maneuver their ships into position to maximize their chances of hitting, but it still all comes down to the luck of competing rolls. You can line your ship up perfectly at point-blank range behind an enemy, but if you roll blanks, then your perfectly-executed maneuver was all for naught. It's not a fatal problem. You can use focus tokens and target locks to mitigate the randomness, but it is a consistent frustration.

A more minor problem is that the game doesn't even come packaged with enough dice to resolve even basic attack and defense modifiers. For example, the X-Wing has a base attack rating of three, which means it rolls three attack dice by default. But if the X-Wing is at close range to its target, it gets an additional (fourth) attack die. Well, there's only three attack dice in the package. This same problem is mirrored with defense dice: the TIE Fighter has three base agility, and gets a fourth defense die if at long range, but there's only three defense dice in the package. Sure, this is easy to resolve by simply remembering the result of a die and re-rolling it, but are dice really so expensive that Fantasy Flight couldn't have just thrown a fourth of each die into the box? I can understand not including enough dice for all the other optional character and upgrade modifiers, but you should include at least enough dice to resolve the game's own basic rules. But then I guess they wouldn't be able to sell as many of the Dice Pack expansions.

Star Wars X-Wing - not enough dice
The package doesn't include enough dice to resolve basic range modifiers for attack and defense.

Random luck and component limitations notwithstanding, combat is also pretty easy to execute. In fact, having the ship models suspended a couple inches above their plastic bases makes it very easy to measure line-of-sight. There's two plastic pegs for each ship, so you can set each ship at multiple heights. When I first opened the package, I thought maybe this meant that the height of the ships could change to allow for 3-d combat. Unfortunately, there's no rules for 3-d combat, so you can't actually change the relative spacing of the ships on the z-axis. The pegs are just for aesthetics and ease-of-use.

Lastly, there's the clean-up (End Phase). Not much happens here. Any unused ability tokens are removed from the board, and certain card effects may be resolved at this time. Mostly, it's just the part of the turn where you reset and prepare for the next turn.

Strategy, skill, and stress

One of the key elements of strategy in this game is to always remember which pilots take their turns first. Even though all movement is completed first, who moves first can affect the final positioning of all ships. In the events of collisions, the player who goes first gets the slight advantage of being able to complete their movement, since the second player's movement is interrupted and canceled by the collision. If your ship has a higher pilot rating, you also have the advantage of being able to expect other ships to clear out of an area before you risk collision. You can plan a maneuver that overlaps another ship, but if that other ship moves first, then you won't have to worry about a collision.

Further, the highest-skill pilot(s) get to see the final positioning of all other ships on the board, and so can plan your action accordingly. You can barrel roll out of an enemy's firing arc, barrel roll into position to attack an enemy, and will know whether you're in good position to use either a focus or evade token.

More importantly, however, is to remember that the higher skill pilots get to attack first. Making the first attack opens up the potential of destroying an opposing ship before it has an opportunity to fire back. So if two ships put themselves head-to-head with each other, the one that shoots first has an obvious advantage. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will likely depend on personal preference. Assuming that the expansions maintain the wide disparity between ships, I think pilot skill works as a decent balancing mechanic, though there are plenty of situations in which I wish the destroyed ship could get to fire back.

Action tokens and stressful maneuvers add additional strategy to the game.

Each pilot can also use various actions during their activation step. The "Focus" action allows you to change any focus icons on your attack or defense dice into hits or evades (respectively). The "Evade" action allows a defender to automatically have one extra evade when he or she rolls defense dice. There's also a "Target Lock" action that allows the attack to re-roll any number of their attack dice. Proper use of these abilities is essential to minimizing the inherent randomness of the die rolls, but there will still always be some element of randomness when attacking and defending.

Certain maneuvers marked in red (such as very tight turns or the Koiogran U-turn) can also deal "stress" to a pilot. Stress prevents that pilot from performing another stressful maneuver without taking severe penalty, nor can the pilot perform an action. The stress is only temporary though, and can be removed if the pilot performs an easy green maneuver. These red maneuvers can be a way to get your pilot out of a tough position, or to put yourself in an advantageous position, but they are risky.

Tokens and clutter

Stress, target lock, focus, evade, etc. tokens can quickly clutter up the board. They need to be moved along with the respective ship that they are attached to, which adds a bit of annoying overhead to the game. It's too bad that the ship bases couldn't have some way to clip such tokens onto them, or an easy way to store the tokens on the base so that they can be automatically moved along with the ship.

Star Wars X-Wing - maneuvers in tight quarters
The game can get cluttered, making it difficult to move components without accidentally shifting others.

Trying to maneuver or measure line-of-sight in very tight quarters can also be difficult, as it requires quite a bit of manual dexterity. It's very common to have to temporarily move or pick up ships while you're using the maneuver templates, and it can also be easy to accidentally shift the positions of some ships when reaching to place, move, or remove tokens. As I said before, the ships being suspended above their bases does make it considerably easier to eye-ball certain things (especially compared to a game like Sails of Glory), but some shifting of ships is inevitable.

Star Wars X-Wing - character and upgrade cards
Characters and upgrades add some variety -
but not much.

Fleet-building and scenarios

If you get tired of playing the standard set-up game, you can start experimenting with the fleet-building mechanics. Various crew and upgrade cards have point values assigned to them. Each player can select a number of crew and upgrades such that their point values add up to their fleet point cap.

Upgrade cards and crew can unlock new abilities or attack actions for their respective ship. This can include secondary weapons that can be expended to make a more powerful attack (which is still subject to the randomness of the die roll), droids that can repair your ship's shields or increase your agility, traits that allow you to ignore certain critical damage effects, and so on. You can mix-and-match the effects to create different interplay between ships. Of course, with only 3 ships in the package, there's still not many options here in the core set -- especially for the Rebel faction.

However, if both you and your opponent both own a copy of the core set, you can combine them to create a 6-ship game.

Hard to fault Fantasy Flight for the game's minor annoyances

In the end, it's kind of hard to fault Fantasy Flight for some of the issues with accidentally displacing ships or with some of the other minor annoyances with this game. These are things that are endemic to pretty much all miniature games, and really only become major issues in tournament-level play. Casual players, however, will still likely be frustrated with the randomness of the dice.

Despite these flaws, the game is still very well put together. The core set is a bit skimpy on the content, but with an investment in some expansions, X-Wing can turn into a fantastic game.

PROS

  • Very nice, detailed plastic miniatures!
  • Maneuver templates are easy to use
  • Easy to learn, but with a high skill ceiling
  • Pilot skill and turn order balance out disparity between factions
  • Ship models being suspended above their bases makes measuring line-of-sight easier

CONS

  • Only 3 ships?!
  • Dealing damage often feels like a crap shoot
  • Not enough dice to resolve basic attack and defense modifiers
  • Board can get very cluttered with lots of tokens in play

FINAL GRADE: B-

Manufacturer: Fantasy Flight
Lead Designer: Jay Little
Original release: Sept. 2012, Force Awakens variant released Sept. 16, 2015
MSRP: $39.95 USD
Player(s): 2-players
Game Length: an hour or less
Official site: fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/x-wing/

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