TABLE GAME REVIEW Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures

Star-Wars-X-Wing-Miniatures-Game-200x200We’re jumping into the Star Wars universe for this review, taking on the role of a pilot for the Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire in Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.

With its pivotal role at the Battle of Yavin, the Incom Corporation T-65 X-wing fighter claimed its place in history. Boasting high-powered laser cannons, proton torpedo launchers, and a reinforced titanium-alloy hull, this solid and dependable craft has earned its reputation as a staple in the Rebel Alliance’s arsenal against the Galactic Empire.

The Sienar Fleet Systems TIE fighter, a lightweight and nimble starfighter designed with efficiency and affordability in mind, is the X-wing’s opposite in nearly every conceivable way. But what the TIE fighter lacks in defensive capabilities, it more than makes up for in numbers. While one TIE fighter seldom presents a real threat to a skilled Rebel pilot, two or more working in concert can quickly overwhelm ships several times their size.

Control the most advanced starfighters and outstanding pilots in the galaxy! In X-Wing Miniatures Game, you take the role of squad leader and command a group of merciless Imperial or daring Rebel pilots in furious ship-to-ship space combat. Featuring stunningly detailed and painted miniatures, X-Wing recreates exciting Star Wars space battles from small engagements of only a couple of crafts, to large conflicts where multiple squadrons clash. Select and equip your ships, pick your crew, plan your attack, and complete your mission.

A long time ago (1987) in a galaxy far, far away, West End Games published a tiny, polished gem entitled Star Warriors. A younger, smaller version of Cy Dethan bought a copy via mail order from Esdevium Games and played it non-stop for about twelve years. While it could be fiddly at times, with tiny counters and rudimentary artwork, Star Warriors was well produced and fairly dynamic adaptation of Star Wars universe dog-fighting to the tabletop.

Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing Miniatures Game is something else entirely. So much so, in fact, that the shock of it is still settling in on us.

x-wing miniatures boxset Our history with Fantasy Flight goes back a few years now, so we thought we knew pretty much exactly what to expect from one of their licensed games. We own half a dozen or so of their boxed games already, and have always been impressed by their production quality and general playability. X-Wing follows their general design philosophy of high-end playing pieces but has apparently tossed out their customary sprawling, jumbled mess of a rulebook in favour of something a lot more tightly written and designed. Here’s what you get in the box:

Three pre-painted starfighter miniatures (one X-Wing and two TIE Fighters), quick-start mini-rulebook, full rulebook, range and manoeuvre rulers, custom dice and enough counters, cards, pilot tokens and sundries to choke a Gundark.

The miniatures deserve a little more discussion here. Despite the large number of miniatures games we’ve owned and played over the years, both Nic and I are very reluctant model painters. The fact that X-Wing provides pre-painted miniatures alone was enough to get our attention but, given the horrendous pre-painting jobs we’d seen from other companies, the work on these models is considerably better than we’d expected. “High-end tabletop quality” probably best describes it. Committed painters will probably want to give them a once-over for customisation purposes, but for most gamers they’ll be good to go straight out of the box. Over and above the paintwork, the models themselves are gorgeous. It’s obvious that a great deal of time and attention has been put into nailing the scale and details of the pieces – a practical necessity when dealing with a much-loved and well established licence.

The game’s other components are also nicely turned out. The range rulers have both a Rebel (red) and an Imperial (green) side, which has precisely zero effect in-game but is somehow unspeakably awesome anyway. Damage cards and the various counters needed for play are all functional and distinct and everything seems to have been calculated for the greatest ease and enjoyment of use. The idea appears to have been to remove as many barriers to that enjoyment as possible right out of the gate and it’s very hard to fault Fantasy Flight’s execution here.

Looking at the actual mechanics of the game, this is even more apparent. Where Star Warriors was a game of hurling dice, scribbling notes and crunching numbers,  X-Wing Miniatures  pares all of this down to something surprisingly elegant and impressively streamlined.x-wing miniatures pilot-cards

X-Wing Miniatures is a game without charts or tables, and with virtually no in-game mathematics. You don’t even have to track the speed of your ships, thanks to the brilliantly conceived manoeuvre dial mechanism. Squadron creation is mediated entirely through the selection of cards, so there’s no book-keeping and even ship damage is handled through the physical components of the game. Basically, anything the designers felt could kick a player out of the essential “Star Wars” atmosphere was either eliminated entirely or transformed into something fitting and fun.

The move/action/shoot turn structure is easy to grasp and works well in play and, along with the simultaneous secret planning system (again, we have to give credit for those deeply cool manoeuvre dials), prevents any sense of “you-go-I-go”. Given the relative simplicity of the game, the designers could have got away without the additional quick-start rule-set, but it was impressive to see it included. There are only three missions included in the book, with varying objectives and challenges (asteroids to avoid, satellites to scan, etc.), but the internet is already flooding itself with new material from players and there’s a lot of fun to be had from just flat-out dog-fighting as well.

A player’s first game or two are likely to run into a fundamental, probably unavoidable stumbling block inherent in the use of miniatures for this type of game. By turn two or three, you’ll probably be faced with a cluster of ships piled up in the centre of the table, all prevented from taking actions or shooting at any enemies they are touching base-to-base (although it’s perfectly permissible to fly entirely “through” other models, as we’re representing three-dimensional movement here).

With ships in close quarters, range and manoeuvre templates can be hard to position accurately and the game becomes an exercise in best-guess positioning. After a few experiments, however, players learn to anticipate the movements of ships (both their own and their opponent’s) more effectively and the rules for denying targets and forfeiting actions suddenly become weapons to wield. That shift actually marks the point at which X-Wing suddenly elevates itself to a best-of-class game, in our opinion. All our games have been tense and finely balanced regardless of which side we were playing, which suggests a system that has been extensively tested and carefully honed.

x-wing miniatures shipsWith the rules nailed down, success in the game now becomes a question of anticipating your opponent in an environment where the balance of power shifts with each manoeuvre. Dice rolls, with very few exceptions, are reserved for firing weapons, and even then are susceptible to modification based on pilot actions. X-Wing is very much a game of forcing your opponent’s ships into leaving themselves vulnerable, while optimising your own positioning. The whole thing feels fluid and dynamic, even with large numbers of ships in play.

That last comment brings up an important issue. X-Wing Miniatures is very much an expandable game. In fact, a single box set wouldn’t even come close to allowing players to explore the scope of it. After only a few play-throughs, you’ll very quickly feel yourself straining against the limitations of the included ships and components. For players used to board game prices for expansions, there may be a pretty unpleasant sticker shock in store. Essentially, X-Wing is priced as a table-top war game.

Single-ship expansions (which include additional counters, pilot cards, upgrades and, occasionally, whole new rules) cost about a third as much as the main box set each, with the upcoming larger ships being about twice that much. Building two 100-point forces can easily bump the cost of the game into three figures in UK money. Experienced players of games like Warhammer 40,000 will wonder what the fuss is about, but more casual gamers are likely to wince a little.

That said, it would be unfair to call the expansion prices a massive deterrent, given our own investment level in the game. Since receiving our review copy (courtesy of Esdevium Games, still awesome after all these years) of X-Wing Miniatures, we’ve bought ourselves another two copies of the starter box and a further eight expansions for a total of seventeen ships. With the second wave of expansion packs about to drop, we’re already eyeing our next purchases. In terms of the quality of the components and the enjoyability of the game, it’s hard to claim that you don’t get what you pay for. It looks like Star Wars, it feels like Star Wars and (to date, at least) it remains uncontaminated by prequel trilogy ugliness. Only the expansion pricing prevents us from giving it the maximum possible score.

Our ancient copy of Star Warriors glares silently down at us from its shelf.x-wing miniatures wave 2 kit

You can find our other table game reviews HERE.

Rating: 4.5/5
Source: Fantasy Flight Games
Reporter: Cy Dethan, Nic Wilkinson


Originally published in Geek Syndicate Magazine: Issue 5

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