There has been quite the slew of Star Trek-themed games over the years, for better or worse. The last two or three years have brought us several deck-building games from Bandai, Star Trek Catan, the massive Star Trek: Fleet Captains, and the Knizia-designed Star Trek: Expeditions.
The most recent release in the Star Trek continuum is Star Trek: Attack Wing, a spinoff of Fantasy Flight’s popular Star Wars X-Wing Minis Game. This move was highly controversial in the gaming and Star Trek fandom communities. Star Trek is generally considered to be more cerebral, wherein the heroes of the show tackle challenges with intellect, science, and character, not combat. So how did it turn out?
How It Plays
[Editors note: Star Trek: Attack Wing uses a licensed system that makes it almost identical to Star Wars: X-Wing, which makes it difficult to write about without directly comparing the two games. You can hit that link to read my review of X-Wing, so I will limit direct comparisons as much as possible in this section.]
Star Trek: Attack Wing pits two or more players in space combat against each other, using massive capital ships from the Star Trek Universe.
Each player has a small fleet of ships – the core set comes with a recommended build from the included components, but more ships can be purchased that have their own unique upgrades, captains, and crew, and squads can be built using a set limit of points.
Each round has 4 phases. In “Planning,” each player simultaneously chooses a maneuver for each of their ships by using a special dial for each ship. Maneuvers have a speed and a “direction – forward, bank left or right, and hard turn left or right. Some ships can also do a U-turn, and some can even go in reverse.
In the Activation phase, maneuver dials are revealed and resolved in order of captain skill, from lowest to highest. (Each ship must have a captain). Players take the maneuver template corresponding to the chosen maneuver, aligns it with their ship base, then moves the ship to the other end of the template. Some maneuvers are more difficult which result in “auxiliary power” tokens that prevent that ship from using actions or making further difficult maneuvers, while others are easy and can remove auxiliary power tokens.
After moving, the ship gets to take an action. Actions range from active sensor sweeps, to target locking, to cloaking, and some upgrades can add other options like repairing shields, releasing mines, or making extra movements.
In the Combat phase, ships activate in Captain skill order again, but this time from high to low. A ship can fire at any enemy that is both within weapons range, and within the ships firing arc. Most ships have a 90 degree forward arc, but some also have a rear arc or even a 180 degree arc. The attacker rolls attack dice, the defender rolls defense dice, special abilities are accounted for, any hits rolled are cancelled, and any remaining hits are applied as damage first to active shields and then to hull.
The last phase is simply clearing tokens (most of which last only one round) and getting ready for the next round.
Many of the upgrade cards in Attack Wing offer bonuses in certain situations (such as extra attack or defense dice at certain ranges). Some upgrades are passive, some you must discard to use, and some must be “disabled” – a token is placed on the card to indicate such. Disabled cards can’t be used, but a player can take an action to remove a Disabled token from one of their cards.
Cloaking is another major aspect to the game, accessible to many, but not all, ships. Cloaking prevents target locks and lets you roll a significant number of defense dice, but at the expense of deactivating your shields.
Squad building is core to the game experience. There are 3 f actions in the box (Romulan, Klingon, Federation) with Dominion ships available, and we’re starting to see even more Faction options with new expansions. Each faction has its own set of ships, captains, crew, and other upgrades, but squadbuilding rules allow you to use any ships, any captains, any crew, any ships you want. It costs a little extra for each non-faction card you use, but otherwise you can customize to your hearts content.
Givin’ It All She’s Got?
When I first heard about Attack Wing, I was pretty excited because, you know, I love me some Star Trek. Yet I’ve been disappointed in Star Trek games before. Fleet Captains was a glorious, hot mess of complicated rules that seemed more of a clunky Star Trek universe simulator than a galactic standoff between two immense powers. Star Trek: Expeditions was released to mixed reviews, and Star Trek: The Deckbuilding game is basically terrible. So, the chance at seeing a Star Trek theme layered over a proven game system was good, but clearly there was still opportunity failure.
The components of Attack Wing are somewhat of a mixed bag. The minis are fine; the plastic is nice and hard and not bendy, the paint jobs are clean, and they look like ships they represent. It’s just hard not to compare directly to the game’s big brother, X-Wing, and its fantastically detailed and exquisitely painted minis.
The cardboard tokens are pretty darn good though. I like the thickness and coating of the tokens a whole lot, and the icons are easy to see and read from a distance. The weapons rangefinder has nice reminders of the bonus attack/defense dice that you get at extreme range. It’s really the cards that get ya; the “art” on the faces is blurry and dark. They’re straight screencaps from the TV series’ with no original art and not much touching up of the low-resolution screens. Only screencaps from the Next Generation and its recent HD overhaul are okay, and I wouldn’t’ call the quality “great.” And while the layout of the cards is generally acceptable, there is not enough distinction between Captain and Crew cards, which causes confusion during squad building and sometimes in the game – and upgrade cards are the same size and similar design to the ship and captain cards, and that takes up a lot of table space in a game that is already space-hungry.
Enough about that. When you get down to gameplay, Attack Wing is quite stellar (get it, a “star” joke). The fact is, this game system, though originally implemented for one-man fighters and the like, works excellently for capital ships as well. The scale is obviously quite different, but the system makes sense; perhaps even more sense, for these enormous ships and their careful, calculated attacks.
It’s a testament to the game system that the feel of ships can change by adjusting maneuver templates and 4 basic stats, not to mention firing arcs. Attack Wing brings a ton of variety in the available ships by utilizing these very effectively. We’ve got massive, slow, lumber ships with no maneuverability that can fire everywhere. We’ve got full reverse on some of our maneuver templates. We’ve got 180 degree firing arcs on some ships. We’ve got a ton of shields and far less in the way of defense dice. If we’re klingons, we have all the attack dice we could ever dream of. Ships from the Star Trek universe range from small warships to massive cruisers, but they’re all fully captained and crewed and the game represents that.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the game is the upgrade system. These ships are meant to be tricked out with crew and weapons, and they include a significant number of upgrades slots to that end. While each ship (at least of the ones I’ve seen) come with one named version and one generic version only, the real customization comes from assigning captains and crew as you please. As you build your fleet you’ll find plenty of options inside your own faction, but you aren’t required to stick exclusively to that. Want some romulans on the Enterprise? Go for it. Want to see the Dominion Wars played out if The Defiant defected to the other side and was captained by Gul Dukat? You go get ‘em. Crew, captain, and tech will make sure your version of the Enterprise is likely vastly different than the next guys.
There is one sort of odd element to the game borne out of the open-ended customization rules. When you customize, you choose a faction, then ships and crew and captains. You could theoretically align yourself with a faction and use nothing of that faction in your fleet. If you want to play as the Dominion with Klingon ships and Human captains, you can do it. It’ll cost you extra (way more than its worth), but it can be done. It’s a little weird, but you know what? I’m fine with it.
Speaking of factions, Attack Wing includes rules for 3 and 4 player free-for-all, which you can do since there are already 4 factions and more on the way. Theoretically, you could have as many non-team players as there are unique factions, although you could get carried away. (Technically you could have a free-for-all even with the same factions, but at some point things would just get really confusing). Anyways, the point is this: 3-Way Attack Wing is ridiculously fun.
I made sure to try the 3-way before I wrote this review, and boy am I glad I did. It’s been a while since I discovered a new game that was THAT much fun to play with my friends. It was epic. It felt exciting. We ribbed each other, we made temporary alliances, we turned on each other. Even though the end result is one player getting eliminated before the game ends, it was royally enjoyable. I’d been considering dumping Attack Wing and sticking with X-Wing because who can afford both, but the amount of pure gaming joy I got out of playing 3-player ensures I will hang on to Attack Wing for a long time.
A few other thoughts; Cloaking is cool, but the mechanisms required to even it out are a little clunky, though I see their necessity (otherwise lower-skilled captains would have a significant advantage, given that they get to take an action first and attack last). Attack Wing does come with maneuver reference CARDS for each ship, instead of the maneuver templates printed on the packaging a la X-Wing, which is a huge boon. I also appreciate the number of Missions – scenarios with goals other than player elimination – included in each set, which also include reference cards instead of being printed in the rulebooks. Every ship has a mission or 2 included, so you’ll basically never run out of scenarios to try – although so far the scenarios I’ve seen are all 2-player. I also think the “disabled” function of cards is a fantastic addition; it adds a level of strategy in choosing when to use your powerful abilities, when to spend your actions removing disabled tokens, and when to do a full-on retreat from the combat area to get more time to recover those disabled abilities.
Another item worth mentioning; Attack Wing “waves” of ships are coming fast and furious. The initial “wave” had 8 ships in it, and 3 additional waves of 4 ships each have arrived as of February. That’s a lot to buy. But I think that in Attack Wing you can get a lot more fun by having a variety of ships and crew, and the game doesn’t depend as much on coordinating formations of your ships. You won’t need 8 Enterprises or 4 Kronos Ones. In fact you can choose to stick with 1 or 2 factions and cut down on your costs; the sheer variety assures you’ll have something interesting to toy with.
Overall, Attack Wing is an excellent production that in many ways exceeds its predecessor. There’s a clunky rule here and there, and the ship models are not as detailed as I’d prefer (and the cards are worse), but the improvements and additions to the system fit perfectly to create a better sense of massive battles between large capital ships. It brings great enjoyment to me to feel like I am commanding a fleet of ships, to have a solid set of crewmembers fighting alongside me, and to fight more than one of my friends at once. I wish the expansion packs were cheaper than X-Wing due to their lesser quality (they’re actually slightly more expensive), but you’re definitely not paying for a lesser game.