Lets face it: you’ve probably seen Star Wars. You’ve probably imagined getting behind the stick of an X-Wing and taking down some TIE Fighters, or jumping to light speed as the pilot of the Millennium Falcon. With Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures game, you’re not exactly in the cockpit, but you do get the chance to pilot a squadron of ships right out of the Star Wars movies. It’s a sci-fi geek dream come true.
How It Plays
Star Wars: X-Wing is all about outmaneuvering your opponent and blasting them to bits; general gameplay involves dogfighting until one player has no ships left, although the core set and a few expansion ships include tokens and rules for specific missions – which usually involve one side getting a certain number of objects from one end of the battlefield to the other while the other tries to capture those objects or destroy the enemy.
The game is divided into rounds, each round with 4 phases: Planning, Activation, Combat, and Cleanup.
In the planning phase, players secretly choose a maneuver for each ship using a dial corresponding to that ship. (Each ship has access to different types of maneuvers). Then, in the activation phase, those dials are revealed and, in order of pilot skill, each ship moves using a movement template corresponding to the maneuver chosen on the dial. In addition, each Ship can perform 1 Action, which may come from a list of actions tied to the ship, such as barrel rolling, target locking, or focusing, or may come from any of a number of upgrades.
After each ship has moved, each ship then gets a chance to make an attack against an enemy. This enemy must be within range as well as inside the attacking ships firing arc. The attacker rolls red attack dice, the defender rolls green defense dice. Each “evade” on the defense cancels out a “hit” on the offense, and remaining hits are assigned either by removing shields or adding a damage card to the ship that got hit.
In the cleanup phase, extra tokens are cleared from the board, destroyed ships are removed from the field, and unless the game is over, play proceeds back to the planning phase.
It’s important to note that a big part of this game (as in many miniatures games) is about building a custom squad of ships to fight in the battle. Not only are there a variety of ships that can be purchased, but each ship comes with a variety of pilots as well as unique upgrade cards that provide bonuses in the form of tactical abilities, attack bonuses, and defense bonuses. Though players can choose any point total to play, the recommended squad size (and tournament legal size) is 100 points.
It’s a Trap?
It’s easy to get distracted by the Star Wars brand and the fancy, detailed, painted miniatures on display through the clear plastic window of the core set. Excitement is fostered just by staring at the thing, an excitement that will certainly sell a few copies of the game. The question is, once you separate the eye candy from the game play, do you actually have something worth investing in, or do you simply have expensive display models that will do nothing more than sit on your desk?
The best thing about the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures game is that once you get past all the hype, what remains is an elegant little game that offers intelligent squad customization and tactical play instead of a franchise cash-in and the luck laden dice fest that it could have been.
And it really is elegant. Sure, it’s not the style of game that’s going to attract your hardcore euro-gamer, but it avoids the overclogged ruleset common to many highly thematic games, especially combat based ones. Movement is simple, and unique combat dials and well-designed ship bases keep the game flowing without needed to consult rulebooks and charts to remember each ships abilities, despite the lack of any sort of board. Enough actions are available to give players choices during the game, but not so many that you are flooded with insane decisions on the fly. Combat is so simple it would almost be pointless, except that it gives purpose to all of the other choices you make in the game.
The core set alone contains everything needed to play, but honestly it merely whets the appetite for more. In other words, it leaves something to be desired; the rebels only get the 1 ship and Imperial players get 2, so while it gives you a taste of the rules (and even an excellent quickstart variant that can get you playing within minutes of opening the box), it leaves out a lot of the tactical goodness and the fun of squad building. I’ve read reviews of the core set alone which say that ultimately this is a game of rolling dice back and forth until someone wins; this is basically true of the core set.
However, this is a miniatures game, and a big part of these sorts of games is the ability of players to purchase the additional units they desire; and so, even though the core set only comes with a few ships, I think it is unfair to review the game without taking the expansions into consideration.
When you add even 1 ship to each side, you add a whole new level of tactical gameplay. Your ships can back each other up, they can coordinate attacks, they can support each other, block enemy movements, defend each other. When you have a full squad, your piloting and the choices you make in game matter far more than the dice.
Impressively, the factions – while relying on the same gameplay rules – actually require different tactics and strategies. Rebel ships are tanks – lots of hull (effectively hit points), lots of shields (more hit points that block critical hits), but not very maneuverable or fast, making it hard to dodge attacks when they come. Imperial ships are much more vulnerable, but you can squeeze more of them on a team; and they have the advantage of high speed maneuvers and lots of maneuverability withspecial actions like the Barrel Roll, and high agility (affecting the number of defense dice rolled) giving them a much better chance of dodging attacks. I think that the Imperial side has the steeper learning curve, given that their success relies a lot more on good piloting to take advantage of the speed and maneuverability, but overall the sides feel very balanced.
It’s a boatload (perhaps a starship-load) of fun just playing this game, trying to figure out the best way to take out a powerful enemy ship, and rolling dice. It’s just plain fun to pick up the ships and move them around the battlefield; to watch the skirmish unfold; to see ships bump into each other and best-laid plans foiled by a surprise maneuver. It also includes a surprising amount of depth to explore both in practicing gameplay strategies and in customizing your squadrons. These are fine toys for adults; certainly these little plastic miniatures are toys, but the well-laid ground rules for combat give those of us older than the age of 13 an excuse to play with them and in a fantastic way.
This is a 2-player game, designed for one player to control the Rebels and another to control Imperial forces. However, it is possible to play with more people using the team rules – which are included in the rulebook. When I first heard about it, I thought 4-player was simply made up by players, but the rules do include directions for working out teams and building squads with multiple players. You could also theoretically apply those rules for 3 players, simply making it a 2-player team versus a single player. The rules do allow for player elimination with team play, but you could easily shift responsibilities around until there was only 1 ship left, at which point the game will end soon anyways.
My biggest complaint about this game is the cost; while the core set, which includes 3 ships and all the tokens, dials, movement templates, dice, and cards you need to play is pretty reasonable, the $15 price tag for a single ship expansion packs a wallop against anyone looking to build a decent fleet, or to have more options in squadron building. Sure, it’s possible to get them at a discount, but the demand is high and the supply is low and these things sell out far too quickly to go on clearance. (In actuality, the core set and Millennium Falcon / Slave I expansion packs eventually got stocked enough to last and DID go on clearance, especially at target. I bagged the Falcon and Slave I at my local gaming store for 25% off, and I heard tales of people landing the core set for as low as $12 at Target, although that seems pretty regional as the core sets at my local targets never went on clearance. Anyways, the point is, be prepared to invest some money. The miniatures are fantastic; a nice hard plastic and incredibly detailed paint jobs, and each ship comes with all the tokens and cards that ship needs to function, as well as cleverly-designed packaging that gives you a nice protective storage box for each ship you buy that can be used in your favorite alternative storage box.
I do wish Fantasy Flight was a bit more liberal in including extra copies of upgrade cards, but by the time you get a few ships in your fleet you will have plenty of upgrades to use. And the amount of time this game spends on my table makes it worth the cost.
My recommendation to anyone looking to get into this game – find a friend who is interested as well. First of all you’ll always have an opponent, but if you both buy ships you can share and get significantly more options while spending half the money. After all, when you play, each player uses only 1 of the factions. I got a buddy to invest, and we each buy at least 1 of each ship, which means we can double up on ship types when available.
Incidentally, my only other complaint about this game is that it sells out so quickly, it can be quite a challenge to get your hands on the latest ships, especially when you want multiple copies.
Yes, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures does a great job of giving us the Star Wars space combat experience we’ve all desired, in a beautifully packaged and elegant game that is easy to get into, fun to play, and offers a lot of depth in strategy, tactics, and squad customization. It also serves as a great entry into the world of Miniatures gaming, for those overwhelmed by the heavy cost and time investment of other miniatures games (not to mention complex rules) or for those just looking for something a little lighter than most miniature faire. It’s the kind of game that will turn heads, and it has the potential to last a very long time. I’ve played many times and I’ve used every ship available in different combinations, but I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg.
If you want to try this game out, definitely start with the Core set. If you like what you see but have a taste for more, let me know. I’d be happy to help you figure out which expansion ships to buy first so you can kick up the action into high gear.