Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Star Wars X-wing and morning coffee

There's no better way to start the week than with a cup of coffee, or indeed a cup of coffee and a game of Star Wars X-wing. Working for oneself, you do have the luxury of occasionally downing tools and breaking out the toys on a week day morning. In this case I had the opportunity to play against Mark, who also being self-employed, can do the same.

In what I hope will be an emerging trend, we alighted on Mark's new game for a test drive. This seems to be generating plenty of excitement amongst sci fi wargamers since its release by FFG. As we only had limited time - I had to go do some work after lunch and Mark had to prep for his trip to the Essen games fair - we went with the basic scenario, of Luke Skywalker with R2D2 flying against two TIE fighters.

Luke Skywalker in X-wing out on patrol on my space grid

X-wing feels very like Wings of War, but an improved version. While the ships are expensive - and pricey, given that they are plastic - each ship is configured as an individual pilot, even the remorseless Imperial TIEs. Thus, every pilot has his own abilities (or lack thereof in the case of rookie rebel cannon fodder) and an associated points value. As with WoW, you get a measuring stick, but unlike WoW, you also have card turning templates which help you regulate movement of your ships.

Fighters are further configured - at least on the rebel side - with droids and, I assume, other kit. My R2D2 card allowed Luke to get his shields fixed if he performed a conservative (green) maneuver.

Two TIEs are spotted!

One of the best aspects of the game is the small orders wheel that comes with each ship. You use this to decide on what your course will be in advance. Moves are then executed in order of pilot ability, with the worst pilot moving first, but the best pilot shooting first (after moves are completed). This gives good pilots like Luke an edge, although it is not huge.

You can see the order wheels in this shot - they are flipped over in pilot order.

Pilots are also given action counters which they can use in the course of their turn, usually to change dice rolls, re-roll dice or add extra dice. Thus, Luke had a lock on ability which allowed him to target an individual ship and receive a bonus die when shooting at it, while the TIEs get a rather nifty barrel roll extra move. The game uses a d8 dice pool mechanic with special dice (see my beef here about the march of the 'special' dice game) used for shooting and evading. You roll attack dice against the defender's defence dice. Hits are tracked with cards. Each hit card can be flipped over if it is a critical, to show further conditions/special rules crunch.

The counter with the exclamation mark = earned frame stress from high speed moves.

Mark told me that some folks on the boards are complaining that the game is too simple, and have been trying to make it more complex. I would argue not to, as I feel the special abilities and critical hits mechanic adds an additional layer of complexity which requires that basic rules stay simple. There's nothing worse than being bogged down in a three hour game meant to simulate an encounter that might occur in less than three minutes. I once played a very, very long game of Flight Leader with my brother that involved two North Korean MiGs against a couple of American Sabres that took us the best part of a day to complete, and came away thoroughly dissatisfied. I think air and space combat games need to be fast paced.

Luke faces off against the TIEs - his lock on marker is the small cross counter.

Our game was finished in under two hours, which was pleasantly fast. Luke failed to get in any significant hits on the TIEs, but his shields were also absorbing any hits on him. I got blinded once on a critical, but shook that off. My mistake was not to ensure R2 had enough opportunity between my more imaginative maneuvers to repair shields (and I also ignored one of Luke's key special abilities). Eventually Luke popped up in the sights of a TIE with no shields up and got blown - rightly so - into space dust.

A very fun game and something I feel would find a ready audience at home, where everyone is well-versed from infancy in Star Wars. Now I have to ponder whether to invest in a basic set with my November games budget...

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