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Red Five, Standing By

July 10, 2013

For most of the last twenty years now I’ve harbored a terrible, dark secret.  For all these years I’ve battled a terrible, nigh-on uncontrollable addiction that must be fed regularly lest withdrawal sets in,  an addiction that has robbed me of  so much time and cost me so much money over the years.

Yup, I’m a wargamer.  Tragic, I know. Mucking around with tiny plastic or lead models and rolling dice in the company of other similarly obsessed grown men  is my great vice.  At least it’s cheaper than crack cocaine. Well, marginally cheaper anyway.

I thought I’d got off the stuff at one point, and I was clean for quite a while but it dragged me back in a couple of years ago.  Since it did I’ve been working away to try and get a force ready enough to take to the tabletop but like many gamers I have about a thimbleful of willpower and the attention span of a three year old when it comes to sticking with just one game.  Any new shiny range of models will inevitably distract me from my current project and so I find myself with a number of half finished armies rather than anything usable.  Right now I’ve got Nurgle Daemons for 40k, Everblight and Khador for WarmaHordes, a plethora of Blood Bowl teams and a job lot of DreadBall teams in various stages of assembly and painting, all clamoring for my attention.  At some point I might actually pull my finger out and finish something, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon.

So given my disorganized gaming predicament what I don’t need is further ranges to tempt me.  With uncharacteristic strength of nerve I managed to avoid dipping into systems like Dystopian Wars, Bushido, Malifaux and Deep Wars, but then somebody mentioned Mongoose Publishing were doing a Star Trek Miniatures game.  This is a franchise I’m a big fan of and so, I realized, could prove more tempting than I could handle.

Yeah, I know.  Wargamer AND a Trekkie.  Tragic, isn’t it?  There’s some days where I find it remarkable that any women have ever actually talked to me, never mind one actually marrying me.

In the end I managed to resist the pull of Star Trek: A Call to Arms. I reasoned that I just couldn’t cope with more models to paint, I’d probably struggle to find opponents and also I don’t really trust Mongoose to deliver a decent product (due to a possibly irrational resentment over the way the company handled the Starship Troopers and Conan properties). But then a chap at my local gaming club mentioned another game that came without any of those problems and that could really deliver some geek-tastic space combat miniatures fun – the X-Wing Miniatures Game.

For some reason Porkins seems to be nicely representative of both Star Wars and the average wargamer.

For some reason Porkins seems to be nicely representative of both Star Wars and the average wargamer…

This nice little game uses pre-assembled and pre-painted miniatures, so I don’t need to worry about untouched plastic sprues giving me the evil eye from my to-do pile. Finding an opponent isn’t an issue as the game has taken off (if you’ll pardon the pun) at my club, probably due to most of the locals being thirty-something geeks with unhealthy Star Wars obsessions. The fact that I like the manufacturer, Fantasy Flight Games,  is a bonus too, and  that the system is a descendant of the jolly good fun Wings of War is a major plus. So I picked up the starter set, got stuck into some games, and after two months or so of playing it I’d thought I’d share some thoughts.

Firstly, I should probably point out that I’m not going to go into any deep analysis of rules or mechanics, and if you’re wanting informed discussion on killer strategies or force builds you’ve come to the wrong place.  Bear in mind that I am, in essence, a bit of a chump and I’m more interested in having a laugh while gaming than playing the rules in order to annihilate my foes.  Just so you know.

Anyway, on to playing the game. First of all we need to pick a force.  In an normal game one side takes the Imperials and the other takes the Rebel Alliance.  Each player then picks models up to the agreed points value. All the ships you’d expect to see are represented – TIE Fighters, X-Wings, A-Wings, TIE Interceptors and so on. There’s more choice than just ships too – is your X-Wing going to be piloted by Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antillies or a nameless and therefore probably doomed Red Squadron pilot?  While ships of the same type tend to perform in a more or less similar fashion – their movement options and maneuverability tend to always be the same – the person in the cockpit can give the vessel an interesting and characteristic twiddle to make things more fun. It also gives a player the option of fielding a smaller squadron of named characters with all their fancy skills or a horde of faceless spods, which is a point I’ll actually mention in slightly greater detail later.  In my experience, when playing  a 100 point game (which appears to be the tournament standard) a Rebel squadron will be 3-5 ships while the Imperials field anything from 5-8 strong.

So, with our forces picked we’re ready to dogfight to the finish in space.  The game works quite similar to Wings of War, with each player planning their moves in secret and the ships acting in order of their pilots skill level.  A nice little touch is that the more skilled pilots move last but shoot first, meaning that once they know where they’re ending up they have a chance to shoot down opposing ships before they get zapped themselves. The fact that the ships act based on skill order rather than which player controls them and as attacks are an opposed roll (the attacker rolling special attack dice while the defender rolls special dodging dice) means that both players are constantly engaged in the game, something that can be lacking in a game with a traditional I-go U-go turn system.

That’s as about as much rules talk as I’m going to do.  If you want more, give the Board Game Geek website a try.  Seriously, they love their rules chat on there.  So instead of mechanical musings I’ll move on to the important thing.  Is it any good?

The X-Wing Miniatures Game has a lot of good things going for it.  Firstly, it’s easy to pick up.  After a few plays any gamer worth their salt will have their head around the system without having to refer back to the – rather brief – rules manual.  Despite (or perhaps because of) this simplicity the game is good fun, fast paced and exciting.  Tense moments as you wait to see if you guessed which way the enemy ship was going to bank correctly or moments of panic as you find your ship blundering into the fire arcs of several opponents are commonplace.  And the joy of hitting a loop the loop maneuver that drops one of your fighters right behind an enemy at point blank range is really something special.  Well, it’s not so special when you fluff the dice roll and miss completely, but it’s nice until that happens.

In this game I found out flying into the fire arcs of three TIE Fighters is a bad idea, even for Han Solo

In this game I found out flying into the fire arcs of three TIE Fighters is a bad idea, even for Han Solo

This high tempo, action packed play style really helps capture an exciting dog-fighting vibe,  and means there’s some tactical meat as ideally you have to plan several moves ahead while still being able to react to your opponents plans too.  The came is nicely cinematic , with the individual ships acting as you would expect them to, and the pilot skills are well thought out also. Han Solo is a reckless all-or-nothing kind of guy, while Luke can use the force to improve his dice rolls – all nice and characterful.  And the fact that you’ve got Han Solo or Luke Skywalker (or Darth Vader say, if you’re a fan of the Empire) means that middle aged Star Wars geeks like myself get an extra emotional involvement in the game.  Trust me, it’s much more of a big deal when Luke gets shot down than if it’s some anonymous Red Squadron guy dying in a fireball.  The photo to the right is taken from a game in which I sadly ended up being responsible for the destruction of the Millennium Falcon and the death of Han, mainly due to some shockingly incompetent flying on my part.  A traumatic experience, but I’m almost over it now.  Almost. Also bear in mind that if you’re some kind of Star Wars hating misanthrope you can always take a bit of pleasure from blowing the characters up, can’t you?

Of course no game is perfect, and there are a few niggles I have with X-Wing.  Firstly, I’ve got a bad feeling that the game is somewhat unbalanced in favour of the Imperial faction.  It might be simply that they’re easier to use and the Rebels will catch up once we’ve had more practice with them, or it may be because the Empire’s ability to field large numbers of fast, nippy ships is just too good. As I mentioned earlier a player can chose to eschew the named pilots in favor of nameless goons, and this tactic really works for the Empire.  I played one game against 8 TIE Fighters being flown by what where basically chimps in Imperial uniform and I really struggled against them. This particular game wasn’t really a great deal of fun as I just couldn’t do a thing to overcome the swarm. Maybe someone will come up with a foolproof way of dealing with this tactic, but until then I’ll have to rely on my opponents picking a force build that is better suited a more competitive and enjoyable match.

Then there’s the financial considerations.  I don’t like judging a game on the cost normally, but it strikes me that X-Wing could be a bit of a money sink.  Sure, it’s cheaper than games like 40k by a country mile, but a 100 point four ship force could easily set you back the fat end of £40 which seems a lot for a knock-about board game.  And if you want to go for the full-on Imperial TIE Fighter swarm you’re obviously looking at double that. Of course that might not be an issue to some people.  After all, what’s expensive to me as a home-owning dad-of-two might be a pittance to a single chap who has disposable income coming out of his wazoo because he lives in his parents attic. Anyway, it’s costly by my standards.

I’ve also got some doubts about the games longevity, something that’s rather important if I’m going to chuck money at it. There’s only two factions so there’s not exactly a wide range of match-ups to be had. Also by my reckoning the next wave of releases will include the last of the ships from the movies.  Indeed, the releases also include a vessel from the expanded universe, Kyle Katran’s Moldy Crow (Seriously, I’ve never heard of him or his ship). Personally I don’t have much interest in the Star Wars novels or comics so I can’t see myself shelling out for the Outrider or Bossk’s Hounds Tooth so the game could run out of steam for me without new releases that I fancy. Maybe JJ Abrahams new movies will provide some new blood, but they’re a way off yet.

On the whole I can certainly recommend X-Wing, especially for any wargaming Star Wars fans out there, but I’m not going to try and resist getting in too deep at the moment due to the points mentioned above.  If I start seeing Rebel fleets picking up wins on a consistent basis I might well pick up a few extra ships, but for now I think I’ll stick to what I’ve got.

But if X-Wing does grow stale then it looks like I might have another option to investigate…. Fantasy Flight have only gone and leased the system to Wizkids who are going to do a Star Trek version.

Pre-painted Star Trek ships?  A game using the fun mechanics of X-Wing? And based on my preferred Next Gen setting? Oh my giddy aunt.  I think I’d better call my miniatures dealer and see if he can score some of this gear,

I wonder if he’d consider giving me the first one free, just to get me hooked…

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