It has become a nerd cliche that every nerd has to be madly in love with Star Wars. It has permeated our culture to such a degree that whenever a television show or movie wants you to really appreciate the awkward nerdiness of a character they will inevitably make a Star Wars reference that is meant to highlight the years that they have spent in the basement, watching and re watching the films, obsessing over the books and generally being a super fan. These references are generally grating, and ultimately hollow. The writers may be Star Wars fans, and who am I to question the authenticity of an individual’s fandom, but I’ve had enough of the implication that the universal signifier of nerd fandom is a reference to Wookies. It happens so much and so often that it has become lazy. Whatever you want to say about the current state of the Star Wars universe, and there’s a lot to say, it has to be said that it has lost a lot of the cache that it once had. A few shitty movies will do that.
I am generally weary of Star Wars tie ins. The collectible card game in the 90s was intensely complicated to the point where even after spending hours with the tiny rulebook that came with the starter pack I was baffled by the thing. The other games in the franchise are usually just cross-pollinated tie-ins- Star Wars Monopoly- or the odd gem of awesomeness. Into this weariness stepped the X-Wing Miniatures Game.
Remember last week when I said that Warhammer was more like Rulehammer? Miniature games are not known for their ease of play. Mostly this is due to a desire on the designers part to mimic real life as much as possible. There need to be rules for climbing ladders, getting bogged down in muck or shooting through a squad to another squad because these are things that can come up. Additionally, in miniatures games, the rules are often secondary to the awesomeness of the miniatures.
Miniature Designer: “We made a War Captain on a Chariot pulled by Cybernetic Unicorns. The unicorns can fly because of their wings and the War Captain has a magical Scythe that is made of Goldaranium!”
Rule Designers: “That looks awesome. How are we going to make it work in the game?”
Miniature Designer: “Take a look at all the different necklaces that are going to come in the box…”
This is what I think happens. Rule designers are then forced to reconcile this amazing model with the existing rules, contemplate the interactions and balance the whole thing. Miniatures games rules often look like old jalopies, being held together with tape and hopeful wishes.
X-Wing miniatures game has about four pages of basic rules. Believe me when I say that a new player can get a one minute explanation, and start playing immediately. The rest of the rules can be explained in the first game as you’re playing. This is exactly the way to get someone into a game. They already like the miniatures- or else they wouldn’t be playing the game- get them to actually USE the miniatures immediately! Fantastic!
Each miniature represents a ship that you can trick out with various utility cards. The ships, the pilots, the weapons, all of that comes with points attached, and you usually play to about 100 points. The list building is simple and easy. Each miniature being a ship, will have to maneuver through the play area. There are maneuver dials for each ship. Each player sets each miniature’s dial to a maneuver and then, in order of the pilot skill of each ship, moves each ship in turn. Right away your mind should see this as a good thing- each player will usually only have to wait 30 seconds between getting to do something. You then shoot according to pilot skill, again alternating between ships, and you resolve the combats. Then you go again. That’s the entirety of the game. My goodness it’s fast and easy.
The ships look great. They can be repainted, but I say don’t bother. They are also made to scale based on the actual original movie models. When you see the Millenium Falcon on the table with two smaller X-wings, you can feel the love that went into making these things.
Most of all, without getting into the complications of 3D space, this game feels very much like a dogfight between skilled starfighter pilots. The Y-Wings feel like old space K-cars- packing a lot of firepower, but without power steering- the Tie Fighters feel like sports cars that blow up when they hit a corner wrong- the X-wings are balanced and finally the Millenium Falcon is awesome. They’ve also come out with larger transports, the Tantive-IV and other large ships, so that you can play a whole campaign or a few skirmishes.
Tournament play is also huge in the X-wing community. Since it’s a game where the rules are CLEAR, there are very few ambiguities that arise. Fantasy Flight supports the tournament scene with alternate art cards, and other goodies that come out from time to time. A clear set of rules makes this a miniature game in which there are very few actual rule disputes- insanity. Oh, and the standard game is about 45 minutes long- GET OUT OF TOWN!
If you’re a fan of miniatures games, go get this. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, go get this. If you want to get a good sense of where modern miniatures games should be going- go get this. This game is the gold standard right now, with a ship release schedule that isn’t oppressive or hard on your wallet. Two base games split between two people (one person takes the rebels the other takes the imperials) with two other expansion packs (each about $10) gets you enough ships to go and play a 100 point tournament game. For a very minimal investment you get something that is very close to perfection.
I’ve spoken about the good, I’ve spoken about the bad, and next week, we’re going to speak about the ugly.