Review – X-wing

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I’ve had X-wing for some time, and have now put sufficient games on the table to give a proper review. X-wing is, as name suggests a game that is set to Star Wars universe and attempts to represent something of a ship to ship combat. Game is packed with decently pre-painted miniature ships, very short rules and loads of various cards that are used to represents different pilots, weapons, upgrades and what have you. First thing one notices is that the ships are actually quite nicely done. Second one is that the system is awfully 2 dimensional and very weird for “flight simulator” space combat game but about that later.

First the good things

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Game is essentially based on maneuver plotting where opponent is not aware of your moves before they are executed. Much depends on the maneuver that is chosen and I have to admit that the way to do this is quite simple and functional.

Firing and damage system is quite straight forward and functional. Each player rolls special dice for hits and then hits are removed by number of rolled defenses. Of course, similar system is used in many other games, but FFG has elected to use special dice for the purpose.

Game flow

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Another aspect of the game is the actions that can be done (somehow it seems that move-action etc is some trademark of certain designer(s), regardless how well they work i practice. For example Arkham Horror & Mansions of Madness have interestingly similar system). Each ship and pilot has a bit different actions, and some upgrades allow certain actions to the ships that normally would not have them and they are always done that the end of the move. Not bad design as such, but when variety of actions and cards increases, so decreases the differences of the ships and that is somewhat questionable.

As mentioned earlier, the game is awfully two dimensional and flight engine is, oh well… but that is hardly a surprise. I would not expect nothing less from a beer & pretzel game that is set on the Star Wars universe. In fact, the modeling fits brilliantly to the generic ridiculousness of the universe it is set in. Of course it has nothing to do with actual space flight (X-pilot (two dimensional computer game from 1990’s) reimplementation would have been much better model for two dimensional space fight, but while still ridiculously simple, would have been beyond most gamers that X-wing is targeted for).

Firing is dictated by 90 degree firing arc and range ruler that has three bands on it. Each ship has weapons that can engage at more or less same range. There are few exceptions, like ion cannon turret that have range of two, but missiles, lasers etc. all have same range and they follow same basic principle. Various options like focus and target lock allow attack dice re-rolls, or focus symbols to be converted either to hits or avoids etc. Secondary weapons can be fired and ordnance unloaded instead of firing primary weapons which means that some ordnance on some ships is not really good idea at all).

Some ships have better possibility to avoid enemy fire, like tie fighters, but are then so few in hit points that single lucky shot will kill them. Some are hard hitters but cannot avoid so well, and are packed with extra hit points and shields (some upgrades like R2D2 allow also shield repair). Division goes roughly such that imperials are former and rebels the latter kind. Classic numbers versus quality thing.

With limited number of ships, say four to six per side the game is still relatively fluent, but I can already see what happens when there are, say 10 – 20 ships a side, and various upgrades. Perhaps it would be interesting furball, but also may stall quite badly. Simultaneous planning phase means that there is relatively little downtime, but if opponent is prone to overthinking and optimization, game can really drag on and on…

Then the bad things

There are quite a few, and as usual for fantasy flight games, first the cards. It appears to be norm to fix issues by introducing cards that represent something that was a miss on the original design concept (each ship card indicated what upgrades can be installed, but then at some point two additional card types were created that could be given to ship, regardless what the upgrade options were etc.), to act as a bug fixes and to create upgrades that are easy to sell out. Each new ship of course comes with certain cards that are needed especially in tournament games, even if the accompanying ship itself would be useless. This has apparently generated interesting aftermarket for cards not so different from MtG long ago.

Second is the basic set which is woefully insufficient for any decent games (two ties fighters versus one x-wing), and sooner than you think, you realize that several ships more are needed to have any interesting games on the table. This is of course helped by any opponent willing to invest on the game. Another matter are the small details like the custom dice that there are 3 of each in the base set while four is very often required. Because dice are custom made, it means that one would have to buy additional ones with very hefty price tag (or just reroll X dice as needed).

Third issue is that further along the ship upgrade waves you go, less interesting they seem to become. A bit more of this, more of that, etc but nothing that would make game more interesting. The best ships – at least for non-competitive game are the classics seen in the movies with as few upgrades as possible.

Fourth is the fire arc that is ridiculously wide. Nothing wrong with that as long as one accepts that it is very hard to be out of fire arc, especially when there are more ships and when limited area is used. Extra wide firing arch does however cause one issue – when combined with good deal of luck, it is quite possible to loose several imperial ships in the initial pass, just because of good dice rolls and there is very little to avoid it.

X-wing is, hardly surprisingly, very much luck driven and skill has rather little to do with it (especially if you are repeatedly shot dead on first occurrence of fire – of course someone may claim differently, but that is all right). That is not a negative thing, it makes very interesting and tense moments, but I have to admit that the best part of the game comes with the “classic ships” that were represented in the movies and with limited, sporadic upgrades.

Conclusion

X-wing is decent beer and pretzels game. Visually appealing but the design is somewhat sloppy  (what appears to have become FFG trademark over the years)  (moves become repetitive, predictable and upgrades try to make everyone equal). Game lacks true insight of what could be done with quality vs. quantity setup and that is a pity. There are good design things, such as fast gameplay, the maneuver dial, but the good parts are pretty much watered down by ridiculously generous firing arcs, that each weapon is capable of same range, game time it takes to setup the squadron etc.

So, it can be a pickup game for fast and furious match assuming that lists are build ready and fight is not large enough. X-wing can be quite fun, assuming that the players are fast decision makers and do not care too much about reality, and go for the ride fir sake of the Star Wars nostalgia. It could have been much more, given enough thought on the design, but then again it would have been entirely different game.

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