When X-Wing first hit the shelves, I was hesitant to get started with it, despite being both a miniatures wargamer and a Star Wars fan. It was mostly the price tag that put me off. I eventually caved in when I had the chance to pick up a core set for € 24, somewhere around the time when Wave 2 became available. It has been my main game ever since, and I want to explain why.
The way the game works should be well-known by now, it essentially comes down to three phases:
1. Players secretly set the maneuvers they want to perform with each ship, using the maneuver dials.
2. Ships are activated in ascending pilot skill order, executing movement and actions.
3. Ships fire in descending pilot skill order, using tokens resulting from actions and other effects to modify both attack and defense rolls.
Fairly straightforward, easy to learn, but yet with the many choices available, sufficiently deep. Most importantly, the choices I make have an impact on the game. Often with miniature games, I get the impression that it’s mostly armies moving towards each other with lots of dice being thrown, and the results being determined by army selection (or the scenario in scenario-based games) or luck of dice. With X-Wing, dice do of course have an impact on the game, but more importantly, what you do as player actually matters. Outguessing your opponent, judging your movement correctly (no pre-measuring!), choosing the right action, target priority – many wins and losses can be traced to excellence or failure here, not list building or dice rolls.
X-Wing has an active tournament scene. Here in the Netherlands, there is a tournament almost every weekend, and living in the densely populated West, there’s at least one a month within 30 minutes driving distance. Fantasy Flight Games do a great job in supporting tournaments with prize packages, which contain alternate art cards, acrylic tokens and templates, dice bags, and other goodies. None of these are necessary for playing the game (so there’s no exclusive stuff that can only be won at tournaments), but they are a great reward for doing well. Most stores increase the prize pool with ships or store credit, which means that you are likely to get your entry fee back in prizes if you do well.
There is also a clear progression in tournaments. There are four seasons each year, each with a dedicated price kit. More importantly, we have Store, Regional, National, and World Championships. Prizes get better but competition is of course tougher at higher levels. A win at a lower level provides a first-round bye at a higher level.
Possibly the greatest thing to come from X-Wing is the community that has resulted from it. With historical wargames, the number of people being interested in the same historical period and playing the same rules is very small, even for the more popular games. With X-Wing, I have several people within 5km distance, the larger tournaments are attended by 30+ people, and we have several hundred people on the Dutch X-Wing Facebook page. I have made new friends playing X-Wing.
Even though it’s a competitive game, with prizes at stake, there’s always a friendly mood with mutual respect at tournaments. This is embodied by the “Fly Casual” movement – don’t play cutthroat, point out possible mistakes, help each other to both have a fun experience. I think this is something truly special about X-Wing.
The worldwide community has also created some excellent and useful tools for all of us. Squad list builders, tournament software, a website for publishing tournament results with analysis functionality – and best of all, it all fits together! Add in healthy discussions on site like the FFG forum and Team Covenant, and you may actually find yourself spending more time reading and planning for the next tournament that playing, not because you have to, but because you can.
X-Wing has been on the market for almost three years now. While the supply of ships that were seen in the movies has long dried up, the Expanded Universe keeps supplying new ships. We even got a third faction earlier this year. And while the basic mechanics have stayed the same, new ships and upgrades let the game evolve continuously, which means that “the meta” is always changing. There are now so many options with regard to ships and upgrades, that you are not likely to run out of things you want to try even when focusing on one faction.
Evolution may of course also mean that older ships struggle to be competitive, or that a certain combination of ships and upgrades may become dominant. Luckily, FFG has shown the will to address these issues – not by outright banning of certain cards (as is common with trading card games), but by subtle rule changes or new upgrades that improve suffering ships.
What’s not to like
Even X-Wing is not perfect. Pricing has been the issue of many debates, but when you consider that the miniatures are pre-painted (to a very decent level, I doubt the average miniature painter could do much better), I’m actually Ok with the prices. And it looks so much better on table than unpainted metal or plastic. The bigger issue is the scattering of certain desirable upgrade cards across the factions. Back in Wave 3 for example, you had to buy two Imperial Lambda shuttles if you wanted to equip two of your Rebel B-Wings with Advanced Sensors. I understand it from a commercial point of view, but this makes it difficult to collect just one of the three factions. My recommendation would be to find a fellow group of players so you can borrow upgrades for tournaments. I regularly do this, and so far I have had no need to buy ships that I don’t like or don’t want to play. Trading cards is also an option.
So, should you dive in? Yes, absolutely, but I highly recommend teaming up with a group of other players so you can test without buying everything and exchange upgrade cards.