X-Wing Miniatures Game - Second Edition, Second Chance?
This autumn Fantasy Flight Games have taken their incredibly popular and long-ish running X-Wing The Miniatures Game and released a brand spanking new version, X-Wing 2.0. I was a long time player of the first edition of the game, joining the odd tournament here or there, and playing with friends sporadically. I've been intrigued about the new release and it's promise to streamline some of the more annoying elements of the game. But first, a quick overview of what X-Wing is and why it's so popular - apart from the fact it's Star Wars, which prints money.
X-wing is a miniatures table top game that takes the most arduous parts of the miniatures hobby out and replaces them with a theme, ships, and pilots that many players will recognise from the Star Wars movies, games, comics, and books. There's no need to buy huge armies of loads of troops, as most legal squads are 2-5 ships of the same faction, and each model is sold fully built and painted, getting players to the table in light-speed (...I am SO sorry...).Each ship has multiple pilots that can fly it, represented by cards that come in each pack and there are also a whole host of upgrades like cannons, crew members, and bombs that means there are plenty of ways to equip each individual ship and create a custom squadron to bring to the table.
This means the buy-in for most players is not much more than a core set and an individual ship or two, making it very accessible to new players. Of course, you can also just buy everything as some people are want to do, but it's definitely not necessary, and means the game has had a steady and increasing player base since it came out. The ships in the game are currently divided into 3 factions; the Imperials (Vader et al), the Rebels (LUUUUKE), and the rag-tag Scum and Villainy cohort, meaning that if you stick to a single faction then the cost of keeping up with releases is even less.
As far as actually playing the game, the core element of the gameplay is in the way it handles it's hidden movement. Simultaneously, players will select a manoeuvre for each of their ships on a dial and then place them all face down on the table. Then, one by one according to their pilots skill level, players will flip each dial and perform their movements. The key to the game then, is in anticipating where your opponent is going to fly and either blocking them off, or getting your ships into advantageous positions to fire away without retaliation. After moving, each ship can then take a single action letting them grab an Evade token to increase survivability, acquire a Target Lock on an opponent to maximise damage, or even perform a Barrel Roll or Boost to reposition their ships for a more ideal shot. After all pilots have moved, the shooty round begins, with pilots firing in reverse order to their movement, so the highest skilled pilots move last and then shoot first. It is a deceptively simple, but incredibly effective system.
It's probably a good time here to point out that X-Wing looks awesome on the table. Obviously a game is only as good as it's gameplay but seeing the Millennium Falcon take on Tie Fighters on the table next to you or glancing over to see a squadron of X-Wings battling with Boba Fett's Slave I is still mighty impressive, whether you love Star Wars or not. The miniatures themselves also look great, and while each comes pre-painted to a high standard, it's always cool to see someone's custom painted ships on the battlefield.
With every new wave of ships there are new pilots and new upgrades, which means every new pack not only grants you a new ship to fly, but also new tools to play with your current ships. However, towards the end of the first edition this had a somewhat negative effect on the game, as more and more cards came out the complexity of each ship and the tools available increased. It was not uncommon for ships to be taking 2 or 3 actions a turn, instead of the usual one, barrel rolling, boosting, and swooping across the battlefield before chaining a series of card effects to add and remove tokens and fire bombs in all kinds of silly directions. As you can probably tell from that sentence alone, this became a bit too much for new players to easily jump in, making the game seem off-putting. And as FFG - rightly at the time - front loaded all the iconic characters in the Star Wars universe, the best pilots and ships started to all be little known pilots from extended universe books and comics, with iconic ships like the Millennium Falcon and pilots like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fading into uselessness as the game went on.
Obviously things had to change, and Fantasy Flight agreed, updating the rules and releasing a new core set and resetting their releases back to Wave 1 for the new Second Edition. This wasn't a complete cut away to new product though as they are also selling conversion kits for each of the games 3 factions that allows players to use all of the miniatures they purchased over the last few years in the new game. In some aspects this was a great move that not a lot of publishers would have done, as it means everyone can still use all of their purchased items. But at the same time it has led to a large dump of cards and pilots on day 1 for everyone to sift through. I kind of wish they had been even harsher, cutting much more of the old content and cards so there was a more concise start to the edition. They could have released upgrade cards for older ships in each wave to bring them into the fold more gradually, however I can see the other side to this argument, and making the entire player base angry because things they recently purchased obsolete is not a good look.
The new edition has simplified things in some regards, stripping back a lot of the power bloat that had crept into the game over the years. There is a lot more focus on the actual movement of ships, the core element of the game that is so appealing. This is great news, and has instantly made the game more appealing to me again. No longer can players load up large based ships with hundreds of upgrades and not care about where they're going, relying on cards and powers to generate a big stack of tokens to stay alive. The risk/reward of a lot of the pilots has also increased, with the ability to use 2 or 3 actions to recover from a bad manoeuvre mostly removed from the game, setting your dial to the right move for the right situation and flying well is back to the most key part of the game. There are also no longer 360 degree turrets that can hit you no matter how well you position, and rockets and other upgrade cards have been reigned in slightly. A lot of the more annoying survivability options have also been reduced or removed entirely meaning lining up a key shot with your primary guns is now more likely to do damage, all of which are changes for the good.
There's also a renewed focus on some of the more iconic characters and ships from the main movies. This has been to the chagrin of some people but honestly, if Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, the Falcon, and the X-Wings aren't hitting the table, then what are we even doing - Come on.
They have also now split the factions further, with the new movie's factions, the Resistance & First Order, now separate from the Rebels & Imperials, and with 2 more new factions coming in the new year this brings the game up to 7 individual teams to invest in. For collectors this might be seen as an issue, but for players who want to stick to 1 or now maybe 2 factions it's making that easier with more options, and keeping the recurring costs down when compared to other miniatures games.
One of the more radical changes to the game has been the integration of an official app which is used for squad building. Previously, every pilot card had printed on it the points cost to field that pilot and ship, as well as a list of what types of upgrades they can take and how many. In 2.0 all of the point costs and upgrade slots have not been printed on the cards and are instead now on the app. What this means is that Fantasy Flight can now make changes to these throughout the year to better balance the game out. So no longer will a ship or combination of cards slip through testing and be completely dominant until they print counter cards, or in the extreme cases, completely errata the ship. They now have the option to adjust the card's point cost in the app or remove certain equipment slots from the ships in question, this should keep the game more balanced and fair for the tournament players and keep more players happy.
There are still a handful of minor issues with the game, the pullback on large based ships like the Decimator has gone a little too far, with almost none of them now viable, however because of the app based system this is no longer a death sentence for those ships, and I expect the points cost to use them to come down soon to make them viable again. The app itself is also currently in a pretty terrible state, plagued with crashes and feature omissions. However, again, this can be patched and improved as time goes on. It seems that anything that's been printed to card and has permanence has hit the mark, and the elements that are digital and can be improved, definitely still need to be.
All of this then has led to a game that is more about the strategy while playing, and actually playing well, than copying a well known list off the internet and flying it ok against an unsuspecting opponent. This is definitely a more fun and engaging game to play now and I think it was quite telling that the first major tournament for 2.0 was won by a squadron that was nothing special, but was played incredibly well by the player, who made very few if any mistakes through each round.
As more ships and upgrades release we will see if FFG have really learnt their lesson and can keep things balanced and interesting without falling into the same traps as before, and it will be interesting to see how they try to balance 7 individual factions. And to be honest, even if they haven't and they can't, they've always got the option to change things on the fly with the app.
I took a break towards the end of the First Edition because of some game fatigue and being annoyed with some of the things that had crept into the game. Second edition has solved most of my initial complaints and I've been playing frequently since it was released a few weeks ago and can't wait to play it even more - the biggest compliment I can give any game really.