24th Sep2018

‘X-Wing: Second Edition’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

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[NOTE: If you haven’t read it yet, check out our first thoughts piece on X-Wing: Second Edition right here]

Unless, like me, you’ve been more or less unaware of Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing miniatures game until now, then you probably already know that the brand new Second Edition is rather a big deal. Sure, I’ve played a game or two, but I’m nowhere near as invested in X-Wing as I am in most of the other miniatures games that I play. The combination of a comprehensive Star Wars license, quality, pre-painted miniatures and FFG’s high quality game design have made X-Wing (which was first released in 2013) a very popular game both on the shelves of casual players homes and on the much more serious, officially endorsed tournament scene.

X-Wing: Second Edition is much less a ground up remake of the original than it is an evolution based on five years and literally hundreds of thousands of matches worth of play-testing. X-Wing wasn’t broken and so it didn’t need to be fixed, but it brought with it a lot of baggage relating to decisions made a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist. Anyway, X-Wing: Second Edition includes a number of subtle changes that are designed to make it more accessible, simpler and faster to play and easier to manage as the competitive scene evolves. I detailed a few of my first impressions in this article, but I’ve since spent about fifteen hours playing X-Wing: Second Edition and I feel reasonably well qualified to discuss it.

I’ll begin with a brief point about what X-Wing: Second Edition actually offers players and how a squad is actually constructed. Firstly, everything in X-Wing: Second Edition is modular. The first product you’ll need to invest in is a Starter Set (containing a number of cards, three plastic ships, rulers, dice, damage deck and so on.) From there, you’ll need to invest in specific expansions packs that contain either one or a handful of ships, as well as the cards that go with them. Secondly, the removal of point values from the cards means that you’ll have two ways to build your squad. Each Special Edition product comes included with a quick build card that allows basic squad-building, but for more serious play, FFG has released an app.

Imaginatively named “X-Wing Squad Builder” the app is currently experiencing a few early days teething problems, but principally it is an excellent go-to resource for players either brand new to X-Wing, or returning with a collection of existing ships from the original game. On that note, anyone that does wish to convert their existing ships will need a whole set of new cards, as well as all the other new paraphernalia that is required to play the game. As such, a returning player needs to invest in one of the “Conversion Kits” for each of the factions that they wish to upgrade from the original game to Second Edition.

Returning back to the idea of being a new player in the X-Wing universe (as I am) then I can say that I’ve used both the quickbuild cards and the app to create balanced teams in all three of the currently available factions (The Empire, The Rebel Alliance and Scum and Villainy) and the outcome has always been fairly balanced. If using the quickbuild cards, then each one is listed with a level of threat based on how handy the ship, pilot and payload shown on the card are. A total of eight threat across any number of ships is broadly equivalent to a 200 point squadron built in the app, so you can even mix and match the approach if playing casually.

Eight threat (or 200 points) will usually create a squadron of between three and six ships, with expensive, specialised pilots like Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon or Luke Skywalker in his X-Wing coming in at a much higher cost than an unnamed academy pilot in a basic Tie-Fighter. Squad building is a key skill (and a major part of the fun) in X-Wing and even though the starter set has just three models in it, it sows the seeds of customising ships with different pilots, weapons and upgrades from the very outset. Of course you do need to pay cash to add ships and cards to your collection, but assuming that you focus on one faction and your friends take care of their own, it shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to reach 200 points.

Whatever your team of ships looks like, X-Wing: Second Edition makes it very easy to get them to the table. The standard play area requires a three foot square surface and whilst you can invest in high quality, neoprene mats, it’s not essential to do so as long as the boundaries are clearly marked. In the photos you can see, I used an old (and not especially high quality) tablecloth that I felt added a tiny bit of additional authenticity and a bit of colour to proceedings. Each play will then be designated a setup zone based on a measure of their edge of the playing surface that is equivalent to “range 1″ of the ruler provided in the Starter Set.

Before deployment, the players will take turns to lay out six (unless otherwise agreed) pieces of debris, which are also included in the box. In my images, I don’t show any debris since we chose not to play with any. Ships will then be deployed one by one based on their pilot initiative, which is a number between one and ten (but usually its between two and six, with Second Edition drastically compressing the sprawl that had crept into the original.) When the game begins, pilot initiative will determine who moves first and then who shoots first, with low initiative used for movement and high initiative used to shoot first.

The game sequence in X-Wing: Second Edition is very simple and split into key phases. Firstly, each players will set their maneuver dials for all ships simultaneously and place them on the board face down. Once this is done, the next phase begins and the movements take place – low initiative pilots move first to demonstrate that their flight is more predictable and the player holding the First Player Token always decides who acts first when pilot skill is tied. It’s worth noting that you can never change your planned move even if the enemy behaves unexpectedly, but you can at least fire first in the next phase. After each ship moves, it will also be able to take an action – as depicted either on the pilot card or on an enhancement, copilot or similar.

Actions have a huge impact on how Second Edition plays, with a number of them affecting the following combat phase directly. The most common (especially when playing with ships from the Starter Set) are actions like barrel rolls or boosting (which allow a small amount of additional movement) or focus and target lock, both of which are used to affect combat. Focus tokens can be spent to turn all focus symbols rolled into either hits (when firing) or evades (when defending.) Target locks allow attack dice to be rerolled and enable certain special weapons such as missiles to be fired.

When all movement is done and actions have been taken, the shooting starts. The pilots now act in reverse order as I mentioned before, so high initiative pilots like Han Solo or Wedge Antilles will fire before other pilots. Each ship has a number of attack and evade dice as shown on its card, before modifiers are taken into account. Pilots, range, ship modifications and many other factors can influence the addition or removal of dice to either attack or evade rolls, but assuming an average role between two standard ships like X-Wings or Tie Fighters, the attacker will be rolling two to three dice, whilst the defender will have around the same. Broadly speaking, X-Wings are fairly good offensively, but lack the mobility of Tie Fighters.

Evade symbols rolled on green defense dice cancel hits rolled on red attack dice, with the balance then dealing damage to the defending ship. Most ships have some shields which will be negated first, but once they are gone, damage will go directly to the hull – which is again show on a ship by ship basis on the pilot card. Whenever damage does penetrate a ships shield, the defending player will draw face down damage cards to show the damage, except when a critical hit is rolled. On these occasions, a faceup damage card will be drawn, effectively forcing the defender to deal with another situation such as a damaged weapon or engine, which is likely to come with negative connotations.

After combat, there’s a cleanup phase in which unused tokens are removed (focus tokens, for example) whilst a few actions shown on cards might also trigger. I should also note that in between placing the movement dials and actually moving, there is a step called The Systems Phase which also triggers effects on certain ships or abilities, although it’s fairly infrequent to see such abilities at a casual level of play. Once all end step actions and tasks are complete, the first player token switches sides and the placement of movement dials begins again.

There is quite a bit more to X-Wing: Second Edition than I’ve discussed here, but the benefit of this, more streamlined version is that many of the gotchas that used to confuse players have been ironed out in favour of a more straightforward approach. There are some intricate rules that allow for higher level play and a lot of tactical decision making, but all of them remain simple enough for anyone to understand and generally align to what makes sense. Take Stress Tokens for example. A pilot will receive stress if they perform a “red” maneuver, which is usually a powerful evasive action. Removing stress is achieved by taking a “blue” maneuver, which is considered easy.

Whilst this kind of nuance is potentially tricky, the colour coding of the dials prompts players to take note and it soon becomes second nature. Clearly, there are still some potentially complex actions and considerations – one focus token , for example, converts all focus symbols on dice to hits or evades, but one force token converts just one focus symbol for each token spent. Small details that can make a difference to balance on the professional scene, but on your table at home you’ll hardly notice.

I’ve now built and flown a 200 point army for each of the factions currently supported by Second Edition on at least two or three occasions, and I must admit that I have enjoyed playing X-Wing immensely. I like Second Edition so much that I actually wish that I had got more involved in the X-Wing hobby earlier in its life, although clearly there is a benefit to joining up now, with a clean set of simple rules and no real need to unlearn whatever I might have got used to in the past version. It’s also fantastic to simply buy new ships and not need to worry about painting them – they look fantastic out of the box and some even have moving parts (like the X-Wing’s S-Foils.)

I think it’s fair to say that I’m not qualified to comment on whether existing X-Wing players should invest in X-Wing: Second Edition‘s Conversion Kits and new ship expansions, but as this is a review and I am entitled to an opinion, I can safely say that I don’t think X-Wing: Second Edition does anything besides improve upon the original game. The Conversion Kits, whilst perhaps considered a necessary evil, are still very good value and at least your existing expenditure is all immediately brought up to date in one fell swoop. For potential new players, my own experiences feel much more relevant. Having played an intense amount of Second Edition in a small amount of time, let me tell you straight- this game is fantastic.

Being a Star Wars fan helps a lot, but even if you aren’t, X-Wing is still a very good game. It captures the spirit of dogfighting exceptionally well and whilst I think a WWI or II theme would have been absolutely fine, the Star Wars license brings both its own gravitas and the ability for outlandish ships, upgrades and features that simply don’t exist in any current reality. It’s possible to play the game right out of the box with the Starter Set which costs next to nothing and even when fielding a full 200 points, it’s not a prohibitively expensive hobby in the same way as certain other miniatures based games.

****½  4.5/5

X-Wing: Second Edition is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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