X-Wing is a skirmish game for two players, who fly squadrons from one of three thematic Star Wars factions, with the aim to destroy the opposing squad before they themselves succumb. Players must navigate around tight battlefields full of obstacles, and equip and use an inventory of different missiles, systems, torpedoes, hulls, pilots, systems and much more, depending on their own flying style.
There’s not a better recommendation I can make for X-Wing than the fact that this previously miniatures-wary gamer (who only just before Christmas sneered at what he thought was the overpriced core set in WHSmiths) is now the proud owner of a fleet of twenty glorious imperial ships. Oh, and that also my youtube history now reveals a serious habit of watching competitive X-Wing games over breakfast. Even my most-listened to podcast is now one that includes fake adverts for X-Wing players such as ‘Dice Salt’ and support groups for partners of people who play X-Wing, which is a high for someone with a huge interest in academia on fandom and hyper-niche areas of comedy.
Let’s barrell-roll back a bit here, shall we?
What Fantasy Flight have done with X-Wing is make an amazingly accessible tactical game with a licence that demands quality components and a fan base that will undoubtedly pay for them. Even if you just purchase a core set and one or two of the early expansions, you will be the proud owner of the most iconic and recognisable ships in galaxy, pre-painted and pre-assembled. You and another player will be flying, manoeuvring, target-locking and shooting at each other within an hour of opening the box.
Like any great game (and I presume, great collectible game), the early mechanics and tactics you learn in your first couple of times out are the built upon, piece by piece, with each new play through, each new expansion. It’s simple, at heart. Each turn, you and your opponent plan your manoeuvre for each of your ships, which is done by using some smart cardboard dials. Then, ship by ship, you reveal your course and action your manoeuvre, which is as simple as putting the manoeuvre guide on the front of your ship, and then holding it in place as you move your ship to the end of the guide. You can then take an action, such as target-locking or focusing for your next attack.
Combat is simple, too. Each ship has only a handful of stats (attack, agility, hull and shields) and initially, attacking consists of throwing as many red attack dice as your attack value, and your opponent throwing as many green dice as the have. After a bid of dice modification, you count how many hits versus how many evades, and if there are more hits you do that amount of damage. As I said above, this does become more complex (and, then, far more interestingly tactically) the more you buy into the game.
Most of the pilots you use will have special abilities, and each ship usually has at least four different pilots (some with many more), which provides a great amount of variation right from the off. In the core set (there are two – one original core set, and a newer one based on The Force Awakens), you can fly pilots such as Luke Skywalker to Poe Dameron, but by purchasing new ships you’ll get more characters like Han Solo and Darth Vader. You’ll then learn to know and love a whole bevy of pilots from the extended universe or television series The Clone Wars and Rebels, each of who have interesting and unique abilities that affect how you play the game.
Each ship can also host a certain amount of upgrades, such as different missile or cannons, hull modifications, systems, and elite pilot talents that give you even more flying options. This is really where the game begins to take off – the myriad of different ways you can fly or tactics you can implement is the heart of X-Wing, and will be the significant factor in if you decide to invest a little more in it or not. Unless you have a regular group that plays X-Wing – or even if you just have one other who is as interested as you – then you might not make an investment much further than a few expansions to keep things fresh. For others, however, the vast array of options included in each expansion will continue to add depth and subtlety to each encounter, and really mean you can pick and choose how you want to fly.
The three factions of X-Wing – Imperial, Rebel and Scum and Villainy – each have their own feel. The Rebels are supportive, fly well in groups, tend to be able to regenerate shields. The Imperials prioritise expertise in their pilots, relying on their ability to dodge incoming fire and flank their target. The pilots of Scum and Villainy are an unpredictable bunch, with funky tricks up their sleeves and illicit mechanics which the other factions do not have access to.
Within each faction, however, you can also prioritise your own flying style. Want to drop bombs across the board and laugh when your opponent flies into them? You can. Want to tractor beam your opponent, reducing their ability to dodge incoming fire and moving them into asteroids to cause damage? Yup, you can. Fancy flying a swarm of small ships in tight formation, attempting to win by sheer numbers? These options, and many more, are all available to you.
X-Wing may only be for a particular type of person, however as I mentioned at the start of this review, you might be that particular type of person but not yet know it. It is a collectible game, and you will probably enjoy it more if you have a regular group that plays together and you decide to invest a little. The best way is to find a job lot of ships second-hand, as this should at least be able to get you a lot of the older ships at a decent price.
There is also a heavily competitive scene to the game, and a whole metagame which is fascinating but hard to keep up with. ‘Flying casual’ with friends is probably the best way to play this without spending hundreds of pounds, but local tournaments or store championships look an exciting way to play and enter what looks to be a great community of players.
Fantasy Flight have managed to avoid making this a simple money-grab, and again the designer’s focus on mechanics and gameplay is a real treat, much as it is along their whole product line. You’ll have fun with just the core set for a time, and it will only take another two or three expansions for this to be a game you’ll go back to playing as much as any other – which is no more than £60-£70 in total, as much as you might pay for a premium-tier game. But the option to go that one step further is also there, and if you have a group of community around you that plays X-wing, there might not be a better place to begin your collectibles gaming than this. Try it, go see it demoed, watch some videos, then go and pick up some ships. It’s like realising your childhood dreams, but with dice and range rulers.