Friday, September 28, 2012

Star Wars X-Wing Episode II: Bring me solo (and a cookie)!

I feel somewhat remiss that I have not yet posted a battle report for X-Wing. I am really beginning to love the way it plays, but I haven't yet gotten to play a REAL game of it, since I haven't gotten to play a game against a live human being yet.

You see, I play a fair majority of my games solo. This is because I have a small pool of friends who enjoy gaming, a schedule that runs counter to theirs most of the time, or a location issue (i.e. they are now living many states away). I also have some pretty strong social anxiety issues that make it difficult to just grab a "pick-up" game here and there.

With most games, this isn't really a problem. Either it is built for solo, or I can easily play both sides in the game. Even in card games, I can usually "forget" what is in Player 2's hand and make decisions objectively (usually). And normally I don't worry too much about it because when I game, I am really in it for the story of what happens. So, yeah, I guess I've gained a sort of secondary personality of sorts.

I am Jack's complete lack of social interaction. 
The problem with X-Wing is that it has a hidden movement mechanic that, for some reason, my brain can't forget about. When I try to pick movement and I know about it, the game always ends up the same because I know exactly where I'm gonna be. And its weird because I can do open movement with other wargames I own, but this one is either too quick (and goes even quicker when movement is predictable) or the pilot skill mechanic is way more powerful when you can see what others are doing. Knowing where the other person is gonna be just breaks the game.

I have heard that some people on BoardGameGeek have had some success with random movement, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Lo and behold, that was the answer. I now no longer knew where my opponent was going to be. Suddenly the game was lasting a little longer and the battles were a little closer. With that in mind, I knew I couldn't help but make it into a scenario for the game and share it!

Mission: Training Sim [Solo]

Cam Vior strapped into the egg-shaped cockpit with shaking hands. First time out, never even sat in a seat before. It was dark. No light except what came in around the door. Suddenly bright light washed around him and he could see again, the interior of a TIE fighter now his surroundings. In the distance, a squadron of X-Wings floated against the star field ahead. A voice came through the comm.

"Pilot Vior, simulation is about to begin. Stand by for combat training."

Mission Setup

Although this mission is for one player, there are still 2 sides in the game. You will get one force that you will completely control. The opposing force will have its movement determined randomly and you will make its decisions for it beyond that.

Rebel: Rookie Pilot [Proton Torpedoes].

Imperial: Two Academy Pilots.

Special note: This mission requires a single regular six-sided die that is not included in the base game. This die can be scrounged from a number of other board games or bought in stores cheap.

Do not choose which force you will be playing. Instead, roll the six-sided die once for each force, re-rolling ties. Whichever side rolls highest is the force you will control. If you are using the squad building rules, build each squad separately before determining which force you will control.

Each force deploys as per the rules for a non-mission game of X-Wing.

Special Rules

Movement AI: During the planning phase, the player sets his maneuver dials for his force normally and they will act as normal during the Activation Phase. Do not set dials for the opposing force. During the Activation Phase, using the chart below, determine the speed and maneuver for each opposing ship as its turn comes up:

This image is not my work but belongs to a wonderful fellow on BGG  whose name I cannot find now.
First, find the ship on the chart. Next roll the six-sided die and compare it to the numbers on the left side. That is the ship's speed. If you roll a number that is not on the chart, roll again until you have a number that is. Then, roll the die a second time, counting that many spaces to the right to see what maneuver is performed at that speed. Once again, if you roll a blank space, roll again. If only one maneuver exists at that speed (besides Koiogran Turns; see below), the ship automatically performs that maneuver.

Koiogran Turns: An opposing ship will not normally make a Koiogran Turn. However, if it rolls a speed a which a Koiogran Turn can be made, after any straight maneuver at that speed where it would end up with no enemy ships in its fire arc, treat that straight as a Koiogran Turn instead (i.e. turn the ship around at the end of the movement). Stress is gained as normal if this is a red maneuver for the ship.

Leaving the play area: AI controlled ships will not normally leave the play area. They have been programmed to keep fighting at all costs. If a maneuver would take an AI ship off the play area, it will instead perform the shortest turn possible to avoid leaving the field. If this would still result in the ship leaving the field, remove it from play, but mark the spot where it left the field. During the next Activation Phase, the ship will return from that point on its turn, performing the fastest straight maneuver it is capable of. Ships controlled by a player are still subject to "fleeing" of they leave the play area, so choose your maneuvers wisely!

Other Phases: The rest of the game is played by choosing what each enemy ship would do as if you were playing that force to the best of your ability. No cheating! If you can't trust yourself use the following AI:

Actions: Actions are given the following priority: Barrel Roll (if necessary to improve or avoid attack arc, otherwise ignore), Target Lock, Focus, Evade. If a ship cannot perform an action, it skips it and performs the next in the order. A ship with only one hull point left ALWAYS Evades.

Combat: The AI ship will always attack the closest enemy ship. If there is a tie, choose the one that has taken the most damage. If there is still a tie, choose the one that has the highest Pilot Skill. Otherwise randomly determine the target. If the AI possesses a secondary attack, it will use that attack if able. 


Play continues until all ships on one side are destroyed, leaving one side the victor!

So, that's my scenario. It's nothing new or fancy, compared to what's been mentioned already in various forums, but its at least in mission format. Hope somebody gets some use out of it.

Happy gaming!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip."

For those who are in the know, tomorrow marks the 75th anniversary of the first printing of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit". Obviously this is a big deal for us Hobbit-folk (or those of us who would like to be) and a bunch of clever Hobbitses have started a movement to celebrate Hobbit Second Breakfast.

For those who don't know, second breakfast is the second of the six Hobbit meals (the others being breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, dinner and supper). Being a food lover myself, I am totally in on snarfing down a few pastries with some tea, but as I am a gamer, I figure I need to do something on such an auspicious day concerning the hobby.

My plan is to get up early and assemble a deck for FFG's Lord of the Rings LCG using cards from the recent The Hobbit: Over The Hill And Under The Hill expansion.

I love this particular expansion because, more than any other book detailing the adventures of Middle Earth, I love "The Hobbit" most of all. The dwarfs are my barometer for all things dwarfy; Gandalf is a crazy old wizard but obviously wise and powerful; and Gollum was creepy and tricky, but not an anti-hero. But moreover, the true hero of the tale isn't some human kid being thrust into danger due to some prophecy. I honestly hate stories like that because they are lazy. This isn't a coming of age tale. The hero is a middle-aged  Hobbit, set in his ways and living a life of comfort, practically forced into becoming a burglar-for-hire by a crazy old wizard, for reasons known only to a crazy old wizard.

This is the face of heroism.
But once the opportunity arises, Bilbo musters his courage and makes the decision to leave his comfy world and taste adventure. The moral of the story isn't that some of us are destined for greatness. What I took away from it, even as a child, was that it's never too late to be adventurous and even the most timid person has a hero inside them. We can all be the hero if we just choose to go on the adventure. And I think that is a much better lesson than most fantasy stories teach these days.

So I can't wait to build a deck filled with Thorin, Bilbo, Gandalf and the rest of the dwarves. I can't wait to sip a cup of tea while munching on a few biscuits and scones, all the while attempting daring quests in card format and wistfully remembering my first readings of "The Hobbit." I can't wait to do these things because for a short time, I get to have some small sense of what it is to be a Hobbit.

And that is a very brave thing to be, after all.

By the way if anyone happens to live nearby, my family's videostore, MGM Video, is celebrating Hobbit Second Breakfast with free coffee, tea and pastries. We will also be playing the animated version of "The Hobbit," as well as the Lord of the Rings movies throughout the day in honor of Mr. Tolkien's accomplishment. Come in and have a bite, if you like.

What are you doing to celebrate Hobbit Second Breakfast? Will you be baking? Gaming? Maybe painting a few Lord of the Rings miniatures? Or maybe just a movie marathon? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Star Wars X-Wing Episode I: The Unboxing Menace

Originally I had planned to post a battle report this week. That changed yesterday morning as I sat down to my computer for my morning ritual: coffee, Facebook, check e-mail, and (since its release at GenCon) check  Target's website to see if any store remotely close to me has the Star Wars X-Wing miniatures game by Fantasy Flight Games.

As with most geeks, I am a fan of all things Star Wars. I may have opinions on how the prequels were made and vociferously boycott new editions on blu-ray (while secretly coveting them and hoping someone buys me a "misguided" present), but I consume it all. Movies, Legos, action figures, collectibles and, most importantly, games!

However, most Star Wars games have left me flat over the years. They have run the gamut of too kiddy (Epic Duels) to too complicated (WEG miniatures system) or have been too commercial. Even Wizards of the Coast's miniatures games didn't quite "feel" Star Wars. So when I saw X-Wing announced by a company whose games I love for their production value and decent rules, I was ecstatic. This, I told myself, would be my "new hope".

You should probably prepare yourself for a lot of bad Star Wars puns like that.

And there I was, staring at the words "in stock" on my screen. Now, it's not as if I hadn't already pre-ordered  one of everything X-Wing already from Coolstuffinc. But I had saved aside enough money to purchase one extra core set if I found it in a physical store before my loot arrived. I had been waiting about a year for this game and I wanted it NOW.

Fortunately, my wife was not there to here the squeal of girlish glee that echoed through the house, nor witness the ritualistic celebration dance of my people that followed.

It was something similar to this. But not as pretty.
The store was a little less than an hour away. The quest must be undertaken! Overcoming my intense hatred of the phone through the power of Star Wars, I called and had them set one aside, just in case some pack of rabid neckbeards managed to scour the place clean before I got there. I immediately hopped into my car, turned on a Star Wars soundtrack and rocketed down the interstate. I may have pretended my car was a starfighter as I drove. Possibly an A-Wing, the most car-like of the starfighters.

Just look at it. You know I'm right.
Two and a half hours later I had returned with my purchase, and already I could tell that the force was strong with this one (see, I told you. Didn't I tell you?). Now, on to the unboxing!

The box is typical FFG quality, sturdy and linen printed. It was slimmer than I expected, similar to their Silver Line boxes such as Elder Sign or Rune Age. It also has a cut-out window in the front, which allows the plastic pack of ships to show through. It also means that unless you leave that pack in the box, you have a hole in the cover.

 Here we have the pile of stuff that comes inside, all packaged up...

For once FFG has included an insert that will actually store the contents after opening. However, don't expect it to store any more than that. And you have to put the ships back in the way you found them or things will fall out of the hole in the box top. If you buy expansions, expect to have to find another option for storage unless you enjoy picking up a million counters off the floor.

The damage cards and upgrade cards are the mini size, but judge them by their size you should not. They are covered with beautiful artwork and are high quality. The upgrade cards probably could have been full size, but the damage cards benefit from being small, since they are used somewhat like counters to mark damage on individual ships.

 The ship card are American CCG size and are similarly beautiful. All of the artwork really "feels" Star Wars, and captures the ships without making them look like cartoons. There are multiple pilots for each ship, though each faction has unique pilots that can only be used one per squad. There are enough cards to outfit multiple ships beyond what is in the pack, but the ship tokens provided are printed with a different ship on each side, so it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to "cheat" and not buy extra expansions.

The rule book is surprisingly well laid out for an FFG book. The rules are laid out clearly and concisely, with lots of sidebars and examples. They include quick start rules, but the game is honestly so easy to pick up they are hardly needed. The book describes the basic game using the box components, squad building rules for when you have added a few more ships and a 3 different scenarios in case just blowing each other up gets boring.

 The counters come in sturdy, well laid out sheets. However this:

Quickly turns into this:

A little organization and you have several piles of counters that all mean different things:

You have your various status tokens, such as shields, target locks, stress and action tokens. These are all used to make ships on the table so you know what you are doing. There are also number tokens so you can mark out which ships are which if multiples of the same ship/pilot are being fielded.

 Next are your mission tokens, all of which mark out special things on the mission maps. Of particular not are the asteroids, which act as obstacles. Even if you are not playing a mission, these can be a fun way to shake up the basic dogfights.

Finally we have all the measuring devices. These are clever as hell. Not only does this mean that you don't even need to own a tape measure to play, it speeds up game play incredibly. You can't move part way along a template. You just plop down the template and move your ship from one end to the other. No fuss, no muss. Just don't get cocky, kid. While it seems simple, until you get used to using the templates, it can be easy to pick the wrong maneuver and overshoot your target. But more on that when I do a battle report review.

Finally we have the stars of the show, the ships and the dice! The dice are pretty simple: attack dice have attack stuff and defend dice have defend stuff. Both have focus results that can be turned into or attack or defend stuff. The dice probably could have been a little more high quality, but they aren't bad and get the job done. Bonus for the choice to use D8s, since D6s are so prevalent in games.

The ships themselves are amazing. They are totally in scale to each other, universe-wise, and are painted to a pretty high standard. They are at least as good as I could do, which is rare among pre-painted minis and they show no signs of warping. They are also pretty big for starfighters, sitting on 40mm bases and are held up by flight stands. On the one hand flight stands always look amazing, but on the other hand, they are fragile. I expect to snap at least a couple. Luckily you get a few extra, originally intended to add extra height if you want but they will soon be pressed into service as replacements, I'm sure.  The ships themselves are also pretty delicate as well. They are made of a plastic resin instead of the rubbery plastic most pre-paints are made of. I can see them easily snapping if too much pressure is applied, especially the attack foils on the X-wing. Be warned if you are a wookie or just have especially meaty hands.

 Of course I had to do a size comparison with their closest analogues from WOTC's starship battles game. As you can see, the FFG ships are quite a bit bigger and not melting. They are really done right. Trying to mix and match to get extra ships would look awful, but I suppose it could be done.

That's it for now. Hopefully I will be able to do a battle report/rules review soon. To whet your appetite, here's a shot of the minis on the table, ready for battle.

Happy gaming and may the Force be with you!