In the last 15 years or so, tabletop miniatures and role-playing games have nestled themselves comfortably into a niche market. The popularity of role-playing briefly exploded in the early 1980s with TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons and again in the early 1990s with White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade and its following series of games, while Games Workshop is still pretty much the best game in town, no pun intended, with its lines, including Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. Any real efforts these hobbies strive into the mainstream seem to be halted prematurely either by social panic or, in this 21st century age of interconnectivity, the more visceral console- or PC-based notion of gaming.
Loyalists should find themselves rewarded with the upcoming Star Wars products produced by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), known for their lavish production values and expansive library of board and card games. FFG announced their licensing agreement with Lucasfilm in 2011, claiming card and X-wing miniatures games would be ready for early 2012. Early 2012 came and went, and more than an entire year passed before FFG finally presented their wares at Star Wars Celebration VI back in August. And it’s looking good.
Steve Horvath, head of communications and digital business for FFG, showed no shortage of excitement when speaking in Orlando, not only about the X-Wing Miniatures Game, due out September 19, but the long-rumored role-playing game, revealed to be titled Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, and Star Wars: The Card Game.
“This is the Beta version right now. The full version of the game will be out early next year,” Horvath said about Edge of the Empire. “What we’ve done with the Star Wars universe is, because it’s so big and so dynamic, we did not want to try and fit everything into one book, one game,” Horvath said. “So we’re going to release three core books for the Star Wars universe; Edge of the Empire focuses on the seedy side of the universe.”
When asked if it was conveniently timed with the upcoming Star Wars 1313, Horvath said, “Conveniently timed by that, yes,” smiling.
“[Edge of the Empire] focuses on the experience from the seedier side as a bounty hunter, a smuggler, a rogue,” he continued. “Also, though, you can be a colonist, an explorer – just the people that exist more on the fringe [of the Star Wars galaxy]. This is a complete experience. You can play this game, on its own.” Horvath said.” There will be a full range of expansions and supplements for it. But what if I want to play somebody else? A year after [Edge of the Empire] releases, we will be releasing another core game called Age of Rebellion, and that focuses on the Rebellion itself. You’re playing part of the Rebel Alliance trying to overthrow the Empire. That will also have a full range of expansions and supplements that come out for that.”
It was exciting to see a licensed product focusing on telling stories during the time of the Rebellion – the setting of the first three films – which is a departure from the Star Wars marketing push up until now, where lightsabers are more rule than exception. The Clone Wars cartoon and The Force Unleashed video games, two of the more hyped licensed products since the prequels, didn’t have much interest in exploring Star Wars adventures where Jedi Knights or Force-users weren’t the focus. But, with the popularity of the Jedi at an all-time high, Horvath had more:
“A year after Age of Rebellion comes out,” he said, “another core book will come out, called Force and Destiny, and that is the Force-user experience during the classic trilogy. You’re going to play some kind of Force-user – maybe you’re a lost Padawan – hiding on the run from the Empire in that experience, trying to bring back the Jedi Order or free the galaxy,” he said. “All sorts of different Force-user experiences.”
“The games will work together seamlessly,” Horvath continued. “All three of those experiences will stand on their own, with a full-range of supplements, or you can seamlessly combine them together into a bigger campaign. It gives [players] the tools to choose the game they want to play. Instead of having this giant box of stuff, we give you three games each really focused on that experience,” he said. “If you’re somebody that really just wants to focus on the fringe, Outer Rim, the seedier side of stuff, we’re going to give you a deep, complete experience with that; the same thing with Age of Rebellion, the same thing with Force and Destiny. Then you can take all of that stuff and craft an epic campaign experience.”
Other than three years of non-stop Star Wars role-playing material, the X-Wing Miniatures Game promises more dynamic gameplay than the grid- and measuring tape-based mechanics characteristic of tabletop miniatures systems. Played on a table – without the requirement of a special board or map – X-Wing is a two-player game. Each ship miniature is placed on a base with its pilot’s set of statistics, and each ship has a movement dial which determines its movability. The bases have special notches that included pieces fit into, which decide each ships’ maneuver and firing capabilities, and custom dice resolve conflicts between ships. Combined ships and pilots determine what kind of tools the player has at their disposal to complete the included scenarios, and “as you may guess, Horvath said, “Vader is the highest-skilled pilot in the game.”
“When you play this game, you’re going to feel like you’re in a dogfight,” Horvath said. “You’re going to feel that tension, as you’re moving and wondering how they’re maneuvering, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got them now!” and then they come out of the side, and it’s like, ‘Oh no!’ Just like in the movies, when you see the dogfights going on, it’s like, ‘I’ve got one on my tail! I can’t shake him,’ and another pilot comes in from the side and takes them out? It’s really, really dynamic and exciting.”
The starter set, according to Horvath, will include three scenarios, one miniature X-wing, two TIE fighter miniatures, and all the cards and pieces necessary to play the game. Luke Skywalker and Biggs Darklighter are included as pilots in the starter set, and future scenarios will be made available online and in other products. Individual starfighters – like the TIE Advanced, Y-wing and more X-wing and TIE fighter pieces – will be available as expansion packs; players can play more than one craft, with fighter squadrons expandable based only on the player’s bank account. More pilots – like Wedge Antilles – upgrade cards and ship cards, along with all the required pieces, are included with the expansions. And, even though scenarios are included, Horvath was quick to point out the game could be played freeform, as well. “It’s easy to generate and make up your own scenarios,” he said.
The X-Wing Miniatures Game starter set is due to retail for $31.99, with expansions costing $11.99 each.
In keeping with producing niche games like Star Wars: Edge of the Empire and the X-Wing Miniatures Game in the 21st century, FFG has also made available the Star Wars Dice app for iOS and Android devices. As the dice needed for both systems are custom for the games, the plastic included with the dusty copy of Clue in the closet – or the bag of trusty D&D dice – won’t suffice. For $4.99, players can drastically decrease the likelihood of never losing an important die and postponing a night of gameplay.
Finally, Horvath sat down and showed off an unfinished prototype of Star Wars: The Card Game. Hoping to get away from the uneven presentation of collectible card games, FFG has developed the Living Card Game (LCG). “It gives you the same kind of play experience and depth of play and fresh cards a collectible card game would,” Horvath said of LCGs, “but without the chase. You’re not going to have to buy boxes and boxes of cards to get that rare Darth Vader. He’s going to come in the same box he always going to come in, and you’re going to know that box. You still get that same dynamic play experiences that collectible card games deliver, but without the collectability,” he said. “You play the game, not the chase. The game is about building the coolest, funnest deck you can, not what you can afford.”
“For [Star Wars],” Horvath continued, “it’s a very cinematic experience. It’s based off the original trilogy, and it’s meant to get past some of the minutiae that card games can get bogged down in at times, and get right to the exciting action. It’s meant to create ‘movie moments,’ whether those are moments from the movie, or moments that you wanted to see in the movies that never happened. You can have Luke and Vader in a duel,” he said, “or you can Force-choke a Wookiee.”
“It’s basically the Light Side versus the Dark Side,” he said. “There’re sub-factions in each game. Our demo here is Jedi versus Sith, so the ‘Jedi’ deck has Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and those affiliated with them, some cool Force powers in the deck, and some other interesting characters.” He said. “The ‘Sith’ deck has, obviously, the Emperor and Darth Vader plus others – there’s a Dark Side apprentice – as well as Force powers.”
Horvath explained the resources in the game – characters, Force powers, starships, even – are used to establish objectives and prevent the opposing player from accomplishing their objectives. “The Rebels, or Light Side, is just focused on attacking those Dark Side objectives, while still guarding those and trying to keep the Force with them.”
“It’s asymmetrical win conditions,” he said. “The Rebel Alliance wins as soon as they destroy the third Dark Side objective; the Dark Side wins when they build the Death Star. To do that, they have to hit 12 on the dial.” A Death Star dial was included in the mock-up at Celebration VI, but the product wasn’t final. “At the start of every one of [the Dark Side]’s turns, [the dial] is clicked up one. If the Force is with me, it clicks up an extra one.” Extra clicks on the dial are earned for every eliminated Rebellion goal; one for the first goal, two for the second, three for the third, and so on.
“When Luke or Obi-Wan hit the table, your opponent’s going to take notice,” Horvath said. “They’re not invincible, but just like in the movies, they’re very cool and impactful. Again, trying to create those ‘movie moments;’ when Luke as a Jedi hits the table, it’s trouble for the Dark Side.”
FFG is aiming for a Christmas release for Star Wars: The Card Game, with monthly expansions – or “Force packs” – like other LCGs. The starter kit is also scheduled to include the Imperial fleet and the Rebel Alliance, Horvath explained, “and you can mix and match the cards, as well. Each sub-faction does have synergies, but you can take some cards and try to come up with different strategies. They’re all very dynamic and add a real sense of flare and excitement to the game.”
“What we’ve tried to do with these games,” Horvath explained, “is make them accessible for new players, but still very deep for veteran players. We think we’re appealing to both groups very well.”
Tomorrow: An early playtest of the X-Wing Miniatures Game …