Particlebit: As a bit of a follow-up to A Familiar Table, posted here as a guest post, today we return to the same guest reflecting on the introduction of X-Wing 2.0.
I learned Chess from my grandfather. The way he played, once I took your fingers off my activated piece, that was it, I couldn’t move it back no matter how quickly I noticed the attack I left open for him. I love to play and it’s a game I can consistently practice without getting bored. Is it because it’s simple? No. Not only are there countless possible outcomes, complexity is not what draws me (if it was I might be better by now). Is it because everyone knows it? I don’t think that’s it either, and the ubiquity of chess is in this case irrelevant since I play almost exclusively against an AI on my phone. The simple but limiting rules might be it, since I’m drawn to games that don’t allow for what I call ‘subtle cheating’ – little nudges around the edges of a game to give a player an advantage – but I love to play the card game Euchre, which relies on subtle cheating.
As I noted in my last post I’ve returned to tabletop games and have since tried out a few with mixed results. Gloomhaven kept my interest and I may keep playing, but it’s been the advent of X-Wing 2nd Edition that has really captured my attention this summer.
If you haven’t played, but you’re used to the incessant iteration of your favorite game, this may sound familiar: company X announces an overhaul to their rules to cut down on the creep, tighten up the game, and make it more playable. Cynical as I am, I wasn’t excited about shelling out for the new cards so I could keep playing, and was less excited about memorizing all the minor changes I has just gotten used to. The game was released about 3 weeks ago, and having (of course) ponied up and starting playing the new game, I’m reformed.
X-Wing (both editions) are perfect information games, meaning you and your opponent know everything about what the other’s options are on any given turn. In theory, you can know every move your opponent could make, you can see where their ships are and what they’re equipped with at all times, and you always have a best move. However, in reality you can’t know what they will do, so you have to make good guesses that align with your strategy and play to your strengths, and hope that your plan is better.
If you’ve never played X-Wing, it’s a game where you get to create an army list composed of starfighters from the Star Wars universe, move them using pre-defined templates, and attack your opponents’ ships. The winner is the player who is able to do the most damage to their opponent while sustaining the least. By design the game can swing back and forth as players make good moves and outsmart one another, it’s one of the huge draws for me is how a game can hinge on a single, well-placed ship launching and attack with a great dice roll. Obviously it’s not the rolling of the dice, but all the planning and execution that leads up to it, that makes X-Wing such a thrill and a challenge.
First Edition had a problem. In designing the game, Fantasy Flight neglected to envision a tight set of rules that would elegantly adapt as the number of ships and popularity grew. After 14 releases of new ships, the new rules they came with, and least as many official rules clarifications some ships – notably the game’s namesake – were left unfieldable. During gameplay players were tacitly permitted to declare an action, then hit ‘undo’ after seeing how it landed their ship on an errant asteroid or put it directly in the line of fire of the opponent. Measuring range was allowed with no penalty at essentially any time, which in a game of estimating distances gave crucial information away. After playing for a few months the game stopped holding my interest. Lack of list parity and few penalties for mistakes made the game feel more like Yahtzee, which is to say, boring.
When the update was announced, I didn’t start really looking forward to playing again until the game Fly Casual released an update with the leaked Second Edition Rules. The new phases took some getting used to, but I really enjoyed the idea of failing an action after declaring one and it not working out. Game phases were slightly different but removed some of the potency of bombs and devices, since they are now all released before any ships move. In fact, playing the game on the computer with lower stakes has really increased my overall enjoyment of full games. Obviously I prefer setting up a table and partaking in the social aspects, but when just trying out new ships and lists it’s much quicker to use Fly Casual (check out the creator here).
Second Edition looks the same, the ships move the same, the boards and figs and dice are the same, but it feels different. Fantasy Flight must have felt (or likely heard from players) the same frustrations I had, and stated explicitly in the rules that actions must be declared and carried out fully, no undo button anymore. It’s incredible how much higher the stakes are now. Players still measure for distance when checking certain things, but I’ve noticed it’s less frequent than it was previously. Games have a better pace now, and I don’t find myself losing interest as early or as often.
The last big difference in the game is how learning rules from the ground up again has made me more comfortable. In First edition the rule creep was so severe that it was very difficult to know what to expect in a given situation. Perfect information games are not supposed to contain completely unforeseeable surprises, especially not those of your own making. In the old game I was occasionally educated on the outcome of my decisions, and normally had I known ahead of time I would have made a totally different decision. A casual player doesn’t have the time to stay abreast of the errata for every situation and I think Second Edition has really cleaned that up.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, X-Wing brought me back to the table, but that game had some flaws that became apparent quickly. Second Edition has introduced a number of positive changes. My opponents and I have commented on how much more often you have to plan gambits, taking calculated losses in exchange for later advantage. Mistakes early in the game can come back to haunt you later like they never used to. Rules are more succinct and follow an intuitive pattern across factions. The subtle cheating has been eliminated, and the result is something I really enjoy, something more like Chess.