Episode 1: Start of an Obsession
Every year around the start of November at our house there’s a painful holiday tradition. My wife asks me what I want for Christmas. “Amazon gift cards,” has been deemed an unacceptable response, even though that’s what I want. I’m gainfully employed with plenty of discretionary income, so if I want something I don’t wait until Christmas…but that means I’m relegated to the dreaded “hard to shop for” category. But for Christmas 2016 I had an answer! I don’t know how I became aware of X-Wing, but it had entered my consciousness at some point in the previous months and gave me the perfect thing for my list. Star Wars plus board game, what’s not to like? A lesson for wives everywhere: be careful what you ask for, you might get it.
A bit of background on me is probably in order. I’m a suburban dad, closer to 50 than 40, living in the Seattle area working in high tech. I saw A New Hope in the theater when it came out, was introduced to D&D at age 10, and read my first fantasy novel shortly thereafter. The rest, as they say, is history. The amount of time I have for games has ebbed and flowed over the years, but my love for Star Wars, science fiction and fantasy has only grown. I had countless Star Wars action figures as a kid, countless Star Wars Legos as an adult (Legos were definitely not as cool when I was growing up as they are now, but that’s a different story entirely), have read most of the Star Wars EU books, waited in line for hours to see The Phantom Menace the day it came out, played all the video games…you know. That first D&D game turned into an equally large and diverse journey through the world of roleplaying games, though I was never into miniatures games or using miniatures during roleplaying. I won’t bore you with all the details, but will note that one of my favorite games of all time is Car Wars.
The Game Arrives
So it’s Christmas morning, 2016, and wrapping paper is flying as my 11 year old daughter and 3 year old son are ravaging the pile of gifts. My wife has, innocently, gotten me the original Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game Core Set. Cool! My daughter, not a huge fan of Star Wars but a fan of playing games, is excited to try it. My son has no idea what Star Wars is (despite the Yoda t-shirt I bought him), but thinks the spaceships are awesome.
I took a quick look at the starter rules that night, and my daughter and I set up to play our first match the day after Christmas. And again the next day. And then we move to the regular rules later that day. I was completely hooked, and she wasn’t far behind. Three days after playing my first game, I placed my first order on Amazon for more X-Wing (I’ll have more to say on building a fleet later.) I got my buddy to come over for a game, and he was hooked too. Since Christmas, I’ve played a game against either or both of them at least once a week. For the record, and since she’ll want this known, my daughter routinely kicked my ass the first few weeks. She’s got a natural feel for the spatial relations and out-maneuvered poor old dad routinely (“You’re on a rock again, Daddy!”). I believe my record stood at 1 win, 6 losses before we diversified the fleet.
Why Did X-Wing Take Over My Free Time?
What hooked me so thoroughly? I had no idea at the time that X-wing was the most popular miniatures game out there, or that the community was so large, or that there were so many (and so complex) options for playing it. The simple game, just 1 X-wing vs 2 TIEs sucked me in. Here’s a few reasons why it resonated with me:
- It’s Star Wars! I’ve wanted to be either Han Solo or a Jedi since I was in grade school. Being able to “be” Luke Skywalker with trusty R2-D2 sitting behind me while I shot down TIE fighters hit all the right notes. Without the Star Wars license, I think I’d like the game but not be obsessed with it.
- Designing ships. Building your own lists and trying them out is awesome. I mentioned Car Wars as one of my favorite games of all times. That was partly because of the fun of designing your cars and then using them to blow up your friends. In Car Wars, you moved flat cardboard counters around the board. With X-wing, I found that same design-your-own mechanic, but vastly simplified to make it fast and easy. And instead of flat cardboard, I get to play with a 3D model of the Millennium Falcon. My 13 year old self would be very, very jealous.
- Elegance. If you’ve been playing a long time, I’d encourage you to go back and just play a simple game using only the ships and upgrades from the original core set. There’s an elegance to the game. The mechanics are simple, game play is fast and fun. Sure, there is a lot of fun to be had with all the new ships and game mechanics and whatnot, but at its core X-Wing is a simple and fun game to play.
- My Daughter. I hoped X-wing would turn out to be a fun activity for my daughter and I to do together, and that’s absolutely been true. We play frequently, both standard matches and a HotAC campaign where we’re both running two ships. We’re about to embark together on learning to paint miniatures and she’s having fun coming up with goofy possible paint schemes. Don’t be surprised if you see an X-Wing Carrot on a game table soon.
- My Son. The real surprise was my son. I really didn’t anticipate what an impact me wanting to try “that X-Wing game” was going to have on him. He thought the core ships were cool, but I wish I’d captured his reaction to seeing the Falcon set up for the first time on camera. He was blown away, and me telling him it was the coolest ship ever only reinforced that. He has no idea what any of it means, but he will proudly tell you that the Falcon can do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. He can also quote Monty Python. Coolest threenager ever! One of his favorite games now is to be Chewbacca while I’m Han Solo. He gets so jealous that he doesn’t get to play with “Daddy’s spaceships” since they are fragile that we had to get him some of his own. I highly recommend the Playskool Heroes Galactic Heroes Star Wars (what a terrible name…) line of toys if you have a little one. Star Wars has supplanted Paw Patrol, Cars and Thomas the Train in our house.
I Must Play More
So over the course a few short weeks, I went from never having played to hopeless addicted. How could I play more, I wondered. Oh, I’ll check online and see what I can find. To quote my daughter: “O. M. G.” It was a bit overwhelming. Reddit, podcasts, FFG forums, apparently Facebook (I’m not on Facebook, hence apparently). Meta? What’s a meta? Stresshogs, Paratanni, Commonwealth Defenders, Party Bus, the lingo went on and on. I didn’t even know what FLGS stood for! I just knew that I wanted to play, so if it meant absorbing all this stuff that’s what I would do.
Early on I saw plenty of people talking about how friendly and helpful the X-Wing community is. I can tell you from personal experience that’s true, and it’s another reason that I’m hooked on this game. In person and online, every single person I’ve played against has been tolerant of rookie mistakes, stupid questions and willing to teach me. That applies to rules, list design and feedback on mistakes I made while playing a match.
“Play more” is advice I’ve seen given to a lot of new players, and it’s great. But when you’re working full time and a husband and parent, finding the time can be hard. I’ve still only been able to get out to the FLGS a couple times to play. For me, playing online provided the solution (but also caused problems…). The first reference I saw was to Tabletop Simulator, so I checked that out. But before I really got started there, the announcement for Vassal Season 4 caught my eye. I have no idea what I’m doing yet, but what the hell? I’m in! I’m getting trounced (seriously…I’m 0-6) but I’m learning and experimenting and having fun doing it. My first lists were semi-randomly cobbled together parts that I thought would be effective and fun to fly. Much more the latter than the former. But I’ve learned, and taken some of the advice so freely available, and I’m hopeful that what I’ll being flying in my last 2 matches is better without just copying what’s in the meta. Nothing wrong with flying whatever’s popular, but for me the build your own is part of the fun.
So how did online play cause problems? Well, remember my wife? The one that got me started on all this by humoring my Christmas request? She is the most amazing woman I’ve ever met, and the greatest thing that ever happened to me. And she’s not a huge fan of me ignoring her to play games online with some random strangers. Who knew? So gentlemen (and ladies), a word to wise: X-wing is great and you should play more…but make sure it’s not interfering with a happy home life. Between Vassal league games and the Vassal HotAC campaign that we pulled together, I was spending a bit too much of the “after the kids are in bed” time playing online. So I set some limits, and everybody is happy! In all seriousness, my wife has been super tolerant of this new obsession. She doesn’t ask about the constant parade of new spaceships entering the house, has made room in the hall closet for giant tackle boxes full of stuff that she doesn’t grok the appeal of, and only rolled her eyes a little bit when I asked if she’d be okay if I spent an upcoming Sunday playing in a tournament at the FLGS. (She’ll say there was no eye rolling, but there was. It worked out. She thought I was asking to travel to another state or something, so was relieved to find it’s just across town.)
My Journey Continues…
That’s the story of my headlong dive into the world of X-Wing, but it’s only the beginning. Next time: Building a Fleet When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing (aka Mistakes Were Made).