Tuesday, August 19, 2014

X-Wing: How It Plays

by SandWyrm

After reading Oakenhawk's comments for my post on Star Trek Armada, I realized that I never got around to doing a similar introductory post on how X-Wing plays. Shame on me! Here it is!

What Kind Of Game Is It?

X-Wing is a dogfighting game that's designed to be simple and fast to play. The game is all about movement and anticipating what your opponent will do next. So that you're constantly making trade-off decisions at every step. Games generally take between 30 and 60 minutes to play.

Most of the game play mechanics were stolen adapted from a relatively popular WWI dogfighting game called Wings of War (which FFG also publishes). FFG did do a lot of tweaking to the system, so it's not really fair to call it a copy. But a lot of early players liked to call the game "X-Wings of War" all the same.

How Do You Make A Squadron?

The game is balanced for 100 points per side. Which is the standard tournament size. Each ship card has its point value listed at the bottom-right. So the cheapest possible Academy tie fighter is 12 points. Mauler Mithel, a named pilot with a special ability is 17 points. I won't go into the upgrade cards in this introduction, but the icons at the middle-bottom let you know what upgrades you can buy for each ship. In Mithel's case, you can give him one elite pilot ability.

The usual number of ships per side is usually between 3 and 5. But you can go as high as 8 with a Tie Swarm, and as low as 2 with dual Falcons, Firesprays, or Tie Defenders.

How Do You Set Up A Game?

The player with the lowest points total for his force has the initiative. If both players spent the same number of points, then you roll off to see who gets it.

Starting with the player who has initiative, you then alternate placing asteroids on the table. This is actually very important, and careful asteroid placement is critical when playing a game against a similarly skilled opponent. To over-simplify it, if you have a lot of ships, you want most of the asteroids to end up on your side of the table. If you have 2-3 ships, then you want them on your opponent's side.

Once you're done placing the asteroids, you and your opponent will place your ships within range 1 of your board edges.

This is done in the order of each ship's pilot skill, which is the big orange number at the top-left of the card. The lowest pilot skill ships are placed first, and those with the highest pilot skill are placed last. The player with initiative goes first when there's a tie.

Once this is done, the game will start.

Note... The worst thing about X-Wing is that setup can take a LONG time. Since you have to get each ship out, assemble its stand, find its dial and cards, and get out all the counters you'll be using.

If you don't build your list before getting to the store (and put all the pieces in a zip-lock bag), it can easily take at least a half-hour to get the game going.

Armada will probably be even worse in this respect.

What Happens In A Turn?

Here's the X-Wing turn sequence:
  1. Planning Phase
  2. Activation Phase
  3. Combat Phase
  4. End Phase
The Planning Phase is where you (secretly) select the moves for each of your ships. This is done using that ship's maneuver dial. Simply turn the dial to the maneuver you want, and then place it face-down next to the ship.

All the maneuvers for a Tie Bomber
Each type of ship in the game has its own dial, with maneuvers that are unique to that ship. Some can make sharper turns, some are faster, etc.

If a maneuver is red, then it will cause your ship stress, and it will receive a stress token after performing it. If your ship already has a stress token, then it can't perform a red maneuver.

Green maneuvers will remove a stress token, while white maneuvers are neutral. They will neither cause stress, nor remove it.

Every one of those maneuvers has a movement template associated with it. So when it comes time to move, you'll select the template that matches your chosen maneuver, and use it to determine where your ship ends up.

The Activation Phase

Once both you and your opponent have selected a maneuver for each of your ships, it's time to start moving them. This is done in order of Pilot Skill, from lowest to highest. So if Luke and Darth Vader are dogfighting, Luke has to move first. Which lets Darth, with his better pilot skill, move after Luke. Giving him a placement advantage.

But Luke would get to move after every PS1 Tie Fighter. Giving him the ability to better react to what they do. See how it works?

Moving Ships

To actually move a ship, you take the template that matches its maneuver and place it between the two little pegs on the front of each base. Then you pick up the model and place it at the end of the template, with the template between the two little pegs on the base's back side.


You can move through other ships without issue. But if you end your move overlapping one, you have to move your ship back along the template to the point where your base is touching, but no longer overlaps theirs. You'll also lose your action when this happens, and you won't be able to shoot at the ship you're touching.

Note: One tactic in the game is to take a ship (Shuttles are particularly nasty at this) with a low PS, and deliberately move them into positions where higher-PS enemy ships will collide with them.

If you end up on an asteroid, or your movement template overlaps it, then you have to roll an attack die to see if you take any damage. You also lose your actions and can't shoot at all this turn. If you start your movement on an asteroid, you'll have to roll again to see if you take damage before you can move off of it.

So don't hit asteroids!


After you've moved your ship, and as long as your ship isn't stressed, you can then select an action for it. These are shown as icons on the ship cards, right below the description text.

The most common actions are:

Focus (Eyeball)

This action will give you a focus token, which you can spend later to either evade a single enemy's attacks better, or to hit more easily with your own attacks.

Barrel Roll (Loop With Arrows)

This action lets a ship move sideways with a straight-1 template.

Evade (Curved Arrow With Dot)

This gives you an evade token, which you can spend to cancel one hit from a single attack.

Target Lock

Gives you a blue target lock token on your ship and a matching token on 1 enemy ship within range. You can spend this when shooting to re-roll your misses.

The Combat Phase

Once every ship has moved and selected an action, it's time to start shooting. This is also done according to Pilot Skill. But instead of going from lowest-to-highest, you go from highest-to-lowest. Which means that Darth Vader gets to shoot before Luke, who gets to shoot before an Academy Tie Fighter.

See those numbers on the left side of the card? The red number is how many red attack dice that ship gets to shoot with. While the green number is how many evasion dice it gets to roll in defense. The yellow number is how many hull points (wounds) the ship has, and the blue number is how many shields it gets.

So you can see that the Tie Fighter is harder to hit, but has fewer shots. While the X-Wing has more shots, but is easier to hit. It also is a little tougher because it has more shields.

The Y-Wing has a turret, so it can shoot backwards at targets within range 2.
Anyway, if an enemy ship is within your ship's firing arc (shown on its base) you can shoot at it. First you check the range. At range one, the firing ship gets an extra attack die. At range 3, the defending ship gets an extra evasion die. Shooting through an asteroid also gives the defender an extra die.

The attacker then rolls all their red attack dice, and counts the number of hits. The solid stars are normal hits, and the hollow ones are critical hits. If the attacker spends a focus token, the eyeballs become normal hits. If they spend a target lock, they can re-roll their misses.

Once you know the number of hits and critical hits, the defender rolls their green evasion dice. Each evade icon cancels one hit (normal ones before criticals). If the defender spends a focus token, the eyeballs count as evades too. If they spend an evasion token, they get an extra evade.

Whatever hits aren't canceled go first to the defending ship's shields (normal ones before criticals), and then to their hull points.

For normal hits, you take a damage card and place it face-down next to your ship. For critical hits, you turn that card face-up.

Criticals can do all sorts of things to your ships. From reducing your attacks or evades, to double-damage and making you discard upgrades. There's a Tie Defender pilot that can even make you flip your damage cards face-up. Ouch!

Anyway, once a ship loses all of its hull points, it's destroyed. To win, you have to destroy all of the enemy ships. In tournaments, you may also have to record how many points you killed in each game.

The Ending Phase

This is where you remove any focus and evade tokens that are still on the table. Then you go back to the Planning Phase and select the next turn's maneuvers.

Wrapping It Up

That's it for my quick-and-dirty rundown of how the game plays. Again, X-Wing is all about guessing what your opponent will do and managing your risk. Every part of the game forces you to choose between tradeoffs. Do I spend my focus now to defend, or do I gamble on being able to use later when shooting (or vice-versa)? Will my chosen maneuver get me be behind that enemy ship, or will they move in a way that I don't expect?

Some ships (cough... Tie Interceptors) are very flexible, in that they can boost and barrel roll after their initial move. Letting them adapt to the situation better. While Boba Fett can decide to switch turn directions at-will. Nastiest of all, the Tie Phantom gets to de-cloak (boosting or barrel rolling 2) before it reveals its maneuver. On the other hand, the Falcon has a range 3 turret. So it really doesn't care very much where you are. While Vader gets 2 actions, making him the most flexible ship in the game. Barrel roll behind you and then target lock? Yeah, Vader does a lot of that.

Or you can just run a swarm of cheap low-PS ships and overpower your opponent with sheer numbers. The great thing about X-Wing is that there's no single all-powerful list. There's some ships that you shouldn't take a lot of (Tie Bombers, Tie Advanced, Y-Wings), and there's common power-themes (Swarms, Elite Interceptors, Falcons), but there's a lot of variety in how each of these is put together. Such that no two winning lists are exactly the same.

The other nice thing is that FFG has kept the factions distinct. The Rebels are all about help-each-other combos, and their ships are tanks. While the Empire is all about cheap swarms or high-skill pilots in agile ships. When the new Scum & Villainy faction arrives, FFG is promising that they'll be the opposite of the Rebels. Instead of help-each-other combos, their ships will combo in ways that screw with the enemy.

I can't wait. :)


  1. Good overview... Just a few questions as a STAW player looking at the game. With (at the moment) the 2 distinct factions and somewhat limited customization options, do you tend to see a lot of folks running a fairly limited number of builds? IE: Tie Swarm, etc... And how well do the "big" ships fit into the "standard" game, if at all?

    1. STAW is all over the place, while X-Wing is more tightly focused in terms of balance and customization. So when you talk about a good ship versus a bad ship in X-Wing, the difference isn't all that pronounced. The Tie Advanced(excluding Vader) being one of the only ships generally considered sub-par. There's also never been a dominant list that lasted more than a single tournament cycle. Even without a release wave the meta constantly shifts. XXBB was probably the strongest for the longest, but it was more of template than a true net list. Even it had trouble in certain match ups.

      If by big ships you mean, the Falcons and Shuttles, then yes they do fit in the game just fine. If you mean the Transport and Corvette, then no, they don't fit into standard play. You have to play with the epic rules to use them. In the Epic game format they work really well, but you won't ever see them in a standard game.

    2. There are rules to use the CR90 and Transport as terrain (basically destroyable asteroids), but not in a tournament game.

  2. I've been drooling over the CR90 at the FLGS for the past 2 months. I think this description seals it, I'll be picking it up sometime in the near future.

    One question though -- how is it you determine what order "Actions" (Focus, Target Lock, etc.) are completed in? Are they resolved in the same order as Manoeuvres?

    1. Each ship's activation consists of its movement and its action. So you must perform the action before activating the next ship.

    2. More specifically, the actions that affect movement (boost, barrel roll, cloak, de-cloak) are performed right after a ship moves. That's also when you get target locks. While the actions that affect shooting are completed in the combat phase. Target locks are spent when you shoot, evades are spent when you're shot at, and focus can be spent on either.

  3. Nice rundown.
    For the record, I totally hate asteroids.

    1. I don't hate them, but they seem to hate me. They're always moving themselves around between the time I pick my perfectly judged maneuvers, and when I actually move.

      They're like leprechauns, you have to keep one eye on them. ;)


out dang bot!

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