It’s not quite my birthday, but usually my family makes a big deal about it always leaving me something to look forward to. This year, because of my interest in the game Star Wars X-Wings Miniatures we all gathered at Nostalgic Ink in Mason to play a series of games. My daughters brought their husbands and a tray of Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets and we had a blast. The highlight of the evening was when the owner of the popular comic book store came back to watch our game overhearing a South Park reference that we had been talking about and performed a perfect reenactment of it. It sounded just like this!
That is typical in these gaming environments, there is such a love of creativity and boundless imagination which I find refreshing. Comic book stores are great places to recharge after all the dread of reality has done its best to erode away logic. Some of the best people I have known over the years find solace in those kinds of places, so it was nice to celebrate my birthday there with my kids.
I can’t say enough about the X-Wing Miniatures game. As often as I reference it, it continues to impress me. Nostagic Ink had on hand an impressive array of Y-Wings, and X-Wings. The Y-Wings have been mostly sold out on Amazon because players buy them up for their durability during combat and Ion Turret ability. My son-in-laws’ had their Imperial Aces on the table for the first time which was a sight to behold. Those new Imperial ships have a curving barrel roll effect that is really valuable and is yet another wrinkle in an otherwise highly imaginative and innovative game that is ever-changing forcing constant adoption.
Way back when I was 13 to 14 I was involved in military war simulations which were tabletop games that I found very stimulating, intellectually. Back then, West End Games was producing some great stuff and eventually the realistic simulations of actual World War II battles, and Civil War engagements gave way to a game called Assault on Hoth, which was a Star Wars strategy game done in the spirit of those battle simulations. It contained a map with the traditional game hex-and-counter mechanic and played well. Imperial Walkers attacked the Rebel base on Hoth and Rebel Snowspeeders had to meet them to prevent the shield generator from being destroyed. During the early days of our marriage my wife and I played it three to four times a week and it set a pace for our relationship that would last for decades.
When I learned war gaming as a young man I quickly learned that much of what was being studied were battle tactics no different from what military generals had been taught at West Point for generations—only without all the politics of the position. By role-playing battle field formations set against values players had to make the same kind of decisions that military generals had to make in wars from the past. In this modern age of gaming—for the first time in the history of the world, war gaming wasn’t regulated to the military elite—but to hobbyists and history enthusiasts. Of course the emotion of the battlefield is not present, and the threat of death not a factor, but the same types of decision-making that George Washington had to make during Revolutionary War battles, or General Lee had to make during the Civil War were available to anybody curious enough to play a game. Most modern war games are very sophisticated and take into account the many factors which are required for such strategic thinking.
Nostalgic Ink has in the middle of their store an entire section of these military war simulations that are much better than the ones I played as a kid. They are fascinating and players routinely set up in the back of that store to play them. But for me, Fantasy Flight Games has changed the entire field of miniature war gaming with Star Wars X-Wing. It has all the battlefield tactics of many of those traditional war games, but it has the added element of flight. I find myself thinking about that game all the time these days.
This is a good thing because real life often requires the same kinds of hard decisions that X-Wing forces players to realize. American society has the Second Amendment to protect themselves from an overzealous government. But it also has freedom of thought, and this has given rise to a culture emerging in these comic book stores where tactical decisions are available to regular people outside of any orthodox political class. For instance, this year’s FFG world champion is Paul Heaver a software engineer from Northern Virginia who is married with two kids. He plays online CCGs and computer games, but X-Wing Miniatures is the first game of its type that he’s gotten really serious about. Before going to the World’s competition—where literally people from many countries all over the world came to battle it out in Minnesota during February of 2014, Heaver paid close attention to the battle reports on the game forums and saw that Tie Swarms were dominating tournaments so he calculated a strategy of using two low pilot value X-Wing fighters and two moderate pilot rating B-Wings to slowly whittle away at the low pilot rating Tie Swarm strategy. The effectiveness of this approach can be seen below in the video of his championship game. If you watch the video it has the visual quality of a golf game. People cheer when ships are destroyed the same way an expert golfer sinks a long birdie. The same skills that Heaver used to win the Worlds championship at FFG are the same skills it takes to manage large companies, run military maneuvers, and run countries. I would put Paul Heaver against Vladimir Putin any day and I’d put my bets on Paul. But in this emerging X-Wing popularity there is Paul Heaver types popping up everywhere and this is a very good thing. There are a lot of very smart people coming up in these gaming circles.
The tactic that Paul used to win his championship will be destroyed with all the new ships and rules coming out quickly, like the new rules involving the Imperial Aces ships. They can now barrel roll out of a firing arc and right into the side of a targeted ship taking away their shot, while performing theirs with deadly effectiveness. So what works today may not work tomorrow, which is why I love X-Wing. It is why I spent my early birthday with my kids at Nostalgic Ink eating chicken nuggets and playing tactical table top warfare. Back when I was introduced to these miniature war simulations I learned from a Green Beret who was so obsessed with military tactics that these war games were the only way he could experience battlefield excitement, that the only real difference is that you don’t hear the bullets whizzing by your ears and possess the obvious knowledge that every breath might be your last. Otherwise, this is what it is like. Fantasy Flight has done with X-Wing Miniatures something that is new—it has turned up the heat considerably and no longer is reliant on the Star Wars brand to sell the game. It’s great by itself as its own thing. Tactically it is complex, and is a wonderful way to pass the time for those obsessed with strategy. And that would be me. It is my ideal of a fun time and how I prefer to spend my leisure because all too often real life calls on those skills—and because usually what we do in our recreational time directly contributes to how we conduct ourselves professionally. And because of Star Wars: X-Wing, the future looks very bright to me.
Rich Hoffman www.OVERMANWARRIOR.com