Sunday, 20 July 2014

X-wing the Miniatures Game: Tantive IV Expansion Review

The Force is strong in this one. Since its release a few years back X-wing the Miniatures Game has been something of a runaway success, selling in such numbers that Fantasy Flight Games can seemingly not keep up with demand with lengthy delays in waiting for stock as the manufacturers struggle to meet orders. Stock issues aside however (the core game was unavailable for an age) the game goes from strength to strength. Wave V (The Empire Strikes Back – Seriously check out that Decimator!) was recently announced and they are already mining the Expanded Universe (recently made non canon by overlord Disney) to come up with new ship ideas, surely by now FFG are running out of ideas they can use? Well one would think so but with Wave IV (A New Hope) they made the jump to lightspeed with Epic Play. And Epic Play means epic ships. We already have small vessels and large vessels which fit in with the current rule set but with the introduction of Huge vessels things needed to be changed about a bit. Therefore the Expansion packs for the Rebel Transport and Tantive IV Corellian Corvette Blockade Runner are the most ambitious yet released for X-wing in both size and complexity.

That's no moon, it's an expansion!

And with massive size comes a somewhat substantial price tag. The Rebel Transport is £50 but comes with an X wing with a few unique pilot cards offsetting the price a little, but the Tantive IV weighs in at an eye watering £75 making it one hell of an expensive prepaint. Now X-wing is by no means the cheapest game to play, especially if you want to play larger scale games but with this kind of price point it has gone to another level entirely. Certainly im not sure I would have ever picked one up at its normal pricetag. Thankfully then, it was Wayland Games Deal of the Day recently and with a whopping 40% discount it only cost me £44.99. Much more easily justifiable as part of my hobby budget. So, now I finally have my mitts on one (and it is a 2 hander!) I can finally give my opinions on this mould breaking (in more ways than one) addition to the Star Wars space combat behemoth. 

First thing I noticed is the thing is smegging huge. When I ordered it I was a little disgruntled that it was exempt from the free shipping promotion that Wayland Games are currently offering (only deliverable by courier) but having now seen it I totally understand. Thankfully Wayland is somewhat local to me so it wasn’t a major problem. So it’s a huge box and all, but what about is inside? Well, first I turned my attention to the cards and rules (very unlike me – I normally dive straight into the model itself)_ to get an idea of how the Blockade Runner will work in the game and familiarize myself with the rules. BUT before I discuss the rules (which I have digested at length along with the various upgrades available) I will actually discuss the model.

It's a nice looking model for a mass production prepaint. 

So after negotiating a couple of Ties (twist ties that is) I freed the CR90 Corellian Corvette Blockade Runner from its clear plastic shell, and the first thing that strikes you is it looks GREAT. Now I must stress that this is by no means a high end replica. What you are purchasing is an accurate (Fox/Lucasfilm insisted all ships are true to source material) and detailed model with the kind of quality that you would expect from Fantasy Flight. The paint on the model is also of a reasonable quality, again, very much in line with the existing ships. Im sure that those that repaint their ships will be able to produce some truly epic results however. Its nicely weighty without being overly heavy for play and comes with an extra large footprint template and flying stands (yes it needs TWO). All of which is necessary given the special rules it adopts.

The model measures up at just under 14 inches, making it a few inches longer than the Rebel transport it was released alongside. It is of an imposing size in comparison to anything released thus far and looks truly  gigantic when compared to the fighters. It would also follow that it requires a little more size to manoeuvre and you may need to expand the size of the playing area to accommodate it. Indeed it comes with its very own ingenious movement template. It seems to be a fairly sturdy build but I imagine a fall would do serious damage to the turrets so caution is urged, though it will stand up to the normal rigours of a game just fine. Overall though it is stable enough once attatched to its base. As an aside make sure you get the stems the right way round or the ship will not sit on the flight stands!

The expansion comes with a sizeable amount of stuff, most of it new due to Huge ships. 

So having established that the ship itself is rather snazzy, how about the other stuff? Well as mentioned the much of the card stock is also bespoke. Along with the special footprint and movement template you get the usual assortment of tokens and counters and the stock is of the high quality you expect from FFG, a far cry from Whizz Kids Star Trek Attack Wing efforts. There are some new entries here and there with Energy tokens (we’ll get to these in a bit) and scope tokens amongst the various elements included. There is also a new (kind of) range ruler for the increased range of the CR90s primary weapons. Really it is actually just two normal sized rulers joined together (with the 3 overlapping to give a range of 1-5) but it looks mighty impressive nonetheless. So that’s the model and the tokens and so far so good. Let’s look at the cards!

One of the first things you’ll notice is that the CR90 has TWO ship cards one for each half of the ship, fore and aft. These are also double sided with one side representing the part of the ship crippled. To destroy the CR90 you have to cripple both parts of the ship. Crippled sections of the ship suffer a severe penalty to stats and upgrade capacity. In a rather cool move the cards actually line up with each other on both sides. (see pictures) You might notice also that despite a hefty hull and shield rating the CR90 has no evasive capability at all, so hitting it will be a piece of cake. Now I’m discussing the rules separately in a bit but you will also see that the CR90 has a few special actions which are different for each half of the ship. The CR90 has no pilot cards per se so the only other large card is the Hyperdrive card which is mission specific and ill again discuss a little later. 

I am particularly fond of the way the ship cards go together and flip when damaged. 

So, upgrade cards! No, actually the damage cards quickly. These are also unique to the CR90 and again there is a deck for each half. Other than that they are the same to be honest though it is another nice touch. Right, UPGRADE CARDS! Each section has potential for a LOT of upgrades, crew members (named characters) teams, weapons systems and energy systems. (I promise to cover Energy soon as it is one of the major rules changes) There are also three Title cards so you can make your ship the actual Tantive IV (which can take even MORE crew) or one of two other vessels. The characters include as you would expect, R2 D2, Leia Organa, C3PO, Captain Antilles and oddly enough Han Solo (must be something I missed there), oh and a targeting co-ordinator. In all honesty these cards are all pretty underpowered with Leias ability for friendly ships to ignore penalty for a red manoeuvre being the only one that stands out. Unfortunately it is a use and discard ability so not all that great even then. The teams fare better, the sensor team increasing lock on range, and the engineering team boosting Energy production (we are getting there I promise!) on straight manoeuvres. This leaves the ship system cards which are a mixed bag but work in various buffs and fleet support roles and usually require the expense of Energy. 

C3PO: authentically useless

Many of the CR90's abilities are designed for support
Raymus Antilles: More useful than C3PO

Right, let’s discuss Energy. Basically many of the CR90’s systems require energy to work. Energy is a whole new sub-phase of the game, although it only applies to huge ships. After revealing moves but before declaring actions the CR90 receives, allocates and uses Energy to power systems, recover shields and the like. The mechanic by which you earn energy is actually rather interesting. On top of everything else, the movement dial for the CR90 is also unique. For one thing, there are no red or green manoeuvres (the CR90 is immune to Stress tokens) secondly, the manoeuvre that you choose will determine the amount of Energy you receive, with smaller movements resulting in more gain. This sets up a very interesting dynamic. Do you try to manoeuvre yourself out of trouble or reduce speed and hope you can use the Energy gained to save yourself?

Even then Energy represents even more of a tactical mix up to the game. Do you allocate the Energy to shields or weapons or one of the upgrade card? Each card has an Energy limit so stockpiling is not really an option either. Add to this that Energy is only generated by the aft section and if that is crippled you are in all sorts of trouble. It’s nice that FFG went to this much effort to distinguish the Huge ships and in my opinion this mechanic has the potential to add a whole new level to the game. 

Energy is an interesting mechanic. 

Cr90 also has a few other bespoke rules. For one thing it can declare two actions rather than one. (one for each section) and cannot take free actions, secondly it is immune to the effects of all tokens, (ion affecting Energy production instead.) In addition it also activates AFTER all smaller ships (though combat is normal) giving it a small edge when choosing actions. Talking about actions, the fore can choose between lock on and Co-ordinate (which gives a friendly ship within 2 range a free action). The aft can either recover or reinforce. Recover uses unallocated energy to restore shields and Reinforce gives the CR90 a free evade for one section against attacks which applies to ALL attacks that round. Pretty handy If you ask me. 

Another thing worth mentioning is the rules for collision, if you fly a small or large ship into a huge one then the results are much the same as if you collided with an asteroid. HOWEVER if you manage to fly the huge ship into any smaller vessel it is INSTANTLY DESTROYED. Yup, destroyed, no damage, no evading. Take it off. Not only does this mean you can really ruin an opponent’s day by ramming stuff with the Cr90 it also means you need to keep your own fighters at a safe distance! Of course the CR90 is neither the fastest or most agile of ships so it’s not going to be a frequent occurrence but still, very much worth bearing in mind. 

As with the Large ships you can buy titles for your vessel

The CR90 weighs in at 90pts Basic. Now as mentioned there are no different pilots so this IS the base cost but it does mean that with upgrade cards you can easily have 120pts of ship sitting there. Obviously this raises the issue of game size and balance and you will need a TIE swarm just to match the CR90 in points. A CR90 with The Falcon and a couple of fighters will easily run you 200 points which is a sizable game. Thankfully FFG have anticipated this and full epic play rules are available on their site. I do feel we have reached the limit on what can be fielded in X wing though, it is hard to imagine anything bigger, perhaps a small frigate of some kind. For one thing the Tantive IV expansion is prohibitively costly, costing nearly 3 times the cost of the core game, for another not many will have large enough fleets to field it ( I needed to get more imperials to balance it as it was!

An alternative to fielding it in Epic play is what FFG are calling Cinematic play, scenario driven gameplay which allows you to fit the CR90 in games which although are still balanced will not require you to field 20 ships a side. Many of these types of missions are included in the campaign which accompanies the expansion, 6 missions in all in a tree campaign where the mission you play next depends on who won the last battle. One thing to note for the campaigns though is that some of the missions (in fact most of them) will require you field specific units so to play through all the campaign you will require many of the wave one and wave 2 expansions. (clever marketing move there FFG, impressive. Most impressive) The branching nature of the campaign should add replay value though and a cursory glance through the missions shows a pleasing amount of variety and invention. One sees you trying to protect sensor buoys as you intercept an alliance transmission (we intercepted no transmissions, this is a diplomatic mission!) do you use your Energy to shield the buoys or rely on your fighters? Another mission sees you trying to spool up the hyperdrive by allocating energy to the engines to escape a burgeoning Imperial attack force. 

So, summary time! Well basically the Tantive IV expansion for X wing is one hell of an addition. Elevating the game to a whole new level, it has so many components that are new and brings a lot to the table. The model itself is nice but not amazing, essentially being a scaled up prepaint of a similar quality to its smaller counterparts. It maybe be the one that I actually take a paintbrush to as with a little attention I’m sure It could look much better. The detail on it is rather good though and it certainly looks impressive when put alongside the smaller ships. It’s a lot of plastic for your money and even ship aside there is a lot of added depth with the cards and tokens that you can utilise in other games. 

The narrative campaign is a nice touch and really adds something to the expansion, it has also inspired me to come up with my own scenarios. I envisage a situation where an imperial fleet and Rebel force are fighting over a damaged CR90 with control of the vessel changing hand between he sides during the game. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the Energy system adds a whole new dynamic to play about with. Many of the upgrade cards seem to be a little underpowered but I have always believed that X wing is a game about Synergy and I’m sure there are some particularly effective combinations to be discovered with the CR90 acting effectively in a support role as much as direct buffs. 

Imperial reinforcements are on the way....

You will need to change the size of your games (and potentially your board) to accommodate huge ships. If you only have a couple of ships either side you will not be able to field the CR90 in a balanced game and it is also worth bearing in mind that you will need to have a sizable variation of ship to even play though the campaign with the majority of the first few waves utilised. Therefore I would recommend holding off on this particular expansion until you have amassed a moderate collection of models. That said if you really want to pick one up you can always flip the footprint template over and use it as an obstacle!

So is the Tantive IV Expansion worth its hefty price tag? Well, £75 is certainly a sizeable outlay for any system and when you consider the Tantive IV is three times the price of the Millennium Falcon some might balk a little. But in my opinion the Tantive IS worth its price. Model alone it is more than ten times the size of the small fighters and I’d rather have seen it at this price than cheaper and with compromises made to it. After all, this was the very first vessel to ever be seen in Star Wars! You are not just buying the ship you are also getting the campaign a whole new sub rule set and a great deal of bespoke components. The rules behind it seem to have been carefully thought out and it is not just a bolted on addition, it is clear some care has been put into its development. More than any other release for X-wing this actually FEELS like an expansion rather than just another ship. I’m not sure I’d ever have purchased it at its full price but I’m very glad I took advantage of Wayland’s deal of the Day. 

So remember to your ships! And may the Force be with you, always.


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