X-Wing’s thrilling space combat is the perfect tabletop answer to Star Wars: Squadrons
I’m not such a bad pilot myself.
From blowing up the Death Star to the attack on the Scarif shield gate, some of the most iconic Star Wars moments have centred on the daring exploits of star pilots. If you’ve had the itch to jump in a starfighter and blow something up in Star Wars: Squadrons, the recent dogfighting simulator released on PS4, Xbox One and PC, then there’s a good chance you’ll love its tabletop cousin, Star Wars: X-Wing.
Whether you’re a Wedge wannabe, basically Biggs or longing to be Luke, X-Wing distils the magic of Star Wars space combat into one of the best miniatures games around. Released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2012, X-Wing was revamped with a second edition in 2018 that streamlined some of the game’s core elements, creating an exciting dogfighting system that requires careful planning, spatial judgement and a dash of luck.
X-Wing puts you in command of a squadron of ships from one of seven available factions, from the Empire and Rebel Alliance through to scum and villainy from the Outer Rim, covering all three eras of Star Wars. Not only do you choose which ships to put in your squad, you also pick who’s flying them - from unnamed rookies to unique characters with their own thematic abilities.
At its best, X-Wing is a game that asks you to read and react to your opponent.
The action in a single round within a game of X-Wing breaks down into three phases: planning, activation (movement) and engagement (shooting). You set a manoeuvre for each of your ships in secret, planning how best to get your opponent in your gun sights. Then one by one you’ll move your ships using special templates that simulate their flight path. It’s in these first two phases where you’ll find some of X-Wing’s best moments - and where you’ll discover if you’re a Maverick or a mallard.
Dogfighting in Squadrons is a rush of quick decision-making, from how best to pursue your target to correctly angling your shields. The kinetic pace can mean moments flash by, the chance to savour a precise kill ruined by the whine of the missile lock alarm. X-Wing, on the other hand, takes events that might only last a few seconds in Squadrons and breaks them down into a series of key decision points. Sometimes described as a blend of chess and poker, X-Wing not only asks you to try and think moves ahead, but to lock eyes with your opponent and correctly read what they’ll do. At it’s best, it’s a game that asks you to read and react to your opponent, demanding both strategy and tactical flexibility.
It’s not enough to predict your opponent, though - you’ll need a few moves of your own to win the day. This is where the spatial element of X-Wing comes into play; you’ll have to look at your ships on the table and estimate where your planned moves will land them. Are you going to fit around that asteroid or crash through it? Even in this simplified 2D form, it creates some incredibly satisfying moments. Just as pulling off the perfect drift in Squadrons makes you feel like you could take on the whole Empire by yourself, slotting down the template and discovering you’ve manoeuvred into the perfect position is electric. The developers at Motive even credit X-Wing as one of the sources of inspiration behind parts of Squadrons’ design.
X-Wing takes events that might only last a few seconds in Squadrons and breaks them down into a series of key decisions.
Once every ship has moved, it’s finally time to pull the trigger. This is where luck plays a part, as you roll attack dice hoping to land hits on target before the defender rolls to try and evade the incoming fire. You’re not completely at the mercy of the dice, however. X-Wing rewards good flying and your actions; board position determined in the activation phase translates into crucial ways to modify the dice when they don’t roll in your favour. The dice allow for moments of triumph and calamity despite the odds. The excitement of their uncertainty complements the deterministic precision of the movement mechanics without making the game’s outcome feel like it hangs too heavily on them.
Just as Squadrons rewards experimentation with its various modifications, trying out the various upgrades to fine-tune the perfect A-Wing for splashing TIEs, X-Wing offers tons of ways to customise your starfighters with upgrade cards and combos. Up-gun your ships with proton torpedoes, enhance their manoeuvrability with a set of afterburners or even cram Emperor Palpatine into the back seat to lend a hand via the Force.
Building squadrons in X-Wing is incredibly flexible - where other miniatures games might lock you into a certain army build, the system allows even a handful of ships to be run in a variety of combinations. There are also several ways to play that make X-Wing very accessible to beginners. Beyond the standard 200-point dogfight, every ship comes with quickbuild cards: pre-built loadouts that allow you to get your ships on the table quicker. Aces High allows for three-plus players, with each bringing a single ship as you race to achieve the highest score in a fast-paced free-for-all. If a tabletop version of Squadrons’ Fleet Battles mode is what you’re after, X-Wing’s Epic Battles expansion allows for corvettes such as the Imperial Raider and the CR90 blockade runner to join the frey. There’s even a solo mode in the works, with the rules currently in public beta testing.
It’s a testament to X-Wing that it has fundamentally altered the experience of watching Star Wars. It gives life to the extended cast of Star Wars pilots that litter the background of the films and dark corners of Wookieepedia. Rewatching the saga after playing X-Wing, I find myself feeling a newfound respect or resentment for minor characters like Tallisan Lintra, Dengar and Sun Fac. Each of these names and their seconds of screen time are now tied to fun had with friends, pushing small plastic spaceships around a table, imagining a galaxy far, far away.