A Long Time Ago …

Whilst I was planning my topic for my latest blog post, I was chatting it through with a few friends. I had several ideas I was throwing around and I couldn’t quite agree on what I wanted to do. Then I was listening to the radio as I was getting ready for work and it struck me. Unless you have been living under a rock (or other desolate location), you may know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released this week.

It probably comes as little surprise that I like Star Wars. I was born in 1980, so I wasn’t around for the first movies, but I have been watching them for as long as I can remember. I could enthuse so much about these movies (original trilogy, although the prequels had their occasional moments – if you were happy enough to wade through the crap around it), but that isn’t really the theme of this blog. All you need to know is that I love Star Wars so much and Han Solo is awesome …

One thing we cannot underestimate is the impact that Star Wars had upon popular culture and the merchandising that it produced. Undoubtedly this has led to some questionable and downright insulting items being produced. I still weep at the thought of Yoda trying to flog me a mobile phone. But for gaming it has given us some top notch products. And I wanted to go through a few that have entered me over the years.

Star Wars: The Role Playing Game (West End Games)

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Roleplaying games are difficult to describe to the uninitiated – the best way to describe it is a story being told by one player and all there players take control of the main characters. It’s a simplistic way to put it, but due to the vast nature of Star Wars and the stories built around it, it is one of the best ways to explore it.

There have been several roleplaying games made with the Star Wars license. Currently it sits with Fantasy Flight Games (and I must admit I haven’t played their version), but for me the original and the best is the sadly out of print West End Games product (West End Games going bankrupt in 1998).

I encountered this game as a teenager and our group was immediately hooked. The rules were simple, flowed brilliantly and the characters you created felt as though they were a part of the Star Wars universe. And for a roleplaying game, the sensation of it is the most important part. I naturally gravitated towards playing a smuggler (for reasons see my Han Solo comment above) and straight away we were plunged into battles across the stars.

Perhaps what is most impressive about the game is the amount of work put in by West End games into building the wider universe. A single phrase from the films may have been used as a spring board for ideas and suddenly there was a campaign book or setting that was released. The author, Timothy Zahn, who was responsible for the Heir to the Empire series that started many of the Extended Universe products, was actually given a copy of the game to help him write the novels.

I still remember gathering at a friend’s house every Sunday to play this game. And although I have played other roleplaying games since and other Star Wars games, I still look back at those days as one of my first and favourite Star Wars tabletop experiences.

Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (Lucasarts)

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Okay – it’s not a board game. I am cheating and I am sorry.

But it’s bloody brilliant.

If you remember when Doom was unleased on the world everyone wanted to do a first person shooter. And Lucasarts did with their very good Dark Forces game. But then they went one better and gave you a lightsaber in the sequel. And it was awesome.

As this is a tabletop blog I will say no more other than Kyle Katarn remains my favourite Extended Universe character and has made it into novels and other games. And you do get to fight against an AT-ST with nothing but a lightsaber and the Force. What is there to dislike?

Star Wars: Epic Duels (Hasbro)

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I’m picking another out of print game here, but it’s an absolute beauty. It’s very light, the rules are very simple, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Simply put this is the ultimate Star Wars “what if” game. The game comes with 12 characters, Luke, Han, Anakin, Obi Wan, Mace Windu, Yoda, Darth Vader, The Emperor, Darth Maul, Dooku, Boba Fett and Jango Fett, each represented with their own (admittedly butt ugly) pre-painted miniature. In addition, each character has their own supporting characters, either two generic individuals like Battle Droids or Stormtroopers, or a named character (so Han naturally works with Chewbacca).

It comes with several maps in the box for the characters to fight over, all scenes from the movies such as the Emperor’s throne room. And you can play free for all battles or team games to see who the last character standing is. Each character comes with their own deck of cards which is how attacks and defending is worked out. You declare an attack by putting a card face down. The defender has to choose what card to defend with. Flip them over and the difference between the attack and the defence values on the cards determines what damage is done. This leads to a bluffing game – playing low value attack cards to try and draw out high defence cards.

The game is made more interesting by the fact you have to marshal your resources. You only get two actions each turn in addition to moving. Actions are playing a card, drawing a card and healing. You can play two cards a turn, but soon your hand will look very sparse and you will be vulnerable to counter attacks. Or you can try to keep a deep hand, but knowing that you will be doing very little to the other characters in the game.

Each deck is different, so each character gets special cards that can do different effects in addition to or instead of attacks. Vader can carry out an attack that if it gets through will do extra damage. Yoda can play a defence card that rebounds the damage back to the attacker.

My friends and I played the hell out of this game. I understand that there is still a large online community supporting this and I can easily see why. Want what would happen if Anakin Skywalker could confront his dark side equivalent? This is the game for you.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Games (Fantasy Flight Games)

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The most recent game on the list and the one that is currently an obsession for me (an obsession that is growing within my gaming group I am pleased to report). Simply put this is a dog fighting game which pits the ships of the Rebel Alliance against those of the Galactic Empire (and later the pirates and bounty hunters of the Scum and Villainy faction).

I first tried this out on International Tabletop Day at our local Forbidden Planet store (if you need to ask what that is, follow this link – basically it’s all Wil Wheaton’s doing). I was immediately hooked and bought it on the spot. Then I bought more ships … a lot more. Fantasy Flight have me hook , line and sinker …

Unlike many miniature games, actions are not done alternatively (known as you go, I go). Instead all ships are issued orders via a hidden dial which is their chosen move for the turn. Then moves are revealed with the lower skilled pilots going first. This gives the better pilots a chance to react by taking actions that better suit their current situation. Shooting is done in reverse order. The best pilots shoot first. (yes Star Wars nuts – Han shoots first).

It is a very simple overview of the game, which does not even begin to describe the vast array of options before you when you play. Ships can be upgrades with extra items and crew, so an Y-Wing can take two torpedoes, a turret and a droid, whilst an A-Wing has a missile option. Ships can be flown by several different pilots. You can have a rookie in your X-Wing or characters from the film like Biggs Darklighter, Wedge Antilles and Luke Skywalker (Bigg’s main use appears to be irritating my best friend when we play).

I could go on about X-Wing for some time, but that may best be saved for another post. I will say this – it is one of the most accessible (my eight year old son can play it) and yet deeply rewarding miniatures games I have ever played.

I know there are many other Star Wars games out there. And I have barely scratched the surface. Fantasy Flight Games in particular have produced several in recent years and I haven’t played that many, although I hope to try out Imperial Assault and The Card Game soon.

Please feel free to share your experiences of Star Wars games here. I’d be very interested to hear what other people have to say. And I should probably end this post in the most obvious and cheesiest Star Wars way possible.

May the Force Be With You …

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