Weekend Games – X-Wing again!

I quite like X-Wing Miniatures, but really I’m just trying to get my money’s worth out of them.

I had a couple of games with my brother again. We take a novel approach to force-building. First we randomly pick a side, and build a 100-pt force for that team. Then, we randomly pick which team we play… so you only have a 50-50 chance of actually playing the side you built. This works pretty well because you have to take a fairly serious approach to building the force, as you might end up with it … but at the same time you can afford to play around a bit, because you’ve only got a 50-50 chance of having to play with your own crap.

So I built the Rebel Alliance and I decided what would be cool would be Luke Skywalker in an X-Wing, then Han Solo and Chewie in the Millenium Falcon. I built Luke quite defensively, and Han quite offensively both had maximum bells and whistles.

Meanwhile, Scott had decided it would be cool to load Boba Fett in Slave I up with pretty much every expendable item available – homing missiles, proton torpedoes, proximity mines, you name it. For escort he had two fairly blank TIE fighters – Dark Curse and “Black Squadran Pilot.”

My tactic was to try and keep Boba Fett at range so he could use all the missiles and bits and bobs Scott had saddled him with, and use the two TIE fighters as bait. So I swung a path through the asteroid field that took me generally away from Han and Luke. I had planned to drop a mine somewhere there in the hope they’d fly into it when trying to follow me, but I totally forgot.

The bait worked well enough. The no-name TIE fighter came under heavy fire and was all but destroyed… when, on 1 hp, he pulled off an amazing 3 evades vs 3 hits that kept him alive one crucial round longer.

He used that turn to pull out of range, and Dark Curse became the target of choice. Meanwhile, Boba Fett had looped around and started to unload missiles and heavy cannon fire.

Luke was the first to blow up due mostly to Boba Fett’s fire, but Dark Curse got in some key hits as well. In fact, Luke was having so much bad luck I’m not at all convinced the force was with him one little bit.

Shortly afterwards 1-hp “Black Squadron Pilot” came back into range and Han finished him off. We were 1 loss for 1. Great odds for the empire.

As the fight drew on, I spent several turns hot on Han’s tail, shooting him with my primary weapon. I had him locked, but was saving it for a proton torpedeo – if he ever pulled away that is! Dark Curse had over-shot the Millenium Falcon and was weaving back and forth in front of him slowing him down a lot. In fact, things got REALLY tight there between Dark Curse and Han several times.

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Eventually Boba Fett over-shot Han and dropped his proximity mine, but Han utilised a house rule to pull away and both free himself from Dark Curse and dodge the mine. (The house rule is that ships can spend one turn outside the bounds of the board, so long as they are fully within the bounds of the board at the end of the next turn.)

With some breathing room Boba Fett did a Koiogran turn which put him out of range but the up-side was that he’d soon be able to fire the proton torpedeo. Han, meanwhile, was able to dispatch Dark Curse with that same breathing room.

Things were pretty even with Dark Curse gone, but in the same turn Han dispatched the final TIE, Boba Fett fired the proton torpedo, and it did tons of damage to the Falcon. Due to the sustained damage, and that final hit, Han ended up having something like 4 damaged components. His agility had been reduced to 0, he couldn’t do any red manoeuvres without risking damaging his ship further, his console was on fire (potentially adding 1 more damage each turn until the fire was extinguished) and he’d been nailed with a direct hit which counts as 2 damage.

Slave I and the Millenium Falcon passed each other head on. Han shot with his 360-degree turret, but although it brought Boba Fett’s shields down, it did no damage. Boba returned fire with his rear-firing gun, and blew Han Solo away. Empire wins!

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Why Co-Op Board Games Are The Devil

I have been having a discussion on Google+ today about why “Paul” doesn’t like co-op board games. I think one of his points is totally off-base, and his second point is totally understated.

Let’s start with the positives first.

Co-op board games are generally ingenious. Their mechanics are tight, and the balance (usually automatically scaling to the number of players) spot on. They’re the sort of cleverness I never would have imagined in the board game arena just 3 or 4 years ago. Now they’re everywhere.

For those of you that haven’t really played a serious co-op board game before let me briefly outline them for you:
You and a group of friends will be working together to beat the game itself. Maybe you’re trying to wipe out a virus that is teetering on the edge of a pandemic and is threatening to wipe out humanity.

Basically a turn goes like this: You move your guy. You do an action to try and help the team a little. Then you draw a card from a deck that is nearly always terrible for you and your ilk.
The whole point of the experience is to overcome these challenges. You must prepare for, and mitigate, the bad stuff that you will inevitably draw from the deck of terrors. It’s strategy at its core, and is usually so finely balanced that no matter the number of players you have to do everything just right or humanity is doomed. They often end in nail-biting finishers where this one move will determine the fate of the game.

Sounds great, right? Well, yes, they’re clever and can be fun. But they suffer a fatal flaw.

The flaw comes in two flavours: Play By Committee and Field Commander.

They’re two sides to the same coin, however. If you’ve not played a co-op game you probably just won’t really understand the problem. It goes something like this:

There is no room for error. So everyone discusses each facet – starting with the character selection. Something like: “Well, you go this guy, and I’ll go that guy and then we’ll also need another guy and for our first turn you do this, I’ll do that…”  It’s not that bad on the face of it. Everyone is typically involved, and options are discussed and strategies developed. The problem is — why am this guy? I don’t really control him, except to move him and to declare that,  yes, I will do the action we all agreed on a few minutes ago. Really – other than a bit of brainstorming – there is absolutely no reason it couldn’t just be one person playing with 6 characters, rather than 6 persons playing with one character each.

This leads me to the Field Commander. You see, it’s even worse when it’s not even a committee. One player – one who has a lot of experience, or looked up strategies, or what have-you – directs everyone on what they should do. Strategically, it actually makes a lot of sense. Everyone is on the same page as “we” all “work together” towards a common goal. So, in many ways, it’s the best way to win… but why I am even playing? Why not just let the Field Commander play with 6 characters? In these sorts of games you could literally get up and walk away, and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference.

The one saving grace of a co-op board game is that they can be pretty fun the first couple times you play. These problems really only rear their head after you start to learn the mechanics. Once you start to learn the odds of drawing cards, or work out some optimal strategies for various situations. Once you start getting to that point (in my experience after about 3 games) then everyone starts to agree on tactics and strategies and then the committee quickly and naturally forms. (Or if one person is perhaps more strategically-minded than the other players, the field commander comes out.) Prior to this point people tend to do their own thing a bit. No-one knows the game well enough to make suggestions and most of the time all anyone can recall is their own character’s abilities. So it’s up to each individual to step up and help out. It really doesn’t take long to get past this point though.

So I can be talked into playing a new co-op game a few times (especially if no-one is experienced with it) but I won’t be buying any more.

The one exception to this rule (that I have so-far found) is Space Alert. I’ll cover why in a later post.