Why Princess Leia Matters

2016 has been an interesting year.

It’s been an interesting year for me personally and, having overcome some pretty huge challenges, it’s actually been a pretty good one all things considered. The fact that I’m putting fingers to keyboard again is indication of how different things are now to a year ago. Let alone 2 years ago.

For the rest of the world the year has racked up an astonishing butcher’s bill. In places like Aleppo and across Afghanistan, Iraq, Paris, Berlin and a host of other places. A string of shootings in the US which has inflamed already fraught race relations in the country. Regardless of the politics all these people mattered and is a tragedy of wasted life and potential.

We’ve also seen a rise in some of the most divisive and damaging politics since the 1930’s, when people on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the debate marched to the polls disillusioned, angry and (if we’re really honest with ourselves) ill-informed and mistrustful of the other side. The results have been troubling, potentially catastrophic and will take years to sort out and years more to understand the true ramifications.

And amongst it all, a steady stream of celebrities and geniuses have died. There are those that will gleefully point out how selfish and shallow we are, weeping over famous people we never met but sparing barely a thought for a war-torn city and its traumatised inhabitants.

To those people I say this: we care. We all care. Some care more than others but humanity is blessed with a near limitless reservoir for kindness that we pour out towards our friends, family, charitable causes, the homeless person on the street and towards the seemingly endless stream of victims of violence on the news. The victims of egomaniacal, power-hungry men and women who would rather see nations burn than give an inch. Who confuse compromise with weakness. And would happily blame everyone else for the oligarchical problems they themselves created.

Why should celebrities get all the attention?

It’s simple: from David Bowie to Prince to our very own and beloved princess, Carrie Fisher, they all moved us with their art.

Whether it’s a song that resonated with us or helped us through a break up. Or a movie that defined our childhood and our view of the world: their gifts connected with us in a way that gives us hope despite the wanton destruction both physically and politically that fills the news cycle. It also connects us in a profound and unbreakable way with those who feel the same.

This is why, for me, Carrie Fisher’s passing is all the more poignant.

One of the first movies I sat through as a young child – barely 4 years old – was Star Wars. I didn’t fully understand everything that went on. I thought the Stormtroopers were robots, Darth Vadar scared the living shit out of me and my tiny child mind had no clue at the colossal loss of life resulting from Alderaan and the Death Star being destroyed (bugger off about spoilers, it’s been 40 years!).

But what I did understand was heroism and sacrifice. I may not have had those labels for them but I knew what I was looking at and Luke, Leia, Han & Chewie all fit the bill. That and X-Wings are awesome.

Growing up I was enamoured with Leia not because she was beautiful, although she was, or because of the infamous Gold Bikini – partly because I was just too young when RotJ came out to know what to do with that image – but because she was remarkable.

She was the leader of a rebellion. She was strong, yet compassionate. Fearless yet afraid. Stubborn yet vulnerable. Strong willed but sensitive. She was all these things and more. She was a character as rich and as heroic as Luke or Han which, for the 70’s and early 80’s was really saying something.

Her character, albeit written, defied society. Leia, portrayed by the wonderful Carrie Fisher, dared the chauvinists to tell her to sit down and shut up. Dared educators to do more than just tell generations of young girls to aim for mediocre grades or not to waste their time with science and technology.

Carrie Fisher understood that character and what she represented to girls and women better than anyone.

In the Star Wars universe, women weren’t just politicians, they were soldiers, pilots, leaders and did so on their own merit, not because hubby or daddy had pulled some strings.

Star Wars, as a franchise, has always challenged ideas of race and gender. This is a universe in which humans of both genders and all colours cohabited, fought and died alongside aliens for their freedom. It’s important to note that the Empire heavily persecuted non-humans and the Rebellion was largely made up of humans, fighting against that oppression.

It teaches every generation who watches it how remarkably capable we are and how staggeringly short sighted and pointless nationalism and divisiveness is. Granted the theme of the movie is a violent rebellion but I think we all know the message I mean. And at its heart is a young woman, raised in privilege, who could have stayed home but instead chose to stand.

I’m immensely proud of my daughter. I’m proud of her humour, her sarcasm (at nearly 4 I really have made a rod for my own back), her precociousness, her curiosity, her intelligence, her bravery, her compassion and her emotional sensitivity.

I really want her to see Star Wars (well, the original 3, Episode VII and Rogue One) not just because it’s a brilliant and exciting story but because I want her to see wonderful, capable and powerful women making a difference. Being heroes. Whether it’s stood at a strategy table like Mon Mothma sending soldiers into harms way or with a blaster in their hand like Leia.

Princess Leia matters as a character because there had never been anyone quite like her or will be ever again. Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia, for me were one and the same. For all of her problems in the years following Star Wars, Carrie Fisher never gave up. She strove to do better and to enrich the lives of the people she came in to contact with.

And judging by the outpouring on Social Media within minutes of today’s sad announcement I’d say she achieved that end. Not to mention her effect on the millions of Star Wars fans around the world.

I can’t wait for my daughter to see Star Wars and for me to point to Princess Leia and say: ‘that’s Princess Leia, she leads the Rebellion’. And when my daughter turns to me and asks ‘is she a goody?’ I shall look at her, smile and say ‘yes, my love, she is a goody. Just about the best there ever was.’

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Rogue One – A Review

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Along long time ago a massive media company known for an animated mouse bought one of the most successful intellectual properties in history.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm for, quite literally, huge piles of cash there were a lot of very nervous fans. It didn’t matter that their purchase of Marvel a couple of years before had proved that they could be respectful of fans and intellectual property alike, it was a huge deal.

Shortly after the purchase they announced an aggressive schedule of new movies, effectively giving Star Wars the Marvel Cinematic Universe treatment. A new movie, every year, for the foreseeable future.

Fans, this one included, were apprehensive when Episode VII was announced. It needed to be brilliant. It needed to right so many wrongs. It needed…not to be shit.

For the most part, our prayers were answered. It was not shit. The new cast had a great chemistry in their own right and gelled brilliantly with characters of old.

But even before Episode VII was out, Rogue One was announced. A stand alone movie set between Episode’s III and IV.

As time wore on my scepticism gave way to delight. Historically Star Wars has always been a trilogy kind of franchise. Even the books tended to work in threes and the stand alone’s tended to be the weaker offerings.

However, as the first trailers began to drop I felt a new hope (geddit). Rogue One looked like an original Star Wars movie and had a plot that nestled it up against Episode IV rather than Episode III which immediately made me like it more.

For those that don’t know, Rogue One follows the exploits of a small Rebel band tasked with getting their hands on the Death Star plans in the hope of destroying it. Anyone that’s seen Episode IV will know how this pans out.

The movie focuses on Jyn Erso, daughter of the man behind the Death Star and reluctant hero played by the extraordinarily talented Felicity Jones.

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Unlike those around her, Jyn is not a solider. She’s a tear away with a traumatic past that keeps her awake at night. Much like Luke Skywalker and Rey, destiny (or the Force) chooses her to change the galaxy.

Whilst a female protagonist is becoming increasingly common I feel Jones’ efforts were a cut above. Jyn Erso as a character is so wonderfully flawed and vulnerable yet she’s strong and resolute. She’s incredibly brave and utterly determined not to give into fear and loss.

As a character she rises to every challenge despite her fear not because of it and whilst she’s opposite the Rebel intelligence officer, Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), at no point does she rely on his big manly manliness.

In a nice contrast to most movies, he plays the conscience and the voice in her ear not to give up rather than the other way around.

And unlike the reboot of Ghostbusters, at no point does the movie makers do anything to undermine her gender. At no point does the movie nudge you in the ribs and say ‘don’t worry, she’s only a girl’. Which is wonderful and refreshing.

Jones’ performance is captivating and enhanced by Alan Tudyk’s utterly brilliant delivery of K-2SO. A former Imperial strategy droid, it provides a delightfully matter of fact counter-point to Erso’s dogged determination without the camp contrariness of a 3PO clone.

K-2 is cynical, sarcastic, hilarious but steadfast and loyal, a natural complement to Erso’s reluctant and wounded hero. And he’s awesome. He gets some of the best scenes so between the three lead characters, the chemistry that exists is a joy to watch.

Plus anyone who knows and loves Laputa (Castle in the Sky) will enjoy the nod to the design athetic of the robot protectors.

The film is orgiastically pretty. Whereas Episode I had special and visual effects thrown at the screen in an unwitting attempt to conceal the weak plot and terrible acting, Rogue One’s slice of the Star Wars universe is almost incidental. It enhances something that is already brilliantly executed.

Rogue One is epic yet personal. It’s a classic Star Wars tale of a small band of individuals becoming something greater than the sum of its parts. The formula is very similar to that of Episode IV. Which is no bad thing.

Each character hints at a life lived in the shadow of the Empire and it communicates how quickly society has decayed in the 20 years since the events of Episode III. The speed at which all evidence to the existence of the Jedi being one.Which is a really nice touch.

What’s really cool is the insight you get into the Rebellion. Episode IV conveys a merry band of liberals unified against the choking grip of an evil Empire. Rogue One hints at a far more fragmented structure, held together by a desperate few. Their tactics are dirty and distasteful and many of their soldiers are no better, if not worse, than the storm troopers they willingly hunt.

The engagements that go on in the film will have every hardcore Star Wars fan reaching for tissues because they’re fantastic. They have the gritty, brutality of recent sci-fi offerings like the new Star Trek movies and, of course, Episode VII.

Anyone who played any of the Star Wars video games over the last 20 years or read the books (particularly the X-Wing novels) will be struck by the fidelity of the action sequences.

Visually it all feels so right. So deliciously perfect. It’s the ultimate thank you present from Lucasfilm to the fans that hung on in there during the years of nothing then the disappointing prequels and all the inconsistent, rudderless bollocks that followed.

Every planet (including the beautifully realised Yavin 4) helps to communicate the story, the conflicts of the individuals and team, all the while exuding the grandeur of the Star Wars universe. It really is stunning.

Every single drop of love that could be crammed into the action scenes, both in space and on the various planets, was done so.

However (come on, you knew it was coming), for all of the love I felt watching X-Wings be awesome, I didn’t feel the story quite connected emotionally. And this is a bit of a problem because it’s meant to be a deeply emotional film. It’s about friendship, family, survival, defiance, victory, loss and sacrifice.

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They’re all right there on the screen but cramming all of those highly nuanced themes and the orgasm inducing visuals means it doesn’t quite pull it off.

Maybe it’s because, as with any prequel, you know how the story plays out but I think it’s more to do with the pace with which the film moves, it lacks subtlty. It doesn’t give you the chance to be moved. To reflect on events as they unfold. Until the very end which can leave you feeling a little cold.

It’s all a little bit lost.

Speaking of lost, the Imperial presence in the film is so muted that the storm troopers and starships consistently out perform the villains.

Director Krennic (played by Ben Mendelsohn) comes off as little more than an egotistical child, who tantrums and stomps from one scene to another. Even the CGI Grand Moff Tarkin overshadows him.

Lord Vadar crops up but his scene is a fan pleaser and adds nothing to the plot. Even the performance lacked the slow grace and simmering menace of the original, he felt slightly wrong from start to finish.

Rogue One is a superb film It looks and feels like a Star Wars movie. In many ways more so than Episode VII. Everything just looks…right.

It is, of course, a genius mechanism to bridge the gap between Episode’s III & IV. It does an admirable job of dovetailing with Episode IV despite breaking part of the original movie (I’ll let you find it). References to the previous movies are so nicely done that fans will get a real kick out of it.

It’s a wonderful and deserving addition to the Star Wars canon that adds so much heart to an already rich universe that it is a shame it’s just a stand alone.

Criticisms aside, Rogue One has easily slipped into my top 3 Star Wars movies. It’s a very bold claim having only seen it the once but, honestly, it offers much of the same mix that makes The Empire Strikes Back the best of the bunch (shut up, yes it is!).

It’s not a perfect movie but then again neither are any of the Star Wars movies that preceded them. And that’s okay because what it is, is a proper Star Wars movie. And that is more than good enough.

 

X-Wing Miniatures Game: The Force Awakens – A Review

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Three years and one month ago I reviewed the X-Wing Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight Games. I was quite taken with it but what made me love the game was the gradual – albeit slow – release of very groovy expansion packs.

It didn’t take me long to acquire a full squadron of fighters, the Millennium Falcon, the Rebel Transport and the Tantive IV. So, you know, just a couple of things.

The new movie (and the chucking out of the entire expanded universe) means updated rules and, of course, new models. This time, however, it’s the Resistance and the First Order rather than the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. Rest assured the old stuff is compatible with what is essentially second edition X-Wing Miniatures Game.

Now I’m going to say something fairly unpopular: I don’t like the new X-Wing design. Whilst the logical part of my brain accepts that in 30 years the design would have moved on, the emotional part is too attached to the original.

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It’s the T-70 now rather than the T-65 and basically looks like the Z-95 Headhunter and the concept X-Wing got freaky. Which I could more or less live with that if the wings didn’t split down the middle. It’s a gimmick and it’s absurd. Now, before I get flamed/blasted into oblivion I know I’m complaining about the design of a fictional snubfighter of which the original is just as absurd but there are some lines I don’t feel can be crossed.

The standard of the models has been upped since the original X-Wing Miniatures Game core box. The pre-paint was distinctly okay and the laser cannons on the T-65 X-Wing was troublingly flimsy. I have 4 of them and every time I lift them from the case a little bit of poo comes out.

The T-70 (or lesser) X-Wing is definitely made from sterner stuff and the casting is better quality too, with no noticeable warping on the lasers either.  The paint job is better but it’s helped along by by less detail in some areas but more in others. Either way it looks a more polished piece than the T-65 that came in the original core box.

The TIE/FO Fighters are resplendent in their new, sinister, black paint job, just in case it wasn’t clear they were bad guys. Although when you get down to it all J J Abrams and co have done is reverse the colours of the original. They did make the cockpits red which is all very groovy but, other than giving TIE pilots the option of developing their photos between engagements there’s nothing new.

At least not on the surface. The rules haven’t changed much. They’re been tidied up considerably and the layout is so much better than the first rulebook – which was shit – so it’s readable. Which is nice.

A big tick in the Woot column for the new X-Wing Miniatures Game is the reference guide. It’s actually thicker than the roles but summarises rules and includes all the various different special rules and maneuvers too. This is an absolute God-send, saving a good hour off every game as players fumble about with their cards, reading the rule then carefully returning them to the table with all the appropriate counters and cards that were placed on them.

As silly as it sounds, that’s one of the things to be most excited about with this new core set because it’ll make the flow of play so much smoother. It’ll also stop you from forgetting that all important action you can take to pull your boys out of the fire or turn the tables at the pivotal moment. I’ve lost count of the number of times a Koigan turn has won me the day.

The cardboard has had a tidy up as well with the addition of damage counters to scatter liberally across the board as shit gets serious. Whilst useful it’s yet another counter in an already counter heavy game.

What is slightly odd – although I know the reason why – is TIE/FOs come with a shield. Now I know a lot of Imperial players (dogs to a man) complained that TIEs were too flimsy but the issue was more that they were too expensive, even for the shit ones. Adding a shield makes them way too durable. Throw in the fact that the T-70 X-Wing now has 3 shields instead of 2 all they’ve achieved is making the game take longer to play because the durability is a wash.

One must assume that the TIE/FO in The Force Awakens has shields which rather forces Fantasy Flight’s hands for rule writing for the X-Wing Miniatures Game. The joys of a licensed product. Either way, it makes the TIE/FO quite nasty when fronting off against the T-65 and other Galactic Civil War era fighters. Based on the rumblings coming from Fantasy Flight, other ships will be coming out at a faster pace than the movies which means a few glimpses of starship related grooviness before they’re seen on the big screen.

Beyond the rules tidy-up and a reference guide that makes me want to kiss Jay Little on the mouth, there’s a few additions that are worth mentioning – namely upgrade cards and critical damage.

The critical damage cards are far more pilot focussed which hampers, rather than cripples, the ship taking the damage. It’s a very nice touch and makes the game far more cinematic and prevents critical damage from unbalancing the game.

The upgrade cards have a couple of star players in the form of Astromechs. They’re mad and obviously intended to garner favour with fans for the upcoming movie but screw it, they’re well worth taking. BB-8 (the new droid beach ball) gives you a free barrel roll with every green maneuver. Which is amazing and only costs 2 points!

If you’re new to the X-Wing Miniatures Game this is a great place to start. The rule clarifications, the awesome reference book and the upgrades make it a far stronger offering than the original. The models are a preference thing. I prefer the rules and the design of the Galactic Civil War era stuff but there’s nothing wrong with The Force Awakens models. Far from it as the quality of the models is superior. Not leagues better but still better.

If, however, you’re already got a bunch of X-Wing stuff and feel like your collection is complete…buy it anywhere. Bringing together all the rules from the various expansions is worth the money, let alone the new models and new damage cards.

The X-Wing Miniatures Game: The Force Awakens is available from Firestorm Games priced £26.99.

Star Wars Armada Giveaway Winner

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As some of you may have seen earlier I closed the giveaway far earlier than planned. Someone shared it on a money saving forum and it all went a bit mad. I received more than 600 entries, 200 of which came through in a truly alarming flurry around 4:30 today.

To clarify, I have nothing against money saving sites or their users but The Shell Case is a but a small corner of the internet that exists for the wargaming community. Whislt I would never impose limitations on who can enter a line had to be drawn.

With the giveaway closed there was little point In waiting until the original draw date so a winner has been randomly selected. The lucky bastard/winner (delete as appropriate) is none other than much loved/mocked (delete as appropriate) #warmonger, @shavenwookie.

The Star Wars Armada starter set worth £67.99, courtesy of Firestorm Games, will be winging it’s way to him shortly.

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Star Wars Armada – Giveaway

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IMPORTANT UPDATE – It is with regret that I’m closing this competition early. I apologise to those wargamers who haven’t yet had an opportunity to enter. However this competition/page has been shared on a money saving advice forum and since Friday night I have bombarded by hundreds of entries. 200 entries have come through in the time it’s taken me to write this update.

Whilst I can’t comment on the motives of those entering, I can say having my devices going off all day and night has not been fun. I’m not criticising the members of the forum by any means, but I’m just one person trying to do something fun for the community I love. Frankly, having emails come through 24 hours a day for the last 3 days has been…intimidating.

I will randomly determine a winner as per the details below.

It’s been way too long since I did one of these but thanks to those lovely people at Firestorm Games I’m giving away a copy of Star Wars Armada starter box to one lucky person.

All you need to do is tell me what 3 word line from Return of the Jedi that made Admiral Ackbar a household name. And if it helps I mentioned it in the review

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Complete the for below and hit submit. A winner will be drawn at random. They will be contacted via email and the winner announced The same day.

One entry per person. No substitute or cash alternative offered. My decision will be final. Disputes will not be entered into. This competition may be withdrawn at any time.

Good luck!

This competition has been closed early. I apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Star Wars Armada – A Review

swm01_featureNow I seem to remember saying some time ago, around about the time I had a game of X-Wing involving a full squadron of fighters, that X-Wing – as much as I love it – doesn’t have the slick rules or the flexibility for really big games. A dozen fighters a side took ages and the dogfights, whilst awesome, did get really messy on the board. Shortly after Star Wars Armada was announced which leads me to conclude either FFG have planted a bug somewhere about my person or they had the same thought but about a year prior… I know, it’s totally the bug thing.

So fleet sized engagements in the Star Wars universe huh? Well all I can say is: fucking yes! This has been a long time coming and, if I’m honest, I almost needed this game to be good. X-Wing is so much fun but the mechanic was buckling beneath the weight of FFG’s ambition. As cool as it was to have a Corellian Corvette on your board, it wasn’t the most practical thing to play with. That goes double for the Imperial Raider.

Star Wars Armada, it seems, is the answer to our prayers – a game that allows Star Wars fans to don the warbly bits of Admiral Ackbar and yell ‘It’s a trap!’ at least once a turn. Even when it isn’t.

My other reservation about the game was the price. It’s more than twice the price of the X-wing starter set. Sure you get twice the plastic but as the X-Wing box was a lot of money for a lot of cardboard it still doesn’t feel like great value. The thought being: if the starter set is £80 how much is it going to cost to build any kind of viable fleet? The answer is: shit loads. A lot just doesn’t cover it. Expansions start at around £17 full retail but the average cost of a decent ship is £35 upwards. And you’ll need roughly a dozen to make the games tasty. So almost 3 times what it costs to play X-Wing. The concluding thought after all this was: this game better be fantastic…

swm01_boximageIn truth? It’s not far off. The rules are terribly laid out – think Dystopian Wars 1st edition (sorry Spartan Games but it’s true). It’s so poor that all the rules that explain how the hell you do all the things you’re told about in the main rules are called ‘Additional Rules’. I can only assume that some one meant to write ‘Essential Rules’ but just wasn’t paying attention.

Considering Star Wars Armada isn’t excessively complicated it takes far more concentration than it should to understand how to do anything. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe what FFG thought was: if the rules are so laboriously written people will really put the effort in.

The reality is there’s irritated gamers and Star Wars fans lurking outside FFG’s offices waiting to slap anyone that looks remotely responsible.

I stress the rules themselves are not bad, you’ll just spend the first half of the rulebook looking confused and the second half of the rulebook looking both relieved and annoyed.

The weird thing is that there’s a reference booklet included in the box that’s actually clearer than the rulebook. Which makes no sense what-so-ever. It’s still clumsily written so the rulebook has the edge because it provides you with examples without which you’d be lost.

However, once you’ve ploughed your way through Star Wars Armada‘s rules, what you have is actually a pretty slick game. It takes the simple principles of the X-Wing game and builds on them so the basic phases and functions of the game are just as simple but you get all the fun of hammering capitol ships thrown in to the mix as well.

The result is a game that’s quick and involves throwing fistfuls of dice. It’s fair to say that’s usually a hallmark of a good game.

The fact that you need to measure arcs for both shooting and damage isn’t as much of faff as you’d think and fighter squadrons make a real contribution to the action in Armada, much like they did in the movie so bravo to FFG for striking the balance as well as they did. Although if you’re a Rebel player always take Luke Skywalker, his special rule is broken. And very useful…

All the various phases are quick and the shooting mechanic not only works but reminds me of the days of my long-lost youth playing X-Wing on the PC. What I mean is this: the longer the range the fewer shots the ship will make and the less accurate they become. This took me back to making attack runs and seeing ranging shots flash past the cockpit only to find my shields being hammered a few seconds later as I closed within effective range. How it’s worked it is simple and visually represented on profile cards and the range rule so you don’t have to waste time buggering about with the rulebook.

Damage in Star Wars Armada is tracked much like X-Wing, using cards, which is good because it’s a satisfying thing making your opponent draw them. Where it does differ is shields are tracked on the base using wheels for the four arcs. Again this is inspired because large games of X-Wing were a nightmare of models covered in wobbly stacks of cardboard.

My only real gripe is tracking the activation of fighters is needlessly complicated. The stands have slides which move under the base to denote if they’ve been activated or not. The colour representing activated changes depending on the colour of the initiative counter. It’s confusing. Surly a far simpler solution would have been to have sliders marked with ‘awaiting’ and ‘activated’ or similar?

Other than that though it’s a really tidy little game. The profile cards have subtle differences almost to the point of being unnecessary, much like in X-Wing but it didn’t bother me then so why should it bother me with Star Wars Armada? Like X-Wing, the upgrades offer some interesting game changes to keep players amused.

armada_stp1_compAs for the models themselves for what they are and their size, pretty good. You get a Nebulon-B Frigate and a CR90 Corellian Corvette for the Rebels and a Victory Class Star Destroyer for the Imperials. The detail is more than sufficient and the pre-painted standard is okay. Roughly the same as that of X-Wing. However because the models in Star Wars Armada are of a small-scale that quick, slightly slapdash, approach works far better. A black wash works far better on something the size of the corvettes in Armada than the fooking huge one in X-Wing. Ultimately, they look good and they escape feeling like expensive Micro Machines.

In fact the whole set, as one would expect from Fantasy Flight Games is produced to a very high standard. I seriously doubt it’s £80 high though. Although maybe we’re paying fro the truly outrageous amounts of packaging. The box is 5.5 inches deep. It could be half that and there’d still be rattling around room. There really is no excuse for such an excessively big box other than to make people think they’re getting something hefty. I can well imagine new gamers feeling slightly cheated when they open Star Wars Armada for the first time. I didn’t because I knew  what to expect. I knew what to expect because they fooled me with X-Wing.

The mad sized box and the price tag aside there’s no denying that Star Wars Armada is a brilliant game. It’s fun, it’s fast paced yet you’ll still get to spend a decent amount of time smacking each other around the board without it dragging on for too long. Whilst the various counters etc all make sense there’s going to be somewhat of a learning curve making sure they all get used in the right way at the right time but that’s not an unusual condition for a new game.

So is Star Wars Armada worth the hefty price tag? No with a but. It is flatly not worth full retail price. It’s still a push at £68 (from Firestorm Games) but considering the entire offering of the box and the contents will actually keep you entertained for quite a while, it can be justified. Barely. However it’s important to consider the quality of the game, not just the models and piles of cardboard. It is a good game. A game that you’ll wince paying or but the point is you will pay for it because ultimately you’ll enjoy it.

Star Wars Armada is available from Firestorm Games priced £67.99.

 

Special Ammunition

6 months ago I took a leave of absence. My life was getting very complicated and things were reaching a critical mass that would have seen, amongst other things, myself explode like a poodle in a microwave.

Things are much better. Still complicated but I am happier. It’s taken a lot of reflection and a lot of changes many of which are personal and those closest to me will know what those are and the rest of you…well tough shit.

This site and my hobby – and the future of both – hung in the balance for quite some time. This website, once a source of great joy for me, had become something negative with the resounding screwing over I and it got last year. Equally my fixation on making it a success and its ultimate downfall cost me a lot. It cost me my health, it strained relationships, it impacted on my work performance – particularly during the aforementioned screwing over – and my hobby suffered too. It took a lot to reconcile all that and decide if I wanted the site as part of my life. The fact that I’m here typing suggests I do but I’m yet to full decide in what form that will take.

As for my hobby…like a fat chick fresh out of an LA cosmetic surgeons office, it’s looking pretty unrecognisable. Most of it has gone including items with obligations attached. I apologise sincerely to all those concerned, but promised content won’t be forthcoming. They were assignments taken on at a pretty difficult time in my life and I needed a cleansing of all the negative shit that had built up around the site. Which is why, beyond esteemed guest writers like the immense Gav Thorpe, you won’t see contributors on this site whilst it exists in its current form. Again, certain contributors had made promises, none of which were kept and rather than continually setting myself up for disappointment, I’m putting a stop to it all together. This does mean various series will not be concluded and, again I apologise for that also.

But back to my hobby. As I say, it’s all pretty much gone. I’ve kept my Games Workshop stuff, my X-Wing fleet, and the Terran contents from the Firestorm Armada box and that’s it. The rest was sold or given away. The reason why isn’t because my hobby had become my job. I’d love my hobby to be my job. It was because I had too much content to produce and not enough time or willing hands to achieve it. Whether it was ambition or ego (or both) I overestimated a great many things last year and it cost me.

So where does it leave this site? Well, I was amazed to find that despite being untouched since Christmas people were still visiting the site. That’s a very humbling thing. As for content, it won’t be every day. Hell, it may not be every week but I’ll be writing again. I’m also going to be writing about what I’m up to in the hobby with a smattering of whatever takes my interest thrown in. Essentially I’m taking the site back to what I created it for. To talk about my hobby.

I hope to still do the odd product review because I really enjoy them. Firestorm Games being the amazing people they are, stuck by me when they had every right to cut me loose so I’m looking forward to renewing our friendship. Equally there are a great many companies I’ve gotten to know over the years that I hope I can still support in some small way.

I also owe an apology to fellow #warmongers who expected to see me at Salute 2015. I had a ticket but the reality was it was better for me to stay away. Granted I had the worst cold I’ve had in years over the weekend, but to represent this site wouldn’t have done me any favours. I wouldn’t have been there to network like previous years – Mr McVey I still owe you that beer! – and I’d done no hobby to speak of. Plus I’d just got back from Houston, Texas (big up to the guys at Fat Ogre) so it’s not like I could dropped a wad of notes at Forge World like I normally do.

But the fact that all the Horus Heresy armour variants I bought at Salute 2014 – intended to get me painting my Ultramarines again – remain distinctly resin grey means that buying more shit I don’t use is a great way of putting myself into a flat spin again.

So. I’ll conclude with this: I’m back, at least in part. Thank you to everyone for the outpouring of support when I went on hiatus and after.

I’m working on a couple of Mordheim warbands at the moment so I shall be kicking things off with some stuff about them.

Until next time…

X-Wing Expansion: Lambda Class Shuttle – A Review

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight GamesA slightly different tack for me for this X-Wing ship review. I’m going Imperial. But just this once. I’m Imperial-curious I guess you could say. And for my dabble in the Dark Side I’ll be looking at the iconic and epically cool Lambda Class Shuttle.

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First: the model. Which is, even by the gaming standard pre-paint jobs that Fantasy Flight churn out, not awesome. Admittedly there’s not a lot you can do with a grey ship with lots of flat surfaces but visible brush strokes are a little much. The model itself though is way cool and I love the fact that the wings move. As arguably there will never be a situation when the wings will be folded up they didn’t have to design the model with movable wings so it’s kind cool that they did.

And that’s really the point of the Lambda Class. It’s just cool. It looks bad ass. It looks bad ass despite the average paint job and the alarmingly flimsy blaster cannons mounted on the wings. Those buggers will snap faster than someone with anger management issues at a twat convention.

In the game the Lambda Class Shuttle is a mess of contradictions. In terms of movement it is a slow, wallowing, turd of a ship that is quite at odds with the fast movers that make up the bulk of the Imperial fleet. This does mean it’ll need baby sitters like a teenager needs supervision at the magazine rack. That said, it’ll take some killing. With 5 shields and hull points it’s very solid and that makes it a problem for Rebels as their smaller numbers requires them to make clean kills and move on to the next one. Ten hits are a heck of a lot of punishment to have to dish out. Not to mention having to wade through all the other ships to get to the shuttle in the first place.

And it’s no slouch in a fight either with three shots and for 2 points it can take an anti-pursuit laser which means, much like the Firespray, you can only really catch it amidships. But for around 10 points less. However this fact does actually play to the Rebel’s strengths but providing you’ve not left the Lambda Class alone you should have a very meaty anchor unit in your fleet.

So the Lambda Class is a slow-moving, durable, weapons platform and a rally point. But that’s not all. Oh no. The pilots provide very useful advantages like taking on stress tokens or target locks which keeps you flimsier but faster fighter in the fight for longer. Colonel Jendon can assign his blue target lock action to another ship, presumably even if they can’t normally acquire it. Which for the likes of a TIE fighter is very useful indeed. Double that up with the ST-321 upgrade and you can acquire a target lock on any enemy on the board. Which, for an extra 3 points, is a lethal mix.

All the upgrades are a bit mental actually and none of them are over 3 points. Including being able to take Darth Vadar who gives you the opportunity to inflict a critical hit on a target in exchange for taking 2 points of damage. A two-edged sword but timed right and it could be decisive. Although the cheekiest card by a mile is the Rebel captive who inflicts a stress token on any Rebel ship firing on the user. Which is just horrendous and anyone using the Lambda Class without that card should probably have a slap. And, theoretically, on the basis that Rebel captives aren’t in that short supply, you can take one per shuttle.

And really that’s the Lambda Class Shuttle‘s strength: investing in sensible upgrades which dramatically increase the fleets longevity, allowing you to offset its weaknesses. And then take two.

I gameplay terms I’m not sure at which point you’d take a Lambda Class Shuttle over other elements. Especially now things like the TIE Defender is readily(isn) available. The unit buffs and upgrades are a strong lure but it’s slow speed forces you to change tactics and that’s worth considering. Points wise it’s embarrassingly cheap for what it gives you. TIE Defenders are the more expensive option and it’s only their aggression and tasty mix of Ion Cannons and Laser Cannons that makes them my first choice but in the right scenario a Lambda class is devastating. Especially anything that requires the Rebels to attack a specific point. The fact that the Lambda can actually come to a complete stop gives you floating bunkers and that’s terrifying.

The Lambda Class Shuttle is available from Firestorm Games priced £19.99.

-Phil

X-Wing Expansion: Tantive IV – A Review

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight GamesI was very young when I was first exposed to Star Wars. Return of the Jedi was released when I was just a year old and so I was watching the Original trilogy on VHS (kids you’ll have to Google that) from around 2/3 years old. I didn’t have that seminal, life changing, moment that friends that are a few years older had. Instead I was born to a world with Star Wars and actually that makes me pretty lucky. I grew up watching and rewatching those incredible, industry changing, films countless times.

Even now, 30 odd years later, the opening scene of Episode IV is just as exciting as it was when my tiny infant mind was first exposed to intergalactic violence. And even now I still look upon the ‘Blockade Runner’ as it became known with great fondness.

So when Fantasy Flight Games announced that the Tantive IV would be released I must admit to a certain degree of nerdgasm. And with fairly good reason. Aside from being an incredibly cool looking ship and an iconic one at that, it was also going to completely change the way X-Wing played. Introducing large vessels not only could make for some scenarios very close to the kind available on the X-Wing PC game but introduce campaigns and even ship to ship combat rather than just snubfighters.

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When the Tantive IV arrived from the good people at Firestorm Games I was, according to my wife, as excited as a kid at Christmas. Who am I to argue. I was. It’s the Tantive IV for crying out loud! And it’s massive. I thought the Rebel Transport was big (a review will eventually be written I promise) but the Tantive is crazy big. Below is a size comparison (swanky star mat kindly provided by Deep Cut Studio) and as you can see it dwarfs the transport and makes the X-Wing look very flimsy indeed.

IMG_3026But as one would expect from something classified in the game as Epic. And it is. Very. But so is the truly embarrassing amount of packaging. I’ve commented on this before but it’s just mad on this occasion. If Fantasy Flight were willing to have just one window on the box rather than two it could be half the height. Granted, most of it can be recycled but it’s an unnecessary cost of production which gets built into the cost of the model.

The model itself is impressive. The larger the X-Wing models get the better the detail – stands to reason – so the Tantive is impressive. I even brought up images on Google to compare the model with the original and it’s all pretty faithfully done, right down to the asymmetrical hull sections. The ventral turrets and radar dish move which is a nice touch. But be aware they’re a little on the flimsy side so if you don’t have a case for the Tantive make sure you keep the plastic tray it comes in so you can keep it safe between games. It is epic though. I mean so impressive. And the joy of scrutinising the model and identifying little details cannot be emphasised enough. Being able to use this ship in a game is, well, epic. There’s also the usual stack of cardboard. Cards, upgrades, energy tokens etc. And all produced to Fantasy Flight’s usual standards.

What really lets the Tantive IV down, however, is the paint job. Now I appreciate and accept that having mass-produced pre-painted models is going to mean a drop in quality somewhere along the road, especially considering the volumes Fantasy Flight are being forced to ship now. However some parts of the paint job are just down right sloppy. And for the money they’re asking this shouldn’t be the case. Of all the ships I own – which is a lot – this is the only ship I think I’m going to have to repaint. Not because the quality is staggeringly under par compared to the rest of the range but because it’s so big the flaws are glaring obvious which is a bit of a shame. Overall and when on the board it does look awesome but once you spot a mistake your eye will be drawn to it every time.

In game terms the Tantive behaves rather differently to its more agile cousins. For start its a walling cow of a craft when it comes to movement. There’s two reasons for this. 1 the designers shrewdly acknowledged that it was represented at the speed depicted in A New Hope it’d fly off the board in a single turn. 2 this game is about the fighters ultimately and being able to have a squadron of anything swarming around a Corellian Corvette is immensely cool. Just putting an X-Wing or the Falcon next to it gives me hobby stirrings so you can only image what it’s like in-game.

The Tantive – again in difference to the fact that to behave any way would make it devastating – has to generate energy before it can do anything. For those that remember Titan Legions and using the Imperator or Mega Gargants, it’s not entirely dissimilar to that. Energy is produced and then directed to systems which allow it to perform special actions and fire secondary weapon systems. The good news is firing its range 5 (yes I said 5) turbo lasers isn’t included. It’s assumed there’s enough energy available to fire primary weapons and drive the engines. As the ship takes damage energy can be lost or you have to make the choice between diverting energy to make repairs to continue to fight. It’s kind of a game within a game which is a nice touch.

Upgrades can obviously augment the energy levels as well as generally up its lethality. Not that much is needed. Especially if you have a fighter escort within the vulnerable 1-2 ranges. However the option to take Prince Leia, Raymus Antilles, R2D2 and C3PO is pretty cool and most of the upgrades are worth taking. And some of them can be taken with other craft as well so there’s some nice buffs to be had across your fleet with our without the Tantive IV on the board.

The added bonus that comes with the Tantive IV box is a campaign leaflet which is something that’s always been lacking. Yes there’s been missions but they’ve always been stand alone. This adds the missing piece of the puzzle. Whilst not long or complicated it’s something you can build on and gives you a series of missions that allow you to bust out the Tantive in various capacities which certainly increases your return on investment.

Although the X-Wing Miniature Game has never been about value for money. It’s been about Star Wars on your gaming board. It’s about X-Wings facing down TIE Fighters and daring dogfights. Heroes and villains, good and evil and some way cool ships all smashed together in the form of little plastic ships. So in those terms the Tantive IV ticks all the boxes because it’s the iconic ship of the Rebellion, a desperate and ultimately failed gambit and all wrapped up in that gorgeous looking craft. And it’s all mine.

The X-Wing Miniature Game expansion, the Tantive IV is available from Firestorm Games priced £67.49.

X-Wing Miniatures Game – A Three Party System

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight GamesIt doesn’t take much to realise that I’m really enjoying the X-Wing Miniatures Game at the moment. I’ve been a Star Wars fan ever since I saw Return of the Jedi at the age of 2 or 3 and that love grown over the years with the introduction of the Star Wars novels, specifically the X-Wing series by Michael A Stackpole and Aaron Allston. If you haven’t read them do so, they’re awesome.

As Mat and I have grown our fleets Lee has found himself increasingly interested but was always put off by the fact that there was only ever two sides to choose from – The Rebellion or The Empire. Being a Rebel through and through, and the person he was going to play the most it left him with little option but to collect the Empire, which he didn’t want because, in his own words, he ‘had no love of the Empire and their ways’.

And that by rights would be that. He’d either have to collect a Rebel fleet and we never really get to play one another, or we have to play ‘training missions’ from now until the galaxy far far away collides with our own thanks to interstellar drift.

However, thanks to those wonderful novels mentioned above I was reminded of a third party that features often in the books and indeed one of the best loved characters fell firmly in their ranks for a while. I refer, of course, to scum and villainy. Smugglers, outlaws and raiders and pirates.

Granted, a certain degree of artistic license is going to be required as such ne’er do wells in the books and comics used Uglies, pilot slang for mongrel craft cobbled together from components salvaged from both sides of the conflict.

ZCeptorThey’re pretty cool but to recreate the craft above it would require the purchase, and subsequent chopping up, of an X-Wing a Y-Wing & a TIE Interceptor. And that’s £36 you could be spending on three ships and not chopping them up.

The point is this – a faction without allegiance is a faction that allows you to pick and choose whatever you want from the range. The transports and the Firespray are obvious places to start affording your fleet a solid core that’s entirely in keeping with its shady origins. A Rebel Transport suits the role of a mother ship or mobile base of operations just as fine as it works as its purpose for the Rebellion. And the fighters on both sides are fair game. Personally I’d set myself limitations – TIE Defenders, for example, are unlikely to make it into a pirate fleet. The robotic TIE-D – should it ever be released – would be almost impossible to maintain. The E-Wing would be too new and in too few numbers and in the likely event raiders did get their hands on one they wouldn’t know about the laser cooling issues.

But the most important piece of the puzzle if fielding unnamed pilots. This puts the pirates at a disadvantage in terms of skill but this tracks as few to none would have had military training. Plus the points saved by buying cheap pilots will mean you’ll have more of them. Coupled with the option of being able to mix the durability of the Rebel fighters with the speed and numbers of Imperial fighters and it becomes a very interesting fleet to go up against.

Moreover it represents the only truly legitimate painting opportunity for the X-Wing Miniatures Game. Whilst you can repaint the models you get for your Imperial and Rebel fleets, you don’t have to and generally the quality is gaming standard which suits most of us just fine. However with a pirate fleet there’s an opportunity to do some really fun stuff with your ships, making up for the fact that converting a fleet of Uglies would be prohibitively expensive.

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Throw in the fact that you have the pick of the Imperial and Rebel fleet lists (with the aforementioned limitations) and you’ve got a fresh set of tactical challenges along with the fun of painting up a truly individual looking force.

If your Photoshop skills can stretch to it there’s nothing stopping you from making up your own pilot cards to give your piratical dogs even more flavour.

Whilst somewhat of a bodge, putting together a raider/pirate force is relatively straight forward. It allows you to cherry pick all the ships you like from the Star Wars universe and use the various larger ships – with a groovy paint job – to add some real flavour to the force.

The X-Wing Miniatures Range is available from Firestorm Games from £6.29