Star Wars: Legion – A Review

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Writing this review was kind of weird for me. I felt a similar pressure starting as I did when I penned my highly opinionated – albeit heavily considered – reflective on The Last Jedi.

Star Wars has a tendency to polarise opinions one way or the other. The irony of that isn’t lost on me at all and I hope it isn’t for the super fans, although I suspect it is.

A double dose of irony, like a double espresso is enough to make anyone on edge.

The timing of Star Wars Legion couldn’t be more opportune for Fantasy Flight Games. It’s at a time when Star Wars has never generated so much money but has also never been more divisive.

With the early reviews of Solo: A Star Wars Story as mixed as a bag of liquorice all sorts we can expect the fanbase to get their collective panties in a wad things might start to rupture.

Use the Force(s)

So just as well then that a tapletop wargame should appear on the scene that allows fans to recreate battles for the Galactic Civil War. Or, as most people around my age will claim – the proper Star Wars.

It’s no accident that FFG have played it safe with the initial releases because they know that’s where the money is. But – in their defence – it’s also the part of the Star Wars universe that feels the richest.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader leading Endor gear Rebel soldiers and classic Stormtroopers oozes broad appeal not to mention a strong awesome factor. I can’t think of a single wargamer I’ve met over the years who isn’t positively erect at the thought of getting to paint and game with 25mm versions of the most recognised hero and villain double act in modern history.

Of course what makes it an even easier sell is we’ve had over 40 years for the characters, weapons and vehicles to become iconic. I mean who wouldn’t want a T-47 or an AT-ST?

Plus the sheer deluge of – albeit defunct – books, comics and video games helped to make the Galactic Civil War and the core characters feel very real. Although Marvel certainly isn’t wasting any time churning out properties that fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. So there’s that too.

For the fans that are still smarting from The Last Jedi and already deriding Solo it’s an opportunity to tell the story the way they want. To play out the civil war the way they want. And that’s fine.

For the rest of us we get to play at being Star Wars heroes and villains without resorting to shoddy cosplay outfits bought off eBay.

Although it goes without saying we’ll still make the appropriate sound effects whenever any of the models do anything.

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This is where the fun begins…

Speaking of which – the models are very nice.

The core set comes with Bespin Luke Skywalker, two units of Rebels, a Rebel AT-RT, Darth Vadar, two units of Stormtroopers and two speeder bikes which makes for pretty reasonable starting forces. Plus the deluge of counters, cards and other chuff FFG like to stuff their games with.

There’s no denying the boxset is incredible value when you consider individual unit prices. Two core sets between mates is the absolute best way to start collecting Legion.

I’ve always straddled the fence whenever it came to FFG playing pieces. Although X-Wing and Armada models were amazing, the Rebellion pieces were only okay. I understand the Imperial Assault was a big leap in quality but they are also the company who produced the Horus Heresy game. And those playing pieces were the poor side of average.

To be clear, this ins’t a criticism of any one particularly title more highlighting the inconsistency.

Star Wars Legion however has seen the love.

The models do have limitations however. For a start they aren’t posable. They’re multipart in the sense that you have to glue the arms on but there are 7 Rebel poses and 7 Stormtrooper poses and that’s it.

So if you buy more you’ll end up with an army of identically posed miniatures. This is rather disappointing and I”m not entirely sure what Fantasy Flight were thinking.

This is clearly their first proper foray in to the world of tabletop wargaming (the messy divorce with Games Workshop makes much more sense now) so I guess they’re testing the waters in terms of their capabilities verses expectations.

I suspect most fans are still so hyped up about the game existing at all that they’re willing to forgive a lot. Including the price tag. Those 7 plastic 25mm blokes with set you back £20 or more. That’s Games Workshop money and at least they’re properly multipart and 30mm.

However the level of detail is pretty good (not stonking but good enough) and the casting quality is excellent. I genuinely can’t fault that.

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I have the core set and an additional squad of Stormtroopers and Rebels and they’re all pretty much perfect. So props to FFG on that.

Ultimately though the lack of variety is going to sting the Rebel players the hardest. Stormtroopers are faceless instruments of the Emperor’s will so beyond the unit leader, ranks of identical soldiers isn’t an issue.

It doesn’t work quite so well for the Rebels and only gets worse when you add in models like the AT-RT as that only comes in one pose too.

Admittedly the are opportunities for conversions and that’s all fine but I’m of the opinion that a conversion should be a choice not a necessity to stop your army from looking like the Stepford Rebels.

It’s made worse by the key cut joints (I fucking hate that) so – again – short of carving up your very expensive models, there is no freedom with poses. I think this is a mistake on the part of Fantasy Flight. Aside from giving games more freedom, sculpting models with flat body and arm joins is both easier and cheaper to produce.

So they kinda screwed everyone with that decision. It feels like FFG thinks of the models more like playing pieces than scale miniatures so to them, lots of repetition isn’t an issue.

Of course it doesn’t impact of the playability of the game but to ensure longevity and engagement Fantasy Flight need to up their game.

Yes it’s Star Wars but they need to recognise they’re breaking into an incredibly saturated market and competing with their former business partner. Who do this sort of thing incredibly well. And has done for decades.

Control, control, you must learn control

Reading the rules I’ll admit to feeling a little frustrated. Fantasy Flight have a really annoying habit of assuming that everyone picking up the rules is – in some way – a moron.

I don’t necessarily think it’s ego because surely they know they’ve written a really straight forward – albeit poorly written – game. However, they felt the need to split the rules into a ‘learning battle’ section and ‘advanced rules’.

First of all – they’re not advanced rules. Advanced rules implies they are in some way optional. If you want to play the game correctly you need to read the whole thing. That’s a fact. Secondly it actually makes the game harder to understand by explaining the rules only to then discover an entire list of rules that tie in with them.

Except their not in a logical order. They did it with X-Wing and it was annoying as balls then too.

On the basis that the wargaming hobby is incredibly well established with millions of gamers around the world enjoying hundreds – if not thousands – of rules sets far more complex than Legion or X-Wing, it’s safe to assume that a traditional lay out works fine. That is to say all the movement rules in the movement section, all the shooting rules in the shooting section etc.

It’s not that the rules are overly complicated, it’s just easier to read all the related rules in one place. It also makes it much easier to find rules for reference.

I do understand then motive to make the game easy to learn but the assumption is that the game is hard to learn in the first place. Which it isn’t.

Although the annoyance goes deeper because there’s a 50 page PDF of complete rules which not only includes rules not in the core box rules – which means you have to read it – it’s better written. So having spent some time trying to fully understand certain sections of the rules I have, there was a better version on the internet.

I would have gladly paid slightly more money to get a book of the complete rules in with the box.

The game

Star Wars Legion works on alternating activations – which seems fairly common practise these days – activating a single squad, character or vehicle and carrying out two actions each.

Fairly predictably those actions are move, shoot, melee, dodge and a couple of others.

This is nothing particularly groundbreaking but that’s absolutely fine. FFG have a penchant for needlessly complicating things for no obvious reason so this is joyous.

Where it gets fruity is – unless a unit receives an order from a hero – the units activate in a random order. This may seem a bit mental but it actually keeps things really balanced. No army can steam roller another because there is an added layer of unpredictability.

It also forces you to keep your eye on achieving the objective because you can never fully rely on the combat effectiveness of your army. It also makes the inclusion and use of heroes significantly important – but more on that in a bit.

Set up

One of the coolest things about Legion is the set up rules. Much like 40k’s Open War deck, Legion uses deployment, objective and condition cards to keep the game interesting.

The nice thing is that these cards are always drawn after you’ve set up the board forcing you to to think on your feet. It also stops people from covertly setting up the board in a way that’ll favour them, because the deployment card could properly spoil your day.

The important thing to remember here is that Legion isn’t like 40k or – in fact – most other table top wargames. It isn’t about kick as much face as possible, it’s about achieving mission objectives.

After all the plucky Rebels lacked the military might to take the Empire head on. All of the engagements were chosen carefully…or reluctantly.

The emphasis on achieving your mission keeps players on their toes and encourages balanced force building.

Of course units and characters have various upgrades available to them to give that competitive edge. What’s cool is that some upgrades are only available to specific unit types which elegantly prevents units or models from becoming overpowered.

Command

Legion also has a command phase.

I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of skipping over phases like this in games because they usually add very little and slow down the rate of play.

However in Legion it’s actually pretty important and rather elegantly represents the chaos of war and the limited yet powerful influence a single hero can have on the outcome of the game.

In Star Wars victories have always been down to great leaders on both sides whether it’s General Veers on Hoth or Han on Endor. Okay, he had help from the Care Bears but you get my point.

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As such heroes play an important role in Star Wars Legion. They are unusually capable warriors but also bring with them skills to augment the soldiers around them.

More immediately they are able to issue orders to units within ranges 1-3. This is significant because any unit given an order by a hero can activate when you choose rather than in a random order as described earlier.

The dilemma then becomes about how to use them. It’s almost like fighting a war is hard or something…

Movement

The rules for moving are simple in so far as a model has a movement value and you can move that model or unit of models up to the stated value. This is groovy and fairly standard across most – if not all – games.

However rather than using good old reliable inches or centimetres, Legion uses a sodding measuring tool. This was fine in X-Wing and Armada because abstracting space combat is hard and generalising movements of either tiny tiny snubfighters or slightly less tiny warships in this way works.

For Legion it seems unnecessarily restrictive and awkward as balls on a busy tabletop. Hilariously FFG even acknowledge this by specifically stating that – when circumstances prevent players placing the movement tool on the board – it can be held over the model instead of in base contact. So why not use a sodding tape measure and make everything easier for everyone?

In fairness it does makes sense for the vehicles as some – such as walkers – are naturally clumsy and difficult to manoeuvre but it feels like the rules make a concession in the wrong direction in the interests of consistency.

The reality is that most of the time you won’t bother to use the movement tool properly – at least not for the infantry because there’s just no point.

Shooting and Melee

These rules are actually pretty cool as they’re simple and requires involvement from both players so between that an alternating activations, no one ever really gets the chance to be idle in the game.

The attacker simply rolls dice for every model firing which keeps shooting simple yet satisfying. Some weapons get more than one dice but as a base line you get a roll for every model on the board more or less.

You can buff this by spending an action aiming at your target or with upgrades. The right up grades and the right combination of actions can make units utterly savage in a fight.

The defender then rolls defence dice to discount hits. This can augmented by upgrades, character bestowed buffs and  cover. The cover rules aren’t brilliantly defined in the standard rules I’m pretty sure at one point they contradict the line of sight rules but hey-ho.

Any unsaved hits are translated to wounds and models are either removed as casualties or accumulate damage – such as vehicles.

Where it gets cool though is being shot at – even if no one dies – earns your unit a suppression token. Earn too many and you lose an action. This presents a really interesting tactical element – on top of all the others – as you’re constantly forced to choose between resting your models or pressing the attack.

Whilst resting for an action removes a suppression token, you can give your opponent room to breathe. It’s a simple yet highly effective way of adding in psychology without it being a massive faff.

Melee works more or less the same way. I’m giving it as much attention as the rules do purely because most thing are armed with blasters. Yes you can charge Luke or Darth into combat and when they do it’s hilarious but they are very much in the minority. This game is all about blaster death.

The mechanic makes the game feel very fast and doesn’t allow you to stop and think. Considering engagements in Legion are meant to be relatively small scale and objective based, this keeps the pressure on and gives the game a sense of authenticity when compared to the movies.

Shooting does, however, require a range ruler, much like moving. Again, I fail to see how a range ruler would be better than a tape measure and makes less and less sense as you work your way up the levels of destructive potential of the weapons you employ.

Whilst I accept that a laser bolt can be less effective over distance, the kind of distances we’re talking about in the average game of Legion doesn’t make any sense.

Especially when you consider that the laser cannons on a T-47 Airspeeder have a significantly longer range than any given hand held weapon. It could be argued that because of the speed they’re moving at – which isn’t that far because that’s limited too – that it can only effectively target units at close range.

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This is of course utter bollocks and limiting both movement and range will inevitably make certain units identical in all but name.

I’ve seen it happen before with games like Dystopian Wars. When the mechanic doesn’t have enough flex then inevitably points of difference become arbitrary in an effort to appear original.

When you consider how powerful the laser cannons are, limiting the range could be a way of preventing it from being overpowered but it still doesn’t make sense. There are more logical ways of making a unit balanced but the mechanic doesn’t allow for it.

However this a relatively minor bug bear when you consider the overall experience and the fact that Fantasy Flight aren’t intending this to be anything close the kind of games Warhammer 40,000 can support. At least not yet.

That doesn’t mean they’re not going to release all of the things – especially as the fans will want 25mm scale Y-Wings for bombing runs and T-16s to bullseye womp rats. They’re only human after all.

With this in mind the mechanic may have been better suited to a 15mm game instead of 25mm.

From a certain point of view

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I don’t like Legion very much.

There are things wrong with the game. Aside from a poorly laid out and written rule book, the movement and shooting distances are too limiting. This will undoubtedly cause problems with scalability in the medium to long term.

I can see what they were trying to do but if you want to keep things simple then actually keep them simple, abstracting an abstract is dumb.

There are also other ways you can prevent units from being overpowered.

In reality these rules don’t ruin the game but inevitably there will be balancing issues that will mean – like X-Wing – models coming with their own set of rules because they simply won’t work any other way.

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However, those grievances aside, Star Wars Legion is a very fun game.

It’s as expensive as balls but there’s no ignoring the fact that you get to field an army of Rebels against an army of Stormtroopers. That’s hella cool.

The mechanic itself, with the random activation element, the balanced importance of characters and the slick dicing make for a fast paced game that really makes you work hard.

The set up deck and the heavy emphasis on objectives over blasting everything you see actually makes you play for the win rather than resorting to overwhelming force.

This makes it a very difficult game to power game with. This is good news. Although the range is still evolving so that could change.

Of course blasting your opponent to oblivion is always an option but you won’t necessarily win the game in the process.

What would be cool is an expansion deck with objectives and mission types around certain formations and types of terrain. It’ll prolong the life expectancy of the game and incentivise Gale Force 9 and 4Ground to make Legion scenery other than rocks and the industrial stuff.

One of the great things about the Star Wars Universe is the sheer variety of alien environments so the hobby element from a scenery board making point of view is endless.

This is particularly good as a rule set needs to do more than be a great game. It needs to inspire great games to be played. Playing over a Tatooine settlement is one thing, busting stuff to look tough on Mustafar is quite another.

To get the most out of Star Wars Legion you have to accept its odd quirks and limitations and take it for what it is: a fast and fun objective driven Star Wars strategy game.

For those use to playing games with more depth this could be frustrating but equally its overarching simplicity means it won’t take you as long to learn, master or play. Once you’ve got the rules down you can play a decent sized game in just a couple of hours. Including all the time spent making ‘pew pew’ noises.

Why The Last Jedi is actually brilliant

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I had planned on writing a review after I saw The Last Jedi at the cinema. I thought it would be the review of the blockbuster that would kickstart my blogging again after far too many months (years) of absence.

Then I saw the film and to my horror I didn’t love it. In fact, I wasn’t sure I even liked it. Undeterred I did what I do best – I reflected on it and in the end I couldn’t decide one way or the other which would make for a pretty terrible review.

Plus I was genuinely shocked by the abuse Star Wars fans who loved the film were directing at those who didn’t – so much so it stopped me writing. Which is pretty terrible really. I’ve never been scared into silence before and I didn’t like it.

To all those people guilty of abusing their fellow fans, regardless of which camp you’re in – I remind you that fandom is subjective and we are all entitled to our preferences.

But moving on…

I felt so conflicted that I eventually went to see it again. This time with no expectations and able to focus on the story rather than the orgy of special effects and battles. Which are as splendid as one might think.

However, this isn’t a review. Those that care will have already seen it and they certainly would have bought the Blu-ray.

This instead is more about why The Last Jedi is the movie that ties all the various Star Wars elements together. It – weirdly – makes the prequels better and The Force Awakens, unfortunately, slightly worse.

To be clear, the movie isn’t perfect. A lot of people were rightly annoyed by the casual way in which much-loved characters were killed off.  They may have a point.

Personally I think there could have been a more elegant way of doing it but I suspect Rian Johnson was trying to make the point that even heroes can die lousy deaths.

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Dan Abnett does the same thing in many of his books. It’s a valid plot device but it doesn’t work as well in movies – usually because things move too quickly for the audience to process it. Or appreciate it.

Similarly the entire casino sequence tries to make an important point but it’s too obvious and exaggerated and rang a little too true to the naffer moments of the prequels. The daft thing was that the point Johnson was scrabbling around for was made just after the absurdity was over. But more on that later.

Breathe. Just breathe…

Star Wars has always been very much ‘of its time’. The original movies were made during a time when people were rebelling against the idea of ‘the man’ and big government.

The prequels were made at a time when governments were being corrupted by big business to allow them to do more or less what they please and – more significantly – profit from warfare. Thank goodness that isn’t a problem any more…

The Last Jedi was made at a point when – certainly in the UK and the US – there is a widening political divide, especially between the generations and something needs to change.

The vast majority of the Baby Boomers and Generation X are clinging bitterly to the I’m alright Jack, fatally flawed infinite growth model with a healthy dose of zero sum gain economics thrown in. Xennials, Millennials and Generation Y (presumably because they say why the fuck a lot) are sick of the corruption, the dodgy dealings and the post truth bullshit of a the Trumpian era we now find ourselves in.

We’re also tired of a system that gave the generations before us free university educations and salaries sufficient to become home owners. The generations after spend half their salaries on rent and are lucky to own a home before the age of 35.

Where lies are the norm and we regularly question the motives of our leaders and the mainstream media to keep us objectively informed, the system is broken.

This is not a brilliant situation by any measure.

[NB: If you disagree with my politics just stop reading. Our lives are too short for you to spend ages writing an angry comment only for me to waste a few seconds deleting it unread.]

Regardless of political leaning, the movie speaks to this need for a new beginning. The New Republic falls so easily in The Force Awakens because the lessons of the past weren’t learned. Complacency or just good old-fashioned bureaucracy blinded the Senate to the threat posed by The First Order.

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That face says it all.

Similarly The First Order – or the Empire 2.0 – is as hopelessly paranoid, inflexible and as arrogant as the Empire was, if not more so.

Neither system works. And when they collide it only goes one way. A cycle that has repeated in the Star Wars universe for thousands of years in one form or another and one that we see repeated in the real world too.

The Last Jedi challenges the audience with the idea that there needs to be a new way. It’s an uncomfortable thought for those who have grown up with the originals because they feel so just and true. Their motives so pure. More so for those who read the old books – willing the Rebellion ever onwards to turn into the New Republic.

Most of us aren’t politicians or powerful business types so it’s easy to identify with the Rebellion. It’s easy for us to see the Empire as evil because it’s immediately relatable to our world. The prequels were less relatable because the vast majority of people – until recently – were totally unaware just how toxically intertwined big business, special interest groups and politics have become.

Restoration of the Republic was always the ideal – the symbol of hope that drove the characters and the fans through the fighting.

The Last Jedi forces us to come to terms with the idea that we may have been wrong this entire time. And this is when the wheels come off the cart…

This is not going to go the way you think…

The prequels were heavily criticised for being over sanitised and kid friendly. I suspect – and admittedly I could be reading into things to prove my point – that this was deliberate.

In episode 1 the Republic was a shining beacon of democracy. The planets within its borders were shining utopias. Spaceships were new and shiny because it was a very prosperous place to be.

Although you stray outside of the Republic and everything becomes a lot darker. However the Republic leaves the Outer Rim to criminals and despots like the Hutts because it’s convenient to do so. Not so sanitised when you think about it.

But as the films move on and the Republic is not only torn apart by war but by bankruptcy too. By episode 3 we’re starting to get the ‘worn future’ look of the originals. The tone also darkens considerably. The mass execution of the Jedi and the mutilation of Anakin. Being the most obvious ones.

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Then there’s the millions upon millions of clone troopers who fought and died for absolutely no reason at all. If Star Wars was set in the 40k universe Khorne would be positively erect at that level of callous blood-letting.

For now we have to side step the debate surrounding the appalling acting by some of the cast and the equally dire dialogue (especially in Episode 2). As Harrison Ford once said to Lucas after a table read: You can read this shit George, but you can’t say it.

On that we can all agree.

But the Republic was a galaxy spanning organisation who were at their most powerful – and their most prideful. The Jedi Order served as peacekeepers to the Republic yet they were also an autonomous agency with near limitless resources and the ability to pursue their own agenda should the need arise.

Within the bounds of the Jedi code and Republic law of course.

For all of its assumptions of superiority, the Republic’s inner workings were snarled with infighting, territorial disputes, power grabs and jealousy exacerbated by special interests groups pushing their own agendas. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the Jedi Order – so supremely confident in their powers and the extent of their reach – completely failed to uncover a plot by a single Sith to not only defeat them with their own army but seize complete control of the galaxy in the process. I think Luke sums it up rather well:

‘…at the height of their power, the Jedi allowed a Sith Lord to take over the Republic and turn it into an Empire.  That’s their legacy.  Hubris.’

Their arrogance was their undoing. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure that leads to the dark side?

The Jedi Order, at it’s most powerful were at their weakest and the reason is really quite obvious.

Why on Earth would Luke – or any other Jedi – want to recreate that order, using the same teachings, with the same totally binary view of the force – the light vs the dark.

And I’m pretty sure that only a Sith deals in absolutes. I mean, I’m just throwing it out there.

The greatest teacher, failure is…

When you stop and think – and not even that hard – The Last Jedi is about balance.

The extremes of the Republic and First Order leave an incredibly large grey area for profiteering weapons dealer types to make oh so very much hay out of both sides.

Engineering increasingly more destructive weapons of war (heavy AT AT walkers or the comically named battering ram cannon anyone?) causing escalation and more fighting.

Which is exactly what happened in the Clone Wars. The pattern is repeating only each time the level of destruction increases and balance disappears.

In the absence of balance does Chaos reign.

This has never been more true when the same thinking is applied to the Force. When Rey stretches is out with her feelings everything in nature is balanced.

Luke says as much himself – On Ahch-to, in line with the source of light there is a source of great darkness. Balance.

Significantly Rey is drawn to both.

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And here is in lies the big reveal – the galaxy doesn’t need Luke Skywalker. As painful that is to accept, it is true – whether you agree with the ending of the movie or not.

At first I resisted the idea that Luke was redundant. I wanted him to fight but this Obi-wan quote from Star Wars Rebels sums it up rather elegantly:

‘If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.’

…then you have nothing.

The galaxy has as little need for Luke and the old ways of the Jedi as it does broken governments.

A single Jedi cannot halt the advance of a galactic power and to believe different is that hubris we spoke of earlier. The call back to later line later in the film is brilliant and emphasises how absurd we all are for naturally assuming Luke could single-handedly save the galaxy.

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The Jedi cannot be rebuilt as they were because an absolute good only gives rise to an absolute evil and they are compelled to destroy each other.

Even as peacekeepers Jedi were often punitive in their rulings because their definition of fairness didn’t come from a place of balance, it came from a place of righteousness that no other being could hope to meet.

In many ways fighting the Clone Wars revealed the Jedi for what they had become – a self-righteous instrument of judgement. They weren’t soldiers, nor did they have any experience in large-scale warfare and yet they led the armies because they believed they were the superior choice…than the soldiers genetically engineered for that exact role.

But on a deeper level they were the light clashing against the dark. Jedi history is littered with bloody conflicts be it against the Sith, the Mandalorians or anyone else. Their righteousness in the light side drives them to conflict just as the dark side does the Sith.

Instead the Jedi need to occupy a place of balance. That middle ground – neither light nor dark – but fair…balanced. Truly just and therefore truly just if they take action.

Equally the people they serve need to find a new path away from the Republic and the First Order. Neither system works because there is no balance.

Ironically both systems benefit a tiny minority just through different methods. Something to do with power and corruption. But when systems exist to consolidate power and eliminate balance the effect is always the same.

Again, this is being echoed in chambers of government around the world right now.

In the absence of balance, the people in charge become only concerned with staying in charge because their way is the right way.

And there’s those absolutes again.

We are what they grow beyond…

The Last Jedi is brilliant becomes it turns everything we have accepted about the Star Wars universe on its head and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. So much so that some consider it to be the worst Star Wars film of the bunch.

Until I gave it some thought I would have agreed. I actually think it’s one the best. And not because of all the torch passing bollocks that most critics have spouted on about – of course new characters are picking up where the old ones left off.

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There was a transition between Episode 3 and Episode 4 so why did we expect this trilogy to be any different? We’re only grumpy because we wanted more of the same. The reality is had Star Wars been made today, with today’s budgets and special effects, it would have been a TV show and it would have blown people’s minds.

The Last Jedi is brilliant because it really is a Star Wars movie for Star Wars fans. Not fans of specific bits of Star Wars. The Force Awakens by comparison is a busted, plot holed homage to the originals in an effort to apologise for the prequels. An apology that no one needed. Apart from Jar Jar.

I originally thought that Johnson was the fan boy making the movie he always wanted. Now I think it may have been the other way round.

The Last Jedi owns the sins of the Force Awakens – like why did Han and Luke both bugger off when Kylo goes bad. Until the Last Jedi that goes painfully unexplained.

It also brings everything together. It gives the three acts of the story cohesion made all the richer if you’ve watched The Clone Wars and Rebels programmes as well.

It also directly challenges the notion that every problem can be solved by ‘jumping in a cockpit and blowing something up’. Again it’s an uncomfortable thought because the word Wars is in the title and X-wings are awesome.

But the point is that although there will be battles, the war won’t end at the end of a gun.

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