Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Star Wars Miniatures: Starship Battles – How To Destroy A Licensed Product In One Easy Step

I am a big Star Wars fan, but not the type that walks around in Vader costumes or quotes Obi-Wan Kenobi on a daily basis. I just dig the movies; the whole “rebellion against a tyrannical government” theme and a soundtrack that changed filmmaking forever is more than enough reason to love a film. So, when Star Wars Miniatures: Starship Battles came out some years ago, I was jazzed, and I was thinking about picking up a starter. It was at the moment that I said “starter” in my head that I realized what a waste of money any “collectible” game is and decided to hold off until it went out of print so I could try it on the cheap.

Fast forward a couple of years to June 2010 when I noticed a Starter on sale for $32.99 at my local FLGS. I asked the guy at the counter to hold onto it for a couple of days, and he eagerly complied. I went home and broke out a can of Search-Fu, typing away to see what people thought about the game, check out some reviews, and see what it is all about. I also went to Ebay to see what a complete set would run in case the addictive portion of my psyche kicked in and forced me to get everything, and I was giddy to learn that the entire set could be mine for a mere hundred and fifty bones. It was at this point that I realized that people were generally pretty negative about the game and that it appears to have some serious issues with range and other little niggles. I also noticed a huge vacuum where there should be a bunch of reviews of the game, and so I decided, in the interest of journalism, I had to get a starter pack and a booster to run it through its paces.

I got the satchel of Force-powered goodness home and tore it open like a seven year old on Christmas, was delighted to see two capital ships, a Mon Calamari Destroyer, a Super Star Destroyer, and seven little baggies that contained all manner of fighters, complete with cool little stat cards. I was then sorely disappointed when I got past the ships and found a single D20 die, some of the cheapest, crappiest wound markers that have ever been printed, a completely bland, foldable, double-sided spacemap, and a crappy little rulebook whose high point was a cool catalog of the entire set in the back, complete with flavor text. There were some other bits of paper in there that appeared to have some purpose or another, but I waited until I read the rules to determine their purpose. All in all, the ships are really cool looking and appear to be pretty durable, although some of the fighters were bent to hell and back.

It was at this very moment that all of my hopes and dreams of epic combat above the orbital spheres of distant worlds were crushed like a wet paper sack full of vomit. Why, you ask? I read the rules, and they were as ridiculous as a condom dispenser at a Catholic church. The first thing I noticed is that the standard fleet size was listed at 300 points per team, and the starter set only included around 190 points per side, with one side having less points than the other. Even after I opened the booster, which only had about another 100 points or so of figures, I didn’t have enough to field the full 300 points per side that was listed as a standard fleet. Still, I liked the idea of Star Wars ships fighting in space, so I soldiered on.

The idea of the game is that you start with a group of capital ships, frigates, and corvettes in space on opposing sides of the spacemap, and the two sides duke it out until one side is completely destroyed. There are rules that allow for scenarios with victory objectives, but again, without the ability to field even fleets, this was going to be hard to get excited about. Further, the lack of weapons range rules indicated to me that the game would revolve around my two capital ships shooting the piss out of each other from opposing sides of the map, with little in the way of “action” other than rolling dice, and very few important decisions to make. In short, all ships can blast any other ships on the map, with the exception of fighters which can only attack or be attacked when adjacent to an opposing ship.

When setting up the battlefield, each side puts their Class One, Two and Three ships, which equate to the largest of ships to the smallest non-fighter transport ships, into play on their side of the map, with the Class Four fighters being held in reserve to be launched later. Each ship has a card associated with it that indicates the point value of the ship, the class of the ship, how many weapons the ship has, and which special powers it has, like whether it can launch fighters and how many fighters it can launch per turn. Each card also indicates how much damage a ship can absorb before being crippled, and when the ship has taken enough damage to be crippled, the card is flipped to the reverse which has lowered defense values, reduced weapon counts, and fewer special abilities.

Once the ships are set up, the game begins and is played in both phases and rounds. Each player rolls the D20 to see who gets initiative, and the winner of the roll is allowed to move their entire fleet. Each ship class moves up to the amount of spaces in its class, so Class One ships can move one space where Class Four ships may move 4. There are some logical restrictions on the largest of ships, such as that they cannot move diagonally where smaller, more maneuverable ships may. Once one side’s ships are moved, if any of their ships have fighter launch capability, they may launch up to their allotted amounts of fighters. Once the first team has moved, the opponent may move in the same manner. I should note that each ship has four defense ratings, one for each face of the ship, and some weapons may only be fired from one face of the ship, so the facing of capital ships makes a tremendous difference in both offensive and defensive capability.

Once all movement has occurred the fighting begins, and this is where the game falls apart like a cheap Dollar Store straw hat. Although each side takes a turn firing every weapon they have at any enemy target they want, except fighters who may only attack or be attacked by adjacent ships, the damage isn’t “official” until the end of the round when both sides resolve the combat. In other words, it’s a simultaneous action system, where everyone shoots at once with damage resolved after all parties have shot. This is a really interesting mechanic for the game, and it works really well, but the problem is that there is no imperative reason to ever move anything but your fighters. The lack of range rules makes this a really lame little dice tossing waste of time. The randomness of relying completely on the result of a dice roll makes this game always end with the capital ships launching fighters and shooting each other from a static position until only the fighters are left, duking it out until one side loses. There are even line of sight rules for the game, but since ships don’t block line of sight, and the map has not a single planet, asteroid, or other terrain feature to block line of sight, there’s simply no reason to even think about it.

It’s arguable that moving your capital ships is imperative to get a broadside shot on an enemy for the purpose of attacking the enemy ships’ flanks, where the defense rating is generally lower, but in the games we’ve played it’s a moot point because the capital ships are so heavily laden with attack bonuses that it amounts to a 50/50 shot of scoring a hit every single time you roll the dice. Fighters have a far higher defense rating, generally, but each capital ship also has a “point defense” attack that allows them to attack every adjacent fighter once per round in addition to normal attacks, so it becomes a game of attrition and sheer luck.

The last little rule that is interesting is the inclusion of a command point system, which works well. Some capital ships are allotted command points, which allow them to place a marker on a command sheet which allows a special action by all ships of the class that is chosen during that round. Once the command point is used, it is gone forever, so it’s important to use the points at the most effective time. It doesn’t save the game, but it does make it slightly more interesting as well as provide a hair more Star Wars feel to the game.

The final straw that broke my will to ever play this game again is that the price point is egregiously high, with a starter normally retailing for about thirty-five bones and each booster, which contains a measly seven ships, coming in at twenty bones. As noted before, one starter and a booster cost me about sixty bucks, and even with that outlay of cash I didn’t have enough ships to play the standard scenario. That’s complete bullshit. For that same money I could’ve bought Space Alert and Tikal, a Heroscape Master Set and two expansions, or any other variety of games that are far better and more fun to play. The only saving grace of Star Wars Miniatures: Starship Battles is that the ships are really cool to look at. There have been innumerable attempts by homebrew designers to fix the game, but none have caught on, so this really was a huge waste of time and money.

As of this writing, Wizards of the Coast has lost the license to Star Wars and this product line has been cancelled, with the original set being all that will ever surface. I am sure that this craptastic abortion of a product had something to do with this, inciting nerd rage against Wizards for making such a horrible rule set for a game that could’ve been exceptional, especially considering that Star Wars nerds will buy anything that has a Star Wars logo somewhere on the box. This is the second game that has come out from Hasbro and its subsidiaries with the word “epic” in the title: Star Wars: Epic Duels, and this game, Star Wars: Epic Fail. Well, that’s what it should’ve been called, anyway.

I want my damned sixty bucks back, and I want an apology from Wizards of the Coast for doing what they’ve done to this game, Heroscape, and pretty much anything they get their retarded hands on; completely ruin it and subsequently attempt to destroy the franchise.

Things That Exuded Executor-Class Kick Ass:
*The miniatures are very nice, and although the larger ships aren’t very detailed, they’re still cool
*The cards and the damaged ship mechanic is really interesting and is the high point in the design
*The command point system adds a modicum of control to the game, making it slightly less random and more interesting
*The simultaneous damage system is great and provides excellent balance to the attack phase

Things That Bled Womp Rat-Level Suck Ass:
*The lack of range rules was a huge oversight, and it’s clear that nobody playtested this, ever
*The fact that sixty dollars spent on a starter and a booster was not enough to play a standard match is a complete load of bullshit
*The double-sided starmap is completely bland, boring, and the exact same on both sides, except for the color of the planet that sits on one fringe of the map
*The damage marker chits are the cheapest, crappiest chits I have ever seen, and are rivaled in quality only by the worst print-and-play freebies on the market
*The simple fact is that the game is as boring as a blind man listening to old folks playing bocce

Overall:
I sure would love to tell you that this is the most exciting, engaging space combat game ever, but I can’t. This game sucks, and I’m talking Jar-Jar Binks level of suckage here. I’m sure it could be fixed by some house rules, but I review games based on what they are, not what they could be, so, in short, don’t buy this game unless you have a clear-cut purpose for the cool little ships in mind beforehand.

Rating:
1.5/5 Stars

At this point I’d tell you where to learn more about the game, but Wizards of the Coast is so embarrassed by this epic failure that they’ve completely deleted all reference to this game on their website. Try BGG if you really want to know more, or just look at this video of my buddy RJ kicking the crap out of some guys in a Shorin-Ryu demonstration, as it’s far more entertaining:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y2rl_2ZXcA


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