Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Star Trek: Attack Wing - "Use The Force, Kirk" ~ Eddie Rickenbacker

I've played pretty much every Star Trekity space combat simulator for at least a short while, so at this point, I'm not calling myself an expert by any means, but I am saying I know of which I speak from my own limited perspective, formed through decades of experience. Until this point, I was pretty much convinced that A Call To Arms: Star Fleet (ACTA) would go down in history as the game that made Star Trek games accessible; the game that simplified the genre sufficiently to allow the great unwashed masses the ability to just sit and play. It turns out that I was mostly right: ACTA still holds the trophy regarding making Star Fleet Battles simple enough to play by virtually anyone without removing the things that makes it truly more simulator than game, especially over something like Star Wars X-Wing (X-Wing) or, more closely, Battlefleet Gothic. That said, Star Trek: Attack Wing (Attack Wing) does almost everything right in almost every meaningful way when it comes to simplifying down capital ship combat while keeping it tense enough to be exciting, and deep enough to be more than just another dog-fighting game. In a word, engaging.

It is at this point I want to apologize up front, as I'm going to have to do the inevitable X-Wing vs. Attack Wing comparison because some of you might still think that they're directly competitive product lines of the same scope. These may share a basic system, but they are most assuredly not the same kind of game beyond the obvious. The real comparison should be between Attack Wing and ACTA, because where ACTA is a simpler, abstracted version of Star Fleet Battles, Attack Wing is a more accessible, more abstracted version of ACTA. The fact that Attack Wing just happens to share a lot of basic traits with X-Wing, or Wings of War, is in my opinion irrelevant and incidental at best. If Wings of War is the wise and clever grandfather, and X-Wing is the successful and handsome father, then Attack Wing is the physicist son who exceeded the grandfather in wit and exceeded the father in success, but isn't as handsome as either. That's really a great analogy; so much so that after saying it out loud, I literally was in awe of its sagacity. It really fits.

In continuing my comparison, for those who are still skeptical of my assertion, I should mention that while the basic movement and shooting mechanics are very similar to X-Wing, Attack Wing has so much more meat on its bones than X-Wing from a scope, replay, and depth perspective that they really shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath. Dice Tower, in their review video, said something to the tune of "if you know how to play X-Wing, you know how to play Attack Wing", but I think that is simplifying things. It's more precise to say, "if you know X-Wing, learning Attack Wing will be easier as the core movement and shooting rules are more similar than not". Attack Wing is a game about objectives and smart tactics, not just about trying to get behind the other guy and ram a proton torpedo up his backside. Where X-Wing is tactical, and slightly strategic, Attack Wing is far more strategic and slightly less tactical. They have a vastly different scope, although you can just hockey-fight if you really want to, and those who think they are essentially differently themed versions of the same game are not seeing the forest for the trees, with all due respect. I can't slight someone for thinking so, the marketing surely didn't indicate otherwise with any level of skill. 

There are more, and longer, rulers in Attack Wing
Anyhow, before I get into the real meat of the review, let me talk about the components for a while to give you an idea of what to expect. Let's begin by saying that the packaging for both the starter and the boosters is virtually indiscernible from X-Wing's. It comes with 3 models, a bunch of cards and bits, some rulers, some wheels, and stands for the ships. Sadly, the models in the game are not nearly as detailed or well painted as X-Wing, whose models are the no-bullshit gold standard for miniature space models, and further, are not even remotely as detailed as the ACTA models, although the ACTA models are sold unassembled and unpainted. I can allow that the sculpture isn't all that detailed, since scale does play a role in that. What I can't buy is that the paint can't be as it was with X-Wing. I shit you not, these ships are not in the same league, or even the same sport from the paint booth perspective. I guess it's the dividend of having to pay licensing for the "system" to Fantasy Flight Games, a cost that FFG didn't have to pay since it's their novel system (wink, wink).

Battle of the Corian Nebula
See, I get that quality costs money, but what inexorably hacks me off is that not only are these models' paint only marginally better than the Star Trek: Tactics, but the models are nearly identical as well. At $15.00 retail, each, you'd think they'd have converted the models a little bit and added a few new details or got a paint scheme that took more than 14 seconds to apply. Maybe hired younger little Chinese factory slaves, the ones with tiny hands, to really get in on the little paint details like ol' FFG must've done. Sadly, this is not so, and I'm sure that Christian Petersen has got to be laughing all the way to the bank on this deal. Now, this is not to say that the models are ugly, they're just not the pinnacle of this genre as X-Wing models are. If I had to use a single word to describe them, it would be "plain". Well, all but one, and not because it's simply plain, it's because it's embarrassingly terrible. To put it mildly, I was disappointed with the "Kirk" Enterprise, and please, humor me on this point because I have something to say about it, as well as how the game was marketed initially.

Click on this to zoom in. You gotta see this.
I don't want to belabor the point too much about this wee Enterprise, but it's my blog and I really need to rant about this a little bit. The Attack Wing version of the "Kirk" Enterprise, one of the single most iconic space ships of all time, is pathetic and a total fucking disgrace to the license. All of the sell sheets from Wizkids and the initial webstore images made the thing look cool as ice and twice as nice, but when I saw it at the store, I'm not even sure what I can describe my emotions as. As best I can put it, it's like seeing this great looking burger on TV, dripping steamy juices of yum, and then when you order it and unwrap it, it looks like gelled cat shit between two pieces of wonder bread. There was a lot of this web store bait-and-switching done, but the Enterprise is the one that not only fails to live up to the imagery, it really shouldn't even exist in the current form. It's just little, sad, pathetic, and all kinds of fucked up. Seriously, immediately cut it apart, toss everything but the mounting receptacle into the nearest skip, and then put the saved receptacle into the Heroclix Enterprise-A model after drilling it out. It took me one minute, no bullshit, to convert it, using a scalpel, a drill, and some dollar-store super glue. That minute is counting the walk up 13 stairs to get the glue. Ugh.

Finally, my only other complaint about Attack Wing, and this is very subjective, and likely a little bitchy on my part, is that the printing on the cards is very dark, with scant contrast. So much so that it's hard to see some of the art in a room that isn't very brightly lit. Many of the cards also have this queer "interpolated screen" look to them so they look like a old scan-line CRT monitor. I mean, the art appears to be 100% recycled from the various TV series', so it's not like I'm missing out on a Frank Frazetta original or something. Again, not distracting, but it's something I'd have appreciated a little bit more love being given to.

One of the best things about the game is that the base set and each expansion come with these wonderful little pairs of mission cards that expand the game far more than the ship in the box does. Each is an entirely new scenario, built to play with the ship you just purchased, and after playing several of them I have to say that it's way better than just trying to blow the other guys up as is the usual deal with most space games. Like I said, it's not just another dog-fighting game.

From a product price standpoint, the really great thing about Attack Wing is that I'm sure that I'd never have a desire to buy multiples of all of the ships to feel like I'm getting the most of the experience. What this really means is that you can buy into the game, balls deep, for less than both X-Wing and ACTA, which is a very good thing. Hell, I'm not even sure that you'd need to buy all the ships that come out, although they all do bring something to the table, or at least the ones that have been released at this point. I initially only wanted to get "The Original Series" ships, but after seeing the "Kirk" Enterprise model, I realized immediately that I'd have to reconsider that notion.

Anyhow, let's move on and try to shake off the shame from the sad little Enterprise. So far, I've gotten the base set and all eight expansions released in the launch, including two of each Dominion ship. I initially purchased the base set, which I feel is a month's supply of awesome weekends, and after realizing how good the game is, I went out and purchased all of the expansions. Only after playing the game 5 times did I realize that I'd really like to have more Dominion ships, solely to "fill out" that faction since the other factions all have at least three ships and the Dominion has only two. 

Again, I don't believe this is the kind of game where having a lot of one kind of ship buys you much, so unlike X-Wing, it shouldn't be a money pit. My biggest concern about the game's long-term costs are that there are many dozens of models available from Wizkids' stable, and Wizkids' policy on reusing models seems to be to beat a horse until it's jellied, so therefore I can envision them putting as many out in as rapid a time as possible. As it sits, wave one and two are already being scheduled for release, so we're talking about buying quite a few models if you want to "keep up" and collect them all. I encourage you to read the cards and see if you really need to have each model before buying, because I can guarantee there will be chaff.

All Your Scan Are Belong To Us
Back to the game itself, one of the great design ideas in this game is that the ship is just the base with which you build upon, but unlike a game like X-Wing or Battleship Galaxies, there's a little more to it than just tacking on weapons, or occasionally, a pilot. To build a ship, you first choose a model and a card that goes with it. For instance, you could choose the USS Enterprise, or you can choose it to be a random Galaxy Class ship, like the SFC Superfly, my personal flagship. Anyhow, if you choose the named ship over the generic, you get a bonus of some kind, although it costs slightly more in build points. Next, you must add a Captain, which gives the ship its initiative value, and the captain may have a slot for an elite trait which gives him a special ability. Then after that, you choose crewmen to accompany the stalwart Skipper, which again gives you more options and abilities. Finally, you can load the ship with weapons and technical upgrades. A key point in all of this is that every ship has the ability to field any faction's upgrade, not just those aligned with their faction, but if you use upgrades from a different faction, they cost more in build points. 

As noted, a new and recognizable scenario is packed into each expansion, so you will be hard-pressed to run out of "game" anytime soon. They are surprisingly varied, and the beauty of the system is that not only will you want to play each scenario, you'll want to do it with several different fleet builds and from both sides of the scenario. In addition, it's worth mentioning that there are scenarios for more than just two players, and they are amazingly well balanced, from what I can tell from playing four of them. Three player works really well with this game due to the objectives given, which very few games seem to be able to accomplish. Each faction seems to be better at certain things as well, which provides the impetus to want to try things differently for given scenarios. Sometimes you want to play Dominion ships, which are essentially big space battle wagons that fire from a drink straw, and sometimes you want to play the Romulans, who have powerful weapons but are limited in their deployment. It's simply a very well designed system, and you can tell that a lot of thought was put into making each scenario and faction very unique and worth playing.

Something that I was concerned with when I read the designer diary on was that Andrew Parks, the designer, was not a huge Star Trek fan, and due to the porting of the movement and attack system, I wasn't sure that the game was going to feel really "Trekky", so to speak. I am happy to admit that my fears were unwarranted, because the game is quite immersive from the "feel" standpoint. This game exudes capital ship combat, science, exploration, and most importantly, the Star Trek fiction. They embrace the license, and that's very telling to me that they are engaged with the fan base and want the game to be more about Star Trek than a generic space combat game as it could've been. The missions are straight out of different Star Trek eras, and best of all, they have an ongoing monthly campaign at local stores that re-enacts the Dominion War. Attendance at these tournaments are most assuredly prize-driven, but I have to admit that I'm drawn to the idea that the company is supporting tournaments with more than just a "Come play so you can blow other people's shit up" background. The one thing I've noticed, though, is that many stores aren't set up on the Wizkids event system, so finding a venue might be tough.

At the end of the day, this game is better in a lot of ways than X-Wing, but only if you're looking for a more scenario-driven or, really, deeper gaming experience. X-Wing certainly fills a niche and the remarkably detailed ships don't hurt, but it is, at its core, a shoot-em-up, albeit arguably the best ever made. Attack Wing is not a shoot-em-up, and it portrays its theme better than X-Wing did, and in the most meaningful of ways. Alas, the real test for this game isn't as, or should not have been expressed as, a competitor to X-Wing, but rather, as a much less rules-heavy version of Star Fleet Battles or ACTA. I think, to that end, it succeeds amazingly, and the only real complaint I have about the game as a whole is not derived from its design, but rather based upon the quality of the printing and models. 

If you're looking for a true capital ship combat game that embraces its theme and simulates, but in an abstract and simple way, the mechanics of large ships with complex subsystems engaged in various missions, this is a very, very good choice at a moderate price point. From the play perspective, it isn't as detailed as ACTA, but it isn't as simple as X-Wing, and I think it hits a very sweet spot betwixt simulation and shoot-em-up. It's a very fun game that isn't a brain burner, but isn't for burnouts either. I'm glad I dumped a shitload of money into it, and I will continue to do so, despite my wife's protestations.

Why Baron Von Picard and Geordi Bishop Both Approved This Message:
- Simple, accessible play paired with depth and scenario-driven play makes this a keeper
- The theme wasn't tacked on like so much cheap costume jewelry; it's integral
- They've done a great job expanding upon FlightPath's two predecessor games
- If you always wanted to try Star Fleet Battles, don't; try this instead
- You don't need to buy multiples of every ship to remain viable in tournament play

Why I Wipe Out Wizkids' Klingons With Quilted Northern Ultra Plush:
- Repainting old, mediocre models was not a smart play when they could've been brilliant
- Dark printing and CRT-style scan lines didn't help the production value shine
- Another expensive miniatures game right after X-Wing is a pox upon humanity
- The "Kirk Enterprise" model may be the single biggest misstep in IP licensing ever

Of all of the Star Trek licensed games, I suspect that I will eventually succumb and call this "my favorite", despite my adoration for the ACTA system. It does everything right in terms of play and does many things right in terms of production value. At $15.00 a pack, they should've come up with the cash to make new, far better models that are in line with the X-Wing models, although they aren't bad, aside from that one I mentioned. The rehashing of old models with subpar paint jobs is the single most disappointing thing about this game, but luckily, the game makes up for it in every meaningful way. 

Also, I'd argue that there's room for both X-Wing and Attack Wing, although I'd say that there's not enough room for Attack Wing and ACTA because they are similar in scope and purpose. In that regard, it comes down to the question of whether you prefer longer simulation games or if you want faster, more abstracted games. In the end, this is a truly wonderful offering that I will certainly be found playing often, and one of the very few games in my entire life that I'm considering playing competitively. The only reason this game isn't a 5 Star game, in the opinion of the Circus, is that the ships are just not up to the level of quality that a 5 Star game commands. That said, if you don't try it, you're missing out.


4.5/5 Stars

Check out the Wizkids site here:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for this FANTASTIC review! I agree 100% with what you said.