6/08/2014

Thoughts on... Star Trek: Attack Wing

Type of Hobby:  Board/Miniatures Games
Number of Players: 2-3 (Officially) 4+ (In Reality)
Price: £29.99 RRP (Starter Set) / £11.99 (Expansions)

I am  a Star Trek geek. I'm someone who can tell you that a Galaxy-class starship has 12 Type X phaser arrays and  2 torpedo tubes (one fore, one aft), giving it near complete coverage and no real weak spots. I'm someone who can see a screengrab and be able to tell instantly the title of the episode, the season it's in and possibly, if I'm on a roll, the production number. I'm someone who can tell you what season an episode is from by Doctor Beverly Crusher's hair. 


Season 7, before you ask.

All this meant that Star Trek: Attack Wing was the most exciting thing ever. Fantasy Flight's X-Wing, only with my franchise of choice. I was, admittedly, unsure that the fighter on fighter gameplay of X-Wing would translate to the capital ship combat of Star Trek but, after watching some YouTube videos I was pretty convinced that this game was pretty great. So I bought the Starter Set, which was fun and seemed a pretty good proof of concept.

Core Mechanics


I'd already played the system in Star Wars: X-Wing, so I knew the ruleset was solid. The manoeuvre templates and dials worked really well to  create an exciting, dynamic feel. The system was, overall, fast, quick and easy to play, with the one action per ship economy creating some interesting choices in play. None of that has changed here. I was worried that the system, designed originally for  fighter planes in Wings of War, then again for fighter ships in X-Wing, simply wouldn't feel right for the larger, slower, Star Trek ships. For the most part though my concerns were proven wrong, although in some ways the designers have added in some strange balance issues, that X-Wing doesn't possess, due to a rigid adherence to some odd ideas.

The Starter Set comes with a whole bunch of stuff and it's just the tip of the iceberg.
The system has been adapted to Star Trek in some really cool ways. There's a greater focus on characters, with each ship having to chose a Captain and the majority of the upgrades being crew cards. Being able to assemble your dream team of ship, Captain, and crew is really a key part of the enjoyment to me as a Star Trek fan. Being able to make-believe what might have happened if Picard, or even Kirk, had got command of the USS Defiant is just so much fun that it's almost worth the price of admission alone.

Other upgrades include weapons and special technology and most of these mimic X-Wing pretty closely, although Attack Wing does have an ace up its sleeve here; disabling. Rather than simply discarding cards such as Photon Torpedoes, you can instead chose to spend your precious action on reloading, allowing you to keep firing. This gives even more depth to X-Wings action economy in a really cool way, with even more decisions to ponder, increasing the depth of the game.

Strange, Rigid, Design Decisions


That's the USS Odyssey firing backwards; it's not just the Enterprise that can do it!
Despite being a fan who can quote completely useless facts and statistics about Star Trek, I was prepared to be pretty easy going when it came to inconsistencies between the game and the show. The show itself rarely presented starship combat in a consistent way; as special effects technology improved over time, so did the nature of combat within the show. What begins in TOS and TNG as a pretty static affair soon evolved into a dynamic, fast moving, display of firepower. 

However, there are some strange decisions that I felt really hurt the game. There seems to have been some very rigid thinking involved in the design. The first thing I noticed, especially after buying a few expansion packs, is that almost all the ships have the same manoeuvres. This has the weird effect that a large cruiser ends up being more or less as manoeuverable as a small ship like the Defiant class. These same 15 manoeuvres are repeated over and over and I wonder why this is. Part of what makes the X-Wing ships feel so cool and different is each one moves in a totally different way. The Y-Wing is like taking your dads old Volvo out for a spin while your mates are throwing handbrake turns in their Tie-Fighters around you. It's really cool and fun and, frankly, the reason the system of dials and templates works so well. It's really unfortunate that it's only occasionally Attack Wing takes advantage of this, as it really makes the game feel bland in the movement stage. Some strides have been made here with the newest Borg ships, but it's too little too late and other ships are still coming out with these exact same manoeuvres. 

Another example of this rigid thinking is within the points costs of the ships. There's a very basic formula at in play - add up the stats, multiply by two - and it just doesn't work. It completely fails to take into account the special abilities of the 'named' ships like the Enterprise or the manoeuvre dials. I wonder if this is partly why the dials are all copy and paste jobs, to keep some strange balance with their devised formula. The game would have benefitted greatly from some diversity in this area, and individual points costs should have become apparent through playtesting. This a change from X-Wing which is definitely for the worse. 

There are some very odd choices being made in the firing arcs of the ships as well, which again I think is due to this rigid adherence to the formula. I wouldn't expect a fully 360° arc of fire from all the ships - although it could be done it would harm the manoeuvring aspect of the game which is so key - but some have been given a 90° arc when it really makes no sense at all. Why, of all ships, has the Galaxy Class been given a 90° arc? Or the Intrepid? Whilst others, like the Miranda and Constitution have much more reasonable 180° arcs. The Enterprise-D has the ability to fire 360°, which is great, but all that does is make the 90° arc on the generic Galaxy that much more incongruous. The effect of all these 90° arcs is to make the game feel less like you're firing capital ships and more like fighters. It seems odd that the design can hit the target with some of the ships, making the game feel just right, and not with others. 

You Can't Have All The Ships

Don't get excited - you can't buy this.

My favourite ship class by a long shot is the Nebula. I love how compact it is, and how it has cool looking torpedo pod. It's my favourite and I waited with baited breath for it's announcement in Attack Wing. 


I wish I hadn't.

Wizkids, in their wisdom, have decided to give some ships away exclusively as prizes in tournaments. Honestly, I think this sucks. It means that, short of going to eBay and spending silly money, you can't have a complete collection. Even if they were to release a Nebula Class in future (although there is still no sign of this), I know that the USS Sutherland and Captain Data et al will be forever out of my reach. This is particularly frustrating as a fan who just wants to collect all the bits of Star Trek lore and use them in the game. I think this is another area that X-Wing  beats it's Star Trek cousin in, as their prizes are just ships that are due to be released at a later date. That seems like a much better idea to me. 

Boldly Going...

Even this is just a small amount of the things you can buy! Seriously, there's a lot of stuff.
Star Trek: Attack Wing is a game that comes so very close to being the perfect Star Trek miniatures game. The diversity in cards, the fact that it vastly improves on some aspects of X-Wing mean that it should be great. Some strange design decisions and the fact that a complete collection is impossible for most means that I just view it as a missed opportunity. It's still fun, and worth a look if you love Star Trek. But it's just good, not great, and I think Star Trek is still looking for a game with as much care and attention as X-Wing. I hope it isn't looking for too much longer.