The Future of Star Wars Games

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What does the future of a Long Long time ago, hold?

Hey BoLS Fans, Stable Abe here. Today I want to talk about what the future holds for the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars lines, in particular X-Wing and Armada. This is not meant to be speculation on particular ships and cards that might be released in the future, you can find plenty of that elsewheres, but rather a look at how the games might evolve and change over time. I don’t want to ask, “what ships are coming out in wave XI of X-wing”, but rather, “what does the game look like at Wave XX?”

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Takes you back doesn’t it?

A Trip Down Memory Lane

For those new to either game, here’s a little background. Back in the forgotten times (2012) Fantasy Flight Games released a small pre-painted miniatures game called X-Wing. At first ship choices were very limited, the starter box only came with X-Wings and the basic TIE fighter. Y-Wings, TIE Interceptors and TIE Advanceds, were all released before the end of the year, but it was still an uncertain thing. Pre-painted miniature games have had a rocky history and FFG had also never really made a game like this before. Moreover back in 2006 Wizards of the Coast had attempted a pre-painted Star Wars miniatures space combat game, Starship Battles, with dismal results.

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Where it all began

The game however proved to be a hit, and took off. In fact many of its early troubles were created by product selling out faster than anticipated. Today X-Wing is a hit game, with thousands of players worldwide and is set to see it’s 10th Full Wave released soon. In addition 2015 saw the release of Star Wars: Armada, a similar game to X-Wing, but focusing on large space battles, rather than dog fights. Armada is a growing game with its fifth wave coming out by the end of the year.

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Something something, Robert Frost, something

Two Types of Games

When talking about most games it’s important to note that there are in essence two types of games I’ll call them, Continuing Games and Completed Games. Completed Games are games with an end goal in sight. In essence the gamemakers plan to release a certain number of items, and then the game will be complated. This does not mean that the game will never be changed, there might be a later expansion, or new edition, but these games are not constantly expanding and adding new product. Most board games and some miniatures games fall into this category. Continuing Games on the other hand are never finished, they are always putting out new product in some form or another and plan to do so essentially forever. Both X-wing and Armada fall into this category.

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Wrong Future 

Plan for the Future

So that brings me back to my original question, what do these games look like not next wave, but ten waves from now. One of the major dangers of Continuing Games is bloat. Many games, from D&D to MTG to Warmachine, can find themselves suffering from bloat, there are simply too many models or cards in the games to keep track of. Not only does this make the game incredibly complex, it also raises the barrier to entry, discouraging new players and strangling the game’s growth. Overly complex games like this also give an advantage to players who have more time to study the massive amounts of abilities and options available.

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This is what rules bloat looks like

Another effect of bloat tends to be power creep. We see this in almost all games, as a game ages the newer releases tend to gain in power and desirability, part of this is in an effort to get players to buy the new product. It can also be simply from an attempt to set the stuff apart from older stuff, or because new product is created in order to fix older issues. In X-wing we have seen this with a number of of cheap title or modifications cards that fix weaker cards, but also that have become indispensable.

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“Bloat” and “Star Wars” can only mean one thing…

How it Affects Us

I love both X-Wing and Armada, I think they are absolutely wonderful games. However both are already being affected by bloat and power creep. This is most noticeable in X-Wing. With 9 full waves and many smaller release out there are already more ships, let alone pilots, in the game than a casual player can keep track of. A huge number of upgrade cards are also available, but many are forgotten about or go unused. Many of the newer ships tend to be more powerful than older releases, while older ships, like the T-65 X-wing, the TIE Advanced and the Y-Wing all went through periods where they were relatively unplayed. Though newer upgrades have sought to address this, they still require extra cards, meaning more bloat, and purchases to fix the problems, acting to fight the symptoms, but not the root problem. Armada, though a newer and smaller game, has some problems already, such as the Victory Class Star Destroyer vanishing from the playing scene. Given time these issues will only get worse.

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That’s a bit of a wild plan there Joker

Fighting the Creep

Never fear friends, for hope is not lost! There are a couple of ways to deal with the bloat and power creep in your games. One way is to periodically release new editions of your game. Editions allow you to not only rewrite the core rules of your game, but also to rebalance your current product, if balance is even your goal, while possibly pairing down your product line. In some cases, such as D&D, they can act as a reset button, jettisoning all your product save for a core set. New editions don’t stop creep, it will just grow up again, but they do prune it back and continued release of new editions will mostly deal with the issue. Another way of dealing with creep is the play format system that games like Magic the Gathering use. In essence they force you to pick a format to lay with and the format only allows certain cards/units/models to be used. (I would check out this great article by a MTG designer on fighting creep) Thus you don’t have to balance or learn a whole game, only a certain small segment of the game.

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As long as we get the Z-‘Cepter someday it will all be ok

So What is Going to Happen?

I don’t know what FFG plans to do in the future. I feel like no one at FFG predicted the popularity of their Star Wars line and I have to wonder if they even have a long term plan for them. We’ve seen them taking several steps to either add abilities to old card, or rerelease cards with changes, such as the new PS9 Poe from Heroes of the Resistance. While these may be fine stopgap measures, long term if something isn’t done the games will crumble under their own weight. FFG has taken a lot of pages from the collectible card game world, and MTG in particular. It would not surprise me if they started working on some sort of format play that only allows certain options. Alternatively they could put out new editions of the games, this would most likely require them to sell some sort of “card pack” that you could buy without the models to replace all your old pilot and upgrade cards. While I do see a growing danger, I have faith in FFG and I can’t wait to see what wave XX holds for us!

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That’s all for today folks! Let us know how you feel about bloat and power creep, and what you think FFG will do about it, down in the comments!

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  • JD Robertson

    Great article. FFG is really proactive about adjusting the meta, but the current release pace for XWing feels unsustainable (two new expansions announced just now). Hopefully the higher price point for Armada, my preferred game, allows it to grow a bit slower. I’ve pulled my VSDs back out some for Wave IV with Interdictor support and hopefully they can hang out awhile.

  • Buell Richardson

    Not sure where you are playing but I see Victory class Star Destroyers on the table

    • Stable Abe

      Playing in Texas they are really rare to find. Date from this round of competitive play bears this out, in the last round of regions/national events only about 21% of all Imperial lists, or 12% of all total lists took a VSD. The next least used ship was the Neb-B, but it still got taken in 32% of Rebel fleets. I do think now that waves III and IV are out you’ll see them more.

  • vlad78

    Great article, this is exactly how I feel about the game.

  • Ty Hayden

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I would love for them to come out with a box that let you buy all of the upgrades right now. It would be nice to not need to buy ships to get all the fancy upgrades I would like to use…

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      That is not a sustainable model for FFG given their business strategy. They want you to buy ships you do not need or want to get a hold of cards you do want (or vice versa, in some cases). This was patently obvious with the Tantive and Raider. Epic is not hugely popular yet people bought those ships in droves to get a hold of the upgrade cards.

      if FFG were to release cards separately, I am pretty sure it would be in a booster pack format. That would get people to buy lots of packs, which helps offset the loss of sales for ships.

      If they do not go the booster pack route, then they will probably have to go the tool kit route and release a box with upgrade cards in it. The kit would include useful and necessary/popular upgrade cards as well as new cards (to force established players to buy the kits). They could update the tool kit each year to include some of the best cards from the yer previous (along with new cards).

      If they did go this route, I could easily see them rejiggering their entire line. Pulling old ships off the line and repackaging them in “Aces” style boxes, maybe even going to 3 ships in a box. That way the blister packs are kept to the most recent waves, while older content is contained in “value boxes”.

      • Spacefrisian

        Well it would hurt them to re-release som cards previously found in big ship in new smaller ships, like that Stress bot or Palpatine.

        They could release a reverse version for rebels in form of Obi Wan Kenobi…these are not the dice you are looking for (basicly change 1 dice of opponents roll per round, 8 points 2 crew slots.)

  • Jay

    Please dont jump the shark with crappy not really canon ships

  • Lee Williams

    Really? A long long time ago….. read the crawler for once you hack.

  • Xodis

    I see scenarios in the future. Ones that push forward on models that are considered “crap” by most tournament players. The Tie Bombers get a lot of heat (as far as I remember), but a scenario requiring Bombers to complete the mission and some sort of support to even protect them seems like a game in itself.

    • Sebastien Bazinet

      Ever since FFG announced the campaign pack for Armada I’ve been hoping they announce one for X-Wing.

  • Richard Mitchell

    I love this article too. Deep and thoughtful. It wasn’t a cheerleader article or a doom one. Instead it intelligently dissected the issue and outlined possible solutions. Great job.

  • GiftoftheMagi

    It is a hard thing to stop power creep. When you create a game, you make the standards by which the game works. Over time, you want to add new elements AND have the player buy them, but those new elements will likely make them more powerful or desirable than the older ones, because you don’t want to make a bland copy of what you already have out.

    So what to do? You could plan ahead, plan a lot of aspects into the game and introduce them only a bit at a time, so you get new elements without power increase, but then you have to make sure the rules are balanced as well, which is near impossible.