Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars Conundrum

star-wars

Fantasy Flight makes some amazing games set in the Star Wars universe, but a huge conundrum lurks within.

FFG makes some really great games. Some of it’s best games are set in the Star Wars universe, X-wing, Armada, Imperial Assault, plus board, card and RPGs. Among these X-wing and Aramda are two of my current favorite miniature games. So at the start I want to be very clear that I like, love even, the FFG Star Wars games, all of them in their own way are great games. But they, and in particular X-wing and Armada, have one really big… anomaly lets say.

On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole's spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.

And it’s a space anomaly, the best kind!

Most miniature games are set in a particular setting. 40K has the Warhammer setting, the Grimdark, Warmechine has the Iron Kingdoms, Bolt Action has WWII, Kings of War has Mantica. There are also some game systems that are setting agnostic, they are simply a set of rules and have absolutely no setting and often no models purpose made for it.

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The vast land of Mantica

This brings us back to X-Wing and Armada. What is the setting of these games? Well the easy, the obvious, answer is “Star Wars, duh”, and heck it even says so in the titles of the games. But, and it’s a big but, a Jabba sized but, what is the Star Wars setting? This is where it gets complicated, so strap in for a moment.

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Cus Jabba the Hutt and Jabba the Butt rhyme, get it? Get it? 

Star Wars is huge, it has a ton of fluff, as much as any other setting out there, between the 7 feature movies, 1 full animated movie, several TV movies (Ewoks), a dozen or more seasons of TV shows, and scores if not hundreds of novels, RPG supplements, magazines, games and what not. But despite that it’s also limited in a major way.  When Disney bought LucasFilms way back in 2012, they ushered in a reboot of the existing fluff, most of the Star Wars background was regulated to the status of “Legends” and is unofficial , only  the movies , TV shows and few books published since the buyout are officially canon.  More than that however the New Canon is radically different from the old Legends or EU stuff.

 

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And no one even knows how the Old Republic fits into the fluff

I won’t get into weather or not this was good idea here, that’s a totally different topic. But this move did pose a challenge to FFG when using Star Wars as a setting. In essence there are two Star Wars settings, the old and the new and they are radically different. So which one did they pick to set their games in? Well, the answer is neither really. FFG has chosen to pull from the new and the old fulff pretty much at will. Now for some, many, most even, this isn’t really a problem. Not everyone cares about the fluff or the setting. Or maybe they don’t care beyond the basics. “Empire and Rebellion?  Still got Star Destroyers that look cool? That’s enough for me man.” I can’t argue with the point of view, if you don’t care much about the background and the fluff, man that’s cool, more power too you.

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And you’re entitled to be wrong

But I care. Maybe I’m old school, maybe it’s cus I cut my teeth on fluff heavy and hobby heavy games. Maybe it’s my love of history, real or fictional. Whatever the core reason, fluff and background do matter to me, and others, and this is a problem for FFG Star Wars games. You see it bothers me that, for exzample, in X-wing  you have both Corran Horn in an E-Wing and Poe Dameron in a T-70 X-Wing. The E-wing and Corran and the T-70 and Poe don’t exist in the same setting, they are inimical to each other in many ways.  All of this makes the setting and the fluff weaker and matter less, it takes away from the setting and overall from players engagement with the games.

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Poe you handsome devil, I just can’t stay mad at you!

It can also make the games confusing to talk about. Look at some of our articles here on BoLS, such as mine about what new Admirals should be in Armada, or Adam Harry’s about his Kavil list for X-Wing. Both of us were inspired and excited about the fluff and background behind certain Star Wars characters. We talked up their background and accomplishments and their fluff. That fluff however, may or may not count, it may not matter, it’s in this grey area. It’s not official Star Wars fluff, but maybe it is FFG Star Wars fluff? Who knows.

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Actually, nope, not even the Shadow knows

This get’s even more complicated when talking about characters that do exist in both versions of the fluff. Take Grand Admiral Thrawn for exzample. Thrawn was iconic in the old EU and is now in the new Canon, but I can guarantee that there will be differences between the two versions. When Thrawn comes to Armada and X-Wing, what version will they use? What fluff or background are we going to talk about for him? In the FFG Star Wars setting does Han die on a walkway in Starkiller Base cut down by his only son Ben, or does Chewie die on Sernpidal crushed by a moon while saving Han’s youngest son Anakin? There is no answer.

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I know Chewie, it makes me rage also

Now to be honest I don’t think X-Wing or Armada do a great job of interacting with their fluff or setting. Both games do feel very “Star Wars-y” it’s true. Neither however really draw and revel in the fluff the way a game like 40k or WarMachine does. The other week I said Aramada tends to be used by it’s fluff rather than using it. Armada or X-wing will put out a new ship simply because it showed up in the latest movie or show, not because the game needed it or it adds to the fluff, or anything like that. FFG is of course a company and this makes perfect business sense, I’m noting this trend, not condemning it.  Doing things this way does however lead to a bit of a disconnect from the background. Outside of the artwork and the names in fact the games interact with the setting very little. Some few cards in X-wing have a bit of flavor text, but Armada doesn’t even have that. In many ways they use the symbolism of Star Wars and not it’s fluff, they deal with the signifier and not the signified.

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Star Wars is, of course, all about the subtle symbolism 

In my experience games that are tied too and draw on a rich fluff and background last longer and are more popular than games that don’t. It seems to me that dealing with it’s rich background better is a major opportunity for FFG’s Star Wars games. Now to some it doesn’t matter at all, background and fluff are of minimal importance. But I do think there is a large group of people out there, the real nerds, the diehards, that make or break a game, and to a lot of them Star Wars does matter. Many people play X-Wing or Armada simply for the Star Wars name, and the more you can do to tie those games into the Star Wars background the better for everyone. The issue, the conundrum, is not really FFG’s fault, LucasArts and Disney created it when  they split the Star Wars canon, but FFG does have to address it and deal with. For the sake of the amazing games they’ve made and the players who love them, I wish them well in the endeavor and may the Force be with them.

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That’s all for this time BoLS fans! Let us know what you think about the FFG Star Wars fluff, and if it matters, down in the comments. 

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  • vyrago

    X-wing and Armada aren’t very narrative. As of right now, there arent any official campaigns or anything like that. Imperial Assault, has a very firm setting….naturally as its the most narrative when playing the campaign. X-wing and Armada are tournament games and players don’t care if Darth Vader faces off against Poe Dameron. (even though its stupid)

  • apocpa

    Erm seriously????

    Let’s take a step back for a second. There are two boxed starter sets for X wing – Luke Skywalker time period and Poe Dameron time period. The forces are even distinct by name so technically you cannot run a T-70 and a T-65 in the same 100pt army. So X wing is distinct

    Armada – forgive me as I am a novice but is this set around the Luke Skywalker time period only

    Assault – the same situation

    The RPGs – They are set in the Star Wars Universe and like all good RPGs encourage you to use this as a platform to develop your own planet, character background etc. rather than pretending to be a character in one of the movies

    Now I am by no means having a Disney-gasm but if we are honest the fluff and background relating to Star Wars had gotten bloated and was itself already contradictory. There were some story arcs which were – frankly – rubbish. I think George Lucas even stated at some point he had to keep inventing new planets as some author would had already put Luke/ Leia/ Han/ Chewie/ Wedge there previously and making it a ‘crucial turning point in the rebellion.’

    There were also ranks of Canon with the old stuff. George Lucas said some of the novels were never to be considered real.

    Hell…..in the fluff Han Solo and Chewie fly through a worm hole and crash land on Earth. In another Chewie gets killed bellowing his rage whilst a comet hits him! (smacks forehead)

    So there are distinct times for X wing, assault and armada, the RPGs give you a stepping point so ????????

    If we compare it to the absolute fluff destruction from other games this is silly. WH40K allows you to use named characters in the 41st millennium in battles where they are already dead (Eldrad) or werent there!

    Rant over and back in box

    • exonwarrior

      “The forces are even distinct by name so technically you cannot run a T-70 and a T-65 in the same 100pt army. ”

      That is absolutely incorrect. The Resistance (T-70) and the First Order (TIE/fo) are considered sub-factions of the Rebellion and the Empire, respectively. You absolutely can run both in a list.

      • apocpa

        As sub factions it is discouraged unless you are doing ‘what – if battles.’ So yeah – the point still stands

        • I – …FFG has NEVER said that. So no – your point doesn’t stand. X-Wing, Armada, and such are simply non-canon.

        • Raffazza

          No…..

        • GrogDaTyrant

          Your point is conjecture and incorrect. The rulebook even outlines that the Rebellion and the Resistance can be used together in the same list, and ditto for the First Order and the Empire. They are subfactions, but as of right now FFG is intending to leave thematic creativity to the player(s). If you want Poe flying alongside Wedge, with Keyan Farlander backing them up, you can. Likewise if you want to run Black Squadron exactly, you can take Vader, Mauler Mithal, Backstabber, Dark Curse, and fill in the rest of the list with Black Squadron tie fighters with whatever Elite Pilot Talents you desire. I have flown that list, and it’s surprisingly potent and fun.

          That freedom from “not cannon / different universes” is what makes X-Wing so good. It allows you to run what-ifs where Jek Porkins and Biggs didn’t die, and instead are flying alongside Rey. And it does so as easily as it is to run a thematic list, such as Prince Xizor surrounded by Black Sun Aces and Black Sun Soldiers, all kitted out with illicit black market equipment.

        • exonwarrior

          There is absolutely nothing in the rules that discourages mixing sub-factions. Competitive lists have always been able to mix things up. One of my favorite lists is Dash Rendar and Poe – and it’s completely legal.

  • Nvision

    X-Wing, as it is currently, is really a strategy game first. The ships are imbued with such symbolism for those who are Star Wars fans, that a wider narrative isn’t necessary. The fact you’re flying Han Solo around against a bunch of bad guys is enough to enjoy it; it doesn’t matter if those bad guys are anachronistic or even if they’re “good” guys. It’s more about enjoying the individual ships, how they fly, what their quirks are, then trying to make them work well with other ships.

    You can play narrative games with X-Wing, and it can be quite fun. I’ve run Luke, Biggs, and Wedge together against Vader and a tie escort, flown Han and Chewie as they’re chased by bounty hunters, and most recently took the Inquisitor after the Rebels crew aboard the Ghost. Those were great games that fit in the fluff. Even in a tournament setting, I’ve seen pairings that seem like they’ve come straight out of the films. It’s cool, but it still isn’t the driving factor. It’s just a really fun game.

  • From my experience in gaming, most gamers don’t really care about narrative. They may like the narrative, like star wars, but they’ll have no problem mixing an old republic pilot with Poe or whatever, because gaming is more about numbers and mathing out probabilities than it is caring about narrative for a lot of people.

    And FFG seems to know this.

    Nothing stops you from playing xwing and keeping narrative, its just that most people that I know don’t really care about that.

    • calmsword

      … I don’t want to get offensive- but people in general that don’t care about the narrative are generally missing out.

      I’ll go blatant here; it’s like people that think Die Hard 5 is somehow acceptable because they were ‘entertained’ without thinking how incredible the first Die Hard was. Or, to keep the conversation in-house; that the episodes somehow did anything positive in light of the expanded universe/Legends canon.

      • Different strokes for different folks.

        There are also people that think that if you aren’t min/maxing and trying your hardest that you are wasting their time.

        Also potentially offensive.

        I just happen to find that the number of people that care about narrative to shape their forces that way to be in an extreme minority in my experience.

        For the record I care more about narrative. Its why I don’t get in many games anymore publicly.

        • Raffazza

          Ah, but what people ‘do’ and what people ‘should do’ is different alas

  • Richard Mitchell

    I think the whole fluff argument for wargaming is…well redundant. No one really enforces fluff in competitive play and barely in narrative play. This goes for all systems. If you want to play a fluffy narrative your best bet is to play some historicals or do board games. The fluff thing sounds cool, forcing players to buy specific models for a specific fictional battle, building epic terrain, and plotting out the course of every historical repercussion, but they usually fall through unless you are playing with a small group of close friends.

  • Raffazza

    Nice read, very cool article.
    Thank you

  • Damistar

    I think ultimately it is up to the players and how they choose to play the game. It’s true in x-wing as well as 40K and other games that you will have players who prefer the story and those who play the mechanics. X-wing is actually clever in it’s handling of this by not even addressing it. This way there is no “official” way to play other than the game rules. Of course you can be as restrictive to time period and factions as you like, but FFG doesn’t state you must do it to play their game.
    As far as Disney’s take over goes, I generally think it’s a good thing. Most of the EU read like bad fanfic, and some was not even that but the author’s sci-fi idea set in the Star Wars universe simply for the name recognition. Some was good, but I don’t think any of it was great.

  • Bahkara

    FFG will do whatever Disney tells them to or lose the license. That’s how they’ll decide (not)important issues, like which Thrawn to use.

  • Xodis

    Its not really a problem. Even if someone takes Coran and Poe in your example, that doesn’t mean it has to be THAT Coran or Poe. Maybe its just a Descendant that can pilot just as well as them, maybe in a fictional world with “Space Whales” that can travel through hyperspace, someone ends up in the wrong timeline. Millions of explanations are available for the hardcore fluffster.
    As for the RPGs……really? Its an RPG, and like most good RPGs they try to cater to all types of players Old canon, New canon, Homebrew Canon, etc… They wont normally answer that questions of “Is Han or Chewy the dead one?” unless they have to. Even the Adventure set in the Force Awakens era avoids those answers so players/DMs can create their own.

  • deuce1984

    Canon and Legends are slowly but surely merging. There are not enough differences to affect FFG and their SW themed games. This article was a nice thought exercise but IMO the premise is overblown.

  • Horus84cmd

    Their (FFG) bigger problem will come when Disney decides that can make it cheaper themselves and takes away the licence…

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      Yup. Which is why you use licenses to make a quick buck and gain an audience, while slowly shepherding people over to a similar game that you own the license for.

  • Zethnar

    I feel dumber for having read this.

  • denzark

    “All of this makes the setting and the fluff weaker and matter less, it takes away from the setting and overall from players engagement with the games.”

    Does it? How does it? If you play against a friend you can state ‘our fluff preference is one era’ and not have this confusing mish mash on your own table. Same in any tournament you organise yourself.

    The only place in which you don’t have a choice is if a tournament doesn’t make a distinction – and then you don’t have to enter.

    No one can tell you how to play in the sandbox – unless you want to get in someone else’s sandbox…

  • JW73

    My group has nearly completed our first campaign for Imperial Assault, and we love this game! The entire ‘what if’ premise within the SW universe is what it’s all about! The FFG games let players explore all types of ‘what if’ scenarios, and that’s why they have great replay value and appeal to so many. As for mixing characters, ships or themes from the prequels/original trilogy or new movies/canon, that’s part of the fun! We all go into our games knowing that Darth Vader and Bossk never faced off against Luke, Chewbacca and a few unknown rebels in a random skirmish, but it’s a hell of a hoot to see what happens! I’ve yet to pick up X-wing or Armada, but after we play through some more of the Imperial Assault expansions maybe we’ll move to space combat.

  • Grand Master Belial

    Taking off my Deathwing Terminator Helm and dining my X-wing Helm for a bit. Growing up in the 2nd Ed Grimdark helped to develop the world building talent and expanding the universe. This is being done masterfully on Star Wars Rebels and even in Rogue One.

    The E-wings have plenty of room to still exist within the new canon and even Corran Horn can also safely exist within the new canon and even fly side-by-side with Poe for a period of time before Corran goes off to become a Jedi and likely face an unfortunate end with the Knights of Ren or will be a future recruit after Luke trains up Rey. I would love for FFG to release card packs that would include more pilot characters for the established fighters. I would like to bring in Legends Rogue and Wraith Squadrons and see how they fly.

    FFG has been able to bring the ARC-170 from the Clone Wars into the Rebel Alliance and even bring the original Y-wing model as well though they don’t have a model with the skin on, yet. SW Rebels is showing that their group is heavily reliant on the A-Wing so there has to be other groups (not shown) that would have access to other vehicles or would be able to resurrect older tech.

    If FFG has a problem it is getting the vehicles from the Clone Wars & Ep. 1-3 into the current game. The easiest thing to do would be sub group them like the Resistance and the First Order and in some ways that would be a help but in Armada, it would actually hurt them as the vehicle design switched between the two factions. A Republic cruiser would be like a Star Destroyer while a Separatist cruiser would be like MC-80’s and have broadside potential.

    But getting back to the purpose of the article. There was a time not that long ago when players could get creative and WRITE the narrative that made it possible and having access to things like Wookipedia can allow the additional depth to create a scenario for a fluff nutter to get immersed in.

    I have written my own battle scenario for X-wing to recreate the Battle of Yavin (or Stakiller Base) using two playing areas and going bigger on the points costs but it has been fun to allow other ships into the dynamic.

  • Jennifer Burdoo

    Like Warhammer and 40K, there is enough fluff in Star Wars to accommodate anyone’s taste. Take what you like and leave the rest.

  • Red_Five_Standing_By

    This is a non-issue.

    If you take offense to people playing with Poe and Corran, then you need to either play casually and tell people they can only bring models/pilots from Continuity X, or run an event and impose your vision on everyone.

    Otherwise, you have no real say in how people choose to play the game.

    I don’t play X-Wing so I can re-enact the paltry few historical battles that exist in all of the continuities. In fact, I don’t know many people who do. Those that do, do it amongst themselves and have very stringent requirements that go above and beyond “you can’t use Corran and Poe in the same list”. They have restrictions about the models you use, the pilots who can be in those ships, the upgrades you can use and etc.

    In 10 years the old EU will be dead and forgotten and the new Cannon will be deep and wide enough to support a game like X-Wing all on its own. We’re just stuck in the weird transition between the two.