X-Wing Second Edition’s Digital Impacts on Tabletop Gaming

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Cruft is jargon word for anything that is left over, redundant and getting in the way. It is used particularly for defective, superseded, useless, superfluous, or dysfunctional elements in computer software.
— - Wikipedia 2018

The first edition of the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game was released at GenCon in 2012 and I was very skeptical (and I was miffed there were no capital ships--see Armada). Not long after, a great friend of mine introduced me to the game and I have been seriously hooked ever since. Here was a game that you could learn in about ten minutes and take a lifetime to master (watch your back, Chess!).

After six years, fourteen waves of fighter expansions, five epic-sized ships and five aces packs this game has built up a lot of cruft. So much so that as an avid fan (who is only missing a handful of products from his collection) the game had got to the point where I couldn’t really recommend it to new players. I have dozens of X-Wing upgrade cards in a binder that are pure cruft.

X-Wind Second Edition was announced this week. Second editions of any game are always designed to hit the reset button and bring in new blood to a game. There are plenty of social media posts of the financial costs of moving to another edition so I will not belabor that point here. Nonetheless, there are a few things about this X-Wing Second Edition that we as gamers should take serious note of.

  1. One of the biggest publishers (Fantasy Flight Games) is taking their most profitable product line and moving a major core mechanic of the game to a mobile app (or web page) for setting and updating the game balancing mechanic. Sure, other games have had app components that fulfilled a similar function (Golem Arcana, etc). Nonetheless, this publisher will now require bullet-proof app developers to keep the game fun and profitable by keeping it bug free and defended against hackers. Generally, tabletop gaming companies have had spotty records maintaining apps and accomplishing this as it is rarely in their core DNA and they usually have to hire out support on this front. FFG’s partnership with Asmodee who has a strong digital catalog, plus their experience with the digital components of X-COM the Board Game, Descent, Imperial Assault and Battlelore: Command put them at the upper end of the spectrum of digital integration. Will smaller publishers be able to keep up with this trend to stay competitive? Time will tell.

  2. Now FFG can update the game in real time to adjust game balance. Prior to this development, to preserve the quality of the printed portions of the game it took many months for FFG to detect a game balance problem, determine a fix solution, play test the solution, develop a new product to couch the solution in, send the product to the printer overseas, wait many months for printing and slow boat shipping, distribute the new product to partners, and then finally almost a year later, the player has a fix on the table. The app model breaks the ink-on-dead-tree cycle. This allows the developer real flexibility to experiment and take real risks. This also limits the time a player’s “broken combo” can dominate the game.  The best part is that FFG can identify cruft cards in the library and lower their point cost to increase their utility in the game.

  3. The app will help local store owners customize tournament experiences by allowing them to use the app itself to limit specific ships or cards for the events they host. It’s not 100% clear now how this will work practically but it seems as if the local tournament organizer will be able to set up build constraints that will be pushed out via the app to attendees to limit the build library for that specific event. The game store owner who believes an abusive combo shouldn’t see the light of day, can put a stop to it before the tournament even starts. Too often game store owners have been put in the terrible position of siding with one customer over another due to a tournament ruling. I can see why FFG would empower them to preempt the game from injuring relationships with customers. All game publishers need a healthy community of players to maintain viability. In another way, with this feature FFG is validating and supporting the dozens of gamer-made home-brew adaptations of X-Wing. See Heroes of the Aturi Cluster for an example of one of the more exceptional versions of this phenomenon.

  4. The app will also track your collection, which is handy, right? I have a 3rd party app that does that today for my 1st edition collections. However, we have not seen the terms of service yet and any app that can collect data about users can also transmit that data back to FFG. What if they back up the data in the cloud? We have to assume that businesses are in the business to make money and market data is extremely expensive to obtain. Even expensive third party data can be unreliable. I have to assume that the data on the X-Wing Second Edition app will be too good for any company to pass up harvesting from players. FFG will now have a better grasp on what you buy and how you play with what you buy. Imagine how that data will go into setting MSRP rates. Predicting what you buy based on what you have and what you play can go into increasing a dollar or two here or there for profit taking. I’m not sure how I feel about this if we see certain patterns emerge from FFG.

In summary, having a major product line from one of the largest publishers with the most well-known IP on the planet move this far into the digital space is a real “game changer” (sorry!). It fundamentally alters the player’s (and retailer’s) relationship with the company on multiple fronts in very real ways.  

Will I convert my 84 units (*gasp* I never counted until just now!) to X-Wing Second Edition? Even with all of those ships I will only need one of each conversion kit to keep flying with only a few of them left out in cold. The bottom line for me is that if Second Edition is a better play experience by cleaning up the cruft, I am very likely to upgrade. We’ll see in September.