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Star Wars X-Wing Scum and Villainy Review


Recently, I started playing X-Wing against someone who really knew their Star Wars. They knew that Howlrunner was a female pilot, and where the YT-2400 freighter originated from in the expanded universe. They also told me something interesting: that the Hutts and their criminal networks were a faction equal in power to the Rebels of the Empire. What looked like a footnote in the films was actually a major player in the galaxy.

At that moment, I decided I needed Scum and Villainy.

Before this revelation, I’d dismissed it as a cynical marketing gimmick to sell more ships. Especially more Z-95 and Y-Wing models, designs that have languished in popularity since launch. And it is, of course: some of the ship options make that abundantly clear. It’s just that now, it looks like a fun and attractive marketing gimmick rather than a cynical one.

That said, the core set to this new faction, Most Wanted, represents good value for money. You get three ships – two Headhunters and a Y-Wing, all with variant paint schemes – and a slew of upgrade cards. It’s especially good value for Rebel players because, of course, these ships can be used in Rebel squadrons too. All you need is a Rebel version of the ships for the correct pilot base tokens.

As well as having all the cards and tokens for the ships in the box, Most Wanted provides Scum & Villainy branded pilots for some existing ships. One, of course, is the Firespray. Which means, of course, that there’s another Boba Fett pilot card. This version gets rerolls for each enemy within range one.

There are also variants for the unloved HWK-290. While they don’t make that awful ship any better, there are a couple of neat new pilot skills on offer. Who isn’t going to glee at the idea of stealing enemy focus tokens, or of taking stress to cause automatic damage to ion-disabled targets?

These sorts of abilities are emblematic of the feel of Scum and Villainy. Some of the pilots like to fly by themselves, others can pinch tokens off friendly pilots. There’s even an new kind of “illicit” upgrade, which offer nasty surprises to the enemy, like discarding to gain a free 360 degree attack. Flying a Scum squadron feels more like a ragbag collection of selfish individualists than a well-drilled military wing. And that’s exactly how it should be.

For players who are more heavily invested in Imperial ships, the benefits of Most Wanted are more questionable. There’s one or two useful upgrade cards, but nothing special. Some people may want to get in to X-Wing and start off with Scum and Villainy, and for them Most Wanted is an essential starting point. They’ll need at least one or two more ships to build a squad, though.

And what better place to start than with the Starviper. This ship is the reason I was looking for an excuse to get in to Scum and Villainy. Not because it’s overpowered or has unmissable tasty upgrades, just because it’s such a beautiful model. Like some pale, ghostly space butterfly cruising through the cosmos. It might be the best-looking ship in the whole Star Wars canon, and this miniature does it proud.


It’s no slouch in battle, either, although with a high point cost and one shield and four hull, it’s vulnerable to critical hits. To compensate it’s very maneuverable. It also has a new move, Segnor’s loop, with allows the model to about-face after taking a gentle left or right turn.

Segnor’s loop is also available to the only new big ship in the range, the IG-2000 Aggressor. Indeed this beast is incredibly dexterous for its size, also being capable of the standard K-turn, and having three attack and evade dice to boot. The fluff says that this is because the pilots of these ships were bounty-hunting droids, which didn’t need life support. So all the extra space could be filled with engines and weapons. In reality it seems an excuse to make this a small model compared to the other big ships, yet charge the same price.

In addition to that powerful stat line, the IG-20o0 title card has another surprise. Each pilot can use the pilot abilities of every other friendly Aggressor pilot on the board, regardless of distance. This at once creates fascinating tactical opportunities while being an obvious stunt to try and make people buy these models in pairs. I guess it’s just a mercy that at 36 points each, you’re only going to see two in a standard 100 point list. Either avoid this, or be prepared to invest heavily.

Which leaves us with the odd one out, the peculiar Syck Interceptor. At first glance, there’s nothing to recommend this. It’s similar to a TIE fighter, but swaps some speed and maneuverability for one point of shield. The model is ugly, aside from a nice metallic sheen. It’s so obscure that even my Star Wars fan opponent has likely never heard of it.

So what’s the point of them? Well, for two points you can buy the “Heavy Syck” title which allows you to mount a cannon, missile or torpedo option on your strange little ship. That’s not interesting in itself, but it does offer quite incredible flexibility for squad building. If you’re desperate for a particular combo that won’t quite work with the other ships on offer, chances are a Heavy Syck can carry what you need. That still makes it far from an essential purchase for Scum and Villainy players. But having one around might prove handy for creative squad builds.

And that’s the current contents of this wretched hive. At first glace, it’s hard to see why someone would want to run a whole squadron from this faction. Existing players will buy selectively for spare ships and handy upgrades. But without the draw of iconic movie starfighters, these appear destined for collectors only.

Playing with the ships, however, makes it clear where the appeal lies. While the Rebels and Imperials execute their military maneuvers with bland precision, the Scum are full of pomp and flavour. The lack of film tie-ins leaves a blank canvas for you to paint your own characters and stories. Without such obvious co-ordination and killer combos as the existing factions, you might not win quite as many games. But my word, you’ll have a lot of fun trying.

Cosmic Encounter and expansions review


Cosmic Encounter was one of the first hobby board games I owned, back when I was a teenager. It was the Games Workshop edition. I can still remember being baffled by the rules. It looked and smelled like a conquest game: there were battles and alliances and units died. But what the hell kind of conquest game made you draw and card to determine your target instead of you picking on the weakest player? Where was the fun in that?

Oh sure, you could still make alliances. The encounter each turn with your random opponent allowed each side to invite people to help out. Sure, there was still excitement, with combat determined by the number of ships on each side plus the play of a numeric card. And the draw of a different alien power for each player was a fascinating idea. But where was the sense of narrative, of slowly building friendships and enmities?

It had rave reviews so we played it anyway, and it fell flat as a pancake. We played a couple more times, waiting for excitement to leap out of the box like some snarling predator. But it never came. It quietly went back on the shelf, and I went back to miniatures and role playing.

Fast forward twenty years and Fantasy Flight released a new edition. And again, it got rave reviews. So I figured I owed it another chance.

This time, when I read the rules, the acclaim made more sense. I still couldn’t understand why you drew a card to determine your opponent for the turn. But this edition had more and better aliens for the players. Each with some ludicrous powers which recombined to make an ever shifting strategic backdrop. It had flares, special power cards that were missing in GWs neutered version of the game. They add a lot of flavour, variety and excitement. It had more interesting combat cards, with things like reinforcements to add tension to negotiation and combat.

And it was better. No doubt about it. But we played it, and it still felt lacking in a certain something. It still looked and smelled like a conquest game. But compared with its genre peers it felt brief and tame. There was little trash talk. Little sense of the epic.

So away it went again, but this time the box nagged at me from the shelf. The game that so many praised to the heavens was in there somewhere. I could feel it lurking, like treasure buried beneath the silt of a river. I just couldn’t figure out how to grasp it and pull it forth into daylight.

What might help, I figured, was seeing experienced players get down to it. But everyone I gamed with seemed as clueless as I did. Until, that is, the Shut Up & Sit Down team posted a video of how they played.

Watching that, the missing piece of the puzzle finally clicked into place. Cosmic isn’t a conquest game. It does look and smell like one, but it isn’t.


Cosmic Encounter is a negotiation game, pure and simple. What’s more it’s an early European style one, before the first actual Eurogame and way before those games got buried in an avalanche of mathematics. It’s just that in Cosmic you’re negotiating over lives and territory, instead of florins and crates of sauerkraut.

The enabler of this brilliance is, of course, the random selection of an enemy each turn. There’s no long-term alliances in Cosmic because, just like in finance, it only hurts if you hold on to them. If you’re buying and selling it doesn’t matter who sold you what yesterday, or whether it made you a profit. All you care about is the deal on the table, right here, right now.

It helped that I had some expansions on board this time round. The two most important are Cosmic Incursion and Cosmic Dominion. Both have the best aliens of all the available expansions. Both have 32 “reward” cards which can be drawn by players who ally on the defending side in an encounter. Reward cards work like normal combat cards, but are more powerful and add a lot of zest and variety to the game. They’re a great addition because allying with the defence isn’t the most attractive proposition in the original, since it does nothing to help you win the game.

There are other expansions, too. The only other one I’ve played is Cosmic Storm. This set got a lot of flak for featuring a poor line-up of extra alien powers. Some of them do look to be poorly designed. Some others look to be close copies of powers from other expansions. But there are a handful of good additions on offer. Plus the set features space stations, which are a bit like another alien power you can wield, tied to your ownership of one planet. While the selection of just ten gets repetitive these are otherwise a great addition, adding an element of tactical position to the game. You now have one planet you especially don’t want to lose.

Cosmic Encounter has its own special alien power, the power to fascinate. Some gamers are so hooked by its exotic intoxication that they play hundreds of games, rarely playing anything else. With so much potential variety, so much interaction in the box, it’s not hard to see why. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those fanatics. Somehow the game feels a little too brief, a little too convenient. But I’m glad I understand where the game is coming from now. It’s brilliant and unique, and it’s hard not to love a game that lets you play as The Filth.

DungeonQuest Revised Edition Review


DungeonQuest is one of my all-time favourite titles. A fantasy adventure game in which your hero isn’t heroic, but pathetically grateful to escape the nightmarish dungeon alive with a mere handful of gold coins. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s fast, funny and frantic for all that it lacks much in the way of strategy.

So I was thrilled when Fantasy Flight got the licence for a reprint, and sad when it looked like they’d botched it. The expansions to the original game were full of tiny niggles. Like new characters with mismatched power levels and a tedious catacomb under the main dungeon that was largely empty. They had the opportunity to create a definitive version of a classic, and in most respects, perhaps they did. It’s just that no-one cared because they replaced the simple, speedy combat with a deeper but slower system that felt out of place in such a fast, chaotic game.

Now they’re back again with this Revised Edition. The good news is that they learned from their mistakes. The combat system has reverted to type, and the rulebook slimmed down to just six pages, which is all the game needs. The better news is that in terms of all the other changes, they nailed it. This is the nearest thing to a definitive version of this classic.

There’s almost nothing to DungeonQuest. Players create a dungeon as they play by drawing tiles, and then cards to see what’s in the rooms they uncover. The variety is massive, so there’s a thrilling sense of probing the unknown. What’s revealed is almost always pain, death and destruction.

Some rooms can kill you if you fail an attribute test, just like that. Some potions are literally kill or cure depending on the result of a die roll. Some monsters are nigh-on impossible to defeat. All this can happen to you on the very first turn on the game. This isn’t a game for anyone that wants meaningful decision making. It is a game for anyone that wants to be entertained with meaningless carnage.

It works because it’s fast and simple, yet clothes the bare bones mechanics with as much narrative flesh as possible. Games last a maximum of an hour, and are often much shorter as hero after hero succumbs to the terrors of the dungeon. They can start again, if they dare. Or sit out the remainder as a spectator sport. Or perhaps take on the role of a monster using a neat variant from FFG’s previous edition, not included here.

Anyone who makes it to the central dungeon chamber randomly draws cards again to see if they avoid waking the slumbering dragon. If they’re not barbecued, there’s another draw to see what treasure they find. In a great addition to the basic formula, the treasure deck now includes magic items alongside gold. So you can gain things like a magic carpet to fly over bottomless pits, or a quicksilver potion for bonus turns.

That’s right. Even if you make it to the middle, you still have to make back to the entrance alive. Otherwise your haul doesn’t count.


Almost everything else that FFG have done improves on the original Games Workshop edition. The cartoon art has been replaced with something darker and better quality. The annoying, un-shuffle-able geometric card decks are now a uniform rectangle. There are useful icons all over the place. The best dungeons tiles and cards from the old catacombs expansion have made it across. And the previously empty catacombs are now filled with thrilling encounters.

It’s not all there, however. Veterans will miss the amusement value of amulets. These were potentially lethal magic items with secret trigger conditions that were held by the player adjacent to the finder. The snotlings have gone, as have the vampire and the giant spider. Small omissions: but in a game that relies so much on variety, their absence is still felt.

One thing that has seen substantial change is the character selection. Like everything else in the revised edition, they’ve been given a Terrinoth makeover. But the alterations are not just cosmetic. The original had bland knights and adventurers. Its “heroes” expansion was full of confusing and unbalanced additions. But these new characters all have special abilities that are fun to use.

There is one unfortunate outlier: Tatianna, who is so under-powered that you wonder if she was playtested at all. But that still leaves you enough characters for a full game complement.

At first glance the game looks a bit softer too. Attribute tests are now made on the graceful probability curve of two six sided dice instead of the blunt twelve-sider of the original. If you fail one, you get a determination token which you can spend for a bonus on the next. The game sometimes offers long-suffering heroes a bit of extra time with a randomly determined end turn. In practice it’s just as brutal as ever it was. Two dice and the promise of a token won’t help if you fail a bottomless pit test on the opening turn.

Fans of the original Games Workshop version won’t find enough reasons here to upgrade. Indeed some seem to be vocal critical of the changes. I think that this Revised Edition is the best edition of this classic we’ve yet seen. And whatever your opinion is, you should be glad something so much fun is back in print, regardless of minor quibbles.

Wiz-War: Bestial Forces expansion review


I noticed long ago that when people who tend to run role-playing games choose to play instead, they always pick wizard characters. Why? It’s all about power. If you’re used to having the ability to dictate reality on a whim, you want a character that can do it too. Power is a key part of wizarding’s appeal.

And there’s no greater demonstration of power than being able to summon fantastic creatures and bend them to your whim. It’s what’s always been missing from Wiz-War, and now it’s here with the Bestial Forces expansion. And while there’s no extra player figure and board in the box, there are an awful lot of other interesting spells and variants too.

The central draw here in the monsters, each with their own plastic figure. These beasties operate quite differently from their counterparts in previous editions. Rather than weak creations that tottered round older mazes, Bestial Forces monsters are flexible and powerful. You’ll pay for that power, though. Summoning demands not just a card but a cost in life, too, and activating a creature requires the controller to sacrifice 2 movement points.

Just like the previous Malefic Curses expansion, there are three new schools of magic in the box. The Legendary school has the most monsters. There’s the powerful minotaur which has an odd sort of automatic overwatch attack. The genie who’s an attack spell conduit, allowing you to play an extra offensive card each turn from the genie’s square. Finally there’s the Boggart, the only creature who can carry items and Grendel, who’s a melee powerhouse.

It also a adds a fun new component called relics. These spells create very powerful objects that will be a huge boon in the game. But the catch is they also take up a treasure slot. So it’s a toss up whether to steal the chest or leave the valuable relic lying round where anyone could find it.

Another way in which monsters are different from previous versions of Wiz-War is the addition of creature attack spells. These can be used as standard attack spells by a wizard. But instead, you can employ them to supplement your creature’s attack instead. They belong in the second of the new schools, the Draconic school. As well as creature attacks, there’s a good mix of typical defensive and utilitarian spells. There’s a creature, too, the Drake, who will guard your treasure with fierce determination.


Oddest of all is the Totem school. These spells create on-board objects which buff their summoner so long as she’s in the same board sector as the totem. They can’t be carried, but can be destroyed so they give rise to a lot of interesting tactics around placement. Do you sit and use your totem, or follow targets to a new sector? Do you destroy enemy totems or lure their owner into a trap on another board? There’s also a Totem Spirit creature which can move though walls, and inflicts damage equal to the number of totems in play. So it’s potentially very powerful.

There’s only one downside to Bestial Forces, which is that you’ll have to adopt a specific mix of optional rules to get the most out of it. Sadly, that includes not using the Giant Book of Spells like you did in previous editions, which is so beloved of many fans. The reason is simple: most of the cards in this expansion are tightly connected. To get the most out of the Totem Monster you needs lots of totems in play. With most of the creatures in the mythical school and most of the creature attacks in the draconic school, they work well played together. Diluting them in a big stack lessens their impact.

Fortunately there’s another optional rule in this expansion to compensate. You make a core draw deck with three schools plus cantrips, then give each player their own draw deck of a specific school. They can then choose which to pick cards from. So if you make the core deck all the schools in this expansion, you can enjoy the way their effects interlock. While individual player decks ensure there’s still plenty of variety and chaos.

Most of the other options you’ll want, like uncluttered minds and permanent creations are common choices anyway. So they’ll have less impact on your games. These are good to use with the expansion just because it leaves more monsters and artifacts and totems in play. Relics, in particular, are a double-edged sword if you can’t get rid of them. Especially so if you use the treasure hunters option. And the more stuff on the board, the better Wiz-War gets.

A part of me misses the classical monsters of wizarding lore. It might have been nice to imagine stiff-limbed skeletons and their ilk stalking through the labyrinth and being felled by the first Zot they come across. But in their place we’ve got a bold and well-designed expansion which adds to both the chaos and strategy of the game. I’ll take that trade, and I’ll wager almost every fan of the base game will be happy if they follow suite.

X-Wing Huge Ships Review


We’re used to seeing massively overblown adjectives in game marketing, so much that we probably tune them out automatically. But when Fantasy Flight decided to describe the new big ships for X-Wing as “Huge Ships”, and the play formats that include them “Epic” and “Cinematic”, they weren’t kidding. These things are colossal.

Indeed the Tantive is so enormous that I actually felt embarassed getting it out and putting it on the table, as though I were some rich kid with a box of ridiculously overpriced toys flaunting it in front of his friends.

Which I was, of course, but that just made it worse.

It didn’t help that the Tantive is the uglier of the two models. That’s not FFG’s fault, of course, it’s down to the people who designed the ships for the film. The Rebel Transport is sleek and compact in comparison, and has a lovely assortment of multicoloured containers on its underside. Both, in common with their more modestly scaled companions, are wonderfully sculpted and painted.

For all its clumsy looks, the Tantive is, however, arguably the more interesting ship. But before we look at that, we ought to briefly examine how these things play.

Big ships mean big changes. These beauties have their own special movement templates, range rulers, upgrade decks and all that jazz. From a mechanical point of view there are two stand out changes. The first is that they’re treated a bit like two inter-connecting ships, with the two bases supporting each model translating to a “fore” and “aft” section, each with its own damage deck. In the case of the Tantive this is taken to the extreme of having two ship cards, each with its own upgrades.

The other significant difference is the use of energy tokens in place of weapons. These are an extra resource, accumulated each turn depending on maneuver selection. They can be spent on various interesting things like replacing shields, automatic evade results and perhaps most interestingly granting a free action to nearby friendly ships. The choice of what to spend these on – or, indeed whether to hoard them – is always deliciously difficult.

Yet however much they bring to the game, it needs to be set against the additional burden of rules and token-fiddling required to implement them. The simplicity of X-Wing was one of its joys, and it already required quite a lot of cardboard juggling, so these aren’t welcome changes. I won’t be using these ships every game.

Doubly so because the rules make it very clear that they’re not for every-game use. You’re supposed to either stick with the included scenarios that come with the ships, or use them in “epic play” format. Both require larger than the normal three-foot square play area, needing either four by three or six by three depending on the scenario.

The scenarios in each box can be played individually, or linked together to make a campaign. While some of the scenarios felt a bit long, mostly these are fun, well designed and don’t suffer too much from the rich-get-richer problem that plagues a lot of campaign rules tacked on to what were originally stand-alone games. Both are very good, but I thought the Tantive campaign was the better of the two simply because the rules are less convulted. Also, as I said before, the Tantive is just a more entertaining ship to run.


The reason is very simple: the Tantive is a proper combat ship, while the Rebel Transport is purely a support vessel. It has limited offensive capapbilities from one upgrade, the Slicer Tool, which allows it to do 1 damage to nearby ships with stress tokens, and the transport can burn energy to inflict stress on enemy vessels. It can also wipe out small ships simply by crashing into them, a surprisingly common occurance on a tight board with players used to the forgiving nature of the standard overlap rules.

The Tantive can do that too, however. And it can also field guns. Lots of guns. Lots of big, heavy guns.

Part of me would love to pretend that the fascinating tactical opportunities offered by the Rebel Transport were the best thing about the huge ships. And they are pretty neat: with the right upgrades you can use the Transport as a fire sponge, repair damage, even remove stress and target lock tokens from friendly ships. But I’m too shallow for that. overwhelming firepower was what I always felt was missing from the X-Wing game, and overwhelming firepower is what the Tantive gives you.

There’s no better showcase for this than the first scenario in the Tantive line-up which pits the single behemoth against a swarm of six TIE fighters. I didn’t have six TIE fighters and subbed other TIE models instead, and it was still amazing. This is what X-Wing was made for, nimble fighters zipping back and forth across a sluggish colossus as it tries to smash them with turret-mounted turbolasers and quad cannons and all the other cool stuff that comes in the box.

I don’t dount that FFG know this perfectly well, and put a premium price tag on the Tantive as a result. But both ships are fantastic additions to the X-Wing lineup, even only to see them drifting serenely across the starry void amongst your tiny fighters. If you’re a regular X-Wing player, you need one of these, and if the Transport makes more monetary sense, you can be sure of being very happy with your purchase.