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Star Wars Miniatures: An Introduction

Author: dvryan
Date: 6/10/2010

Star Wars Miniatures is a Collectible Miniatures Game. What, exactly, is that?

Let's start with the easy part- "Star Wars" is the theme of the game. Everything about it- characters, settings, etc.- is something that can be found in the Star Wars universe, be it in the movies, TV, comics, video games, or books. Thus, while the game can appeal to all, it perhaps will be enjoyed more by those who hold a certain fondness for this particular universe.

Moving on- what are miniatures? As the name implies, miniatures are scaled-down versions of the real thing- in this case, Star Wars characters, creatures, and vehicles. You make a team of miniatures- called a squad- and place them on a map to battle against miniatures on the opposing squad(s) by using abilities described on an associated statistics card (each miniature has such a card). There are many such miniatures games- Dungeons & Dragons, Axis & Allies, and Warhammer, to name a few- all have the same basic premise.

Finally- what makes it collectible? In a normal game, you buy one package that contains all the pieces you need to play. There's no need to buy more and the game stays static- the rules are neither altered, nor are the number of miniatures increased, as time goes on. A collectible game, on the other hand, is "living." You can’t purchase the entire game in one package. You need to buy a starter pack (containing rules, some miniatures to begin, and maps/dice/counters as necessary), and booster packs (containing random miniatures, which are unknown to you beforehand). You build up your collection by purchasing more of these packs. From your collection of miniatures, you then build a squad to field against your opponent. In this aspect, it's similar to baseball card collecting, or collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or Pokemon.

So, that's the nature of the game- now let's discuss the most basic gameplay, to give an idea of how these things work.

First, you pick a squad. How? Look at your miniatures; each figure has an associated statistics card, which lists its abilities, including the cost to field that figure. So, you and your opponent agree upon the size of a squad beforehand- common values are 100, 150, or 200 points- and then you build a squad using your miniatures that add up to that value. More powerful miniatures generally have a higher cost- for example, Boba Fett costs 50 points, but a stormtrooper costs only 5. You pick a squad based on several factors- figures that synergize well, the faction you're using (every miniature has a faction- Rebel, Imperial, etc, and you can’t mix them in your squad. Your squad can consist only of figures from your chosen faction and 'Fringe' figures- the neutral characters), strategy you’re employing, and your personal preferences.

After the squads are chosen, you and your opponent agree on a map. The game has more than a dozen maps; all feature Star Wars locations (like Hoth, Endor, and Tatooine). Maps consist of buildings, rooms, pits, towers, etc, and have small squares superimposed over these features- squares in which you place and move your figures. The map you choose has different room layouts and leads to different options- for the purposes of introduction that's all we need mention at this point.

Now that you have squads and a map, you both place characters on the map in squares of your choosing (in accordance with game rules), make sure you have their corresponding stat cards nearby, and you’re ready to begin! You alternate using your figures ("activating" them) by moving them and attacking, until every figure has activated in a given round. Then, a new round begins, and the characters may all activate again. This process continues until one squad is completely defeated. Characters can do damage to each other by attacking and using their abilities. Once a character's received damage exceeds its Hit Points, it is defeated and removed from the map. As this is an introduction, I won’t discuss rules here- this was just intended to give you an overall feel for the game.

One final point- if you’re new to the game, or collectible games in general, you may be asking yourself "what's the big deal? Why are games like this so popular?" There are two main reasons:

  1. Strategic Depth. There are several aspects to this. The first aspect: collectible games are really two games in one. The first game is to design the best squad you can with the resources you have. The second game is executing that squad- playing it to reach its fullest potential. If you fail, or are poor, at either, chances are you’re going to lose. The second aspect: there are many successful strategies out there. The way to win is to defeat your opponent's squad, but there are many ways to do so. Do you choose a team that of smaller characters that work well together, use average characters with some devious abilities to work in your favor, or choose strong, powerful characters to destroy your opponent? Chances are, you'll use elements of all of these- and the possibilities are endless, which leads to the next reason.
  2. Variety. Typical games (like Monopoly, Risk, Solitaire, etc) are fun, but can be monotonous. Each game is going to go about the same- you'll see the same pieces or cards, just at different times or in different combinations. It's still fun, of course, but collectible games have the advantage of introducing a great deal of variety. You pick the pieces; you pick the board. Each piece introduces twists to the rules that can significantly change strategies. And, since new expansions are released several times a year, there’s a steady stream of more pieces available. All this means that no two games are ever the same; in fact, often they're quite different. This fact alone gives the game quite an appeal.

Now, nothing is without drawbacks. If you're new to this type of gaming and thinking about becoming involved, know that collectible games are quite expensive if you plan to be seriously involved in them. Games of this sort also require a little more attention, as the new figures released introduce twists you need to know if you're to remain competitive. Finally, it's best to make sure you have players in your area with whom you can play- there are many good collectible games out there, but you can't enjoy them alone.

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