What is FFG doing with X-wing?

“Anger…fear…aggression. The dark side of the Force are they.” — Yoda Today I want to diverge from looking at the rules to discuss (i.e. rant about) the way FFG has been handling the rules for X-wing.  Or, more properly, how they haven’t been handling the rules. Radio Silence X-wing officially released on the 14th of […]

Profile photo of Kevin By Kevin On July 17, 2013 Posted In X-Wing Miniatures Game

“Anger…fear…aggression. The dark side of the Force are they.”
— Yoda

Today I want to diverge from looking at the rules to discuss (i.e. rant about) the way FFG has been handling the rules for X-wing.  Or, more properly, how they haven’t been handling the rules.

Radio Silence
X-wing officially released on the 14th of September, 2012.  The first FAQ was released a little over a month later, on the 23rd of October.  And since then…  nothing.  Yes, we had an FAQ update when Wave 2 was officially released, but it was so skimpy they might as well have not bothered, answering a total of three questions while completely ignoring the many which had been raised with Wave 2 cards.

Nearly a year without a meaningful official rule update, and not even much in the way of unofficial answers.  We’ve heard that they made a decision going into the regionals season not to update the FAQ during that period, so as to avoid having different events played under different rules sets.  That’s a respectable goal, but we’re three weeks past the end of the regionals season now, and still nothing.

The only actual response anyone has received has been via unofficial emails.  Even these have been few and far between.  It’s hard to know how responsive FFG has been based on the number of answers that people have shared, since we don’t know how many responses might have been sent out that we don’t know about.  I can share my own data point, which is about 6 or 7 questions sent since the beginning of March without a single response.  As far as I can tell, the X-wing rules team is a black hole.

What is X-wing?
Does this matter?  A lot of that depends on what X-wing is or, more appropriately, what FFG wants it to be.  Is X-wing a fun, casual game for scenario play with your friends?  Or is it a serious competitive game that expects people to fly halfway across the country to compete in?

It’s worth noting here that a competitive game can be played casually, but a casual game cannot be played competitively.  So if FFG intends for X-wing to survive and function as a competitive game, it needs a rule set which can support the precise resolution necessary for that sort of game.  Every indication is that FFG wants X-wing to be a competitive game…  well, every indication but the actual rules.

The Natives Are Getting Restless
Even for a casual game, this level of unresponsiveness has a negative impact on the players.  At the very least, going a year without a response to important questions means those questions keep coming up, and we keep chewing over them again.  How many times has the question of measurement come up, and who isn’t tired of it?  But new players ask the question, and here it comes again.

More importantly, though, ongoing uncertainty tends to erode the players’ faith in the company and the rules set itself.  I think this is subtle, but I see it happening in many rules discussions.  “This should be in the FAQ” is being dropped out on the most trivial of questions, and issues that don’t seem like they should be so hard become major.  Even issues which were previously well settled seem to be working their way back around into contention again.

Is It Really That Bad?
On the voice of reason side, the situation isn’t actually all that horrible.  There are only a few truly fundamental questions that I think are problematic.  Most of the rest are either rarely used, relate to Wave 3 ships that haven’t been released yet, or are still generally accepted enough that even if there are a few holdouts there is little question of how something will be ruled in an event.

That’s the practical side.  On the analytical side, the X-wing rules are a messy jumble of imprecise definitions, poorly-templated abilities, and hand-waving intent by players.  The saving grace is not the rules, but the limited ability pool – X-wing currently has around 65 unique abilities between pilots and upgrades, roughly half what even an LCG would see in its base release, and around 10% of the annual card release for Magic: The Gathering.  In effect, the rules for X-wing are full of holes, we just haven’t had enough volume fired at those holes to really break the game.  That can’t hold forever.

Hope For the Future(?)
A large part of me hopes that the silence we’ve endured for the last year is because FFG has recognized that the X-wing rules can’t support the level of play they want for it.  This would mean that our next rules update was not another FAQ, but a complete rules update to an advanced rules set including strict timing definitions, strict templating, and a comprehensive set of defined operations such as “attack”.

I honestly don’t really expect that, though – it just doesn’t seem like FFG’s style.  I’ll certainly settle for an update that addresses and errata’s the issues that have been outstanding for the entire year, and take a bit of preemptive action regarding the questions which are already emerging from Wave 3 ships such as the Fettigator.

Not Alone
As a final word in closing, it’s worth noting that this situation is not unique to X-wing.  Netrunner, which released at pretty much the same time as X-wing, has seen the exact same schedule of FAQ updates.  So has A Game of Thrones, arguably FFG’s flagship LCG.  I don’t think either needs it as badly as X-wing, since AGoT has been around forever and Netrunner had an existing game design to build from even before you consider its notably tight templating…  but it does seem that they are in the same boat we are.

Which may offer a glimmer of hope.  AGoT received an FAQ update last August, presumably just before GenCon.  Hopefully we’ll see the same release plan here.  Whether or not that is something which will help lift and stabilize X-wing in the role of a competitive game is something that remains to be seen.

  1. is there a thread on FFG’s site which people can tag their ideas of what should be in a FAQ? If such a thing exists, one could link that in this thread or we could create one there. :) being pro-active! 😛

    1. There is a link on their site to submit rules questions, but as Buhallin points out, you have a better chance of getting R5-K6’s ability to kick in than you have of receiving an answer. Even then, rules clarifications sent out by email are not official, (that is, not enforcible in Official Play).

      Notably, they have an entire section of their forums dedicated to rules questions. There are several threads full of unresolved and lengthy controversy there. That should give FFG plenty of indication about the rules issues that need clarification.

      The problem is, no one really knows if anyone there reads or pays attention to those forums, sing FFG apparently has a policy against any of their employees actually posting on their own forum.

      This policy is particulary strange in the case of a Rules forum, since any yahoo with internet access can go onto the rules forum of their own website, and start posting nonsensical or incorrect information. Of course this is a necessary risk of any internet forum, but at least with the presence of an official moderator, they could provide needed counterpoint to the noise of unrestricted speculation that usually takes place.

      Anyways, I agree 100% with this article. Delaying a FAQ is stupid. They should just release a new one every month or so on a regular basis. They also should rewrite the rules to include all the new rules from the expansions and make all the necessary changes and updates. They can release this online like the current core rule set, for people to print out themselves.

      One sometimes overlooked source of rules confusion at tournaments is that not everyone has the Large ships, or chooses to play with them, but they still need to understand the special rules that apply to large ships when they play against them. For this reason, FFG should at least include the Large ship rules online.

      Better still, they could sell the “revised rulebook” if they choose, and just sweeten the deal by including a bunch of new missions in it and making it a nice looking book. I’d buy it for $10 or so.

      1. I continue to be utterly flabbergasted that FFG hasn’t posted the supplementary rules elements online. The large ship rule inserts are the biggest example of this, but even the cards like the Ion Cannon and Bombs. As you say, whether I own one or not, I should be able to know what I’m facing.

        In a lot of ways, I’m not sure FFG really does know what they actually want X-wing to be. They set up a tournament system like they want it to be competitive, but the rules are WAY too casual for a competitive environment, and their distribution of other rules packs if certainly far more suited for a casual “Oh, you’re running Slave I? Can I look at the rules for that real quick?” sort of play than the competitive player who wants to know before going in what they’ll be facing.

  2. I think this boils down to a 90/10 rule by which I mean I’d guess that 90% or more of the people playing X-Wing are buying it to play at home. I don’t have any empirical evidence to back this up but I’d be willing to bet that most of that 90% are 40-ish adults that grew up with the original Star Wars films and they’re playing X-Wing with their children. That group simply isn’t looking for FAQs and rulings.

    I live arbitrarily close to Toronto, a city of millions, and X-Wing is all but sold out every in store I’ve been to yet there is not one store I’m aware of (and if I’m mistaken please advise) that has a regular group of people that play tournament-style in-store.

    Sure, FFG has events like May the Fourth weekend to cater to we who have an affinity for tournament play but I think we make up a very small portion of the people actually buying X-Wing.

    All that is to say I’d encourage us all (myself included) to not interpret FFG’s apparent silence as any kind of affront, intentional or unintentional. FFG is a company that, by and large, makes games for home-based play. They flirt with the tournament scene but that’s mainly with their card games which, as a genre, has well-established best practices from Magic for tournament play.

    1. My main gripe is that if they’re going to promote a tournament series for the game, then it’s their responsibility to manage the game appropriately. I don’t worry about the rules for the BSG board game, because there’s no competitive scene for it. People who at this point are looking at free tickets to the World Championships shouldn’t be weighing the cost of that trip without knowing exactly what game will be waiting for them at the other end.

  3. I do agree that more clarity would be welcome for all of us, and there have been plenty of questions over the past year that still need clarification or errata that could have been addressed but haven’t.

    In regards to an FFG presence on their boards, here is a quick conversation I had with one of the FFG staffers back in April:

    (me):Also, and I’m kind of speaking for the community here, I understand the FFG employees are very busy, but you really do need to have some type of presence on the forums. My wife is one of the Head Administrators at theforce.net, and their moderators (all volunteers) are constantly posting on their forums. This community is exceptionally good as far as treating others respectfully, but there are times and people who do need some, shall we say, moderation. And the lack of an FFG presence in those forums stands out, and it is noted by many people. I understand that you have literally hundreds of games and their associated message boards to moderate, but I know it would be very much appreciated to have FFG employees pop in and make their presence known from time to time on the Xwing boards. Even if it’s only to say,”Hey, nice paint job!” or something trivial like that. I mean, I don’t know what the FFG policies are, so maybe you’re not allowed to post in the forums for fear of retribution by unhappy customers. But if you (in general, not necessarily you specifically) are allowed to post in the forums, I know it would mean a great deal to the community.

    (FFG): It is our policy that employees do not post on the forums directly, except in rare situations. You may have noticed that our forum software is often challenging. Those challenges also impact the back end. We moderate when we receive requests, but we have at this time only a small number of moderators (who are also doing their real jobs) to cover all of our forums. We try to deal with the issues when we become aware of them, but we most often work when we receive requests. If there is an issue that requires moderator attention, I ask that you or others submit a moderator request to bring it to our attention.

    They have since upgraded their forums, which I’m very happy about. But their lack of employee presence is definitely felt. how much better would this game be if James were to post answers to rules questions on their associated threads? Or have some stickied threads with answers to many common questions?

    We all have the same gripes, but at the end of the day, it just boils down to whether we want to tolerate the lack of FFG communication or not and how we’re going to deal with situations until we get answers. Hopefully, since Gencon is in a month, we’ll get answers within the next few weeks.

  4. @Hothie: “…it just boils down to whether we want to tolerate the lack of FFG communication or not and how we’re going to deal with situations until we get answers.”

    Basically, +1 to Kevin’s post and +1 to Doug’s comment. The current rules situation drives me nuts, because (as Kevin says) what we need is a list of precise stepwise operations that define things like “attack”, “execute a maneuver”, etc. But unless and until we get that kind of update, we just have to limp along with what we’ve got… and here’s hoping that we do indeed get something by the end of August.

    1. I joked over on BGG that if we don’t have something before GenCon I may go in with a squad designed to bring up every unknown question I can think of, just to make them answer the questions :)

  5. I love FFG games, they make up the biggest percentage of my collection, and when I want to game, if I’m not playing Monpoc, I’m wanting to play something with FFG on it more often than not. But if there’s knocks to be made against them, it’s poor rules, and very little direct internet interaction with their customers. The first has reached comedy levels, and as customers we’ve sort of come to expect it, and most new games launch with some kind of “this game is awesome, can’t wait to buy the second edition upgrade pack for it!” comment. The second is something that most find less amusing, because I think most people don’t understand the reason for it.

    I do agree that X-Wing puzzles FFG in many ways. It’s a great looking game that has a wide appeal because of the Star Wars name. It’s fun to play, and has a basic rules set that is easy to grasp and understand. It also has very deep tactical and strategic elements to it, both in squad creation and in actual play mechanics, so it appeals to less casual gamers. And it’s very readily embraced by the competitive tournament scene. That’s a pretty wide range of people to try and appeal to.

    And in this case, the radio silence really only makes sense from a limited resource perspective. An updated FAQ won’t impact the family gamers at all….they likely don’t care that issues exist, they just make a decision and move on. But NOT updating the FAQ has a big impact on the competitive player, and that’s dangerous ground for FFG to tread on, because it’s these players that are likely doing the bulk buying that’s supporting most of the sales. While smaller in number, they buy more, and they do more the grow the customer base.

    1. The real question is how much time and available resources it actually takes to create a new rules FAQ in PDF form.

      Firstly, time. It would take only a few hours of a single workday to address the largest and most game-disrupting questions… once those questions were gathered into a single list that could be looked over. We could significantly cut down on FFG’s workload by gathering all these questions into a single list. It’s a lot different for FFG to spend a few hours preparing answers than it is for them to spend days and weeks consolidating questions to answer.

      Secondly, FFG resources. To a degree we are still talking time… everyone they have working on a rules FAQ isn’t doing anything else at that moment. Again, any way to cut down on those spent hours would be helpful. As far as the financial cost of answering a list of questions then converting it into PDF… that is a -TINY- cost. It’s not nothing, but it may as well be nothing. At the point at which you can make PDFs at all, you’ve purchased a PDF writer and have a guy on staff who can make them both well and quickly. He’ll knock it out in not much time, and you’ve only lost him (as far as him doing other work) for a few hours of a single day.

      The radio silence only makes sense from an office bureaucracy standpoint. Whoever is in charge believes the necessary time to compile questions for an FAQ is not something that helps the company. It doesn’t directly create a profit and takes up a lot of time when you are talking just a few employees.

      The gaming masses could step up here. We want the FAQ, and we are hundreds strong online. We could compile the list of questions much more easily, and much faster, than FFG can. And I think we should do that, then send it to FFG. I can’t imagine they won’t want to to see it.

  6. Well, the new FAQ and Tournament rules are out. Lots there to talk about, and a lot of questions answered. I’ll post more thoughts later after my son goes to bed. My initial reaction is I want to start making 98 point squads now…