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 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.