Star Wars: The Last Jedi (official trailer)

Well, this has really made me very excited for the new Star Wars movie!

I’ve watched this thing through twice now, and while overall I don’t think it tells us anything we hadn’t already surmised, I am nevertheless really interested in where the story is being taken for the middle arc of the trilogy.

Sure, we have Rey training with Luke, and they seem to be going on some kind of journey of discovery, stuff that we’d pretty much surmised from the teaser trailer. But this whole business with Rey and Kylo Ren seeming to team up? Is Kylo Ren going to kill Leia? What’s up with Finn, is he back with the First Order, or is it some kind of ruse? That fight with Phasma looks like it could be pretty epic, but could it lead to his return, somehow?

While we’re at it, let’s take a look at the new poster for the film:

So Luke is very much front and centre, with Rey and Kylo Ren flanking General Leia in a manner that makes me think this film is going to be very much a story driven by matters of the Force, and the war between the First Order and the Resistance will take a bit of a back seat. Leia has some overlap between these two spheres, of course, so her prominence over Poe and Finn seems to be justified there. Will Kylo have to kill Leia as part of his training under Snoke, only to turn his back on the darkness and team up with Rey as a penance? I can’t honestly see Rey willingly joining with him if he’s still evil, but maybe there will be a lot more grey in this film than meets the eye…

I purposefully avoided everything except the trailers for episode 7, and found myself enjoying the film more as a result. I’m therefore doing the same again, so I’m hoping that I’ll walk out of the cinema on 15 December feeling just as fresh as a result!

Star Wars RPG, Fantasy Flight style

Hey everybody!
Game Day is upon us once more here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a brief look at the Star Wars role playing game system from Fantasy Flight Games, which is kinda involved, so this blog may get a little sprawling! I’ve previously looked at Star Wars RPG systems from West End Games (here!) and Wizards of the Coast (here!), so this is just the latest in the illustrious line of such products! Let’s get to it!

Star Wars RPG

The Star Wars license has been held by FFG since 2011, though they had a few problems with both their card game and the X-Wing miniatures game, so they didn’t actually publish any games for roughly a year after procuring the license. At GenCon 2012, they unveiled the RPG system as a tri-part thing, three distinct books that would focus on three distinct aspects of the galaxy far, far away, but all of which would be compatible with each other. The first of these to come out was Edge of the Empire in 2013, which dealt with the galactic fringe. It was followed by Age of Rebellion in 2014, which dealt with the military of the rebellion, and finally Force and Destiny in 2015, dealing with Force users and the Jedi remnant.

Each of these core rulebooks also came with a Beginner Game, which featured maps and tokens, as well as a slim beginner adventure that teaches you the game as you play, and of course the dice you need. The Star Wars RPG was designed by Jay Little, who had previously been behind the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying series, and is a huge lover of custom dice.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the character stuff!

When you play the RPG system from Fantasy Flight, you create your character as is standard for such things, picking a species and career, the latter giving you a choice of three specializations. For example, using the Edge of the Empire book, you might choose to be a Twi’lek Explorer, which will give you a choice of following the Fringer, Scout or Trader specializations. Each of these three has a unique talent tree in the book that describes the arc your character can expect to follow. The way that character creation works in this system is quite closely driven by story, and the book constantly asks you to think about this when you go through to make your character.

In addition to this, there is a further level added to the creation of your character that is somewhat unique to each strand of the RPG. For Edge of the Empire, that level is called Obligation, and represents “a debt, nemesis, duty or other motivating factor that drives your character’s efforts on the fringes of galactic society.” (The mechanic returns as Duty in Age of Rebellion, and Motivation in Force and Destiny). A lot of RPGs use this story element to help propel the story forward, and a good GM will be able to weave these sorts of strands together as a part of his or her overall narrative to tell a truly immersive story.

Star Wars RPG

So, what about the dice?

There are a number of different dice in the game, which all help to tell the narrative of the game you’re playing. Narrative dice? Yep, you heard that right. As a player, you have a pool of these dice that you roll when specified by a particular task. Dice can be added to or taken away from your pool by the GM to help reflect the narrative better.

The blue and the black d6 are boost and setback dice, and are added to the pool to reflect the fact that your character might be particularly good at what he or she is doing, or might be trying to accomplish a task under fire.

The green and the purple d8 are ability and difficulty dice, and reflect the core of how good or bad at accomplishing a task your character may be.

Finally, the yellow and the red d12 are proficiency and challenge dice, and act as modifiers to the d8 versions, either reflective of just how good or how bad your character may be.

There are, of course, a whole bunch of symbols on these dice, and the way they interact can appear a little daunting at first. However, once you get into it, the dice are actually fairly straightforward to deal with. Adding and subtracting dice, cancelling one result with another, it all becomes fairly straightforward. The beauty of the system, however, lies in the real narrative possibilities of these dice – they don’t just tell you if you succeeded or failed at a task, but help to tell the story by telling you how well or badly you did:

The dice do take some getting used to, don’t get me wrong, but they’re certainly one of the most interesting aspects of this game system!

While the Force can be used in Edge of the Empire, it didn’t really come to the fore until 2015’s Force and Destiny. Force powers work much like any other skill, of course, and you roll the white d12 to see how many Force points you roll to use on powers. Force and Destiny brought the Heal, Misdirect and the classic Battle Meditation powers to the fore, with each power following a tree akin to the career options, and as your character advances through the game, he or she can essentially level up within a chosen discipline.

The RPG has had a fair number of expansions for each of the three strands at this point, with adventure modules and sourcebooks for many of the career options available to help immerse yourself in the Star Wars universe. Naturally, Edge of the Empire has seen the majority of these, though the others are catching up. The interesting thing to note about the way these expansion books work is how specialized they are. While there have been a handful of sourcebooks on locations (such as the Corellian sector’s Suns of Fortune), and of course, adventure modules, the sourcebooks are predominantly focused around a career path, meaning that you won’t want to buy every single book if you’re playing a Colonist, for example. I find this interesting because it’s a much more consumer-friendly way of expanding the game than previous editions, which have usually incorporated rules that everybody would want to get their hands on within all manner of different books. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a RPG group for a while now, so I don’t know if this is still the case, but I’ve heard of groups where the GM buys everything and lets the group make use of it, as well as people picking and choosing what they get. If you’re heavily invested in just one player character type, then, you could feasibly get away with just buying one book, plus the core rules.

FFG have also released The Force Awakens beginner game, which has so far not led into a fourth branch of the RPG, but rather felt more like a bit of a cash-grab. It’s a good way to introduce people to the game system who may have only jumped in once the film was released, of course, though the system is otherwise flexible enough that I would imagine you could set your games wherever you liked in the timeline. Notably, while some mention of now-Legends stuff has been made, there aren’t any “Knights of the Old Republic sourcebook” style products; instead, the system feels a little bland by giving you all the tools you need to create an adventure entirely of your own choice. I say “a little bland”, because I think I’d prefer to tie my adventures more firmly into the narrative – certainly, that’s how I’ve run campaigns in the past – but by structuring the game in this way, FFG have actually left the universe pretty wide open. I mentioned in my Saga Edition blog that WotC ended their run on the RPG with a sourcebook that provided you with all of the tools you would need to forge a narrative entirely on your own; well, FFG started at that point, and have continued to provide books that are more along the lines of helpful nudges than hard-line stuff.

Star Wars RPG

All in all, I have strangely mixed feelings about the FFG role playing game. I want to like it – heck, I want to love it – but I’ve never quite been able to truly dive in. I think I enjoyed my time with Saga Edition so much, I just want to keep a hold of my d20s and never let go! That is my idea of a Star Wars RPG. Strangely, then, I think I’ve become the crazy old guy who shouts at the kids with their new fancy dice (though I’m not as bad as the guys who still play the West End Games version…)

Star Wars at 40!

Star Wars at 40

Unbelievable, really!

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember, and despite the fact that the original trilogy is actually older than I am, it’s still my favourite collection of films. The original, A New Hope, is without a doubt the top of my list, not least because it started it all, but because of the breadth of the hero’s journey that we’re treated to.

There isn’t really a lot that I can say that hasn’t already been said, either on my own blog or elsewhere across the internet, so I thought I’d mark the occasion with a brief nod to some of my past blogs about the franchise, before putting my feet up and watching for the billionth time the movie that started it all…

Star Wars (random musings for May the Fourth)

The Star Wars Special Editions

Ewoks!

The Force Awakens (first impressions review)

Heir to the Empire

Crimson Empire

May the Force be with you!!

Star Wars new canon musings

Hey everybody!
It’s been a bit of a Star Wars week here at spalanz.com, and today I thought I’d talk about some various musings that I’ve been having about the franchise, with the new books and comics as well as thoughts on the new and up-coming movies… It’s going to be a ramble, but let’s begin!

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I’m really intrigued about what’s going to happen in this film. Something that I like the idea of is how VII mirrored IV so much, VIII might actually begin by imitating V before vectoring off really onto its own thing. There is a lot of footage in the trailer that shows the Resistance seemingly under attack, and I like the idea that this is an escape sequence much like the Battle of Hoth, where we may see a lot of similar story beats to the earlier movie.

We’ll also have a lot of Rey being trained by Luke and, if VII can be relied upon, Kylo Ren being trained by Snoke, which will somewhat follow the theme of Luke being trained by Yoda. But what else could we see? Some stories have been circulating that speculate the film starts with Leia meeting Snoke in a sort of meeting-of-minds, and she has to be rescued by the Resistance. I suppose the scenes that I thought of as an escape could equally be a rescue.

Leia is said to have an expanded role in VIII, which is excellent because she wasn’t in VII nearly as much as she should have been. But I guess we needed to see the next generation established. The idea that she meets with Snoke could be interesting as, like the rest of the world, I’m deeply intrigued as to who he is and how he fits into the world. I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll reiterate here: I don’t believe Snoke is somebody who we’ve met before, insofar as I don’t think he’s a clone of Palpatine/Anakin/Jar Jar, or whatever. I do think he’s a completely new creation, though he does seem to be known to Leia and Han, given their exchange before Han leaves for Starkiller Base in VII. I’m intrigued as to how he fits into the First Order hierarchy, as I would have expected to have seen him somewhere in Bloodline if he’s a major player. (Well, maybe I did!) Whoever he is, though, it needs to be fully explained in the movies, as the vast majority of moviegoers aren’t following the comics and novels and cartoons and everything else, and Disney knows this. The movies need to be able to stand on their own, and so I’m confident that we’ll be getting a full reveal in either VIII or IX.

Again sticking with the parallels with V, I think the climax will have an “I am your father” style explanation – though obviously, he won’t turn out to be Rey’s father or anything like that…

The mystery of Rey is, I think, perhaps the best thing to be coming out of the sequel trilogy so far. While I know plenty of people are rabidly chomping at the bit for anything, I think it’s being done really well in that I’m intrigued, but I find her interesting enough on her own terms that I don’t need to know who her parents were. Does that make sense? She’s great enough on her own terms, and I love that about her.

The new EU
This brings me on to something in general about the EU right now, though, which is a continuation of something I mentioned the other day. So far, we’ve only had two movies from Disney, but they’ve been movies that tell pretty decent stories, and which have succeeded in drawing me in to the universe they have created. Bear with me here…

The Force Awakens lands us slap-bang in the middle of the galaxy some 30-or-so years after Return of the Jedi, and while the interpersonal story of the main characters plays out pretty much okay, we’re left with so many questions about the state of the universe that we’re now in. Rogue One returned us to a more familiar time period, but has shown that there are so many questions that we thought we knew the answers to, but it turns out we barely scratched the surface there. While it can be irritating to a lore nerd such as myself to suddenly not know where we are in the universe, I’ve noticed that I’m actually starting to pore over all of the stuff that I can get my hands on once again, such as the Visual Dictionaries, and branching out into the YA books that I would usually avoid.

Basically, Disney has made me enthusiastic about Star Wars once again.

There is, however, a “but” coming…
Despite the fact that I’m now really intrigued by the new setting, including that for Rogue One, which has shown us a new way of looking at the time period of the original movie trilogy, I’m finding it difficult to stay enthusiastic about the new EU when I begin to devour the offerings we have that flesh out this landscape.

I’ve been particularly hard on the Aftermath trilogy (you can see exactly how harsh by checking out my blog reviews here, here and here!) However, I’ve been thinking again recently, and I’m fully prepared to completely re-evaluate those opinions in the light of anything we learn at the end of Episode IX. I think it’s very likely that there will be a number of things mentioned in passing during those books that will prove to be important later – not just the interludes, but a lot of the general story will likely make more sense when we’ve seen the whole trajectory of the sequel trilogy.

The rest of the novels that I’ve so far read from the new canon have been very much a mixed bag, with Heir to the Jedi being a particular favourite, but only Bloodline standing out for me as the absolute best and most important of them all so far. I don’t think I’ve read anything from the new canon that has managed to capture the feel of this new, Force-Awakened universe more than this book, and cannot recommend it enough to even the casual fans of the franchise. The others tend to fall into something of a “meh” category of general tie-in fiction that is really neither good nor bad, but overall you’re not missing anything by not reading it. This is in stark contrast to some of the Legends books, which often form important leads-in to films or provide important explanations of plot-points. Maybe the Disney films are too reliant on themselves to tell their story, leading to the novels not having a great deal to cover?

The comics from Marvel have, so far, been the single most consistent let-down in all of this, however. While a lot of my criticisms of the new canon can perhaps be explained away with “well, it’s still early days yet – Dark Horse and Del Rey had years to build up their lore!” (which is, incidentally, true), I feel that Marvel in particular has so far been playing so fast and loose with Star Wars in general, that it’s really wearing me down as a consumer. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve read probably half of the total content they’ve put out, and cannot think of a single issue or series that I can put my finger on and say, “that was great”. The Vader ongoing series was probably the closest we get to that, though I have only read half of it up to this point. The general ongoing series had a fantastic issue #1, and went downhill so quickly it was unbelievable. We’re now being treated to Han and Leia racing around a Star Destroyer as serious wartime adventure, and I just can’t believe they got rid of stuff like The Wrong Side of the War and replaced it with this!

First world problems, for sure, but I think we deserve better stories than this dumbed-down junk. The time period of the original trilogy was a period of civil war, according to the opening crawl of the movie that started it all – how about seeing some actual war stories, rather than this inane rubbish about three people hijacking a Star Destroyer, or the ongoing boredom of Han Solo’s not-wife.

For me, part of the problem with the ongoing series from Marvel is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a plan for the story these books are telling us. The time period between IV and V was always set at three years, in-universe, and was replete with “just another story” about Luke and the gang going up against the Empire, having a series of narrow scrapes, but always winning in the end. Sure, that’s the adventure serial type of story that inspired the movie in the first place. But when you just have endless one-shot storylines that have that “and they all lived to fight another day” ending, it’s kinda pointless. One of the main selling-points for removing the expanded universe as it was, was that they could start to tell more cohesive stories in the EU, but I’ve not yet seen any real evidence of that from Marvel. Yeah, the monthly books have had some nice interlocking connections, but nothing important has happened, and it’s all just much of the same junk that Marvel pumped out in the 80s.

I have been expecting a coherent narrative across the comics that ties in with the films, and any other novels that take place at the same time period. So far, the only consistencies seem to be that Dr Aphra has shown up as Darth Vader’s groupie, and Han Solo’s annoying not-wife seems to have grafted herself on as Leia’s informal attache. We don’t really have a stable of characters that Marvel has created, including villains for the rebels to go up against, so it all feels like so much diaphanous rubbish.

Are you familiar with the Republic ongoing series from Dark Horse, which ran for over 100 issues and spanned the period from Phantom Menace well beyond Revenge of the Sith? The series had a somewhat bumpy beginning as it followed Ki-Adi-Mundi on a variety of throwaway adventures that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, before it introduced the Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos and his erstwhile padawan Aayla Secura. While their adventures were interrupted with other issues, the series really picked up steam when John Ostrander and Jan Duursema were telling the story of these two, and a whole cast of recurring faces began to pepper the pages, to the point where now, if you read the whole lot, you get a wonderfully cohesive narrative arc that actually serves as a counterpoint to the prequel movies themselves.

My point is, Star Wars comics can be better than this! First of all, we don’t need big-name movie characters in Star Wars books in order to make them interesting, not least because those stories tend not to have any real sense of danger to them. We know Leia is always going to survive any and all stories set between A New Hope and The Last Jedi, because she is in those films. Showing Leia at death’s door in the Annual #2 had absolutely no sense of drama to it, because we know she’s fighting fit again in Empire. So why not focus on a larger cast than just the movie three, and put them in danger, instead?

It would take no imagination to come up with stories involving other rebel agents – agents in the mould of Cassian Andor, for instance – who might well serve alongside Luke on a dangerous mission to uncover a supply train that the rebels desperately need – medical supplies, whatever – and then put that rebel agent in the spotlight for the next arc where we follow a commando team on an undercover mission into an Imperial arms depot. Maybe that agent survives, to become a more regular fixture in the ongoing series, or maybe he dies heroically, and his protege makes it back to Yavin with the news, whereupon she can become a more regular character. I came up with that in the about-fifteen seconds it took to type. There are more people in this universe, and more stories to be told, than the adventure of Han and Leia’s race around a Star Destroyer to see who can be called captain of the bloody thing!

I’m beating on the comics quite badly now, and I’m very aware that there are still plenty of these books that I’ve not yet read. I think it would be hilarious if the next arc I pick up is the best thing I’ve read from the new canon since Bloodline

This blog is already getting pretty hefty here, and the tone has been somewhat whiny in parts, so I think it’s time to draw it to a close. In conclusion, then, I think the movies are doing a tremendous job of setting up a new world order, of sorts, and I’m incredibly intrigued by how they’re managing to change the Star Wars universe for the better. The novels have been hit and miss, though everyone should head out and read Bloodline if they haven’t already done so. And while I’ve yet to read a new comic that I like, I remain optimistic that there may be an arc out there that I can finally say, that’s fantastic!

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below, I’d love to get other peoples’ opinions on this! We’ve been in the new EU for almost three years now, and I’m interested to see what you fine folks make of the state of things!

Star Wars comics catch-up!

Hey everybody!
Continuing the theme from earlier this week and the classic Assault on Hoth, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the quick catch-up I had with the Star Wars ongoing series from Marvel. Despite collecting up issue after issue, I’d not actually read any of the new series for over a year, so it’s time I try and make the long slog to catch up with what’s going on…

Star Wars Rebel Jail

First up, then, we have Rebel Jail, which comprises issues 16-19 of the ongoing series, and is framed by two more stories “from the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Rebel Jail takes up where Vader Down left off, as Leia and Sana (yeah, Han Solo’s not-wife) deposit Doctor Aphra on a secure Alliance jail that is positioned ridiculously close to a sun for security. Only it’s not so secure, as the facility is infiltrated by a mysterious figure who turns out to be the guy sent to infiltrate Coruscant in the first Star Wars Annual, Eneb Ray. Turns out he was trying to make Leia into the leader he believed the Alliance needed, by forcing her to kill the Imperial prisoners held there.

The story was a bit of a let-down, particularly seeing as how it was drawn out over four parts. I did like how the Annual was brought into this universe, as I was beginning to wonder if these things would ever amount to anything, so that was good. (My only previous experience with such things has really been the DC annuals, which tend to be side stories at best). I’m disappointed that Sana Starros is still around, however. The character is constantly made out to be a mercenary and only hanging around because Leia is paying her for her services – but we already have that storyline in Han Solo at this point in the timeline. I would have preferred to see a few more real rebels fleshed out into the background, and maybe even get some folks like Toryn Farr in on the pre-Hoth action, you know? While they could be downright silly at times, Bantam often made an excellent effort to integrate these characters across all points in the timeline, building up a proper stable of characters that all felt part of the mythos. I get that Sana is a scoundrel, and we’re probably expected to respond better to her than a rebel operative, but it just feels a bit redundant somehow.

The two Obi-Wan stories, while nothing particularly special in and of themselves, are still notable for the really cool artwork that show an aging Obi-Wan that is part-way between Ewan MacGregor and Sir Alec Guinness. Issue #15 introduces the Wookiee Bounty Hunter, Black Krrsantan, who has already made an appearance in the Vader ongoing series that took place correspondingly later in the timeline. There was a reference to his being on Tatooine in that story arc that is now resolved here, anyway, and I really had a bit of a thrill from getting that connection! Something that Marvel can never be accused of is bad continuity in major series like these, and their multitude of crossover events show that they are dab hands at placing little tidbits like these across their products, which do help to make the whole thing feel like a cohesive universe. Issue #20 really pulls the two previous Journal entry stories together, as Black Krrsantan faces off against Obi-Wan in the Dune Sea. We also get a fairly surprising insight into the relationship between Obi-Wan and Owen Lars, which I kinda want to see more of. I mean, I get that Owen is hostile to Obi-Wan to protect Luke from him, but I’d like to see how their relationship managed to get to that point, you know? Presumably Owen didn’t go overnight from that final scene of Revenge of the Sith, where he takes delivery of the newborn Luke from Obi-Wan, straight to pounding his fists around and shouting til he’s purple for the crazy old wizard to stay away from his family, you know? Anyway!

Star Wars Last Flight of the Harbinger

The Last Flight of the Harbinger is next on the list, starting with a bit of a prologue as we follow Sergeant Kreel (the Games Master from the Showdown on the Smugglers’ Moon arc) leading an elite group of stormtroopers against the rebels. I don’t actually know if this is meant to replace the notorious 501st regiment “Vader’s Fist”, but it’s certainly built up as an elite group of soldiers who are hard-as-nails, so who knows.

The rebels are attempting to break through the Imperial blockade of the planet Tureen VII, and the only thing big enough to break through with is an Imperial Star Destroyer. Leia, Luke and Han manage to steal the ISD Harbinger, forcing its crew to abandon ship, then pilot the war machine through space and straight at the cordon of the planet. When Imperial High Command hears of this, Vader sends Kreel and his men to recover the ship, which is inexplicably flying at sublight speed across the galaxy. The stormtroopers infiltrate the ship, but cannot re-take the Harbinger before the rebels fly it directly at the Imperial ships above Tureen VII.

While Rebel Jail was a bit drawn-out, this storyline was pretty much one of the worst kinds of goofy story I’ve yet encountered in the new canon. Allow me to ramble for a moment…

First of all, the entire five-issue arc seems to have hinged upon the idea of “Hey, you know what would be cool? If Luke and the gang hijack a Star Destroyer!” So we have a blockade of a planet that is apparently impregnable – the actual cordon, like so many comic-book planetary cordons, is in a ring around the equator, and does not exist in three-dimensional space. You know those blockade runners that are so prevalent in the universe? Why not just use one of them? They have “blockade runner” in their name, they might be built for this very task. Nope, we’ve got half a dozen people stealing a Star Destroyer, and also successfully managing to fly it with that many people, too…

Secondly, Han and Leia have a foot race around the ship to see who will be the captain. It actually features as the cover art for one of the issues, too. I can’t even begin to explain just how inane this event is, so I’ll just leave it there.

The story is also just another one of these throwaway things, which is beginning to irritate me about almost the entire new expanded universe so far. I won’t get into full-blown rant here, because this blog is running kinda long already, but suffice it to say, the only book that seems to be anything more than “just another adventure for Luke and the gang” is the excellent Bloodline. There are just so many books and comics coming out that really seem to have no impact on the greater Star Wars storyline, it’s honestly beginning to depress me as a Star Wars fan, and probably the single biggest reason why I’ve not picked up any of the new comics in over a year.

It’s a similar story with the Star Wars Annual #2, which sees Princess Leia injured during the line of duty on Skorii-Lei, and helped by a new character called Pash Devane. Pash is kinda interesting, as she’s not your usual female comic book character, but rather a heavily-muscled type who was forced out of her career as an engineer when the Empire came, and now survives by doing menial labouring. Pash at first expresses apathy towards the Rebellion as well as the Empire, but we get a typical Leia story that sees the Princess change someone’s mind. It’s the usual kind of throwaway story that I mentioned earlier about these Annuals, but worth mentioning just for the different depiction of females in the universe.

The next arc in the ongoing series is, I believe, a longer Obi-Wan Journal, so I’ll leave that for another time. I’ll be back soon with some more musings on Star Wars comics, catching up with the Vader storyline!

Assault on Hoth!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today we’re going retro, as I showcase one of the classic Star Wars games of the 1980s! Lord Vader may start his landing, because we’re launching an Assault on Hoth!

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

This game hails from 1988, and was one of a quartet of actual boardgames put out by West End Games while they held the Star Wars licence. Much like Escape from the Death Star, I have vivid memories of trying to play this with my brother but, being four years old at the time, the finer nuances of tabletop wargaming were somewhat beyond me…

Reading through the rulebook now, Assault on Hoth is very clearly a tabletop wargame in the mould of such things as Runewars or Battlelore from Fantasy Flight Games, where each player commands an army (in this case, of cardboard stand-ups) and attempts to secure an objective as they each fight over a hex-based map. There are Imperial units, and there are Rebel units, and the Imperials are trying to storm the Rebels and destroy the shield generator, while the Rebels are just trying to escape from the planet.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

The game is played quite simply, in one respect, as activation is taken care of through a deck of Action cards. Over the course of the game, these cards are continually flipped over, and reshuffled, allowing the players to move and/or fire with their units. There are also two Action cards that allow players to draw an Event card; these cards hold the keys to Rebel victory, as there are a number of ‘Transport Away!’ events that, if you accumulate five of them, will win you the game. The other Events are reinforcements for both sides, allowing the war in the tundra to continue.

The Rebel player can also win by wiping out all Imperial units on the board, which I suppose is a useful backup plan, given that you’d otherwise have to just cycle through the Action deck continually, hoping to draw five ‘Transport Away!’ cards.

So, how does combat work? Well, I’m glad you asked.

WEG is of course famous for the Star Wars RPG they published during the 1980s and 90s, which was a d6 system. Most of their other games also leant heavily on the d6, and Assault on Hoth is no different. If an Action card allows you to attack with one of your units, the card will stipulate a Fire Strength, which denotes the amount of Fire Dice you roll. These are specialist d6 dice that feature a Vader helmet on two sides, a lightsaber on another two sides, and blank faces on the remaining two sides. Vader helmets only matter for the Imperial player, and lightsabers only matter for the Rebel player. There is a chart on the board that shows both the Fire Strength of each unit in the game, as well as an armour value for that unit. If the number of successes you rolled on the Fire Dice equals or exceeds the armour of your target, then that unit is destroyed, and removed from the board.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

Something that is interesting here, however, is that range can modify your shots. The board is divided up into hexes and ‘macrohexes’, groups of seven hexes that can affect your ability to fire at targets. Basically, you select your target, then count the number of macrohexes between the two units, and reduce the fire strength by that number. For instance, a Heavy Trooper shooting at a Light Trooper two macrohexes away would have his fire strength of 4 reduced by 2, meaning he would only roll 2 fire dice. This is still possible, as a Light Trooper only has an armour value of 1, but there are times when you cannot roll the number of successes to equal your target’s armour.

Terrain also makes a feature, marked out by dark blue patches of rough rocky trenches and the like. If you fire at a unit that is on rough terrain, the fire strength is also reduced by 1.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

So we’ve got all the classic hallmarks of a tabletop wargame, from terrain and cover to armour modifiers and even specialty dice. There are also cinematic moments, where the Rebels can fire harpoons at Walkers and the like, and the dramatic reveal of the Luke Skywalker Hero card, where the Rebel player can reveal that Luke was riding in one of the five starting snowpeeders, and thereafter use the Force to aid in his attacks.

However, for all that, the game is very straightforward. The rules actually state that ‘Assault on Hoth is not a complicated game’, which is no doubt meant to be in its favour, though I can imagine that some people might be turned off from that. While there can be an incredible depth to playing the game at first, it can also quickly evolve into a much more mundane, waiting game to see whether you pull that fifth ‘Transports Away!’ event card, of if you manage to park your units in the right place on the map to just pick off any Imperials who happen to wander too close to the Shield Generator.

The main thing this game has going for it, almost thirty years after its initial release, is that it is a wonderfully thematic recreation of the first half hour or so of Empire Strikes Back, and can be tremendous fun for the right pair of Star Wars enthusiasts to sit down and battle for an hour or so!

The game is incredibly expensive on ebay right now, and of the four WEG games, I think has always commanded the higher price on the secondary market. While I always thought Star Warriors was the more popular game, clearly Assault on Hoth has got something going for it after all this time!

It’s worth noting that there was an “expansion” for the game that WEG released through their RPG supplements over the years, that used the Assault on Hoth board game to depict the conflict between the role-playing Rebels and the dread Charon in Otherspace II: Invasion. A new deck of Action and Event cards was provided to depict the conflict, essentially providing a new way to play the game.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

Much like Escape from the Death Star, this game is a classic of Star Wars gaming history, and one that is always of interest for me, despite never figuring out how to play it all those decades ago!

Rogue One, again

Hey everybody!
At the weekend, I finally sat down to give Rogue One a second viewing, having bought the DVD weeks ago but not really being in the mood for it up to now. Well, I have to say, I enjoyed it just as much this time around as I did back in December!

Rogue One

The film actually feels like an expanded universe story, which I thought was a bit weird at first. When Lucas was at the helm of the franchise, he was always very careful with setting and location – I recall an article somewhere back when Attack of the Clones was shooting where this deliberate choice of worlds was discussed, though it’s really quite obvious across all six of his films. In Rogue One, however, we jump around from planet to planet with not so much a careless abandon, but certainly more an eye towards opening up the universe. While Geonosis and Tatooine are both desert worlds, they feel distinctly different because they’re meant to; Jedha (and Jakku, come to think of it) could basically be Tatooine by another name. This is something that the expanded universe did a lot, providing “just another x planet” and the like. I’m not laying this down as a criticism, of course, but more an observation. I love a lot of the old EU after all!

While Scarif was a very interesting location to me, and I wouldn’t be averse to seeing more of it – both before and after the battle there – I think Jedha is by far the more interesting of all the locations we’ve seen so far. I’ve talked about how I feel Disney may be on the verge of declaring the Prequels non-canon before, but I do get a sense that, to show more of Jedha, we’d need to tread on some fairly rocky ground. The location of a Jedi temple there seems to run counter to what we know of the Order from the Prequels – indeed, the fact that there is a buried-treasure-trail of such temples as per The Force Awakens also reinforces this point. But I find it incredibly interesting that such a thing could be, and really want to know more of what was actually involved there. Was it more of a Jedi outpost? Was the Church of the Force a Thing during the Prequel era? Jedi seemed to be nothing more than an elite police force back then, so what would prompt people to worship them, and what was the attitude of Mace Windu et al to this veneration? Or does the Church of the Force not so much worship the Jedi themselves as the idea of the Force, in which case what did they think of the Jedi as people? I so desperately want to know more about this stuff, so I really hope we get these answers!

There is what I think a young adult novel coming out in the next couple of weeks, Guardians of the Whills, which features Chirrut and Baze between their time as Guardians and the arrival of Jyn and Cassian, so hopefully we’ll get some more information from that!

Speaking of Cassian Andor, I mentioned this back in December, but I’m even more curious as to this guy’s back story now. He’s apparently the head of Alliance Intelligence, though having watched the film again, I got the impression he was more a sort of go-to guy to get the Alliance’s dirty work done. This seems to be the feeling from his orders from General Draven, and I quite like the idea that he is more of a mercenary sort. I believe he’s in the other upcoming YA novel, Rebel Rising, which I also have on preorder, so it’ll be interesting to learn more about this guy.

Rogue One

Despite the fact we’re no doubt likely to be inundated with the stuff, I think of all the characters I’m not particularly interested in, Jyn Erso is top of that list. This isn’t meant as a slight on the character, but rather just because I think we learn all that we need to about her from the film, and her story is pretty self-contained there. Of course, I’m braced for plenty of tie-ins to her time with Saw Gerrera, but hopefully they won’t neglect the other stories that could be told around these chaps…

Anyway!

This is already turning into a rambling blog (my specialty), so I’ll wrap it up here. Suffice it to say, I thought the film was just as good the second time around, and even though parts of it were a bit too on-the-nose, I found myself just wrapped up in the magic of it all and enjoying the ride! Interestingly, the CGI Tarkin didn’t seem to be as good this time around, while the CGI Leia looked a lot better on the smaller screen.

I actually started to watch A New Hope immediately after, but actually didn’t see the point after the droids launched in the escape pod. I thought it was interesting because so many people talked about watching them back-to-back in this manner when it was released, as if one would greatly enhance the other, but I actually found that Rogue One, while leading immediately into A New Hope, is self-contained enough that it doesn’t actually demand such a marathon. While this is probably due to the fact that I know A New Hope like the back of my hand, and can thus fill in the entire film from memory, I thought it worth pointing out that, in my view, nothing is gained from watching them both like that.

Anyway! Great film, definitely worth its place in the series.