A long time ago, in a hobby shop far, far away…..
As a young lad, I was a typical nerd kid. I liked war gaming and had gotten my start in the Warhammer worlds of Fantasy and Rogue trader. However, I also liked RPGs and played AD&D, Shadowrun, and of course West Ends Star Wars RPG. I had stumbled across the Star Wars Miniature Battles rules as well but could never find the scratch to buy it. Plus, I was not very fond of the Star Wars metal miniatures of the time. Consequently, I never picked it up.
However, today is a different age. No longer do I need to poke around dusty, dark bookshelves and avoid the store cat to find such archaic oddities! No, thanks to the wonders of the internet you can find old, no longer produced titles available from anywhere across the globe! In my wandering I ran across that which I had not tried before…. Star Wars Miniature Battles. I got a copy and decided to give it a go!
I have clearly played Star Wars themed wargames before. Upon receiving my goodies of nostalgia, I rushed home and dug out the Galoob Micro Machine Strom Troopers and Rebels that I had available and scanned through the basic rules. I was eager to see what this book held and the long held promise of Star Wars wargaming from yesteryear. With FFG’s Legion rules on the horizon, now seemed like a good time to give these a review.
Things That I Liked
The game has a consistent mechanic for resolving actions. There are two types of rolls, Straight Skill Rolls and Opposed Rolls. For these you simply roll a d6 and add your skill level compared to a Target Number. If you beat the TN you succeed. Opposed rolls have the players roll against each other and add a relevant stat, the higher one wins. Shooting is a Straight Skill, while Damaging and Close Combat are opposed rolls. They maintain these two simple mechanics for the entire ruleset. That is better than most other wargames from the time can manage.
The game uses a 1 always fails and counts as a 0 result, while a 6 is an “exploding” dice that can be re-rolled and add to the results. This means any soldier can get lucky and hurt even elite enemy troops, and no one is invincible. Even an Ewok can take out a Stormtrooper.
The game has lots of diagrams and examples to give you a good feel for how it all works. This made the rules very clear and easy to interpret.
Things I Do Not Like
This game has a lot of modifiers. This probably stems from the time period and the RPG heritage of the game. There are situations that are +1, +2, and beyond. This means you will want a quick-reference sheet handy. However, the game encourages you use unit stat cards, which make a ton of sense since the game also has a lot of Stats. Some of them seem a bit useless except for one off situations and edge cases. The core game does not really use most of them, and they come into greater play when you add the unique armory, force powers, creatures, droids, etc.
This game uses alternate activation by phase. Therefore, Player A moves a squad then Player B until all squads have moved. Then they alternate firing. Then Close Combat is resolved, etc. This allows them to use an Overwatch mechanic where a unit can choose to fire at an enemy moving unit by foregoing their normal move and shooting. An early action/reaction mechanic!
It uses individual troopers as a basis for many mechanics even though it is a squad based game. This includes true Line-of-Sight, wounds, facing, close combat, etc. This really bogs the game down with tokens and other needless crunch and slows the game down. I found this very disappointing and could see at a glance ways to modernize these rules. However, for the period they are pretty par for the course.
All injuries do not take effect until the end of the fire combat phase, and all hits are randomized. Therefore, a squad hitting 12 times might all hit the same guy. Then, you can’t change him over to injured/dead until all shooting is complete. I am not sure how you keep track of it all until the end, but there you go. I guess this is to add “realism” that everyone will shoot the first Stormtrooper through the breech of the door, but just makes wound resolution/tracking even clunkier.
Morale has 4 levels from good, to shaken, to demoralized, to routed. It is one level too many in my book. Plus, the Threat Rating vs Command opposed roll is a bit clunky.
Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game covers all the Star Wars items you would want from armory, creatures, force powers, droids, etc. If you saw it on the screen, you can stat it up and play it in the game. There is a unit creation system so you can bring the things from shows to life. In addition, you can add your own gribblies and aliens too. I am sure this system is easily abusable, and it is a bit clunky; but it is there. The only thing missing are vehicles as this is an infantry based game. There are a lot of tools in the Advanced Rules tool box that a player could use, but doesn’t have to. It reminds me of Force-on-Force/Tomorrow’s War in that way.
Close combat involves pairing off, and means out-numbering a foe is a big benefit. However, it will be tough to get into Close combat anyway, as the attackers and defenders must both pass morale tests, and then the defender can also shoot at the incoming attackers. You need to be a Jedi (or at least a hero) to get a Close Combat off successfully. However, that doesn’t feel off since most combat in Star Wars is resolved at range
There is an entire section about using a Gamemaster in this book. Again, I think this is more a product of the time the book was made. However, I tend to like GMed games and feel they have their place. I know many do not favor this, and I do not feel the game “requires” a Game master to run properly.
The book does not have a campaign system at all, but it does have three scenarios. 1 is a basic scenario, and the other two are in the advanced rules section.
This is clearly a product of its time. The cover proudly claims an Origins Award for Best Miniature Rules for 1991! You can see the “popular” mechanics of the time in the mechanics of the Star Wars Miniatures System such as individual figure resolution, Gamemasters, and wound resolution. It is a bit clunkier than modern games, but yet you can still see some of the ideas that allowed it to be the Best Miniature Rules of 1991! I can see the evolution of modern sci-fi wargames in its design even if it is still a bit unwieldly by today’s standards.
I can also see where the mechanics and stats were designed to tie in a bit to the West End Games RPG with the “exploding dice” and the stat choices. That would make it easy to translate an RPG character into the Miniature Battle game and create cross-over opportunity. That could equal more sales!
The only glaring omission is vehicles, but that might get covered in the supplements such as the Companion and Imperial Entanglements, which I also have my hands on. Maybe after trying this out in the field, I will review those two supplements as well.
Overall, I got it for the right price-point, so do not hate that I have this. I do not see it being a staple of my gaming unless I am having a “retro night”. I think other more modern games do the same thing, slightly better. I would not go out of my way to track it down, but if you want to give it a go, look here: http://www.d6holocron.com/downloads/wegminiatures.html