Fantasy Flight Games at Gen Con 2014: Star Wars Armada and new X-Wing faction ships

After all that I have said this week about leadership it should be considered why I am so excited then for the 2014 Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The event is so massive that at the Indianapolis airport where people come to that event from all over the world there is a giant welcome mat at the bottom of the escalator welcoming people to the best 4 days in gaming anywhere.  All the videos on this article should be watched so that context can be given to this text.  Nowhere else is table-top gaming so magnificently on display and the ironic thing to note is that the entire movement started underground and has now emerged as one of the largest industries the world over.  I have touted the benefits of table top strategy games at great length over the past year.  If more people played them—especially my age—and drank less—they’d find they would manage stress a whole lot better, gain greater insight into solving very complex problems, and improve their lives immensely with a balance of mythology—which every human brain craves more than food, intellectual stimulation—the exercise of thought—and bring into their adulthoods the ability to play.  It is that last thing which holds the key to success in the future of education.  Education is directly linked to play and when we are kids we learn a lot through playing.  When we stop playing as adolescents—we stop learning and a very slow decline begins.  Death for many people begins at age 14-15.  Life may technically end at age 70 to 80, but it begins the moment humans stop playing to keep their minds active.  It is that simple.  My love and hope during events like Gen Con is that there is a tremendous underground movement which has been completely perpetrated through online media that hinges strictly on the rebellion of “playing.”  The people who attend Gen Con and buy the products sold there have brought to their adult lives the ability to play—and thus the continued ability to learn and function.

This movement has been around for a number of years—Gen Con started in 1968—the year I was born.  It has remained relatively underground that entire time and out of the eyes of the mainstream.  You don’t see advertisements for the Fantasy Flight Games products on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel.  At least not until now—as much as I’ve spoke about Fantasy Flight Games other products, like Arkham Horror and all the spinoffs which came from that line of H.P. Lovecraft games.  It is the very recent foray into mainstream myth like Game of Thrones and on an epic scale—Star Wars that has taken the innovative little company from Roseville, Minnesota and launched it into being one of the most influential cultural phenomena’s of the 21st century.

For me, because I love Star Wars and tactical strategy from war gaming—the best thing that has happened to me in years is the Fantasy Flight Games product X-Wing Miniatures.  I would say playing that game over the last year has vastly improved my life and taken the edge off.  I have always been an adult who still likes to play so I don’t do the normal mid-life activities like hang out on golf courses, gamble at casinos, or drink heavily—because I still enjoy playing as I did when I was a kid.  I still love learning and playing and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures gives me that ability.  One of the best conversations I had with my brother in years was at a Long John Silver’s restaurant after church where I was able to introduce him to the game.  I brought my ships into the restaurant and showed him how the game worked on a table in the middle of lunch rush.  The game can be simple and fun—or deeply complex and ever-changing.

Outside of the Indianapolis Convention Center millions of people are setting up their Fantasy Football picks and watching news from the various NFL camps about their favorite teams.  MLB is wrapping up yet another season ahead of the World Series and busy minds mired down with social obligations root themselves passively to the distractions of those games.  But inside that same building where Fantasy Flight Games is poised to explode culturally and change those social standards they released a few things that will contribute directly to the Star Wars mythology and the way Disney handles the ownership of their franchise.  Fantasy Flight provided a demo of their X-Wing Miniatures sequel Armada. 

One of the drawbacks to the X-Wing Miniatures game is that it has so far been impossible to have the kind of large fleet battles that are so prevalent in the novels.  In the movies Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi featured what these types of epic battles might look like, but only touched on the surface.  On the Hollywood Studios and Disneyland ride Star Tours the scale of the fleet ships is more adequately pronounced and riders get a real feel for what it looks like to be a small ship flying among them.  On the X-Wing Miniatures game Fantasy Flight has given some big ships to the game in a grand scale which I will talk more about in a minute.  But the need to pull back and make space for them to fit on a tabletop was needed to pull off the task of full-fledged battle and Fantasy Flight has addressed this problem with their Armada release—which hits stores during the first quarter of 2015—about the same time that Disney’s new animated series Rebels will end its first season.  FFG had the game at Gen Con and it just looks fantastic and plays very well.  For World War II enthusiast who always wanted to take the reins of General MacArthur this type of game in Armada is as close that one can ever get without actually commanding such large fleets of ships.  The core set comes with a CR90, Nebulon-B and a Victory-class Star Destroyer which is one of the smallest of the Empire’s fleet ships.  Without question Armada will allow for the construction of the really large ships in proportion to scale which will end up encompassing a foot or more of the 3’ X 6’ play area.  As the game matures there will be fleets of Victory-class Star Destroyers taking to the table and fighting it out with hoards of Rebel squadrons.  Armada was the only good answer to the many problems that were coming up from X-Wing as they extended their play to a large table-top that is only getting bigger as the game itself was pushing the boundaries to extend to a large room just to play.  Star Destroyers are a part of the Star Wars universe to such an extent that they needed to be used properly, and Armada is the only real answer.  When that game hits shelves I may never again leave my house.  I have had loads of fun playing X-Wing which involves only a few ships.  What Armada brings to the table is unfathomably interesting.

But my first love is X-Wing and the creative minds at Fantasy Flight did not disappoint.  Like last year when they released the first Huge Ships of the X-Wing Miniatures game—a CR90 and a Rebel Transport this year on the second day they announced their further additions to the Epic play format of their hot selling masterpiece.  More ships were introduced after their noon annual meeting with the public and what they revealed took the air out of Indianapolis.  Ripples of positive energy engulfed the North American continent as those not at Gen Con watched the video feed of the new bounty hunter class ships being put into the glass case at the Fantasy Flight booth.    I’ve been to many football and baseball games and I’ve never seen the kind of excitement that accompanied those announcements.

Now that Wave 6 has been announced and that it will feature a bounty hunter faction the Epic Play format for X-Wing is about to explode.  I personally find the Huge Ships extremely challenging to play with.  After juggling with the energy distribution that makes the Huge Ships work, it is difficult to put the mind back on the smaller ships flying around them.  But it takes the game of X-Wing Miniatures about as large as it can go.  From there the ships just get too big to carry around to tournaments and play on a table-top, which is why Fantasy Flight came up with the Armada game.  There is really nothing more beautiful than a 3’ X 6’ table top filled with these magnificently detailed ships that are in combat with other large ships across the table from a team of real life opponents.  The ships and games themselves are just wonderful fun to play—but it is the experiences that they give you which go unmatched.

I’ve been on plenty of adventures—even some recently this past summer.  I know what it feels like to get shot at, to be hunted—to hunt.  I know what adrenaline pumping through your body knowing the wrong move could end your life and the ramifications of that are.  And I can say that some of the best moments I have had regarding those emotions came from games of X-Wing over the last year—particularly in Epic Battles using my Rebel Transport to cross a mine field being patrolled by a never-ending stream of Imperial Tie Fighters.  That is the beauty of the game—through play those types of decisions and simulation of reality get explored.  When hard decisions are needed in real life—you don’t panic or struggle for the answer—you have it—because you had to exercise those skills just to play a game like X-Wing Miniatures.

For fathers wanting to reach their sons and daughters—I can’t think of any better bonding exercise than in playing one of these Fantasy Flight creations.  The people I have met in the gaming community tend to be married, and are happiest when their wives play with them.  And what better thing for a couple to do together—but activity—the mind enjoys the exercise and people tend to bond when they do things together.  If more people did things like play these games together, there would be a lot less divorce in the world, and a lot more happy lives not relying on drink to carry them to the next moment.  For grandparents wanting to bridge the gap between young and old, the experiences that can be gained through X-Wing Miniatures and Armada are infinitely better than sitting around in a basement running a model train around in a circle.  These games require thought and complete input from the players unlike a video game where one interacts with the environment created in a program—in these Fantasy Flight Games the miniatures only represent reality just enough to pull the mind into the plot of the game.  And it is there that mythology happens and mankind works out complicated problems.  Capitol Hill would become much more effective, since they don’t play Chess anymore over cigar smoke—if they spent an afternoon playing X-Wing Miniatures.  They might not then debate endlessly over partisan policies framed from K-Street lobbyists.  With the new Star Wars television shows and movies coming and the positioning of Star Wars Miniatures poised to meet that interest with a superior product bigger things are happening in Indianapolis than just a bunch of geeks exploding for joy over some cool new models and crafty cards.  A cultural revolution is taking place and emerging from underground which is metaphorical to the type of future that Ray Kurzweil has illustrated.  CLICK HERE TO SEE MY ARTICLE ON RAY AND WHAT HE HAS PREDICTED FOR THE FUTURE.

The emotional gap that will fill the void left by politics, economic failure, and poor philosophy and leadership throughout the 20th century is being answered at Gen Con.  So far there are only a few million who flock to the products of Fantasy Flight Games.  Even though attendance at Gen Con was epic keeping the entire building filled for the entire four days—the overall attendance is equal to that of a Superbowl game for the NFL.  This type of gaming has not yet entered the mainstream—but it is really, really close and will be fed by the Disney marketing machine through wonderful companies like Fantasy Flight Games who are already way, way, WAY out in front of the curve.  The types of philosophy and brain games being created by FFG and the way they have massaged capitalism for such positive endeavors is truly inspiring and is painting a picture of what tomorrow will look like.

The entire progressive movement was started by fewer minds at the start of the 20th century.  Those old thoughts are outdated now for really as long as there have been Gen Cons which have steadily supplied the answer to those who asked the question—isn’t there more to life than what has been offered.  Now technology and thought are at a crossroads and standing in the center is Fantasy Flight Games.  Their products offer what’s best about the human race and have the power to restore to the world a sense of purpose and fill the voids left by all the many failed social experiments.  In the game worlds of Gen Con life can begin again every time new cards are added to a deck or ships purchased to add to the X-Wing Miniatures game experience.  And with that premise is always a hope that just around the corner problems can be solved and overcome and not simply yielded to.

The reason I make so much out of the geeks who attend Gen Con is that I see in them the hope for tomorrow.  They possess in their playful curiosity about life the answers that everyone seeks the world over.  Because it is in play—not compliance–that the world advances.  And nobody makes play for adults more fun than Fantasy Flight Games.  Small things lead to big things, and FFG as shown at the 2014 Gen Con is all about the big things.

Rich Hoffman