How to lose a player (or not)

Out of all the games I’m playing lately, X-Wing Miniatures has to be my absolute favorite. Being completely honest, I’m really into it because I’m a Star Wars nerd first and foremost, but there’s several other great features. Repainting of the miniatures isn’t unheard of, but fresh out of the box they’ve got a better paint job than I could ever manage. The mechanics of the game are great; most of all the simultaneous turns, as opposed to taking turns with your opponent watching the other play as so many miniatures games tend to be structured. The player community is awesome; I’ve run into cutthroat competitors and fluff enthusiasts alike, and both normally coexist just fine. Unfortunately, those two clashed pretty hard in a portion of the following story.

My biggest problem with X-Wing for a while was that I haven’t have enough people to play on a regular basis. I’ve got a fairly busy schedule, so at the time my available game store nights were Mondays, most Fridays, and Saturdays if there’s an event of some sort going on. Fridays seem to be big for Star Trek: Attack Wing, which cannibalizes a lot of the player base. Meanwhile, the two biggest existing X-Wing groups in my area play on Wednesday and Thursday nights. So I’ve been trying to drum up support for the game at my home store for casual play, and especially on Monday nights. For several weeks it was just myself and one or two others on a rotating basis, and it was not uncommon for me to end up just pulling out a book or observing some other games.

On one particular night we had four players show up for X-Wing, myself included. I managed to get in two games against the same opponent which aren’t the focus of this story, and I witnessed part of a baby seal clubbing at the next table over. Granted, playing my own games, I didn’t watch the full battle unfold, but I saw enough to know that it did not go well. One player, who represents said baby seal, we’ll call him “Luke” for reference purposes. I’ve never really known Luke well but have been around him in gaming circles for years. He absolutely loves Star Wars, and had purchased about 10-15 ships so already, yet was only playing his second or third game, mostly because just like me, his availability is limited and he hadn’t been able to find anyone to play on Mondays. Most importantly of all to our story, Luke told me later that he had made his inexperience known to his opponent well in advance of the match. My memory is atrocious at times, and I was paying more attention to my own games than anything else, so I don’t know if I had met Luke’s opponent before, but he obviously knew his stuff based on what I saw of the game, and despite his opponent’s inexperience, he wasn’t pulling any punches, talking through his decisions, or explaining why things were going the way they were.

At one point, I glanced over at their table and I saw a textbook ambush in progress. Luke had his entire fleet chasing a Firespray-31 down the middle of the table at long range, while a handful of TIE Fighters and TIE Interceptors had swooped around both of Luke’s flanks and were granted unopposed short range shots with predictably deadly results. When the game was done, the more experienced player packed up and left with barely a word beyond “well, it’s getting late”, and his victim was certainly in no mood to play again. I can’t imagine that either of them enjoyed the match. Don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t know that Luke’s opponent did anything wrong, but based on the effect the game had on Luke I don’t feel like he did a whole lot right.

Our new player, Luke, walked away for a few minutes to cool off but didn’t leave yet. My second game wrapped up in a hurry, so fortunately I had a chance to sit down and talk with him about the game. We probably talked for a little over half an hour. Luke is no newcomer to gaming and calculating odds, so we were able to discuss what happened in the game from a high level, and he understood the mechanics of why it was a bad idea to be shooting at range three, why his opponent had so much success with his flankers, and so on. We talked about how tough the Firespray-31 is compared to smaller ships, about target priority, and several other game mechanics and tactics. We also talked about how his opponent approached the game, knowing that there was a newbie across the table. Luke said that if he had been new to gaming in general, or if he didn’t like Star Wars so much, he probably wouldn’t have ever played again, despite the fact that he had already invested a decent bit of money into the game. He has been around gaming circles long enough to recognize when someone is “sharking”, as he called it, and that was exactly what he felt had happened here. I told him to come back the next week, and that I would play against him, taking time to talk him through his tactical options each turn, explaining what I was doing with each of my ships and why, and actually help him learn the game.

Over the next week, I do my usual thing, posting on our store forums and the local X-Wing Facebook group that I’ll be around the store to play on Monday evening. A few people acknowledge it (oh, the ephemeral, meaningless “Like” button – Side note, please take a minute to “Like” Tabletop General on Facebook). I was earlier than usual arriving that evening, so I didn’t think much of it, but nobody showed up except myself within the first couple of hours. It just so happened, however, that an old friend of mine from my Warhammer days had come along with a buddy to the shop to knock the dust off of his Skaven army. His game had finished, but he was waiting for his ride to play another game. He and I chatted for a while, and then he asked me to show him how to play X-Wing since he happens to be a massive Star Wars fanatic. I broke out a couple of ships, and walked him through the basics, adding a new concept every turn. Movement dials; shooting ranges; focus actions; target lock actions; barrel rolls; the impact of pilot skill. Soon, his X-Wing had destroyed my target practice TIE Fighter, and he’s hooked. He’ll likely be buying into the game as soon as he has the funds to do so, and already says he needs to be able to field all of Rogue Squadron.

At this point it was only a couple of hours until the shop would be closing for the night, and thought it was a reasonable assumption to make that nobody else was coming to play.  I packed up my stuff, and headed for the car. But just as I closed my trunk (full of games, as usual), Luke pulled in to the parking lot. He had been unsure about coming back after the beating he took last week, even knowing that I had offered to help. Since he thought I might have already left by this time, he had a friend with him (we’ll call him Han) who had played X-Wing when it was first released, but hadn’t had a great experience with it and only played a month or so before quitting. A few minutes later, we’re all inside the shop, talking about how awesome Star Wars is, and I’m alternatingly coaching them both through one of the most entertaining matches I’ve ever seen or played.

And I’m proud to say that over a month later both Luke and Han are still coming back for more.

— The Tabletop General

One thought on “How to lose a player (or not)”