The Explorer’s of the Miniverse have been taking an extended break in the Mortal Realms of late, but now we’re off again on our adventures and our first destination is a Galaxy far, far away…
Star Wars: Shatterpoint is a minatures skirmish game released by Atomic Mass Games (the same people who make Marvel: Crisis Protocol) on June 2, 2023, and features a cast of characters heavily taken from the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. Even though it’s only a little over a month old at the time of writing, the release schedule for the game has been at a breakneck pace, with the Core Set already joined by five squads and at least four more well on the way.
KVB: I was quite excited to try this game out. Not only am I a massive fan of Star Wars, but also greatly enjoyed our time trying out Marvel: Crisis Protocol, so I had high expectations for Shatterpoint going in. I think it’s fair to say Ben that you were also pretty stoked to try it out?
Ben: I think of myself as a late convert to Star Wars (converted by the new wave of Disney+ series, the Mandolorian, Andor, ect) but I remember being a big fan of the prequels, which came out when I was very young. I especially remember a Jar Jar Bink’s toy with a long sticky tongue that was, much to the annoyance of my parents, the cause of many marks on walls and car windows that wouldn’t go away. As a result this game gave me a hit of nostalgia that I don’t feel for the original trilogy setting of Star Wars: Legion, or Armada. Fresh out of the end of Andor I was keen to give it a shot. My only disappointment was a lack of Jar Jar in the available teams, a failing that I’m sure will be corrected in due course.
KVB: Surely. Anyway, Shatterpoint plays a lot like its cousin game: Marvel Crisis Protocol. It’s played on the same size board, laden with terrain, and uses the same measuring tools as MCP too (albeit with different decoration on them). There are many, very important, differences. For starters it uses its own proprietary dice (a running theme in these newer miniatures games), the terrain has much more verticality to it, and the gameplay itself is filled with, and promotes, a great deal of movement and maneuverability.
How missions work in particular is very interesting; Each game has many objective points scattered across the board, the game we played had nine, but each round, or struggle, only a few of them are active and claimable. A Struggle ends when you get the struggle token to reach one of your momentum tokens on the struggle tracker, much like in Godtear. After that, a new Struggle card is flipped, and the active objectives change. The first person to win two out of three, wins the mission.
Now that the word ‘struggle’ has lost all meaning, from a very top-down perspective what are your thoughts on the mission structure and the random struggles? We’ve played some Warcry in the past and it seems very reminiscent of that.
Ben: I enjoyed struggles. They have some of the flaws of warcry’s system, where a new objective might advantage one player who happens to already hold the active points, but it’s not something that I think catches you out too many times. I got caught out by it in our first game, but in the second I started to realise that it didn’t matter where the objectives were, you always want to fight your opponent where they are. Holding a unit back is a risk, because once the objective moves from under them you have a unit that’s far away from the action. If you’re always on top of your enemy, you’re always on top of the objectives they’re trying to score.
The advantage is that momentum points are a great way of ramping up the tension. Playing aggressively and constantly competing for objectives meant more damage being done, and when a unit gets wounded the attacker gets a momentum token, reducing the distance they need to move the struggle token down the track. So as the struggle goes on, the space between the players momentum gets smaller, and smaller. Every wound inflicted and every objective held has greater and greater impact, until the struggle comes down to just one or two points for someone to finally steal victory.
The combat is not all about damage and momentum though, there’s something more interesting at play. Each unit has a combat “tree” on their unit card. When you attack an opponent you roll your attack dice against their defence dice. Each block nullifies a single hit, but rather than doing damage for every hit that remains, you instead take one “step” down your units combat tree. Some steps do reward damage, but most combats will result in at least one other effect. The most common are pushes, letting you move around your opponents model and barge them off objectives, as well as dashes and jumps that let you make extra moves after combat. That means you’re not just fighting to “kill” your opponents units, but actively jostling for position on the board.
I think the combat trees are probably the most interesting mechanic of this game, and something I’ve never seen before. They do add more complexity to combat resolution. Did you feel they were worth the additional steps, or were they busy work masquerading as depth?
KVB: Credit where it is due, AMG understand that complexity does not equal depth and as such I’d say the combat trees are much more depth for only a little extra complexity. Crucially with each character having a unique tree (and two in the case of primary characters), they each fight on the tabletop just like how they do in the shows and movies. For instance, General Grievous is an absolute blender in melee with his four-armed fighting style, while Asajj Ventress is constantly pushing and repositioning to fight her more acrobatic combat.
There is one thing that must be mentioned though, and I have a feeling we might disagree here, and that’s what I would describe as an over-preponderance of symbols. It’s a byproduct of fitting so much information onto small cards, but it definitely stutters the flow of gameplay to have to go and check the rules each time a new symbol came up. Now, that is something that will lessen with play time but I don’t think it’ll ever go away; what were your thoughts, do you prefer symbols or keywords?
Ben: Both have their advantages if used well. Keywords would definitely have made the game easier to learn but I’m not sure the complexity would be possible without all the cards starting to look like small novels. That being said this game falls into that trap already with some of the ability wording, where the writers have chosen specificity over brevity and intuitive English.
There was one mechanic that I really felt caused stutters, and that was expertise. It’s another way of making characters feel different, without having to give them unique dice like in Star Wars Destiny, but the combination of looking up what your expertise does and the fact that many of them changed the faces of other dice, occasionally made actually reading a dice roll a little like rolling bones to tell the future.
I think you’re right though and all the complexity, while definitely a real mind bender for a new player, is the thing that will keep people excited and keep you coming back. It’s all well and good having a model of your favourite character in the game, and it’ll sell to fans of that character, but if the game is going to thrive they really have to feel like that character as well, present you interesting decisions in play, and create exciting moments you want to tell your friends about. I’ll admit I was a bit deep in the mechanics to really revel in the Star Wars universe narrative, but it was exciting when Ashoka charged the width of the battlefield to protect her fellow Jedi from a rampaging General Grevious. His lightsaber collection didn’t get any additions that day.
KVB: I did not enjoy being on the receiving end of that, but it was both narratively and mechanically cool. I’ll add cover as a mechanic that slipped me up a lot; rather than using true line of sight like other games, Shatterpoint once again chooses an abstract version which seemed to boil down to: people on higher elevations have cover, people below you or on equal footing do not.
But these are all growing pains that can be gotten over after two or three games, and beyond that is something with a lot of tactical depth that will undoubtedly help both the longevity and reach of the game compared to other skirmish games. Are there any other things you wanted to mention? I think the temple records are quite complete.
Ben: I think that about covers it. Like it’s Marvel counterpart I’m going to think about this game a lot, and as I watch more and more Disney+ series I expect to buy a few models just for the joy of collecting and painting them, even if I never play again, especially if everyone’s favourite Gungan makes his way to the miniature battlefield.
Our very own Kessel Run in 12 Parsecs. That’s all from the Explorer’s for now, but we’ll be back wherever the adventure may take us; there’s still several games to try in that Galaxy Far, Far Away so who knows? We may be back sooner than we think. Till next time.
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