Friday, January 10, 2014

Just to be different

Wizkids Games released Mage Knight in 2000, inspired (so the story goes) by a need for an alternative to overly complex tabletop miniatures games such as Warhammer. Mage Knight consisted of pre-painted plastic miniatures with game information printed on a dial built into the figure's base, and was sold in random starter sets and booster packs like collectible card games. The idea was extremely successful, and Wizkids followed up with Heroclix, a similar game featuring characters licensed from Marvel and DC Comics.

Heroclix was also a raging success, so naturally Wizkids looked for other properties they could give the clix dial treatment to. The first was Mechwarrior, based on FASA's tabletop game of giant robot combat, and the second was Crimson Skies, also based on an earlier tabletop game, this one set in an alternate 1930s where America is divided into competing nation-states who battle one another using bizarre airplane designs.

It would be nice to be able to judge Crimson Skies entirely on its own merits, but unfortunately comparisons to Mage Knight, Heroclix and the later, similarly themed Wings of War and Star Wars: X-Wing are unavoidable.

Other than using the same click dial system to track damage and figure abilities, Crimson Skies seems to be an attempt to do everything as differently as possible from Heroclix. The attack and defense game mechanics are different, with Crimson Skies replacing Heroclix's single attack roll and fixed damage with a system that deals damage based on the number of individual dice that roll above a target number.

The game's movement system is the most well thought out change, given that it is a game about airplanes which move in a particular way. Rather than a tape measure or a playing surface marked with a grid of squares, it uses octagon shaped templates combined with a selection of cards which detail different movement options. These allow for more authentic yet very clunky movement, and the later Wings of War and X-Wing have greatly improved on the idea.

In addition to the main air combat game, Crimson Skies also includes a side game that allows players to play out the inevitable bar fights that pilots get into when they're not in their planes, but even that uses not only a different rules set to Heroclix, but the pilot figures are in a completely different scale.

The game was released in a completely different format as well, abandoning the random booster packs of Heroclix in favor of a series of fixed packs of figures with clear packaging. It almost seems like the whole thing was a test marketing experiment to try out everything they didn't do with Mage Knight, Heroclix, and Mechwarrior.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) Crimson Skies isn't a bad game on its own, but it falls short when compared to more elegantly designed alternatives such as Wings of War, X-Wing and Heroclix.

Dates played: December 24 and 27, 2013

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