DIY Star Wars X-Wing and the Joys of Niche Making

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

4007 Articles

By Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

4007 Articles

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For Christmas, I was given the miniatures wargame, Star Wars X-Wing. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a fairly straight-forward tabletop spaceship dogfight game where you field these gorgeously detailed and pre-painted models of the ships from the Star Wars universe. You can choose different pilots, with different flying skill, and select from various weapons and other upgrades. The game is amazingly well-designed and plays very cinematically. And with all of the potential ships you can collect and the various pilot, upgrade, and modification cards, the game can quickly get very involved and seductive. I’m completely hooked (and I am not even a huge Star Wars geek).

xWing_7Papercraft laser turrets from YouTuber “Crusin’ Central.”

This article is about my research into the “maker” side of X-Wing, but it was inspired by a revelation I had while doing this research. I’ve been a devout gamer (wargames, RPGs, miniatures) since I was a teen. But given the fact that I suck at math, that I’m dyslexic, and that I have a hard time with memorization and logic, these kinds of very eggheaded games have always seemed like a strange fit for me. It’s taken me until now to realize that it’s always been the maker side of gaming that’s been its unwavering draw. I’ve always loved building the armies, painting and customizing the models, building my own terrain, fleshing out parts of the game universe that don’t yet exist as products (known as “gaming in the gaps”). It seems completely obvious now, but it’d never occurred to me that this is the fundamental reason why I game. I’m not drawn to a game for what’s there as much as I am for what I’m going to put there, that I’m going to add to that fantasy world.

PunisherFin4One of the amazing re-paints from Alternative Wargamer.

So, that brings me to my new obsession, X-Wing. One of the first things I did after I’d played my first few games was to start looking up what gamers were doing to add to and improve the game. I found a ton of stuff, an active maker community within this gaming community, who were re-painting and scratch-building models, building their own starfield playmats and asteroid fields, 3D printing gaming accessories and storage boxes, and much more. Here are just a few of the things I’ve found that I plan on exploring more of as I travel deeper into the busy and dangerous spacelanes of the Star Wars X-Wing universe.

Making Your Own Asteroids and Other Terrain

The starter set comes with cardboard asteroids that are used as terrain obstacles in the game. But given the fact that the little 1/270-scale models are so gorgeous and realistic-looking, it almost begs you to play on a proper starfield playmat with realistic-looking asteroids. Luckily, this is easily done by creating asteroids out of cork bark, lava rock, Styrofoam, even painted balls of tin foil. This is one of many YT videos demonstrating one method, probably the most popular, using lava rock.

Besides asteroids, players have also built wrecked ships, space stations, Death Star trenches, even giant Star Destroyers to play on and around. Here a players fashions laser turret emplacements for a Death Star trench terrain board.

3DP Accessories

Fb_images_X-wing_card_boxes_2015_b_preview_featuredThe X-Wing starter game and upgrade packs come with a lot of stat cards, damage cards, upgrade cards, tokens, and cool little navigation dials for plotting the course of your squadron. All of this stuff quickly becomes unruly and begs for some system of organization. 3D printing to the rescue! Thingiverse has a bunch of boxes, holders, trays, and stands to organize all of your game components, both for storage and for easy access during gameplay. The above boxes are for storing all of the various cards used in the game. The files are located here.

xWing_3This token holder is the first thing I plan to print for my games. Right now, all of the tokens get scattered around the edges of gaming area during play (and end up on the floor).

Model, Card, and Gear Boxes

xWing_2To store all of the models as well as the cards and model stands, players have taken to making their own Styrofoam-padded model cases, some of them quite elaborate. One easy and cheap solution is to use custom “tuckboxes.” At Sir Willi’s Workshop you can download a lovely set of box templates for storing your ships, ship accessories, and the various game cards. I’ve been making some of these, and while cutting, folding, and gluing them is rather time consuming, I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Repainting the Minis

One of the most active areas of making within X-Wing is repainting the ships. All miniature painting can be a real challenge, but these spaceships are tiny. It’s amazing to see people painting panel lines, insignia, and outfitting their models in completely different color schemes. Personally, I’m in awe of how well-painted the models are right out of the box and I see few repaint jobs that I think have improved on the original, but to each his or her own. The above video features one of the better X-Wing painters creating a really cool effect of a TIE ship in the midst of de-cloaking.

Adding Lights to Models

Even more impressive than painting these tiny ships is adding lighting effects to them, but that seems to be surprisingly popular, too. Here is a video where a maker runs through the process of adding engine lighting effects to a Rebel A-Wing.

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For those of us too lazy to wire up lights, one player created stickers of engine burns for the various ships in the game that you can print out and apply.

While I know this game is rather niche and might only appeal to a segment of the Make: readership, I think there’s a larger point here about such deep niche making. It seems as though, these days, any game, hobby, craft, or workshop activity, house project, nearly anything you can think of, has a community of makers within the larger community of that activity. It’s really inspiring to me to get a commercial product like this and to quickly find an extensive community of enthusiasts who are creating all sorts of documented projects and non-commercial products to expand, improve, and hack that product. Go ahead and try it out yourself. Put “DIY” in front of a Google search for whatever new game, pastime, product, tool, or activity you’re currently enamored with and see what you get.

[Thanks to Ken Cho and the folks at DMV Squad Leaders, one of my local X-Wing groups, for their input on this article.]