Snap Ships Tactics cannot be properly reviewed as a whole product without first going into the details of its three component parts: the toy, the game, and the metagame.
Snap Ships have existed before there was ever any tactics. If all you want to do is collect and build awesome spaceship models, you don’t need this game. There are over a dozen different ships and mechs you can buy, some quite large, for between $10 and $20. Compared to the price of similarly sized Legos, these are of incredible value.
The four ships I received for review are the Sabre and Scarab, which come in the starter box, and the larger Falx and Wasp. The pieces for these are very well made and fit together almost perfectly. Only one of my pieces has a slightly loose connection, but not so much that it falls apart.
After all the wings, engines, weapons, and other cosmetic parts are added, you almost don’t notice the blocks that make up the core structure. Not all of the pieces are painted, but enough that the ships don’t look like unpainted gray miniatures. I do wish that a few more of the parts were painted, particularly all of the missile pods.
While not used in the game, the ships come with a few weapons that actually shoot projectiles. If you’re into that sort of thing, then you can fully get your pew pew on.
I’ll start by saying, the game mechanics for Snap Ships Tactics are really good. This isn’t just some flimsy ruleset to let you throw your G.I. Joes at each other. There is a real game with interesting mechanics, depth, and decision making, and, yes, some dice chucking.
Piloting your ship to victory requires two things to be done well: power and heat management and maneuvering. There are many interesting decisions to be made when activating your ship’s components. Activating too much in one round could leave you unable to do what you want in the following round. There are tough choices to be made when deciding whether to maneuver to safety, raise evasion, or conserve power. Overheating your ship can both strain your venting capability and potentially be disastrous should you take a critical hit.
Maneuvering your ship is easy to do, yet tricky to master. The single maneuver tool used in the game is very well designed. Notches in the tool and ship bases make turning by one “click” very simple. You aren’t supposed to premeasure movement, so accurately gauging distances to other ships and terrain can be difficult.
I’m generally not a fan of free movement tabletop games. Models and terrain are always getting nudged accidentally, but then firing arcs and distances have to be precise. I found this to be less of a problem here because the ships are so large and weighty. I generally never had problems with ships sliding around as I moved them.
The ship models are always larger than the bases, though. When ships collide with each other it is quite common for the models to get in the way. With multiple stand heights and hinged wings, this can sometimes be avoided. If necessary, you can pop a ship off of the stand while they are close.
Attacking is a fairly simple dice mechanic. Only one type of die is used, a custom D10 with sides for a blank and a critical hit. The type of attack tells you how many dice to roll and the target value, which is always modified by the target’s evasion. Each hit does the damage specified by the weapon. The only complicated math here is sometimes figuring out the target number. “Target is 3 plus your evasion of 4, minus 1 for my wing mount, minus 1 for being in your flank, plus 2 for soft cover.” There are a few components that allow rerolls, but usually you just roll and apply the results. Critical hits are rerolled to determine which component gets damaged.
Critical hits can really spice up the battle. A lucky shot can swing who is winning, particularly if the ship doesn’t have any redundancies. Damaged components can be repaired, but the time and power to do so will likely put you in a bad position. Luckily, there are chassis and components that can help mitigate critical hits. Despite the potential swinginess of the dice, all of the games I have played were very close and tense.
The matches feel good. Ships have enough health that one amazing roll isn’t going to take a ship out of the game. Ships will be flying back and forth, setting up attack runs, diving into cover, and burning hard to stay on their opponent’s tail. Tension is high as player’s pray for that one last hit needed. It feels epic.
In addition to playing against other players, the game includes AI for every ship chassis. This allows for playing solo or cooperatively. The AI works really well, giving the players a decent challenge while being easy to run. There are also various scenarios that can be played instead of the standard fight to the death.
Despite how solid the core game mechanics are, 1v1 dog fights between the same ships are going to eventually lose their luster. This is where Snap Ships Tactics really has potential.
Every ship chassis has a special ability and is completely customizable. They have a specified number of slots for a cockpit, wings, thrusters, and utilities. Utility slots have the widest range of options such as weapons, maneuvering fins, power management, and defenses. You are free to choose any components that will fit on your ship, giving it great flexibility with its capabilities. With each of these components having matching physical parts, your ship model will actually show everything that is equipped. This is a very cool immersive feature that is rarely seen in games.
Combat tactics really start to evolve once you move up to 2v2 and higher. Matches on a 3 foot by 3 foot arena are usually 8 or 12 points worth of ships on each side. The values of ships currently in the game are 3, 4, or 5. Matches could be really interesting with two 4 cost ships versus 3 and 5 cost ships, or a team of four 3 cost ships versus three 4 cost ships. Veterans of other tabletop skirmish games such as X-Wing know that customizing your fleet is half of the game.
This is where potential roadblocks start to show up. Factions can’t be mixed, so in each faction I only have a single 4 point ship and 5 point ship. I can play 1v1 or 9 point games, but anything else is more difficult. I could customize two 4 point chassis, but I only have a single component of each type. Some components are tweaked to be a little stronger, but need the extra power provided by the more expensive ships.
If I want to play competitively, first I’ll need to get the other two ships that are currently available. This will give a ton of component variety, but only one of each type. If I ever want to have more ships of the same chassis or using the same components, I’ll need to buy another copy of the ship and cards, costing $20 to $30. In the world of tabletop miniatures games where your average army can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars, that is still pretty affordable. But this needs to be a hobby that you can really dedicate yourself to and play regularly.
That means you need people to play with. The real depth of this game can only be fully achieved through organized play. Regular meetups and tournaments with a group of dedicated players and seeing what sort of ships folks bring and tweaking your own in order to counter what is strong or popular… If the developers decide to support organized play, Snap Ship Tactics has an incredible amount of potential.
Snap Ships Tactics is many things in one. It is cool, fun, creative, tactical, and exciting! There is so much potential for this to be an amazing, expansive, living game. It is deceptively deep for being based off of toy space ships. I personally find the gameplay superior to other tactical tabletop ship combat games that I have played, such as X-Wing. However, this game doesn’t have the advantage of a popular license like Star Wars. Hopefully Snap Ships Tactics will be successful enough to get continued support, and perhaps some organized play.
Snap Ships Tactics
Combining an awesome, customizable ship building set with great gameplay mechanics, Snap Ships Tactics is a fun, tactical game with huge potential. With enough popularity and support, this could be one of the greatest space skirmish games around.