So yes, in a month filled (and I mean, really filled) with X-Wing related news, updates, new releases and tournaments and with the weeks to come likely to be dominated by the events of the UK System Open (in my blog, at least!) I am throwing a ‘bonus blog’ out there. It may not be the only one over the next few weeks with so much coming up.

I have something to talk about that’s been brewing in my brain for well over 6 months and, with the aforementioned System Open hurtling over the horizon (just 8 days from time of publishing! Woo!), the time has finally come to release it to the world.

Please bear with me, this post is X-Wing related, eventually! Honest!

Setting the scene…

My wife is a youth worker (in fact she also teaches youth work at degree level as well as having another job. Yep, she’s awesome!) and also an avid learner (unlike me!). As such I see some of her learning materials around the house every so often (pretty often). A while ago I recalled seeing a diagram of a pyramid which outlined human needs. Food and water (Physiological), shelter (Safety), etc were obviously all on there but one that initially surprised me was community or belonging (or love, depending on which version you’re looking at). Now this doesn’t only apply to ‘young people’ (which are technically those aged 13-25 according to my on hand professional youth worker!) But to everyone.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Yep, actual research here.

So where am I going with this? Well, the way I got into the game in the first place was through a friend. He was looking for something fun to do with his son. Then my son got involved and later on I did too. It was a few weeks down the line that we discovered that the store held a regular gaming night and that a few people played X-Wing there (since we were both a bit clueless about card/tabletop gaming culture!) and so it began. (if you REALLY want, you can read about this in some of my earliest posts here and here)

We started a new interest (X-Wing) through a relationship connection (my friend Matt) and then discovered a local community (Firestorm Games Newport) we could be part of. People with whom we have a common interest (plastic spaceships in this case) and potential to develop further friendships.

Above all else, this is what keeps me in the game.
Plastic ships that remind me of my childhood are cool. A rather complicated board game that literally NEVER plays out the same twice is great. But what keeps me coming back for more is the opportunity to hang out with other people, most of whom I would have never met if not for this game. To chat with, help out and be challenged to grow in X-Wing skills by some awesome individuals.

After 6 or 7 months of playing I decided to look around Facebook and found several Facebook groups dedicated to this wonderful game. It is definitely different to ‘real life’ but even without posting or commenting regularly myself, seeing posts, lists, ideas and memes made me feel like I was part of something. Of course the internet isn’t perfect and some people can behave differently online than they would in person but I have to say that for the most part the groups that I’m in are very positive and I’ve built a sort of relationship (as much as you can online at least!) with several people who I’ve chatted with off the back of comments on my blogs. I’ve also seen amazing things happen off the back of local community support (the main one springing to mind being the X-Wing Ready Room charity tournament back in the summer).

Something that I’ve thought about before is that not everyone has this. My wife and I go to church where we (and the kids) are part of a community. The kids have friendship groups at school, some of which have been years in the making, others are newer. My wife has a community to be part of in work whereas I travel around different places all day for my job meaning that I don’t see people in my team very often at all. It can be quite lonely, particularly if I’m doing long journeys and short jobs. I’ve realised that people without a job or who work solo like me or without kids around (where you might get to know other parents on the playground) or some kind of regular day to day/week to week interaction with others may actually be missing out on being part of a community.

For many people this is where X-Wing comes in.

Get on with it!

So why an I saying all this? Well, believe it or not I do have a point and I am (finally!) Getting to it.

Last year my son and I attended our first major X-Wing event – the UK System Open. It was glorious. A room filled with people of all ages, nationalities, cultures, backgrounds and experience who had gathered to play a game of toy spaceships. We enjoyed every moment of our weekend (as I have already blogged at length about here), dragging it out as long as was possible and talking about it all the way home. It really felt like a celebration of the game and the atmosphere in the room the whole weekend but particularly during the final and the camaraderie of those celebrating with the winner at the end was just so special.

Something that really struck me over those days was seeing people who were clearly part of a group. Whether it was t-shirts, caps, fancy template trays or alt arts, lots of people not only had a ‘place’ (team, squad, etc) they belonged to but it was one they were proud of and wanted to include others in that belonging. It’s likely I’ll never see some of these people again but as a reminder and memento of our 75 minutes together I have an alt art or sticker with their squad logo.

In our chat in the way home Cai was adamant – we must have something to give people next year. We absolutely must. He had been inspired to generosity.

Challenge accepted.

But what were we going to do? “Well”, I thought to myself, “we’ve got a year to figure it out*”.

*it’s actually turned out to be less than a year since the 2020 System Open has come forward to February

A New Chapter

Over the first few months of 2019 a few new people had started to turn up to play X-Wing on a Wednesday night at Firestorm. The release of Second Edition had certainly revitalised the game, not only for us existing players but for for those who had once played and then stopped and also those who had been looking to start something new.

One of them, Matt, had also gone to the System Open and had also been given a fixed table and so I sat/stood next to him all day Saturday. It struck me during the day that, despite knowing each other (though not very well at that time) and being from the same place, we’d had absolutely no idea that each other would be there. I felt a little ashamed. We chatted as the day progressed and we talked about the groups with t-shirts and stickers and cards. It was cool, we agreed. Could we do that? We couldn’t though, could we?

And so, somewhat hesitantly and with some uncertainty, an idea was birthed. Not a new idea by any means, but a new one for us: Let’s form a squadron.

Now, being very honest, not many of us are ‘take charge’ kind of people and so it has taken a while to get things off the ground but as we have chatted, discussed, debated, brainstormed, designed and voted our way through the last few months, even the very act of bringing some nominal formal structure to this small group of people has done exactly what Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs highlighted to me all those months ago. It has begun to build community. Given identity, pride in who we are as a group and developed a sense of belonging. Something that, in some form or another, we all need.

So, who are we?

Based in the small city of Newport in South Wales and playing at a small gaming and toy store tucked away in a gigantic Tesco. The store which is both a part of but separate from this Tesco and also a part of but separate from it’s parent store of Firestorm Games in Cardiff.

Named for the nickname of our city’s football team who were unjustly thrown out of their home ground by local authorities and then pushed out of their nation’s league structure, we are both linked with but separate from our fellow Firestormers in Cardiff.

Represented by an image of the crest of our city along with dragon wings for our country and the (almost obligatory) flight helmet for the game we love.

We are Exile Squadron

We may not be the elite, topping swiss and making cuts (I mean, we might, but who knows really) but we will certainly be the ones enjoying ourselves, encouraging and helping each other and hopefully making new friends along the way.

I’ll make a few special mentions here. First is for Omer Ibrahim of Can’t Sleep, Must Paint. He designed this awesome logo and very patiently made tweaks and changes as we kept changing our minds/being fussy. He’s awesome, go check out his Facebook page and get something painted or designed (and tell him we sent you! I mean, it won’t get you a discount or give us any commission but it’s always nice to know how people found you!).

Second mention is for Dynamite Branding of Abergavenny. They have sorted out some of our t-shirts and other garments and also Print Monkey of Newport for some of the other bits.

The next mention is for the always amazing Cog ‘O’ Two who have helped us with our custom acrylic. I can’t say enough good things about these guys. If you want stuff (and excellent quality stuff at that), go check them out.

Last but far from least, my fellow Exiles. May our community increase both in number and depth of friendship and I am excited for the journey ahead and the fun we will have along the way.

A very aptly placed sign above us.

So if you get paired with myself, my son Cai or someone else from Exile squadron at the UK System Open next week you will more than likely end up with some lovely swag (we are all super in on the swag!) as a memento of our game. If you see someone at a tournament with one of these t-shirts on, please come and say hi. And ask us for stuff. We most likely have stickers. Many stickers.

In closing…

If you have read all of this and aren’t part a gaming group I would encourage you to find one. If you have a local store, see if they have a game night. If you don’t have a local store start asking around on Facebook where people in your area play.

If you have a store and it holds a regular game night and you have friends that you regularly play the game with why not think about forming something. It may seem a bit silly or pointless to some people (maybe even you?) but helping someone to feel like they belong is something that can’t be bought, can’t be underestimated and you never know who might need that.

If you’re looking to buy some gaming ‘stuff’ and don’t have a local gaming store, you can use my affiliate link for Firestorm games. They’re great!