I’m sure you’ve had this happen to you: You’re hunched over your game of X-Wing, it’s your turn to attack, and you’re trying to figure out if you can shoot at a specific ship…but it’s hard to see from just casual inspection. Based on the tools at hand, you’re supposed to use the range ruler to align the straight edge along the printed firing arc and check whether or not it will pass over the enemy ship’s base. Unfortunately, there’s more than one ship in the way. Instead of taking the time to mark and move each ship, you try to thread the ruler in there, only to knock around the ships just enough so that they are no longer where they once were and now it’s impossible to tell if you really had the shot or not. If you’d had a laser, you might have avoided that mess.
Lasers and X-Wing have been a natural pairing ever since the game came out back in 2012. I saw one used at my very first tournament – the Kessel Run event that previewed Wave 2 – and immediately thought what a great idea. Furthermore, TIE swarms were a lot more common back then, so it was really beneficial if a laser was nearby. And yet despite their obvious usefulness, not many players had one.
Except for me. I just had to have a laser, so I ordered one right away after I got back from the tourney.
My first laser was the same as what I saw being used at the Kessel Run: The Black & Decker BDL220S Laser Level.
Several factors are important in a useful X-Wing laser, but to my mind, two aspects are paramount above all other considerations:
- How bright is the line?
- How thin is the line?
Luckily, the BDL220S is pretty good at both. As you can see, simply set it on the table and line it up. Later on, however, I often discovered that I couldn’t just set the laser down on the play surface. Sometimes it was because there were ships and obstacles in the way, but most of the time a different angle on the laser line was required to see what I wanted to know. That usually meant towering over the ships as best I could, angling the beam from above.
And that was when I discovered the flaw with my BDL220S:
That anomaly in the middle of the line drove me nuts. Ugh.
I tried to ignore it, but after a while I couldn’t help myself and so I ordered another laser. After performing some barely adequate research and being mostly motivated in not wanting to spend much money, I settled on the STRAIT-LINE Laser Level 30. Because it’s a level, it was also pretty good when it came to minimal line thickness, but I found it didn’t extend a bright line far enough out when measuring from a top-down angle. Even though it wasn’t bad when set on the table, the line was just too dim compared to the BDL220S, and when used in any other fashion, it didn’t extend its line very far. It soon proved practically useless and was henceforth retired.
So for almost the next two years, I used my Black & Decker and dropped any further interest in other options. It did what I needed it to do, but I irrationally began to resent that thick spot in the middle of the line, with me and my friends always trying to adjust around it. It tended to get used less and less unless it was absolutely necessary. Another factor was the bulkiness of the laser. By 2014, I had also become a somewhat serious tournament player and part of that evolution was the process of streamlining one’s gear; just ask any X-Wing player what they go through to organize their stuff not just for travel, but also for having to deal with the tiny play space provided at some events. You quickly learn less is more and the BDL220S didn’t mesh too well with that concept.
Flash-forward to November 2014. I was watching Paul Heaver play Morgan Reed in the finals for Worlds. Paul had just made his now famous 4-forward and boost, and Morgan was measuring his TIE Phantom’s range and arc to Paul’s Millennium Falcon. Morgan was using his range ruler when Paul reached into his gear and checked with his laser to see if the shot would go through an asteroid.
Hang on…a laser. What? I suddenly forgot all about Paul’s amazing flying and only cared about what I just saw: It was bright, it seemed thin enough, and it was small! Why did I not have one of these already? How did I miss this? I needed it!!
The laser in question was of course the now ubiquitous Central Machinery’s Laser Marker, typically found in a Harbor Freight Tools, a U.S. hardware store. Designed to be mounted on a table saw and insanely inexpensive, this laser seemed like a perfect solution.
After learning where the laser came from in the FFG forums, I was glad to discover there was a Harbor Freight nearby and I eagerly snatched one up.It was glorious.
It was as thin as my Black & Decker, but without the anomaly! It was just as bright, but smaller!
I used it during my games whenever the merest excuse presented itself. I would often get asked where I got it and gladly shared. Yep, all silly stuff over nothing very important. But it wasn’t the Black & Decker and for some reason that mattered. And it was great.
It’s now early 2015, Store Championship season. I’ve been traveling to any tournament I can reasonably drive to within a few hours. Locally, X-Wing still hadn’t quite taken off yet when it came to the frequency of tournament play options and I’d had gotten the competitive bug pretty bad. It was at one such event that the organizer noticed my laser and was curious and impressed. So I gave it to him. Why not? It had only cost me $6 and he didn’t have a Harbor Freight nearby. I could easily get another one when I got back home.
This time around, I decided to buy two instead of one, just in case I wanted to give one away again as a gift should the opportunity present itself. What I didn’t know then that I do now is that not all Laser Markers are created equal. Shocking that would be the case with a six dollar product! Turns out both lasers were horrible. The first one had a far too thick and blurry line, and the other’s laser line curved on the table, not even close to straight. So let me amend my earlier important aspects: the line needs to be thin, bright, and STRAIGHT! Dismayed, I went back and bought two more (had already thrown away the receipt for the first two…yeah, I know, I’m an idiot). As before, one of them had a line too thick to be practical and the other didn’t even turn on.
Now I was pretty salty. I didn’t bother going back to try again or get any replacements; I was feeling done with lasers from Harbor Freight, all the while wishing I hadn’t given away my apparent unicorn of a perfect laser.
But before my anger could fade and turn in to depression – yep, all because of a tiny, little laser – I somehow came across a Kickstarter about a laser that was marketed squarely at players of X-Wing, Attack Wing, or any other tabletop miniatures game system that would benefit from such a device. It was as if the campaign’s creators solely had me in mind.
Not being interested in the more expensive green laser option, I eagerly backed the red laser plus add-on base stand and obsessed over every update. But even if the project and product delivered on time (spoiler alert: it didn’t), it was going to be about a year before I had one in-hand, aiming at little plastic ships on a playmat. What to do in the meantime?
Fortunately, it’s not long afterwards at yet another tournament that I see a player using Army Painter’s “Target Lock” laser. I can tell right away it’s pretty good, but not perfect (which is okay by me since I was awaiting the eventual arrival of the On Target). Turns out the Target Lock was also fairly inexpensive, so I placed an order and hoped whoever Army Painter used for their manufacturing had better quality control than whoever made the Laser Marker for Central Machinery.
Long story short: I used the Army Painter for about a year. If a decision was close, I still needed to break out a range ruler, but the Target Lock was good enough most of the time.
And then my On Target arrived…
My laser was glorious again!
The On Target was everything I could have hoped for – especially how thin the line was over a long distance. My days in the wilderness were over!
Pictures don’t quite do it justice (at least not the ones I take) but I’ll try anyway with some comparisons between all the lasers I now possess:
On Target (top) versus BDL220S (bottom)
On Target (right) versus Target Lock (left)
Feeling curious, I decided to risk buying two more Laser Marker’s from Harbor Freight again, simply for the sake of comparison. Surprisingly, both lasers worked quite well, with one being a little better than the other.
Laser Marker 1 (top) versus Laser Marker 2 (bottom)
On Target (right/bottom) versus Laser Marker 1 (top/left)
There you have it, a little narrative detailing my adventures with X-Wing line lasers.
If you don’t have a laser yet and want to get one, or feel like upgrading, here’s my advice:
- If you live near a Harbor Freight, maybe you’ll feel like entering the laser lottery. Even though I’ve been through several of these now, I think you still have a slightly better than 50% chance of getting something usable, if not outright decent. Save the receipt, and either open it in the store or your car and check it and keep exchanging until you’re satisfied. But, I doubt they’ll accept a return on a laser that has a line “too thick for X-Wing.” Good luck explaining that one, nerd.
- You probably can’t go wrong with the Army Painter Target Lock. It should be easy to find online for under $10USD, not including shipping. The one I have has a line that’s a tad thicker than I’d like or have seen in other people’s Target Locks, but it’s cheap, bright, straight, and reliable. It just probably won’t help you with those close calls as much as you’d like.
- Find an On Target laser. I’m obviously a huge fan, and it was worth every penny. I was able to get mine from their first Kickstarter, but they’ve apparently sold out of their original production run and thus launched another campaign last October. It all seems a little confusing to me, but I think they initially used Kickstarter to get the necessary funding goal and then switched over to BackerKit for surveys, fulfillment and possibly – and this is just an assumption – additional pre-order fulfillment? So you can still order one? It sure seems like it. If not, they do maintain their own webstore and if commentary on Kickstarter is to be believed, fulfillment will take place at the end of April 2017. Once that’s all finished, maybe you’ll be able to order one afterwards through their store. However, I think you have one other option as well. Gamesmith.ca used Funagain.com for fulfillment during their first campaign. Apparently, Fun again still has some in stock. So maybe you can get one now and not have to wait!
Or you can not worry about any of this and just call a Judge over to measure for you instead. 🙂