Singaporean world champion of Star Wars game to feature in local contest

Lawyer Justin Phua, 50, had entered the Star Wars: X-Wing world championships hoping to do well enough to win special-edition game accessories. He ended up winning the championships.
Mr Justin Phua has been playing Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game since 2015.
Mr Justin Phua has been playing Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game since 2015. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Lawyer Justin Phua won the Star Wars: X-Wing 2017 World Championship last month

The name Justin Phua might not ring a bell for most Singaporeans, but in the world of tabletop miniature games, he is a big deal.

Mr Phua, a lawyer, was crowned top dog at the Star Wars: X-Wing 2017 World Championship last month, beating close to 400 players from mainly the United States and Europe, as well as two from Singapore. He is the first Asian to win this tournament.

In it, participants sit across from each other in a strategic game of turn-by-turn space combat set in the Star Wars universe. Players command miniature spaceships from one of three factions - Rebels, Imperials and Scum and Villainy - and simulate a battle to destroy their opponent's fleet.

Think chess, but with Star Wars spaceships, dice, cards and tactical warfare.

The bespectacled and reserved Phua, 50, calmly defeated his competitors across 13 rounds in the three-day annual tournament in Minnesota.

"It was only on the plane ride back when a friend asked me, 'You didn't expect this right?', that it started to sink in," he recalls with a soft laugh.

Mr Justin Phua has been playing Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game since 2015. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

  • How to play

  • Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is a battle between two players.

    Each person has to get his own game pack. The recommendation for newbies is to start with a core set that comes with one X-wing and two TIE fighters.

    With more experience, players can move on to purchase other, more powerful spaceships, such as the iconic Millennium Falcon, to build a squadron.

    Players pick one of three factions - Rebels, Imperials or Scum and Villainy - to battle in a dogfight, where the objective is to destroy all of the opponent's ships.

    Each round is split into four phases: planning, activation, combat and end.

    Planning phase: Each player begins by deciding on a manoeuvre for his miniature ship or ships, without letting his opponent know. Activation phase: Players reveal and make their move on the play mat.

    Combat phase: Players take turns to attack and defend.

    The damage done depends on various factors, such as how close the ships are positioned to one another. There is a series of tokens that can help to intensify the attack or evade one's opponent's manoeuvres.

    End phase: If neither player destroys all of his opponent's ships, they remove unused tokens in the play zone and start a new round, beginning again at the planning stage.

    A game typically lasts 60 to 75 minutes.

He had entered the championship hoping to reach the top eight so that he could win special-edition game accessories, such as a marbled silver dice set.

He ended up winning a trove of prizes, as there were rewards for clearing each round.

The haul included freshly uncut cards featuring heroine Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and the top prize, a one-of-a-kind play mat.

Mr Phua decided to give away some of his prizes, including the mat, as he sees "no point in keeping them hidden" in his house.

He started playing board games as a child and later ventured into card games and miniature games. He has been playing Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game since 2015 and has spent about $2,000 on various sets and accessories.

"It's my hobby. Some of friends enjoy playing golf or going to nightclubs, but I prefer this," he says.

He has participated in championships for other miniature war games, but this is his biggest win.

The father of a 15-year-old and 12-year-old visits local game stores, such as Gamersaurus Rex in Upper Thomson Road, up to twice a week to train. He also reads up and watches videos on game strategies.

On Sunday, he will be participating in the third edition of the largest Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game tournament in Singapore, the X-Wing Singapore Open 2017.

It will be held at Ci Yuan Community Centre and is a community effort organised by gamers such as Mr Lam Choon Voon, 47.

"More players have been entering the scene, especially since the screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the businessman says, adding that this is a game for all ages.

"I have seen father-and-son duos, including a 63-year-old who was introduced to the game by his son," he says.

Mr Nicholas Wong, co-owner of Gamersaurus Rex, is thrilled that Mr Phua has won.

"Anything that gives such types of gaming a higher profile in Singapore is a good thing," he says.

"It's a healthy hobby that encourages social interaction versus being stuck at home playing computer games."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2017, with the headline 'Gamer earns his Star Wars wings'. Print Edition | Subscribe