You can find our accessibility teardown of the X-Wing Miniatures Game here.
It is a period of civil war. Meeple spaceships, striking from a hidden cupboard, have won their first victory against the evil monthly spending hiatus.
During the battle, Meeple spies managed to purchase the ultimate strategic space warfare experience, the X-WING MINIATURES GAME, an expandable title full of painted models expensive enough to destroy an entire wallet.
Placed in desperate battle against Fantasy Flight’s sinister agents, Meeple Like Us race to the end of the review, custodians of the consumer guidance that can save people money and restore financial prudence to the hobby…
Unfortunately, it turns out the guidance we have probably won’t save you money because we’re going to spend a fair amount of time gushing about how awesome the X-Wing Miniatures game is. Our gameplay example is going to be based on a single core set, which is an affordable gateway to participation. That’s only a small part of what you’ll need if you’re going to get the most out of the game. Our review then is about the X-Wing game series as a whole. We can preface the rest by saying that one single core set will very much get you a game worth playing. It’s not going to be the game you *want* to play though. That game is a hundred or more pounds further on down the line.
So, what do you get with a core set? You get two bog-standard TIE fighters, of the kind you probably have in your own garage or driveway. You get a single X-Wing ship, just like mother used to make. You get a set of cards representing various pilots of both the Rebel and Empire flavour. All your favourites are here! Look, here’s Poe Dameron, titular hero of Poe Dameron’s Vegas Adventures. And here’s… uh… ‘zeta ace’ and ‘red squadron veteran’. Man, I loved those guys. The ‘red squadron veteran’ action figure was always my favourite, and when I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be ‘zeta ace’.
Okay, look – the Force Awakens set doesn’t exactly give you a deep bench of wish fulfillment. The earlier core set does a better job, giving you Luke Skywalker, Biggs Darknighter (who?), Mauler Mithel (who?) and a couple of other named characters. The Force Awakens set doesn’t do quite so well with this, but never mind. Pick the set you like the look of and buy that one.
In the set you get a few upgrade cards, including a couple of astromechs (BB-8 is there). You get a pile of interesting looking tokens, of the kind you’ll put aside for your first few games and forget exist – asteroids, mines, satellites, squad mates and more. And you also get a book outlining some cool scenarios for if simply setting the Rebels against the Empire on a big table doesn’t have quite the narrative oomph you’d prefer. It’s all very playable, but the horizons of Star Wars have rarely drawn so close. You’re not going to be re-enacting the rebel raid on the Death Star (SPOILERS). You’re going to be playing out the largely anonymous squadron skirmishes that are happening in the background. You’re not going to be the hero, you’re going to be the pilots that the heroes flew past on the way to the real action. You don’t get much to play with.
But, what you do get is absolutely bloody lovely:
Look at that little X-Wing! It is awesome! All the models come prepainted, with intricate detailing and an attractive, if unadventurous colour scheme. And what about your TIE fighters? They are just as cute as the Dickens!
Who’s a cute little instrument of fascist oppression? YOU’RE a cute little instrument of fascist oppression, yes you are, YES YOU ARE! Oh god, I just want to put you in my mouth and taste the dark side.
They’re nice enough to be ornaments – and that’s exactly how I use them when they are not in active use:
I don’t have the biggest collection of expansions, of course – there are dozens I haven’t (yet) bought. But this is what you get from two core sets and four special ship packs. It’s a not inconsiderable investment to get to the point where I think both players in the game are likely to have enough meaningful choice in how the game unfolds. Even now though I have a whole pile of ships I’m planning to buy incrementally as time goes by, knowing that with each one my wallet is going to cry out in fear before being suddenly silenced.
So, how does it work? Well, let’s start off with a bit of easy guidance – don’t trust the ‘how to play’ book you get in the box. It’ll teach you to play a lobotomised version that misses out on all the actual fun. We tried it using just this set of rules and spent a thoroughly dull hour plotting routes and aimlessly rolling dice. We played until we hit the Sith equivalent of Yahtzee and got to reach the blissful end. Just leap into the game proper – the extra things you need to learn aren’t all that difficult. Do, or do not – there is no try(ing before you play properly).
If you’re going with one of the set game scenarios, it’ll tell you how to set it up – mostly though you’ll be wanting to enjoy the flexibility of the game by going with a ‘point budget’. With this, each player gets a certain number of points to spend on ships and upgrades, and then you field your personalised squadrons against each other until only one side remains.
Each ship has a set menu of pilots that work in the craft, and when buying a pilot you’re also buying the ship they fly. There’s a reasonable amount of generosity here in terms of what you’re provided – for the TIE fighter, the image above shows a sampling of some of the pilots you have available.
The orange number to the left of the name is the ‘pilot skill’ – higher is better here, for reasons we’ll get to. Then, in order, the numbers underneath that are ‘weapon power’, ‘agility’, ‘hull integrity’ and ‘shields’. The largest section of text in the middle right details any special instructions that go along with this pilot – the Zeta Ace for example gets a bit more flexibility when doing a barrel roll, whereas the Epsilon leader gets to remove stress from a nearby ship. All of that will make sense in play. Probably.
Underneath this is the heart of the Star Wars experience – the special actions that the ship/pilot can perform. Here we can see that all TIE fighters can ‘focus’ (the little eye), initiate a target lock (the cross hairs), do a barrel roll (the loop de loop symbol) and ‘evade’. Actions are what let you flavour your game-play so that it’s actually *interesting*. Otherwise you’re just moving models around a table, and not having a lot of fun. Actions permit deeper strategy and thematic flourishes, and create the mechanical context from which narrative can arise.
The bottom of each card shows the available upgrade slots – the Zeta Ace for example can get an elite medal (basically a talent that gives special abilities) and a tech upgrade (more powerful targeting computers, for example). You don’t get any by default, but if you want to spend your points budget on specialising your ships that’s an option you have. At the bottom right of the card is the cost – this ship, as it stands, costs eighteen points to buy. Usually each side will have a small budget for procurement (say, one hundred points) and the budget is spent on these ships. Republic dataries are no good here, we work on simple numerical costs. Buy a decent ship and I’ll throw in this slave boy for free. Actually, can you just take him even if you don’t want the ship? He’s an annoying little pain in the ass.
Once you’ve decided what ships to buy, you pick the appropriate base marker for that pilot and place it on your miniature:
The base marker is a quick at-a-glance representation of the various feature of the ship. If you’ve got multiple ships of the same kind, you’ll also probably want to give them a numerical ID so you can keep track of which one is which. The numbers don’t actually mean anything in particular, so here we’ve got 2 to represent our Zeta Ace, and 21 to represent our Epsilon Leader. Two of the tokens for this fit into the plastic base, and the other one is kept with the card. These ensure that in the heat of battle pilots don’t hear the discouraging sound of the admiral asking ‘Wait, which one did I just send to their inevitable death’? Or ‘Oh shit, I meant for that one to turn the other way’.
The rebel players gets a single ship, because there’s only one in the box. Let’s say we buy Poe Dameron here. He’s an expensive 31 points because X-Wings are more powerful than TIE fighters, and he’s something of a wizard in the driving seat. Allegedly. He has died horribly in every battle in which I have fielded him. The only thing he’s ever successfully done for me in a dogfight is fly the wrong way and end up crashing face-first into the arse of the Millennium Falcon. I know I’m the one that issued the order, but I think the blame here is easily 50/50. I hate you Poe. I’m glad you’re dead.
The Empire player has spent 37 points on ships, and Poe Dameron costs only 31. To even the odds a little, the rebel player gets to buy six points worth of upgrades – the X-Wing is very configurable, and permits an elite medal, a set of torpedoes, an astromech, and a tech upgrade.
Some of these cards are limited to particular ships, some are limited to particular factions, but otherwise they represent a shared resource of buy-in configurability. The rebel player decides to give Poe the Expose medal for four points, and the Weapons Guidance system for two. His X-Wing, tough to begin with, has been made tougher to match the numerical advantage of his foe.
The scenarios that come with the game will allow you to avoid all of the point budget side of it and focus on just a set menu scenario. It’s a lot of fun though to configure a squadron and it’s the key to genuinely innovative play. Certain pilots and upgrades work very well together, and you can specialise ships to have particular roles in the battle if you spec them out right. If you need a ship to act as a tank, then Draw Their Fire might be something you want. If you plan on performing a highly risky strategy of flight and fight, you might want Push the Limit. If you need a little extra maneuverability, what about bringing BB-8 on board? The set of cards you get in a core set isn’t hugely generous, but it does offer some meaningful choices. I should say here though that what you get in the core set won’t necessarily match what’s in the image above – all my communal resources from the various expansions are stored in a single box and as such they’re all mixed up.
Having purchased your ships, you decide amicably how to set up the battle, and you’re off!
Every turn, each player will set a secret maneuver dial for each of their ships. This dial is different for each type of vessel, setting a profile of safe and risky movement that is specific to the craft in question. X-Wings aren’t as maneuverable as TIE fighters, for example, but TIE fighters have a limit to how slow they can go. It makes each ship feel very different as you plot them around. You need to consider not only where you want to go, but how your ships work in concert to get there. Ships can fly through each other in a movement phase, but if they end overlapping they are considered to have ‘bumped’ the other and lose out on being able to perform a post-move action. You don’t want that. Essentially think of it as them having to pull of a hilariously ill-timed evasive maneuver and the opportunity they’d would have had lining up a shot is spent instead breathing heavily and whimpering.
When all the dials have been set, they’re revealed and the movement phase begins. Ships with the lowest pilot skill go first, and movement progresses through the various ships in order. At the end of their movement phase, provided they haven’t banged into another ship, each pilot can choose an action as outlined on their ship and upgrade set. Focus is usually a safe bet – it gives the player a ‘focus token’ which can be spent for a limited re-roll. Or you might choose to ‘evade’, giving you a guarantee of avoiding at least one point of incoming damage. You might want to set a target lock on an opponent, which lets you re-roll attack dice against that enemy only. Or, you might want to make use of a ‘boost’ which lets you fine tune movement once you know how the less skilled pilots have moved. That’s only available to X-Wings – TIE fighters can barrel roll, which lets them move laterally to their current facing. It’s all very thematic and exciting, and even the terminology lends itself well to evocative visualisation. You’re not ‘moving one to the right’, you’re performing a barrel roll. You’re not giving yourself another chance at the dice, you’re acquiring a target lock.
Here, our X-Wing is going to do a soft bank to the right. Our #2 TIE fighter is performing a hard right turn . Notice how that’s marked as green on the dial. That indicates it’s an easy maneuver. We’ll see why that matters later. Our #21 TIE fighter is doing a soft bank to the right. Once we know what’s what, we use the provided movement tools to plot out the motion and change the state of the game. We start off with #2, because that pilot has the lowest skill:
Each of the plastic bases has a pair of guiding marks on the front to ensure that you can slot the movement tool where it should be. You place the marker, pick up the piece, and move it to the end of the track where you lock it once more between the rear guiding indicators.
Having moved, and not slammed into another ship, the pilot can perform an action. They choose to focus, proving a focus token that can be expended later in this round if needed.
Next, our #21 TIE fighter moves and then focuses.
And then finally Poe moves.
Now we can see the benefit of high pilot skill. He couldn’t have known in advance, but Poe has now moved into the firing arcs of both TIE fighters. At the front of each ship are the guiding tracks for firing, and we use these to work out what ships are in range. A ship is in range if any part of the plastic base overlaps any section of the range finder tools:
Both of the TIE fighters are in range of Poe, but he’s going to get cut up by two enemies if he’s not careful.
Instead of focusing, Poe instead ‘boosts’, which lets him use the one-range movement marker to move straight ahead or in a soft bank. He can use that to bring himself outside of the firing arc of TIE #2. So he does!
High pilot skill means that you can choose the action that works the best. Our #2 TIE fighter wasted an action, because that focus is now likely useless – Poe will no longer be in range. Unless #2 is the target of Poe’s weapons, the focus token will be removed unused at the end of the turn.
As time goes by, your ships will accumulate a lot of tokens – some for damage, some for stress, some for focus, some for evading, some for target locks, and so on. Each ship can become its own catalogue of buffs and debuffs, and you need to make sure they’re all being properly obeyed for effective and fair play. Some of the tokens also play into special abilities and upgrade actions – for example, with weapons guidance we can choose to turn a blank die into a hit if we spend a focus token. Some upgrades let us spend stress in a similar way. It’s all very intricate and well balanced, ensuring that particular combinations of cards feel like the Star Wars heroes, tech and concepts they are supposed to portray.
Once the movement phase has ended, the combat phase begins – and here, pilots with the highest skill shoot first and then the order goes in descending numerical skill. Poe can hit #2, but it can’t hit him. #21 on the other hand is going to be able to fire at him once he’s unleashed his own barrage. He picks #21 as his target. They’re very close together. So close they’re almost kissing like a pair of horny nerfherders. That’s nice. Poe could use a good kiss.
At range one, Poe gets to roll an extra combat dice. The base weapon power of an X-Wing is three, and with the range bonus he gets four dice to roll. The TIE has an agility of three, and gets to roll three defence dice. Attack dice are red, defence dice are green, and they have subtly different probabilities as well as symbols they’ll show. Poe rolls a hit, a critical hit, a focus, and a blank. If he had a focus token of his own, he could spend it to turn the focus into another hit, but he instead chose to boost himself out of danger. His opponent rolls three green dice in defense. TIE #21 rolls two blanks and a focus, they have a token they can use to turn that focus roll into an evade. They mitigate Poe’s hit, but still leave a critical hit remaining. Evasion always addresses the least significant hits first.
At the start of the game, everyone gets a certain number of shield tokens based on what ship they are flying. TIE fighters are quite fragile – they get only a single shield token. The X-Wings get three each, although they’ll be used up quicker than you’ll be comfortable with. The shields don’t regenerate unless you have a particular combination of upgrades. They do mean that you can avoid the uncomfortable impact of critical hits until your enemy is landing blows against the hull. TIE #21 loses a shield token – any future hits are going to inflict damage against the exposed underbelly of the plasteel shell. TIE fighters can take three points of hull damage before they explode into a fiery cataclysm of dead sith and wookies. Yes, I know wookies are usually on the rebel side but let’s not play into uncomfortable ethnic stereotypes here by assuming racial assumptions of political factionalism.
TIE #21 now gets to attack, but rolls three blanks. Poe gets away Scott free from the encounter. Don’t get cocky, kid.
At the end of the turn, we clean away all the unused action tokens, such as focus and evade, and then begin the next turn in the same vein. This time we reveal the following movement dials:
Here’s where things start to get awkward. Everyone has revealed a red maneuver, and these are ‘stressful’. When you make a stressful maneuver, your ship gets a stress token, and while you have a stress token, you can’t perform any actions after movement. Stress tokens remain with your ship until you perform a green ‘easy’ maneuver, at which point it’s removed. Each of the ships here are going to perform some variation of ‘move and then turn’. Our X-Wing is going to do a ‘talon roll’, which moves him forward three and then orients him 90 degrees to the right. TIE #2 is performing a ‘Segnor’s Loop’, which does a 180 degree turn at the end of the move. TIE #21 is performing a ‘Kologran turn’, which moves the ship straight forward and ends up with it facing the way it just came.
The problem with space combat is that it’s easy to end up overshooting your opponents, in more ways than one. If we fly off the edge of the game area, we’re considered to have ‘fled’ the battle. We want to get back and in the battle as quickly as possible, and in close quarter dog-fighting like this stressful maneuvers are one of the few ways to do it quickly.
Now everyone gets a stress token, and can’t use their actions. It’s straightforward shooty shooty lasers at this point, with no ability to fine-tune the outcome. Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
Having made our moves, Poe has managed to get himself into a pretty poor situation He can’t fire at anyone, but he’s in the firing arc, at range three, of both the TIE fighters. Since it’s at the extreme of what the TIE fighters can manage, he gets to roll an extra defense die, for a total of three. The TIE fighters don’t have the heaviest ordinance – they roll only two dice each.
For the first roll, it doesn’t go well for Poe:
If he only had been able to focus! But alas, he is stressed and couldn’t perform any actions at all. He takes a point of shield damage.
For the second attack, it’s a similar story – he takes another point of damage, leaving him with a single point of shielding before his foes start tearing away at his precious, precious hull.
Stress tokens remain in place during the final phase of cleanup, so everyone is going to have to weigh up the consequences of stress when they make their next moves. Clever players will bear that in mind when they work out their next movement strategies – they need to anticipate whether or not losing the stress token is worth enough for their opponent to limit their mobility. Do you want to get rid of the stress and bring your actions back online? Maybe you want to zoom as fast as you can out of the firing line and deal with the situation at a more leisurely pace?
With our next movement phase, everyone goes for an easy green maneuver, at which point they each lose their stress tokens and can once again initiate actions. Both the TIE fighters focus, and Poe makes use of his superior pilot skill to boost his way out of the worst danger.
In doing so, he’s managed to remove himself from one firing arc, but is just on the periphery of the #2 arc. May the force be with you, buddy – you’re going to need it. At range three, he gets three defence dice against his opponent’s two attack – nothing to worry about really, right? Right?
Oof. That’s bad. That’s *really* bad – his remaining shield token is spent mitigating one of these critical hits, but the second hit does hull damage. He gets dealt a damage card – if it were a normal hit, it would be dealt face down. Three of those and he’s dead. Since it’s a critical hit, it’s dealt face up and has an extra impact on the ship:
Fire belches in the X-Wing cockpit. Poe, understandably, is somewhat alarmed. At the start of each combat phase, he now has to roll an attack dice to see whether he’s going to take another point of damage. He can’t afford that – he’s already in a bad way. Luckily the critical hit also comes with another option – he can spend his next action to put out the fire, which removes the ongoing effect and turns it into a plain old normal hit. Yeesh. What’s worse, here – the prevention or the cure?
At the end of our next turn, things go a little better for Poe. He puts out the fire, and manages to evade the volley of laser fire that is thrown at the ship.
Things then start to go a little better still – a careful loop around TIE #21 has brought him face to face with TIE #2. He focuses, steels his nerves, and unleashes his ordinance at range one:
Oh my! He turns that blank into a hit making use of his weapons guidance upgrade. In a single beautiful round of dog-fighting he knocks not only his opponent’s shield out of commission, but eats away at all three points of hull integrity. Boom! That TIE fighter is out of the game – it’s one on one now. Poe is in bad shape, but he’s in a more powerful ship and has the upper hand in skill. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
That’s the X-Wing miniatures game – it’s tense, it’s tactical, it’s thematic. Play it with the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack in the background and you’ll be transported into a galaxy far, far away. Everything about it is beautiful – it is so elegant in its core mechanics (although state management leaves a lot to be desired). It’s so balanced in its point allocations (although the combination of certain cards does lead to ridiculously effective synergies). It’s lovely to look at. Everything about it is great. It even has a wonderful sense of pace built in to the design – you start off doing little else but moving around, and then there are a few turns of brutally damaging dog-fighting. You are genuinely invested in your opponents dice rolls, because your doom is encoded within them. Dog-fighting can bog down somewhat in large battles with many ships, but as you’re becoming fatigued ships are also being removed from the game space. With each disappearing ship, everything gets quicker and easier to do until your last few turns are carried out like lightning.
Within each turn, there are abundant possibilities to be very, very clever. The X-Wing Miniatures game will make you feel like Admiral Ackbar as you perform maneuvers of breathtaking brilliance and staggering ingenuity. Except for the times when you misinterpreted the state of play, misjudged an opponent’s intentions, or misdialed a maneuver. At these points it makes you feel like Jar-Jar Binks directing the Keystone Kops. There are thrilling highs as you come in behind an enemy and unleash a staggering volley of dice. There are cataclysmic lows as you see the unfolding movement of your own ship into the firing arcs of a half-dozen enemies. You’ll grin like an idiot as your neat formation of TIE fighters approaches the enemy in a tight grid before elegantly peeling off into deadly combat wings. You’ll feel the warm glow of accomplishment as a pair of X-Wings tear through a TIE squadron like a pair of hot knives through butter. The constant emotional modulation fair gives you whiplash, of the best possible kind.
Well. See, the thing is – the game I’m describing above isn’t the game you get in the core set. You get a good game, don’t get me wrong. You just don’t get the one I’m talking about. One X-Wing versus two TIE fighters is plenty for a quick skirmish, but it doesn’t have the satisfaction of real tactical or strategic depth. It’s just too small scale, and too limited in scope. It doesn’t *quite* scratch the itch, and it only irritates the discomfort in the attempt. If you’re going to play this the way it should be played, you’re going to need at least two core sets, giving you a wing of rebel ships against a small squadron of TIE fighters. Six ships gives you an agreeably rounded hour of play, and has enough moving parts to satisfy the need for strategic and tactical depth.
Well. See, the thing is – It’s all still a little limited in scope. So if you’re going to *actually* play this the way it should be played, you’re going to want to pick up some of the first expansions. The Rebel Aces pack, and the Imperial Aces, will give you some versatility in gameplay. You’ll get two excellent new types of TIE fighter, an A-Wing attack ship, and a B-Wing bomber. You’ll get more pilots, more upgrades, and more missions. Just more more, all the time. And at that point you can think of yourself as having the definitive X-Wing experience.
Well. See, the thing is – do you really want to be playing this without the Millennium Falcon? I mean, come on – is there a single ship that’s more iconic of Star Wars than the old hunk of junk Han has so lovingly tended for so long? I mean, just look at it:
You’re going to be missing out on a lot if you don’t add that to your collection. So you’d probably best do that. But then, what will the Empire do if you’ve got that large, impressive ship with its 360 degree firing arc? It hardly seems fair to lumber the other player with a few flimsy TIE fighters, does it? So you’ll probably also want to even things up and give the Empire Boba Fett and Slave I.
Now you’re done though. Except holy shit, have you seen the Tantive IV? It’s massive – it’s absolutely going to have pride of place in your armada. Sure, it’s ridiculously expensive but you’re going to need it to balance against the Imperial Raider that you bought last week…
Many games become better with expansions. For most games, there’s even a degree of lively debate as to whether or not the expansions really offer improvement, or just make the game bigger. For X-Wing, there’s no debate – it becomes uncontroversially a much, much better game the more ships you buy. You get more options, more breadth of play, and more scenarios. You get new rule-sets, and those rule-sets work retroactively for all your existing ships. You get finer ability to change the scale of encounters. Too many ships to deal with? Let’s each take a large ship and a couple of small ones. Not enough meat to your day? Throw them all in there. Don’t like the end-game? Try it with waves of reinforcements. Want to add a sense of genuine achievement to your day’s play? How about a campaign where you earn points per battle and can eventually cash them in for the better ships?
There’s no doubt about it – X-Wing gets better the more money you pour into it, and you need to know that before you buy the first box. Be very aware of the risks – when you open this box, it’ll seduce you. It’s the gaming equivalent of Leia in the golden bikini. To be fair, there are some strategies you can use to help mitigate the cost. If you’re part of a twosome, you can specialise in factions. There are some expansions that you can ignore without much game impact. There’s a point where the game gets as *good* as it’s going to get, and that’s after maybe six or so expansions have been purchased. You can stop there and not miss out on any of the fun. There is though always going to be scope for the game to become more *configurable*, and to better support your own sense of wish fulfillment. Do you like the Star Wars Rebels TV series? I do, it’s great. Do you want the Phantom available for play? You can have that. You can have it all. All you need is the will and the wallet. If you want your favourite pilots, you’ll need to buy the right packs to make them available. Don’t you want that? Of course you want that. And you’ll find yourself making reasons to buy them. The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.
But look at what you’re letting yourself do. Do you want Han Solo, Gemmer Sojan and Keyan Farlander as a kind of rebel dream-team? Firepower, survivability and the utility of the Falcon?
Or maybe the Empire is more your speed – how about Boba Fett flanked by two high-end TIE interceptors flown by the some of the greatest aces in the Imperial fleet?
Or do you want to fly Han in the Falcon, with Luke on the turrets? Flanked by a veteran Poe Dameron in his X-Wing? Well, why the hell not?
We’re giving the X-Wing Miniatures Game a well deserved 4.5 stars, but with an important caveat. We’re reviewing here what X-Wing can become, not what it is out of the box. With a single core set, we’d rate it as perhaps three and a half stars. Get a couple of expansions, and it’s at four. It gets the four and a half with the investment beyond that.
This isn’t a case of a game that isn’t fun until someone gets around to fixing the vanilla version – this is a game that you’re only really buying part of with the core set. You’re not buying a game, you’re making a down payment. If you’re happy with that, get in there you big furry oaf. I don’t care what you smell.
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