Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Jumping to Hyperspace: The Bad Guys

Yesterday I looked at how the good guys could respond to all the restrictions that have suddenly landed on Hyperspace Format, and today I'm going to wrap up how 'the bad guys' are faring.  The Imperials and Separatist players in particular have lost some of their staple pilots, so what do future Hyperspace lists look like for those factions?


GALACTIC EMPIRE

You know what the #1 Imperial archetype has been in Hyperspace format during Q4 2019?  Vader, Soontir, Duchess.

You know what the #2 Imperial archetype has been?  Vader and three TIEv1

How about #3?  Vader, Soontir, Grand Inquisitor


Let's keep going:
#4... RAC and Soontir
#5... RAC, Soontir and Duchess
#6... Inquisitor, Soontir and Duchess
#7... Howlrunner TIE Swarm
#8... RAC, Grand Inquisitor, Duchess

How excited do you think the Imperial players are to find that Soontir and Howlrunner are not in Hyperspace, or that Darth Vader can't take Afterburners, or that the whole TIE Advanced v1 is missing?  That's their top 8 squads that they can't make any more in Hyperspace.


Wait, I already used that Aliens reference for the Republic in my last blog.  Let's try again...


It's rough times for the Empire, who pretty much have to build from scratch without any of the pillars that have held the faction up for so long.  No Howlrunner?  It's literally the first time in the entire history of X-Wing (first or second editions) where the Empire didn't have access to Howlrunner!  Probably more than any other faction the Imperials have had their existing strategies completely gutted.

And yet, perhaps as much as any other faction, the Empire has enough strong pieces left over that they can start to rebuild and be confident there's a prize at the end of it.  The Empire still has Vader, it still has Duchess and Fifth Brother gunner, it still has the Decimator and unlike the Millenium Falcon it also has plenty of good crew for the Decimator too, including multiple Force wielders.


  • Rear Admiral Chiraneau (Decimator) - Seventh Sister, Dauntless, Proton Bombs
  • Duchess (TIE Striker) - Fifth Brother
  • Planetary Sentinel (TIE Striker)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter) 
    (200)

A squad like that brings most of the Extended Chiraneau experience, most of the Extended Duchess experience and now has 5 more red dice alongside.  Usually Decimator lists are light on red dice whereas this is bringing 11 of them and that changes things.  If the opponent picks on your I1 escorts they're heading into a midgame against your two best ships, but if they focus on your big targets then they'll be eating a lot more incoming fire than they're used to while up against the ticking clock of killing a a Decimator.


While the classic TIE Swarm may not be advisable without Howlrunner you can still form a jousting block of high Initiative Imperial pilots that will hit potentially hit very hard.  This squad is heavily inspired by something that fellow blogger Charles Berkhold played against me back at the start of Second Edition, a whopping sledgehammer of red dice at a high Initiative...

  • Maarek Stele (TIE x1) - Fire Control System
  • Duchess (TIE Striker)
  • Mauler Mithel (TIE Fighter)
  • Scourge Skutu (TIE Fighter)
  • Major Vermeil (TIE Reaper)
    (200)

But there's no doubting that the Empire is hurting.  Maybe it's thematic for the inclusion of Inferno Squadron pilots in Hyperspace but it feels like Imperial remnants struggling to hold together after their usual dominance has been shattered?  Operation Cinder has begun.

Fetch more Sith Lord for the fire, grandpa!

FIRST ORDER

People have been sleeping on how good the First Order is for a while now.  It's not helped that the commonly played First Order squads weren't actually the best ones so there's a lot of people out there who really only ever saw the First Order represented by a Kylo/Quickdraw/Tavson squad that was struggling to scrap it's way through a field of better ace pilots.  With both Quickdraw and the Upsilon Shuttle missing from the new Hyperspace Format what is left for First Order?

Concerned by rumours he'd heard, Hux checked if FFG had cut him from Hyperspace Format.

Here's the truth: in the last three months on Metawing no First Order squad archetype has been played more often than Kylo/Quickdraw/Tavson.  No popular First Order squad has a worse record either.

While Quickdraw and Tavson were drawing the spotlight onto themselves a few canny players found a new way to build successful First Order squads, founded on the defensive efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the basic TIE/fo and TIE/sf fighters.  I've written before about how players had been ignoring the hidden strengths of these sorts of ships, and in the recent round of points changes they got cheaper again!


If you're looking for a starting place in First Order then you can do a lot worse than dropping in with Maciej Parasczak's TIE Swarm, which has actually dropped in price since coming second at the Polish Grand Championship so you can even find an upgrade or two if you like!
  • Avenger (TIE Silencer)
  • Zeta Squadron Survivor (TIE/sf)
  • Zeta Squadron Survivor (TIE/sf)
  • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo
  • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo)
  • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo) 
    (195)
If that's a little bit too 'vanilla' for your tastes then after I saw Maciej's success I've been playing First Order for the last month or so before the points update and most of my squad made the cut into Hyperspace.  This squad used to have four Crack Shots in and it's a shame to lose them, but you can switch a couple of copies of Fanatical in easily enough. 

  • Avenger (TIE Silencer) - Fanatical
  • Backdraft (TIE/sf) - Fanatical, Special Forces Gunner
  • Scorch (TIE/fo)- Fanatical
  • TN-3465 (TIE/fo)
  • Lt Rivas (TIE/fo)
    (199)

It's also true that with so many of the Initiative 6 pilots removed from the format, Kylo Ren's TIE Silencer is that much closer to the top of the pile.  If I had to play First Order in a tournament tomorrow I would run this

  • Kylo Ren (IE Silencer) - Proton Torpedoes
  • Scorch (TIE/fo)
  • TN-3465 (TIE/fo)
  • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo)
  • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo)
    (200)


Missing from these squads so far is the First Order's new toy.  With the shiny new Vonreg's TIE Fighter due to arrive imminently everyone is looking forward to pairing up the hot new Initiative 6 ace with Kylo Ren.  I don't personally like Vonreg much - I think he's more like Lulo Lampar than Soontir Fel - but people are going to play him, at least initially. Maybe in something a bit like this...

  • Major Vonreg (TIE/ba) - Daredevil, Mag-Pulse Warheads
  • Kylo Ren (TIE Silencer) - Advanced optics
  • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo)
  • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo)
    (195)


I don't know that I like this more than all the generic TIEs but with so few Initiative 6 pilots on Hyperspace there could well be a place for Vonreg to shine.  But what's clear is that the First Order is a faction on the rise and with everything so attractively priced you can put almost any combination of ships and pilots onto the table and be a tough opponent to face.



SEPARATISTS

The Separatists had been a dominant force during Q4 2019, with 3 of the Top 10 squad archetypes on Metawing and 5 of the Top 20.  All five of those successful archetypes had a Bellabub-22 Starfighter and four of them had the Nantex Starfighter.  Bigger yet, out of 18 Separatist archetypes played in the whole of Q4 14 of them had a Nantex of Bellabub and their average percentile performance was WAY ahead of average.

PSA: this is why the Bellabub and Ensnare have both been taken out of Hyperspace Format.


So how far does the Separatist faction fall without it's crutches?  Well, honestly it's hard to tell as 96 out of 106 squads played in Q4 are not legal in Hyperspace so it's clear not many players were actually exploring design space outside of the Bellabub and Nantex anyway.  Why would you, they were great!  But in amongst those few squads that did get played are some good indications that the Separatists are going to shift tactics rather than just fall away.

The winning list from the Australian System Open converts almost directly into Hyperspace Format.  Lose a set of Grappling Struts to offset the 1pt increase the list has seen in Tractor Beam and you're good to go...
  • Count Dooku (Infiltrator) - Heightened Perception, General Grievous, Tractor Beam, K2-B4, Scimitar
  • Trade Federation Drone (Vulture) - Grappling Struts
  • Trade Federation Drone (Vulture) - Grappling Struts 
  • Trade Federation Drone (Vulture) - Grappling Struts 
  • Trade Federation Drone (Vulture) - Grappling Struts 
  • Trade Federation Drone (Vulture) - Grappling Struts   
  • Trade Federation Drone (Vulture)
    (200)
Dooku notes that Delta 7B isn't in Hyperspace Format
The recent Brazilian Grand Championship was won by six Hyena Bombers with Proximity Mines.  There's no Proxy Mines in Hyperspace unfortunately, but Cluster Mines are arriving just in time to replace them and the Hyena got a price cut to make it all fit.  
  • Techno-Union Bomber (Hyena) - Cluster Mines
  • Techno-Union Bomber (Hyena) - Cluster Mines
  • Techno-Union Bomber (Hyena) - Cluster Mines
  • Techno-Union Bomber (Hyena) - Cluster Mines
  • Techno-Union Bomber (Hyena) - Cluster Mines
  • Techno-Union Bomber (Hyena) - Cluster Mines
    (198)

What?  What?  It's Hyenas isn't it?  It's Disney isn't it?  Same same but different.
And this Brazilian result wasn't a coincidence by the way, when I ran my Generic Efficiency tables the Hyena popped out as the #2 ship in the game for cost-effective defense... and now it got a discount to 25pts!  I'm not surprised Hyenas got a big result and I think they're probably the most underrated ship going into the new Hyperspace Format.

Although Separatist players have had a lot of their options cut away I think the raw power of Vulture and Hyena droids is more than enough to see the faction through in Hyperspace.  My big question is how well they respond to a sudden increase in generic ship count... if 5x T-65 X-Wings is going to become a thing then can you still afford to run Trade Federation Drones at I1 or do you need to step up to the I3 Separatists?
  • DBS-32C (Hyena) - Kraken
  • Separatist Bomber (Hyena) - Plasma Torpedoes
  • Separatist Bomber (Hyena) - Proton Torpedoes
  • Separatist Drone (Hyena) - Grappling Struts
  • Separatist Drone (Hyena) - Grappling Struts
  • Separatist Drone (Hyena) - Grappling Struts
    (199)

I can see a mixed squad of I3 Separatist Bombers and Drones like this being very strong.  You're moving after the T-65s, you're able to set Target Locks on aces with Coordinate from DBS, Kraken is sending you into the engagement with a stock of tokens ready to win that initial joust


Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Jumping to Hyperspace: The Good Guys

Last week's points and format changes had some dramatic changes, none moreso than in what was legal for players to bring in Hyperspace Format.  Bringing the format back to its original intended function of being a very tight selection of rereleased Second Edition product.

Every faction got hit.  Everybody lost staples that had defined how they would build squads and fly on the table.  And you know what?  I think that was the point, and it's fine.  We've still got Extended format for playing everything we could ever want and now Hyperspace will be a genuine breath of fresh air whenever we pop in to visit: different ships, different pilots, different upgrades, different strategies.

Yes I had to throw away lists I wanted to play.  Yes my plans for Milton Keynes System Open went down the pan unexpectedly - everyone's did, pretty much.  But I'm fully engaged with trying to work out what happens next and what the new opportunities are that have emerged.

In this blog I'll look at 'The Good Guys': Rebels, Resistance and Republic and then pick up 'The Bad Guys' next time.  Rather than mope around worrying about what could have been, let's spend our time looking at what CAN be.  



REBEL ALLIANCE

Rebels weren't doing that well in Hyperspace format and in Q4 2019 their best performing archetype in Metawing was only the 28th best squad.  That was Jake/Wedge/Thane/Braylen and it was basically the best Hyperspace proxy for Dan Taylor's Extended list from the World Championship Final with Thane replacing a couple of Z-95s.  Aside from that squad the Rebels basically had two broad groups of squads - lists with the Falcon and some four-ship Rebel Beef that had passed its sell-by date.  Both those squad archetypes, which weren't exactly setting the world alight anyway, got hit pretty hard in the points change. 


Pour one out for Wedge Antilles the most dangerous Rebel pilot, and losing the U-Wing entirely doesn't just take away a solid brawling ship it also removes the best ship for carrying Leia Organa, and Cassian Andor who was the best support for Braylen Stramm.  In the other squadbuilding strand Rebels get to keep the Falcon but most of the upgrades that made it work have gone... no Force from Luke or Kanan, no regen from R2-D2, no Trick Shot or Lone Wolf in the talent slot so you can have a Falcon but it's not the endgame behemoth it once was.

These cuts really hurt a faction that was already suffering in Hyperspace.  What did Rebels get in return?  Is there a new hope?
  • Blue Squadron Escort (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Blue Squadron Escort (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Blue Squadron Escort (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Blue Squadron Escort (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Blue Squadron Escort (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
    (200)

The basic T-65 X-Wings have crossed a 'break point' in cost and you can now field 5 of them.  In the dying days of First Edition we finally got to play 5 T-65 X-Wings in a squad and they were actually pretty amazing so a lot of people are really excited/scared. by this possibility.  A lot of people are going to try this... but I don't think it's good enough.  More precisely: I don't think it's good enough reliably enough.  The raw statlines of the T-65 X-Wing are impressive and they're in a top tier for efficient damage dealing, but if all your hopes are pinned to a load of single-modded dice with few frills then you're leaving yourself open to the whims of variance and getting too many blank dice.


Five T-65s is going to be a really solid B-tier list that will be played often enough to keep putting up occasional A-tier finishes.  Those A-tier finishes will then be used by the people playing it to argue that it's not a B-tier list, but that can't really be helped.  For the rest of us, the five T-65s are going to be an important gear check for our squads and we should all have it in mind as we're squadbuilding just to ensure we have answers to that matchup.

Maybe by making sure all your ships are at least Initiative 3 so you can kill a T-65 before it fires...
  • Luke Skywalker (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Braylen Stramm (B-Wing)
  • Red Squadron Veteran (T-65 X-Wing) - Selfless, Servomotor S-Foils  
  • Red Squadron Veteran (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils   
    (200) 
This sort of list is what's left of Rebel Beef and it's undeniably fallen a long way from when it was an enormous juicy sirloin - this is more like a tin of stewing steak.  But if everyone else is shopping at the discount supermarket too it might well be good enough, and if this meets the five T-65s it should have the higher Initiative and better dice mods to edge that battle.  

  • Blade Squadron Veteran (B-Wing) - Passive Sensors, Autoblasters, Stabilised S-Foils
  • Blade Squadron Veteran (B-Wing) - Passive Sensors, Autoblasters, Stabilised S-Foils 
  • Blade Squadron Veteran (B-Wing) - Passive Sensors, Autoblasters, Stabilised S-Foils 
  • Blade Squadron Veteran (B-Wing) - Passive Sensors, Autoblasters, Stabilised S-Foils
    (200)

People will try and make four double-tapping B-Wings work with Stabilised S-Foils.  They won't do the maths first and won't find that against most ships double-tapping without dice mods is worse than single modding one primary attack.  


They will fail.
  • Lando Calrissian (YT-1300) - Nien Nunb, K2-SO, Millenium Falcon
  • Norra Wexley (Y-Wing) - Plasma Torpedoes, Ion Cannon Turret, Proton Bombs
  • Jek Porkins (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
    (200)


FFG wants you to buy the Hotshots and Aces pack so Leia's pilot card comes with basically a free Force point attached.  Force points are really good.  I genuinely don't know if there's enough left to equip on a Falcon to make it worthwhile bringing one, but I feel like if there is enough then it will be either Leia pilot or Lando with K2-SO crew (for 3 actions per turn).  Either of those could come in cheap enough to be backed up by a couple of good solid damage dealers to do the heavy lifting.  I'm just not sure what the plan is for a Falcon that doesn't have R2-D2's regen in endgame.


RESISTANCE

The fortunes of the Resistance recently seem to have risen and fallen in line with those of it's most innocuous ship - the Transport Pod.  While Finn's pilot ability was providing incredible protection from enemy fire the Resistance jousting block was a fearsome force but as soon as an FAQ changed how Strain worked to rein Finn in the whole Resistance seemed to fall away dramatically.  I've personally been very surprised to see this happen because I still think that in the T-70 and RZ2 A-Wing the Resistance has some great ships and pilots, but the data from hundreds of tournaments would suggest I'm wrong.  Recently what's left in Resistance has been propped up by Rey and Vennie.

Neither Rey nor Vennie are in Hyperspace Format.

Rey and Finn react to the Hyperspace Format changes

And yet despite this I think there's a lot of good reasons to be optimistic for the Resistance.  As I said I was a little bemused by just how badly they were performing anyway and all the other good ships and pilots made the cut into Hyperspace.  Where the Rebels saw a lot of their best pilots taken away you've got pretty much everyone you could have wanted in the Resistance ranks and you can field pretty much exactly the same squads you could before all the changes.

And, importantly, Poe Dameron is now almost certainly the top I6 ace in Hyperspace.  Anakin is gone, Wedge is gone, Quickdraw is gone, Vader lost his Afterburners, Han lost all his tricks... in a much-depleted field of dangerous I6 pilots Poe Dameron looks a very attractive option.
  • Poe Dameron (T-70 X-Wing) - Heroic, R4 Astromech, Integrated S-Foils
  • Red Squadron Veteran (T-70 X-Wing) - Heroic, Integrated S-Foils
  • Red Squadron Veteran (T-70 X-Wing) - Heroic, Integrated S-Foils
  • Tallisin Lintra (RZ2 A-Wing) - Heroic
    (198)
Poe has never looked better than right now...

And with a couple of brand new A-Wing pilots coming in Hotshots & Aces the '5As' archetype not only survives into Hyperspace but gets a real shot in the arm.
  • Tallisin Lintra (RZ2 A-Wing) - Heroic
  • Zizi Tlo (RZ2 A-Wing) - Heroic, Advanced Optics 
  • Greer Sonnel (RZ2 A-Wing) - Heroic, Advanced Optics 
  • Ronith Blario (RZ2 A-Wing) - Heroic, Advanced Optics 
  • Blue Squadron Recruit (RZ2 A-Wing) - Heroic, Advanced Optics 
    (199)

T-70s and A-Wings will be ever-present in Resistance lists but the upcoming Fireball release looks costed attractively to be a Torrent-style filler in the list and could offer something new as well.  I don't think Resistance offer many surprises in Hyperspace as it's a known quantity, but it's a quantity that we already know is really solid!


GALACTIC REPUBLIC

There's no getting away from it, the Galactic Republic has not enjoyed the transition into Hyperspace format.

Previously the Jedi and their clone troopers were a dominant force in the Galaxy.  With a wide range of Jedi to call upon and the flexibility of taking either Calibrated Laser Targeting or Delta 7B configurations for their starfighters they were endlessly customisable, especially with access to both R2 and C1-10P astromechs.  Gold Squadron Torrents were an effective filler ship that enabled you to squadbuild with freedom, or indeed became huge threats when Sinker was around.


So it's a bit of a shame that virtually everything they were using has been axed out of Hyperspace.  Anakin Skywalker is gone, Mace Windu is gone, the entire Delta 7B configuration is gone and between that and a price hike the shield regeneration is gone.  Oh and C1-10P is gone.  And all the Torrent pilots.  And the cheapest ARC pilot.  And Sinker.


All is not lost.  There was enough strength in depth in the Republic faction that you can still build functioning squads, but I think the experience of squadbuilding for the Jedi is now incredibly constrictive.  Without 25pt Torrents or the 70pt Delta 7B Aethersprites the 'Tetris' of building varied Jedi lists has been broken and you're almost unavoidably forced into "I'm going to play 4 ships that all cost about 50pts".

  • Obi-Wan Kenobi - Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • Anakin Skywalker - Plasma Torpedoes, Passive Sensors
  • Luminara Unduli - Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • Squad Seven Veteran - Dedicated
    (196)

As you can see, some of those 4 ship builds can look pretty potent.  You're still Jedi, the ARCs are still beefy, Broadside is still good, the N1 Starfighters are still fast and tough.  But from a world where the Jedi seemed to have endless successful variations I think it's going to be hard to make a Republic squad that doesn't look at least a little bit like that one, just because there's nothing expensive or cheap you can actually put in to break away from fielding four ships.


And that's my first thoughts for the good guys on the Light side of the Force.  Next up, the bad guys...

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Rule #32 - Enjoy The Little Things

In the last month or so I feel like I've seen a lot people being surprised when unfashionable little ships turn up in successful squads.  In various Grand Championships, and even from Worlds, it's seemed like many players just don't appreciate the simple things in life...

"Who ever would have predicted a Z-95 Headhunter would be in the final of Worlds?!?"

Well, Z-95s have already won two World Championships in First Edition and are a hallmark of efficient squadbuilding.  It shouldn't be a surprise.  When I clicked into the stream from the final game and saw what Daniel Taylor wasn't playing I wasn't shocked, instead my immediate reaction was "oh, of course it's Z-95s in the final of Worlds".  


Daniel Taylor's Z-95s are maybe the most obvious example but I've also seen plenty of people confused by the success if Oldpara's First Order squad at Polish Grand Championship (which was in turn based on a successful list that went 5-1 on the first day of Worlds).  Epsilon Squadron Cadets and naked Zeta Survivors?  Madness!  From the Swedish Grand Championship a list of four Logistics Division Resistance Transports with Ion Cannons shocked many who saw it, and there's still a lot of players who think V-19 Torrents are awful and don't understand why you'd use them.


So why are these 'bad' ships good?  What is it that's making them sleeper successes waiting to happen?  And if you can apparently overturn the odds with a Bandit Squadron Pilot, Epsilon Squadron Cadet or Gold Squadron Trooper then why can't you do it with a Phoenix Squadron A-Wing, or a Cartel Spacer?


Defensive Efficiency


I did some maths.


Actually, I didn't do any maths at all really.  Punkuser's helpful X-Wing calculator did some maths, all I did was type some numbers into a spreadsheet and make them pretty colours.

The first thing I looked at was a very broad "how many shots does it take for this ship to die" and then compared that to the cost of putting the ship onto the table.  How many points is the opponent earning each time he fires at this ship?

Punkuser's 'Durability' calculator worked this out for me but I know it doesn't give the defending ship a Focus token (which helps ships with more green dice), so I followed that up by using his calculator separately working out how likely a ship was to receive lethal damage from multiple shots in a turn, assuming the defending ship had a Focus to spend.

NOTE: my assumption here is that it's a Range 2 engagement (so no extra red/green dice) vs attackers with 3 single-modded Red dice.  A very average situation.  The maths would change for each scenario, or if you assumed attacker had double mods etc.  This is just guidelines of the results.
It's long been held as a rule of thumb that the Academy Pilot is the benchmark for ship efficiency so I then compared all the other little ships vs the TIE Fighter and it's 23pts for an Academy Pilot.


So, how to read this table: the Bandit Pilot is less likely to die in 2 attacks due to it's extra hull (18% chance of dying vs the TIE's 21% chance), but more likely to die to concerted fire from 3 or 4 attackers as having 1 less Agility on each attack starts to add up.  Because the Bandit Squadron Pilot costs the same 23pts as an Academy Pilot this variance translates directly to over/underperformance in defensive efficiency.

The Phoenix Squadron A-Wing, though, has the same agility as the TIE Fighter and one more combined Hull/Shield.  An A-Wing is 15-20% less likely to blow up than a TIE Fighter, and that's a pretty similar difference across 2/3/4 incoming attacks.  But because you've had to pay 30% more for your A-Wing than you do for an Academy Pilot a 20% increase in survival odds actually makes the A-Wing less defensively efficient.

With me so far?  Good.  So let's look at some learnings from this table...


Torrents & Epsilon Cadets are really efficient little fighters.  Although having less agility catches up to them after 4 attacks vs a smaller number of enemy ships a Torrent is 20% less likely to explode than a TIE Fighter and only costs 9% more.  The same is true of Epsilon Cadets in their newly-discounted TIE/fo.  It turns out that there's a clear step-change in survivability when you add either a 5th hitpoint at 2 Agility, or a 4th hitpoint to a 3 Agility ship, and it gives you a very good chance of surviving shots that would kill a TIE Fighter or Z-95.

When I wrote my buying guide for First Order the exact description I gave to the TIE/fo was "Although it doesn't sound like it would make much difference the extra shield that First Order TIE Fighters get does make a pretty big difference to how frequently they'll explode on you".  At the time I wrote that I hadn't run all this analysis but here is the mathemetical proof of precisely what I said in the buying guide.  You don't immediately think a shield would make that much difference, but it sends the Epsilon over a defensive tipping point to become much more draining on the opponent for him to kill it.    


It's also clear Networked Calculations is a big deal to how effective Vulture Droids are.  I suspected this would be true so I ran the Vulture Droid numbers twice, once with just one Calculate token and once where I assumed that they had access to 3 Calculates thanks to nearby ships.  The difference in being able to mod dice vs multiple incoming attacks was the difference between being 9-12% worse than a TIE Fighter even after you account for their lower cost, or being pretty much on a par with a TIE Fighter for defensive efficiency.

Moving up into the more expensive ships and it's hitpoint count that really starts to make the difference.  Scimitar Bombers and Zeta Survivors both have 6 health, meaning that they're actually about as defensively efficient as a TIE Fighter despite costing significantly more.  And the Nu Squadron Pilot's StarWing and the Resistance Transport are similarly buff.


Now is a good time to pause and reflect on what isn't being taken into consideration. None of the wonderful maths above cares that A-Wings have a much better dial than a Torrent and access to linked Boost actions.  None of this wonderful maths is aware than the Zeta Survivor and Blue Squadron Recruits have rear arcs.  This is a pure stat comparison.  Ships have their own strengths and weaknesses and you could argue about the correct costing on any ship.  The above table isn't saying "Ship X is 20% better than Ship Y".

But what I think this maths IS doing is highlighting defensive strengths that might not immediately be apparent.  The Phoenix Squadron A-Wings pilot card says it can link a Boost action so everyone knows about that strength, but the Gold Squadron Trooper's pilot card doesn't say 'probably lives a turn longer than a TIE Fighter would'.  A lot of people instead look at the Torrent's maneuver dial and, assuming it's the whole story, are surprised you'd ever use it.  


Focus Draining

All that maths analysis assumed the defender had a Focus token and this favours the ships with more agility.  A Torrent or a Logistics Pilot benefits a lot less from having a defensive Focus token than a TIE Fighter does.  So I went away and reran the table a second time, this time removing an action's worth of defensive mods from the ship in question.


What came back made some of the defensive efficiency benefits even more stark, and it's because there was another hidden mathematical quirk in here.  It turns out that with so many green dice and so little Hull the TIE Fighters *REALLY* need that Focus token to survive.  TIE Fighters are forced to spend their Focus token earlier and more often than any of the other small ships.

This became a massive benefit to the tougher ships, particularly at lower incoming shot counts.  It also threw a massive spotlight on just how good Networked Calculations was.  If you lose a Calculate token from your droid swarm the rest of the squad can carry the load, and the Vulture Droids carry on surviving pretty much exactly as long as they would have if they'd taken an action.

But you're going to Focus as often as possible, right?  Especially with a TIE Fighter as it's so important to have a green token.  Does the table where you don't have a Focus token really matter that much?  

Well yes it does and that's because the more often you're forced to spend your Focus to stay on the table, the less often you have that Focus token to support your own attacks. 


A Good Defense Is The Best Offense

What we're looking at in this analysis is the cheap ships, the grunts of the litter.  The little guys everyone ignores and forgets about.  Low cost, low Initiative.  When you're at the bottom of the Initiative pecking order you often need to earn your right to throw red dice by surviving to the end of the combat phase.

If you died before it's your turn to shoot you got to roll no red dice at all.  If you had to spend your Focus token to avoid dying then your red dice were only at 2/3rds their potential strength.  We can apply some quick maths to this and work out how many hits a cheap ship is likely to roll once it starts drawing fire from opponents.

Let's take the TIE Fighter as the example from that table.  If a TIE Fighter is attacked three times it will explode 50% of the time, meaning it got to roll 0 hits.  A further 24% of the time it will have had to spend its Focus token to stay on the table, meaning it rolled an average of 1 hit.  The remaining 26% of the time the TIE Fighter is still on the table with it's Focus token and is able to fire at full strength for an average of 1.5 hits.

50% x 0.0 = 0.0
24% x 1.0 = 0.2
26% x 1.5 = 0.4
Average = 0.6 hits

What does that mean?

The best way for a cheap ship to deal damage is to not die, and ideally to be so defensively efficient that you're a low-value unappealing target and nobody even bothers to shoot you at all.  Target priority plays a massive part in this, of course and it's one major reason why this sort of 'mathwing' analysis can only ever be a small part of the story.  But in isolation I think it's true that many players underestimate how resilient some of these cheap ships are, and undervalue how offensively important it is that they are defensively cost-efficient.


A big part of this learning, for me, has been that the lowly Academy Pilot is a lot worse then I really appreciated.  TIE Swarms aren't exactly rocking anybody's world right now and the most successful ones tend to be using higher Initiative pilots and trying to flip that 'best offense is a good defense on it's head' - if you can kill a ship before it fires then your offense becomes your defense!

The other side of that learning is that it's surprising just how much better the Torrents and TIE/fos of this world actually are, in ways that really weren't obvious to me.  Little incremental steps in how tough these ships are have manifested as significant improvements in damage output, and as big changes in target priority because the opponent has to dedicate so much more effort to killing them.


What To Take Away

These efficiency tables all work on theoretical situations and I'd be the first person to say that they're only a part of why you would choose to use a particular ship in your squad.  But they're all things well worth knowing, and which really speak to why a clever player will know when best to deploy these ships and let them do a job on the table.


So which is the 'best' efficient generic?  

Well there's no such thing of course because each fits into its squad and the ships around it in a unique way.  A good example of this is that the Academy Pilot comes out of this analysis looking pretty poor and yet Vader/Soontir and three Academy Pilots has been a successful archetype - when they were put into a squad with two massive ace threats the Academy's defensive frailties weren't really tested as it wasn't what the enemy needed to kill first.  But a lot of the time the cheap ships you put onto the table need to be able to stand their ground and stay alive longer, and you see that a lot in squads where they're more of a centrepiece like Sinker Swarm or the First Order swarm that did so well in Poland.


If there is an all-round 'best' then it's probably the Epsilon Squadron TIE/fo, which at 26pts has all the defensive efficiency of a Torrent but none of the dial limitations, although the Torrent's linked Evade action makes a strong argument that the Torrent would edge it.  I'd also say that the most underrated and underrused is the Scimitar Squadron Bomber: so many players think Barrage Rockets are stapled to this ship that they miss just how crazy it is on it's own merits.  When you look at how resilient the Bomber is when it has Focus available for defense I think Barrage Rockets (which require Focus to fire) are almost a bad upgrade for the ship to take.  I took a pair of Scimitar Bombers with Proximity Mines to within touching distance of qualifying for Worlds earlier this year and this analysis backs up that the base chassis is so efficient that I was onto something all along!

And that's what's hidden in these unfashionable ships, still.  So long as the little guys' strengths go ignored and unloved it seems like players are going to continue to be surprised when they suddenly appear out of left field in the sharp end of a big tournament.  Right now there's a discussion in the FFG forums about how much cheaper the TIE Bomber needs to be when it's already over the curve on efficiency, which proves just how little people appreciate these things.

We would all do well to remember Rule #32...




Tuesday, 26 November 2019

X-Wing Buying Guide - Separatists

BUYING GUIDE - SEPARATISTS
"Twice the pride: double the fall"


1) INTRODUCTION

The Separatists are a loose coalition of all the various interest groups that have been coerced into serving Darth Sidious' nefarious scheme.  In this faction you'll find iconic villains like Darth Maul, Count Dooku and General Grievous but also the Trade Federations squadrons of mass-produced Vulture Droids and the weapons of the insectoid Geonosians who played such a pivotal role in developing the Death Star.  As well as featuring across the prequel trilogy of films they've also had a prominent role in the Clone Wars cartoon series


As befits a faction that brings together such a wide range of different groups the Separatist squads can be very different to one another and their ships often have very little in common in terms of how they work on the table in Miniatures Game form.  The most successful format has seen swarms of disposable Vulture droids, which are the cheapest ships in the game, and usually they're supported by one or two leaders to help give the droids a little bit of steel.  That's certainly not all the faction does and any two Separatist squads could be very different to one another - standing back with probe droids and missiles, or ducking close with tractor beams and deadly turrets - but it's fair to say that when the Separatists appear the Vulture droids tend not to be too far behind.


What almost every Separatist ship and squad does have in common, though, is that they're probably the single most complicated and frustrating faction to learn to play.  I described the Jedi as "easy to learn but difficult to master" and by that measure the Separatists are probably "difficult to learn and even harder to master".  The Belbullab is probably the only 'normal' ship the Separatists have to call upon while all the others rely heavily on players mastering tricky combinations of unusual maneuver dials and fragile ships that are propped up by complex abilities and interactions, and a need for extremely accurate flying.

There's a lot of fun to be had from just how different the Separatist ships are but if you're jumping into X-Wing for the first time then this is definitely the deep end and you're in for a pretty steep learning curve


2) STARTING SQUADS

If you're still reading after my concerted efforts to scare you away from playing Separatists then congratulations!  You should steel yourself for one more piece of bad news, though: because the Separatist faction features the cheapest ships in the game (points-wise) they're actually one of the most expensive factions to play (wallet-wise).  When you pay $20 for a T-65 X-Wing you're filling out 50pts in your squad, while that same $20 of Vulture Droid only goes half as far in terms of getting you to 200pts.

The Servants of Strife pack gives you three ships for the price of two as well as being the only box that has General Grievous' Belbullab starfighter in, making it a pretty much compulsory starting point for Separatist players.  There's one really cheap way to get Separatists onto the table, though, and that's by picking up Darth Maul's Sith Infiltrator which can quite happily cost in the region of 100pts and take up half your squad.  

This example squad can be entirely constructed from one copy of the Servants of Strife expansion and a Sith Infiltrator (though you'll need to pull the Outmaneuver out of the Core Set)...

Separatists on the Cheap (200pts)
  • General Grievous (Bellabub) - Outmaneuver, Soulless One
  • Darth Maul (Sith Infiltrator) - Hate, Chancellor Palpatine, Scimitar
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Grappling Struts, Energy Shell Charges
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Grappling Struts, Energy Shell Charges  

Purchases Required: Servants of Strife, Sith Infiltrator ($80)

That's a pretty unusual Separatist squad these days, though, and most Separatist players will look at expensive upgrades like Chancellor Palpatine and Energy Shell Charges and think "hmm, I reckon I could buy a couple more Vulture Droids with those points".  Hurling as many Vultures onto the table as possible has a proven success rate, and with their networked calculations ability each droid makes the others stronger.  They just drain your wallet to do so, unfortunately.

Assembling a squad like this would see you rapidly scale up your Vulture Droid numbers by adding a couple of extra expansions to your Servants of Strife.  Although Servants of Strife is a great value pack it's still worth picking up the standalone Vulture expansion a couple of times as it does bring a couple of different pilot cards and upgrades to your range of options including the annoying Discord Missiles.

Strength in Numbers (200pts)
  • General Grievous (Belbullab) - Treacherous, Kraken, Soulless One
  • Chertek (Nantex) - Ensnare, Gravitic Deflection
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Discord Missiles
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Discord Missiles
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture)  
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture)  

Purchases Required: Servants of Strife, Vulture Droid expansion x2, Nantex Starfighter expansion ($100)


3) SHIP BY SHIP GUIDE
Vulture Droid (Wave 3)
Hard to fly, Strong

Trade Federation Vulture Droids are currently the cheapest ships in the whole game, which makes sense as stat-wise they're also the worst ships in the game.  That individual weakness is more than made up for just how many Vulture Droids you can hurl onto the table at once, though, and through their Networked Calculations ability the swarm grows stronger as it gets larger.  Despite being the 'worst' and most fragile ship in the game the Vulture Droids have actually been terrorising competitive X-Wing tournaments for the last few months.

They're not easy to fly, though.  Their robotic nature means they have a maneuver dial that loves to work in binary 90-degree turns "Left, Right, Forwards!!!" but only reluctantly switches to analogue diagonal lanes.  You need to plan ahead to minimise the impact of that weakness, while opponents will certainly try to exploit it.  Although surprisingly effective in a swarm Vulture Droids also explode very quickly once they're isolated so they can be a very frustrating place for a new player to join the game.

But the sheer number of guns you can put on the table... 


Belbullab-22 (Wave 3 in Servants of Strife)
Easy to fly, Strong

In a faction of oddballs and outcasts the Belbullab-22 is pretty much the only 'normal' X-Wing ship that the Separatists have to play with.  It's got an average number of red dice, a pretty average amount of agility and hull, a pretty average action bar and maneuver dial, and even the pilot abilities are pretty normal.

Although there's no separate expansion for it you get the Belbullab in the Servants of Strife expansion pack, and for most purposes that one Belbullab is probably going to be all you need.  They're good ships and in Captain Sear or General Grievous they're excellent additions to a swarm of Vulture Droids, particularly as the Belbullab can equip a Tactical Relay to buff all the nearby droids.  But you're rarely going to want 2 of them.  They're just a bit too 'normal'.

Sith Infiltrator (Wave 3)
Hard to fly, Average strength

The Sith Infiltrator is the ship that Darth Maul flew to Tatooine in The Phantom Menace and in the X-Wing Miniatures Game the Sith assassin can be replaced by Count Dooku as a pilot.  Either of these powerful force users can be a potent threat on the table but compared to the raw firepower of the Vulture Droids, or the tractor beam traps of the Geonosian Nantex fighter, the Sith Infiltrator feels a little bit off the pace.  

The Infiltrator's big problem comes from being a large based ship with just a front-facing weapons arc.  That's a combination that's always been problematic as it makes it difficult for the Infiltrator to keep its arc pointing at things it wants to shoot, and it takes a lot of forward planning to ensure that Maul or Dooku are in the right place when the shooting starts.
Hyena Bomber (Wave 4)
Hard to fly, Average strength

The Hyena is the Vulture Droid's bigger, meaner brother.  As this is the Separatists faction, though, it defies such simple classification and in fact every Hyena pilot in the game has different upgrade slots.  Some are bombers, some are torpedo carriers, some are support ships, some are jousters... that alone makes them a pretty complex ship to squadbuild for.  So far it hasn't really mattered, though, because 9 times out of 10 it's been better to simply buy two Vulture Droids than it is to buy one Hyena and kit it out with advanced weaponry.  That may change if FFG ever put the points of the Vulture Droid up, though - the Hyena is a good ship that's waiting for its time to shine.


Nantex Starfighter (Wave 5)
Very Hard to fly, Strong

Ah, the dreaded Nantex... there's probably not a single ship more hated by the broad X-Wing gaming population at the moment.  The Separatist faction trades on complex and awkward interactions and in the Nantex that manifests as manipulating gravity fields in how their ships fly and attack, thanks to the controversial Ensnare pilot ability.  At face value a Nantex starfighter is a fragile little ship with a limited range of movement, but once the Nantex pilot starts shifting gravity fields around they can appear in unexpected places and even move opposing ships to lock them in place with tractor beams!

For a lot of players the Nantex' ability to create large 'no-go' zones on the table which enemy ships have to stay out of to avoid being hit by a tractor beam has proven less fun than the game designers probably anticipated.  Away from all that, the Nantex is yet another Separatist ship that requires you to pay close attention to the complex interactions of its gravity-bending abilities to get the best out of it.  You also have to fly with pinpoint accuracy to avoid the opponent simply swatting you out of the sky before you can become a problem.