Friday, 1 January 2021

X-Wing Strategic Framework: Part 1 - Three Pillars and Beyond

On one level X-Wing is a really simple game.  The rules are quite light, there's not many pieces on the table at once, the turns flow quickly, and you can just push your spaceships around and roll dice and make 'pew pew pew' noises while you enjoy recreating all the excitement of a Star Wars film on your tabletop.  For a lot of people this is exactly how they experience X-Wing and there's nothing wrong with that at all.

On another level, though, X-Wing is a very complex game.  If you start to take the game seriously and want to try and get 'good' at X-Wing then under that surface simplicity there's actually quite a lot going on.  There's dozens of ships, with dozens upon dozens of pilots for those ships and dozens upon dozens of upgrades you could equip that would meaningfully change how those ships perform on the table.  How do you begin to approach understanding how to play X-Wing strategically - what your ships actually do, how your opponent is going to try and beat you?

How do you maximise your chances of winning at any given time?

These are some of my favourite topics to think about when I decide to devote a lot of my time to a game.  When I played Magic: The Gathering in the 1990s I was around when these sorts of game concepts were being properly discussed and dissected for the first time as a nascent internet pulled a scattered group of very smart people together and turned them into a community for the first time.  The edition of The Duellist magazine that introduced the theory of 'Card Advantage' to me had more copious highlighter use and frantic notes in the margins than any of the textbooks I was supposed to be reading for my degree (I flunked my degree but got to play on the Pro Tour, so the writing was on the wall).

Seeing through the surface of a game to the mechanics underneath is what keeps me playing games and it's stayed with me since I left Magic.  I had the same obsession when I played Netrunner, and I contributed a few defining strategic concepts like breaking the game down into three clear phases, and my way of understanding how ICE worked for the Corporation player.

I want to try and turn my hand to X-Wing now, prompted by a couple of different thoughts and conversations I've had which eventually coalesced in my thinking to be two sides of the same coin.

The first of these came after I was following the results of the 'Ace or Not' survey by 5050 Saint, which asked players to decide if they called each I5 or I6 pilot an 'ace' or not.  I sniffed that there might be a blog to write about the findings of the survey so I downloaded the results and did a few things to them in Excel to see if any trends popped out.  What I found was quite interesting, because there seemed to be a very strong correlation between the Cost/Hit Points ratio and how many players considered them an ace (eg. Rear Admiral Chiraneau costs 76 points with 16 health, 4.8pts per health, while Soontir Fel's 3 hit points cost 55pts at 18.3pts per health).

This provoked an interesting thought in my head.  Most of the time when players argue about what constitutes 'an ace' it's about abilities and attributes of the pilot and their ship - can they double reposition, are they high initiative etc.  The strong connection between Ace % and their cost per point suggested the relationship may actually run in the opposite direction and instead of ace status being about what the ship CAN do, it's about what they CAN'T do - afford to joust.  Maybe 'aces' are ships that are too expensive/fragile to be flown any other way.

The second thing was a conversation that I'd had with Oliver Pocknell while we watched TIE Aggressors win the Coruscant Invitational, the closest event we had to a World Championship in 2020.  The impact of turrets, and wider firing arcs in general such as the Auzituck, have been on Oli's watch list for a while and the Aggressors picking up a big win brought it to the fore again.  Watching the TIE Aggressors do so well made me think that the turrets weren't a strategy in themselves they were actually a part of the Aggressor's jousting arsenal, enforcing that opponents couldn't avoid engaging with the Aggressor's efficiency at trading dice.


Put those two ideas together and we get that 'aces' are jousters that couldn't afford to joust, and 'turrets' were just a form of jousting.  I started to see a larger picture of X-Wing strategy appear, which is what I want to share in this series of blogs.

Fortunately, strategic thinking for the X-Wing Miniatures Game Second Edition didn't start with me and I can stand on the shoulders of giants.


First Edition & 'The Three Pillars of X-Wing'

Long before I was even playing X-Wing at all some really smart people had been developing their understanding of how the game worked and sharing it with the world, going way back before the start of Second Edition into First Edition.  One of the most enduring strategic concepts In X-Wing was that of the game's strategies being founded on 'three pillars', which I believe was first coined by then World Champion Paul Heaver in 2015.  

The Three Pillars of X-Wing said that all the ships in the game could be defined by assigning them to one of three different groups, there were Jousters (tough ships that like to fight), Arc Dodgers (fast but fragile ships) and Turrets (ships with 360 degree firing arcs that Arc Dodgers couldn't safely approach).

The Three Pillars theory then went one fiurther than this and said that, in general, the pillars aligned to spots in a Rock-Paper-Scissors relationship between each other.  There was a general expectation that Arc Dodgers would beat Jousters by avoiding being shot at, Turrets would beat Arc Dodgers by not allowing them to avoid taking damage and punishing their fragility, but Jousters would beat Turrets by just being too strong and tough in a straight fight.  That was roughly where X-Wing was during 2015's metagame, with TIE Swarms & B-Wings being beaten by triple TIE Interceptors, while the Interceptors got picked apart by Y-Wings and big turreted YT-1300/2400s.  (If you're not familiar with this period you can take a peek at it through this blog I wrote a couple of years ago).

In truth it probably wasn't long after the Three Pillars theory became widely accepted that it stopped being accurate.  The addition of Autothrusters almost single-handedly switched Turrets > Arc Dodgers on it's head, making Arc-Dodgers almost bulletproof to most Turrets.  Even so, many players continued to talk about the Three Pillars for the remaining years of First Edition and every now and then you'd see discussion about adding a fourth pillar for something that was being successful but didn't fit into the Three Pillars theory, such as 'Bombers' or 'Support'.  

But despite the obvious flaws the Three Pillars theory was so immediately graspable that it endured right through to the dawn of Second Edition, with Zach Bunn using it as the basis of his introduction to X-Wing strategy for new players joining the game with the Second Edition release.  The Three Pillars have stood the test of time.

But there's a lot about the Three Pillars of X-Wing that I don't like.  

First of all, I don't like that it actually stopped being right several years ago, at least in terms of describing a Rock-Paper-Scissors metagame even if the concept of categorising ships into these pillars remained broadly effective.  I also don't like that it struggled to cope with hybrid strategies that became more and more popular - where did you class the likes of Super Dash, who was a Turret that could Arc Dodge, or Jumpmasters who could Joust and had Turrets?  If ships like these weren't a natural fit into the Three Pillars, and then we needed to talk about adding fourth or fifth pillars for things like Bombers or Support, were the 'Three Pillars of X-Wing' just a small part of the story?

More importantly I have a fundamental problem with the fact that the Three Pillars assigned its labels to a ship during squadbuilding.  Three Pillars says "An X-Wing is a Jouster" or "a Fang Fighter is an Arc Dodger" and this completely ignores how roles could change once you got to the table and saw your opponent's squad.  I remembered listening to Jesper Winstrom talk several times about his CLT Jedi squad on the 186th Squadron Podcast, and about how often he would joust with his supposedly fragile Aethersprites on his way to smashing into the top cut at Worlds 2019.  Your ships spontaneously changing roles like this isn't something that the Three Pillars allows for and yet it's clearly a valid and important part of X-Wing strategy.

And there was nothing in Three Pillars' Rock-Scissors-Paper theory about what happened when a Jouster met a Jouster.  Were you doomed to just fly at each other dumbly and let the dice pick a winner?  If an Arc Dodger squad met another Arc Dodger would you fly perpetually in circles around each other?

For all that the Three Pillars did right by providing a basis for understanding different ship roles in a really accessible way I think it doesn't really do much to help you understand what you have to do as a player once you get to the table.  

I think we can do better.


A Strategic Stew

So Three Pillars is rubbish?  Whoa, whoa, whoa. There’s still plenty of meat on that bone. Now you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you’ve got a stew going...

SOTL's Home-Baked X-Wing Strategy Stew

Ingredients:

  • 400g 'Three Pillars' ship classification
  • 250g 'What About Turrets and Bombs?', finely chopped
  • 200ml 'Who's The Beatdown? 
  • 50g 'Support ships' 
  • 1 cup 'Knowing Your Win Condition'
  • 2 tbsps 'Aces Survey'
  • 1 Potato

Over the next couple of blogs, hopefully with some of your help, I'm going to try and cook up something new: a strategic framework for how to think about X-Wing strategy on a wider scale.  A framework for thinking about what ships do on the table in the way that the Three Pillars originally laid out, but which embraces that these roles can change dynamically - both from game to game and opponent to opponent, but also often changing during the course of a game.

I want to replace the Three Pillars of X-Wing's Rock-Paper-Scissors dynamic with a flow chart, or decision tree.  I'll cover this all in more detail in later blogs, but this is broadly the shape that I foresee:

  1. Jousting is the easiest thing to do.  If you probably win a joust you should try to joust.
  2. If you can't joust can you control the game with positioning?
  3. If you can't joust and can't control positioning are you a support ship?
  4. If you aren't any of the above you have no clear purpose and must work to create one
  5. Turrets, bombs, ion, jam etc are tools for achieving a purpose not a purpose in themselves
And within that framework lies how to understand how your ships should behave in the game you're in, and against the opponent you're facing.  It would explain the need to reevalute those roles during a game and change approach accordingly, and it would embrace how to squadbuild with both your desired purpose in mind and to plan for how to respond when events mean you can't take up the role you want.

I've been mulling this over for a while and I've got a pretty good idea how I see this going but I don't assume that I'm going to get it all right first time.  Hopefully that is where you come in, dear reader.  I'm going to forget about things, I'm going to misclassify things, I'm going to have cause-effect relationships backwards, and when that happens I want you to tell me so we can fix it together.  They say too many chefs spoil the broth, but I don't believe that.  And the same people also say 'many hands make light work' and they can't have it both ways.


Up Next: Part 2 - Are You A Jouster?

Monday, 21 December 2020

Getting To Know: Captain Phasma and 'Friends'

Not every blog I write can be full of deep strategic insights (or, arguably, any of them) and this is certainly not.  Instead I'm going to start an infrequent series that looks at the background of some of the characters we see appearing as pilots in the X-Wing Miniatures Game, especially those that come from the more obscure parts of the Star Wars canon.

This time I want to cover off three First Order characters who all stem from one place - the short Captain Phasma series of comics.  In there we find out a bit more about Captain Phasma herself and we also meet both Lieutenant Rivas and pilot TN-3465.  I love these three because not only do I like the three pilots and use them a lot in my First Order squads, but I also think their abilities are fantastically well designed based on what they do in the comics.

There was only four episodes of these Captain Phasma comics and I want to make absolutely clear that you can't read them online for free at this website.  I certainly didn't read them at that website and you shouldn't do read them there either.

*** SPOILER ALERT - if you care deeply about not having the plot points from a minor side story of comics spoiled for you that were released 3 years ago then stop reading here! ***


IN THE COMICS

The Captain Phasma comics pick up Phasma's story right after we leave it in The Force Awakens.  Starkiller Base is under attack and Phasma has been abandoned in the trash compactor by Han and Finn after being forced at gunpoint to drop the bases shields.  After blasting her way out of the compactor Captain Phasma has a big problem, and it's not that the planet she's on is about to explode.  Phasma's problem is that her computer login has been flagged as the one that lowered the shields.  Phasma returns to the terminal she used to expunge the records, only to find that somebody has already accessed the terminal before her.

Somebody knows it was her login that lowered the shields.

Phasma has a new problem.  But she also has a solution - if she can catch the person who accessed the terminal and kill them she can cover her tracks AND pin the blame for lowering the shields on them.

That person is Lieutenant Rivas.


With Starkiller Base crumbling around her Captain Phasma chases Rivas outside only for him to steal a TIE Fighter and escape.  Phasma can't let him get away as he knows the truth about her failure so Phasma commandeers a nearby TIE/sf and orders the pilot to chase Lieutenant Rivas and follow him out into space.  This is where we meet our third X-Wing character, TN-3465.


Together, Phasma and TN-3465 escape from Starkiller Base seconds before it explodes and embark on the typical comic miniseries arc of perfectly straightforward things that should be able to get covered in 3 pages being strung out over 3 comics instead...

Phasma and TN-3465 chase Rivas through space but the guns on their TIE aren't functioning so they can't shoot him down and have to follow him to a nearby planet.  They land and find his TIE Fighter but he's already left.  They need to find disguises to meet the local villagers and find out that Rivas was captured by a group of alien sea monsters.  


They agree team up with the the villagers to help them kill the local sea monsters and be safe once and for all...  


...then Phasma lets the villagers all die because all she really needed was a distraction to get past the monsters to find and execute Lieutenant Rivas.


Which leaves Phasma with one last problem...


With the dirty work done Captain Phasma is now free to return to General Hux and explain her heroic efforts to track down and punish the traitor who allowed the Resistance to destroy Starkiller Base.


Hurrah, well done Captain Phasma.  Report to your section immediately for jelly and cake!


In The X-Wing Miniatures Game

So how are these three pilots represented in X-Wing?


We get Lieutenant Rivas - Inconvenient Witness 

Lieutenant Rivas has the pilot ability to get target locks on things that his friends target lock (assigning a target lock is gaining a red token).  This is very literally all that Rivas actually does in the comics - he uses a computer after somebody else uses it.  It's a nice neat thematic, if rather literal, card design based on the only piece of information we have about Sol Rivas - he used a computer once.


We also get TN-3465 - Loose End.

Like Lieutenant Rivas the young TN-3465 has an ability based around what happens in the comics.  Her friends can choose to deal her a damage in order to convert attacks into critical hits.  TN-3465 literally gets shot in the back by her own team to ensure they complete their mission.  Poor girl.


And finally, we get a pilot card of Captain Phasma - Scyre Survivor.

If there's one thing we've learned about Captain Phasma in this short story it's that she's a survivor who's fully prepared to let everyone around her take a fall if it's in her best interests.  We see that in game with her ability forcing her to hurt nearby friendly ships whenever she would take damage.  She's always going to be the last person to actually get hurt by anything that goes wrong, which is perfect thematic and 'fluffy' design.


All hail Captain Phasma.  All hail the First Order!

Friday, 4 December 2020

Five squads, thirty-one ships, ninety-four red dice... and SPAM!

In my last blog I attempted a Thanos-style finger snap to sway FFG ahead of the November points changes.  I laid out why I felt like the raw efficiency of generic pilots, particular cheaper 3 agility fighters like the TIE/fo and M3-A Scyk, had warped the combat maths of X-Wing and disenfranchised huge swathes of the ships in the game.

I came up with a list of the ships that I wanted to see increase in cost by at least +1pt...

  • Vulture Droid
  • Hyena Bomber
  • M3-A Scyk
  • Fireball
  • TIE Aggressor
  • TIE Bomber
  • TIE Advanced v1
  • TIE/fo
  • Auzituck Gunship
  • T-70 X-Wing
Well, we now have the results of the November points change and how did it go?


Not so well.

Only one of those ships went up in points (the Auzituck Gunship) and that was counterbalanced by the fact that not only did the T-70 X-Wing actually go down by one point, but the Blue Squadron T-65 X-Wing went down by 2pts!  Rather than steer against generic efficiency swarms, FFG's last roll of the dice was to toss even more efficiency into the mix.  This is 'release the T-Rex to kill the Velociraptors' levels of strategic planning.

And also: XX-23 S-Thread Tracers cost 2 points.  Yeesh.  Way to double down on the problem, FFG


So if you're finally hitting the tipping point and deciding 'hey, if I can't beat generic efficiency so I might as well join them' then what would your squads look like?   Well, allow me to share some of the lists in my development folder...

Z-Z-Zealots

  • Cavern Angels Zealot (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Cavern Angels Zealot (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Cavern Angels Zealot (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Cavern Angels Zealot (T-65 X-Wing) - Servomotor S-Foils
  • Bandit Squadron Pilot (Z-95) - XX-23 S-Thread Tracers
  • Bandit Squadron Pilot (Z-95) - XX-23 S-Thread Tracers
    (200pts)
18 red dice
32 hitpoints 
2.0 average agility

Although the Initiative 2 Blue Squadron Escort costs the same as the Initiative 1 Cavern Angel Zealots your using the I1 ship so that your Z-95s can fire their Thread Tracers before you unload, boosting the attack power of your X-Wings.


Bringing T-65 X-Wings down to 38 points puts them back into the spotlight.  I don't think they're quite low enough to cope with the best of the 3 Agility swarms but every little bit helps.  One of the reasons I think they're still not good enough is that most of this squad was possible before the November points change - you could fit four Cavern Angel Zealots at 39 points each for 156 points, leaving the 24 spare points you need for the pair of Z-95 Headhunters.  And it wasn't good enough.  What the little 4pt discount to the T-65s gets you is the pair of brand new Thread Tracers and that IS a significant improvement.  It turns you weakest 2 red dice ships into arguably the biggest 3 red dice threats that your opponent will focus on first, and that in turn sees your best ships as those that survive into midgame.

With Auzitucks going up in price this is probably the best Rebels have to offer post-November, and I'd guess it's also the most powerful raw efficiency list that's ever been available to the Rebel faction in either First or Second Edition!



Your Dials.  You Will Not Need Them
  • Scimitar Squadron Pilot (TIE Bomber) - Ion Missiles, XX-23 S-Thread Tracers, Bomblet Generator
  • Scimitar Squadron Pilot (TIE Bomber) - Ion Missiles, XX-23 S-Thread Tracers, Bomblet Generator
  • Scimitar Squadron Pilot (TIE Bomber) - Ion Missiles, Bomblet Generator, Delayed Fuses
  • Scimitar Squadron Pilot (TIE Bomber) - Ion Torpedoes, Bomblet Generator, Delayed Fuses
  • Scimitar Squadron Pilot (TIE Bomber) - Ion Torpedoes, Bomblet Generator, Delayed Fuses
  • Scimitar Squadron Pilot (TIE Bomber) - Ion Torpedoes, Bomblet Generator, Delayed Fuses
    (200pts)
6 ships
21 red dice
36 hitpoints
2.0 average agility
6 bomb carriers

If you think I've been banging on about M3-A Scyks for a long time then you should see how long I've been championing the Scimitar Bomber!  27pts is incredibly cheap for how fast, tough and flexible the TIE Bomber chassis is, and this incarnation takes full advantage of the incredible price drops to secondary weapons in November - I believe this list cost 224pts using the old points for Ion weapons and Bomblet Generator (Bomblet Generator in particular is crazy at 2pts).


This could be a real Negative Play Experience to meet on the table as if the bombers manage to get hold of a ship with all their ion weapons you're left with no control over where your ships fly or the actions they do, and may not even get to roll green dice as the Bombers will roll you over a carpet of bombs until it's finally over.  It's such a slow and painful way to die you'll be begging to get digested by the almighty Sarlacc instead!

And if you're looking at this and thinking "ah yes but those are Ion weapons not real guns, it won't work" I'd like to point out that this is actually just an upgrade to a list that Maxx Clergue already did well with at both the Ryloth Qualifier and then again at the final Coruscant Championship.  It's a proven archetype that has now received a significant power boost.



It's The ReSixtance!
  • Merl Cobben (RZ-2 A-Wing) Intimidation
  • Rose Tico (Transport Pod)
  • Finn (Transport Pod)
  • Colossus Station Mechanic (Fireball) - XX-23 S-Thread Tracers
  • Blue Squadron Rookie (T-70 X-Wing) - Integrated S-Foils
  • Blue Squadron Rookie (T-70 X-Wing) - Integrated S-Foils
    (200pts)
6 ships
16 red dice (including Finn's ability)
31 hitpoints
2.2 average agility

ReSixtance was one of my favourite lists that I landed on just before the Nantex took over the game in July.  That timing meant it didn't really leak out anywhere at the time but with the bugs safely nerfed this motley collection of Resistance pilots is safe to return to the table.  November offers a couple of important upgrades, most importantly Merl Cobben subs in for the generic RZ-2 A-Wing I was already using, while the discount to the Transport Pods allows me to crowbar in some Thread Tracers that flips the Fireball from being the last ship opponents care about to being one of their first priorities.


In truth the final upgrade points are a bit up in the air and Intimidation is only one way of running this list.  Other options I've run include dropping Intimidation to bring Vi Moradi in place of Rose Tico to give you an extra tool vs enemy aces, while Sith Taker's own Rich Polley has been playing it very successfully with Starbird Slash on Merl Cobben to bring in Heroic.  Compared to the other lists here this one is the most diverse in playstyle and also brings some powerful pilot abilities and extra trickery as well as a ton of brute force.



The Sick Scyk Six - Redux
  • Zealous Recruit (Fang Fighter)
  • Zealous Recruit (Fang Fighter)
  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - Tractor Beam
  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - XX-23 S-Thread Tracers
    (200pts)
6 ships
18 red dice
24 hitpoints
3.0 average agility

Really quick one here as this is a list everyone probably recognises as it's had plenty of time in the limelight since I first played it at the start of the year.  The November price increase jacked Tractor Beam up to 4pts but fortunately Thread Tracers are the perfect force-multiplication replacement to keep the squad ticking over.  Arguably this isn't just a sidestep to a nerf but also an improvement as there were certainly some matchups against larger base ships where the Tractor Beams lost their value but you'd still want target locks.  It's going to continue to be a fearsome squad, I think.



Piranha - Redux

  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - Tractor Beam
  • Cartel Spacer (M3-A Scyk) - Tractor Beam
  • Binayre Pirate (Z-95) - XX-23 S-Thread Tracers
  • Binayre Pirate (Z-95) - XX-23 S-Thread Tracers
    (200pts)

7 ships
21 red dice
28 hitpoints
2.7 average agility

This is an update to the list that I played at the Hyperspace Trial just before the world ended for the pandemic.  It was an evolution of the Sick Scyk list that turned two Fang Fighters into three cheaper ships as I expected to play against a lot of Boba/Koshka squads.  It's also perfectly positioned to adapt slightly and pick up the Thread Tracers.  The real strength here is the sheer amount of control and force multiplication effects on the table.  The list casts a wide net and is extremely dangerous all the way out to Range 3, especially for small base ships.


To my mind this is a sister list to the original Sick Scyk Six for you to pivot between as best suits you and depending on the metagame you expect to see.  If Boba Fett is finally going away for a while then I'd be tempted to stick with the Fang Fighters, but this is also a powerful control squad that sort of straddles the Sick Scyk Six and TIE Bomber squad archetypes.


SPAM, EGG, SAUSAGE AND SPAM

So those are five squads I'm working on which all benefit from the discounts in November or the cheap Thread-Tracers, and which all represent steps up from the old generic efficiency power level that was already suppressing a lot of ships (we didn't touch on TIE Aggressor, Vulture Droids, Hyenas or Nantex which I think are also still all really good).  But not everyone like Spam so however miserable all that makes you if none of the above squads are your sort of thing, at least be comforted that you're not alone...


And hopefully before long the circus will move on.  FFG have had their turn running X-Wing and (in my view) have largely bungled it so the bar is set pretty low for AMG to do better once the game changes hands.  Maybe next time the points update will prompt a different Monty Python theme!



Friday, 20 November 2020

X-Wing Buying Guides Updated

This is a quick note to say that I've finally gotten round to updating my Buying Guide pages, which were getting a little bit out of date seeing as they still talked about Vonreg's TIE as coming soon!  I've  been working on this haphazardly for a while now (Rebels got updated in August) but I've recently knuckled down and made it happen so that I'm going to be fully up to date once the new wave of ships land at the end of this month.

Amendments include:

  1. Card Packs (Hotshots & Aces, Fully Loaded, Never Tell Me The Odds) added to Introduction page
  2. Revised faction descriptions on Introduction page
  3. Updated all beginner recommended squads to latest points costs/releases
  4. Updated all ship descriptions/reviews
  5. New Purchase Priority tables for all factions
Links to all sections of the Buying Guide are below:

*** ALL Updated November 2020 ***

Happy shopping!!!

:-)


Thursday, 12 November 2020

"There's too many of them!" - Why Generic Efficiency Has Gone Too Far

So I was really proud of my last blog.  It was on a topic I'd been wanting to hit for a while (the importance and value of variance), the juxtaposition of the two different player reactions from one tournament seemed like a perfect hook for the topic, and talking to Niels Vos gave me loads of extra unexpected colour and dimension to the blog as it turned out he shared a lot of my viewpoints.  I thought it was great, wrapped the whole thing up with a nice bow on top and posted it up online to await all the positive feedback.

The unintended consequence was that a few people thought the blog was about picking a fight with World Champ Oliver Pocknell, or running him down for the post of his that I'd shared in the blog.  Hopefully I've now smoothed most of those ruffled feathers out but I wanted to be clear that it wasn't my intention at all.  I like and respect Oli a lot, we share some of the same online spaces and chat from time to time, and as a World Champion you couldn't really ask for somebody who has worn the crown with more dignity and tried to be a positive role model across not just his own channels but lots of other podcasts and streaming channels as well.  I was taking it as read that everyone shared that very obvious opinion of Oli and to me it made it all the more interesting to finally see it slip a little bit in that Facebook post and see what really grinds his gears.

I've said it elsewhere and I've said it to Oli himself, but for the record: that wasn't my intention and I'm sorry if anybody took it that way and was unhappy with how I'd phrased anything.

The great consequence of the blog is that we've had some really interesting discussions around the topic on places like Facebook and Reddit, both about the nature of variance but also about the state of the current metagame.  I think there's been a bit of confusion in the message in my blog here, with a lot of people believing that my defense of the variance in playing higher ship count generic squads was also saying that I thought the current metagame was in a good state.  To me those are two separate issues - I absolutely want to see high ship count squads like this possible and I want to see the variance that allows upsets against good players and creates exciting games with uncertain outcomes to continue... but I also think the swing towards low cost generics has gone too far right now.

On some specific points costs I completely agree with Oli and would actually go further than I think he would.  Like I said in the blog: I know why I'm playing Scyks - it's because I think they're too cheap and hand me a big advantage!

Now if the World Champion can click his fingers and get Nantex nerfed instantly (I kid) then let's see if I can work some magic too...



THE PROBLEM

The game is trapped in a mechanical feedback loop by making cheap ships with 2 red dice and either 3 Agility (or 2 Agility and lots of hull) very efficient. 

When 3 Agility is good people play Scyks/FOs/Nantex/Aggressors etc and that in turn means the average number of dice/hits rolled per attack drops (you go from flinging 3 or 4 well-modified red dice to more ships each rolling 2 single-modified attacks). When the average number of hits rolled per attack drops it makes high Agility more important as you're more likely to evade attacks entirely, while Agility 1 ships will still get chipped down rapidly by lots of incoming shots.  I talked about this impact when I revisited Generic Efficiency: 1 Agility ships get a lot worse when facing 2 red dice while 3 Agility ships benefit.

So Agi 3 is good which makes 2 red dice dice popular with makes Agi 3 better which makes 2 red dice more popular which makes Agi 3 better again...

With so many arcs on the table (including dangerous range 3 cannons, or multiple arcs with turrets) it's incredibly difficult to fly aces into safe positions, and because the ships carrying those guns are defensively efficient those aces can't reliably switch modes and try to punch through and remove threats before they fire.  And it's not just aces that suffer - the sheer defensive efficiency of these ships is what I first highlighted and it's what makes it almost impossible to joust them with the likes of Rebel Beef or four-ship Resistance/Rebel lists - you have to work incredibly hard to kill a 25pt TIE/fo before it fires and even if you're lucky enough to do so you're likely to lose 50pts of Braylen Stramm in return.  Similarly, if you invest in big alpha strikes with torpedoes it's an unreliable payoff as a 3 Agility ship could easily see just a little bit too much paint on their green dice and the attack bounces off, and if you try to run big ships like Falcons or Dash your traditional advantage of having lots of hitpoints will be burned away very quickly by so many guns.

With few exceptions (Boba is still good in this metagame) what you're left with is fighting fire with fire, and every player that turns to playing these lists just adds further momentum to the metagame shift and makes it harder for everyone else.

If you'd followed my blogging this past 12 months none of this should be news to you as I've hit this topic many times, especially before the pandemic derailed everything:

December - Generic Efficiency 101

JanuaryFirst Order & Separatists swarms in Hyperspace, including predicting the Hyena Bomber's rise 

February - Sloane Swarm and the Scyks/Fang list bag me a ticket to Worlds

March - Generic Efficiency Revisited and more Scyk Swarms

And I've also spoken about some of these issues in places like the FFG Forums:

June - TIE Aggressors are a sleeper 

I believe we've been on this road for over a year and although the maturation of this metagame has been hampered significantly by Covid and the Nantex but it's been pretty much inevitable that we would get here as the fundamental maths of X-Wing combat are out of balance.  Without a proper competitive season in the first half of the year players like Akhter Khan and Nicolas God were finding it and leading other players to joining them in the summer.  After the July points changes the Nantex did a fantastic job of suppressing all the swarms for a few months but I fear you're going to see it in full effect now, though.


THE SOLUTION

I would increase the following ships cheapest generic pilots points cost by +1 point:
  • Vulture Droid
  • Hyena Bomber
  • M3-A Scyk
  • Fireball
  • TIE Aggressor
  • TIE Bomber
  • TIE Advanced v1
  • TIE/fo
  • Auzituck Gunship
  • T-70 X-Wing

There might be some following points cost through the lower end of the other points ranges, eg if you make Epsilon Cadets +1pt you'll need to move the Zeta up from 26pts.  You probably wouldn't have to increase Lieutanant Rivas, though, as this points change is aimed at the multiplicative value from bringing lots of the cheapest ships and you can only bring one Lieutenant Rivas.

Now when I've suggest these type of changes to so many ships one of the common responses I have received is something like "Wait, why are you putting up the cost of [insert ship here]?  The [insert ship here] is hardly dominating tournaments!".  And it's a fair question because you're right, they're not.  Yet.  These changes are needed to solve future problems too.  A month ago nobody thought the TIE Aggressor was a problem (except me) because the focus was on the Nantex.  When people were celebrating the Nantex points changes I always cautioned that all this was doing was unlocking all the other cheap generics that the Nantex were oppressing and that's what we're seeing now.  

ALL of these ships are too cheap.  In most cases they're unbalanced vs other competing cheap ships (TIE Fighters, RZ-1 A-Wings, Torrents etc) and their sheer efficiency is suppressing a host of more expensive 3-dice ships and making it extremely challenging to fly lower ship count lists.  In other cases (like the Auzituck and T-70) they're a little too far ahead of the other 3-dice ships and would remove diversity once the swarms were removed.

It's like peeling an onion - remove Nantex and now TIE Aggressors are a problem.  Remove Aggressors and it'll be Scyks and TIE/fos.  Remove Scyks too and it'll be TIE Bombers and the Vulture/Hyena swarms will be back with a vengeance (it's the 3 Agility swarms keeping Vultures down as their red dice bounce off a little too often).  If you're going to wait for 6 month point cycles between each little change to the current best thing then we'll still be playing this high ship count metagame in two years time.

And you know what?  A 26pt TIE/fo or Scyk is STILL really good value.  Although hitting so many ships may look dramatic I think it's actually conservative and may not be going far enough - in most cases it's still lower than the ships were costed originally and it's still a significant discount on their First Edition price point.  We're not bombing these ships back to the stone age by adding +1pt, just clipping their wings slightly... and quite possibly by not enough.

I'd like to hold a principle where ships like these remain about as good as it gets for generic efficiency on the cheapest ships.  We've seen that if things get much better than this point then the game can quickly spiral to the point where most other styles of play are driven away.

  • TIE Fighters
  • Mining Guild TIE
  • Z-95 Headhunters
  • Torrents
  • RZ-1 A-Wings

Ships like the TIE/sf or the RZ-2 A-Wing I think are fine.  The TIE/sf is probably a victim of this trend as much as a part of it, while the RZ-2 A-Wing is doing well but it's not an I1 generic spam issue that's driving that success.


AND ANOTHER THING...

In addition I'd prefer to see Cannons upgrades given a variable points cost based on the primary front arc attack value of the ship.  When you add an Ion Cannon to an M3-A Scyk you're gaining an extra red dice to roll, and unlike Missile or Torpedo upgrades there's no awkwardness of getting target locks that red dice is easy to use and has no charges to use up.  I don't believe it should cost as much to add a cannon to a B-Wing or Upsilon Shuttle as it does to add them to an M3-A Scyk or a Jumpmaster where you're gaining a whole new arc.  

This change wouldn't just be about sitting on Scyk Swarms as much as a quality of life change that would encourage players to bring cannons more often on all those ships that have unused cannon slots.  Some ships may need a base points adjustment where the design intention is they use a cannon, eg. the base TIE/rb Heavy cost could come down to the keep the TIE & Cannon cost where it is.


SUMMARY

Variance good.  Uncertainty good.  Excitement good.  Oliver Pocknell good.  Scyks... too good.

Let's see if my finger snap works or not.  As much as I love playing generic swarms there's a hell of a lot of pilots that have been effectively erased from existance right now and I'd like to see them back on the table.