Wednesday, 11 March 2020

"Guns. Lots of guns" - Taking Scyks to the Element Store Championships

Here's how I like to prepare for a tournament and get ready with my squad...
Two weeks out: I've picked the squad I want to play and I'm ready to get some practice games in and get good with it.
One week out: I didn't like that squad but now I've got two lists I definitely like and I just need to decide which of them I'm going to play.
Two days out: I've got five or six squads that I've never played before and I'm going to do ippy dippy or something to work out what to do. 
One day out: I'm just going to write "I am a fish" 400 times on my squad registration form then faint.

And somehow in among all these last minute changes I manage to do ok anyway.  In fact a lot of my best results in X-Wing have come from playing squads I'd never played before Round One of a tournament!  I don't recommend it for everyone, but it's just something I've become used to.

For the Element Games Store Championship this past week my usual attack of list indecisiveness was particularly acute.  Here are all the squads I genuinely considered and discarded at some point in the final 72 hours before the Store Championship...
  • Vader 6 TIES
  • Vader Duchess 4 TIES
  • Vader Duchess 3 TIES
  • Vader Maarek Duchess TIE
  • Vader Maarek Vermeil TIE
  • Vader Maarek Vermeil
  • Duchess 2 Strikers 4 TIEs
  • Duchess 2 Strikers 2 x1
  • Duchess 2 x1 3 TIEs
  • Duchess Maarek 4 TIEs
  • Duchess Vermeil 4 TIEs
  • 1 x1, 3 Striker, 3 TIEs
  • Leia Luke
  • Leia Luke Jake
  • Leia Luke Arvel
  • Leia Luke Jek
  • Leia Luke Thane
  • 2 Fang 2 Ion 2 Tractor
  • Laetin, Ahhav 3 Ion 2 TIE
  • 5 Ion Scyks, 2 TIE
  • Holo Scorch Rivas TN  2 TIE
  • Holo LeHuse Scorch Rivas TN
  • Kylo Scorch Rivas TN Epsilon
  • 4 JK Ahsoka
  • 4 JK Broadside
  • 4 JK Barriss
  • Obi Plo Ric ARC
  • Ani-Y Obi Plo
  • Cova, Jess, Bastian, Red Sqd
  • Kaz, Rose, Tallie, Bastian, Red Sqd
  • Poe, Kaz, Zizi
So what did I play?

None of the above...



Guns.  Lots of guns.
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Tractor Beam
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Ion Cannon 
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Ion Cannon 
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Autoblasters
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Autoblasters
  • Mining Guild Sentry (Mining TIE) 
    (199pts)

I invented that on Friday evening after one game my Laetin and Ahhav version of the Scum swarm proved to me that I didn't want multiple Initiative levels in the squad as it made movement order too complex and limited my options.


I'd never played Autoblasters before.  In fact, I'll go further: I had a pretty strong opinion that they were rubbish based on my understanding of X-Wing theory and headsim.  But everyone said that they were good... so give them a try?  I didn't really have another plan so let's go for this and borrow some more Scyks to finish the squad off.


Although I'd never played *this* squad before it was very similar to my old Scyk swarm with the two Fang Fighters in that I'd taken to the System Open.  Unfortunately I'd come away from Milton Keynes increasingly sure that I couldn't continue to play the Fang Fighters.  Until Fangs get into Range One and use Concordia Faceoff they're vulnerable and not particularly cost-efficient, but against Firesprays it's difficult to force range one as the opponent can control range so well with Slave I title and boost actions.  When you do get range one it might be in their rear arc so Concordia isn't on anyway.  You stress yourself a lot which Koshka loves, and loads of Proton Bombs being dropped is upsetting to ships with no shields too.

I hadn't been scared of the stripped-down Boba Fetts that I expected before Milton Keynes as they were all trying to outbid each other, and Fenn was so bad against all my arcs and control effects.  But the loaded up Boba Fetts with bombs and Fearless and Contraband were much more dangerous and Koshka Frost was a much more troublesome wingman than Fenn.


The Scyks choice was grounded in pure efficiency and maths.  In First Edition you could field this squad pretty much unchanged, just Autoblasters were different in 1.0.  You *could* field this squad... but it would cost 128 of your 100 squad points.  The raw efficiency I get in the new points values is crazy - it's basically two free ships!  In theory I could just wade into any fight and expect to come out ahead unless variance swung WAAAAYYYY against me, and that was the strategic call I decided to make.

I was going to back my maths.  Back my spreadsheets.  Back my conviction that cannon Scyks are the most cost-effective ship that has ever been in either edition of X-Wing.  

Money.  Mouth.  Same location.  Let's go.


ELEMENT GAMES STORE CHAMPIONSHIP

ROUND ONE - Darren Grainger
Boba Fett, Koshka Frost

This was not a nice easy start to the day.  The last time I saw Darren he was running deep into the top cut in the System Open at Milton Keynes with his quad Jumpmasters and four large bases would be a real chore for me to chew through.

Good news: Darren wasn't playing quad Jumpmasters

Bad news: Darren is playing Boba-Koshka instead

I was really happy with the deployment and engagement despite managing to bump myself by tiny margins a couple of times.  My guys converged on Koshka as she screamed down my right hand flank, forcing her to run wide away from my arcs and into my deployment zone as she rounded a big rock that was on that corner of the table.  Koshka was about to become intimately familiar with that asteroid.

Kosha: meet rock.  Rock: meet Koshka.
I tractor beamed Koshka onto the asteroid (no damage from the asteroid roll) then double ionised her.  The next turn I bump a ship into the front of her so she stayed sitting on the rock (no damage) then tractored her again, dragging her across the rock (no damage), then ionised her again and bumped another ship into the front of her so that she spent a third turn pinned onto the rock (no damage again).  She had a console fire this whole time (yep: no damage).  I plowed my Autoblaster Scyks in and unloaded, she dodged it all and finally limped away living on her Hull Upgrade after avoiding 7 ~50% chances of taking a damage from the rock and Console Fire.

Why are you not dead yet, Koshka?!?
It was decisive.  While I was giving Koshka the lions share of my attention for those three turns Boba had swept in behind and started shooting my Scyks.  They were doing Scyk-y things and refusing to die but they were pretty much all smoking and in trouble... then on the final turn 3 or 4 of them exploded at once in a hail of unavoidable bombs and gunfire and I loston MOV.

It took probably two turns longer for Koshka to die than it really should have done.  Had I got to 6-on-1 vs Boba earlier the outcome could well have been different.

Still, it was a lot of fun just grabbing Koshka by the hair and scraping her up and down that asteroid for a while!

LOSS
89-154


ROUND TWO - Jess Rushworth
Vader, Feroph, 2x Tempest Squadron

Jess was flying precisely the sort of jousting squad that my Scyk's should mathematically be able to just chew through more quickly than she could bite back.  The main risk I had was that the TIE Advanced's crits could be a real wildcard and a couple of unexpected Direct Hits could quickly tip the tradeoff maths back in Jess' favour.


I stalled my approach and let Jess come down my left hand flank, then went on the attack as she get my side of the table.  The way we'd engaged at a 45 degree to each other made it difficult for either of us to focus fire on a single target and the combat was really indecisive and started to get very messy as we just turned the corner of the table into a carpark.

Fortunately that worked out mostly in my favour and Jess' TIE Advanced struggled to get clear enough to get actions and set target locks.  The Death Troopers on Jess' Reaper were a bit of a chore as I tried to clear stress from my K-turns but ultimately my Scyks just did what they're supposed to do and traded consistently ahead the whole way.

It was a gruelling slug fest but one that I just inexorably inched further ahead in with each passing combat phase and I took the win.

WIN
200-115


ROUND THREE - Ben Hibbert
Boba Fett, Nom Lum, Genesis Red

I last met Ben when we played a mirror match with my original Sick Scyks last month and we'd both moved on from that squad but in different ways.  I was now doubled-down on Scyks while Ben had picked up Boba Fett and Nom Lum, with Genesis Red carting some Proton Torpedoes in for extra punch.

The early game rapidly went my way as my swarm surrounded Nom Lum like a shoal of piranha and just shredded the Jumpmaster in short order.  Ben had decided to delay lunging in for a block early and gave me a range 3 engage but then my Ion cannons removed Nom Lum's options and next turn the Jumpmaster just idled
forwards into a deadly killbox when Ben would have been looking for a 3 bank and bump. Genesis Red flung his first Proton Torpedo but then got caught up in the feeding frenzy around Nom Lum's ionised carcass and couldn't get away.

That left me with almost my whole squad available to move on and surround Boba Fett.  Ben did his best to scrap his way out of the fight but his cheaper Boba Fett - no Fearless, no Proton Bombs - didn't have the tools to keep my little ships at bay long enough.


Boba extracted his pound of flesh and a couple of kills as I hounded him across the table but the pressure was relentless and the Firespray could only take so much.

WIN
200-88


ROUND FOUR - Matt Farr
Fenn Rau, 3x Zealous Recruit

Four Fangs, even if one of the was Fenn Rau, was a matchup that I was pretty confident would go my way.  My range of cannons is almost custom-built to threaten all these low-health targets that simply can't risk getting a tractor beam or ion token assigned to them.

And I did win, but it was a bit tougher than I expected.  Matt broke Fenn off to threaten to flank with Outmaneuver while the Zealous Recruits came straight down the middle of the table.  I split my forces a little, leaving a couple of Scyks on Fenn to keep him from turning my flank too easily while the rest laid into the Zealous Recruits.  The first engagement went my way as I ionised one of the Fangs but then on the next turn Matt made a couple of nice little decisions that re-opened the door for him.

Matt had lined up his Fangs in a 'box with a gap' formation, two Fangs at the front with one Fang sitting behind the left Fang as I saw it.  That left a really attractive gap on the table behind the right-side Fang for one of my Spacers to throw a big 5K into and get behind his formation after the first engage.  But Matt had spotted that play and barrel-rolled his back Fang across into the gap, blocking my K-turn and leaving that Scyk out of the fight for much of the game.

It all got very clumsy in the middle of the table and I had to switch targets from the wounded Fang to shoot at targets of opportunity that wouldn't have Concordia Faceoff working for them at range 1.

The Skulls part of the table had become a proper mess.

The Fenn side of the table was still going my way, though.  After pushing Fenn out wide I sent an Ion Scyk after him with an Autoblaster Scyk following up and finally got my first unpreventable Critical Hit of the day from Autoblasters!  It was Damaged Sensor Array that really hampered Fenn's ability to sweep around the flank, then two turns later Fenn also ate an unpreventable Structural Damage.


It hadn't gone as cleanly as I'd hoped but the raw grinding power of the Scyks pulled through once again.  I finally got away from Concordia Faceoff and removed two of the Zealous Recruits and Matt decided that Fenn's Structural Damage meant he had to fight his way out rather than try to run and flank.  Fenn darted in and deleted a Scyk in one shot but it was his last involvement and I took him off bext time.  It was time for my remaining Scyks to mop up the last Fang.

WIN
200-115


ROUND FIVE - Jason Denton
Ric Olie, Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano

Last time I was at Element, for the Sith Taker Open, it was Jason who handed me my first round defeat with the Sloane Swarm.  Would I get my revenge with the Scyk Swarm today?

Jason was flying a very unusual but potent alpha-striking Republic list.  It featured both Ric Olie and Anakin Skywalker in N1 Naboo Starfighters with R2 astromech regen, Outmaneuver and Proton Torpedoes.  Either of those ships could easily light up a Scyk!  Running behind the two N1s was Ahsoka Tano to give Ric some extra punch.
Pros: he's got a low ship count, Tractor Beams and Ion Cannons are really good.
Cons: OMG Outmaneuver Proton Torpedoes will delete my Scyks very quickly!  I also have to be really aware of the danger of half-killing one of these ships and letting it get away to repair and regenerate.
I was very wary in approaching this list as it would be so easy for me to overcommit and hand Jason a flank to exploit with Outmaneuver.  For a couple of turns I feinted this way then that way before committing most of my forces towards Ric's flank.  With Anakin and Ahsoka in his team Jason had complete control of when the engage would happen and he decided to strike relatively early, pushing Ric forwards with a banked boost thanks to Ahsoka's pilot ability then hurling a 5 forwards to launch his Proton Torpedoes from both ships.

I forgot to take any photos of this game!
My Scyks managed to tank both shots pretty well.  I lost a shield to Anakin's Proton Torpedo and took a crit on another Scyk from Ric.  In return my cannons opened up and Ric was immediately in trouble - tractored forwards and eating damage from several ships even if he managed to avoid getting ionised.

I simply couldn't let Ric escape to regenerate so after a bit of consideration I decided to hand Anakin my flank and go all-in on blocking and killboxing everything Ric could conceivably do to get away - block the 5 forwards, block the 3 bank, block the 3 turn... the only move I didn't block was the one that Jason actually did, which was a 3 turn AWAY from my ships towards the board edge.  That allowed Ric a turn's grace but also sealed his fate - there was only one way out of that corner of the table and my Scyks were waiting for Ric when he reappeared from the corner on the next turn.

Ric running from my Scyks.  Artist's impression.
Ric was down and Ahsoka swiftly followed, surrounded and hounded by a swarm of Scyks and nasty cannons.  Anakin had largely been given free rein behind my team but with his second Proton Torpedo spent and his wingmates dead the little Naboo Starfighter was minimal threat.  Rather than spend the next half hour trying to run away and scrape MOV at the end of a long day Jason graciously called it quits and gave me the win.

WIN
200-73


WRAPPING UP

I finished on 4-1 in 5th place, missing the cut on MOV but picking up a decent amount of the nice First Order alt arts and cardboard punchouts.  Sometimes sitting just outside the cut is the cause of bitter disappointment but the way that my day had gone, eating my loss and worst MOV win in rounds 1 & 2, meant that I had never expected to make the cut to begin with.

After round 2 I hated this squad.  Hated the stupid autoblasters and their stupid range 2.  Hated not having Fang Fighters to whizz about with.

After round 5 I liked the squad a lot more.  It's so dependably better than almost any other squad you meet so long as you can keep rolling dice.  In a lot of ways it's dull as dishwater as you never do anything but set dials and take Focus actions (at least with the Fangs in the old version you were boosting and blocking and things) but in other ways planning the killboxes and managing to create unavoidable traps and overlapping fields of fire was engaging enough.  I'd happily play this squad again, though I may tinker with it slightly.


The only decision that really remains to be made is on the specific cannon mix:
Tractor Beams:  They’re really good vs 3/4 ship ace lists.  The most dangerous gun you’ve got as a single red dice squeezing through can be disastrous.  But against other things they get weaker very rapidly.  It’s a meta call if you want 2 of them but in a Boba-heavy world 1 is fine.  Best R3 threat. 
Autoblasters: like a bad CLT but you do occasionally get uncounterable crits in which is nice.  It’s weak but probably does enough it’s not wasted points.  Bigger issue is playstyle which means they don’t work well for my desire to hold longer range area coverage arcs like I'm used to with Tractor Beams and Ion Cannons.  YMMV. 
Ion Cannons: just great vs almost anything.  Too many of them does become counterproductive, though, as you don’t deal big damage just unnecessary extra ion tokens.  Solid at all ranges.

All things considered, I guess I need to go and order myself another couple of Scyk models after all!

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Generic Efficiency Revisited - new points, new ships, new stats!

You can often track the things I'm thinking about and planning through the blogs that I write and one of the most influential blogs on my thinking was Rule #32 - Enjoy The Little Things which I wrote back at the very start of November.

If you missed that blog it was essentially a response to how often players seemed to be surprised by perfectly good ships doing well in tournaments just because they were cheap generics not glamorous aces with loads of upgrade cards.  Here I'm thinking about things like the Bandit Squadron Pilot that was in the World Championships Final, or the TIE/fos and TIE/sfs that had begun a First Order resurgence at the end of last year and almost won the Polish national championships under the expert piloting of Maciej Paraszczak.

When you bring Epsilon Squadron Cadets to fight Boba/Fenn
It's an article that a few people have spoken to me about in how it changed their thinking, and it certainly had a big impact on me pretty much from the moment I finished writing it.  I switched almost immediately into flying First Order for December, then a discussion with Green Dragoon about why the TIE/fo was so good and the Scyk was so forgotten ultimately became the Hyperspace squad that I played at the Milton Keynes system open.  And it's likely that if I hadn't been looking at this space I'd never have thought to play my Sloane Swarm and grab my ticket to Worlds!

Not a bad payoff for one blog, eh?

A fair bit has changed since early December.  We've got new points for a lot of stuff, especially the lower end generics, we've got two new ships to evaluate.  We've also seen the game swing quickly towards higher ship counts and lots more generics and I've been busy working out a different way of looking at generic efficiency for a more rounded view.  So let's dust off my excel tables and have a second look at the subject.



Generic Efficiency II: Judgement Day

In my original blog I spent the whole time looking at the unloved little nippers that only have a 2 dice primary attack, like TIE Fighters, Torrents and Z-95 Headhunters.  I benchmarked their ability to survive incoming attacks long enough to return fire against the basic Academy Pilot TIE Fighter, long held as a fundamental building block of X-Wing maths.

In this revisit I'm going to widen that view out to include a lot of the most common 3 dice primary ships like TIE Strikers, B-Wings, ARCs and so forth.  I'm going to benchmark their survival efficiency against the humble T-65 X-Wings for much the same reason that I used the TIE Fighter for the 2 dice ships.

I've also now added another type of statistic that looks how many hits on red dice the ships will roll per point spent, which allows you to compare the 2 dice and 3 dice ships against each other to some degree.

Here are the 2-dice primary ships, benchmarked against an Academy Pilot TIE Fighter...

And here are the 3-dice primary ships, benchmarked against a T-65 X-Wing...


How To Read This Table

My original blog explains a bit of a step-by-step of how I arrived at these tables so if you feel like you just had a numbers fruit salad thrown at your face you may want to go and read that first blog.
If not, let's pick a ship and follow it across the table and see what we learn.  Let's take the generic TIE/sf.

The TIE/sf costs 32pts for a Zeta Squadron Survivor, and to be honest a lot of the time you see it flown exactly as that, just 32pts for a naked ship.

Going from left to right, the first set of stats compares the TIE/sf's likelhood to explode if it gets shot at by multiple 3 focused red dice, and compares it to a TIE Fighter.  With it's extra hull points the TIE/sf is a tougher target to kill than a basic TIE Fighter, 21% less likely to die to 2 attacks (because the TIE is quite likely to survive too), 37% less likely to die to 3 attacks (which are pretty likely to kill the TIE Fighter) then 31% less likely to die to 4 attacks (that lower Agility value starts to catch up as more attacks rain in).

That increased likelihood translates into the TIE/sf being likely to roll more hits than a TIE Fighter once it starts taking damage: first of all because it's more likely to still be on the table, and secondly it's more likely to have kept hold of its focus token in the process.

That all makes the TIE/sf sound like a much better ship than a TIE Fighter... and it is!  But it also costs a lot more points.  The third table reflects that and says that even though the TIE/sf is rolling 0.4 more hits than a TIE Fighter after being shot at by 2 attackers that's a smaller increase in damage output than it was an increase in points cost, so the TIE/sf is actually a less cost-efficient if it's shot at by 2 ships.  That flips to the TIE/sf being more cost efficient as more attackers pile in and the /sf remains on the table longer.
NOTE: this is basically where my original blog stopped.  At this point you've highlighted the ships that were tougher than you thought, which meant they lived longer than you thought, and dealt more damage than you thought.  This time we're going further, though.
The final section of the table, on the far right, show's the raw damage output PER 100 POINTS SPENT*, which is an important new measure I've added for this revisit.  What it shows clearly is that the TIE/sf is actually a pretty mediocre source of damage output when nobody is shooting at it - it deals no more damage than a TIE Fighter would and costs nearly 50% more!  But it also shows that the TIE/sf starts to shine once it gets stuck into the fight and survives a lot longer than the TIE Fighter would, losing only 49% of it's damage output after its been shot at by 4 ships while the basic TIE would lose 78%.

*the only reason it's 'per 100 pts spent' not 'per point spent' is that it turns into nice full numbers instead of tiny decimals.


You: "Cut to the chase.  What does all this tell me?"

When you take a TIE/sf in your squad you're not looking to maximise the initial damage output of your squad - if you were you'd take TIE/fo's as they're much more cost-effective at rolling hits (4.7 hits per 100 points vs 6.0 for the TIE/fo if you've not had to defend yourself). 

You're not even putting TIE/sf's in because they're tougher and will last longer under fire, as even vs 3 or 4 incoming shots the TIE/sf is no more cost-effective at rolling hits than the TIE/fo is (2.4 after 4 attacks vs 2.4 for the TIE/fo). 

You need a different reason for taking a TIE/sf - that you plan on making strategic use of the ship's other abilities like it's rear arc to leverage having more shots on target, or by keeping your dice mods when the TIE/fo would stress itself to k-turn.

And now you know what the ship is for.  You know what you need to do in order to get value from the points you're spending... and you also know that if you're not doing those things reliably then you should probably be taking a TIE/fo instead!


Round Pegs for Round Holes

That runthrough of the statistical strengths and weaknesses of a TIE/sf can be repeated for any ship in the table, and if your favourite ship isn't there then Punkuser's wonderful X-Wing calculator will help you work it all out for yourself.

But to save you some of that effort I'd go so far as to say we can see that there are some pretty clear strata in performance that we can fit ships into - roles that we can see they're mathematically better at performing than their competitors.  Once you understand these roles, and why each ship is naturally better at performing a certain role rather than another, you can really start to pick the right tool for the job, and to use your tools in the right way.


Unopposed Firepower
eg. Vulture Droids, TIE Fighters, TIE Strikers, Z-95 Headhunters

The ships in this bracket shine at cost-effectively putting as many red dice onto the table as possible.  Generally speaking these ships are very weak and vulnerable and will see their offensive output deteriorate rapidly once they start taking shots, but if you can avoid that happening somehow they really shine at pure offense.  How do you stop them being shot at?  Maybe you just bring lots and lots of them (the Vulture Swarm approach), maybe you have other things that the opponent has to pay more attention to (the Soontir/Vader and a few TIE Fighters approach).  But make that happen somehow and you're right at the bleeding edge of sheer firepower than you're going to hurl at the opponent.



Efficient Toughness
eg. Torrents, TIE/fos, T-65 X-Wings, B-Wings

These ships are probably the ones that my last blog really shone a spotlight on - the little guys that everyone was ignoring but which were far harder to kill than their points cost really deserved - you can hurl 120pts of T-65 X-Wings at a 25pt TIE/fo and still only have a 28% chance of killing it!  These ships tend to be a step below the real peaks of pure damage output that the Unopposed Firepower boys are capable of, but they're able to deliver that damage output more reliably in the face of enemy action instead of folding up like a paper plane at the first sign of blaster fire.

In truth there's a real sliding scale in this bracket, particularly in the ships with 3 red dice.  At the cheapest end the Feethan Ottraw Autopilot in his Belbullab fighter is a real hybrid of Unopposed Firepower - as close to a TIE Striker as he is to a B-Wing.  At the other end of the scale the more expensive and durable options like a B-Wing are so good at holding onto Focus for their dice mods that they are starting to head towards the next bracket of Long Haul Hogs


In general, though, I think the Efficient Toughness guys are really having their moment in the spotlight right now.  The way points costs have come down on a lot of these ships means they're a pretty efficient source of damage output, and unlike the Unopposed Firepower guys you're not quite so close to watching the whole thing fall apart at the first sign of bad variance because they're almost always going to take that little bit longer to kill than either you or your opponent really expect for their cost.


Long Haul Hogs
eg. ARC-170, T-70, Scurrg Bomber, U-Wing

To my mind there are two defining characteristics of the Long Haul Hog category of ship: first of all they're not actually all that good at dealing hits per point spent so you're not a particularly big offensive threat, secondly they're usually big fat ships with lots of hull & shields that don't really care about incoming fire and can keep pouring out damage regardless (often because they only have 1 Agility so spending it on defense doesn't do much).  These ships aren't about trying to remove opponents with a mass of initial damage, they're about keeping that threat on the table not just through the first engagement but on into the next turn, and the turn after that.


You don't often see squads relying solely on these types of ships, though.  Often (though not always) that much toughness and hull tends to mean the ships have more limited maneuver dials or reposition actions.  They also tend to be expensive enough that you can't really mass many of them in one place.  That doesn't make them bad ships, though, and they're often used as a dependable source of damage output for a squad that wants to really not have to worry about keeping a chunk of the squad alive for a while.  Target priority in your squad can make a real difference to how useful these big hogs are - often they'll be so annoying for your opponent to try and kill that they'll be left alone entirely!  That may be good if you're hoping to bait people into chasing something else, or may be bad if you were hoping to bring something to take the heat off a more fragile ace!


Needs More Than Stats
eg. RZ-2 A-Wing, TIE/sf, Fang Fighter, Starviper

This final group is really where 'everything else' sits.  These are ships where the raw statline, damage output, resilience to incoming fire etc just isn't best-in-class quality in any area really.  So does that make them bad ships?  No, it just highlights that there's more to ships than stats and you're taking them for some other benefits they might have.  It could be rear arcs, linked actions, awesome ship abilities, great maneuver dials, bendy barrel rolls... all that good stuff that just crunching numbers through a machine will tend to ignore.

Being able to fire backwards has its advantages...
But it also means that you should be aware that you're taking these ships FOR that extra ability.  Take a squad of Starvipers and joust with them... you probably should have taken a Kihraxz Fighter instead and saved some points.  Try to maximise your Howlrunner damage with some Inquisitors and their Force token... you probably should have taken Academy Pilots instead.  If you've not got a plan for how the unique abilities of these ships are going to give you an advantage on the table then their raw efficiency and statline is going to be a step or two off the pace.



Size Matters... Quite A Bit

Yoda was talking shit when he said size didn't matter.  But then the little dude was like 2 foot nothing so he was hardly going to come out with anything else was he?  When it comes to X-Wing maths size definitely does matter, and in particular the size of the incoming shots matters a great deal. 


All through my original blog and the efficiency tables above I've talked about how damage and cost-effectiveness changes as you come under increasing enemy fire.  All those incoming shots are single-modded 3 red dice attacks at range 2, but if you change that basic assumption it can have a big effect on what ships do best.

In particular I think there's a bit of a feedback loop in play at present: all the points reductions to ships like TIE/fo and Scyks, and low starting costs on Vultures, Torrents and Fireballs, mean that more than ever we see players fielding masses of 2 red dice primary ships.  And when you change the assumption of incoming fire from 3 dice attacks and 2 dice attacks you start to skew the results towards higher Agility ships doing better.


I'm not going to restate the whole table again for 2 dice ships because it's kind of repetitive, but this example really shows you how much it can change.  When you flip 4 incoming 3-dice attacks (say, 4x T-70 X-Wings) to double the number of incoming 2-dice attacks (8x TIE/fo; the "FOcho") it has a big impact on how well 1 agility ships like a B-Wing manage to repel that many incoming dice and they ultimately lose about 50% of their expected damage output.  A 2 agility ship like a T-65 will lose about 20% of its damage output, while a 3 agility ship like a TIE Advanced x1 basically works out exactly the same as it was vs 3 dice attacks.

Depending on the metagame you expect to play in the decision between two ships may be best being steered by whether you need that 3rd agility or not.  I'm certainly steering towards TIE/fo ships over TIE/sf at the moment for that very reason.


Special Snowflakes

As well as calling out a few big segments within the table I also want to take the opportunity to talk a bit about a few particular ships and results that caught my eye.

TIE Advanced x1

Let's start here, seeing as we've just spoken about how well the 3 agility chassis stands up as the metagame swings towards facing the likes of TIE/fos and M3-A Scyks.  The Sith Taker's Tim King sealed his Worlds invitation at Milton Keynes flying five TIE Advanced x1 and to be perfectly honest until I reran all my numbers for this article I kind of felt like he must have fluked it somehow.  I know a lot of players feel the same way - you go without defensive tokens to take a Target Lock for their Advanced Targeting Computer so surely they just die? 

Well actually they die a lot less often than you'd expect, and that's particularly true if you can range control to a R3 engagement or are fighting against 2 red dice ships.  Played the right way, or against the right things, and the TIE Advanced can match our outperform a T-65 even despite having to take it's Target Lock actions.  And that's before you get onto the benefit of all those tasty crits...


Fireballs

The new Resistance racer, the Fireball, is costed very attractively in two configurations.  The generic Colossus Station Mechanic is only one point more than a V-19 Torrent at 26pts and has a better dial and the awesome SLAM mechanic.  I know Ryan Farmer of the Fly Better Podcast has already won with them and this table suggests it's not a fluke - they're really good cost-effective ships.  But you've also got Kazuda Xiono and if you assume that he gets his pilot ability active he's a very efficient equivalent to a T-70 X-Wing.  In many ways Kaz is the best E-Wing pilot in the game with his 3/3/6/0 statline at 40pts, and he still gets to SLAM around and Initiative 4 into the bargain!


First Order Provocateur
I'm no fan of the TIE/ba at all and I think you can see why when you look at where the Provocateur sits in the table - way down in 'needs more than stats' with a lowly level of damage output for its point cost combined with losing what firepower it does have very rapidly as it has to spend Focus to stay alive under fire. 


And yet... if you decide to switch modes and hurl the TIE/ba in for more firepower, taking a Target Lock and Strain token with the ship's ability... it's actually not as bad as you'd expect.  That's the version of the TIE/ba that's sitting up in the Efficient Toughness section, almost like the Feethan Ottraw Autopilot as a hybrid into Unopposed Firepower.  If you're allowed to use your Target Lock and Focus to attack you're an efficient source of hits, even at 45pts, and even if the enemy decides to shoot at your Strain token the TIE/ba doesn't die quite as easily as you'd expect and if you can stick around thanks to your Focus token you've still got your Target Lock on hand to exact revenge.

I still don't love the TIE/ba, but I thought the Strain token was going to hurt a lot more than it actually does when you math things through.  Particularly if you have something else worth firing at more I think the First Order Provocateur can deal some real damage.


Ion Scyks
Oh lordy I love the Ion Scyks.  I loved them already which is why they were my squad going into the Milton Keynes System Open.  My original blog created some discussions about why nobody was using Scyks if I thought the TIE/fo was so good, and what we hashed out was basically the perfect scenario you'd want to see to justify playing the Scyks... and thanks to the January points changes that scenario is exactly what came true!


Ion Scyks stand out on this table as having the best of both worlds available to them - they deal out hits-per-point about as effectively as the best of the Unopposed Firepower ships like Vulture Droids, but they are also able to defend themselves from incoming fire much better and retain that output despite coming under pressure.  Yes not all those red dice are dealing damage but Ion tokens are usually an acceptable replacement for damage cards, and in my experience it's rare to be over-ioning something, the Ion Cannon is usually just a much better chance of dealing 1 damage through their green dice. 

Yeah.  I love Ion Scyks.  You should love Ion Scyks too.



In fact, in general maybe you should learn to appreciate the little things too.  These days they're capable of surprising even the best pilots in the galaxy!

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Dr Sloanelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Qualified for Worlds

What.  A.  Weekend.

This past weekend saw the first major official tournaments held since the recent points and format changes - the Milton Keynes System Open here in the UK.  Even with unusually short notice before the event was held over 450 players turned up to test out the brand new Hyperspace Format in the system open, with Extended format worlds qualifiers as the main side event on the Sunday.

And I was ready.  I had a Hyerspace squad that I really enjoyed and had been waiting to unleash on an unsuspecting world.  Word of my squad had quietly spread around people around me, and the people who knew those people, so I think there was upwards of a dozen copies of this squad in the room.  I present to you...

The Sick Scyks Six

  • Zealous Recruit (Fang Fighter)
  • Zealous Recruit (Fang Fighter)
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Tractor Beam
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Tractor Beam
    (200pts)


18 red dice, 18 green dice.  Off the back of my Generic Efficiency article we'd had discussions before Christmas about quite why the TIE/fo was looking so good but the Scyk had been ignored.  I said at the time that if they dropped the price of a Scyk to let you play Ion Cannons at 31pts they would become really interesting... and then it happened!

I hadn't predicted they would also drop the price of the Fang Fighter to 41pts at the same, though.  I had this list within an hour of the points PDFs being published and it's not changed one iota since and in all the games I've played with it I've only lost one game.  Before that game I'd lost less than 1 ship per game on average.

I was ready for the System Open.  Ready to take it by the horns, rip its lungs out and dance on its corpse.  Ready to stand on top of the world surrounded by my admiring followers and accept the supplications of my vanquished foes.


Yeah.

This wasn't going to go the way I thought.


SATURDAY - MILTON KEYNES SYSTEM OPEN 2020
Hyperspace Format

I'm not going to tell you how my System Open experience went.  This isn't because of any fault of any of my opponents, who were all super, or because I'm embarassed of how I played or the mistakes I made because I think I flew very well.  It's not even because my list turned out to be rubbish, because it didn't and it did everything I asked of it and I felt like I had a fantastic squad in my hands.

But if I tell the story it's going to be a dice story and nobody wants to hear a dice story because they've heard it all before.  And they're always the same story too:
"Did you win?" 
"No, my dice were bad." 
"Yeah well, that's a dice game for you.  You're going to win some and lose some." 
"Yeah I know, but this time my dice were properly really bad.  I only needed to [insert first half of anecdote here] and all I got was [insert second half of anecdoate here]." 
"That's rough, I lost earlier today to [insert anecdote here] too". 
"No, you don't get it.  My dice were really REALLY bad!" 
Repeat to fade.

I went 2-2 and dropped out.  Then to avoid repeating the above conversation to everyone I met for next three hours I went to the cinema next door and watched Bad Boys For Life, which was actually pretty good!

I needed that opportunity to decompress and stop thinking about dice.  I was ready to go again.


My dice really were really, really REALLY bad, though.  Honest.



SUNDAY - WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS QUALIFIER 2020
Extended Format

I've always been a big fan of Hyperspace Format.  Going back 25 years I was a big fan of any 'block constructed' formats in Magic: The Gathering and as far as I'm concerned the great game itself has never been better than it was in the summer of 1998 for Rath Block Constructed.  Limitations breed creativity, and so whenever I've had the choice to think about or play Hyperspace instead of Extended I've taken it.

In my last blog I recounted how I did quite well at the Sith Taker Open with my Sloane Swarm squad.  At the top of that battle report I said that I was flip-flopping between playing my Hyperspace squad or an Extended squad right up until the last minute, ultimately deciding to play the Extended Sloane Swarm as a wild punt into the unknown.

Last week's wild punt was about to pay off big time because after ignominiously crashing out of the System Open I at least had an Extended squad that I knew and liked to fall back on: the YOLO Sloane Swarm.

Despite having paid almost zero attention to Extended I'd managed to stumble onto a squad (and opening strategy) that seemed to really work...

YOLO Sloane Swarm
  • Scarif Base Pilot (TIE Reaper) - Admiral Sloane
  • Alpha Squadron Pilot (TIE Interceptor)
  • Alpha Squadron Pilot (TIE Interceptor)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
    (198pts)

I'd gone 4-2 at the Sith Taker Open, but I understood why both those losses had happened and they were both on me.  The squad was good, and possibly even very good.  More importantly I had seriously enjoyed playing the squad and especially finally getting some generic TIE Interceptors onto the table!

I remember playing the old West End Games version of a Star Wars space dogfighting game 20 years ago and even then the TIE Interceptor was my favourite ship.  It's the ship I most wanted to fly when I first got into X-Wing at the end of 2015, and was ultimately very disappointed to find that; 1) it was pretty much only good with Soontir Fel, and 2) I was rubbish at flying aces.  I flew Soontir/Vader/Omega Leader in my second ever tournament back in early 2016 and got so badly beaten that it was about three years before I ever dared field a proper ace again.  My TIE Interceptor dreams withered and died.

But now the spikiest and deadliest of TIEs is back on the menu and I couldn't be happier!   

The Worlds Qualifier was going to be a straight shootout - five rounds of Swiss and at the end of the final round the ~400 starting players will have been whittled down to about a dozen undefeated players who got Worlds Tickets.

As Storm Ciara swirled ever closer my TIE Interceptors being heroes was the only thing standing between me and beating a hasty early retreat to the train station. 


ROUND ONE - Stuart Blucke
Rey, Zizi, Cova Nell

Well this was gonna be the shortest offensive of all time.

Stuart's an excellent player from a store near me so there was no easy first round.  This was actually the fourth time Stuart and I had faced each other in big games over the last six months or so.  Although I was up 2-1 in the head-to-head scores Stuart had won the one that mattered most when he dominated our Hyperspace Trial Final meeting back in October and flew rings round me.  I'd revenged myself since then in a little local store tournament but that just meant it was Stuart's turn to bag the spoils.  Stuart was also back to flying his favoured Rey in the Millenium Falcon, which I know he had tons of experience with.

I raced my TIEs out into the table as Stuart took the time to slowly unravel his opening fortress position in the opposite corner.  Zizi Tlo sprinted off to my left hand flank while Cova and Rey prepared to take me on in a joust.  For my part I split my forces, at least initially - I needed to dissuade Zizi from flanking in too easily, and I was never going to take the Falcon off in one round of firing anyway.


We opened up and Stuart's red dice were immediately spitting pure fire!  My brave TIE Interceptor managed to stay on the table but the poor pilot was wounded not just once, but twice.  But the Alpha Squadron Pilots are made of sterner stuff and even with two Wounded Pilot crits my boy's dedication to bringing peace and order to the galaxy was undimmed and he managed to squeeze the trigger with his teeth to return fire.  However hot Stuarts red dice has been his green dice stubbornly refused to roll evades and the Falcon started to melt rapidly.  

That scared Rey off and Stuart ducked her out towards the flank Zizi was already hugging.  As she turned away Rey finally put my Wounded Pilot out of his misery.  Sloane ensured that Rey picked up the double stress tokens that she would carry until the end of the game but with a Force token, Rose Tico crew and the Falcon title that stress would barely slow Stuart down.  But driving Rey away from my oncoming ships had left the way open for both wings of my attack to pounce on the now-isolated Cova Nell, taking her out. 

This was suddenly going very well for me: Stuart was down a ship, Rey was heading away from the fight and while I was busy shooting at other ships Zizi's extraordinary defensive abilities were redundant and he was no better than a generic A-Wing against my TIE's 3 agility.  The one worry I had was that Sloane had been left behind a little and she had to quickly scoot up the table to the TIE escorts, throwing Evade tokens out behind her to stay on the table.


With Sloane safe once again I went back to hitting Rey as the Falcon re-emerged from its long arc around the middle of the table.  Stuarts green dice remained as cold as ice and the Falcon disintegrated under the onslaught, with Zizi following rapidly.

WIN
1-0
That felt like a proper 'bullet dodged' moment and I'd hurdled a player who definitely had what it took to beat me.  Talking after the game I think Stuart had never fancied the matchup against Sloane much and he probably really needed his green dice to keep all his ships on the table long enough to whittle a few TIEs out of the attack... he'd got the opposite.


ROUND TWO - Pete Mason
6x TIE/sf generics

This was the only game of the day that was pretty straightforward, in the sense that neither of really did anything special we just hurled our TIE Fighters at each other and rolled a ton of dice until one of us was dead!

It was a trade that I was quietly confident I would win.  My I1 pilots would move first and would be able to pick exactly where to go and how to bump Pete's TIEs, and with 3 Agility it should be pretty hard going for Pete's red dice to punch through my greens - especially if I could keep his ships bumped and out of Focus tokens.  And really, that's pretty much what happened.  The first round of firing was pretty desultory - I took no damage while I stripped shields from one of Pete's TIE/sfs - then I managed to start laying bumps in and doing some real damage.

Pete definitely got unlucky when he decided to switch target priorities to the TIE Reaper only for me to roll 3 evade results out of hand, but I think he would always have struggled to reliably punch through my ships even if that hadn't happened and he was left up against my TIE Fighters.  As soon as he last a couple of ships he was always going to struggle mass enough firepower on one of my ships to really burn past the green dice and tokens to the hull underneath.

My team k-turned in behind and came back for a second pass, then it was down to just picking off the stragglers.

WIN
2-0


ROUND THREE - Will Whatley
2x Zealous Recruit, 2x Ion Scyk, 2x Tractor Scyk

After facing Stuart in the first round I now had another meeting with a frequent opponent of mine, Will Whatley.  Will and his dad are a regular fixture at most of the X-Wing tournaments up in my neck of the woods and we'd crossed swords a few times recently.  In fact I think he must come as a pair with Stuart Blucke as I think the last three tournaments I'd played against one of them I also got the other in another round!  Although he's only young the rate that Will is getting better at the game is really impressive and he's noticably a tougher opponent every time we meet.

Will was one of the players in Milton Keynes running my Sick Scyks Hyperspace squad.  I've played with this squad many times in preparing for the System Open but I've only played against it once - I had a mirror match with Ben Hibbert last weekend - and OH MY GOD it's a scary list to run into.  18 red dice with a bunch of control effects and tractoring tricks going on is enough to make any squad terrified of sitting in front of it.

I think the critical moment in these games is deciding who is first player and I pretty much always prefer to go second.  In doing so you hand the opponent one big advantage - he can land his ships and try to bump you and deny actions to your ships - but if you can avoid losing the game to that one turn when it's pretty much unavoidable that you get bumped then going second gives you a host of other advantages:

  1. They deploy first which can allow me to exploit any mistakes in positioning  
  2. My Interceptors could reposition to hunt his ships instead of having to worry about his Fangs boosting into R1 of me after I moved
  3. The turn after 'The Big Bump' Will would struggle to find space for his ships to move into while mine were still in the way
  4. The fact he moved his ships first would create space for mine to k-turn into space behind him
  5. Firing second meant I knew where to spend mods on defense, and where to focus fire on attack against ships that had spent their focus to fire

Will deployed his ships in a single jousting block in his corner, which isn't how I play the squad but certainly didn't hand me any weaknesses to exploit in his deployment.  The other four factors would all have a part to play in giving me the game, though.

I tried to push the Interceptors wide up the table to create a flank and get Will to split his forces but he stubbornly kept his jousting block together, spending the first couple of turns giving his ships all the same maneuvers dials, flipping them as one with a "they're all going to do a 5 straight and focus" or a "they're all going to do a 2 turn and focus".  As we went into the first engagement turn I was still facing a solid mass of red and green dice and I focused ensuring my ships were in places where I couldn't get tractored onto an asteroid and lose my shot.  We opened fire on each other, trading 31pts of TIE Interceptor for 28pts of Tractor Beam Scyk and half points on Will's lead Fang Fighter.


So far so good, but the next turn was likely to be decisive as we were heading for 'The Big Bump' and Will's big opportunity to break the back of my squad.

Setting dials for this turn took a while as I was trying to weigh up just what Will would do.  I expected the Scyks at the back of the formation to slow roll a 1 bank while the leading Fangs would push for blocks - that's what I would do.  It was going to be really difficult to navigate that much depth of table coverage and I'd almost resigned myself to virtually everything getting bumped and compensated by hurling the Reaper into an aggressive position so I could at least throw lots of red dice even if I wouldn't have dice mods on them.

Then Will made a tiny but critical mistake.  As he put his dials down he said "these dials are for those four, that dial is for him".

Until now Will had been placing and revealing all his dials for the squad at once.

I think I just got told that four of his ships were doing the same maneuver.

If they were doing the same maneuver it had to be a 2 bank not a 1 bank as the Fangs didn't have a 1 bank.  If the back ships were doing a 2 bank I definitely had room to K-Turn a TIE in behind, and my remaining Interceptor could throw an S-Loop (which people always forget Interceptors have on their dial in Second Edition) for a great position behind Will too.

I changed two of my dials and pulled the trigger.


The wounded Fang threw a 3-turn into blocking three of my TIEs which was a great move from Will, then the rest of his ships did the same 2 bank and focus that he'd signalled he was going to do.  My TIE and Interceptor dropped in right behind Will's ships and the Reaper lunged into range 1 as well.  The Big Bump was only half a bump - all my ships were stressed or bumped and I had no mods at all for the turn, but I had a lot of red dice to throw and a great position behind Will for following turns.
Will unloaded on my ships, killing one TIE and wounding another.  In return I picked on the healthy Fang at range 2 and took it off (I knew better than to hurl unmodded range 1 dice into Concordia Dawn Protector to try and kill the wounded Fang), then also took out Will's second Tractor Scyk with fire from the TIE that had dropped in behind it.

The game was all but over.  After surviving The Big Bump I had 5 ships up against 3 and now Will had to k-turn and stress his ships while mine could roll in behind him with focus.  It became 5 ships vs 2, then 5 ships vs 1.

WIN
3-0


ROUND FOUR - Sean McCherry
Obi/Mace/Ani/Broadside

I've not played against Sean before but judging by his 3-0 record and 186th Squadron t-shirt I expected that he knows which way to point his starfighters and would be a skilled opponent.  I won my one game against a very similar Jedi squad at the Sith Taker Open but in doing so I did find the Jedi's ability to both whizz about without gaining stress and focus their defense dice even if I bump them to be a bit of a challenge for Sloane.

Sean deployed most of his forces in the diagonally opposite corner to me, with Broadside hugging his baseline directly in front of me and ready to run away towards his friends.  I sniffed an opportunity to steal the advantage - the first game that I ever played with this squad was against a Skull Squadron Fang that did something similar and underestimated just how quick my TIE Interceptors were at... uh... intercepting fleeing ships.  They had hunted down and destroyed the Fang as it tried to run across the back line and I did the same to Broadside here.  A pair of 5-straights and boosts put my Interceptors right on the Y-Wings doorstep on the second turn.

You can tell it all started to get a bit more serious around here because this is the last photo I remembered to take in either of the last two rounds.  I'll get out my MS Paint drawing kit and try to show you how it played out, though...

I once again split my squad for that initial engage.  Unlike Howlrunner swarms I don't have the reliable dice mods to deal huge alpha striking damage up front so I can be more fluid in targetting.  The two Interceptors screamed in on Broadside, joined by a TIE and the Reaper for the killshot on the third turn.  The other three TIEs presented a threat on my flank to push the Jedi away, forcing Mace Windu to run wide and actually pushing some damage into Obi-Wan!


Broadside went first then both wings of my attack converged on little Anakin in his N1 Starfighter.  Unfortunately despite throwing the kitchen sink at Anakin I couldn't quite get the kill and the N1 slipped away, albeit badly damaged.  Sean had been busy too, though, and both Jedi had folded in behind my TIEs and started shipping damage into my TIE Reaper, which again had to run fast back towards me and sprinkle Evade tokens behind it to stay on the table.



My entire swarm hounded Anakin back into my deployment zone for the kill, then as Mace finally killed the first TIE Fighter of the game and gained double stress everybody k-turned to revenge themselves on Mace with the help of Sloane rerolls.  With points and time against him Sean had little choice but to fly both Mace and Obi-Wan into the teeth of the TIE swarm and hope to fight his way out.


Unfortunately for Sean there was just too much left to do and they were both destroyed.

WIN
4-0

I think this game is the perfect time to talk about the TIE Reaper's place in this squad because its speed and maneuvering were really showcased (well, relative to a Lambda Shuttle's maneuvering).  Despite starting the game with a bump on my baseline by turn 3 the TIE Reaper then screamed up the table with a couple of Aileron & 3-bank turns to get into position to kill Broadside deep inside Sean's side of the table.  In the midgame, when Sean's Jedi got around to targeting the Reaper and dealing out damage cards it was able to accelerate back towards my baseline with vital Evade tokens keeping it alive.  Finally, for the endgame, a banked aileron and 2-turn meant the Reaper turned more tightly than a Lambda Shuttle could and put the Reaper back onto the offensive. 

Throughout the game Sloane's R0-3 bubble had always been able to cover virtually every ship in the swarm as they zigzagged up and down the table to hunt Broadside and Anakin.  Sloane was right there alongside her swarm every step of the way, contributing red dice as well as her ability, and only the TIE Reaper would have been able to make that possible.

ROUND FIVE - Chris Cowley
Vader/Soontir/Fifth Brother

There were two people I really didn't want to get paired against for this final round.  The first was Tim King ('producer Tim' of the Sith Takers Snap Shot podcast and co-host of last week's Sith Taker Open).  Tim was also 4-0 and a friendly fire incident at the final hurdle would have been a sickener for both of us.  The second person I didn't want to meet was the Vennie list that had been on the table next to me but (thank christ!) he ultimately lost his round and Vennie couldn't wreck my TIE Swarm chances with Trajectory Simulator for the second week running.

Instead my opponent was Chris and his potent triple Imperial Aces: Vader, Super-Soontir with Stealth Device and Shield Upgrade, and the brand new Fifth Brother pilot in his TIE Advanced v1.  As we set up for the game Chris sung the praises of Fifth Brother a bit but I wasn't too impressed.  I rapidly discovered that I was wrong once the lasers started to fly - Fifth Brother's ability to add crits was terrifying to my flimsy little TIE Fighters and I'm sure the little pocket ace had delivered great value over the day for his measly 42pts.

There's a wonderful expression which is 'to catch a Tiger by the tail'.  It means, basically: "Well done, you caught a Tiger, but the other end of that Tiger has teeth and claws and you could get mauled to death at any second".  That was what this game felt like.  Even though I always felt like I was the protagonist in the game it seemed incredibly close right up to the moment where I suddenly and decisively won.  Chris' aces threatened to get away and turn the tables on me in every single turn.


Just as I did vs Sean in round four I split my forces, with a posse of TIE Fighters keeping Soontir and Darth Vader honest as the Interceptors screamed out to harass Fifth Brother.  Just as did vs Stuart in round one I then suddenly switched targets to commit the whole team into a killbox, and frankly I got so many guns pointing at a bumped Darth Vader that I was disappointed to see him scurry away with 2 hull remaining.

Chasing aces with TIE Fighters is futile so as Vader boosted away to safety I turned my attention to Soontir, though this time I missed my bump by about 2mm and Soontir slipped out of my killbox and also escaped into the distance.

Now I began to pay the price for ignoring Fifth Brother and he closed in behind Sloane's Reaper to start filling her with Crits.  I started to feel like that Tiger was about to round on me at any moment: I'd nailed a killbox on Vader and not got my reward and I'd narrowly missed landing one on Soontir.  You don't usually get many more chances against these guys and if the Reaper went he could start picking my TIEs off with impunity.


I needed to make the next killbox count and thankfully I did.  Darth Vader swept in behind the Fifth Brother to hunt my TIE Reaper but my swarm had seen it coming and I managed to bump both aces thanks to a boosting TIE Interceptor.  The Force was with me once again as, trapped at close range of my TIEs, both the aces exploded!

Chris looked about to offer his hand in congratulations but I think the prospect of a ticket to Worlds persuaded him to at least try and fight on.  However slim the odds of Soontir solo-ing his way through my swarm were... they were still his best odds of getting to Worlds!

After killing Fifth Brother and Vader I had one shot left to resolve in the turn - a range 2 unmodded shot from a stressed TIE Fighter into Chris' Soontir Fel and his Stealth Device.  Somehow my TIE chipped a damage in through Chris' green dice and turned off the Stealth Device.  Chris finally conceded defeat.

WIN 
5-0

So... what's good in Minnesota?


Well, I did not expect that this morning.  Especially after I had such a frustrating Saturday!  It just goes to show that you can't get too attached to individual results in a game like X-Wing.  I felt like I played really well with two good squads across the two days, and while the dice variance had gone against me on one day the Force had definitely been with me in a few important moments on the Sunday and it had all evened out over the two days.

In fact, not only did I go unbeaten to qualify for the World Championships but I even wound up topping the MOV leaderboard too!

And, happily, the Sith Taker's Tim King also qualified for Worlds with his TIE Advanced squad, coming in just a handful of MOV points behind me.




REFLECTIONS

Firstly I want to say thanks to all my opponents over both days of the System Open weekend - I didn't have a single bad experience, really.  Even as we approached the sharp end of the World Championships qualifier on Sunday afternoon we still managed to play with a chat and a smile.  Event organisation seemed to go off without a detectable hitch as well, aside from the obvious five minutes of 'who turned out the lights?' as Storm Ciara seemed to knock the event centre's power out for a little while.


Secondly, I'm so happy with this squad and how it flies.  It's really not like a Howlrunner-based TIE Swarm at all and I think it's all the better for that.  The promise of those rerolls and red dice that Howlrunner gives you is a siren call that's very hard to resist but it comes at the price of utter tactical inflexibility - you fly as a block, you hit as hard as you can while Howlrunner is still on the table and you hope it's going to get you far enough ahead to win the game.  Those who've slogged through my reports both from the Sith Taker Open and above from Milton Keynes will know just how often I split formation, spread myself wide, seek different angles and blocking positions.  You so rarely win with a decisive early blow but with positioning and blocking and those goddamn beautiful TIE Interceptors and their linked reposition actions.


And that Reaper.  What I thought was a bargain basement Sloane platform, a weakness that was a necessity to fit the Alpha Interceptors in, has proven to be a strength.  Unlike a Lambda the TIE Reaper has the speed to get into and out fights, can keep up with your roving TIE Interceptors in this dynamic squad, and the Evade action can be vital in keeping it on the table when a Reinforce could easily prove to be worse.  I loved the 'super' Reaper at the end of First Edition and it's so good to get this ship back onto the table!

And now if you'll excuse me, with a Worlds ticket secured so early in the season I need to go and brew up some jank to play for a change of pace!