Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Six Ages of X-Wing: 2) Twin Laser Palps

Welcome to the second part of my whistlestop tour through the development of the X-Wing metagame, what I have dubbed the Six Ages of X-Wing...
  1. Jurassic Park
  2. Twin Laser Palps 
  3. Scouts
  4. Veterans
  5. Mindlink
  6. Rebel Revenge

Let's set the scene...

It's August 2015.  The X-Wing players are having a wonderful party with their metagame: turrets like Han, Oicunn and Dash, aces like Corran, Jake and Soontir, and generic jousters like Blue Squadron Pilot, Tala Squadron Pilot and Obsidian Squadron Pilot swirling around each other in an intricate dance of one-upsmanship.  It's a cosy and familiar party because everyone knows their place, everyone knows how they fit together.  

This is how the game is.  It's how it's been for a long time.


Then, released two weeks apart during August, the Imperial Raider and Wave 7 crashed the party and X-Wing would never be the same again...


TWIN LASER PALPS

Of all the six 'ages' of X-Wing I'm going to talk about in this series of blogs I think this second age is probably the most important for understanding how we came to play X-Wing the way that we do now.  The period between Wave 7 and Wave 8 saw the old structures of the X-Wing metagame demolished entirely and replaced with something much more recognisable as what we see today.   Here are the top 20 pilots in Meta-Wing each month over this period...


Revolutions are rarely bloodless affairs.  There was chaos at first as the old order struggled to survive and fight off the Wave 7 insurgency, but from the ashes of the old world a new metagame was born and by February 2016 the transition was complete.

August 2015
  • Large Based Turrets
  • Autothruster Aces
  • Generic Jousters
February 2016
  • Palp Aces
  • TLT
  • Rebel Regen
  • Crack Swarm

EXECUTE ORDER 66

The Imperial Raider expansion thrust the two endgame bosses of Star Wars right into the metagame mix, with Darth Vader getting a much-needed buff to his ailing TIE Advanced and Emperor Palpatine finally arriving in the game.


Although Palpatine carried a hefty price tag (8pts, plus the shuttle he can ride in) players immediately seized on just how powerful his ability was and he soon ascended to his throne room at the top end of the metagame.  As Palpatine was an upgrade card not a pilot you have to track his progress indirectly through the Top 20 pilots, primarily through the rapid rise of the Omicron Group Pilot that was the cheapest Lambda Shuttle carrier for the Emperor but he also quickly found himself replacing the existing crew on board the Decimator.


Palpatine's impact on the Jurassic Park metagame was huge, primarily because he added an extra layer of impenetrable defence to the green dice of the Imperial Aces that had already been hanging around near the top of the game, like Soontir Fel, Whisper, or Darth Vader in his new and improved TIE Advanced.  

Until this point players knew what they needed to do to batter Imperial aces down - if you fired into all their green dice and tokens you'd struggle to scratch the paint, but if you could hit them multiple times in a turn they'd run out of tokens and your later shots would squeeze through.  That was the theory behind the likes of B-Wing & TIE swarms trying to catch Soontir in multiple arcs, and it was also the theory behind the likes of Gunner or Luke Skywalker in the large-based turrets trying to push for a second shot that would do the damage.


Palpatine's extra layer of dice-meddling changed all that.  Two shots weren't enough now, you'd likely need three or four, and Palp was also on duty if you managed to successfully bump your target ace as well.  The Emperor's ability to bend the Force to his dark ends transcended such trivialities, and as such he was a dagger to the heart of the existing metagame.  


The Jurassic Park era had seen Imperial aces used primarily alongside the Decimator a 'mini-swarm' of TIE Fighters.  By being able to flexibly support wherever the point of pressure was Palpatine changed the game, making it possible for Imperial players to bring two otherwise flimsy aces and trust the Emperor to help whichever was the enemy's target.  Palp Aces was born and it's a squad archetype that we can recognise as surviving largely unchanged to this day - the particular aces may switch in and out as the metagame demands, but the premise and strategy remains as valid now as it ever did.

Further still, the huge success of the Omicron Group Pilot really proved for the first time the viability of a dedicated support ship, particularly one able to influence the game from any range.  That's a theme which runs strongly through many of the most dominant squads of the next few years of metagame rotation, such as Manaroo.

The only thing going wrong for his Palpness at this point, was that he was about to be upstaged...



INTENSIFY FORWARD FIREPOWER!

It's not really possible to understate the impact that Twin Laser Turret had on competitive X-Wing.  

The fat turrets that had ruled over the Jurassic Park metagame couldn't compete with the raw firepower of all those turrets heading back at them - in the three turns it would take Han Solo to kill a single Y-Wing he would almost certainly die to the 72 red dice that were coming back his way.  The aces could hide behind tokens and Autothrusters against the incoming fire, but the raw number of shots they had to take meant their green dice were likely to fail eventually.  The B-Wings and Z-95s simply weren't fast enough to catch up to the Y-Wings and just melted under the fire.

From the second Wave 7 arrived the Syndicate Thug took over at the top of the metagame, with Quad TLT cutting a bloody swathe through almost anything else in the game.  Players running their BBBBZ and Flying Pancakes into the Quad TLTs were just replicating the futility of charges across a muddy battlefield into the face of machine gun fire.

For three straight months the Syndicate Thug was the #1 pilot in Meta-Wing. 


The Thug wasn't alone, though, and pretty much anything you could strap a TLT to became a solid body to put into the fray - even HWKs started to pick up wins!  Alongside the Y-Wings the new K-Wings were rapidly proving a potent force - you couldn't afford four of them like you could with the smaller Y-Wing, but you could bring three K-Wings with a few more toys.  Miranda Doni's powerful shield regeneration ability made her an instant success and a deadly late game finisher, while in the old timing rules TLT and Tactician combined to deal two stress tokens (one for each TLT 'attack').


The TLT/double-stress combination didn't stop there, though, and in fact it rolled on into the next turn of the metagame wheel.  The 'Stresshog' Y-Wing became one of the strongest counters to disrupting the action economy of the new Palp Ace squads.  With Emperor Palpatine adding to the defensive tokens of Soontir Fel, Darth Vader and Whisper it was all but pointless even trying to throw your red dice at the Imperial Aces.  But deny them actions with two stress tokens, that a green maneuver won't clear it all, and they became flimsy pinatas to squish at your leisure.

The Stresshog was a key part of a brand new Rebel archetype, one that we recognise very well today: Rebel Regen.


The Rebel faction had always had access to shield regeneration - R2-D2 was in the base set and Corran Horn had been putting Artoo to good use all through the Jurassic Park age of X-Wing.  But here, for the first time, was a squad where multiple ships with shield regeneration that formed a dedicated attempt to simply outlast the opponent over a long game.  That's a style of play that we recognise very well today - a clear ancestor to the likes of Fair Ship Rebels, Plot Armour, or Stressbunker.

Specific pilots and upgrades may have changed, but I think this squad is very recognisable as a 'modern' X-Wing squad.   It's also entirely unlike what was being played before TLT arrived in the game.


GANG WARFARE

This all spelled the end of the line for the old generic jousting model of squad - the B-Wings, Z-95s and Osidian Squadron TIEs.  Are you up against Palp Aces?  You can't hit them.  Are you up against Quad TLT?  You can't catch them.  Are you up against Rebel Regen?  You lose an attrition race.

Jurassic Park had seen many various builds of jousters - B-Wings, Z-95s, TIE Fighters, BTL Y-Wings - and during this period they virtually all went extinct.  All but one, which was able to change and adapt to find a new niche, in the process inventing another X-Wing squad archetype that we recognise very well today: the Alpha Strike.


Crack Swarm may superficially look like the TIE Swarms that had previously existed but although it retained most of the strengths of old TIE Swarms it was able to embrace something new and become a much more potent early game threat: the Crack Swarm had Crack Shot.


Crack Shot is ordnance.  It might sit in the EPT slot.  It might not require a target lock.  It may not mean you roll extra red dice.  But it's ordnance nonetheless.  When you equip & use Torpedoes and Missiles in an alpha strike you're spending points to launch a one-off attack that does more damage, hoping it will generate a game-winning advantage.  When you equip and use Crack Shot you're spending points to launch a one-off attack that does more damage, hoping it will generate a game-winning advantage.  It's the same strategy.

The alpha-strike may have really grabbed people's attention with Deadeye Scouts, but in truth the ability to cost-effectively alpha strike arrived a wave earlier than people commonly think.


And Crack Swarm answered all the problems that generic jousters faced.  Are you up against Palp Aces?  Crack Shot will push damage through their defences.  Are you up against Quad TLT?  Your TIEs are fast enough to catch them, and with Crack Shot you'll reduce incoming fire a lot faster.  Are you up against Rebel Regen?  Crack Shot will give you an early spike in damage that will overwhelm their ability to regenerate shields quickly enough.

It had to be the TIE Fighters.  They were fast, they were cheap enough to run as many as SIX copies of Crack Shot, with three green dice they had the best chance against TLT and with Howlrunner along for the ride they had the best chance to reliably deliver a decisive first strike.  The TIEs were the last swarm left standing because in Crack Swarm they invented the alpha strike - the dedicated attempt to win the game with one decisive blow at the start of the game.  That's also very recognisable as a modern X-Wing squad.


As you may have gathered so far, Wave 7 was a hammer blow that transformed the X-Wing metagame.  There were a couple of archetypes that survived relatively unscathed though.  The IG-88 'Brobots' had already demonstrated their ability to magpie the best pieces from the metagame around them, and during this time they were able to continue to evolve and prosper.  They had the speed and green dice of the TIE Fighters and Aces against the TLTs, they had the Crack Shots and Gunner abilities against the Aces, they had the punching power of Heavy Laser Cannons to burn down the regenerating Rebels. Brobots could adapt, Brobots could survive.


Also clinging to life was Dash Rendar, probably the last of the large base turrets really standing other than the new Palpatine-laden Decimators.  The heady days of the YT-2400 chassis being able to support multiple pilots in the Top-20 were long gone but Dash's long range playstyle and firepower meant he was better suited than some of the competing turrets for survival in the post-TLT landscape. 


Dash's model was pretty much unchanged, and in truth the rise of Miranda Doni as a competing Rebel turret in the second half of this period meant Dash was running on fumes by the time Wave 8 arrived, but he only had to make it to the finish line in one piece and wait for Kanan Jarrus to jump aboard for a second lease of life.



SUMMARY

Its February 2016 and X-Wing is a different game now.

This second age in my breakdown of X-Wing metagame history is a pivotal one in the development of the game we now play, and like any point of pivot there's a before and there's an after.  The first three months, with Syndicate Thugs and Imperial Aces pinned to the top of the metagame, were about breaking down what had gone before and proving the point that it simply wasn't going to work any more.  The second period, particularly through the run of Store Championships in January and February, saw players adapting to the new game and developing new strategies.

You see the two halves of this period played out in that Top-20 pilots table, with large turrets and jousters dropping away, before Miranda, Poe, Omega Leader and Black Squadron TIEs start their rise in the second half.


It's this second period in particular where we see the foundations laid for the types of squad we're still playing today: super-tanky Rebels, super-defensive Palp Aces, Twin Laser Turret spam, super-aggressive Crack Swarms.

Somewhere during this era the game had shifted gears.  It was now clear that squads needed a plan and they needed to commit to it fully.  Bringing 100pts of ships and trying to work it out on the table was no longer going to be good enough because players who had spent time planning their squads carefully before they got to the table were now able to build an unassailable advantage.  That advantage could come from overwhelming offense (alpha strikes and TLT spam) or overwhelming defense (regen and Palpatine), but there would usually be an attempt to dedicate at least a significant portion of your squad to doing one or the other as well as you possibly could.


That's not to say that nothing now changes in X-Wing from here on forwards.  I've got four more ages to cover yet and there's some pretty big missing pieces that are yet to arrive, such as buffs for ordnance -Torpedoes, Bombs and Missiles - for instance.  But I would argue that in most instances those changes happen within the overarching structure of 'modern X-Wing' and the types of archetypes laid down during these pivotal few months.  Overwhelming offense, overwhelming defense, intense synergies and card combinations.

I think it's also important to recognise that this period was one of seismic change for X-Wing, even outside of the impact of new waves, pilots and upgrades.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released into cinemas alongside a new Core set, and all this happened to coincide with many disenchanted players of other systems like Warhammer 40k who were hanging about looking for something new to play.  The X-Wing Miniatures Game exploded in popularity between November and February (I've seen estimates that it doubled in size), picking up more casual players who just liked Star Wars as well as attracting more hardcore competitive gamers from other systems.


It's anecdotal, but I've often heard that there was a shift in just how many players were trying their hardest to actually win at X-Wing rather than just play the ships and squads they enjoyed.  Arguably a revolution in the most powerful upgrades and squads in the game arrived at the same time as a revolution in the players who were playing that game, with the huge shift towards 'modern X-Wing' a result of both factors at once rather than one or the other in isolation.

Regardless of whether it was design-led or community-led, though, the game that emerged from the Store Championships in February 2016 was completely different to that which had been played in the previous tournament season, and much closer to what we're still playing today.


NEXT UP: Scouts & Veterans

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The Six Ages of X-Wing: 1) Jurassic Park

Welcome to the first in a little series of blogs in which I'm going to run through three years of X-Wing metagame history.  

Many of you will know how enamoured I am with Meta-Wing, and as part of that I had been collecting the Top 20 pilots each month from Meta-Wing's ranking.  Over time I've also had my curiosity piqued and so look backwards at previous months, going all the way back to January 2015.  It's a long term top-level view of the X-Wing metagame that I've not really seen people discuss very often, and which I personally find pretty fascinating.

While these days we become obsessed with churning the metagame almost week-on-week, a view back over three years is a very different perspective and can tell us a lot about how we got to the place we're currently at.

In brief I think I can split a little over three years of X-Wing history into six 'ages', which are often very clearly delineated from each other as new expansions arrive and throw the game off into a new direction.  Those six ages are:
  1. Jurassic Park
  2. Twin Laser Palps 
  3. Scouts
  4. Veterans
  5. Mindlink
  6. Rebel Revenge
In the coming blogs I'm going to lead us on a whistle-stop tour through the last few years and how these epochs differed from each other.




Jurassic Park

The earliest period I've gone back to, what I call Jurassic Park covers the period in 2015 before Wave 7 including the arrival of Scum & Villainy as a faction in Wave 6.

And why call it Jurassic Park?  Well it was nearly titled 'The Land That Time Forgot' because for many players peering back this far through the mists of time will reveal that the metagame was almost unrecognisably different to the one that we play in today.  By way of illustration: here are the Top 20 pilots for the months of 2015 up to the release of Wave 7.


Obsidian Squadron TIE Fighters?  Captain Oicunn?  Whisper and Echo?  B-Wings and Z-95s?  What the hell was going on?!?!?

Welcome.  To Jurassic Park.


Even though they'd just been hit with a rules change that they gave up half MOV when damaged, large-based turrets were at the top of the X-Wing food chain.  Even though there was only three ships that fit the bill for this (YT-1300, YT-2400, VT-49 Decimator) there was typically five or six pilots from those ships appearing in the Top-20 each month.  

The turrets rode at the head of the metagame so strongly that it wasn't just the names we recognise now, like Han Solo, Dash Rendar and Rear Admiral Chiraneau that were at the top of the food chain.  Alongside them there was room for Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, Leebo, Eaden Vrill, Captain Oicunn and Commander Kenkirk too.  It didn't really matter too much what the pilot was - so long as they were in a large-based turreted ship they were going to be punching their weight.

These big guys most frequently worked alongside an ace pilot - Whisper or Echo on the Imperial side, Corran Horn on the Rebel side, as we can see in these examples...


The large based turret ships were already a heavy points investment to begin with and you commonly saw that investment protected by sinking even further points into a raft of upgrades.
  • Rear Admiral Chiraneau - 46 + 18pts of Upgrades = 64pts 
  • Han Solo - 46 + 17pts of Upgrades = 63pts 
  • Captain Oicunn - 42+ 17pts of Upgrades = 59pts 
  • Dash Rendar - 36 + 22pts of Upgrades = 58pts

When you've sunk 60-65% of your squad points into a single ship it's important that it delivers value for those points, and although they might start out in different places you tended to see very similar thought processes going into what was loaded on the ship - dice mods & engine upgrade were pretty much all anyone cared about!  That meant offensive dice mods like Predator/Lone Wolf, backed by Gunner or Luke Skywalker for pushing damage past those pesky aces and their defensive tokens.  On the defensive side it meant things like C-3PO, the original Millenium Falcon Evade title, Ysanne Isard or Rebel Captive.  And a lot of the time it meant Engine Upgrade to boost out of arc of enemy ships, which was why it was so important to have upgrades that worked without requiring an action to be spent on them.

Dash Rendar and the YT-2400 didn't have access to a lot of these tools, but it's worth taking a moment to look at just how Dash was being kitted out back in 2015.  It turns out that there was two clear routes to putting Dash onto the table, both of which are familiar to us now.


By far the most popular was Push The Limit with Engine Upgrade, using Dash's repositioning ability to keep his opponents at arms length.  A critical difference to modern versions of Dash, though, was that Kanan Jarrus was around yet so the YT-2400 was pinned to its limited green moves if it wanted to clear stress.  By comparison there was a cheaper version that ran Lone Wolf and no Engine Upgrade, living with Barrel Roll as its only reposition but able to call on the full might of the YT-2400's dial each turn.  Push The Limit was more popular, but if anything Lone Wolf was a little bit more successful, in part because it let you invest more points into a stronger wingman - in this example it was the difference between Corran Horn taking an Engine Upgrade or not.


And after Wave 6 brought Autothrusters into the game the aces of choice rapidly changed to those who could equip them.  With so many players using big turrets it made sense to fly an ace that had some protection against a turret, so you saw Soontir Fel and Jake Farell really taking over the top spots...


The truth is, though, that the large-based turrets were so popular in the metagame that it didn;t really matter too much what you paired them with.  While most people chose a high PS ace there were successful builds that simply managed to cram two of the large turrets into one squad, like Double Decimators or the 'Flying Pancakes' archetype that was various recipes of cutting corners to fit a YT-1300 and YT-2400 into 100pts, like this example...


These large based turrets were the dominant force in the metagame, and what else could prosper was determined, in large part, by whether they had the firepower or numbers to drag down one of these large lumbering beasts.


The main competition for the large turreted ships was swarms of cheap and efficient generic fighters.  In most cases this was the opposite end of the spectrum to the likes of Fat Han, with many squads eschewing upgrade cards entirely to maximise the raw number of red dice and hit points it could throw onto the table.  This worked pretty well against the big turrets in some ways - it would take Han several turns to chew through a B-Wing, and C-3PO can only add an evade to one attack, not five - but in other ways it was weak, as trying to keep those big turrets in the arc of multiple ships with lower pilot skill was... problemetic.


The low pilot skill jousters created their own little metagame way down at the opposite end of the field, as they jockeyed for the highest PS with each other, and this explains some of the more unexpected choices here.  From a modern perspective the Obsidian Squadron TIE Fighter is an anathema, and yet we find it the most popular TIE back in 2015.  The Obsidian Squadron TIE was part of a pilot skill food chain, preying on PS2 Blue Squadron Pilots and Bandit Squadron Pilots, who in turn preyed on PS1 Academy Pilots and Binayre Pirates.  Obsidian Squadron TIE had it's own predators as well, though, as the Tala Squadron Z-95 and Dagger Squadron B-Wing could trump it at PS4.

It was a different world, a different metagame, a different time.  Low pilot skill swarms like this were pushing right at the bleeding edge of raw cost efficiency that you could achieve in the game, and reaping their rewards.  And as well as fuelling their own dedicated swarms this was also really the last era where the concept of the 'mini-swarm' really made sense.


Trying to have their cake and eat at least some of it, you'd see fat turrets and a few cheap jousters, or an ace and a few cheap jousters.


There's one other squad that I want to highlight here, which is really a brand new efficient jousting squad made possible by Scum & Villainy.  It's worth the highlight not really so much because of how popular it was at the time but because of what it's about to become...


Twin laser Turret didn't exist yet, but there were still some brave fools running quad Y-Wings and using the BTL-A4 title with Ion Cannons.  Like I said, this early incarnation of Thug Life wasn't a big deal at the time, but it was the first sign of what was coming down the pipe in Wave 7...  


Three Pillars of X-Wing

A classic piece of X-Wing theory is that there's three pillars to the game: Jousters beat Turrets who beat Arc-Dodgers who beat Jousters.  I'm not sure how true that maxim is today as the game has become more complex, but back in Jurassic Park it's actually kind of staggering just how cleanly you can split the entire metagame into those three pots...


If you think I'm being pedantic and that I'm just trying to fit all these things into the three pots then I'll challenge back and say that, in modern X-Wing, there's many ships that wouldn't fit so neatly.  Would Lowhrick fit into any of these categories?  Or Norra Wexley?  Or Captain Rex, or Asajj Ventress, or Colonel Vessery, or arc-locked Rey...

I've not had to work hard to apply these three pillars to the 2015 metagame... because they WERE the 2015 metagame.


Scum & Villainy

And into this mass of large based turrets, aces and jousters was dropped the Scum & Villainy faction, with an initial wave of ships noticably absent of large based turrets, competent aces, or cheap effective jousters.  Good luck!


The only Scum archetype to really meaningfully stick during this period was Brobots, which kind of ploughed it's own furrow as an offshoot of running two aces alongside each other.  

Although they didn't fit cleanly into any of the three pillars the Brobots were able to carve out a niche as a frankenstein's monster of all the pieces that had been working for other squads during this era.  They combined impressive action economy and token defence thanks to Push The Limit and IG-88C's pilot ability, an equivalent to the Gunners that the fat turrets used in IG-88B's pilot ability, a slice of the large-based turret's raw hull points stacked behind the ace's green dice, a higher pilot skill than the swarms, and access to the hot new tool of Autothrusters to fight the turrets.  


They might not quite have fit the three pillars so cleanly but all the pieces that went into the Brobots had been proven strong in their own right in other squads.  As the rest of the scum faction struggled to make an impact the IGs were a beacon to anybody looking to use their new bounty hunter toys.


Exit Through The Gift Shop

So as we prepare to leave Jurassic Park behind and move onto the next age, what have we learned that's important to us in modern X-Wing?

Well, first of all I'd like to say that a lot of this is just setting the scene for what is to come.  We have to establish the players in our drama (Rebel, Imperial, Scum) and what they were like before events outside their control thrust them into motion.  In the actual Jurassic Park movie this is like the part where Sam Neill is scaring the kid with the Velociraptor claw, or the hapless worker is dragged into the raptor cage.


But, even so, there are things that we can learn here that matter today.  The first, particularly for players who've joined the game in the last two years, is a better understanding of where some of the complaints and nostalgia from older players come from.  If you've got that one guy in your playgroup who is constantly harping on about needing B-Wings to be good again, well the chances are that this is what he's dreaming of.  Don't worry, in a few years you'll be doing the same thing about wanting to put your Auzitucks and K-Wings back onto the table again.


It's also where, I think it's fair to say, the concept of the 'miniswarm' last really made any sort of sense.  That sort of 'I can half make an ace squad and half make a swarm squad, and it'll just work out in how I fly them on the table' bit of game theory was about to get left in the dust as X-Wing kicked up a gear.  Modern squads need strong plans and they usually need to commit fully to them but I think you can see in some of these squads above that it wasn't always so.  What you took to the table tended to matter less than what you did with them once they were there.

And that, in turn, is where a lot of the complaints about modern 'Combowing' come from.  Look how many squads were running with bare minimum upgrades or none at all.  Although I'm going to immediately call BS on that, because we've also seen just how much the large base turreted ships and their accompanying aces were deep into 'Combowing' territory already.  What's changed, I think, is that back here there was alternatives to 'Combowing' if you wanted to explore them, and if you just wanted to throw a naked swarm of B-Wings and Z-95s onto the table then you could fly them well and get results.

Today those sorts of upgrade-free experiences are much rarer.

So far, so negative.  But there's another bank of learnings to take away... although these dinosaurs may no longer rule the world they're not entirely extinct.  There are odd sightings here and there, and more importantly there are many strands of DNA that are being used to recreate them into the modern world.


We've talked about Dash Rendar and how there were two versions - Push The Limit and Lone Wolf - those builds consolidate into the Push The Limit version when Kanan Jarrus arrived to help Dash clear his stress.  For a long time Dash was superglued to his Push The Limit EPT, but when he was finally driven from the metagame is was the players with the longer memories who remembered the Lone Wolf version, and began working on bringing Dash back in a new form.  Similarly although many players scoffed when Leebo won the European Championships I'm sure George Dellapina (who bagged that title) will have been mindful that there had been times in the past when Leebo had been a perfectly decent option in place of Dash.

Gone.  But not forgotten.  


There are good reasons why most of these squads and builds disappeared from X-Wing tables.  But there were equally good reasons why they had once been dominant.  Smart players with long memories will occasionally pull on those strands to revive, re-engineer and re-envision what had gone before, ready for a new age.

Now you can too.


NEXT UP: Twin Laser Palps

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Some Squads What I Wrote

Wow. 

November, huh?

That's a long time that's gone by since I last wrote a blog.  Almost 9 parsecs.  A long time.

Well, let's start back off slowly and I'll just share a few squads I've been playing with in all the time I've not been blogging, just to prove to myself I can actually still get round to sitting down and writing something...


Hibernation Sickness (Han's eyesight will return... in time)


This is a squad for the Original Trilogy format, which only allows ships that appear in Episodes IV-VI.  It's one of the more common alternate tournament formats and a favourite among a lot of old school X-Wing players who want to remember the the good old days of TIE Fighters and B-Wings without having to deal with the likes of Dengar, Asajj, Fenn Rau or the Ghost.


As thematic and as fun as the tournament format is, it also has one pretty major problem: Fat Han is an utter beating.  Basically the tournament format includes one of the most dominant squad lists the game has seen (a fully loaded Han Solo), but most of the things that have since kept him from dominating aren't allowed, so in many OT tournaments Han just runs wild.

This squad was shamelessly built with one key objective: beat Han.


Darth Vader & Soontir Fel are two classic Imperial Aces so their inclusion isn't too unusual, and the magic in the squad is in the TIE Bomber.  I can't remember precisely where I stole this bomber build from, but I'm going to go ahead and make a wild guess and say Duncan Howard won a Hyperspace Qualifier with it in his squad (it could be another player in another event... anyway, I saw it win something and shamelessly stole it).  

It's a FANTASTIC build for playing against a two-ship squad, especially one like Fat Han where the weighting in the opponent's squad is so heavily towards one of the two ships.  Kylo Ren lets you blind and debuff your opponent's main ship for large portions of the game, while Agent Kallus keeps your dice modded against them despite Kylo grabbing your actions.

The only other real piece of 'tech' in the squad was that I deliberately kept the bomber a cheap Scimitar so that I could take Homing Missiles on Vader and bring a bid.  I wanted to give Soontir a good chance of winning the bid against other PS9 pilots, and Homing Missile on Vader was likely to come in worthwhile against dodgy aces that my opponents brought.

And did it work?


I'm happy to report that it did!  I won the Original Trilogy tournament that I played in, and I completely ran rings around a Fat Han squad in the final.  Huzzah!


Wretched Hive

The Wretched Hive is my catch-all term for a family of scum squads that I've had fun trawling out from time to time over the last year or so.  It's intention is always the same - to feature janky combinations, odd control effects, and pilots or ships that you might not normally see played.

The reason it's been a theme I've constantly returned to is because:
  1. it's a lot of fun to fly
  2. it wins WAY more than you'd expect it to and constantly catches people out

The original Wretched Hive featured four copies of Attani Mindlink, before it was nerfed, but it laid down the template that has been followed ever since.
  • Sarco Plank - Attani Mindlink, Pattern Analyser, Spacetug Tractor Array
  • Serissu - Attani Mindlink, Heavy Scyk, Tractor Beam
  • Palob Godalhi - Attani Mindlink, Ion Cannon Turret
  • Concord Dawn Ace - Attani Mindlink, Concord Dawn Protector, Autothrusters

Two tractors beams, ion tokens from Palob, and stealing the opponent's tokens to boot.  The Concord Dawn Ace was in as the damage to actually remove opposing ships after the rest of the squad had finished toying with it.

On paper this is a janky pile, but I repeatedly found it just had so much annoying control that even strong squads would rapidly get tangled up and be unable to function.  Once the likes of Quickdraw or Fenn Rau got sucked into the spider's web their demise was just a matter of time!  Wretched Hive just had one critical problem: large ships.  Large ships make Tractor Beam and Ion Cannon sad and it was always an uphill struggle to take on the likes of Asajj and Dengar.

Would it have ever been good without four copies of Attani Mindlink powering it along?  Maybe not, and when Mindlink got nerfed to two copies per squad the Wretched Hive took a break.

I recently returned to the Wretched Hive format when I realised I'd never actually put a Kimogila onto the table.


Tractor tokens from Unkar Plutt... check.
Ion tokens from Inaldra... check.
Stealing opponent's stuff with Thweek... check.
Big gun on Dalan... check.

This modernised version of Wretched Hive reminded me how much fun I'd always had with it in the past, and I've had a couple of friends pick it up and come back with good results.  One put it onto the table against his store's best player only to be met with derision at some of the choices in the squad... then won 100-0.  Happy days!

And if you want to do it all a bit differently, maybe with a bit of Mindlink still there and some more green dice...


The spirit of the Wretched Hive lives on.  Wherever in the galaxy there is jank, wherever there is unloved pirates or luckless bounty hunters... there is a wretched hive waiting to be born.



Jump Jump Scump

This is my current project, which has gone through a few iterations to reach the form you see here...
  

It started out with somebody posting a version of the squad that was just three Contracted Scouts with Expertise, Rigged Cargo Chute and Anti-Pursuit Lasers.  I think it was posted mainly as a joke, but it triggered a memory in me of a similar squad that I blogged about when Attani Mindlink was just beginning to explode in popularity, so I wanted to give it a bit more of a chance.

I tinkered with the triple Expertise squad a bit over a few games but ultimately kept struggling to keep the three Scouts from getting in each other's way because they all wanted to be doing the same thing.  

Going back to the original Mindlink squad I saw that only two of his Jumpmasters were dedicated to bumping while the third brought a Torpedo threat, and that led me to swapping out the third Contracted Scout for a Scurrg bomber.  It immediately made all the difference in how the squad worked together on the table, and I've been enjoying it greatly.

A 4k huh?  Sorry about that...
Three ships, all tough, and a lot of hull and shield the opponent has to work through.  A lot of disruption and control effects, bumping and taking up space with Rigged Cargo Chutes and Cluster Mines, with all my ships able to S-Loop or T-Roll into position to sow destruction right in front of the enemy's advance.  Powerful offense in Harpoon Missiles, but also the added distraction factor of Boba Fett crew on the Jumpmaster, with my beloved A Score To Settle to help force the crits.

This squad was built from the ground up to be something I'd enjoy flying, and I've certainly succeeded in that, but there's always a little bit of me that still enjoys trying to build genuinely good squads.  I found one in that PS10 Rebel Alpha strike list I wrote about at the end of last year, and while I've not had that sort of success with this yet... yeah, I think it has potential, at least.

What's interesting is that this past weekend a semi-similar squad of triple Jumpmasters performed very well for Marcel Manzano when it took it into the Top-8 of a 100+ player Regional.  


Same squad?  No.  But not entirely unrelated, and that gives me added confidence that the good feels I'm getting from my list aren't entirely a figment of my imagination.  The humble Contracted Scout may have lost its torpedoes and droids, but it's still a phenomenally efficient package, especially given it has an EPT slot to play with.



There you go.  I can finish a blog after all.  See you again in, uh... July?