Continuing my mini-series looking at how new players should approach buying into a new Faction this is my buying guide for the glorious Imperial Fleet.
As with the Rebels guide I'm going to do this a couple of different ways - a top level summary of what's in each pack, this is followed by a quick rundown of the pack so you get an idea of what you might want from it. I'm going to talk about what other expansions you might need to get to really get the best out of the ships you buy, then go through a few possible routes for how to build your Imperial fleet from square one.
One thing that I think is quite different between the Imperial and Rebels is that the vast majority of successful Imperial lists come out as variations on particular templates that revolve around a particular expansion. I call these templates 'hubs' and you'll see me use that phrase a few times in this blog. For reference I think the four hubs, and their central expansions, are:
- Swarms (Core Set)
- Decimator (VT-49 Decimator)
- Aces (Imperial Aces)
- Defenders (Imperial Veterans)
IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION
Most of what I'm going to talk about is regarding rating ships by how popular they are in strong lists that have proven themselves popular in the X-Wing game, particularly those getting used frequently in competiive squads. The bar for entry in my mentioning a pilot/upgrade is set pretty high, therefore.
Many ships/pilots/upgrades can be played with and had fun with and done well with that I'm not going to mention, just because if you don't set the bar quite high you wind up talking about almost everything and it stops being a guide, just a list of contents.
If you want to explore a ship despite what I say, then please do! If you think I've ignored a great card you love to play with then please continue to play with and enjoy that card!
Remember: a guide is not a set of strict commandment, it's exactly what it claims to be... purely a guide.
The humble TIE Fighter remains as efficient and effective today as it was when the game was first released, with the basic Academy Pilot almost certainly the single best use of 12pts in the game. If you are interested in building a TIE Swarm (or mini-swarm) at any point then you WILL need at least one TIE Fighter expansion pack for the utterly essential Howlrunner. The main question you need to answer is how many TIE Fighters you think you will need and whether you're best sourcing them from the Core Set and Gozanti Assault Carrier, where you'll get some more variety in pilots than just bulk-buying this expansion.
Also of Interest: Crack Shot (Kihraxz Fighter, Hound's Tooth, Imperial Veterans)
The TIE Advanced had not aged as well as the TIE Fighter, at least until the release of the Imperial Raider breathed new life into the old ship. The TIE Advanced has some interesting pilot abilities for casual play that might warrant getting a second ship but for competitive play you pretty much only ever see Darth Vader behind the controls and to get Darth Vader you'll need to buy this expansion. Buying this expansion probably goes hand-in-hand with buying the Imperial Raider - you won't want to run the TIE Advanced without the Raider's upgrades but you also probably won't want to run the TIE Advanced model you get in the Raider without Darth Vader!
Also of Interest: Predator (TIE Defender, Kihraxz Fighter, Ghost), TIE/x1 (Imperial Raider), Advanced Targeting Computer (Imperial Raider), Engine Upgrade (Millenium Falcon, Hound's Tooth).
The Imperials introduced Slave I in Wave 2 but it's the Scum & Villainy faction that really gets the best out of it as their pilot card for Boba Fett is much better than what the Imperials get. You're not really going to get much use from Slave I in an Imperial squad, no matter how cool it looks. Bounty Hunters. We don't need their scum. But what we DO need are some of the juicy upgrade cards that come with Slave I, like Veteran Instincts, Gunner and Stealth Device.
Also of Interest: Boba Fett (Most Wanted) to use Slave I in Scum squads.
The TIE Interceptor expansion is in a very similar boat to the TIE Advanced expansion. You won't really want to play Interceptors without the Imperial Aces expansion, which includes two Interceptor models, but the best TIE Interceptor pilot (and arguably best pilot in the game) Soontir Fel is only available in this expansion. You can pretty much open this pack and take out Soontir Fel's pilot card then put the rest of it back on the shelf to gather dust.
Also of Interest: Push The Limit (Imperial Aces, A-Wing), Royal Guard TIE (Imperial Aces), Autothrusters (StarViper), Stealth Device (Slave I, M3-A Scyk)
The Lambda Shuttle serves one key purpose - ferrying Emperor Palpatine into battle to spur your glorious Imperial pilots to even greater feats of excellence. For its low cost the shuttle has some fantastic stats but is hobbled by one of the worst maneuver dials of any ship. The shuttle's raw stats mean it's not a dead loss without Palpatine aboard - you can strap a cannon to it and use at long range artillery - but 99% of the time it's purely there for Palpatine.
Also of Interest: Emperor Palpatine (Imperial Raider)
For the longest time the TIE Bomber was a ship that had no purpose as Bombs/Torpedoes were rubbish, so having a ship designed specifically to carry them didn't bode well. That all changed when Guidance Chips arrived in Wave 8 and then Imperial Veterans brought new Bomber pilots and an interesting new title to switch your ordnance for crew slots. I still don't think Bombers are a must-buy ship but they at least now have both a clear purpose and some interesting options to explore. If you're interested in Bombers than absolutely buy Imperial Veterans first, but if you're going down the Torpedoes route then you're likely to want more than one Bomber, in which case you should probably alternate Imperial Veterans and TIE Bomber expansions.
Also of Interest: TIE Shuttle (Imperial Veterans), Guidance Chips (Inquisitor's TIE, Punishing One), Plasma Torpedoes (TIE Punisher, K-Wing, Punishing One), Extra Munitions (TIE Punisher)
In virtually one upgrade card (the TIE/x7 title) the Imperial Veterans expansion has transformed the TIE Defender from a bloated overcosted nothing to one of the strongest ships in the game. Much as with the TIE Bomber you will want to buy Imperial Veterans first but then adding a second TIE Defender with this expansion is highly recommended. You get 2x TIE/x7 titles in Imperial Veterans and Colonel Vessery works very well with Countess Ryad from Veterans so running the two TIE Defenders alongside each other is a very powerful combination. If it sweetens the deal for you then remember that you also get Predator, the go-to Elite Pilot Talent for improving the damage output of any ship.
Also of Interest: Twin Ion Engine MKII (TIE Punisher), TIE/x7 (Imperial Veterans), Countess Ryad (Imperial Veterans), Juke (TIE/fo)
I love the TIE Phantom. LOVE IT. With it's cheeky cloaking/decloaking shenanigans there's no other ship in the game that can fly like the TIE Phantom and for that reason alone I would always recommend it as a purchase, just to broaden your horizons and switch things up a bit now and then. We've moved on a long way from the time when TIE Phantoms ruled the skies of X-Wing but Whisper is still a powerful pilot who creeps in and wins tournaments when people aren't paying attention. Added gravy: you get Tactician and Fire Control System upgrades, which are pretty common additions to a lot of different ships.
Also of Interest: Veteran Instincts (Millenium Falcon, Slave I, Shadow Caster), Agent Kallus (Imperial Assault Carrier), Intelligence Agent (Lambda Shuttle, HWK-290)
Imperial Aces really served one purpose - it rescued the TIE Interceptor from oblivion and made everyone just really REALLY hate playing against them instead. You're in this expansion to add TIE Interceptors to your aces squads, and as such this is a highly skillful expansion rather than one for beginners as TIE Interceptor aces like Soontir Fel or Carnor Jax are incredibly powerful if you get them right but die almost instantly if you play them badly. There is tremendous power in this expansion, but it comes at a price of suffering through all your mistakes until you learn to fly them well.
Also of Interest: Soontir Fel (TIE Interceptor), Autothrusters (StarViper), Stealth Device (Slave I, M3-A Scyk)
The VT-49 Decimator is a unique addition to the Imperial arsenal in that it's the only Imperial ship to carry a turret with a 360 degree firing arc - that turret means it transforms how Imperial squads approach games. The Decimator is an incredibly flexible platform that can be built in countless different ways: maximising damage, maneuvering or survivability, and equally at home ramming opponents or speeding away from them. It's one of the 'hubs' of competitive Imperial lists and the "Decimator & ???" squads have frequently performed well, with the Decimator appearing alongside top escort ships like Darth Vader, Soontir Fel or Whisper's TIE Phantom. The Decimator is a ship I'm happy to recommend for both casual and competitive use, although bear in mind it doesn't really fit into other lists as much as it demands that other ships fit into its plan!
Also of Interest: Emperor Palpatine (Imperial Raider), Predator (TIE Defender, Kihraxz Fighter, Ghost), Engine Upgrade (Millenium Falcon, Hound's Tooth), Rebel Captive (Lambda Shuttle), Gunner (Slave I, YT-2400)
Once you step down this dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.
The Imperial Raider marks a real decision point for anybody developing their Imperial fleet - it's an expensive purchase for an Epic ship you may never play with but it contains one of the most essential cards for Imperial players: Emperor Palpatine. Alongside the Emperor comes the upgrades to make Darth Vader's TIE Advanced a potent threat so the Imperial Raider isn't just a purchase to get one card... but it's close.
Committing to buying the Imperial Raider is really a signal that you're going to take your Imperial fleet seriously because adding the Emperor can be a power boost to almost any Imperial squad. You will see Palpatine's Lambda Shuttle accompanying any collection of Imperial Aces and riding with the new improved TIE Defenders, and you'll also frequently see Palpatine aboard a Decimator. You can always get by without Emperor Palpatine, running three Aces or three Defenders instead of bringing the shuttle for instance, but it's usually proven more powerful to give in to your anger and embrace the dark side fully.
Also of Interest: Omicron Group Pilot (Lambda Shuttle), VT-49 Decimator (Decimator), Darth Vader (TIE Advanced)
The TIE Punisher looks awesome - it's this hulking ball of death that squats beetle-like on the table with weapon pods bristling with devastating ordnance. Unfortunately it's also terrible and one of the strongest contenders for worst ship in the game. The Punisher's dial is diabolical and the points it demands you spend to load up all those weapon pods are a huge risk considering how quickly it will die if your opponent decides to focus on it. Casual players: Deathrain is really cool if you want to play with bombs. Competitive players: you're more likely to buy this for two copies of Twin Ion Engine MkII, which only comes in this expansion and really helps the TIE Defenders out, or Plasma Torpedoes and Extra Munitions for your TIE Bombers.
Also of Interest: Guidance Chips (Inquisitor's TIE, Punishing One), Conner Net (K-Wing, Ghost), Proximity Mines (Slave I, IG-2000, Imperial Veterans)
Imperial Assault Carrier
The Imperial Assault Carrier is nowhere near as essential as the Imperial Raider, thankfully, and in many ways it supports the TIE Swarm squads that the Raider doesn't really help. I think the ideal time to pick up the Assault Carrier is when you're still looking to expand your TIE Fighter collection to a full swarm because that way you can sort of mentally discount about half of the cost of the Carrier as it's replacing two TIE Fighter expansions you were going to buy anyway. The payoff for picking up the Carrier over two Fighters is mainly in new TIE Fighter pilots like Wampa and Scourge, with Agent Kallus a crew option that frequently goes into the TIE Phantom.
Also of Interest: Whisper (TIE Phantom)
At the moment the TIE/fo is proving to be the poor cousin of the classic TIE Fighter just because it's that little bit more expensive, meaning you usually have to cut a ship from your swarm to play TIE/fos over the original TIE Fighters. That said, probably the two best TIE/fo pilots (Zeta & Omega Leaders) appear in this expansion. Omega Leader is amazing and he alone means that at least one TIE/fo expansion is pretty much compulsory, with this expansion coming with all the cards you need to field Omega Leader at full strength (Juke and Comm Relay, only available here). You're definitely going to buy one copy of this expansion but any extra TIE/fo you need might as well come from the Force Awakens Core Set unless you need to pick up more Jukes.
Also of Interest: None
The Inquisitor really hit the ground running, setting a new standard for how good a 'pocket ace' could be (just 31pts for The Inquisitor in his most common build). The TIE Advanced Prototype has a great dial and solid stats for the price, with a nice Title as well, but so far any pilots but The Inquisitor have yet to find a clear role. You're paying a lot more than a basic TIE Fighter but not really getting that much extra in terms of damage output unless you pay even more to load them up with missiles.
Also of Interest; Push The Limit (Imperial Aces, A-Wings), Autothrusters (StarViper)
Imperial Veterans had an immediate impact on competitive play by thrusting the TIE Defender out of the shadows and into the spotlight, with titles that are both competitive (TIE/x7) and creative (TIE/D) and some solid new pilots. What's especially great about the TIE Defender is that it's actually pretty user-friendly, which most Imperial ships aren't - they're flimsy things made out of papier mache and fairy wings which aren't very forgiving for new players. By contrast TIE Defenders are rough and tumble - they love to deal damage out almost as much as they love to shrug damage off, and that makes them a pretty good place to start your career in the Imperial fleet. Imperial Veterans also includes some new TIE Bomber toys, in particular new pilot Tomax Bren and TIE Shuttle is creating some interesting new ways of using the TIE Bomber, but the Bombers might require some extra purchases to really get the best use out of their torpedo-flinging ways.
Also of Interest; Twin Ion Engine MkII (TIE Punisher), Extra Munitions (TIE Punisher, K-Wing), Guidance Chips (Inquisitor's TIE, Punishing One), Plasma Torpedoes (TIE Punisher, K-Wing, Punishing One), Ion Cannon (Slave I, TIE Defender, B-Wing, M3-A Scyk)
Special Forces TIE Fighter
The TIE/sf could yet fool us all but all the signs are that this ship will be one of the weaker additions to the Imperial arsenal, with a sluggish maneuver dial that the addition of a rear firing arc does little to overcome. I'm not going to write this ship off entirely before I ever get my hands on one, but if you're starting your Imperial fleet then there have to be much stronger ships to pick up before you ever get to trying this one out.
Also of Interest: None
I've spoken a few times about the Imperial fleet really being built around four 'hubs' that describe almost any popular Imperial squad. Rebel players can build up a pretty flexible fleet of X-Wings and the Millenium Falcon before they really have to worry about specialising at all, but when you're starting to build your Imperial collection picking one of those hubs is a good way to focus your efforts.
These four hubs are absolutely NOT essential so please feel free to ignore them and grow your squad however you like, but it's striking just how consistently these structures appear and reappear in successful lists and that makes them a good basis for choosing your career in the Imperial fleet.
A swarm of iconic TIE Fighters is a hugely successful archetype and one that I think people are unduly wary about flying because of the risk of bumping your ships into each other as you've got so many. You'll almost certainly crash a lot at the start but it's really not that hard to pick up - the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as it for learning to arc-dodge properly with Soontir Fel, for instance!
The main objective in building a swarm is to rapidly scale up the number of TIE Fighters you've got so start with a classic Core Set and then immediately buy a TIE Fighter Expansion so that you've got Howlrunner as well. From there I'd look around for the best way to add a bunch more TIE Fighters, either through picking up more of the TIE Fighter expansion, another Core Set (maybe the Force Awakens Core Set for some TIE/fos) or the Imperial Assault Carrier if money really isn't an object. It's probably a good idea to pick up at least one TIE/fo Expansion to get Zeta Leader and Omega Leader as they are both great options to have at your disposal.
Once you've got to six or seven TIE Fighters and/or TIE/fo you can play around with lots of different combinations of pilots as TIE Swarms come in many different flavours - either lots of cheap Academy Pilots or fewer named pilots with neat abilities. So long as there's a bunch of TIEs and Howlrunner is in there then you're going to be a threat! The 'kicker' for the TIE Swarm is going out of your way to acquire a bunch of the Crack Shot upgrade in the Scum Kihraxz Fighter Expansion to use on some Black Squadron TIE Fighters.
The VT-49 Decimator has a unique place in the Imperial arsenal as the only ship to come with a turret, and it's proven time and again to be a great platform for competitive squads in various configurations. You're going to start out, unsurprisingly, by buying the VT-49 Decimator Expansion and then you look for something strong to pair the Decimator with. The Decimator usually costs around 60-65 points once you've finished loading it up with gear so you want a strong partner that costs about 35-40 points with the most common choice being Whisper in a TIE Phantom. A slightly more newbie-friendly option would be to buy Imperial Veterans for a TIE Defender, and the more advanced pilots you're likely to see with a Decimator are Soontir Fel and Darth Vader (which requires buying the Imperial Raider), or even a second Decimator!
Unlike other hubs you're only going to be using a couple of ships so there's not many extra purchases you need to expand your fleet but there's probably a couple of good purchases you could make for key upgrades to maximise the pilots you are using. It may not have much to do with the Empire but the Millenium Falcon expansion comes with Veteran Instincts (for Whisper) and Engine Upgrade (for the Decimator), or alternatively Slave I will also get you Veteran Instincts and Gunner instead of Engine Upgrade, for a Decimator that's less agile but has more guaranteed damage output. The Lambda Shuttle also brings a host of crew options and other upgrades that can fit onto the Decimator, like Rebel Captive, Darth Vader, Anti-Pursuit Lasers and even has Intelligence Agent for Whisper.
This is the sexy stuff. Imperial Aces sees you flying some of the greatest pilots in the game, running rings around your opponent and gunning them down while they clutch at thin air. It's also pretty highly skillful to fly because all of your aces rely quite heavily on you not putting them in the wrong place on the table with a bad move.
The Imperial Aces box is the heart of this hub as it unlocks playing TIE Interceptors to their maximum and also brings you Push The Limit, which is a key elite pilot talent, and it's pretty much unavoidable that you pick up a third TIE Interceptor because the expansion is needed for Soontir Fel. It's then your choice of which aces you want to acquire in order to combine them together into 100pts, with Inquisitor's TIE, the TIE Phantom and the TIE/fo Expansion your most likely sources.
The problem with stepping into the Aces hub is that these elite pilots walk such a thin line of excellence that there's very little room for experimentation in how they are loaded up so the buying list becomes very prescriptive. Your aces will rely on maximum results from their green dice and to support them you'll want Autothrusters from the StarViper expansion, and you'll also want Stealth Device from either Slave I or the M3-A Scyk.
The Imperial Veterans expansion has created a new hub that didn't really exist before, based around the rugged power and jousting efficiency of the TIE Defender. This is currently a great way for jumping into playing Imperials because, as I've said before, the TIE Defenders are a bit more tolerant of playing mistakes than most other Imperial ships. It's also a pretty cheap route to getting up to speed with a list that is going to punch it's weight for minimal cash investment, and those two reasons combined would make it my recommend route for players completely new to X-Wing who aren't really ready to commit to one of the other more specialised hubs.
Imperial Veterans is obviously the place to start and then you almost certainly immediately add a second TIE Defender from the expansion. That gets you 2/3rds of your list straight away and you're just looking for a third ship to round it all out with. You couldn't go far wrong with a third TIE Defender, although if you want them all to use the /x7 title you'd need to buy a second set of Imperial Veterans instead of just another TIE Defender expansion. Other strong options for that third ship would be to get the Inquisitor's TIE which comes with Guidance Chips that you're likely to use for the TIE Bomber you get in Imperial Veterans, or add Omega Leader who comes complete with his upgrades in the TIE/fo expansion.
As with the Decimator hub you're not really spending a lot to buy extra ships for the Defenders but it might be worth picking up a couple of expansion for their upgrades. The TIE Punisher will add a second heavy ship and comes with Extra Munitions and Plasma Torpedoes for you to start making better use of your TIE Bomber, and a pair of the important Twin Ion Engine MkII for your TIE Defenders.
In fact you could build a pretty good 100pts list with just the contents of Imperial Veterans, a TIE Defender and a TIE Punisher expansion...
- Colonel Vessery (TIE Defender) - Outmaneuer (TIE Defender), TIE/x7 (Imperial Veterans), Twin Ion Engine MkII (TIE Punisher) - 37 Points
- Countess Ryad (Imperial Veterans) - TIE/x7 (Imperial Veterans), Twin Ion Engine MkII (TIE Punisher) - 33 Points
- Tomax Bren (Imperial Veterans) - Crack Shot (Imperial Veterans), Plasma Torpedoes (TIE Punisher), Extra Munitions (TIE Punisher), Long Range Scanners (Imperial Veterans) - 30 Points
The elephant in the room: at what point are you dedicated enough to playing competitively with your Imperials to take the plunge and buy an Imperial Raider and Lambda Shuttle in order to play with Emperor Palpatine? Well, the Aces are probably the hub that most immediately benefits from their 'kicker' purchase as not only will you be able to add Emperor Palpatine to your squad, but you'll be most of the way towards adding Darth Vader as another powerful Ace option. The TIE Defenders also benefit from having the Emperors shuttle as their third ship, although it's probably only marginally better than simply bringing a third TIE Defender, and with the VT-49 Decimator having three crew slots it's a natural place for the Emperor to sit and there are several Decimator builds where Palpatine's sway over the dice is an integral element.
Darth Vader (TIE Advanced)
Predator (TIE Defender, Kihraxz Fighter, Ghost), TIE/x1 (Imperial Raider), Advanced Targeting Computer (Imperial Raider), Engine Upgrade (Millenium Falcon, Hound's Tooth)
Soontir Fel (TIE Interceptor)
Push The Limit (Imperial Aces, A-Wing), Royal Guard TIE (Imperial Aces), Stealth Device (Slave I, M3-A Scyk), Autothrusters (StarViper)
The Inquisitor (TIE Advanced Prototype)
Push The Limit (Imperial Aces, A-Wing), TIE/v1 (TIE Advanced Prototype), Autothrusters (StarViper)
Whisper (TIE Phantom)
Veteran Instincts (Millenium Falcon, Slave I, Shadow Caster), Fire Control System (TIE Phantom), Advanced Cloaking Device (TIE Phantom)
Omega Leader (TIE/fo)
Juke (TIE/fo), Comm Relay (TIE/fo)
Countess Ryad (Imperial Veterans)
Push The Limit (Imperial Aces, A-Wing), TIE/x7 (Imperial Veterans), Twin Ion Engine MkII (TIE Punisher)
Rear Admiral Chiraneau (Decimator)
Veteran Instincts (Millenium Falcon, Slave I, Shadow Caster), Rebel Captive (Lambda Shuttle), Ysanne Isard (Decimator), Gunner (Slave I, YT-2400), Engine Upgrade (Millenium Falcon, Hound's Tooth)
Although as I said above the Decimator is a Swiss Army Knife of a ship you can build a hundred different ways and they'll all play quite differently.