Sunday, 25 December 2016

"The Circle Is Now Complete" - Returning to T-70 X-Wings

It's christmas time, and as I sit in front of my parent's fireplace trying to digest my christmas lunch in time for christmas dinner to arrive I'm slipping in and out of a delirious X-Wing haze.

I'm reminded that we're approaching the first year anniversary of my buying into the X-Wing Miniatures Game - about this time last year I was just about arranging to buy my friend's collection of Wave I & II ships.  Many many mistakes (or as Bob Ross would have it, happy accidents have been made since then and today the only ship I don't own is the Tantive IV.

The year has come around really quickly and looking back at my very first blogs reminded me how much I originally loved the T-70 X-Wings, and that it's been a long time since I actually used them.  With Heroes of the Resistance bringing us some new T-70 pilots this seemed like a good chance to become acquainted with them, so I've spent the last couple of sessions putting some actual X-Wings onto the table.  It's been fun and some of the new pilots from Heroes of the Resistance are flying in really interesting ways.

Starkiller Base Killers
  • Poe Dameron (PS8) - Adaptability, R5-P9, Pattern Analyser, Autothrusters (38)
  • "Snap" Wexley - Veteran Instincts, Targeting Astromech, Black One, Primed Thrusters, Autothrusters (35)
  • Jess Pava - R2-D6, Draw Their Fire, Integrated Astromech (27)

This first T-70 squad I tried brought a pretty standard Poe Dameron with Jess Pava as his wingmate (using Draw Their Fire to try and keep some damage off him) while "Snap" Wexley used his free Boosts to flank.  That was in theory and while Poe did some good work it was "Snap" who really stole the show with his speedy burst quickly getting him around into the side of the enemy, or into range 1 of his targets.  Jess Pava was... ok I guess?  Mainly she was a useful reminder that a basic T-70 doesn't really get a lot done, although with her low PS she got some useful blocks in for the others to capitalise on.

This squad was a good reintroduction to X-Wings but it struck me that it was actually pretty conventional, even though I was using a couple of the new pilots from Heroes of the Resistance.  For my next couple of games I decided to mix things up a bit more...

Three Colours: Red
  • Nien Nunb - Rage, R3-A2, Pattern Analyser, Experimental Interface (37)
  • "Snap" Wexley - Veteran Instincts, Targeting Astromech, Black One, Pattern Analyser, Autothrusters (36)
  • "Hobbie" Klivian - Targeting Astromech, Integrated Astromech (27)

I subbed Poe and Jess out for some excellent stress-ignoring shenanigans in Nien Numb and "Hobbie" Klivian's classic T-65 X-Wing.  With a Targeting Astromech equipped Hobbie basically has white K-turns with Focus & Target Lock - a kind of mini-Vessery for just 27pts.  Nien Nunb's build is a bit more complex than Hobbie's but can really abuse his ability to ignore stress...
  1. Perform a Tallon-Roll.  That's a red move but you've got Pattern Analyser so don't take a stress token yet.
  2. Boost to get an enemy at Range 1.
  3. Use Experimental Interface to take a second action.  
  4. Activate Rage for a Focus & Rerolls on your attack.
  5. Gain 2 stress from Rage.  Discard them thanks to Nien Nunb's pilot ability.
  6. Gain 1 stress from Experimental Interface.  Discard it.
  7. Check Pilot Stress - gain 1 stress from your T-Roll.  Discard it.
  8. Shoot your opponent and use R3-A2.
  9. Gain 1 stress.  Discard that too.
  10. Repeat from 1.

Nien Nunb costs 1pt less than Poe Dameron and that meant that I could switch "Snap"'s Primed Thrusters for another Pattern Analyser.  That turned out to be an amazing change as it meant "Snap" could now do something similar to Nien Nunb and perform a T-Roll, get a Target Lock from his Astromech, boost with his Pilot Ability, take a Focus action and THEN get stress from his T-Roll.  I really should have seen that potential earlier and had Pattern Analyser in my first squad instead of Primed Thrusters and the Black One title.

For sheer K-turning stress-ignoring shenanigans this squad will be hard to beat, but if I'm being really hard-nosed about it I think replacing Poe Dameron's Regen/Autothrusters with the firepower of Nien Nunb's Experimental Interface/Rage might be flipping the balance of the squad a bit too far.  As I thought about how I could proceed it occurred to me that neither Jess Pava or Hobbie Klivian had really been too awe-inspiring (Hobbie's K-turn trick is nice, but anything other than a K-turn doesn't trigger Targeting Astromech and means he's just a basic T-65 X-Wing).  Perhaps I could save some points there...?

The AXXmen Cometh
  • Poe Dameron (PS8) - Adaptability, R5-P9, Pattern Analyster, Autothrusters (38)
  • Nien Nunb - Rage, R3-A2, Pattern Analyster, Experimental Interface, Black One (38)
  • Green Squadron Pilot - Juke, Push The Limit, A-Wing Test Pilot, Chardaan Refit, Autothrusters (24)

By trading the third X-Wing down to an annoying Juke A-Wing I found the points to play both Poe Dameron AND Nien Nunb, leaving poor "Snap" Wexley on the sidelines in this case.  

This squad combines the firepower and disruption of Nien Nunb with the endgame that Poe Dameron offers, and Juke means the A-Wing is both an irritant in terms of damage as well as blocking threat at PS3.  In theory I'm packing the best of both worlds here, although I'll admit to missing playing with "Snap" and his free boosts into range 1, and in some matchups you're really going to regret that Nien doesn't have Autothrusters to help him out.  Nevertheless, with a combination of firepower, endgame and tactical options from my A-Wing I was really optimistic about what this squad could do when I got it into the table in earnest!


That all sounds great doesn't it?

It's not.  It's rubbish.  

That's the cruel reality of X-Wings at this point in the game's development - they simply can't cope with the raw muscle that the best lists are putting onto the table.  TIE Defenders are almost bulletproof against your three red dice with Focus, while in return their heavily modified attacks punch through and hurt you too easily.

Don't get me wrong - I've enjoyed returning to my roots and trying the new X-Wings out, but there's no doubt that they've fallen a long way short of being competitive against the best lists my colleagues have at their disposal.  They've not been narrow defeats in most cases, either, they've been comprehensive.

Nien Nunb, for all his stress-avoiding tricks, proved to be nothing more than a bully.  When faced with lower Pilot Skill opponents in a dogfight he would run rings around them, steal their lunch money and give them a wedgie as he left.  Against opponents with higher PS, though, his entire build fell apart - you could either aim for range 1 of where the opponent was in order to shed stress and use your tricks, only to have your target then move away before you could fire, or move to where you think they're going to be, but not use any of the points you've spent on stressful upgrades.  Worse yet against anything with a turret the absence of Autothrusters is keenly felt and it's a lot of points invested in something that won't last more than a couple of rounds.

Poe Dameron began the year as a powerhouse but must limp out into 2017 as the forgotten man.  His pilot ability to flip a focus into a hit makes him probably the lowest damage output you can get for the points investment needed to field him, so while he does an ok job of staying alive he achieves very little while on the table.  The TIE Defenders are practically bulletproof against him, and the ships bringing huge firepower to hunt TIE Defenders simply overwhelm Poe's subtle evade/regen defences.  

Oh, and did I mention people like Hotshot Co-Pilot, which is becoming a pretty popular upgrade these days?  

Poe doesn't like playing against Hotshot Co-Pilot.  At all.  

No, of all the X-Wings I've played over the last few weeks I have to report that pretty much none of them have done enough to convince me they're really viable.  When I wrote about T-70s earlier in the year I said their strength was that they were ok at everything, well now that is their glaring weakness.  
In a world where ships need to be either super-aggressive or super-defensive the T-70 finds itself unable to do either effectively.  The damage output of a T-70 is very 'fair', but 'fair' doesn't get you far - against the Evade/Palpatine-backed dice of a TIE Defender it's only going to scratch the paint and rarely do real damage.  Two green dice and six hull should be plenty, but when people are packing the sort of heat to overwhelm a Defender's dice (either a lot of red dice, or pushing green dice down with Juke/Zuckuss type abilities) the T-70 just absorbs too much punishment - they aren't getting one-shotted, but a couple of good hits could take one down very easily.  The Autothrusters you can take feel like a real Catch-22 scenario - without them your T-70 is easy meat to turrets, but with them you're just throwing good points after bad in all the matchups where the T-70 is just going to die anyway.

Maybe T-70s will return - it's a real shame that the ships the game is named after are so fundamentally weak.  I also think it's a bad sign for the game that your solid all-rounders like the T-70 are so badly equipped for competitive play.  When I played them in tournaments at the start of the year they certainly weren't the hot metagame list, but I won some games and beat some good lists.  If I fielded them now I'd get very little from the day but a sore ass from all the kickings I'd receive. 

I just think that's a shame.  That's all.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Netlist & Chill

My last blog, about understanding the metagame, began a great discussion on Reddit about the validity of 'netlisting' - playing a squad you've seen online rather than one you created yourself - and it's such an interesting topic that I want to circle back around and cover it separately.
Fair warning: most of my articles are written from a relatively neutral journalistic viewpoint.  I'm sure my own opinions and preferences seep through but I'll usually make an effort to put all viewpoints across in a balanced way.  This one time I'm afraid it's going to be a bit more of an opinion piece.  If you disagree then fair enough, but this is going to be the world as I see it.

You're Playing It Wrong

The legitimacy of 'Netlisting' can be a very charged and emotional topic and bring out some very polarised viewpoints in people.  To some players the idea that you can shortcut the whole squad design part of the game and find success by simply copy/pasting somebody else's creativity is unacceptable and I even saw it described as 'plagiarism' by one commentor.  To others it's an entirely legitimate tactic in a game where the objective is to win, or perhaps even a vital tool for those who don't have time to burn on playtesting and refining their own unique squads.

There are a lot of nuances to this debate but at it's heart it reflects a schism in what people think X-Wing is about, both in casual play and in tournaments.
  1. X-Wing is a game about flying spaceships to defeat your opponent with superior tactics.  The best pilot should win.
  2. X-Wing is a game about building a fleet of spaceships with a strong strategy and then executing that strategy.  The best planner should win.

To some extent it's about the relative importance of strategy vs tactics, then, which is a classic debate.  You could also explain it another way by using an analogy, say: what is a car race about - should the winner be the fastest driver, or the man who builds himself the fastest car?

When you're playing X-Wing outside of a tournament the answer is, of course, whatever you and your friends want it to be.  

You can place the emphasis wherever you like to maximise your enjoyment of the time you spend playing the game, and you shouldn't have to worry about anybody judging whether you're playing it the right way or not.  

Want to insist everyone designs their own squad?  Fine!  Want to download the best lists from the World Championships and play them against each other to see how they work?  Fine!  Want to create your own house rules for squad construction, play more than 100pts, play scenarios rather than just dogfights?  They're all fine!  Hell, load the ships into catapults and fire them at each other to determine the winner by last ship standing, if that's what floats your boat!

In FFG-organised tournaments, though, there are rules and tournament guidelines that make it clear what the objective of the game is and what the players participating in the tournament are there to do.  In FFG-organised tournaments we are firmly in the camp of the tactics being more important than strategy - the winner is the player who wins more games, regardless of the provenance of the squad he used to win those games.

This is the official X-Wing squad registration sheet.  As well as the ships, pilots and upgrades you're using you have to fill in your name, faction, and the event you're playing in.  Do you notice what you DON'T have to fill in?  Who created the squad you're using.  Because it's NOT relevant in tournaments.

This is a hugely important distinction, in my mind.  I can completely understand that players might prefer to play with their homespin lists and creations, because building and perfecting your own unique lists is one of the joys of X-Wing.  I also can completely understand that they'd rather not put those creations up against killer competitive lists because they're likely to come off second best, and getting crushed in a few brief turns is no type of fun at all.  

There's plenty of places to find games of X-Wing like that, where you and your fellow players can agree to just have fun and enjoy exploring the game, using unusual ships and pilots. 

But that place isn't tournaments.

Remember this one?

If you object to players bringing the World Championship winning squad to a friendly little get together on a weeknight or the kitchen table then I am right behind you.  If you object to players bringing that same squad to a tournament, though, then I'm very much against you.  The tournament structure and guidelines explicitly explains what is expected of a player entering a tournament and nowhere in there does it say they have to bring their own creation.  You may have your own personal opinions on what is and isn't acceptable, but those personal opinions hold no sway in a tournament environment.  

There is no distinction between the provenance of a squad's design with the FFG tournament rules, and pillorying other players for not following your own personal value systems is deeply unfair.  It might not be the way you want to play the game, but when you enter a tournament you're no longer in charge of deciding how the game should be played.  You should respect what other players want from the experience of being in a tournament as much as you'd want them to respect what you want if you're playing them outside of a tournament.

Eating is Cheating

One of the strongest arguments players who oppose netlisting have is that it's 'cheating' somehow, or that it's 'easier' to just play the list that somebody else won a tournament with.  The players who feel this way see that you're gaining an unfair advantage over them by picking up the list that won the World Championships and bringing it to the tournament to play against their homebrew concoction.  

When you put it like that it can sound like they may have a point - the plucky homebrew designer up against the might of the faceless netlisting machine sure does sound like an unfair fight.  But let's examine that claim by looking at some of my own experiences in local tournaments:

I played a local tournament with a squad of my own that I had spent weeks fine-tuning.  Most of my opponents had never played against my squad before and they made a lot of mistakes - they misread quite how my list would operate and many of them decided to engage me as they would a different squad that they thought was similar.  In particular their target priority was frequently wrong and usually ships were allowed to get into endgame that needed to be the first thing killed.  

I won the tournament, receiving a challenge coin and some tokens/alt-art goodies.

I played a different local tournament with a squad that had won multiple national championships.  Most of my opponents had playtested against this list and understood it well, some of them even brought upgrades or had made squad decisions intended to help them in their specific matchup against my squad.  Ultimately I was able to outfly most of those opponents by making deliberate efforts to fly the squad in less predictable ways that they may not have seen in their playtesting.

I won the tournament, receiving a challenge coin and some tokens/alt-art goodies.

So was one of these tournament wins 'easier' to come by than the other?  Was it 'easier' to play against the opponents who continually made poor decisions or against the ones who knew almost every trick I had up my sleeve?  Was it 'easier' to spend time chasing down dead ends of strong squads before I hit on something that worked and finetuned it, or was it 'easier' to copy a list off the internet and then spend time learning to fly it better than anybody else?  

Which of those is most important is not an easy call to make and I wouldn't want to be the one who had to make it.  Where does the skill in X-Wing lie, then?  Is it in planning beforehand or playing on the day?  Is it a balance of the two?  

In the eyes of the tournament, at least, the two wins were rewarded equally - a challenge coin, some alt-art goodies.  As far as FFG's tournament system was concerned one was no better or worse than the other.  What many of the players who object to netlisting are doing, though,  is choosing to impose their own value judgements of which of these was the more valid type of skill.  

They want to see other players 'brought down to their level' to create what they're going to judge a level playing field, but in doing so they aren't really recognising that innovating your own lists, when you innovate well, brings it's own rewards in how many mistakes your opponents will make against them. To many of these players the act of innovating at all is more important than whether that innovation is actually worthwhile or not.  

The value of your innovation is inherent in the success they bring you, just as much as the value of your piloting skill and tactical decisions are inherent in your success.  If you don't believe me then just look at the players who first came up with Dengaroo.  

Therefore:  You don't lose because you innovated while others followed like mindless drones, you lost because your innovations weren't good enough.  

If your innovations were good enough you would have been successful, turning your opponent's unfamiliarity with your innovation into wins.  If that didn't happen then hiding behind the fig leaf of 'they cheated by copying a list off the net' is just a crutch to protect your bruised ego and, trust me, it IS an obstacle to you self-analysing and self-critiqueing to learn the right lessons from your defeats.

And that leads me onto my next point - we're going back to The Dojo.

The Dojo Effect

In the mid 1990s The Dojo was THE place to go for Magic: The Gathering strategy discussion.  It became the forefather of almost all games strategy websites as both Magic and the Internet were exploding in popularity at the same time - an example of kismet putting the perfect game into circulation at the perfect moment in time.  If Magic: The Gathering had been invented five years earlier it would likely have died without the internet to bring scattered groups of players together across the world into a single community, but if it had been invented five years later then there would have been a dozen websites instantly created to discuss, publicise and commercialise every aspect of the game.  But at that specific point in time there was only one place - there was The Dojo.

The Dojo was a meeting place for some of the greatest minds who have ever played Magic and the 'signal to noise' ratio was really high as this was a time when household internet was a rarity so it was centered almost exclusively around university & college campuses and their computer rooms.  As such that first group of Dojo denizens contributed many of the fundamentals of game theory that drive the modern board games we enjoy today (indeed some of them now design the games we enjoy today).

One of the most immediate and powerful impacts was what became known as 'The Dojo Effect', which transformed how players approached the customisation of their Magic decks.  

The articles that pushed me into studying, writing, using Alta Vista and doing research on Usenet, were Rob Hahn's intermittent series "School's of Magic" on the MTG scene at Neutral Ground in NYC and Paul Pantera's article on "The Deck". I loved Rob's precise writing style and I tried out the different decklists that he published (the "Kim" deck, Juz├ím deck, etc.). That's where I got the idea for the "Decks to Beat" feature and the so called Dojo-deck effect.  
- Frank Kusumoto, creator of 'The Dojo'

As the Magic community began to crystallise around a nascent competitive tournament scene the most successful decks began being avidly shared and discussed on The Dojo.  Where previously the discussion had focused on game theory and basic concepts it now turned to finding successful applications for those theories in the pursuit of victory.  

As the tournament scene exploded in 1995/96 The Dojo aggregated the most successful decks into what they called their "Decks To Beat" section, and those decks would spread rapidly through the global community.

Note the name, though.  It wasn't 'Decks To Play' it was 'Decks To Beat'.
Scott Johns and Mario Robaina of the first professional MTG team were some of the first people to comment on how The Dojo was the affecting the metagame. Robaina and Preston Poulter opinioned that The Dojo had created a type of group-think which would come up with good, competitive decks leading up to each PT qualifier and PT. They reasoned that it made it easier for them to know what to expect and therefore how to play against it and to sideboard correctly.
And there is the truth of it.  Right from the very birth of 'netlisting' it was a tool for innovators as much as one for those who wanted to shortcut the process of innovation. A good innovator LOVES working with a rigid metagame where he knows the squads he's going to have to play against, because he knows what he has to innovate a solution for.   If other people aren't netlisting then your local metagame is very uncertain, and it's very difficult to plan for an uncertain metagame.  

Case Study: right now Expert Handling is starting to see play for basically the first time ever, precisely because people are netlisting the Ryad/Vessery combination so often that being able to remove a target lock is really powerful.  Netlisting DRIVES innovation, it makes bad things good.

If you see yourself as an innovator and you still hate playing against netlists even though you know exactly what they are, how they fly, how they try to beat you... you need to learn to innovate better.  

Bringing Balance To The Force

Right now it sounds a lot like I hate people who design their own lists, so it's a good time for me to loop around to the start and round this up.
  • I LOVE it if you design your own lists.  I enjoy designing my own lists too.
  • I LOVE it if you and your friends find new and innovative ways to play and enjoy X-Wing.
  • I HATE it if you think this makes you morally superior to people playing netlists.
  • I HATE it if you bring a bad attitude to a tournament setting and try to stop other people from enjoying X-Wing the way they want to play it.
  • I HATE it if you avoid recognising your own failings by criticising others for succeeding.

In the end we're all X-Wing players.  We all fit into a pretty tight little demographic of very similar types of people.  What binds us together is so much more powerful than trying to find details to drive us apart.  

Be positive, be supportive - either rise to the challenge of fighting the popular squads, or find a place to play the game where you won't be exposed to them.  Either of those options are better than criticising or guilt-tripping your fellow players for wanting to enjoy the game in a slightly different way to you.

At the end of the day we're all still Star Wars nerds having fun pushing plastic spaceships around a table!  Sharing that is much more important than worrying about whether you're pushing the right plastic spaceships around in the right way.

Friday, 9 December 2016

"A Powerful Ally" - Understanding The Metagame

In this blog I'm going to finally get around to addressing a topic that's been buzzing about in the back of my head for a few months and force it down into black & white - I want to talk about 'The Metagame'. 

The concept of a metagame is something that is very familiar to some of us but utterly bewildering to others, especially those who come to a competitive scene like X-Wing from something like boardgames or video games that don't usually have the same element of player customisation.

Edit: I've been correctly called out on this already - some video games DEFINITELY have metagaming, especially a lot of them with online competitive platforms, like MOBA/RTS games.

In this blog I'm going to try and define quite what a metagame is, how it can develop over time and, ultimately, whether you should actually care or not.

Metagame 101

In the past I've seen some people be quite confused about quite what the phrase 'metagame' means, in particular thinking that it's something similar to a Ten Commandments of X-Wing:

  • Thou Shalt Not Play E-Wings Other Than Corran Horn

  • Thou Shalt Not Use Bombs For They Are Rubbish

  • Thou Shalt Use Autothrusters Whenever Possible

Many players will rail against these rules and prescriptions that are being handed down to them.  If they want to play with bombs and are winning with bombs then who exactly is in charge of these metagame rules saying that they aren't allowed to use bombs?  

Well the answer is that nobody is in charge of the 'metagame rules' because that's really not what the metagame means.

'Metagaming' refers to using any information from outside the rules of the game to help you make decisions in the game.  

To illustrate this I'm going to use the example of a game where the rules are very simple so that the effects of metagaming are more obvious.  Let's talk about Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Paper wraps Rock, Rock blunts Scissors, Scissors cut Paper.  It's hopefully a game you're familiar with and also one where, in theory, the result is entirely balanced with no choice being better than any other.  According to the rules of the game whether you pick Rock, Paper or Scissors you've got a 1/3rd chance of winning, a 1/3rd chance of losing, and a 1/3rd chance that your opponent picked the same thing and you've got a draw, so it doesn't make a difference which you picked.  

Let's introduce some metagame information, though, and see how that might change how you pay Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Psychological studies have revealed that players are NOT completely random in how they choose what to play in Rock-Paper-Scissors and there are a complex web of factors involved.  Rather than each choice being selected 33.3% of the time, as it should be, in fact Scissors were only chosen 29.6% of the time with the other two choices about even at approximately 35% each.  This tells us that our best chance of winning will be to choose Paper.  If 35% of people are taking Rock then we'll win 2% more often than we 'should' by wrapping their Rock in our Paper, and with less than 30% choosing Scissors we also lose almost 4% less often.

Paper FTW!

What makes this 'metagaming' is that the information for improving our chances of winning is not within the game rules.  Note that we've not changed anything to make Paper in any way better than it already was, so that we start winning more often is because we are using metagame information.

That's a very simple example and the metagame information for Rock-Paper-Scissors can be more detailed than this.  The psychological study went on to reveal more information we can use to metagame Rock-Paper-Scissors and improve our chances even further:
Rock: Very aggressive, symbolized by the fist. Players subconsciously think of rock as a weapon and will rely on it when other strategies are not working.  Rock is a typical opening move for rookies, especially for men, since rock is associated with strength and fortitude.
Scissors: Some aggression, as they are sharp and dangerous, but also useful craft tools. Represent controlled aggression used as a clever throw—often when someone is confident or winning.
Paper: The most subtle move. An open hand is passive, peaceful, and friendly. Some players won’t use this when falling behind because it may symbolize weakness. Other players identify paper with writing and as such, the power of print is a subtle attack. In those cases, paper may be used to signify superiority.
As in a chess match, you must think ahead.  Against a more seasoned opponent they will purposefully not begin with rock, which is too obvious. They may consider you to be a novice, expect rock and will therefore open with paper. Against a veteran, you should lead with scissors: at worst, you’ll tie.
No one likes to be predictable. If someone has already thrown a the same thing twice in a row (typically because they won the first time with it), they are very unlikely to use it for a third time. If they used scissor twice, their next move will either be rock or paper. Paper is your best move to either win or tie. If they do two rocks, you follow with scissors. Two papers, you answer with rock.
The researchers also discovered what they called "Win-Stick" or "Lose-Switch" behaviour.  When players of Rock-Paper-Scissors were playing Best-of-Three or Best-of-Five they found that players who won the last hand were more likely to stick with the same result, while those who lost were more likely to change and even that they were more likely to move forwards in the sequence (eg, from Paper to Rock) than backwards.

So there you have it.  The rules of Rock-Paper-Scissors are entirely balanced for the three possible choices, and yet metagame information can help players who know the game outside the game win more than the 33% of games that they 'should' be winning.

Returning to players who see the metagame as being 'Ten Commandments of X-Wing', then, we can see now that they're not really commandments at all.  They're more like the outcome of the combined learning of everyone else who is playing X-Wing, with the experiences of what works and doesn't work in all their games feeding up into a body of knowledge and advice.  This isn't advice based on the rules of the game it's advice based on what you can learn about what your opponents are likely to be doing, and how you should respond to them.

The Metagame and X-Wing

Now that we're clear on what a metagame is, how does it apply to X-Wing?  

Well when you hear people talking about 'the metagame' of X-Wing they are almost always going to be talking about listbuilding -  they're trying to maximise their own chances of success with their squad by paying attention to what other people are playing.  This could be something as subtle as choosing a particular pilot or upgrade over another, or which rocks or debris they like to bring to a tournament, right up to completely changing their list or faction entirely in response to the metagame.

There are dozens of examples I could call on to illustrate how this might work but let's look at recent history...

In very broad terms this shows how the metagame has cycled for key squad archetypes during 2016.  

During Store Championships at the start of the year the dominant theme was intense 'pilot skill wars' between Imperial Aces and Rebel Regen trying to trump each other with ever-higher pilot skill.  That so many pilots were repositioning at high PS made it almost impossible to joust with lower pilot skill ships as they could just move out of your firing arc, so player were often falling back on Twin Laser Turrets to wear down the elite pilots through sheer weight of fire.

The release of Wave 8 changed all that, though, and the alpha-striking threat of Triple Jumpmasters was too much for the Rebel Regen and TLT Y-wing lists to stave off so they rapidly disappeared.  What thrived in their absence, though, was the TIE Swarm and that proved one of the best answers to the Triple Jumpmasters.  While all this was happening many of the Rebel Regen players switched allegiance to Imperial Aces, who were closest to their old high-PS playstyle, and 'Palp Aces' probably became the dominant threat during Regionals.

By the time Nationals and rolled around, though, that had changed again.  The innovative 'Dengaroo' list was punishing the Imperial reliance on green dice and the new /x7 TIE Defenders from Imperial Veteran simply proved too good at jousting for the TIE Swarms.  Lists like those, and the new 'Party Bus', almost entirely removed both TIE Swarms and Palp Aces from the top tables during later National Championships.  Contracted Scouts remained a powerful threat, though, and as their natural enemies were driven away they were just on the point of a resurgence when FFG acted to errata Deadeye, just in time for World Championships.

Rebel Regen had originally been driven out of the metagame by Triple Jumpmasters and TIE Swarms but now Deadeye errata had all but killed the Jumpmasters, and Dengaroo and Defenders had killed the swarms.  What was that riding back to the rescue at the World Championships?  It was Rebel Regen, this time in the guise of Miranda & Corran Horn!  The metagame had killed Rebel Regen and TLT Y-Wings earlier in the year but now it was bringing them back.  

The metagame wheel turns endlessly, therefore.  At some point almost every list will find the metagame right to their liking, only to later find it almost impossible to deal with.   Change is the only constant.

 As well as looking at the popularity of whole squads you can also drill the impact of the metagame down to the popularity of individual upgrades or pilots...

Biggs Darklighter is a Rebel pilot who has long been a favoured wingman of Rebel players.  You'd frequently see him played with R2-D2 with the intention that he was draw some of the fire away from your more important pilots and then use R2-D2 to regenerate some of the damage he took.  Recently, though, Biggs became simultaneously more popular among players and also switched out his trusty R2-D2 for the budget R4-D6.  Both of these changes were largely a response to the same piece of metagame information: Triple Jumpmaster lists with torpedoes arrived in Wave 8.  Where previously Biggs would be likely taking one or two damage per shot from another fighter it was now more likely that he would be taking three or four damage per shot from a Plasma Torpedo, and this meant...
  1. Biggs gets better - the short-term threat of Torpedoes may wreck some of your best plans but if Biggs can soak up a lot of those shots from the rest of your team then it may be worthwhile, even if Biggs doesn't survive for very long!
  2. R2-D2 gets worse - you're taking so much damage from Torpedoes that you may never survive long enough to regenerate a single shield with Artoo!
  3. R4-D6 gets better - you're taking damage in larger chunks so R4-D6 may prevent more damage than you would ever regenerate with R2-D2, where previously you might never have been able to trigger R4-D6 against weaker attacks.

But note that none of those changes occurred within the rules of the game.  R2-D2 and R4-D6 weren't given errata to be better or worse than they already were but the metagame changed around them and affected their relative value.

In his deadly TIE Phantom Whisper is a pilot who lives (and especially dies) by his Pilot Skill because his defenses are tied to him being able to shoot and recloak with Advanced Cloaking Device before anybody can shoot at him.  In a metagame with relatively few pilots at PS9+ then Whisper can be pretty confident he will be get to fire first and be cloaked by the time any incoming fire needs to be dealt with.  But in a metagame where there are likely to be a lot of higher Pilot Skill pilots, especially with turrets, then he becomes a very risky choice.  

Metagame impacts mean that the popularity of Whisper has waxed and waned over the time that TIE Phantoms have been in the game.  It was players realising that Han Solo with an initiative bid could be a strong counter to Whisper that originally drove the TIE Phantoms out of dominating the metagame and ever since then Whisper has sat on the fringes waiting for players to stop playing their PS10+ Corran Horns, Poe Damerons, Darth Vaders etc.  

Over the last few months we've seen a relatively large number of successful Whisper & Echo lists and it's no coincidence - they're being played by players who've seen the swing away from high PS lists towards playing the PS8 Omega Leader and Inquisitor, Ryad & Vessery in the TIE Defenders, or lower PS Black Squadron TIEs, Contracted Scouts, Lothal Rebels etc.  Whisper players should always being watching the metagame to judge the best opportunities for bringing the TIE Phantom to the table.

One of the most important elements of understanding how the metagame is developing is to learn how differentiate between metagame trends and individual results.  When squads/ships/upgrades begin to repeat their success in multiple tournaments, in multiple different configurations against a range of opponents... that's a trend, that's something that is likely to be part of the metagame.  One result for a squad here or there, well usually that's just random distribution doing its thing.  

From afar it's impossible to know whether any single result was down to pure luck, pure skill or a mixture of the two, but when you see the same squad or idea succeed at the hands of multiple people in multiple places then it's likely to be an important factor, and it's time to sit up and take notice of either a new threat in the metagame, or perhaps a new solution to a problem you've been facing

Does 'The Metagame' Actually Exist?

If you're browsing around X-Wing forums and blogs then you're going to read about 'The Metagame' a lot, in fact I've used that term myself a few times within this very blog.  I literally just showed you a picture of what 'The Metagame' had been during 2016 and how it had changed through the year.

The trouble is: 'The Metagame' doesn't really exist.

I would liken talking about 'The Metagame' to be akin to talking about 'The Weather'.  

Is the weather the same here in the UK as it is in the USA?  No, of course not.  And you wouldn't expect people to get into arguments about the weather in the way they often do about the metagame because everyone understands that just because the guy in Arkansas can say "man, it's too hot today" and the guy in London can reply "what are you talking about, it's cold and raining!" it doesn't mean that either guy is wrong or lying to the other. 

Just as the weather may be different in one part of the world to the other so the X-Wing metagame may be different.  In X-Wing exactly that argument about the metagame is happening on forums all the time, though, with players debating what 'the metagame' is without taking into account that what they're seeing locally isn't necessarily what other people are seeing.

'The Metagame' doesn't exist but 'My/Your/Their Metagame' does.  

There are big overarching events in X-Wing that affect 'The Metagame' for everyone across the world, such as the release of a new wave of ships & upgrades, but the amount that it affects everyone and the exact impacts will likely be different. Returning to the weather analogy that's akin to, say, Summer turning to Winter.  

The fact that it's now summer means that everywhere can expect to be warmer than during winter, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be warmer everywhere, or warmer all the time.

 Experiences will vary.

And that's exactly how it is in X-Wing as well: the metagame varies.  The release of Imperial Veterans may give TIE Defenders a big boost everywhere in the world but just how much those ships start to appear against you personally in games at your local store... that's going to vary by where you play and who you play with, at least to some extent.  
  • It's going to be affected by whether your local playgroup has a lot of Imperial players or everyone is staying loyal to another faction.
  • It's going to be affected by how seriously people are trying to win and chase the newest thing or whether they're happy to keep it casual.
  • It's going to be affected by whether you tend to be playing at the top end of tournaments against other players who are plugged into the global metagame, or are usually scrapping it out in the middle of the field against players just running lists of their own creation.
  • It's going to be affected by how much they're reading online about what is happening in other local metagames.
  • It's going to be affected by how much time they've had to practice with the new ships or if they want to stick to what they know.

And beyond what you're actually seeing on the table the relative power level of a particular type of ship, like TIE Bombers and Defenders, may be affected by whether the better players in your local area have adopted them or not.  Do TIE Defenders beat Super Dash?  Maybe when the better play used the Defenders they do win, but maybe not if a good Dash player is flying the YT-2400.  Your view on that discussion might well be warped by how good the players are with their squads, unless you happen to be in a metagame where both players are equal in skill and you can play the matchup enough times to really get to a firm conclusion.

When you hear people talk about 'The Metagame' (including me), then, what they/we really mean is either:
a) what they have seen being played at recent tournaments they've been to.
b) what they have seen online has been played in tournaments around the world
c) a bit of a) and a bit of b)
It's highly likely that none of these three options is going to look exactly like what your local metagame is going to look like.  This means that 'The Metagame' that people like to talk about  - what the popular squads are, what beats what, what upgrades/pilots you need to play - well in truth it varies from place to place and it varies from week to week.  The internet is a rich source of information for the X-Wing player trying to keep on top of the latest trends and we can draw all the information we like about what is happening elsewhere in the world but unless we filter it through the lens of our own understanding of what players local to us are likely to be doing then it could mislead us just as readily as it could help us to prepare.

The X-Wing Metagame And You

So far in this blog I've explained what the metagame means, demonstrated how it affects X-Wing, then told you that it doesn't exist.  Confused yet?

Well it's going to get worse, because I can't provide you with the answer for how much attention you should pay to all the drama and turmoil of discussions about 'The Metagame' because I'm not you.  I don't live where you live, I don't play where you play, and I don't play against the people you play against.

In some game systems, particularly those with comprehensive organised play structures and online platforms, those local metagames will tend to be more cohesive because the geographic separation of players is not much of an issue.  The online gameplay, or regular high level tournaments, serves to bring local metagames into frequent contact with one another and through that contact they will quickly discover which local groups have developed the stronger strategies.

Magic: The Gathering, for instance, has a very well established online version that sees players crunch thousands upon thousands of games every single day, and huge pro-level organised play that brings players together across continents every few weeks for Pro Tours and Grand Prix.  This means that the strongest Magic strategies will become obvious through their success, then they have well established channels to mean they become rapidly copied and spread around the world.  Most local Magic scenes will have somebody (often many people) plugged into that global metagame, and moreover those players are likely to be actively trying to progress through the regional and national tournament scenes that bring all those likeminded players together.  This all means that the global metagame for Magic can duplicate down, at least to the regional level of Magic, almost instantly and that it's actually highly likely that it WILL duplicate down because Magic players are always desperately searching for a competitive edge.

In X-Wing, though, with the likes of Vassal or Tabletop Simulator played far less rigorously and World Championships the only globe-spanning event, most players live within a relatively remote island metagame.  Their metagame is something local to their city, their store, maybe even local just to their kitchen table!  In X-Wing what is happening on a global scale is much less important than what is happening locally, at least relative to games like Magic: The Gathering.  The designs and ideas from those big tournaments will trickle down into local metagames but they'll do so unpredictably, affecting one area more than another or in different ways.

Unlike the Magic: The Gathering metagame, which is relatively cohesive, the X-Wing metagame is a lot more like scattered islands that are all evolving in unique and unusual ways to deal with the problems they are facing locally.  Try and work out just how much that is going to apply to your own local area and local metagame.  If you've been playing against the same things that players have adapted to beat in 'The Metagame' then you probably care about what they've come up with, but if nobody close to you in playing Dengaroo then do you really care that somebody else has found the perfect way to beat it?  To revisit the weather analogy - it's worth knowing that summer has become so hot that people are having to wear sunblock when they go out, but if a peek out of the window shows it's raining near you then you'd look pretty silly if you went out covered in SPF 50.

Whether you local metagame closely mirrors what is happening in 'The Metagame' or not you have to accept it as the reality you're playing in.  The next thing you need to is decide: are you going to treat your local metagame as an enemy, or an ally?

Making the metagame your ally doesn't necessarily mean getting in line with what everyone else is playing and doing the same thing, it could just mean turning the information that the metagame is giving you to your own advantage.  If you know your local metagame, and how changes in the wider metagame will affect it, then you have a pretty good idea about the ships and squads you're going to play against.  When a major change in your metagame is afoot and you're struggling with it, as many people are with the recent rise of TIE Defenders using the /x7 title, then you've really got three options to how you respond:
  • Adopt - if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  Follow the trail to glory.
  • Innovate - use metagame info of what you have to beat to exploit a critical weakness
  • Protest - carry on losing to them, but kick up a fuss about how unhappy you are about it
If you choose to protest then you're making an enemy of your local metagame, while either of the other two responses are making the metagame your ally - whichever you choose you're using metagame information to try and win more games.  In a game like X-Wing which is constantly evolving with new releases the metagame is going to be constantly changing.  You need to be responsive to those changes (it's no point stubbornly refusing to wear sunblock in a heatwave), or at the very least be patient throughout the times when the metagame isn't in the right place for the ships you like to fly (if you don't have any sunblock maybe it's time to give up on those long walks you love).  

If you choose to see the metagame as an obstacle to be broken down rather than a tool to be used, though, you are likely to find yourself with a bruised head from continually running into it.  The metagame is not one person making rules, it's the combined wisdom of everyone at that level - in the world, in your country, in your region, in your store.  You can rail against your local metagame if you like, but if it could be turned to your advantage then the metagame would become a powerful ally.  

A powerful ally indeed.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The 12 Days of X-Wing

Regular readers of my blog, this one is not for you (but that doesn't mean you won't benefit from it).  This is for your long-suffering significant others - those loved ones who tolerate the hours and hours that they lose you to pushing plastic ships around a table and who would love to get you something X-Wing related for Christmas but don't really know where to start.

Your job is to get this blog under the eyes of the ones you love, be they wives or husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends, parents or children.  You can do it blatantly with a demanding "here, get me this!", or do it subtly by leaving the tab open on your laptop or tablet while you nip to the toilet... however you do it, it doesn't matter.  The ends will justify the means, trust me.

Dear Normal Person,

If you are reading this then you are probably in a romantic/parental/friendly relationship with an X-Wing Lover.  Firstly: you have my condolences, or the condolences of my wife at least.  Secondly: by bringing this blog to your attention your X-Wing Lover would like you to know that they wouldn't be terribly offended if they were to receive some X-Wing related gifts during this Christmas period.

Unless you know what your X-Wing Lover already has and wants then this is a minefield but never fear - help is here!  From basics to luxuries there are X-Wing gifts to suit almost everybody and you can rest assured that you don't even really need to know everything about what you're buying to get yourself a happy X-Wing Lover.  

Here then, as we are deep into the gifting time of year, is my guide to...

12.  Dial Upgrades Dialling  (Cost: $$$$$)

How much X-Wing Lovers love to pimp out their cardboard movement dials with FFG's fantastic plastic-molded ones can be discerned by just how rapidly they tend to go out of stock whenever my friendly local game store gets a delivery!  You may have more luck at your own local stockist or may have to turn to searching online to find the templates you want.

As well as the official FFG maneuver dial upgrades there's several third party companies doing their own versions, usually laser-cut from plastic and either a full dial or a more colorful cover.  These tend to be a bit more specific to a particular ship than the FFG dials, which are only Imperial/Rebel/Scum-specific, so you may need to ask a few more questions about exactly which ships your X-Wing Lover plays most often, but the end result will be the same!

Checking out Pinterest or Etsy can be a good place to start, if you haven't thought of that already.

11.  Storage Foam Storing (Cost: $$$$$)

Almost certainly the biggest issue that any X-Wing Lover faces is actually keeping their X-Wing Miniatures stored away neatly and safely - both in the house, but also so they're easy to transport when you're heading out to play.  Whatever genius that first took a laser and applied it to foam packaging cases deserves a nobel prize for services to gaming, and have presumably been swimming in pools of cash like Scrooge McDuck ever since.
The foam storage solutions tend to fall into one of two schools of thought,- you can either get them with just generic squares and rectangles cut into the foam which will accommodate a wide range of ships so long as you're happy for them to rattle around a little, or you get foam that is custom cut to the specific shape of your X-Wing Miniatures for maximum safety and OCD compliance.

There's pros and cons to getting the custom-cut foam - it looks fantastic and takes care of your ships like nothing else, but obviously having your storage so prescribed means that any extra ships you buy are unlikely to find a home in it until you go out and buy more foam.  It's fine having space for two B-Wings but what happens when you buy a third B-Wing?  It's also not a perfect solution for portability as you tend to have carry around whole trays of ships instead of just the few ships you want to play with.  

Personally I've gone with the custom-cut trays, and while I had fun playing X-Wing 'Tetris' to fit as many ships as possible onto my tray I think there's a lot to be said for taking the generic squares/rectangles route, especially if you're buying it as a gift and don't know exactly what ships they have!  Feldherr and Battlefoam are two brandnames I know well, thought I'm sure others must be available and be equally good.

10.  Playmats Playing (Cost: $$$$$)

A nice big X-Wing starfield playmat is one of the best purchases an X-Wing Lover can make, because it makes it so much easier to just set up and play somewhere on a surface that otherwise may not be ideal.  Even so, because it isn't strictly necessary to play the game, your X-Wing Lover may have labelled it as a luxury purchase they can't quite justify over buying ships they want to play with.  That means it could be the perfect place for a loved one to step in and buy it as a present without having to worry about what ships or pilots their X-Wing Lover already has.

There's a range of options for the material you can have a playmat made out of but, although they're a little bit more expensive than others. I would recommend the official FFG playmats as the best place to start.  

They look great but more importantly they're made with a thick rubber back - think of something like a giant floppy mousemat - that makes them easy to roll/fold for transport but will still lay out flat and cover any little gaps or dips in the surface your X-Wing Lover is playing on.

They also have a fabric playing surface that doesn't send ships skidding out of position any time they're nudged accidentally, which some of the cheaper playmats are prone to do.

9.  Card Binders Binding (Cost: $$$$$)

If your X-Wing Lover is already all over keeping their X-Wing ships stored away then they may still benefit from learning a trick from all the gamers who play card games instead, by purchasing a nifty binder to keep all their pilot & upgrade cards in.  Ultra Pro are the market leaders but plenty of other brands are available, and any card binder that would suit Magic: The Gathering cards is going to work perfectly, it doesn't need to be specific to X-Wing.  X-Wing pilot cards are the same size as the cards from most trading card games, and the smaller upgrade cards are half the size so you can fit two of them into one card pocket by turning them sideways.

Alternatively a little extra searching may turn up a specific smaller binder. like the one on the left there, that fits the Upgrade cards in perfectly.  Personally I've got both, and it turns what would otherwise be boxes and shelves of cards wrapped in elastic bands into something that can both neatly go onto a bookshelf and also makes it quick and easy to find the cards I want to play with.

8.  Plastic Tokens (Cost: $$$$$)

An easy little way to upgrade your X-Wing Lover's collection is to buy him some shiny new tokens to play with.  

There's dozens of different types of token in X-Wing so this might seem daunting at first, but if you check out some of the most popular online destinations like Pinterest, Etsy or ebay you're likely to find that a lot of companies specifically bundle together the most commonly-used tokens that your X-Wing lover will need (eg. Shields, Focus, Stress, Evade, Target Locks).  

Shooting for one of those bundles takes a lot of the hassle out of picking out which tokens your X-Wing Lover will want, but if you have a better idea of the type of ships that they like to play with then some of the more specialist tokens like Emperor Palpatine, Cloaking Device or Extra Munitions may show just how much you've been paying attention!

7.  Star Wars Jumpers (Cost: $$$$$)

These won't help your X-Wing Lover to play X-Wing, but it will ensure that they both look the part and remain cosy and warm during the festive X-Wing season.  There are going to be Regional Championship tournaments for X-Wing running right through the winter months of January and February so a cheesy Star Wars Christmas jumper is both a fashion statement (or at least an ignorance-of-fashion statement) and valuable protection against developing hypothermia as your X-Wing Lover pursues intergalactic glory.

Alright, alright, I might be stretching a bit with this one but I could only think of eleven good ones so there had to be a bit of filler in to make up the dozen!  Back to better ideas...

6. Shiny Templates (Cost: $$$$$)

One of the most important pieces of kit for any X-Wing Lover is their movement templates that they use to push their little plastic ships around, and these days there are a wealth of companies and individuals offering the chance to upgrade them to something a little grander than the basic cardboard versions that come with the game.

Hunting down some custom movement templates will take you to most of the same places that you'd go for the plastic tokens as they tend to be made by the same people.  You can look on ebay, Pinterest, Etsy or Amazon and pretty quickly be overwhelmed by options - materials, colours, designs, Imperial or Rebel, official or third party?

The ultra-devoted may even go as far as commissioning some custom templates unique to their X-Wing Lover.  In my experience most of the companies that make these tokens will be able to help you out with a special request, like my TIE Fighter template below, though you may have to pay them a few more spacebucks to get something truly unique.

5.  SHIPS!  SHIPS!  SHIPS! (Cost: $$$$$ to $$$$$)

What do we want?  SHIPS!  When do we want them?  SHIPS!

Unless your X-Wing Lover already has all the plastic they need to recreate the Battle of Endor single-handedly then you're unlikely to go wrong by simply buying them more SHIPS!  This is especially if you can manage to work out what they've not got yet, and this Christmas a safe bet for a new purchase is the two ships that feature in the new movie (they're called the U-Wing and the TIE Striker).  Those two ships are coming into stores literally a week before Christmas, meaning your X-Wing Lover has had little chance to get to them before you.

Aside from that just buying them SHIPS! is a great gift, and a flexible one too because you can go as large or as small as your wallet will allow, right from a single fighter like a Protectorate Starfighter or an A-Wing to a boxed set like Heroes of the Resistance or Imperial Veterans, or one of the huge epic ships like the Imperial Raider or Tantive IV.  

If you're still utterly baffled as to which ships you should buy then as luck would have it I've recently compiled some handy buying guides of which the best ships are to buy for each faction, which may help somewhat...


You will almost certainly find the best prices online but without wanting to complicate your christmas shopping any more than I have to I'm honour-bound to mention that purchasing the ships from your X-Wing Lover's friendly local game store instead of online is the gaming equivalent of buying 'Fair Trade' products.  It may cost a little bit more than the best online discounts but it helps to keep the store open and without a store to support the local community your X-Wing Lover may find themselves without anywhere to play, or anybody to play against.  That would make them a sad X-Wing Lover.

Where you shop is entirely your decision but at least I've made you aware of the merits of the two options, so my conscience is clear!

4.  Alt-Art Cards (Cost: $$$$$)

This one may require some expert ebay or Google skills, but there are a number of alternative artworks for most of the ships & pilots in the X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Many of them are official FFG releases that have existed as prize support at one point or another, or on the other hand you could look for the celebrated Limited Edition cards drawn by Paul Le Rue.  

Whichever way you go, or even if you get creative and make your own cards, then if you know what pilots your X-Wing Lover loves to play this could be a nice little stocking filler that will be right up his exhaust port.

3.  Custom Ships (Cost: $$$$$)

X-Wing Lovers love very little more than they love SHIPS! but one of the few things they're almost guaranteed to love more is pimping out their squads by taking one of their favourites and giving it a unique custom paint job.  

Now unless you're harbouring a secret artistic side this isn't likely to be something that you can do alone, but that doesn't mean you can't get somebody to help.  Your X-Wing Lover's friendly local game store may be able to put you in touch with a painting maestro near you who will take a commission, or if not then the internet is full of people who will happily exchange your hard-earned currency for their skill, time and paints.  

Try searching for something like "Miniatures Painting Commission" and you'll not be short of options that might cost a few spacebucks but shouldn't totally break the bank, and which is almost certain to delight your X-Wing Lover.

2.  Kallax Shelves (Cost: $$$$$)

IKEA loves gamers and gamers love IKEA.  When it comes to finding cheap and practical furniture to fit out a mancave the Swedish gods of flatpack are an obvious choice and the Kallax shelving system has become the go-to choice of board game storage for dice-flinging, card-shuffling gamers the world over.  IKEA must know about this little niche market they've cornered because their latest addition to the Kallax range in 2016 is... *drumroll* ...a table that attaches right onto the shelves!  

And is this table big enough to play X-Wing on?

You bet your Tauntaun it is!
Father Christmas might need to get a larger sleigh to deliver this present when he makes his festive trench run, but combining storage and a playing surface in one place should be plenty to satisfy your X-Wing Lover.  I've got a sneaking suspicion that he may already have one of these tucked away in his Smuggling Compartment for delivery to yours truly, by the way.

1. Someone to Play X-Wing With (Cost: $$$$$)

Your X-Wing Lover loves X-Wing, and your X-Wing Lover loves you.  Let them combine those loves by sharing their X-Wing with you, the one they love.  You may be pretty sure that X-Wing isn't for you and you're not interested in playing but there's a reason why X-Wing has become the biggest miniatures game in the world - it's bloody good fun!  It doesn't take long to learn to play, or even that long to play a full game or two, and I'm sure your X-Wing Lover would secretly love you to give it a try, even if they'd never ask themselves.

What's the worst that could happen, really?

You might find you like playing X-Wing and have a new hobby you two can do together, or it might not be for and you're just indulging your X-Wing Lover for an hour or two.  Either way it's going to be time well spent sharing something that they enjoy.

And besides, bringing loved ones together to enjoy each other's company, playing board games together while you slowly digest your Christmas lunch... isn't that what Christmas is really all about?

That's all from me, and hopefully this lighthearted trip through the world of X-Wing paraphenalia will lead to some happy X-Wing players over the holiday season.

And in case I don't see you before the big day: Merry Christmas, one and all!