Friday, 17 June 2016

"Strike me down..." - How To Lose At X-Wing

I'm a fan of a big bold headline.  Something where you've been able to boil a big idea down to a soundbite.  So check this out:

There are only four ways to lose a game of X-Wing.

A pretty bold statement but also one I think is broadly true.  In this blog I'm going to look at what those four ways of losing are, and I'm also going to look at how we can best respond to those different type of defeats so that we can bounce back stronger.

What prompted this blog is the realisation that at the recent Yavin Open & Regional I lost four games and, by sheer coincidence, each of those defeats was because of a different one of those four ways to lose.  I'm going to draw on my specific examples of what happened to me at Yavin to illustrate each one.  

1. You Messed Up

Hurts, doesn't it?  You had the game in the bag except your concentration slipped for a second and the game turned on a dime, ultimately sending you home in defeat...

X-Wing is a complicated game and has a multitude of ways for you to shoot yourself in the foot.  Most of the learning curve of becoming better at X-Wing is about gradually reducing the % of games that you just randomly hand to your opponent by making a bad play.  There's so many potential pitfalls to avoid that I won't even attempt to list them all, but what I can do is share the example of a dreadful mistake that cost me a game in the Regional tournament the day before Yavin Open.

My mistake was one of target priority, which is something that I think is perhaps the single most common mistake that players make once they've learned not to crash into everything.  I was playing my 'Slaughterhouse' Crack Swarm variant against Lewis Whitham's Imperial Aces - Darth Vader, The Inquisitor, and Emperor Palpatine aboard a Lambda Shuttle.  My playtest group had discussed the target priority in this precise matchup and so I knew that the correct way to approach the match was to target Darth Vader first, then the Lambda Shuttle, and then finally round up The Inquisitor.

I started off correctly and downed Darth Vader in a hail of gunfire to put myself well ahead in the game, then looking at the table I decided that The Inquisitor was actually in a pretty bad position and I would be able to attack him without taking care of the shuttle first.

After two turns of ineffectually chasing the nimble TIE Advanced Prototype with nothing to show for it thanks to his Evade tokens, Autothrusters, Focus tokens and Palpatine's insidious use of the Force I realised I had missed my window and was going to lose.

What To Do About It

The first thing to do when you screw up is often the hardest, which is to forgive yourself.  The mistake was made and it's in the past so holding a grudge against the idiot who made that mistake isn't going to be very constructive for the future.  You're going to just have to kiss and make up with your past self, however you much you really want to just punch them in the face. 

There's no benefit whatsoever in carrying that mistake around with you through the next few turns, games, or even tournaments - "I wouldn't be having to make this maneuver if I hadn't screwed up" or "that ship wouldn't even have been there to shoot at me if I hadn't screwed up" or "I'd have been able to afford this loss if I hadn't lost that game I screwed up earlier".  If you catch yourself having thoughts like that then it's all distracting you from making the best play from the position you're in.

Once you're back on speaking terms with yourself then it all gets a lot easier.

Be clear about the mistake you made and why it happened.  If you can't be brutally honest with yourself then who can you be honest with?  This is not just "because I flew onto that rock" but asking WHY you flew onto that rock.  Was it because you were too tired?  Because you didn't really think about it?  Because you've never sat down with all the templates and some bases and tried to learn ways of predicting what maneuvers look like?  Because you just went 'screw it, no guts no glory, where eagle's dare, the force be with me... aww crap I landed on a rock'?

Once you're clear about the mistake you need to put a mental bullet point on it.  Something that will trigger the next time you're in the same position and make you stop and think so you at least give yourself the chance to avoid history repeating itself.  

If nothing else just think of George W Bush.  

Bottom Line: Mistakes are how we learn.  If you don't recognise your mistakes, don't understand why they happened and don't try to avoid repeating them then you're not learning.

2. You Got Outflown

Sometimes you just meet somebody who plays better than you - he just seems to have your number, predicts your moves and finds the perfect position on the board to destroy you.  You never seem to be able to get a shot away, or when you do it's at range 3 through an asteroid, while he's constantly nudging into range 1 behind you to do maximum damage.  They're always thinking just that little bit ahead of you, baiting you into bad shots or terrible positions.

In truth the specific boundary between "You Messed Up" and "You Got Outflown" is a bit of a grey area - if he saw that a move would put him in a great position then did you mess up by not spotting what he was going to do?  I prefer to leave the "You Messed Up" definition to something that was a clear mistake on your part and give credit where credit is due to an opponent who simply flew his list better than you - sometimes with a key strategic masterstroke and sometimes by simply not making any big mistakes.

At the Yavin Open I lost my last round of Saturday to precisely this - an opponent who was one step ahead of me the whole way.  Once again it was Imperial Aces (this time Carnor Jax, Omega Leader, Wampa and the Emperor in his Shuttle)  but unlike my defeat against Lewis this wasn't one that I threw away by making a terrible error because, at the time, I thought it was a masterstroke!

Ion approached me head-on down the flank of the table with the bulk of his ships, while Carnor Jax tried to flank my through some asteroids to the right.  On the first turn I drove my TIE Swarm hard and fast at his ships then, thinking myself rather clever, I jammed everyone into a hard turn to catch Carnor by surprise as he swept in from the flank.  It was a huge success and Ion's elite Interceptor crumpled under my swarm's fire.  Hurrah!

Except, actually, Ion had just won the game.  He had been fully prepared to lose Carnor Jax if it meant pulling me out of position.  I was now flying into a sea of asteroids with Ion's ships closing in on my rear.  My TIEs fell rapidly thanks to his aggressive use of the Lambda Shuttle where most players are defensive with it.

I didn't destroy another ship and the game was over.

What To Do About It

For the flipside of 'you made a mistake' it makes sense that the response is also the flipside.  If it's important to forgive yourself when you screwed up it's equally important to summon your inner drill sergeant when you get outflown.  Yeah, your opponent is a multiple Regional champion, yeah he played a great list perfectly... but did you just give up and let it happen?  

When you turn up at a game expecting to lose there's a very good chance you are, in fact, going to lose.  It's very easy to slip into the routine of "yep, I do this and then you do that and then I do this but then you already had that covered and then I lose".  Going through the motions, when those motions involve getting beaten, isn't a great way to try and beat the odds.

But more importantly than that, when you expect to get beaten by a better player then go in watching what he's doing that makes him better.  X-Wing isn't a game where physical advantages matter, it's not like you're playing Basketball and it turns out he's 6'8" and you're only 5.'4" - whatever he's doing is something that you can learn to do as well, so work out where they're getting those advantages.  Getting beaten by a better player can be one of the most rewarding games you'll ever play, but only if you decide you want it to be. 

One of the things I always do after a game when I feel that I've been outflown is ask a pretty obvious question: "What should I have done differently?".  Virtually everyone I've ever played X-Wing with is happy to open right up and help you learn.  They'll point out the things you did that really helped them out which you had never even considered, and they'll also tell you what they were worried you were going to do, but didn't.

The ticket to becoming a better player is standing right in front of you in the shape of your opponent.  Take the opportunity.

3. Dice, Dice, Baby.

Right, let's sort this out right now.  You've almost certainly not lost as many games to dice rolls as you think you have.  You may think it's 50% of your defeats are because of unlucky dice, you may think it's only 20%, but whatever % you think the true answer is almost certainly less.  This is because it's human nature to try and deflect the 'blame' for a defeat and externalise it onto the dice.  But in blaming the dice are you ignoring that you missed play opportunities to modify those dice with Focus or Target Locks, or to have dialled a different move and not even been in a position to get shot at in the first place?

To paraphrase the NRA: "dice don't kill people.  People kill people".  

Most of the time.

Sometimes, though, the dice ARE going to cost you.  X-Wing is a dice game, variance happens, and in some games the impact of that variance is going to be weighted against you heavily enough that you lose the game.  It's unavoidable that this will happen to you in at least some percentage of games.

At the Yavin Open I played a match where my red dice were so bad that it was, in the end, actually funny.  Playing against a mix of Rebel ships with Biggs Darklighter in the rear my opponent did a fantastic job of splitting my fire on the initial engagement, meaning that instead of destroying any of his ships I only stripped the shields off his Stressbot and put a couple of damage onto Biggs.

Six or seven turns later, when the game finally ended, I hadn't dealt a single extra point of damage - Biggs was still happily cruising around with his one Hull point left.  My TIEs all died with their Crack Shots unspent because, for all my maneuvering for position to try and keep myself in the game, I simply couldn't roll enough hits that I had a reason to spend Crack Shot!  I finally got Biggs in the sights of Omega Leader, with his Target Lock and Juke, only to have his stressed K-turning Biggs roll three natural evades as variance flicked me one last middle finger.  It had been that sort of game, and perhaps the longest and most consistently poor run of variance I've experienced since I started playing X-Wing.

By the way, all of this has been about the impact of dice but I should make it clear that variance also extends to the critical hits that come out of the damage deck.  You could pull a critical hit that has very little effect, or one that completely cripples or outright destroys your ship.  You could easily imagine situations where if you dealt yourself a different critical hit the outcome of the game would have been different.

What To Do About It

The biggest problem in defeats that were down to dice is that, probably, it wasn't actually down to the dice at all and you're just kidding yourself.  You need to really interrogate the hypothesis that it was the dice at fault in the game and, if possible, reclassify the defeat as actually having been down to one of the other three ways of losing.

Yeah you got that bum roll of the green dice, but didn't he get a bum roll too?  Are you sure he didn't?  And didn't you also spend three turns dodging fire like a demon before that bum roll came in?  And didn't you roll those two crits that crippled his ship when he got a Damaged Sensor Array?  Are you sure?

And yeah you got that bum roll of the green dice, but shouldn't you have maybe predicted what he was going to do and never been fired on anyway?  Maybe if you'd thought to make a 2 Turn instead of a 3 Turn you would have had room to Barrel Roll out of his arc?  Maybe if you'd taken an Evade instead of a Focus you'd have survived, sure you would have taken a bit more damage on average but there was no chance you would actually explode and if you'd survived to shoot then you would have won the game...

And yeah you got that bum roll of the green dice, but couldn't you have recovered from that?  Did you need to let it all go to pieces like it did?  Did you need to start throwing ships around stupidly because "it's one of those games, my luck is awful I might as well just try and get a bit of MOV because I can't win with these dice"?

But sometimes, just sometimes, it's definitely the dice.  Not even that over the course of the game they were imbalanced, but that when it went right for you it didn't really matter but when it went wrong it was at a crucial moment.  Or maybe it just went wrong and kept going wrong, no matter how calm you stayed or how well you tried to play.  

What do you do if it really was the dice?

You forget about it.

There's nothing else you can do.  If you're happy that you played as well as you could, that you responded to a bad dice roll as well as you could and simply got another bad dice roll, and another, and another... forget about it.

Don't tell your friends, don't turn it into your killer after dinner story, don't make it the anecdote everyone rolls their eyes at hearing again, don't make it into a forum post, don't mythologise what could have/should have been.  

There's nothing to learn and nothing to benefit from dwelling on it.  Just get onto the next game.

4. A Bad Matchup

A good squad is not equally good against all opponents, nor a bad one equally bad against everyone.  Usually there are specific strengths and weaknesses that make some matches much harder or easier than others, at which point if none of the three things above happen to change the result then you can pick the winner just from looking at the how the two squads line up against each other.

You'll hear people talk about this a lot because it's a pretty convenient shorthand to say something like "Crack Swarm beats Jumpmasters".  It's a useful bullet point, a way of mentally logging a bit of metagame knowledge so you can start thinking about something else, although really it should be caveated a little bit more heavily as "MOST Crack Swarm variants beat MOST Jumpmaster variants MOST of the time IF the Crack Swarm player doesn't make a mistake AND the Jumpmaster player doesn't play very well AND the dice don't have a particularly big impact on the game".

Regardless of how much you want to caveat that statement, though, it's true that in general Crack Swarms have a good matchup against Jumpmasters.

The last defeat I want to share with you from the recent Regional/Open is an example of where the specific matchup of our squads turned that bit of common knowledge on its head.  I had played against Jumpmasters many times while practicing with my Crack Swarm and I knew how the matchup worked - in a straight-up joust I was heavily favoured so long as I avoided getting bumped so my guys couldn't Focus.  I was playing against Cormac Higgins who was using a variant of Jumpmasters that used two ships with Overclocked R4 in place of R4 Agromech, and Manaroo equipped as a 'bumpmaster' with Feedback Array.  We played through our approach at an angle from each other and I judged it perfectly, lining my TIEs up to unload on one of his two leading Jumpmasters while Manaroo hid at the back out of range.

I began to unload my TIEs onto one of his Jumpmasters but Cormac kept using Overclocked R4 to continually Focus his green dice, stacking a bunch of stress tokens onto his ship.  I'd never played against this style of Jumpmaster before and it materially changed the maths in how the initial engagement would play out - I was no longer 85% likely to kill his ship before it fired and in fact would be lucky to remove all his shields!  My whole gameplan for the Jumpmaster match was practically null and void at that point.  What should be a positive matchup, where my five Elite TIEs destroy 1/3rd of his fleet before it could fire, was transformed into a poor matchup where I would be punished for sinking all my points into fewer ships.

After I had finished losing I did a mental check of why I'd lost.  

Had I made a mistake?  Well, perhaps - I'd definitely misread how his list was going to work against me but it wasn't really altogether clear that I had much alternative for how to approach it - but in terms of my actual play on the table it had all been executed in precisely the way that had destroyed so many other Jumpmaster opponents before.  

Had I been outflown?  Well again, although Cormac didn't make any mistakes it wasn't really that he'd done anything particularly special because my approach suited him just fine.  

Had the dice decided the result?  Nope, not really, they'd behaved pretty much as expected.  

It was the matchup that had made the biggest difference, the changes in Cormac's list which meant I had taken my squad in the wrong direction if I wanted to beat him.  The Crack Swarm that Cormac's list fears isn't one that's maximising high Pilot Skill pilots, like mine was, it's the one that brings the PS1 Academy Pilots mixed in along with the Black Squadron Crack Shots because the Academy Pilots are a threat to bump his Jumpmasters on the approach and prevent them stacking that first Focus token.  Yes, Manaroo can hand one of them a Focus but if you've blocked both then you can shoot at whichever wasn't focused.  If I were to play the match a second time I would definitely have tried to find a different approach because jousting wasn't going to work, but there's no doubting that it would have been an uphill struggle against the extra Focus defense dice.

What To Do About It

The matchup losses are often the last refuge for deciding games that weren't already decided by another factor, and that's a good place to start unpicking how to respond to them.  Neither bad dice or your mistake contributed to you defeat, but you can't produce a battle plan for the future of "I'm going to hope my opponent screws up or every red dice comes up a hit" to try and change the result next time.  What you can do, when you're facing a bad matchup, is ask how you could have changed the matchup if you approached flying it differently.

Could you have outflown your opponent to reduce how bad the matchup was?

I've shared some examples of my defeats at Yavin and this is a good time to share an example of a game I won instead.

In preparing for Yavin I had been dealt a crushing defeat at the hands of a Boba Fett/Dengar list where both pilots were PS10 with Glitterstim.  I set out confidently to joust the two big ships, only to get annihilated when he fired before me, destroyed Zeta Leader, then used Glitterstim to avoid the worst of what I threw back at him.  He mopped up what was left in a comfortable 100-0 victory.  Fast forward into the Regional on the Friday afternoon and I faced a teammate of the player who had destroyed me a couple of weeks earlier, with a virtually identical Boba/Dengar list.  This, I now knew, was a bad matchup.  The onus was on me to try and find a way to minimise my weakness and create a chink in the matchup that I could exploit.  That meant I would have to break away from all the strategies I'd used in the past, and in fact I did what everyone knows you never do with a TIE Swarm...

By constructing a tight asteroid field and then flying right into the middle of it I was changing the odds.  I needed to attack my opponent when he wasn't Glitterstimmed, but to do that I needed to bait my opponent to use Glitterstim and then survive a round of shooting without losing a TIE.  Hiding in range 3 and behind the asteroids was my best bet, and it worked perfectly with the added bonus of then limiting my opponent's options as he then tried to avoid hitting the rocks himself.

Experience of defeat meant I understood that the matchup was poor, and it began a chain of decisions that ultimately helped me to win the rematch by outflying my opponent.  Hurrah!

That's one response to a bad matchup, but the other responses you could make really depend on how often it's happening to you.  

If the bad matchup defeats are only coming rarely then you have to try and shrug them off like you do the defeats caused by bad dice.  Ultimately the pairings of a tournament are just another form of variance and if you were unfortunate in being drawn against one of the few squads in the room that really cause you massive problems then, well, it's not something you can really allow for and you just have to take that defeat on the chin in the knowledge that there won't be many of them coming your way.

But if you keep losing to bad matchups, either to a bunch of different lists that all cause you problems or to a single list that you just keep facing time and time again... well, that's probably a sign that it's time to change what squad you're playing.  

For whatever reason you're just finding too many games that are an uphill challenge - it could be that you have stuck with a favourite list that is now past it's 'Best Before' date, it could be that people around you have all changed to the latest craze, it could be that you're playing the best list in the world but happen to live in a weird local metagame bubble where people are still playing old stuff that happens to beat it.

The reason doesn't matter, really, because the response is the same: play something different.

Right at this moment I feel like there is a whole section of the X-Wing community trapped on the horns of this dilemma.  Their favoured lists are being destroyed by the hot new alpha strikes of popular squads like Jumpmasters and Crack Swarms and they're finding themselves playing a lot of bad matchups.  The answer, if you're dedicated to learning from your defeats and doing better in future, is to change what you're playing.  Anyway, that's a digression.


Winning is easy, because you win there's not so much to analyse or worry about.

Learning to lose, though.  That's a real skill.  Learning to lose, and in losing: learn.

That starts by learning HOW you lost.  When you know that you can start to ask WHY you lost, and from there begin the road to avoiding it happening in future.  I believe the four ways to lose X-Wing cover pretty much everything, and in truth they don't just apply to X-Wing but to all games, and probably not even just to games but to life itself.

I also think that you can define people by how well they respond to each type of defeat, and what those responses reveal about our motivations for playing and what we want from the game.  But that's an issue for another day, and another blog.

Until then: lose well!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

"Wars not make one great" - reporting back from the Yavin Open

You may have noticed a bit of a pause in my blogs recently, a pause that coincided with my increased preparation for the two biggest X-Wing tournaments I've ever played in - the Yavin Open and it's accompanying Regional.  Those two events are behind me now and they've stirred up plenty of new blogging material so hopefully I'll be able to commit some of those pent up ideas to the internet before too long.

Starting with this, my tournament report from the Regional and Yavin Open.  

The first thing to say is that I'm not really a fan of tournament reports in general - I don't get much from reading other people's thus assume you won't get much from reading mine - so there won't be much detail play-by-play analysis.  Instead I'm going to try and pull out the turning points in the games, and learnings I gleaned from them.

However the tournament report has to start by showing you what I was playing:

Welcome to the Slaughterhouse!

Slaughterhouse is a Crack Swarm variant which trades the sixth TIE Fighter from a classic Crack Swarm for higher Pilot Skill across the swarm and the endgame prowess of Omega Leader.  

With Zeta Leader and Scourge's abilities I still roll the same 12 red dice on initial engagement that a Crack Swarm does but, sometimes critically, I roll them much earlier in the combat phase as my PS is that much higher.  This is most material in matchups against other Crack Swarms where I'll frequently take two of their TIEs off and create a pivotal advantage before they can open fire, and it also flips the matchup against PS6 Brobots where instead of usually losing a couple of ships to their PS6 I've got a very good chance of removing one of the Aggressors before it can fire.

Occasionally the higher PS does matter for maneuvering as well - the Dash lists don't like that I could potentially have 4 of my ships moving after Dash as they're used to having perfect Barrel/Boosting information to keep the TIEs at arm's length - but most commonly the high PS is leveraged in firing earlier and removing targets before they can fire.

The transition down to five TIEs does come at a price, most notably that as my ships are destroyed you're taking a greater % of my firepower at a time and when I've played against some high PS lists I've had to be more cagey in my play.  Perhaps my single heaviest defeat with this list came at the hands of a Dengar/Boba Fett squad that had given both the pilots PS10.  Jousting me heads-up with Glitterstim for the initial engagement he simply blew me away.

But outside of that sort of scenario I'm convinced this is better than a basic Crack Swarm in most of the key matchups, especially mirror matches against other Swarms and against Brobots.  If Slaughterhouse is 'Crack Swarm+' then the '+' in that is Omega Leader, and I can't even begin to count the number of times that it's my trusty O.Leader who deals the lethal damage.  If he was just any other elite TIE then I'd be back at six ships, but bringing Omega Leader in for the endgame without sacrificing any of the Crack Swarm's alpha strike power occurs to me as being the best of both worlds.

I picked up a Crack Swarm for the first time about two months before Yavin and immediately liked how it matched my aggressive playstyle.  Slaughterhouse was born when I saw the 'TIE All-Stars' list being played by a couple of redditors.  Coming from a Crack Swarm background I saw the potential for dropping in additional Crack Shots and when I ran the maths I found that the difference between 4 Crack Shot & Juke and the original 2 Crack Shot and Juke was enormous in your ability to take a Jumpmaster off before it fired - 83% vs 35%.

Ready for battle!
I never looked back from that, and in four tournaments with Slaughterhouse I've only lost a handful of games, including winning the two final Yavin preparation tournaments at my local store.

I liked my TIEs and my TIEs liked me.  I was confident.  I knew that I wouldn't win the Open, I knew that among the players with many years more experience than me I find some who would simply outfly, but I also knew that my squad was lethal and would ruthlessly punish any mistake from my opponents.

I was as ready as I was going to get.

Time to play some serious X-Wing!


Approximately 120 players from across the UK with an estimated 60 Store Championships among them, this tournament is likely one of the toughest X-Wing events ever held in the UK.  Played on a Friday before the weekend Yavin Open it meant that playing in this Regional required booking a day off work, buying an extra day's pass for the UK Games Expo that would hold both events, and also a night's accomodation in a pricey convention hotel.  Only players who were committed enough to X-Wing and who fancied their chances of winning would be playing in this Regional - easy games and casual players would likely be few and far between.

(Miranda/Esege - two heavily bomb-laden K-Wings)

Esege lays his 2nd mine... then dies!
Our playtesting for Yavin had revolved around heavily playing the matchups against what we felt were the top lists in the metagame - Jumpmasters, Aces, Crack Swarms, Brobots and various large Rebel ship combinations like Dash/Ghost.  Although we'd spent most of our time on preparing for those games we'd always spoken about the fact that you'd need to earn the right to play against them by beating a whole variety of other squads that people might come up with.

A pair of Advanced SLAMming K-Wings with Proton Bombs, Proximity Mines, Conner Nets and Thermal Detonators?  That definitely fell under the latter category!  I'd never played against anything like this before so even though on paper I felt like my list was strong I was very uncertain about how to approach the matchup.  I also had in mind the humbling loss I'd suffered a few months ago when I faced bombs for the first time - playing against something you've not seen before gives you plenty of opportunities to throw the game.

My TIEs hurl themselves after Miranda
 Cai built the asteroids in a diagonal line across the table, then on the first turn his plan was revealed as he set about blocking up the gaps in that line by sending Esege Tuktu to SLAM-plant a Proximity Mine in one of them.

I guessed that his second turn would be to drop another mine in the second gap between asteroids so angled my approach... and called it just right.  Esege SLAMmed up the table and dropped a second Proximity Mine out the back then my TIE Swarm all swept in behind him and the first of Cai's K-Wings disintegrated under the sheer weight of fire.

I still had Miranda to deal with and I didn't want to give Cai too many turns to exploit her Twin Laser Turret so my TIEs aggressively darted over asteroids and proximity mines to close the gap.  Scourge paid the ultimate price for that haste but it was enough to prevent Miranda slipping away with a SLAM action and instead she turned back on herself.  My TIEs boxed her into a corner and a Blinded Pilot critical hit proved the killer blow, as a turn without firing meant a turn without regenerating shields.

WIN 100-19

ROUND TWO - Charles
(Dengar / Boba Fett)


As I mentioned when I talked about my TIE Swarm perhaps the heaviest defeat I've ever suffered was at the hands of Lewis Whitham's PS10 Boba/Dengar list, which was almost identical to the one that Charles was bringing to the table.  I knew that the odds were heavily against me in this matchup, but I also knew from bitter experience that I couldn't just joust this one out.

With Boba dying in amongst the rocks my TIEs danced around Dengar
I thought for a minute or two about how I could change the matchup and decided that my best bet was to do something unexpected and deliberately fly into the asteroids and try to suck him in after me.  I built a circle of asteroids near my lines and cruised slowly into it while Charles took the bait and boosted Boba Fett over to join me.

With Charles' initial approach attack coming through asteroids at range 3 I was able to weather that one turn then swarm around the asteroids to block and trap Boba in place.  The Firespray quickly disintegrated, leaving me three TIEs to dance around Dengar with.  I played a very cautious game with an awful lot of Evade actions to protect my TIEs from his turret, while I tried to maneuver around out of Dengar's arc, before I was in position and Omega Leader could finally take the second bounty hunter off the table.

This was a bullet dodged against I list that had embarassed me last time, and I tried to find Lewis during the break to thank him for my earlier beating - if I'd not been so soundly thrashed a couple of weeks ago I would almost certainly have lost that round.  I couldn't find him, though.

WIN 100-35

(Palp Aces - Vader/Inquisitor/Shuttle)

Ah, here he was!  Flaunting the 120 to 1 odds, right after failing to find Lewis between the rounds here he was as my next opponent... typical!  It turned out that my last round opponent, Charles, is a teammate of Lewis' and he'd just been hearing about the match so my thanks were a little bittersweet.  
Since he'd handed me a drubbing with Boba/Dengar a couple of weeks ago Lewis had changed squad, though, and was now bringing a pretty common Palp Aces variant.  My playgroup had discussed this exact list in great detail and we believe that target priority is key: Vader -> Shuttle -> Inquisitor is the correct way to go about it, we believe.  You take Vader off first because he's where the immediate damage threat is coming from but then you have to switch Palpatine off before you start chasing Inquisitor with his Evades and Autothrusters.  

Omega Leader is starting to feel lonely...
The first part of that plan went well enough and my swarm caught Vader with full guns on the second turn, then finished the wounded dark lord of the Sith on the next turn.  So far so good, but then I threw it away by abandoning the order of target priority because I felt I had an opportunity to get enough guns onto the Inquisitor the next turn.  

I was wrong and in the two turns that I spent fruitlessly throwing red dice at Lewis' TIE Advanced Prototype the game swung entirely his way.  I lost a couple of TIEs and now didn't have the firepower to rapidly drop the Shuttle even if I wanted to so was forced into trying to joust the Inquisitor with my sole remaining Omega Leader... it didn't go well.

My crime was hubris, thinking that I was so far ahead after easily killing Vader that I could wrap the game up in four turns by quickly finishing the Inquisitor too.  I should have stuck to the plan and downed the Shuttle ASAP.  

I paid the price for my lack of vision.

LOSS 39-100

(Manaroo Bumpmaster & 2x Overclocked Jumpmasters)

I've played the Jumpmaster matchup perhaps more than any other so I know that I'm handily favourite so long as I can avoid being bumped on the initial engage.  Cormac was playing a slightly different variant that I'd not played against, with Overclocked and Manaroo, but it wouldn't change my initial approach.

We rolled up and angled our ships for the first engagement, and I was feeling very happy that I had handily avoided the bump - in fact Cormac hadn't even tried for one.  From this point I felt almost certain to destroy one of his two Jumpmasters before it fired, and with Manaroo hiding at the back I would only be taking one shot back, so it should be comfortable.

First shot: he focuses to Evade, then Overlocks.  I get no damage through.

Second shot: he focuses to Evade, then Overlocks.  I get 1 damage through,

I began to realise that I might have miscalculated just how different Cormac's version plays vs Crack Swarm.  My whole Swarm unloaded on one of his Jumpmasters but barely scratched the paint, then in return he took off off two of my TIEs with the help of some admittedly shoddy green dice on my part.

My TIEs were in a great position on the initial engagement...but the multi-stress Jumpmaster refused to die!
Still, Cormac now had a critically stressed Jumpmaster so I only needed to worry about one of them firing Torpedoes for the rest of the game.  Oh, wait, Manaroo will donate a Focus to him despite the stress so in fact he was able to S-Loop behind me the next turn and unload anyway.  

For all my practice against Jumpmasters I had never played against this particular variant and I was completely blindsided by it.  Other information that I should have known: this list had recently won the Milton Keynes Regional so it was proven to be very strong.

LOSS 0-100


It had been a rapid crash and burn - not long ago I was halfway through my game against Lewis after just killing Vader and looking at going 3-0, and suddenly I was feeling like a pretty dazed 2-2 and out of the tournament.  I decided to save my mental energies for the next day's Yavin Open and dropped out, still kicking myself for throwing it away in the third game.



The sandwiched A-Wings
after their B-Wing escorts were lost

Tackling a fleet of small low PS ships should be meat and drink to my swarm of Crack Shot aces, and so it proved.  In initial engagement I destroyed a B-Wing without taking any damage in return, then on the next turn my front rank of TIEs K-turned in behind his ships to sandwich them, taking out the second B-Wing before it could fire.  That left his 2 red dice A-Wings against my team of 3 green dice TIEs, which should make for a risk-free cleanup.

The A-Wings scattered but my TIEs rapidly chased them down, leaving just one lone Prototype Pilot that managed to scurry halfway around the table and back before Omega Leader could finally pin him down.

WIN 100-21

ROUND TWO - Duncan
(2x Scout & Zuckuss)

In theory the early rounds of the Yavin Open should be easier than anything we had to face in the Friday Regional, and so it had proved as my entire playtest team emerged victorious... correction, everyone but our stalwart Bob who had been pivotal in bringing the team together in the first place.  The first round lottery included just enough good players that one of us had to draw the short straw and Bob had been beaten by Duncan Callender, a very strong player.  Now I was to play the same Duncan in Round Two.

Can you guess where the first Jumpmaster used to be?
Facing the two Jumps and Zuckuss is slightly different to plain triple Jumps because with his higher pilot skill and better endgame dice Zuckuss poses a new threat.  He was my #1 target but the way the initial engagement happened meant Duncan fed me a Jumpmaster instead while Zuckuss hovered just out of range.  One Jump down, while I lost Howlrunner to a return fire torpedo.  My remaining TIEs all turned on Zuckuss and hunted him down over the next two turns, then we circled around and finished off the final Jumpmaster as it tried to run for cover.

Vengeance: Unlocked

WIN 100-35


Peter is part of my playtesting team so we had played each other a couple of times before, meaning that he was one of the few people in the room who knew to be scared of Slaughterhouse TIEs.

It turned out he was right to be so, as my higher Pilot Skill proved the difference in ensuring that I fired first, removing Chopper before he could fire his second shot, and then keeping me dancing out of range of Kanan's autoblaster turret range.

My TIEs scattered to avoid Kanan's front arc
Once I had Chopper's ship off the table I only had one arc to dodge, really, as I shouldn't get caught by the Autoblaster and I took my time in pecking Kanan down, though the result was rarely in doubt despite the fact that I probably threw away one more TIE than I really needed to right at the end, when Howlrunner suffered a rush of blood that she didn't really need.

WIN 100-56

(Biggs, Stressbot, T-70, B-Wing)

Playing against a mix of Rebel ships, a lot like what I defeated in the first round, I was very confident here on the approach.  John was a tougher opponent though and judged his approach well, with Biggs Darklighter doing a fantastic job of splitting my fire on the initial engagement, meaning that instead of destroying any of his ships I only stripped the shields off his Stressbot and put a couple of damage onto Biggs.
The rebel scum fall into my trap (OR... Biggs is about to bone me).
Six or seven turns later, when the game finally ended, I hadn't dealt a single extra point of damage - Biggs was still happily cruising around with his one Hull point left.  My TIEs all died with their Crack Shots unspent because, for all my maneuvering for position to try and keep myself in the game, I simply couldn't roll enough hits that I had a reason to spend Crack Shot!  I finally got Biggs in the sights of Omega Leader, with his Target Lock and Juke, only to have his stressed K-turning Biggs roll three natural evades as variance flicked me one last middle finger.  It had been that sort of game, and perhaps the longest and most consistently poor run of variance I've experienced since I started playing X-Wing.

LOSS 0-100

My first loss of the Open, but it was to something I couldn't really avoid - dice will be dice sometimes.  Time to put that behind me and worry about the next opponent...

ROUND FIVE - Russell
(Scout, Scout, N'Dru with a lethal Homing Missile shot)

An experimental offset deployment for Youngster reaped rewards
Another Jumpmaster variant, which I think by now you now I'm comfortable against.  This one had the wrinkle of running the Z-95 elite N'Dru Suhlak as a lethal side attraction, which I've faced before and underestimated.

I tried something different on the lineup here and, unfortunately for Russell, it worked perfectly.  Instead of my usual formation deployment I set Youngster before N'Dru and deliberately faked out where I would deploy the rest of my TIEs, which Russell lined up opposite as I then moved to the left with my other four.

I then slow-rolled my main force while Youngster bolted forwards at full speed.  Russell had taken the bait and N'Dru also raced forward, getting to missile range and taking his shot at Youngster... the Homing Missile was fired, a Glitterstim was used and a Crack Shot spent - all to deal just 2 damage to my least important TIE!

It was a critical error and I could now virtually ignore N'Dru and focus all my firepower on the two remaining Jumpmasters, making short work of Russell's team.

WIN 100-16

Although the game was pretty straightforward after that initial mistake I want to call out that Russell was definitely the classiest opponent I met all weekend and a credit to how to play the X-Wing properly.  At a key moment in the game he destroyed Omega Leader only for me to realise, once I'd taken the model off the board, that a Weapon Malfunction should have meant he took one less damage and survived.  Russell didn't blink in allowing us to wind back the game and correct the mistake.

(Palp Shuttle, Carnor, Wampa, Omega Leader)

I've played Slaughterhouse enough in practice to know how the games against Palp Aces will go.  If they make a mistake my guys will utterly annihilate them, but if they don't then they've probably got the tools to win.  Palp Aces is a list that really lives and dies on the skill of the pilot at the wheel and I'm not so egocentric to think that, after playing the game for just a few months, there's nobody out there who will be able to outfly me.

Ion outflew me.

I thought I was delivering a masterstroke when I faked to roar straight down the line after his Shuttle and Omega Leader only to jink left instead and catch Carnor in the arc of all my ships.  It turned out that Ion was a good two or three steps ahead of me and had baited that move with Carnor in order to get me flying into the asteroid field, with the rest of his ships raking my back with fire as I went.

I could simply never get my fleet facing back the right way before the incredible dice modification of Omega Leader, Wampa and Palpatine tore my flimsy ships to shreds.

LOSS 31-100

That left me on 4-2 after the first day of the Yavin Open, which was enough to mean I had no chance of making the cut into the Top-8 and actually win the thing, but had secured me the opportunity to come back and play three more rounds on Sunday morning.  The Top-8 was probably out of reach but a clean sweep might get me to Top-16 and some bragging rights, maybe even some extra swag!

Time for a good night's sleep ahead of a third consecutive day of tough X-Wing competition.


I left my phone at my B&B after checking out and had to drop out of the tournament before the Sunday rounds had even begun to rush back and get it.  My Yavin Open experience would end on 4-2, and a final ranking outside the Top 100 as a result.


Still, let's look on bright side.  4-2 in such a seriously competitive environment isn't bad for somebody only just dropping their learner tags.

And one of those defeats was to CRAZY bad dice and I probably should have won that game, so really it was 5-1.

And if I'd been 5-1 and played on Sunday then I was due to meet some of those high-flying Crack Swarms I'd not seen yet, which I beat, and probably another set of Contracted Scouts, which I beat.  So I would have got to 8-1 for sure.

And 8-1 is enough for a Top-8 slot, and the whole event was ultimately won by the only Crack Swarm to make Top-8... that would have been me!!!

So it looks like I went 4-2, but really I probably actually won the Open.  Slaughterhouse is the best squad list, I've broken X-Wing, and you should all play it and thank me later.

Or something like that, anyway.

More seriously: congratulations to Andrew Pattison who actually DID win Yavin with a Crack Swarm.  After the experience of playing against that tougher level of competition I think I agree with the need for Academy Pilots as blockers and, were I to do it all over again, although I still like my Slaughterhouse list I think I'd be moving to something much more like his list (if not precisely his list).


Playing in the Yavin Open was a blast, props to all of my opponents and HUGE props to the organisers, who managed to get it all to run much more smoothly than I expected.  Not without the odd hiccough but I've experienced some FAR worse tournaments from my early Magic: The Gathering days and a 400+ player X-Wing tournament is a learning experience for everyone.

Thanks also to the many disparate souls who came together and bonded under the crucible of playtesting and preparing for Yavin.  You definitely made me a better player, and hopefully I gave something back in return.

And finally, thanks to you for reading this.  Yavin has uncorked many great topics so I won't be short of things to write about for a while so thanks for bearing with me over the lean patch, and I hope you'll continue to do me the honour of reading my words!