Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The 50th Episode - The One With The Flashback Clips

Happy Birthday to me, happy birthday to me!

No, it's not my actual 50th birthday but this post marks my 50th Stay On The Leader blog post!!!  In time honoured American sitcom I'm celebrating that milestone by taking the opportunity to put my feet up and run a cheap episode that's just a clip show of the best bits from past episodes.  

I get a lot more readers today than when I first started out, so hopefully some of this will be new to you and taking a click back through my best bits will be well worthwhile.  So let's head down memory lane...


  • Flight School 101 -  My very first blog!  In which my mind gets blown by all the implications of the 1 Forward template being the same length as a small ship base.  Yes, I really did start at square one.
  • Buying Guides for Rebels / Imperials / Scum - my buying guides have been a perennial favourite, each of them viewed thousands more times than any of my other posts.  The Rebel and Imperial guides have recently been updated with new sets and info, and hopefully I'll get round to updating the Scum guide very soon (hint: buy the Punishing One expansion).

  • X-Wing Dice For Beginners Part I and Part II - from when I was first wrapping my head around the game mechanics these remain a hugely useful pair of blogs that I still use in my thinking for pretty much every game I play, and every squad I build.  The basics of how X-Wing maths works, and how you can use them to help you make better squads without too much effort.

  • Variance, TIE Interceptors and Novak Djokovic - my first really serious strategy blog, diving into the detail of how dice variance changes how you should view the game.  When to avoid unwanted variance and when to go long and make variance your ally.  Oh, and how to win $10,000 from playing tennis.
  • How To Lose At X-Wing - one of the most unexpected titles for maybe my most important blog.  Learning how to lose means learning to be honest about WHY you lost, and how to respond to that defeat so that you're stronger in future.

  • Understanding the Metagame - it's a word you probably heard bandied about a lot, but what does the metagame actually mean.  What does it mean to you, and ultimately do you even care?  Does it even exist?!?

  • The Puzzle of Squad Balance - my most recent blog, which looks at how the pieces in your squad need to come together and work in harmony to pose a tricky puzzle for your opponent.


  • Jumpmaster, He's So Hot Right Now - as the now infamous Punishing One expansion hit stores I looked at precisely why I thought it was going to become a big deal, breaking down why the Jumpmaster 5000 was going to revolutionise X-Wing by finally making torpedoes good.
  • Attani Mindlink - The Next Big Thing? - can you believe I did it again?  In my defense although I was hyping up Mindlink pretty early I was only reporting on what others were already doing and saying "hey guys, I think there's something about to happen here".  Those paying attention to my comments section below the article would have seen the very first public discussion about Paratanni, which was yet to become a household name.  Also: Pacific Rim is shit.

  • A Magic Perspective on Draws in X-Wing - it seems so long ago, but an FAQ last year threw the cat among the pigeons by making it legal to agree to draw a match with your opponent without ever setting a single dial.  As the Drawpocalypse threatened to become a reality I looked to my friends in the Magic: The Gathering community to explain why FFG should just remove draws entirely from X-Wing.  Then shortly afterwards FFG removed draws entirely from X-Wing.  Yay, we won!
  • Introducing 'Super Miranda' - after a strong showing at Worlds 2016 I set out to explain why Miranda Doni was positioned to become the best ship in the Rebel fleet, and one of the most potent and challenging threats you can face from any faction.  K-Wings, Sabine Wren, Conner Nets... the future was here.


  • Top-16 at UK Nationals with Slaughterhouse - my signature elite TIE Swarm, the Slaughterhouse, took me into the Top-16 of my first ever major X-Wing tournament.  I recount in detail two intensely tight games from the sharp end of Nationals.

  • Introducing Phoenix Squadron - still one of my favourite squads to actually fly, the fast-moving and focus-hurling shenanigans of Snap Shot A-Wings and the brand new Operations Specialist!
  • Eight Falcons In Four Rounds - I use a casual tournament to set myself a real challenge by playing EIGHT different YT-1300 ships in just FOUR rounds!  What worked?  What didn't?  What would I try differently in future?  And just how the hell did I win a game with Outer Rim Smuggler?!?!?

  • Auxiliary ARCS - Rebellion's Most Versatile Ship - a long love letter to a ship I originally ignored but which has gradually won me over, the ARC-170.  All the pilots are great and I explain why they help the ARC to become an essential part of the Rebel arsenal.


50 down, with plenty more to come.  I've had my wobbles with X-Wing and at one point felt like I'd never make it to my 50th blog.  Thankfully I've managed to rediscover my mojo and I'm looking forward to many more blogs to come, which I hope you'll join me for!

I'm just going to leave you with one last link, to one of my very favourite (and stupidest) blogs!

Thanks for reading (so far)!


Monday, 19 June 2017

"All Too Easy" - The Puzzle of Squad Balance

There was a really good blog I read recently by 186th Squadron member Oliver Pocknell, which was all about the importance of getting your target priority right and making sure you kill the right ships first.  Target priority is certainly something that can easily win or lose you a game of X-Wing - it can be the difference between facing an endgame monster of a ship at the end of the game in a 1-on-1 duel you can't win, or eliminating it right off the bat while you've got enough guns to make short work of them.

In this blog I'm going to look at the flipside of this equation, though, which is the more subtle art of how you can influence your opponent's target priority to your own benefit!  In part this has been inspired by my view of the many different versions of Quickdraw loadouts, and we'll get to him later as a specific example, but it's something that I'm increasingly aware of in virtually all of my squad designs.

Setting The Puzzle

In short, the individual ships in your squad come together to form a target priority puzzle that you're posing to your opponent.  Your opponent is trying to unpick where the weak point in your squad is and where the greatest threats are, so that he can get his target priority right.   Not only is every every pilot card or upgrade that you add to your squad changing the puzzle you pose, but it's also a puzzle where each individual piece affects how the other pieces are viewed and used in trying to solve it.

This is all going to go much easier if I use some examples, so let's go for it and use the 'Nettling Imps' squad that I blogged about a few weeks ago.
Colonel Vessery - Adaptability, TIE/x7, Twin Ion Engine MkII
Quickdraw - A Score To Settle, Fire Control System, Lightweight Frame, Special Ops Training
Backdraft - Veteran Instincts, Primed Thrusters, Fire Control System, Lightweight Frame, Special Ops Training

 I think you classify a ship's defensive attributes & performance in four rough categories: 
  • Endurance - this is a pretty raw measure of just how much damage a ship has to take before it's destroyed (eg. Hull + Shield).  It's a passive form of defense that only really works to deter opponents from attacking when the threat the ship poses isn't worth the effort of chewing through the amount of hit points needed to destroy it.  Upgrades like Hull Upgrade, Integrated Astromech or Chewbacca crew would fall under this category.

  • Resistance - this indicates how good a ship is at 'resisting' or cancelling incoming hits entirely, either through having lots of green dice, defensive tokens or other upgrade effects like C-3PO, Latts Razzi or Autothrusters.  I'd also class most shield regeneration effects as Resistance as you're reversing the effects of incmoing damage as though it never occurred.  Good Resistance defenses tend to be a better deterrent against attacks than Endurance defenses because the opponent faces a greater risk that his attacks will be entirely wasted.

  • Intimidation defenses are relatively rare in X-Wing but there are increasingly examples of ships and upgrades that will punish an opponent for attacking you, like Dengar, Quickdraw, Kylo Ren, Rebel Captive etc.  These sort of defenses can be extremely effective at deterring attacks if you can make your ship 'spiky' enough, and especially if it can be paired with Resistance defenses so that an opponent risks dealing no damage and being punished for even daring to try!

  • Agility defenses are different to the others in that they're not necessarily properties of the ship's build but also of how you play it on the table.  It covers the obvious repositioning abilities of things like Boost and Barrel Roll to avoid being in arc of an opponent, but it also covers the broader art of simply flying ships more defensively - running away from bad situations, hanging back at range 3 or behind asteroids for extra green dice.  The amount that your ship wants to use Agility defences is often a result of how strong their other defences are.
So let's look at how this example squad's defenses stack up under these four categories, and I'm going to pretend I'm playing 'Top Trumps' and arbitrarily score them 1-5 on each.
Colonel Vessery has 3 Agility and Focus & Evade tokens thanks to TIE/x7 title, meaning the TIE Defender has very strong Resistance to incoming attacks.  Six hull is pretty average for Endurance, and although the Defender is a quick ship with a barrel roll action it's quite predictable if it wants to benefit from that free Evade token so it doesn't naturally use Agility a lot.
Endurance:3, Resistance:5, Intimidation:1, Agility:3 - TOTAL 12
Quickdraw's pilot ability is all about Intimidation, with opponents often very reluctant to try and take a shot at him in case they only succeed in stripping a single shield.  That Intimidation is backed by a decent Resistance with 3 green dice (thanks to Lightweight Frame) which are usually focused as Quickdraw has Fire Control System and A Score To Settle to use modifying his attacks.  More cumbersome than a TIE Defender, with a bunch of red maneuvers he doesn't want to use as he'll lose his defensive Focus, Quickdraw scores quite badly on Agility.
Endurance:3, Resistance:3, Intimidation:4, Agility:2 - TOTAL 12
Backdraft is a TIE/sf like Quickdraw so most of his defensive attributes are the same.  The main difference is that he loses Quickdraw's revenge attack so there's no Intimidation factor.  With weaker defenses Backdraft will have to rely on dodging as many shots as possible with his limited Agility, which Primed Thrusters helps with a little, but it's only a marginal benefit.
Endurance:3, Resistance:3, Intimidation:1, Agility:2  - TOTAL 9

Let's return to that original idea of my squad being a 'puzzle' that I'm setting my opponent for him to work out how best to approach a game against me.  When you put those three pieces of the puzzle together it turns out I've not really set a particularly difficult challenge because I'm actually 'telling' my opponent to shoot at Backdraft as the other ships in my squad have much better defenses.  The damage output from my three ships is very similar so the opponent isn't having to make his decision based on which of my ships are the biggest threat, or the thing he simply can't allow into the endgame, so he can simply chase the softest target.

It meant that I had to take my flying style for Backdraft and artificially fly it more defensively than I otherwise would (let's say I flew it defensively enough to rate as Agility:4) but that this had an impact on how much damage Backdraft was doing.

Time and time again this was what I was finding in my table experience - I would protect Backdraft as much as I could but it would either cost me in shots & damage he was dealing, or I'd misjudge my defensive flying and Backdraft would be wiped off the table relatively early in the game.In another squad, alongside ships that weren't such unappealing targets, Backdraft possibly wouldn't have been such a weak point but in this squad he was giving me a problem.  

It was time to explore other options, and I found an answer in an unexpected place:
Darth Vader - Juke, TIE/x1, Advanced Targeting Computer, Twin Ion Engine MkII

Vader's double action allows him to have the same Resistance from 3 green dice with Focus and Evade that Colonel Vessery benefits from.  He's got one less shield than the TIE Defender so less Endurance but as his defensive tokens aren't tied to any particular moves, and he can Barrel Roll & Evade, he rates more highly on Agility - particularly as I'm going to be playing him quite conservatively.
Endurance: 2, Resistance: 5, Intimidation: 1, Agility:4 - TOTAL 12
What Darth Vader gives me is a third ship that rates very highly on defense and that's going to pose my opponents a less obvious puzzle to solve.  In some ways it means there's often not a clear right or wrong answer, but in practice it gives me the opportunity to tag my ships in and out with positioning in order to spread my opponent's fire.  For example Vader might get into range 1 and take a shot and lose a couple of shields, but he'll then speed out to Range 3 while Vessery comes into range 1 to take his shot - does my opponent spread his fire between two ships or risk wasting it entirely on Darth Vader with 4 green dice and Focus & Evade?

What's especially interesting in this particular case is that it means I took Darth Vader because of his Resistance score, when classically Vader has been considered to live on his Agility thanks to Engine Upgrade giving him both reposition actions per turn.  In my experience of playing with Vader my damage output is overall a bit lower than it was with Backdraft in the team, but because he's not a soft target I'm winning a lot more games 100-0 that I would otherwise have won 100-33 with Backdraft in the team.

Generating Aggro and Holding Threat

Defenses are only one side of the puzzle you're posing to your opponent, though, so let's pick up a different squad of mine as an example of how your Offense can affect the opponent's decisions.

Norra Wexley - Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, R5-P9, Alliance Overhaul, Vectored Thrusters
Endurance:4, Resistance:3, Intimidation:1, Agility:2 - TOTAL 10
Thane Kyrell - Tactician, R2-D2, Alliance Overhaul, Vectored Thrusters
Endurance:4, Resistance:2, Intimidation:1, Agility:2 - TOTAL 9
Gold Squadron Pilot - R3-A2, BTL-A4
Endurance:4, Resistance:1, Intimidation:1, Agility:1 - TOTAL 7
First off, pretty much across the board you can see that the squad is less weighted towards repelling the opponent's firepower than my Imperial squads are.  With more health I've rated the Rebel ships more highly on Endurance, and although they've only got 1 green dice apiece I've rated them a little more strongly on Resistance due to both ARC-170s bringing regeneration astromechs, with Norra picking up another point for the defensive side of her pilot ability.  Vectored Thrusters gives them some sort of repositioning so I've said for Agility 2 just to be kind.

Although the overall 'defensive score' is lower the puzzle this squad poses the opponent isn't really about the defense but about how I'm using offense to pull my opponent's attention to where I want to go.

When my opponent looks across the board my biggest damage threat is Norra Wexley as she hits harder than anybody else, and she's also the best endgame ship I have with her combination of regeneration and extra defensive Evades from her ability when I need them.  That all makes Norra the obvious first target for my opponent and although I've scored her an arbitrary '10' for her defence so much of that is wrapped up in Endurance, which as I originally explained is most effective as a deterrent when pretty inconspicuous and not worth focusing on.  That's not my 40+pt big gun Norra Wexley!

And that's where my Stresshog Y-Wing and Thane come in, because the threat of all those stress tokens pouring out of the rest of my list pulls aggro away from Norra against a huge number of people.  That makes the puzzle I'm setting the opponent that much harder to solve because they're balancing many more factors:

  • Is there an immediate damage threat?
  • Is there something I can't kill 1-on-1 in endgame?
  • Is there something I can kill quickly?

Returning to my Imperial squad for another example... let's say I was hypothetically going to replace my TIE/x7 Colonel Vessery with a TIE/D Vessery armed with a Tractor Beam.  I don't have the points to do that in my squad, but as we're dealing with hypotheticals lets spend some extra hypothetical points and make it happen anyway.
Colonel Vessery - Adaptability, Tractor Beam, TIE/D, Twin Ion Engine MkII
Endurance:3, Resistance:3, Intimidation:1, Agility:3 - TOTAL 10
What that's creating is now a much simpler puzzle again for my opponent as TIE/D not only knocks Colonel Vessery's Resistance rating down by removing the Evade token but it also makes him a much more tempting target as it's both a bigger damage threat (thanks to Tractor Beam) and a bigger chunk of MOV (3pts more than an /x7 Defender).

And yet there are Imperial squads making good use of TIE/D Defenders so what's going on?  Well it's because the pieces have to form a coherent puzzle for the opponent.  Drop an offense-weighted TIE/D Defender into a squad that's otherwise about defense and you'll make it a clear first target, but that same TIE Defender in a squad designed to deal maximum damage, say with Quickdraw and Pure Sabacc, and it makes much more sense.

There's yet another good example in recent Imperial squads that's less about what you're asking your opponent to shoot at first and more about the opposite - persuading them NOT to shoot at something first.  Omega Leader is a fantastic ship in endgame, which your opponent knows so he's going to try and destroy it first.  But if your pair Omega Leader up with some high offense ships then there's a good chance that will draw the enemy's attention away from Omega Leader in the early game.

The end result of all this is that ships/pilots can be perfectly good on their own but your squad as whole may not add up to the sum of its parts. If you've not got a grasp on the puzzle you're posing the opponent then it's very easy to put great pieces together into something that doesn't actually make sense.  Instead of working together and complementing each other your squad can be working at cross purposes to each other, leaving you with hard work to do on the table to try and keep everything in line.

There was another great example of this in a squad a friend of mine made the other week.  He took the Expertise/K4 Dengar that won Worlds, which is demonstrably a really great ship, and then stripped the torpedoes off it so that he could afford to bring Asajj Ventress with Push The Limit, Latts Razzi and Engine Upgrade, another demonstrably great ship.  These two great ships, combined, were basically... it wasn't good.  In removing the torpedoes from Dengar my friend had unwittingly reduced the 'Intimidation' factor that was preventing people from just punching Dengar in the face until he was dead, and then although Asajj was incredibly tough with Latts Razzi on board she wasn't actually getting fired at until Dengar was dead, and didn't have enough firepower to draw attention away from her teammate.

Two great ships, one lousy puzzle.

It may not be something that convinces you that you need to change your squad loadout, but understanding what the puzzle is that your opponent is trying to solve will at the very least inform how you fly your ships.  In my original example switching in Darth Vader for Backdraft wasn't as simple as a direct 'upgrade', but it was something that came about because I had an understanding that I was having to fly Backdraft very defensively anyway because he was the weakest link in my squad.

The Many Faces of Quickdraw

Finally, I said at the very start of this blog that it was inspired the many different ways I've seen Quickdraw used, and I think you can explain a lot of those changes when you see the rest of the squads that's he's being played in.

All five of these Elite Pilot Talents are commonly equipped to Quickdraw and all have proven successful at various times in various squads.  Quickdraw's loadout is having to flex to the ships in his squad and an expectation of whether Quickdraw is going to be an early target for your opponent, in which case a cheap EPT is preferable like Adaptability or A Score To Settle (in itself a great way to play with your opponent's target priority) in order to minimise your early losses.  That's what I'm using in my 'Nettling Imps' squad and I know a few players have picked my squad up as a base, with at least one of them finding success and winning two store championships in recent weeks with a slightly modified version...
  • Quickdraw - Adaptability, Fire Control System, Lightweight Frame, Special Ops Training (33)
  • Backdraft - Veteran Instincts, Fire Control System, Lightweight Frame, Special Ops Training (32)
  • Colonel Vessery - Juke. TIE/x7 (35)
In other squads where you think your opponent is going to have other targets in the early game then it came make sense to really maximise Quickdraw and spend more points as he is a safer place to put that investment.  Those are the builds that might decide to load up on something like Expertise & Pattern Analyser, or even the more aggressive Homing Missile & Guidance Chips.
  • Quickdraw - Expertise, Fire Control System, Sensor Cluster, Lightweight Frame, Special Ops Training (39)
  • Pure Sabacc - Veteran Instincts, Adaptive Ailerons (23)
  • Colonel Vessery - Juke. TIE/x7 (35)

And finally if the rest of your squad is really aggressive and drawing attention from Quickdraw you might decide you want to be able to force your opponent into triggering Quickdraw's second attacks!  That mean either using the combination of Rage and Electronic Baffle to remove your own shields, or by using Draw Their Fire to protect a more vulnerable colleague by sucking damage onto Quickdraw.

When Lukasz Golonka took Quickdraw into 3rd at the Lothal Open earlier this year he was so confident that his opponent would be targeting the huge threats from rest of the squad that he could play a dedicated 'support' loadout with Targeting Synchroniser and Draw Their Fire, and didn't even spend points on Lightweight Frame!
  • Quickdraw - Draw Their Fire, Fire Control System, Targeting Synchroniser, Special Ops Training (35)
  • Carnor Jax - Veteran Instincts, Royal Guard TIE, Autothrusters, Hull Upgrade (32)
  • Tomax Bren - Crack Shot, Ion Pulse Missiles, Concussion Missiles, Extra Munitions, Guidance Chips (35)
What the many faces of Quickdraw do is demonstrate perfectly how important it is to strike the right balance between the parts of your squad to set the opponent the toughest puzzle possible.  Mix these pieces up between their respective squads and they wouldn't work anywhere near as well.  It's the same pilot, and in most of the cases many of the upgrade cards are the same, but Quickdraw is a fascinating example to me of how just changing a single EPT slot can make him fit into different roles for the squads he's a part of.

It's something I'm aware of more and more when I look at successful squads, such as the Norra/Shara/Jess list that John Proctor won Stele Open with, where the switch from R2-D2 to BB-8 on Norra was not exposed as a weakness because  he had both Jess Pava drawing aggro with her Stressbot and Shara Bey contributing Evade tokens with Jan Ors.  Another great example of a squad that understands what it's telling the opponent to do and trying to use that to it's advantage.

Understand your squad, and understand what it looks like from across the table.  It will help you to load it out correctly, and it will also help you to fly it correctly.  Take control of the puzzle you're setting for the opponent and success will come more easily.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Rookie Pilots - Ignoring Dice Modification

Rookie Pilots is a series of occasional blogs looking at common mistakes players make, either when they're just starting out or trying to step up their play from the kitchen table to the tournament hall.
You've pulled off a great move and outflanked your opponent so you've got an easy shot.  The only thing that could have gone better is that you're just outside Range 1 for that fourth dice to throw.  But your T-70 X-Wing has a Boost action, and you put the hammer down to close to point blank range and give him all four red dice!

I will ride eternal, shiny and chrome!
Congratulations, by boosting to get closer instead of focusing you just made your attack worse.

If you roll dice without Focus or Target Lock to modify what you roll then each dice has a 50% chance of hitting, so throwing four dice is going to come up with an average of 2 hits.  Your boost has given you a chance of rolling 4 hits it's only a 6% chance.

On the other hand if you'd sat at Range 2 and used your action to Focus or Target Lock then you've got a 75% chance of each red dice coming up as a hit result, so throwing three dice is going to result in 2.25 hits.  Yeah you've no chance of rolling 4 hits with only three dice, but your chances of throwing 3+ hits went up from 31% to 43%.

Throwing your dice with no Focus or Target Lock (or Evade on defense) to help you out is where people start to feel like their dice are betraying them because they never seem to actually deal damage.  It can lead to a lot of frustration, and ultimately be the reason why some players simply give up on X-Wing altogether because they feel like there's too much luck in it.  They don't understand that they're introducing more luck into the game by the way they're playing and the decisions they're making.

The thing is when there's Boost and Barrel Roll actions available it's a really easy thing to get sucked into, especially for new players.  The position of your ships on the table is something tangible and real, while the maths of the dice is intangible and easy to underestimate.  X-Wing looks like it's a game about maneuvering and positioning, so if you can Barrel Roll into a great position or Boost around to the back of your opponent then it very intuitively feels like a good thing for you to do.  If put your guns right up the back of your opponent's ship then how can you possibly miss from there?

That disconnect between what looks like an easy shot and the reality of throwing four red dice only to get 1 hit (which isn't actually that unlucky - it happens about a third of the time) is where a lot of frustration with 'bad dice' is born and bred.

This goes equally for defence dice, by the way, if not more so.  Green dice have one less Evade result on them than the red dice do Hits and Crits so if you don't have a Focus token to spend on your dice then they're highly unpredictable.  When you're tossing a handful of green dice at range 3 it feels like you're in great shape, but in reality even getting one evade result from four green dice is all you're really 'due'.  Throw a Focus token on top of those dice, though, and you've a good chance of avoiding all incoming damage.

X-Wing looks like a game of positioning but ultimately it's not as one-dimensional as that.  A lot of the time the benefits of hugely outflying your opponent can be negligible compared to simply forcing all your dice into Hits and Evades with focus and target locks.  You need to strike a balance between getting your ships into the right place and making that positioning count by supporting your dice rolls as much as possible.

Thursday, 8 June 2017


Buzzfeed's made millions of dollars off articles that are nothing more than juxtaposing lists of things and pictures of things, so I'm (ironically) shooting for the big time with this one...

1.  When you roll all natural Evades.

2.  When you meet up with your X-Wing buddies

3.  When you fly just a liiiiiiiittle bit too close that asteroid

4.  When you make the cut with your homebrew list...


5.  ...only to find yourself up against 7 netlists

6.  When you finally have to retire your favourite squad

7.  When a guy plays their tournament squad on casual night 

8.  When you bought an epic ship just for one upgrade card

9.  When you realise you're in Dengar's firing arc

10.  When you lose 100-0 but learn from your mistakes

11.  When FFG release the perfect upgrade for your squad

12.  When Jumpmasters dominate the metagame.  Again.

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