Friday, 25 August 2017

"A New Hope"

My last blog was probably a bit more obtuse and/or self-indulgent than most X-Wing blogs would manage.  I was quite proud of it at the time because I thought it worked on many layers and levels, but given how many times I had to explain to people that it wasn't a 'grrr turrets suck' blog means that all those layers and levels obviously weren't quite as transparent as I thought it was!

Rather than an anti-turret blog it was, if anything, the opposite.

The blog was about a rider (myself) who chose a path (jousters) because unable to tell which was the better route he chose the one he would like riding down.  The rider then stuck to that path despite repeated opportunities to change direction because the pressure of reaching the castle as quickly as possible (prepare for a competition) meant that he ignored options that would broaden his experience but slow him down in the short term.

It was a blog about how those short term decisions accumulated to leave the rider feeling trapped on a path that had become difficult and uncertain.  It was about the rider was angry then came to realise that his predicament was in large part the result of his own decisions.  When the rider decided to head back to the East it was because he (yours truly) had realised he had to give up on his immediate dreams of winning the tourney at the castle, choose a different route and widen his experiences.

I've always played jousters.  I've dabbled with the odd big turret now and then but never really felt comfortable and always run back to the security of the familiar - small jousters, rewarding being aggressive, lots of green dice, live by your wits.  Admirable traits?  Perhaps, but if they're all I know how to play then it's limiting me as a player and when the metagame doesn't really suit those sorts of ships it's likely feeding into my sense of unhappiness with 'the state of the game'.

So I'm going to play turrets for a bit.  I don't want to be a narrow 'single issue' player who can only succeed if the metagame conditions are perfect.  Time to find out what's down the other road.

So... at time of writing UK National Championships are 3 week away and (barring complete disaster) this is the squad I'm going to play...

Tentacular Spectacular

  • Captain Nym - Scurrg - Veteran Instincts, Advanced Sensors, "Genius", Autoblaster Turret, Engine Upgrade, Havoc, Bomblet Generator
  • Captain Syndulla - VCX-100 - Fire Control System, Plasma Torpedoes, Extra Munitions, Cluster Mines, "Ghost", "Chopper", Sabine Wren, Guidance Chips, Synced Turret

I might play around with it a little, in particular I've got versions for the Ghost with pretty much every turret from Autoblaster to TLT, but basically this is it.

Why this squad?

A bunch of reasons.  In a lot of ways it's the opposite of what I've been playing recently - you can't get much further from the hyper-tokened jousting, and strong green dice defences of Quickdraw, Vessery and Vader than by taking a 0 agility Ghost!  It's also bringing lots of bomb shenanigans for me to worry about, so I'm really jumping in at the deep end with mechanics I've not really played very much.

In other ways, though, it still lets me transfer some of the skills I've developed from my time with nimble fighters.  With Advanced Sensors and barrel/boost options on Captain Nym and Hera's ability to switch her dial I still get to play around with repositioning.  Maybe with Hera at the controls even a big dumb ship like the Ghost can have a few tricks in her.

I also like that the Ghost is a little pocket battleship that threatens in a bunch of different ways - big main gun, turrets, cluster mines, and torpedoes from the auxiliary arc.  There's a lot for the opponent to worry about (as well a lot for me to worry about in using it properly!)

Finally, it lets me pair my repainted Scurrg up with the ship that inspired the paint scheme...

Is the squad any good?

I've no idea!  In fact I've not even put it into the table yet!  That's not really the point, though, because my last blog was about realising that I should go back to the fork in the road and start again down a different road.

I'm sure I'll do worse at Nationals with this squad than I would with my trusty Imperials, but there's a 99.9% chance I won't win whatever I take.  I'm abandoning the short term imperative of being competitive for the long term goal of becoming a more balanced player.

I've got three weeks to put this list onto the table as much as possible, figure out half an idea of what the hell I'm supposed to do with it, and then throw it into the field at Nationals.  If I go 50-50 with it I'll be happy.

Where did the squad come from?

Although it's different in a lot of ways, the obvious jumping off point for this squad's existence is the "Kel Special" created by Kelrien.  The central principle of the Chopper/Sabine/Clusters combination on the Ghost comes from there and that's probably the defining thing.  What's I've changed is that Captain Nym comes in cheaper than the Miranda Doni used in the Kel Special, and that's meant I can scrape the points together to use Hera Syndulla instead of Lothal Rebel.

I always liked the Kel Special but never got around to playing it (because it wasn't a jousting list) and Captain Nym's arrival is a good opportunity to give it a new twist.

But still, the big tip of the hat for original inspiration goes to Kelrien.

I'm in your hands, ladies!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

A Fork In The Road

After a few day's hard ride from your village it's late in the afternoon when you arrive at a fork in the road.  Unsure immediately of which route to take you stop for a while to eat and drink before continuing, leaving your horse a moment to rest.  

As you chew your bread and sip your water you're pondering the paths in front of you when a voice startles you:

"A way you must choose"

You spin to find an old man standing beside you on the verge, watching you with steady eyes that belie his obvious great age.  You pause and take a moment to swallow your food before replying.

"I'm travelling to the castle.  I intend to fight in the great tourney and prove my valour, and be made a great knight of the realm.  Which road will take me to the castle?"

The old man turns to survey the fork for a few seconds

"West of here the castle lies, and both these paths head west"

"Which is the best way?"

"Best?" the man coughs, or was it a chuckle?  "What is best for one may not be best for another.  What is best?  If I say chicken is best and you say beef is best, which of us is right?"

"Well, how do I choose?" you ask, "do you know anything of the roads ahead?"

"I've seen a little of both.  The road on the right is open and wide, it heads west over the plains as straight as an arrow flies for as far as my old eyes can see."

"And on the left?"

"The forest road, the path to the left leads you through the woods.  It's a narrower path, but the forest can be quite beautiful in the autumn, which is upon us"

"Is either path quicker?  I can't be late for the royal tournament" you ask.  

"Quicker?" the old man sighs sadly, "I do not know as I have never visited the castle though I've seen many others pass this way, like you.  They have gone either way."

"Others have come this way already?" you blurt, and begin rapidly gathering up your belongings to depart, "I can't lose time, I must get to the castle as soon as possible!  Tell me old man, which way should I go?"

"The choice is yours.  Though perhaps if you do not know which is fastest, you should at least choose the path that will mean you like the journey?  Whether you make it to the castle in time or not, at least you will have enjoyed the ride"

"Hmm, as good advice as any!" you exclaim as you quickly mount your horse once more, taking one final appraisal of your options.  "And you say plains road is wide and open, but the forest road is winding but beautiful?"

"It can be, aye.  From what I've seen of it."

"Thankyou sir, to the forest road it is!  Perhaps I'll find some deer or boar in there that I can deliver to the king for his favour" and then with one final wave backward to the old man you kick your horse forward down the left branch of the fork, heading into the trees.


The forest rapidly closes in around you as you ride down the path, but true to the old man's word the roadway through the forest continues well enough and you make good progress.  Also true to the man's word the forest is indeed beautiful in autumn, with the leaves falling golden yellow and rich red to the forest floor... the way ahead at times seems paved with gold itself.  Although the path switches back and forth through the trees you can keep a view of the sun and know you're always heading west, and the castle must be drawing ever nearer.

After only a day's ride you come to another fork in the road with one lane branching off to the north, presumably to join the road across the plains that must be running parallel to your own route.  You spend only a moment considering the option before continuing westward through the forest - the forest road has served you well thus far and it could cost you half a day's travel northwards, just to join a road that may be no faster!  

You spur your horse on Westwards, towards the castle and glory.


It doesn't happen immediately but the forest path gradually begins to narrow and narrow again, and the trees gather in closer and closer around you.  At times it becomes difficult to see through the thick branches to find the sun, and as the forest road continues to meander through the trees it's harder and harder to judge how quickly you're progressing westwards.  

Pausing by a stream to refill your water bottles, you think hard.  The tournament was due to begin in a matter of just a week or two's time by the time you spoke to the old man at the fork in the road.  At the rate the forest road was taking it was no longer certain you would arrive in time.  And yet to cut back now to the plains road would mean riding Eastwards for a day at least- the wrong direction!  

No.   There's still a week.  You have to trust that the forest road will get you to the castle in time.


Somewhere along the road autumn appears to have passed into winter.  Leaves that were once a golden trail beneath your horse's hooves are now a slippery danger.  The roadway that at first had been so well maintained and travelled became a path, which became a trail, which became little more than a faint outline that others have passed this way before.  Twice you lose the trail entirely and have to double back to find it once more.  Any sign of the sun comes only occasionally, although reassuringly it tells you that you're still heading west.  Progress has slowed, though.

Still, what choice do you have?  The castle lies west of you, and west you are going.  Turning back now would make it almost impossible to arrive in time for the tournament, you may as well return home to your village in defeat.  No, you picked the forest path, and you must see it through.  

The castle must surely be close!


Brambles whip at your face as you hack your way through the forest, fighting step by step.  The trail had vanished abruptly the day before.  You rode in circles for hours trying to pick it back up but to no avail, and finally you had to let your horse loose and proceed on foot.  Hack.  Slash.  Hack.  Slash.  Your arms grow weary at thrashing a path through the underbrush with your sword.

Finally, you stop.  Exhausted.  Hungry.  Despairing.  The forest path is no path.  It promised much, but it has long since become clear that nobody has tended to this route for some time except yourself, fighting a losing battle against the forest.

Slumping to the ground, you can go no further.  Despair rapidly turns to anger, but anger with no aim.  Anger at the old man for not warning you?  He didn't know and said as much.  Anger at yourself, for picking this path?  You'd chosen the path you thought you would enjoy.  Anger at the people who left the path unfinished?  Perhaps the path had gone where it was always intended to go, and no further?  Anger at the forest, for being a forest?  Why not be angry at the dawn, the moon, and the sky at the same time.  Madness.

Despair turns to anger, then anger turns to resignation.  The tournament will be passed, now, or if not you'll never be there in time.  Whether you press on through the brambles or turn back is now a moot question, as either is defeat.  One, at least, holds the certain promise of reaching the castle eventually.  You could stay out here in the wilds so long you become a crazed bushman lunatic, a tale to scare young children to stay indoors.  Or you could turn back.  Accept that you had chosen poorly all along.  Recover your horse.  Ride back to the fork, and take the other path.

Slowly you force your tired body to rise once more.  You turn, putting the sun to your right hand side.
You begin the long walk back to the East.


When I played my very first tournament with triple T-70 X-Wings the average firing arc of the ships in my squad was 90 degrees.

When I played Slaughterhouse TIE Swarm last year at UK Nationals the average firing arc of the ships in my squad was 90 degrees.

When I played Commonwealth Defenders at the UK Team Championships the average firing arc of the ships in my squad was 90 degrees.

When I returned to explore more T-70 X-Wings after Heroes of the Resistance came out the average firing arc of the ships in my squad was 90 degrees.

When I had fun with Snap Shot A-Wings in Phoenix Squadron the average firing arc of the ships in my squad was 90 degrees.

While I have been playing Nettling Imps - Vader, Vessery, Quickdraw - the average firing arc of the ships in my squad has been 120 degrees (though tbh I didn't use that rear arc on the TIE/SF that much anyway).

My favourite ships I've been trying in vain to make work for me, like the Upsilon Shuttle, the TIE Phantom, Deathfire in his TIE Bomber, have an average furing arc of 90 degrees.

In the Top-16  of the North American Continental Championships at Gencon, this past weekend, the average firing arc of the 43 ships that made the Top-16 cut was 236 degrees.  

The average firing arc of those 43 ships.  Was 236 degrees.

It's time to head East.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Rookie Pilot: Remember What Your Squad Does!

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.
There's an awful lot in X-Wing that you need to pay attention to.  You need to be planning your moves, guessing their moves, dodging asteroids, deciding whether to Boost or Focus.  And that's before you even get into having to remember everything your opponent is using and what it does and what everything you're using is - what the pilot abilities do, what the upgrades do, how they all interact... 

It can be a lot to take on, and it can be very easy to forget something important.  In this edition of 'Rookie Pilot' I'm going to cover something that I see happening a lot, which is wasted points being spent on upgrades that never get used effectively because players just completely forget about them.

"Wars Not Make One Great"

When I was learning to play X-Wing one of my mentors drummed a handy motto into me which goes as follows: 

"The most expensive upgrade is the one you never use".  

If you don't get any use from an upgrade then it's not generated any value and you effectively just threw those points away.

A while back I played a few games against a newer player who was using Rey and Poe Dameron.  His collection was still lacking a lot of expansions so he couldn't really outfit Rey the way you might want to but he'd put some good thought into what he did have available and so he fielded this:
Rey (YT-1300) - Cool Hand, Finn, Recon Specialist, Millennium Falcon (sloop), Concussion Missiles, Smuggling Compartment, Burnout SLAM, Guidance Chips

I know he didn't have the Ghost expansion for Kanan Jarrus crew, or the U-Wing for something like Expertise, but in Cool Hand and Recon Specialist he'd at least worked to make sure that Rey would be focused on attack and defense, and on at least one of her Sloops or K-turns thanks to Cool Hand.  When you're able to reroll blank results (with Rey's ability) having focus tokens is a huge advantage so I thought he'd actually done pretty well with the limited pool of upgrades he had available.  The Concussion Missiles didn't really work, either with Finn or with taking Focus actions not Target Locks, but they filled a slot and rounded out his squad.

All in all it clearly wasn't the ideal Rey, but he'd done his best with what he had.

Then we played a couple of games and after those games we had a recap:
  • Cool Hand: used 0 times
  • Millennium Falcon: used 0 times
  • Concussion Missiles: used 0 times
  • Burnout SLAM: used 0 times

He had remembered to use his Recon Specialist a couple of times, but in key moments he would Target Lock instead of Focus despite the fact that Rey already got to reroll dice and he'd paid 3pts for a Recon Specialist to double-focus!  When you add it all up my friend had effectively been playing with a 90pt list as there were 10pts of Upgrades sat at the side of the table which he never really put to use in the game.  

That's one extreme of the problem, with multiple upgrades that weren't really ideal to begin with sitting unused, but at the opposite end even more experienced players like myself can struggle with forgetting things at key moments.  Despite playing a Crack Swarm of TIE Fighters last year I still found myself struggling to remember Crack Shot when I put a single copy of it into my Nettling Imps squad.

"Luminous beings are we.  Not this crude matter."

X-Wing is pretty easy when you start and it's all right there in front of you on the table.  You've got a ship and a maneuver dial.  When you fire you may need to look at your pilot card to see how many dice to roll, but really all that's on the base of the ship anyway.  Pretty much everything you need to know is happening out on that 3x3 mat.

One of the hidden challenges when making those first steps up from the basic game of generic ships with not many upgrades is that there's actually a complete shift in where you need to be paying attention during a game.  By that I mean, physically, you need to be looking at different places.  

You're used to looking at this the whole time...
Where you've been used to spending your time looking at the play area - at dials, ship positions, maneuver templates - you've now got to give at least as much focus to what's sitting just off the table in you and your opponent's squads and upgrades.  

...but now all this stuff is AT LEAST as important as what's happening on the table.
For some players I think this rookie mistake is literally just a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'.  You started playing X-Wing by looking at the table because squads weren't important and that's become a sort of tunnel vision that means you're so focused on the table you never stop to think about the upgrades.

The trouble is that the point in the game when it comes to use these upgrades is almost always too late to be thinking about whether you should use them or not!  

If you don't have these effects and abilities in mind right from the start of the game then I think the odds of you suddenly remembering them just at the point you should use them is probably a bit of a longshot.  More than that, though, a lot of the time the way you're playing should be taking into account what those abilities are so that can create positions to use them.

And all of this is true not just for planning ahead to use and maximise your own upgrades, but for planning ahead to avoid or minimise the impact of your opponent's upgrades.  If they've got Plasma Torpedoes how do you manage the speed of your approach to either get out of arc, or duck into range 1?  

If they've got a Tractor Beam how do you avoid being pushed onto an asteroid?  The point at which your opponent says "I'm going to use my Tractor Beam" is too late to realise that you probably needed to do a 3-speed straight instead of a 2-speed straight so that you weren't parked next to a rock.

If you're really struggling with this Rookie Pilot issue then the best way to get a handle on it is to introduce a new discipline... whatever you're about to do: check your squad, check their squad.
  • Putting down asteroids?  Check your squad, check their squad.  A wide open table isn't giving you any information about whether you want to cluster asteroids up or spread them out.
  • Deploying?  Check your squad, check their squad.  Do you want to joust or are you scared of their firepower?  Are they going to joust or are they going to try and drag it out?  Which flank are they going to use?  Are they going to feint away and try to switch sides?
  • Setting a dial?  Check your squad, check their squad.  Are there any upgrades or abilities you need to bear in mind?  Do you know what maneuvers your opponent's ship can do?  Do you know what maneuvers your opponent's squad means he wants to do?  What order are ships going to move in?  What is the threat you're trying to bring to bear on your opponent, what is the threat you're trying to avoid?
  • Taking an action?  Check your squad, check their squad.  Do you have anything that would affect your decision - do you need to target lock for a missile, do you need to barrel roll to get out of range 1?  If you've already got rerolls from Rey's ability do you need a Target Lock as well, if you've already got a Focus modification from A Score To Settle should you Target Lock to reroll any blanks instead of focusing?
  • Getting into Combat?  Check your squad, check their squad.  Do you have multiple weapons to choose from, multiple targets?  Who are you going to shoot at - is the obvious target the right target or is the opponent trying to draw you into making a mistake?  Should you focus or save it for defense?

It will slow your games down when you first adopt this discipline but I think you'll be surprised just how quickly this drums into you what both you and your opponent are playing, and how quickly you find yourself remembering most of it without even having to look.

"Never his mind on where he was.  Hmm?  What he was doing!"

You have to take ownership of the ships and upgrades you're using.  This means knowing why they're there and how you're going to use them, right from the start of the game.  Let's pick up that example of the Rey list my friend was playing.  I'm pretty sure that at the start of the game his train of thought was something like this...

"I'm the Millenium Falcon, how cool is that?  There's a big open space in front of me and I want to kill that ship that's opposite me on the table, so I'll do a 4 forward and try to get into range and start firing."

I may have been a bit 'cruel to be kind' in what he's thinking, but my train of thought would have been something more like this...

"I've got a turret on the Falcon but I don't really want to use it because Rey, Finn and the Concussion Missiles all need my front arc.  I can't sloop a lot to keep my arc on targets as I've got Recon Specialist not Kanan and I'll be stressed and unable to Focus, but I've at least got one good sloop thanks to Cool Hand and I'll actually be able to use it on a K-turn as well which my opponent might forget about as Rey usually sloops.  Because I find turning around harder without Kanan I want to try and keep the fight in front of me as much as possible, ideally with first engagement at range 2-3 for my Concussion Missiles, so a slow approach is better to give me more rounds of firing before the enemy gets behind me and forces me to burn Cool Hand to turn around."

There's obviously a lot more to remember in my version, but what it highlights is that the upgrades I'm bringing are changing how I fly the ship.  

If I've got the loadout for my squad in mind right from deployment then I'm owning why those points were spent and what they're there to do.  Right off the bat I've got a much higher chance of putting myself in position to use those upgrades, and if I'm actively trying to make them happen then I'll also be more likely to remember to use them!

Once you've learned to avoid this rookie mistake you'll find it triggering a positive chain reaction through your games.  You'll be setting up asteroids with an idea for how they're going to give you space you need, or stop the opponent from moving around freely.  You're going to be deploying with a clear plan for how you're going to try and engage, or what you think the opponent is likely to do.  You'll be more likely to put your ships into the right place to use your upgrades, and then remember to use them, because they were in your mind all along.  

And when you pick up those four red dice for your big missile shot you'll feel the satisfaction that comes with having planned it all out turns earlier.

If you're a newer player then maybe you won't read the situation entirely right.  Maybe you'll even get it completely wrong!  But you'll be putting in place the discipline and critical thinking steps that will ultimately serve you well once your experience and knowledge of the game have developed.  You'll make mistakes but mistakes can be learned from and corrected, which is how you're going to progress from Rookie Pilot to Red Ace.  If nothing else you won't be giving your opponent a 10pt head start by flat out forgetting what your squad does.  

And, once again, all this applies just as much to taking ownership of how your opponent's squad affects your squad.  If Soontir Fel is going to be particularly hurt by Asajj Ventress handing out stress then you need to own that impact and carry it throughout the game.  If Poe Dameron's tanky shield regeneration is going to make him impossible to kill 1-on-1 in the endgame then you need to know that right from the start of the game.  

Remember: by the time it starts to matter it's often too late to do anything about it!

"I can't.  It's too big"

If you're still learning the game and struggling with this sort of thing then having to remember all about these upgrades and abilities on top, and plan it all out in advance... that's going to be too much to remember, right?

No, it's the opposite.  In actual fact by giving yourself a strategy to stick to with these upgrades and abilities actually makes future decision-making easier.  This is because the choices were already made, or at least heavily influenced, by what has already happened in squad building.
  • What speed should I dial in on my move?  I want to force a long range engagement, which racing forwards makes it hard to do so I should probably go slow.
  • Do I want to K-Turn or S-Loop?  Well if I've got Kanan crew he lets me clear stress if I S-Loop but not if I K-Turn.
  • Should I Focus or Target Lock?  Well I paid for Recon Specialist and I can already reroll my blank dice with Rey's pilot ability so I'll Focus.

One of the tell-tale symptoms of suffering from this particular rookie mistake is that it can seem like every decision players make in the game is independent from the others.  Instead of a cohesive strategy where every decision is leading towards the same goal you'll see people finish their maneuver, plop their ship down on the end of the dial and then realise they have to take an action and just stare at the table like they've never had make this sort of decision before.  Then they'll pick up their next ship dial and do the same thing again.

When you don't take ownership of your squad and how your opponent affects it then a lot of the time you're leaving yourself without clear direction pointers for a lot of decisions you'll make during the game.  

You're actually making things harder for yourself.  You're going to spend time considering and eliminating options turn after turn when the choice should be obvious - it's a constant burning of unnecessary mental energy on tactical decision that could have been avoided by thinking about strategy instead.  If you need to then keep a few notes - write some bullet points on the back of your hand and you won't be the first person to do so!

"No more training do you require.  Already know you, that which you need."

So, to summarise:
  1. When you're making a decision look at the ships & upgrades involved BEFORE you look at the table.  What abilities & upgrades (yours or your opponents) are going to affect what you're looking for, or what you decide to do?
  2. Own your squad right from deployment.  Know why you've picked the squad you're using and plan how you're going to make your upgrades & abilities matter.
  3. Your opponent's squad is just as important as your squad!  Don't just look down at your own abilities and upgrades, make sure you know what your opponent's squad does, how his pieces fit together.
  4. Frontload your thinking.  Your squad setup will probably guide a lot of your decisions and make life simpler during the game, if you let it.  Don't fight unnecessary battles against your own squad's strategy if you can avoid it.

"Mind what you have learned.  Save you it can."