Thursday, 26 January 2017

A Gaming Life

I've always been a gamer.

I was never really given much of a chance to be anything else in life.  My Dad had been a founding member of the local Historical Wargames Society 20 years earlier and, as those of you which children of your own will know, the decision to have kids is basically just a long term plan for ensuring you'll always have somebody to play games with.

By 4 or 5 years of age my creche on a Sunday would be in the corner of the church hall where the Wargames Society met to play, and by 6 or 7 I was fully engaged in gaming.  My Dad and I fought across the millenia, pitching ancient Byzantine armies against the Han Chinese in 15mm scale, launching epic charges with Polish winged hussars, fighting skirmishes in the ruins of WWII Europe, right up to duelling out the opening exchanges of WWIII with ultra-modern micro armour as my Soviets would attempt to subdue France.

Each year we would eagerly await our city's annual wargaming convention and one year. in one of the gaming demo tables, somebody showed my ten year old self one of these.

Life would never be the same again.


You can measure when somebody was first caught in the event horizon of the Games Workshop financial black hole by the first White Dwarf magazine they bought, and for my brother and me that was White Dwarf 105.  I'm actually proud to look back on 105 as my starting point as it featured the first ever Space Marines army list, rules for Chaos in Blood Bowl, Land Raiders, and introduced the incredible Eldar Harlequins (the full Harlequins army list arrived in 106)!

A lot of Warhammer history began with White Dwarf 105, and not just in the Sutcliffe household.

My brother and I went on to buy pretty much everything Games Workshop put out for the next 10 years or so, good or bad.  Every rulebook, every big box game, and (almost) every army - neither of us liked Squats or Dwarves much.  We basically did the lot, and you can write off pretty much my whole teenage years of gaming to this timeline of following the Warhammer universe.

While we spent most of our time amassing armies to duke it out in Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40k I'd like to give a big shout out to what I think were the three best Games Workshop products, each a big box game of its own:
  • Blood Bowl - recently re-released, Blood Bowl is probably Games Workshop's best ever game but also their biggest mistake.  How can it be both?  Because Blood Bowl is such a great game that you don't need to keep buying figures for it.  The box, a team, a star player or two... you're set.  I'm sure that's the reason they kept it out of stores for all those years, because players who are happily playing Blood Bowl are players not collecting another 1,000pts of Imperial Guard hardware.

  • Advanced Heroquest - I've never played Warhammer Quest so I can't attest to whether that recaptured the glory of Advanced Heroquest or not, but I'm going to assume it doesn't and that my rose-tinted glasses remain intact.  Advanced Heroquest was decades ahead of its time, as it's basically Descent/Imperial Assault.  Awesome components, great adventures, hugely customisable if the GM has even an ounce of desire to do so.  It's a shame it's gone.

  • Space Hulk - I always loved Space Hulk's 'Warhammer 40k meets Chess' approach and some of the missions were insanely finely balanced.  Even the very first game that you play, the first mission in the first Space Hulk rulebook, is right on a knife edge for who wins it.  I could never justify springing for the lovely re-release that came out a few years back, because I knew I'd have nobody to play it with.  At the time though, my brother and I loved Space Hulk a ton.

Should I recount to you my dreaded Harlequin army?  The many Blood Bowl seasons we played through, with my glorious Praag Dragon's trapped in a perpetual duel for the title with my best friend's Undead team?  The massed ranks of Chaos I fielded in epic games, or the many daring dungeon crawls in the fantastic (and outrageously forgotten) Advanced Heroquest?

Games Workshop was every Saturday trip to the shops.  It was every Christmas list, every birthday present, every little bit of pocket money scraped together.  

But while I was growing up Games Workshop was expanding and changing rapidly as well.  At first I had been the youngest person in the store, surrounded by beer guts and beards, but by the time I was finished with Games Workshop five or six years later I was more likely to be the oldest.  The last time I played a game in-store at Games Workshop a player on the table next to mine threw a tantrum when his Eldar Farseer was assassinated on the first turn.

It was looking a lot like time to leave.


One day a schoolfriend of mine, who had played Warhammer with us, spent a lunch break showing me a revolutionary new card game.  Before you ask it wasn't Magic: the Gathering, no it was something far far worse...

Let me be entirely clear: Spellfire is garbage of the highest order.

As Magic: the Gathering exploded in popularity ever other games manufacturer wanted to jump onto the CCG bandwagon and Spellfire was the Advanced Dungeon's & Dragons entry.  Random cards varying in rarity, glossy artwork and high production values, whole universes of fan-favourite characters from the AD&D worlds to call on, such as Drizzt, Elminster, or Count Stahl of Drakenloft.  Everything was set for Spellfire to be a massive hit.  

They were missing just one vital ingredient: a game worth a damn.

In most games there is a cost/power balance to be struck.  In X-Wing Han Solo is better than an Outer Rim Smuggler, but he also costs more points.  In Magic the Gathering some creatures were more powerful than others but they were harder to summon into the game - you could lose to a lot of cheap/weak creatures before you big/powerful creature ever saw play.  It makes so much sense even Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh do it!

Spellfire saw this system and thought "let's not bother with that and just make everything cost 0 instead".  So the card that gave you +1 attack was just as easy to play as the card that gave you +8 attack, the only difference being that the card that was +8 was rarer than the card that was +1.

It was pure Pay To Win.  You opened enough packs to only have +4 as your weakest buff, then your friend would buy more packs and get to only +5 being their weakest so they'd beat you.  Then you'd open a bunch more packs.... etc etc.  

Imagine if every TIE Interceptor cost 18pts and the only difference between Alpha Squadron Pilot and Soontir Fel was that Soontir was extremely rare and the Alpha Squadron Pilot was common.  My brother and I went a long, long way down that particular rabbit hole before we saw the light.

Unfortunately the light turned out to be an oncoming truck.  A truck with the Magic: The Gathering logo on the side.


I'm not going to recount my years with Magic: The Gathering blow-for-blow, don't worry, but it wouldn't be doing the subject any justice not to spend time saying how much it changed me.

The short version is that for my best friend Neil, and I, Magic became an obsession.  At our peak we probably played for up to a dozen hours a day, repeating matchups endlessly to find the best strategies and approaches.  I went away to university and got my Magic education there, hooking into websites like The Dojo and the nascent internet via the unversity's shiny 56k modem.  I learned to cut my decks down from 120 cards, although by the time of my first ever tournament I couldn't quite get it below 70 as I knew I couldn't live without the third Prodigal Sorceror.  I would buy copies of The Duellist and leave them ruined forever with highlighters and frantic text in the margins - card advantage, tempo advantage, Necroptence, Forgotten Orb, Orcish Squatters... I remember each of these articles today as though they were fresh off the printing press.

I breathed in Magic: the Gathering and I breathed out mana symbols as I exhaled.

Neil was the first of us to make it onto the Pro Tour and play Magic on the big tables for serious money, though.  While I was away at university learning the theory of Magic he was putting it all into practice and playing in much bigger tournaments much more regularly.  When my degree ended and I came home we teamed up, smashing our way through the 1998 tournament season of Rath Block constructed tournaments.  We both qualified for the Pro Tour that time, with a friend of ours borrowing my Sligh deck to become the first UK player to win a premier-level Magic tournament.  At Grand Prix Birmingham the world's best players came to play us, and we sent them packing.  Neil and I had made it, and as I prepared to take on the Pro Tour the doors to us becoming the greatest players in the world swung open...

...then slammed shut.  It took a few years for the bomb to fully detonate, but I think making it onto the Pro Tour in the way that I did was the poison pill that killed Magic for me.  I never replicated the dominance that Neil and I had managed through the summer of 1998 and the continual striving for that glory ultimately chewed me up inside.  By almost any measure I had a lot of success in those next two years, both as a player and a deck designer, but by the measures I was judging myself by I was a miserable failure.   Alongside playing success had coming writing success as well and I got a slot writing for Starcitygames.  Thankfully none of my old writing still exists because it would read like the slow descent into self-absorbed mania and ranting self-justification that I'm sure it was.

I walked away in 2001, the UK Nationals that year remaining my last big Magic tournament for the best part of a decade.

In 2006 Magic came back into my life when Richard Hagon decided to set up one of the first Magic podcasts, called Moxradio, with Neil and I joining others as regular panelists.  Moxradio's business plan might have been critically flawed (Rich understood perfectly well how to make a great podcast, but didn't quite grasp just how few people would be willing to pay for one!) but it opened some incredibly important doors while it existed.  Moxradio travelled to Gran Prix Turin to provide podcast coverage shows alongside the established text coverage, and a star was born.

Today Rich is the face of the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour, and oversees a whole video/text coverage crew at events around the world.  I followed Rich through the doors he kicked down and spent six years travelling to Grand Prix and Pro Tours around the world to provide strategy analysis, player interviews, and my fair share of blatant marketing and PR schilling.  An awful lot of what I wrote was only of temporary interest (if you cared how Player X's performance with Deck Y in 2010 then I'm your guy.  No one cares.) but in and amongst the fluff pieces and drudgery of trying to find as many new ways of saying "he summoned a creature and attacked" there were some great things that I'm very proud of having written.

I occasionally stepped out from behind the coverage desk to compete in events, as well.  Rich, Neil and I travelled to Grand Prix Toronto in 2010 and did far better than we had any right to expect (actually, that's unfair as we had made a conscious decision to become the best players in the world at that one format on that one weekend, and essentially achieved that goal).  When the Grand Prix rolled around to my hometown in 2015 I picked up a deck of 75 cards I'd never seen before, in a format I'd never played before, to finish up at the top end in the cash prizes.  I could still play when I had to, but I didn't the time to dedicate myself to Magic in the sort of depth that I'd need in order to compete.  I'm still waiting for my next game of Magic.

And that was Magic.  Roughly 1995-2015, give or take.  Twenty years (on and off) in which I took the full journey from kitchen table to Pro Tour, and then back again to the kitchen table.

Of the three of us I'm the only one who got out.  Rich found his niche both in front of the camera and back in the producers seat (going so far as to be the only one of us to unofficially appear in South Park, when they did their Magic episode), while Neil was always a better natural player than me and has become one of the most successful UK Magic players of all time, still travelling year-round to Grand Prix and Pro Tours.

It's hard to really express fully what Magic did for Neil and I.  It took two kids from a crummy little town in the UK and gave us the world.  Most of the places we've been, we've been because of Magic.  The friends we've made, most of them we've made through Magic.  The people we are  today, absolutely a large part of that came through all that we did while playing Magic.


I didn't just play Magic, though.  My time at university was happy meeting point of my being the last intake year to receive student grants instead of loans, just as games manufacturers around the world went into overdrive trying to replicate Magic's card game success.  I pretty much bought them all - Battlemech, Star Trek, Netrunner, Rage, Shadowfist, Babylon 5, Jyhad, Star Wars, Middle Earth, Dune, Legend of the Five Rings.  It seemed like every IP that was just lying around got picked up, dusted off, and shoved onto a CCG game for me to acquire.  It's probably lucky that Magic got its hooks into me enough that I ultimately left all the others behind or I'd be a penniless hobo by now.

When I quit Magic in 2001 a very unusual game & hobby stepped up to replace it out of leftfield - the WWF Smackdown series of video games!  These games featured a 'Create A Wrestler' (CAW) mode where you could add wrestlers into the game who weren't included to begin with.  Randomly I discovered that I was very good at this, and for a couple of years I ran a website showcasing my designs that other players would copy into their game.  I used to turn on my PC and be bombarded by dozens of IMs from people asking for me to create their favourite wrestler in his new tights he wore at the last show - I nearly maxed out two whole MSN Messenger accounts with the people who wanted my help!  It's mental that this sort of thing even exists, let alone that you can become 'famous' for it, and in part I'm only mentioning it now in the hope that somebody reading this will go "Hey, yeah, I used to play those games too and I totally used your CAWs" to prove it even happened.  

So if you remember the name 'Ceilican' from back then, well, The Ceilican was me!

Random aside from a random aside: the guy who very kindly did all the fiddly programming of 'Ceilican's CAW College' was Mark Turpin, who went on to become Turpster and a leading Warcraft/Hearthstone/gaming youtuber.  We gamers move in small circles.

I fell hard into World of Warcraft too, spending a good five years roaming Azeroth in every spare hour.  Years later my combined love of Magic: The Gathering and World of Warcraft made me the perfect person to go on and work for Upper Deck and Cryptozoic on Magic-style strategy coverage for the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game.  The guy running the World of Warcraft organised play in Europe had previously run Magic: The Gathering and knew both Rich and I through that, so when he scraped together budget for a coverage & promotion team he knew where we were.  

We gamers move in very small circles.


I'd never heard of FFG.  I played Magic and I played World of Warcrat, and that was basically it.  Fantasy Flight Games?  Never heard of them.

Another Magic friend of mine, Keith, had heard me wax lyrical many times the original 1995 release of Netrunner and took it upon himself to force me to sit at a table and play the FFG re-release with him.  It was like meeting back up with your college sweetheart and finding that you're both single and wouldn't it be nice to go get a drink or two and maybe catch up on old times....?

Approximately a week later I'd bought every data pack available at the time, and my first Netrunner blog came along very shortly after that.

I plunged into my local playgroup headfirst, bringing the discipline and energy that had pushed Neil and I to success in Magic into a new game that was almost entirely unprepared for that sort dedicated approach.  The local Netrunner guys were great company, and some of them were really good at the game, but I think it's fair to say that none of them quite thought about or approached the game with quite the intensity that I did.  

I pretty rapidly became the local player to beat, then as my first Store Championship season rolled around I set about forming an elite cohort from the best of my local competition and bullying them all into playing the best decks as well they could.  Stronger together, we all made each other better which is the objective of forming a team.  Between us we took down the majority of the tournaments we played in, at least within our part of the UK.  

But the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and I was burning out fast.  My first Netrunner blog was in September 2013 and just six months later my whirlwind tour of Netrunner was coming to an end, with my April 2014 blog entry seeing me signing off out of the game.  I'd accomplished a lot in that time, both as a player and a strategy writer, but I'd simply had enough.  

I still remember the tournament that finished me - a Store Championship - that I made the cut in but ultimately didn't win because I'd just stopped caring about whether I won or not.  I'm somebody who looks through the surface features for deeper trends and patterns, and in Netrunner I saw what I considered fundamental design errors that meant games became very repetitive.  Once I'd seen the pattern I couldn't unsee it - I wasn't engaged by Netrunner any more, I was bored by it. 

In May 2015 I was back, though.  I'd never actually gotten around to selling my Netrunner cards and when I joined a local games club who occasionally played Netrunner I was bitten by the bug again.  Ultimately it proved short-lived, though, and within a few months I did finally sell all of my Netrunner cards.  I realised I wasn't actually enjoying playing Netrunner as much as I was writing about it, and once I'd had a couple of months to explore the new cards that had come out in my absence I was back to being just as bored as I had been first time around.

This time around I finally sold my Netrunner cards and bought into the new A Game of Thrones LCG.  Then shortly after that finally got released (and I mean finally - man did they botch the launch of that game) I sold those cards as well and bought...

...X-Wing!  All those years of looking longingly at the Millenium Falcon expansion pack.  All the times I'd managed to convince myself not to buy it even though I didn't play the game, just for the model.  All the decades of cardboard replacing miniatures, of shuffling replacing dice.  I finally gave in and bought a friend's collection that he wasn't using.  To reuse the meme, mistakes were made.  Rapidly and expensively.

It was Star Wars.  It was spacial awareness and dice probability.  It was mindgames with your maneuver dial.  It was painting miniatures again (which somehow I'd got much better at in 20 years of not practicing).  It was something totally new, but as I crossed back over into miniatures gaming and found myself surrounded by players who had also left Games Workshop behind (just, in most cases, 20 years after I had done so) it was also something quite familiar.


You know the rest.

Everything has come around full circle.  I'd begun by playing my father's wargames with him, and now thirty-odd years later we're back doing the same thing with the odd game of X-Wing - he loves the system and keeps threatening to come along to one of the local tournaments with me.  Maybe in a few years my kids will share the same memories of gaming with me that I have of playing with my own dad -  the decision to have kids being just a long term plan for ensuring you'll always have somebody to play games with, after all.  

Maybe they'll not be interested in gaming at all.  Maybe I'll disown them.

I've always been a gamer.  I think I always will be.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

"Stay in Formation!" - When Thane met Biggs

Captain's Log - Stardate <Insert Random Numbers Here>
Our ongoing mission to find new and more interesting ways of enjoying playing X-Wing has led us back to the Heroes of the Resistance expansion for some new upgrades, and a rendezvous with an old friend: the Lothal Rebel.

The idea of pairing the Ghost with Biggs is about as old as the Ghost itself as replacing the Ghost's 0 Agility with the opponent having to shoot at Biggs instead is a pretty obvious synergy.  The only things I've really changed here is to integrate Rey crew onto the Ghost, which I think is a very powerful addition to this build.  During 2016 we often saw Dash/Ghost as a pairing and with 'Super Dash' coming in at 58 points it was just about what the best 42pt build was for the Ghost, which usually came down to deciding to spend the last 2pts on either Han Solo crew or Chopper as your pilot, with neither being a slamdunk superstar in the role.

  • Lothal Rebel - Fire Control System / Hera Syndulla / Rey / Autoblaster Turret / Tactical Jammer (43pts)
  • Biggs Darklighter - R4-D6 / Integrated Astromech (26pts)

Rey crew is your slamdunk superstar on the Ghost.  After spending a couple of early turns stacking Focus tokens onto the Ghost you've now got a huge gun that can flip about pulling red moves every turn (if you have to) while fully modifying your dice thanks to Fire Control System and Rey.

So far, though, there's nothing particularly special here.  Let's add the secret ingredient...

  • Thane Kyrell - Jyn Erso / M9-G8 / Alliance Overhaul (31pts)

Thane Kyrell sits in this formation and supports the whole list with fantastic action economy - I usually hate statements like "Imperial Biggs" etc, but in this case I'm going to go ahead and say that in this list Thane Kyrell is "Rebel Manaroo". 

Sitting your ARC-170 in close formation with Biggs and the Ghost you can guarantee that your opponent is going to have to shoot at Biggs, thus guarantee triggering your free action with Thane Kyrell.  It's like a Push The Limit you didn't have to pay for.  With Jyn Erso onboard the ARC-170 your extra action could be to throw Biggs another 3 Focus tokens, or to set a target lock and use M9-G8 to start nerfing your opponents attacks.  

Alternatively, if the Ghost is running stressed and has managed to run down all the Focus tokens it had from Rey then Thane can top it back up.  Basically, there's always something good to do with Thane's free action that supports the rest of your squad in their key objectives - avoiding damage and dealing damage.  And the payoff if it all goes to plan, with Biggs nestled in behind the Ghost's Tactical Jammer at Range 3 of enemy fire?  

You've got a Biggs with FOUR green dice and as many as FOUR Focus tokens!

Let's take a quick moment to talk about M9-G8, who might be a bit of a sleeper hit astromech.  While he can target lock friendly ships to help you attack I think most of the time it's best used to reroll incoming damage, especially in a list trying to keep Biggs alive!  The key rule you need to know is that as the defending player you will reroll incoming red dice before your opponent does any of his modification (target locks, focus etc) and that as a dice can only be rerolled once whatever you do with your reroll cannot then be target locked back up to a hit.  
When your opponent has Focus the maths of M9-G8 are not particularly compelling as you've only a 25% chance of the rerolled dice coming up a blank that they can't turn into a hit.  When your opponent doesn't have Focus the maths get a bit better, though, and 50% of the time he's worth an extra point of damage you don't have to deal with.  Even in cases where they do Focus a rerolled dice back into a hit, though, this list is pumping out quite a lot of damage so removing a Focus from their defence dice might be just as useful in the long run.
M9-G8 works pretty well in this list but I think it doesn't really showcases his full potential.  I've got another list that does that, using Hotshot Co-Pilot Han Solo to strip Focus away from attackers then Shara Bey's ability to assign two Target Locks to double M9-G8's effectiveness.  It's also worth noting that M9-G8 does not have a range limitation on his ability once the target lock has been assigned, and as we know from cards like Manaroo and Emperor Palpatine that can be a great benefit.  
M9-G8 could be an astromech to keep an eye on over the next few waves...

Kanan Jarrus vs Thane Kyrell

If you compare/contrast this to some of the more common Ghost/Biggs lists, usually with Kanan Jarrus in the Ghost and a docked attack shuttle, I think it's a good way to evaluate the strengths & weaknesses of the list.  In raw numerical terms this list is better at keeping Biggs alive as giving Biggs enough Focus tokens for all incoming attacks is better than reducing some incoming attacks by one red dice, especially if you can position him to be rolling four green dice each time (and don't forget M9-G8 is there to help as well!).  It's also got more raw damage output as you've got the ARC-170 on the table instead of a docked Phantom.

That's not really the whole story though.

The key difference between the two lists is how the Ghost will fly, as they have pretty much opposite approaches.  Typically those Kanan Jarrus builds will spend more points on an expensive Twin Laser Turret and try to play keep-away with the opponent, while the Lothal Rebel is much more interested in heading towards the opponent and using his big front gun.  The Kanan build isn't just trying to use a turret it's also usually trying very hard not to make red maneuvers if it doesn't have to, because it needs to have its actions available to Focus up.  This Lothal Rebel is the opposite in that you've spent a bunch of upgrade slots in maximising your firepower while performing red maneuvers!

This has a big implication for Biggs because he simply can't keep up with the Ghost when it pulls that big 5 K-Turn - especially if he was hiding behind the Ghost to begin with!  

Rather than trying to shepherd Biggs for as long as possible with Kanan I find there's usually a natural point where the Lothal Rebel 'detaches' and leaves Biggs to fend for himself (or at least, to fend with support only from Thane Kyrell and Jyn Erso).

The Thane/Biggs axis in action!

This doesn't necessarily mean Biggs is thrown to the wolves when the Ghost leaves, but it's true that this list is at least as interested in removing opposing ships from the table as it is in protecting Biggs from all possible harm.  The photo above is a really good example of this, where I was playing the list against Paratanni.  

Right before this round of shooting the Ghost had k-turned away to leave Biggs and Thane surrounded by enemies.  All three Scum ships opened fire on Biggs but as Thane Kyrell was able to donate three Focus with Jyn tokens (don't forget Thane uses both front & rear arcs for Jyn Erso!) it meant that Biggs only lost one shield!  My combined fire removed Fenn Rau in return and I went on to wrap the rest of the list up with the Lothal Rebel chasing Manaroo down in endgame.

Turn to the Dark(lighter) Side

I've really enjoyed the games I played with this list so far.  I think it has the action economy and raw firepower to win games but it also has some neat interactions within the squad and really requires good flying to keep your ships working together nicely.  Judging when and how to break the formation up is another challenge.  You want to frustrate your opponent with Biggs for as long as possible but there's going to be a point where the obvious 'keep the team together' move will just see your opponent take advantage of how restrictive your formation is, and that's the point to make the unexpected step and break the formation up to go onto the offensive.

One of the neat things about the list is how resistant it is to bumping, which is especially useful as you're trying to run in formation where one unlucky bump might well concertina through your whole team.  Thanks to Rey, M9-G8 and Thane Kyrell not all your dice modification is dependent on actions, though - the Ghost can still draw down a Focus token, M9-G8 can still frustrate attacking dice and Thane can still use Jyn Erso to throw Focus tokens to Biggs after an opponent has fired.

That the power and action economy doesn't come so easily as it does in other lists makes it more challenging and interesting to fly (IMHO), although also obviously limits just how strong the list is.  On a good day, flown well, I think than can hold its own against the top lists.  But should anything go wrong then the way that your ships support each other can quickly become a weak point to exploit.

I think that's how X-Wing should be, though, so I'm happy to keep plugging away with this and refining my formation flying as I go.  I'll win some, I'll lose some (and lose some more than if I was playing Commonwealth Defenders, no doubt), but hopefully I'll continue enjoying playing the game as I do so.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

"The Garbage Will Do!" - Eight Falcons in Four Rounds

I'm in a difficult spot with my X-Wing at the moment because I'm struggling to find a way to enjoy playing the game in the current competitive environment.  

I was one of the early adopters of the 'Commonwealth Defenders' list but although I've never lost a tournament game with TIE Defenders I just don't enjoy playing them so I've been looking for something else to play.  Unfortunately it turns out that the one thing I like less than playing with Ryad & Vessery is playing against Ryad & Vessery and I feel like the current tournament environment is very toxic and restrictive of viable lists, probably even more than it was when we had Jumpmasters in the summer.  There's far too many lists that find the TIE Defenders to be bulletproof, and with everyone else trying to kill Defenders by swinging huge attacks there's even more options that just get swatted out of the sky by the 'anti-Defender' lists.

That's been the underlying cause behind my throwing things onto the table like Attani Mindlink (which is good) and the T-70 X-Wings (which are bad) in recent months.  I've been thrashing around like the T-1000 in the foundry at the end of Terminator 2, trying out every possible form I can think of in the hope that one will be able to survive the searing fire of this metagame.  

After the T-70s gave me very little joy I turned my attention towards the other half of the Heroes of the Resistance expansion: the Millenium Falcon.  Courtesy of this expansion I've now got two YT-1300s (as I'm sure many of you do) and I wanted to explore the possibilities of running them both at the same time.  This past weekend provided the perfect opportunity to experiment in this vein, with a casual post-Christmas 10-man tournament that allowed players to change their lists around between rounds.

4 rounds of Swiss with 8 different Falcons?  I was ready to rise to that challenge!

ROUND ONE vs Dan Sievers
(Miranda/Corran - the Worlds #2 list)
Lando Calrissian (YT-1300) - Push The Limit / Kyle Katarn / C-3PO / Millenium Falcon (Evade) (54)
Resistance Sympathiser (YT-1300) - Rey / Gunner / Smuggling Compartment / Black Market Slicer Tools (46)
The objective of this list is action economy, with Push The Limit, Lando Calrissian, Kyle Katarn and Rey all contributing to letting both ships take fully modified attacks each turn - in a world of TIE Defenders you need to put a lot of pressure on their green dice and that starts by ensuring your red dice come up as hits.  In theory my two ships could take 6 'actions' per turn - Lando with Focus from Kyle, Target Lock and PTL for Evade // Resistance Sympathiser with Focus from Rey, Target Lock and Slicer Tools thanks to Lando's ability! 
Tying Lando Calrissian to green moves means that his Falcon is going to be tough but slow and predictable on the table and I could see my opponents bumping me a lot by sitting where I couldn't get past with a green move.  Kyle Katarn and Rey would help me in this situation, providing Focus tokens to my ships even if they get bumped.

My list was causing Dan problems right from the moment we lined up, with the Black Market Slicer Tools a real concern for his Push The Limit build of Corran Horn as it threatened to easily push two damage cards past his green dice and shields.  It turned out that Dan was perhaps a little too scared of the Slicer Tools, though, because his decision to avoid Corran stressing himself with Push The Limit left him defenceless against my normal attacks.

My plan in the early game was to slow-roll my start and stack some focus tokens on Rey crew for later use.  Dan had been slow to approach at first but when he realised I was only getting stronger each turn with Rey he put his foot down a bit with Corran and my Falcons moved to engage.  

The first engagement played out in a way that was decisive for the game, and it's what I took a picture of.  My Falcons both target-locked Miranda with the intention of hammering her down as I was wary of all her ordnance but when Dan moved Corran into range of both my ships I changed plan.  Dan was heading right for an asteroid on his next turn and Corran had to barrel roll out of the way.  Dan decided he didn't want to Push The Limit and risk my Black Market Slicer Tools, so Corran was sitting there without any tokens in range of both my ships.  

My Falcons might have had their target locks set on Miranda but a naked Corran was too tempting a target and they both unloaded, stripping Corran's shields away.

Dan never really recovered from that target switch - he deliberately bumped Corran into Lando the next turn, regenerating a shield with R2-D2 and limiting me to just one shot, but now the Resistance Sympathiser had closed to range 1 with Target Lock, Focus & Gunner and pushed Corran back down.  One more round of that and Corran was toast, and then my two Falcons methodically wrapped up Miranda.

WIN 100-28

I felt like this worked pretty well - the action economy I had going on was hugely important, with both Lando and the Resistance Sympathiser pushing damage very reliably.  The two ships worked nicely together, although holding them together in range 1`for Lando's ability was something that only happened occasionally.  The decision to put Kyle and Rey in there for tokens even when I bumped was definitely a good call, though.  

It wasn't exciting to fly as you're pinned to the green moves, but I'd certainly be happy to play this again and see how it does in more games.

ROUND TWO vs Scott Reed
Rey (YT-1300) - Expertise / Finn / Kanan Jarrus / Countermeasures / Millenium Falcon (Sloop) (61)
Outer Rim Smuggler (YT-1300) - Cassian Andor / Sabine Wren / Conner Net / Smuggling Compartment / Scavenger Crane* / Anti-Pursuit Lasers (39)
* as it was a casual tournament we were allowed to proxy Wave 10 upgrades.
Outer Rim Smuggler?  Outer Rim Smuggler!  
The perennial laughing stock of X-Wing is here and better than ever (which isn't hard)!  Sabine Wren and Smuggling Compartment gave me the tools to turn the humble Outer Rim Smuggler into a fair bomber platform, and Cassian Andor and Anti-Pursuit Lasers give it some bumping potential.  
Together these combine to mean that I can sit my fat PS1 base in front of somebody to bump them, then next turn almost any move I throw will let me drop the Connor Net right on top of the ship that bumped into me.  Not only does that deal damage of its own but the Conner Net will also set up a sitting duck for Rey to sweep in and hammer.  In theory, at least.

Although I was up against one of the Reed brothers in this round I had earlier detected the faint but persistent bleating that was a telltale sign that Scott didn't have the squad he wanted to play.  A logistics screw-up between Scott and his brother Tom had left Scott scrabbling a squad together from bits they had lying around, and Dash/Miranda was definitely not his first choice for the day.

It all went wrong for Scott right out of the traps with Miranda Doni stumbling into the front of my Outer Rim Smuggler on his second turn.  The next turn my Smuggler turned away and carpeted Miranda with a Conner Net, leaving her helpless as Rey swept into Range 1 and blew her away!

Miranda had already got one foot out of the door when Rey rolled up...

How was the plan doing so far?
  • Outer Rim Smuggler bumped?  Check.
  • Outer Rim Smuggler lands Conner Net?  Check.
  • Outer Rim Smuggler lines up a shot for Rey?  Check.
  • Outer Rim Smuggler scavenges a new Conner Net with the crane?  Check.

Miranda had treated my Outer Rim Smuggler to an Ion Bomb as she left the table and that came within a hair's breadth of seeing my Smuggler unable to turn around without flying off the table, but otherwise it was now Dash against both of my YT-1300s.  

I didn't want to gloat too much at this point but I'd done the maths and YT-1300 x 2 = YT-2600, which is 8% better than a YT-2400.  

Victory was certain.

Crap maths jokes aside this was still very much a live game.  My Outer Rim Smuggler was still on the table after it's narrow brush with the edge of the board but a long way from the fight (and still an Outer Rim Smuggler) and I desperately needed Rey to keep Dash in front of her or she would rapidly lose that duel against Dash's Heavy Laser Cannon.  Fortunately I was able to do so with Scott misreading my intentions a couple of times, such as trying to bump my hard 1 left when I slooped right instead, getting range 1 behind him.  In other games this same chase would have been a lot less comfortable but in this one Rey managed to keep Dash in her sights and, with the Outer Rim Smuggler finally about to rejoin the battle, deal the last few hits to finish Dash off.

WIN 100-30

Outer Rim Smuggler FTW!

While the Smuggler acquitted itself very well and the Conner Net plan worked perfectly it was Rey who did most of the work.  Expertise in particular took so much of the stress out of Rey constantly dealing damage that I'm instantly a big fan of this EPT on her.  If the Outer Rim Smuggler had a 3rd dice I'd be a big fan of him to, but without it 39 points feels a lot to spend on this much jank, particularly when you can bring in a very similar YT-2400 bumper with the same trickery for just 1pt more (barrel roll, extra green dice, no Cassian Andor).  

But still,.. I won a game with 39 points of Outer Rim Smuggler against a very good player, and the Conner/Rey setup worked precisely as planned.  

(Ketsu/Asajj - Tom's World's Top16 squad)

Resistance Sympathiser (YT-1300) - Rey / Luke Skywalker / Ion Projector (49)
Resistance Sympathiser (YT-1300) - Jan Ors / Sabine Wren / Proton Bombs / Smuggling Compartment / Scavenger Crane / Ion Projector (51)
This was the last double Falcon list I had built in preparation for the day and probably the worst, so it wasn't exactly perfect timing that it would be up against the best squad/player in the room.  The Sympathisers effectively borrowed tricks from two other lists I'd already used, bringing the 'gunner' that had partnered Lando Calrissian in the first round and an upgraded version of the 'bomber' Outer Rim Smuggler that had worked with Rey in the second round.  
In place of the Conner Net trick I used on the Outer Rim Smuggler I decided to turn the jank up to '11' by playing Proton Bombs - something would bump into me and get Ionised by the Ion Projector and then drift forwards onto my Proton Bomb!  
Yeah.  That was never going to happen.

I've seen Tom run his double Shadow Casters enough to know how he tends to run them - they line up alongside each other on the flank then circle around the outside, herding the opponent into their auxiliary arcs that are turned inwards.  My plan was to try and insert my YT-1300s into that loop like a stick jammed into a bicycle wheel, splitting the two ships up so I could pick them off one at a time.  After early positioning that plan worked perfectly, and Tom even played to my advantage by boosting Ketsu Onyo forwards to separate her from Asajj, giving me even more room to drive my Falcons into.

My 'bomber' smashed into the front of Asajj while the 'gunner' slipped around the back and began to unload, stripping shields.  The next turn I followed up with a Proton Bomb that Asajj flew right onto and yet more fire, dropping Asajj to just one hull remaining.  With Ketsu Onyo separated and trying to loop back around Tom's Asajj was wounded and isolated - I smelled blood in the water...

From here the 'bomber' (the black one) swept in to bump Asajj, while the other YT-1300 got round the back

...then I lost.  Free of bumps and bombs Asajj was able to tank up with tokens using Push The Limit, with Latts Razzi contributing even more defence.  Ketsu swept in behind my Falcons and unloaded with fully modified attacks and my ships melted under the fire from the two Shadow Casters.  A lot like my Lando Calrissian list Tom's Shadow Casters are based on driving huge dice modification and action economy with Push The Limit, Glitterstim, K-4 Security Droid etc, and once he got away from my blocking and was able to lock his auxiliary arcs onto my ships it became a very one-sided fight.

LOSS 25-100

Too many of my points were unnecessary in this match.  The Ion Projectors were both useless against big ships, Jan Ors never should have been there, the Proton Bomb/Scavening Crane was just overpaying for effects I didn't really need, and arguably Luke could just have been a Gunner seeing as I had Rey crew on for a Focus token already.  Overall I think 12 to 15 points were probably misspent here and you just cant give that sort of advantage up to any half decent player, especially not to somebody like Tom.  I could really tell that this was the last list I'd scrambled together and that I'd not had time to really think it through as much as the others.

My strategy to split his ships up actually worked very well, though, and partway through the game I thought I was in good shape.  I managed to wedge my YT-1300 between the two Lancers and split them up, but my ships just didn't punch hard enough to make that good positioning count.  In the end I think that Resistance Sympathisers are a little too weak to run as a pair - neither of them have an EPT slot so you kind of struggle to spend all your 100pts truly effectively.  I'd consider having another go with the same type of list but spend the points a bit differently and hope to get more firepower.  Maybe something like this...
Resistance Sympathiser (YT-1300) - Lando Calrissian / Gunner / Smuggling Compartment / Black Market Slicer Tools / Experimental Interface (50)
Resistance Sympathiser (YT-1300) - Rey / Sabine Wren / Cluster Mines / Smuggling Compartment / Scavenger Crane / Anti-Pursuit Lasers (50)
Still a 'gunner' and a 'bomber' but with a bit more action economy.  I'm not hugely excited by this list but I think it's better than the one I used in the tournament, and it still fits the wacky bombing shenanigans in.

(Paratanni - Asajj/Fenn/Manaroo)
Chewbacca (YT-1300) - Expertise / Gunner / Hotshot Co-Pilot / Millenium Falcon (Evade) / Engine Upgrade (60)
Resistance Sympathiser (YT-130) - Rey, "Chopper" (40)
My most imbalanced list, with only 2pts for upgrades on the Resistance Sympathiser, but also the one closest to the classic 'Fat Falcon' builds.  You can fix this up with a variety of crew options on Chewbacca, from aggression with Gunner/Hotshot like I have here all the way to maximum defence with C-3PO and R2-D2.  Although this was the last double Falcon list to go onto the table on the day it was actually the first I had designed as it followed the default Falcon template so closely.   
The Resistance Sympathiser fell back on the old Rey crew trick to at least have fully modified attacks and try to make it a threat so my opponent couldn't just ignore it and go after Chewie with everything they have.

The 'Paratanni' list that Bob was running is still somewhat under the radar but as I was the one who had sent it his way I knew full well just how powerful it was and this was going to be a really tough game.  With his Engine Upgrade Chewbacca was going to be fast enough to chase down Manaroo so I lined up with that in mind, jetting him up the table while Asajj and Fenn Rau headed in the opposite direction.  

Chewbacca began chipping away at Manaroo but Asajj and Fenn made much shorter work of my Resistance Sympathiser in a one-sided race.  The Sympathiser tried to shake Fenn Rau off but the Protectorate Fighter was too agile, boosting to retain range 1 and throwing all those five dice with its attacks.  The Resistance Sympathiser died very quickly before Chewbacca had even made significant inroads on Manaroo, and then with all three ships against him Chewbacca couldn't repel firepower of that magnitude and rapidly followed.

LOSS 0-100

This result really told me what I think I already knew - without action economy the Falcons don't do anything in the modern metagame.  In fact this whole day had been about action economy, pretty much, which had driven Lando's win in the first round and my defeats to superior action economy against Tom and Bob in the last two rounds. 

If you compare/contrast the Chewbacca YT-1300 with the one that I flew with Lando Calrissian at the start of the day you can see the difference - Lando has three actions available (Focus, Target Lock, Evade) and can do all three of them every turn, while Chewbacca has four actions available (Focus, Target Lock, Evade, Boost) but can only do one of them each turn.  In the Chewbacca build I'm paying a lot of points to add options to my Falcon, instead of paying to simply do everything without having to choose.  Yes, Expertise gives Chewbacca a Focus on attack but that was only when not stressed, which Asajj Ventress did a good job of shutting down.

Would the Lando list have won this game?  Probably not because Paratanni is an extremely strong list but I think it would have done better; at least put up more of a fight and scraped me some MOV.

= = = = = =  BONUS ROUND  = = = = = =

After a day or two of downtime for New Year's I returned to the fray with the Rey build I'd played alongside the Outer Rim Smuggler, this time partnering her with Norra Wexley in an ARC-170.

Rey (YT-1300) - Expertise / Finn / Kanan Jarrus / Countermeasures / Millenium Falcon (Sloop) (61)
Norra Wexley (ARC-170) - Push The Limit / C-3PO / R2-D2 / Alliance Overhaul (39)
I had spent a few days idly searching through other options to fit in alongside Rey before settling on Norra's ARC just because there didn't seem to be many other choices.  39 points was too little to pack in a couple of X-Wings/B-Wings for jousting with and also too little for a really good Miranda or Corran Horn variant, but equally it was too much to comfortably spend on a single A-Wing/B-Wing/X-Wing ace.  
There were other reasons for choosing Norra, though.  If the lesson of my experiment day with the Falcons had been action economy and dice modification then I was bringing that to the table in spades with this ship, and with C-3PO and R2-D2 Norra Wexley also gave my list some endgame staying power while also offering some up-front jousting power that might distract people from Rey early on... in a lot of ways she's the perfect counterpart.

I played four games with this list in the evening, including two more games against Bob's 'Paratanni' list that had summarily dismissed the Chewbacca list in the final round of the tournament.  It comfortably beat down the other two lists it faced, which featured precisely the sort of A-Wing/X-Wing mixtures that simply don't work any more in this new age of hyper-modified attack dice.  Rey and Norra proved far too good at forcing 4 or 5 hit results on every attack, and those withering hits quickly removed the smaller fighters from the table.  

Expertise in particular proved very useful once again, with one particularly cute play seeing me dial a 1 hard turn that deliberately bumped Rey into a Poe Dameron who had bumped into her last round, meaning she sat in place with two A-Wings in front of her at range 1.  That Expertise worked without me taking an action meant I could modify her dice up to hits even after bumping

WIN 100-0

WIN 100-30

The two games I played against Bob's Paratanni were different, though.  In the first game I played for a fantastic first engagement that saw Asajj with just a few hull left right out of the gates (Norra swept into range 1 at the side of Asajj while Rey had slooped away to have Asajj in-arc at range 3, avoiding the stress she would give out).  That seemed like a fantastic start but I couldn't capitalise despite Rey keeping the pressure on Asajj - I'd roll four hits only for Asajj to cancel them all with two green dice and Focus/Evade/Latts Razzi.  She may only be 40pts and look like a Firespray for stats, but this Asajj Ventress can tank up more like Soontir Fel when she needs to!  While Rey was rolling her red dice against Asajj to no avail Fenn Rau and Manaroo closed in behind and wore her down.  

I'd misplayed this, underestimating just how tough Asajj was going to be and allowing my ships to get separated as Rey chased Asajj and Norra was still struggling to turn around at the other end of the table.

LOSS 20-100

In the second game Bob went for a different fortress-type opening that fed me Manaroo as the first target and I obliged by smashing her off the table in the first few turns.  Each ship you take away from a Mindlink list helps reduce the economy they're getting from it and I was just 1 hull away from killing Fenn Rau a turn later!  Fenn escaped to fight another day, though, and the firepower from the Protectorate Fighter and Shadow Caster dragged Norra down as he slipped away.  

With Manaroo already off the table this is right about the time Norra made her excuses and left...
We began a tough midgame as Rey tried to keep arc on either of Bob's remaining pilots while trying her best to stay out of Asajj's stress-dealing effect.  With just one hull left Fenn Rau decided it was prudent to get as far from Rey as possible and danced out to Autothrusters range, leaving Rey to duel it out with Asajj.  A key critical hit onto the Shadow Caster turned the game - a damage engine that made the hard turns red - and Rey was finally able to drag Asajj down now that she knew where it was going and could keep it in arc.  

Unfortunately that still left me 69-68 down in MOV and we agreed to end the game there as Fenn would almost certainly be able to keep away from Rey long enough to get to a time limit, had we been playing to one.

LOSS 69-68

The Rey/Norra combination felt pretty strong, well worth putting onto the table, and I'll keep it up my sleeve for more exploration in future.  It still hit a really tough matchup against Paratanni, though, so I should probably just be playing that instead.  I'm a big fan of Expertise on Rey, but the Countermeasures are of questionable value.  They're not really in for a Mindlink match, more for against Ryad/Vessery to clear that target lock, and I'm not sure there's anything any better to use instead, but it's something I'll keep an eye on to see if there's better things I could be taking with those points.


I started this blog by saying that I was struggling to enjoy competitive X-Wing, so did I learn anything that changed my feelings about this?  Well I certainly enjoyed mucking about with the YT-1300s, but they were hardly 'competitive' in the grander scheme of things and ran into much the same brick wall that the T-70 X-Wings ran into earlier, although the Rey/Norra pairing may have the firepower to get to the next stage - it feels like the type of list I could make a top cut with.  It's probably the case that I should be playing Paratanni, which is certainly better than what I've been playing, and probably more interesting to play as well.  

Ultimately though, I think the problem lies in my own head and the expectations I'm putting on what the game should be like.  Right now I'm not enjoying it, but complaining about that is unlikely to have positive results - it's pretty long odds that I'll be in full flow whinge just as the designers of X-Wing are walking past and decide to do something to help me out.  The game isn't going to change just because I want it to, and it's for me to change something - either change my mindset, or change the game I'm playing for something else.

The more I try and bang my head against the brick wall of what X-Wing has become recently the more frustrated I'm going to be.  I need to either get in line and adapt to the new reality, or find something else to do with my time.