Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Rule #32 - Enjoy The Little Things

In the last month or so I feel like I've seen a lot people being surprised when unfashionable little ships turn up in successful squads.  In various Grand Championships, and even from Worlds, it's seemed like many players just don't appreciate the simple things in life...

"Who ever would have predicted a Z-95 Headhunter would be in the final of Worlds?!?"

Well, Z-95s have already won two World Championships in First Edition and are a hallmark of efficient squadbuilding.  It shouldn't be a surprise.  When I clicked into the stream from the final game and saw what Daniel Taylor wasn't playing I wasn't shocked, instead my immediate reaction was "oh, of course it's Z-95s in the final of Worlds".  


Daniel Taylor's Z-95s are maybe the most obvious example but I've also seen plenty of people confused by the success if Oldpara's First Order squad at Polish Grand Championship (which was in turn based on a successful list that went 5-1 on the first day of Worlds).  Epsilon Squadron Cadets and naked Zeta Survivors?  Madness!  From the Swedish Grand Championship a list of four Logistics Division Resistance Transports with Ion Cannons shocked many who saw it, and there's still a lot of players who think V-19 Torrents are awful and don't understand why you'd use them.


So why are these 'bad' ships good?  What is it that's making them sleeper successes waiting to happen?  And if you can apparently overturn the odds with a Bandit Squadron Pilot, Epsilon Squadron Cadet or Gold Squadron Trooper then why can't you do it with a Phoenix Squadron A-Wing, or a Cartel Spacer?


Defensive Efficiency


I did some maths.


Actually, I didn't do any maths at all really.  Punkuser's helpful X-Wing calculator did some maths, all I did was type some numbers into a spreadsheet and make them pretty colours.

The first thing I looked at was a very broad "how many shots does it take for this ship to die" and then compared that to the cost of putting the ship onto the table.  How many points is the opponent earning each time he fires at this ship?

Punkuser's 'Durability' calculator worked this out for me but I know it doesn't give the defending ship a Focus token (which helps ships with more green dice), so I followed that up by using his calculator separately working out how likely a ship was to receive lethal damage from multiple shots in a turn, assuming the defending ship had a Focus to spend.

NOTE: my assumption here is that it's a Range 2 engagement (so no extra red/green dice) vs attackers with 3 single-modded Red dice.  A very average situation.  The maths would change for each scenario, or if you assumed attacker had double mods etc.  This is just guidelines of the results.
It's long been held as a rule of thumb that the Academy Pilot is the benchmark for ship efficiency so I then compared all the other little ships vs the TIE Fighter and it's 23pts for an Academy Pilot.


So, how to read this table: the Bandit Pilot is less likely to die in 2 attacks due to it's extra hull (18% chance of dying vs the TIE's 21% chance), but more likely to die to concerted fire from 3 or 4 attackers as having 1 less Agility on each attack starts to add up.  Because the Bandit Squadron Pilot costs the same 23pts as an Academy Pilot this variance translates directly to over/underperformance in defensive efficiency.

The Phoenix Squadron A-Wing, though, has the same agility as the TIE Fighter and one more combined Hull/Shield.  An A-Wing is 15-20% less likely to blow up than a TIE Fighter, and that's a pretty similar difference across 2/3/4 incoming attacks.  But because you've had to pay 30% more for your A-Wing than you do for an Academy Pilot a 20% increase in survival odds actually makes the A-Wing less defensively efficient.

With me so far?  Good.  So let's look at some learnings from this table...


Torrents & Epsilon Cadets are really efficient little fighters.  Although having less agility catches up to them after 4 attacks vs a smaller number of enemy ships a Torrent is 20% less likely to explode than a TIE Fighter and only costs 9% more.  The same is true of Epsilon Cadets in their newly-discounted TIE/fo.  It turns out that there's a clear step-change in survivability when you add either a 5th hitpoint at 2 Agility, or a 4th hitpoint to a 3 Agility ship, and it gives you a very good chance of surviving shots that would kill a TIE Fighter or Z-95.

When I wrote my buying guide for First Order the exact description I gave to the TIE/fo was "Although it doesn't sound like it would make much difference the extra shield that First Order TIE Fighters get does make a pretty big difference to how frequently they'll explode on you".  At the time I wrote that I hadn't run all this analysis but here is the mathemetical proof of precisely what I said in the buying guide.  You don't immediately think a shield would make that much difference, but it sends the Epsilon over a defensive tipping point to become much more draining on the opponent for him to kill it.    


It's also clear Networked Calculations is a big deal to how effective Vulture Droids are.  I suspected this would be true so I ran the Vulture Droid numbers twice, once with just one Calculate token and once where I assumed that they had access to 3 Calculates thanks to nearby ships.  The difference in being able to mod dice vs multiple incoming attacks was the difference between being 9-12% worse than a TIE Fighter even after you account for their lower cost, or being pretty much on a par with a TIE Fighter for defensive efficiency.

Moving up into the more expensive ships and it's hitpoint count that really starts to make the difference.  Scimitar Bombers and Zeta Survivors both have 6 health, meaning that they're actually about as defensively efficient as a TIE Fighter despite costing significantly more.  And the Nu Squadron Pilot's StarWing and the Resistance Transport are similarly buff.


Now is a good time to pause and reflect on what isn't being taken into consideration. None of the wonderful maths above cares that A-Wings have a much better dial than a Torrent and access to linked Boost actions.  None of this wonderful maths is aware than the Zeta Survivor and Blue Squadron Recruits have rear arcs.  This is a pure stat comparison.  Ships have their own strengths and weaknesses and you could argue about the correct costing on any ship.  The above table isn't saying "Ship X is 20% better than Ship Y".

But what I think this maths IS doing is highlighting defensive strengths that might not immediately be apparent.  The Phoenix Squadron A-Wings pilot card says it can link a Boost action so everyone knows about that strength, but the Gold Squadron Trooper's pilot card doesn't say 'probably lives a turn longer than a TIE Fighter would'.  A lot of people instead look at the Torrent's maneuver dial and, assuming it's the whole story, are surprised you'd ever use it.  


Focus Draining

All that maths analysis assumed the defender had a Focus token and this favours the ships with more agility.  A Torrent or a Logistics Pilot benefits a lot less from having a defensive Focus token than a TIE Fighter does.  So I went away and reran the table a second time, this time removing an action's worth of defensive mods from the ship in question.


What came back made some of the defensive efficiency benefits even more stark, and it's because there was another hidden mathematical quirk in here.  It turns out that with so many green dice and so little Hull the TIE Fighters *REALLY* need that Focus token to survive.  TIE Fighters are forced to spend their Focus token earlier and more often than any of the other small ships.

This became a massive benefit to the tougher ships, particularly at lower incoming shot counts.  It also threw a massive spotlight on just how good Networked Calculations was.  If you lose a Calculate token from your droid swarm the rest of the squad can carry the load, and the Vulture Droids carry on surviving pretty much exactly as long as they would have if they'd taken an action.

But you're going to Focus as often as possible, right?  Especially with a TIE Fighter as it's so important to have a green token.  Does the table where you don't have a Focus token really matter that much?  

Well yes it does and that's because the more often you're forced to spend your Focus to stay on the table, the less often you have that Focus token to support your own attacks. 


A Good Defense Is The Best Offense

What we're looking at in this analysis is the cheap ships, the grunts of the litter.  The little guys everyone ignores and forgets about.  Low cost, low Initiative.  When you're at the bottom of the Initiative pecking order you often need to earn your right to throw red dice by surviving to the end of the combat phase.

If you died before it's your turn to shoot you got to roll no red dice at all.  If you had to spend your Focus token to avoid dying then your red dice were only at 2/3rds their potential strength.  We can apply some quick maths to this and work out how many hits a cheap ship is likely to roll once it starts drawing fire from opponents.

Let's take the TIE Fighter as the example from that table.  If a TIE Fighter is attacked three times it will explode 50% of the time, meaning it got to roll 0 hits.  A further 24% of the time it will have had to spend its Focus token to stay on the table, meaning it rolled an average of 1 hit.  The remaining 26% of the time the TIE Fighter is still on the table with it's Focus token and is able to fire at full strength for an average of 1.5 hits.

50% x 0.0 = 0.0
24% x 1.0 = 0.2
26% x 1.5 = 0.4
Average = 0.6 hits

What does that mean?

The best way for a cheap ship to deal damage is to not die, and ideally to be so defensively efficient that you're a low-value unappealing target and nobody even bothers to shoot you at all.  Target priority plays a massive part in this, of course and it's one major reason why this sort of 'mathwing' analysis can only ever be a small part of the story.  But in isolation I think it's true that many players underestimate how resilient some of these cheap ships are, and undervalue how offensively important it is that they are defensively cost-efficient.


A big part of this learning, for me, has been that the lowly Academy Pilot is a lot worse then I really appreciated.  TIE Swarms aren't exactly rocking anybody's world right now and the most successful ones tend to be using higher Initiative pilots and trying to flip that 'best offense is a good defense on it's head' - if you can kill a ship before it fires then your offense becomes your defense!

The other side of that learning is that it's surprising just how much better the Torrents and TIE/fos of this world actually are, in ways that really weren't obvious to me.  Little incremental steps in how tough these ships are have manifested as significant improvements in damage output, and as big changes in target priority because the opponent has to dedicate so much more effort to killing them.


What To Take Away

These efficiency tables all work on theoretical situations and I'd be the first person to say that they're only a part of why you would choose to use a particular ship in your squad.  But they're all things well worth knowing, and which really speak to why a clever player will know when best to deploy these ships and let them do a job on the table.


So which is the 'best' efficient generic?  

Well there's no such thing of course because each fits into its squad and the ships around it in a unique way.  A good example of this is that the Academy Pilot comes out of this analysis looking pretty poor and yet Vader/Soontir and three Academy Pilots has been a successful archetype - when they were put into a squad with two massive ace threats the Academy's defensive frailties weren't really tested as it wasn't what the enemy needed to kill first.  But a lot of the time the cheap ships you put onto the table need to be able to stand their ground and stay alive longer, and you see that a lot in squads where they're more of a centrepiece like Sinker Swarm or the First Order swarm that did so well in Poland.


If there is an all-round 'best' then it's probably the Epsilon Squadron TIE/fo, which at 26pts has all the defensive efficiency of a Torrent but none of the dial limitations, although the Torrent's linked Evade action makes a strong argument that the Torrent would edge it.  I'd also say that the most underrated and underrused is the Scimitar Squadron Bomber: so many players think Barrage Rockets are stapled to this ship that they miss just how crazy it is on it's own merits.  When you look at how resilient the Bomber is when it has Focus available for defense I think Barrage Rockets (which require Focus to fire) are almost a bad upgrade for the ship to take.  I took a pair of Scimitar Bombers with Proximity Mines to within touching distance of qualifying for Worlds earlier this year and this analysis backs up that the base chassis is so efficient that I was onto something all along!

And that's what's hidden in these unfashionable ships, still.  So long as the little guys' strengths go ignored and unloved it seems like players are going to continue to be surprised when they suddenly appear out of left field in the sharp end of a big tournament.  Right now there's a discussion in the FFG forums about how much cheaper the TIE Bomber needs to be when it's already over the curve on efficiency, which proves just how little people appreciate these things.

We would all do well to remember Rule #32...




Tuesday, 26 November 2019

X-Wing Buying Guide - Separatists

BUYING GUIDE - SEPARATISTS
"Twice the pride: double the fall"

*** UPDATED NOVEMBER 2020 ***


1) INTRODUCTION

The Separatists are a loose coalition of all the various interest groups that have been coerced into serving Darth Sidious' nefarious scheme.  In this faction you'll find iconic villains like Darth Maul, Count Dooku and General Grievous but also the Trade Federations squadrons of mass-produced Vulture Droids and the weapons of the insectoid Geonosians who played such a pivotal role in developing the Death Star.  As well as featuring across the prequel trilogy of films they've also had a prominent role in the Clone Wars cartoon series


As befits a faction that brings together such a wide range of different groups the Separatist squads can be very different to one another, and their ships often have very little in common in terms of how they work on the table in Miniatures Game form.  We've seen hugely successful swarms of Vulture and Hyena Droids and we've seen the deadly Nantex swarm to great effect, but we've only occasionally seen the various parts of the Separatist movement successfully coalesce into one squad.  The ships are so different to each other I think it can be a real challenge to get them all pulling in the same direction at the same time.  


What almost every Separatist ship and squad does have in common, though, is that they're probably the single most complicated and frustrating faction to learn to play.  I described the Jedi as "easy to learn but difficult to master" and by that measure the Separatists are probably "difficult to learn and even harder to master".  The Belbullab is probably the only 'normal' ship the Separatists have to call upon while all the others rely heavily on players mastering tricky combinations of unusual maneuver dials and fragile ships that are propped up by complex abilities and interactions, and a need for extremely accurate flying.  

Take that as a warning but also as a recommendation.  The Separatists can do some amazing tricks and completely baffle opponents with all the options available to them... once you've got past the bit where they baffle you trying to play them!  There's a lot of fun to be had from just how different the Separatist ships are but if you're jumping into X-Wing for the first time then this is definitely the deep end and you're in for a pretty steep learning curve


2) STARTING SQUADS

If you're still reading after my concerted efforts to scare you away from playing Separatists then congratulations!  You should steel yourself for one more piece of bad news, though: because the Separatist faction features the cheapest ships in the game (points-wise) they can actually be one of the most expensive factions to play (wallet-wise).  When you pay $20 for a T-65 X-Wing you're filling out 40-50pts in your squad, while that same $20 of Vulture Droid only goes half as far in terms of getting you to 200pts.

The Servants of Strife expansion pack was designed as the introduction to the Separatist faction and it's still a fantastic place to start your collection.  This pack gives you three ships for the price of two so it's a good head start on building your ship numbers.  It's also the only box that has General Grievous' Belbullab starfighter in, so for that reason alone you're likely to wind up buying Servants of Strife eventually even if it's not your first purchase.  

Although I've already warned you that the Separatists can be an expensive faction to buy into that doesn't HAVE to be the case, especially since Jango Fett's Slave-I arrived late in 2020 to give you a really solid ship that can eat up a good half of your points allocation.  This is perhaps the cheapest place to start...

CIS on the Cheap (200pts)
  • General Grievous (Bellabub) - Outmaneuver, Impervium Plating, Soulless One
  • Jango Fett (Firespray) - Lone Wolf, Zam Wessell, Thermal Detonators, False Transponder Codes, Hull Upgrade
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Grappling Struts
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Grappling Struts
Purchases Required: Core Set, Servants of Strife, Jango Fett's Slave I ($110)

The aim of the game here is to get Jango Fett to be your last ship on the table so he can mop up what's left of the opponent.  General Grievous is a huge threat when he has Outmaneuver so the opponent should try and chase him first, giving you time for Jango and your Vultures to destroy as many ships as possible.  It's actually unusual to see a Separatist squad with so few ships and a lot of that is down to Networked Calculations, the Vulture Droid's innate ability to share Calculate tokens between each other.  Hurling as many Vultures onto the table as possible has a proven success rate and with their networked calculations ability each droid makes the others stronger.  They just drain your wallet to do so, unfortunately.

This squad below is on the way towards a more typical Vulture swarm, starting to build some strength in numbers.  Even this is scrimping some to save the wallet, though.  The HMP Gunship is interchangeable with a Nantex starfighter or even a Tri-Fighter, but if you were really looking for the maximum value it would probably just turn into another three Vulture Droids (for $140 not the $100 here)!

Grievous Miniswarm (200pts)
  • General Grievous (Belbullab) - Treacherous, Soulless One
  • Geonosian Prototype (HMP Gunship) - Synced Laser Cannons, Repulsorlift Stabilisers, Kraken
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Discord Missiles
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Discord Missiles
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture)  
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture)  
Purchases Required: Servants of Strife, Vulture Droid expansion x2, HMP Gunship expanson ($100)

So far both these squads have started with a Servants of Strife expansion but with the newer ships released in second of 2020 it's no longer such an essential starting point.  Here is a squad that ignores the Servants of Strife and goes directly to all the more complicated and interesting ships in the Separatist faction...

Technological Terror (200pts)
  • 0-66 (Sith Infiltrator) - Plasma Torpedoes, DRK-1 Probe Droids, Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious, Hull Upgrade
  • DIS-347 (Tri-Fighter) - Marg-Sabl Closure, Intercept Boosters
  • Geonosian Prototype (HMP Gunship) - Synced Laser Cannons, Repulsorlift Stabilisers
  • Techno-Union Bomber (Hyena Bomber) - Proton Torpedoes, Landing Struts
Purchases Required: Sith Infiltrator expansion, Tri-Fighter expansion, HMP Gunship expanson, Hyena Bomber expansion ($100)

What this squad does is introduce all that complexity and interconnected abilities that I talked about when I introduced the Separatist faction.  It starts with the DRK-1 Probe Droids equipped to the Sith Infiltrator, which you're going to push out to scout the enemy fleet and allow your ships to get target locks set up before the firing starts.  

Those target locks allow 0-66 and the Techno-Union Bomber to fire their deadly torpedoes, they also allow the Geonosian Prototype to reroll it's attack dice with its Networked Aim ability, and finally having target locks strewn around helps DIS-347 with his pilot ability too.  The abilities don't stop there, because 0-66 also has Darth Sidious aboard and his coordinate ability can really add a lot to how the Tri-Fighter moves and has lots of defensive tokens.  And three out of your four ships have unique movement upgrades to manage too in the Intercept Boosters, Repulsorlift Stabilisers and Landing Struts!

Get it all wrong and all of those synergies fall apart.  You wont be able to fire your torpedoes, your Gunship won't be able to reroll dice, your Tri-Fighter won't pick up a target lock and you'll have spent loads of points on effects and abilities you can't use.  And THAT is really what the Separatist faction is all about in a nutshell!



3) SHIP BY SHIP GUIDE
Vulture Droid (Wave 3)
Hard to fly, Strong

Trade Federation Vulture Droids are currently the cheapest ships in the whole game, which makes sense as stat-wise they're also the worst ships in the game.  That individual weakness is more than made up for just how many Vulture Droids you can hurl onto the table at once, though, and through their Networked Calculations ability the swarm grows stronger as it gets larger.  Despite being the 'worst' and most fragile ship in the game the Vulture Droids have actually been terrorising competitive X-Wing tournaments for the last few months.

They're not easy to fly, though.  Their robotic nature means they have a maneuver dial that loves to work in binary 90-degree turns "Left, Right, Forwards!!!" but only reluctantly switches to analogue diagonal lanes.  You need to plan ahead to minimise the impact of that weakness, while opponents will certainly try to exploit it.  Although surprisingly effective in a swarm Vulture Droids also explode very quickly once they're isolated so they can be a very frustrating place for a new player to join the game.

But the sheer number of guns you can put on the table... 

Also of Interest: Discord Missiles (Vulture expansion, Tri-Fighter expansion)


Belbullab-22 (Wave 3 in Servants of Strife)
Easy to fly, Average strength

In a faction of oddballs and outcasts the Belbullab-22 is pretty much the only 'normal' X-Wing ship that the Separatists have to play with.  It's got an average number of red dice, a pretty average amount of agility and hull, a pretty average action bar and maneuver dial, and even the pilot abilities are pretty normal.

Although there's no separate expansion for it you get the Belbullab in the Servants of Strife expansion pack, and for most purposes that one Belbullab is probably going to be all you need.  They're good ships and in Captain Sear or General Grievous they're decent additions to a swarm of Vulture Droids, particularly as the Belbullab can equip a Tactical Relay to buff all the nearby droids.  But you're rarely going to want 2 of them.  They're just a bit too 'normal'.

Also of Interest: None

Sith Infiltrator (Wave 3)
Hard to fly, Weak

The Sith Infiltrator is the ship that Darth Maul flew to Tatooine in The Phantom Menace and in the X-Wing Miniatures Game the Sith assassin can be replaced by Count Dooku as a pilot. The Infiltrator's big problem comes from being a large based ship with just a front-facing weapons arc.  That's a combination that's always been problematic as it makes it difficult for the Infiltrator to keep its arc pointing at things it wants to shoot, and it takes a lot of forward planning to ensure that Maul or Dooku are in the right place when the shooting starts.

However... although the Sith Infiltrator itself is pretty weak this expansion pack is actually pretty important to pick up anyway because it has some very good upgrade cards.  In particular the DRK-1 Probe Droids are a staple for the Separatist faction and 'unlock' a lot of what ships like the Hyena Bomber has to offer by giving you target locks before the firing starts.  It also has General Grievous, Count Dooku and Darth Sidious crew cards and they may prove really useful aboard Jango Fett's Slave-I.

Also of Interest: Proton Torpedoes (Core Set)
Hyena Bomber (Wave 4)
Hard to fly, Average strength

The Hyena is the Vulture Droid's bigger, meaner brother.  As this is the Separatists faction, though, it defies such simple classification and in fact every Hyena pilot in the game has different upgrade slots.  Some are bombers, some are torpedo carriers, some are support ships, some are jousters... that alone makes them a pretty complex ship to squadbuild for as they all have their own unique roles to play.

Hyena Bombers have now proven their worth to Separatist forces in several configurations - as torpedo-flinging artillery alongside DRK-1 Probe Droids, as frustrating Proximity-Mining close quarters combat forces, and the unique DBS-404 is a potent threat capable of rolling 6 red dice at range 1!  The annoying bit about the Hyena Bomber is that almost all these uses require you finding the right upgrades from elsewhere so it might be an awkward ship to pick up if you've not got the right toys to make it work.

Also of Interest: Proton Torpedoes (Core Set), DRK-1 Probe Droids (Sith Infiltrator), Proximity Mines (Slave-I, Fully Loaded, Decimator), Advanced Proton Torpedoes (Sith Infiltrator, Fully Loaded)



Nantex Starfighter (Wave 5)
Very Hard to fly, Strong

Ah, the dreaded Nantex... there's probably not a single ship more hated by the broad X-Wing gaming population.  The Separatist faction trades on complex and awkward interactions and in the Nantex that manifests as manipulating gravity fields in how their ships fly and attack, thanks to the controversial Ensnare pilot ability.  At face value a Nantex starfighter is a fragile little ship with a limited range of movement, but once the Nantex pilot starts shifting gravity fields around they can appear in unexpected places and with Ensnare they can even move opposing ships to lock them in place with tractor beams!
History Lesson: For a lot of players the Nantex' Ensnare ability to create large 'no-go' zones on the table proved less fun than the game designers probably anticipated.  FFG put the points cost of Ensnare up to make players happy and suddenly the Nantex disappeared entirely from tables.  Then in July 2020 FFG put the cost of the basic Nantex ship down so people would use them and swarms of six Ensnare-less Nantex immediately took over and won everything in sight, leading to an emergency points change a couple of months later.
Touch wood, Nantex are finally in a good place - playable with or without Ensnare but not incredibly unpleasant to play against.  Personally I think they're a fun and whizzy little ship and like how their unique tractor/turret interaction works, but they don't naturally fit into all the target lock/calculate synergies that are so much a part of the Separatist identity.  I'd recommend picking one up to try out Chertek or Sun Fac first and see if you like them before buying more.

Also of Interest: Crack Shot (Servants of Strife)


HMP Gunship (Wave 7)
Average to fly, Average strength

You can find my full review of this expansion pack here.

The HMP Gunship would be just another missile & cannon boat without its unique Repulsorlift Stabilisers configuration, which allows the ship to strafe around the table in ways no other ship can do.  That makes the HMP both a useful offensive threat that can track targets as they maneuver, and it also makes the HMP hard to pin down because while most ships fly forwards the HMP can potentially zip off in three different directions.  Although there are a lot of upgrade options in the Gunship's loadout you can keep it pretty simple, just give it a gun and enjoy sidestepping your way to success - you may want to track down some DRK-1 Probe Droids from the Sith Infiltrator though!

Also of Interest: Diamond-Boron Missiles (Hyena Bomber), DRK-1 Probe Droids (Sith Infiltrator)


Tri-Fighter (Wave 8)
Hard to Fly, Average strength

The Tri-Fighter is the Separatist equivalent to the Empire's TIE Interceptor - it's a super-fast ship with strong cannons that will melt under fire faster than a Ben & Jerry's stand in the Australian outback!  This ship was only released a few days before I wrote this guide, but my initial take on the ship is that with the way the pilots are costed it seems like we're being steered towards playing just one or two Tri-Fighters as a flanking threat rather than dropping them into existing droid formations.  The high initiative Phlacc-Arphocc Prototypes may be the strongest pilots just because the best way of keeping these things alive may be ensuring they never get shot at!

Also of Interest: Predator (Core Set, TIE Interceptor)

Jango Fett's Slave-I (Wave 8)
Easy to fly, Strong

This isn't the first Firespray-Class Patrol Craft in X-Wing and players are well used to dealing with Slave-I when it was in Boba Fett's hands as part of the Scum & Villainy faction.  This version of Slave-I is the ship that daddy Fett flew in Attack of the Clones which is why it appears in the Separatist ranks, although interestingly a lot of the upgrade cards are dual-purpose and can be used by both Scum and Separatist players.

The sheer success of Boba Fett may well have led to Jango's Slave-I being toned down a bit and on first sight this isn't quite as powerful as the Scum version.  That said, the Firespray is still arguably the best all-rounder ship in the game with no real weak points and it's always going to be a solid ship on the table, even if you don't quite have all the Scum version's bells & whistles.  Jango Fett brings a new Initiative 6 pilot which is a threat in itself but it may be the changeling Zam Wessell, whose mindgames lead to free target locks and bonus attacks, that you'll see played most often.

Also of Interest: Lone Wolf (Servants of Strife), Treacherous (Servants of Strife), Count Dooku (Sith Infiltrator), Contraband Cybernetics (Punishing One, Xi Shuttle)

Monday, 18 November 2019

X-Wing Buying Guide - Republic

BUYING GUIDE - GALACTIC REPUBLIC
"Sand.  I hate sand."

*** UPDATED NOVEMBER 2020 ***


1) INTRODUCTION

Everyone flocks to the Galactic Republic faction for its clone troopers.  Faceless and featureless the clones make the Republic one of the most dynamic and exciting factions to play.

No, wait, that's not right.  You're here for the Jedi, aren't you?  Of course you are!


The forces of the Galactic Republic oversaw peace and order in the galaxy before the dark times.  Before the Empire.  In this faction you'll find many members of the Jedi council: Ahsoka Tano, Plo Koon, Obi Wan Kenobi and of course a certain Anakin Skywalker.  The Jedi fly their distinctive triangular starfighter and with the Force as their ally they make for incredibly varied and dangerous foes.  Alongside the Jedi you'll find the clone troopers, they may be less exciting and glamorous but their ships are tough and dependable in a scrap.  The Jedi can't be everywhere in the galaxy and clones do a lot more than just make up the numbers.


In terms of playstyle the Republic faction is incredibly customisable and can play most styles pretty well.  It's certainly possible to field the Jedi as powerful aces who can use their mastery of the Force to dodge attacks and ensure they get the best positions on the table.  At the other end of the scale a massed army of clones in their V-19 Torrents, V-Wings, LAATs and ARC-170 Starfighters can bring massed raw firepower capable of winning almost any duel.  And in between those extremes you can mix and match the two styles almost at will and the challenge with the faction often comes down to having to make difficult choices between several ships and pilots that could all work well.


2) STARTING SQUADS

The first thing to say is that the Republic faction is a lot like the First Order faction in that there's no real fixed route for how to fly them and thus what you need to buy.  My overarching medium-term advice is basically to buy one of every expansion in whatever order you want, but if you're looking at your very first purchases then "to Guardians or not to Guardians, that is the question..."

The Guardians of the Republic boxed set introduced the Galactic Republic to the game and it's still a fantastic launchpad into the faction.  Not only do you get your first three ships for the price but it's home to some unique Jedi pilots that aren't in the Aethersprite expansion pack (including Obi-Wan Kenobi).  It also comes with a lot of the upgrade cards that you'll need to load out your squad and make the most of the ships you buy.  However as more ships have been added to the Republic faction it's no longer the only way to buy in.

Guardians of the Republic 
(200pts)
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi (ETA-2 Actis) - Predator, Stealth Device
  • Plo Koon (Aethersprite) - Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • 104th Battalion Pilot (ARC-170)
  • Gold Squadron Trooper (Torrent)
  • Gold Squadron Trooper (Torrent)
Expansions required: Guardians of the Republic, ETA-2 Actis Expansion, ARC-170 Expansion ($90)

This squad brings a pretty typical and flavorsome blend of Jedi masters and clone toughness to the table.

But if you decide not to make Guardians of the Republic your first purchase you can benefit from the fact there are different Jedi pilots for the Aethersprite in the ship's own expansion than there are in the Guardians of the Republic box (for example: Obi Wan is in Guardians of the Republic, Anakin is in the expansion).


Dancing Jedi
 (199pts)
  • Anakin Skywalker (Aethersprite) - Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • Obi Wan Kenobi (ETA-2 Actis)
  • Ric Olie (Naboo Starfighter)
  • Goji (Y-Wing) - Ion Turret, Proton Bombs, Delayed Fuses
Expansions required: Aethersprite expansion, ETA-2 Actis expansion, N1 Naboo Starfighter expansion, BTL-B Y-Wing expansion ($80)

And this squad really shows how interchangeable so many pieces are for the Republic.  We've picked up an N1 Starfighter and a Y-Wing in this example, but those same points could easily have gone on a V-Wing and a LAAT instead.  Or another Aethersprite, or an ARC.

And we've not even got into the possibilities brought about by converting your Aethersprites to their more potent (and expensive) Delta-7B configuration.  If you're prepared to trade the advancing piloting skills of Obi Wan and Anakin for raw firepower then there's other routes through the faction.

Feel The Force (200pts)
  • Jedi Knight (Aethersprite) - Delta-7B
  • Jedi Knight (Aethersprite) - Delta-7B
  • Warthog (LAAT) - Clone Commander Cody
  • 104th Battalion Pilot (ARC-170) - R4-P Astromech
Expansions required: Aethersprite expansion x2, LAAT expansion, ARC-170 expansion ($100)


3) SHIP BY SHIP GUIDE



Delta-7 Aethersprite (Wave 3)
Average to fly, Strong

Important: you get an Aethersprite in the Guardians of Republic box but the individual ship expansion features different pilots (and different paint schemes on the Aethersprite) so you'll almost certainly want to pick up both packs eventually.
  • Guardians of the Republic: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Plo Koon, Mace Windu, Saesee Tiin
  • Aetherspriate Expansion: Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, Luminar Unduli, Barriss Offee
The Delta-7 Aethersprite is the chosen starfighter of the Jedi knights.  It may look small but in X-Wing this hugely customisable little fighter has several configuration options and is almost like two, or even three, different ships that can fulfil different roles depending on whether you take Calibrated Laser Targeting, Delta-7B, or no configuration at all.

Without any configuration at all the Aethersprite is like a little A-Wing or TIE Fighter buzzing around at high speed but not really posing much offensive threat.  That wouldn't be too effective for normal pilots but all the Jedi come to the table with unique Force abilities and so without a configuration the Aethersprite can function as a little support ship.  Adding the Calibrating Laser Targeting upgrade to your Aethersprite doesn't cost many points and can really transform the damage output of your Jedi if they can line their shots up carefully.  It's still a delicate little ship that can't take much punishment, but CLT adds a lot more threat to the ship.

The Delta-7B upgrade, though, transforms your nimble but fragile Aethersprite into a much tougher fighter that's more like a T-65 X-Wing than an A-Wing, translating some Agility for more shields and laser cannons.  With a Jedi master like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Anakin Skywalker at the helm a Delta-7B is one of the most complete starfighters in the game - lightning fast and agile, able to regenerate lost shields with R2 Astromechs and dealing out blistering Force-assisted attacks.

Also of interest: R2 Astromech (Core Set, N-1 Naboo Starfighter expansion), C1-10P (BTL-B Y-Wing expansion)

V-19 Torrent (in Guardians of the Republic expansion)
Average to fly, average strength

There's no standalone expansion for the V-19 Torrent but you get two of these little Clone troopers in Guardians of the Republic and, yeah... they're alright.  The V-19 Torrent is slow, weak and unglamorous but also has a very low points cost that makes up for all of that.  A lot of the time it simply takes so long for the enemy to waste time killing a Torrent that they'll just ignore it to choose a more valuable target, which then allows the Clones to get in close and start dealing real damage.  The Torrent has found a role filling out Republic lists and also became the backbone of a Republic swarm alongside Sinker's ARC-170 to make them punch much harder.  On face value the V-19 must be among the candidates for 'worst' ship in the game and yet it's a testament to how well X-Wing is designed that they're actually pretty good anyway just because they cost so few points.

Also of interest: None.  If you're spending more than 25pts on a Torrent you're probably doing it wrong.

ARC-170 Starfighter (Wave 3)
Very easy to fly, Average strength

The ARC-170 is an almost foolproof ship for a beginner to fly.  It doesn't have many maneuvers to choose from, it has plenty of hull so it won't die and it has front and rear guns so if you point it the wrong way you still get to fire!  The Rebel ARC pilots are all pretty expensive in points cost but here in the Galactic Republic their clone pilots are bought en-masse from the Kamino and come in cheap enough to do all the dirty work that the Jedi are too high & mighty to do for themselves.  There's several strong ARC-170 pilots but you don't often have to look much further than the efficient 104th Battalion Pilot who for 42pts has to be one of the most efficient and straight forward hitting sticks in the game.

Also of interest: None

N-1 Naboo Starfighter (Wave 4)
Average to fly, Weak

The Naboo Starfighter is the yellow streak of lightning that little baby Anakin whizzed into battle in at the end of The Phantom Menace.  It's a speedy ship that loves to be flown fast across the table and that is both it's strength and its great weakness - hard to pin down and kill, but also tends to travel so quickly that it's only in the fight half the time before it leaves all the lasers behind it and has to turn back around again for another pass.  Only one Naboo pilot has really proven their mettle to date, Ric Olie, and his main strength is baiting opponents into wasting time shooting at him when they should really know better.  Ric has been a fixture in some very successful Jedi ace squads but there's always the suspicion that he hasn't actually done very much apart from whizz about and stay alive while the Jedi do the heavy lifting.

Also of interest: Crack Shot (Guardians of the Republic)


BTL-B Y-Wing (Wave 5)
Easy to fly, Average strength

You may not have known it when you watched the Battle of Yavin unfold in Star Wars: A New Hope but the Rebel Y-Wings were rolling into their attack run naked.  It turns out those scrawny Y-Wings should be sleek and elegant as they were originally intended, with layers of extra armour plating.  The Galactic Republic flies those OG Y-Wings and despite the cosmetic changes they're pretty much the usual reliable bodies that the Rebels and Scum get from their Y-Wings.  You won't set many tables on fire by fielding a BTL-B Y-Wing but they're dependable and in Broadside and Matchstick at least have a couple of pilots with strong abilities.  

Just as interesting as the ship itself the BLT-B Y-Wing also comes with some great upgrade cards so you'll likely find yourself picking one up just for that reason.  Foresight and Precognitive Reflexes are good Force abilities, while the cranky astromech C1-10P is making a strong play for being my personal favourite upgrade card in Second Edition.

Also of interest: R4 Astromech (Guardians of the Republic, Naboo Starfighter expansion)




LAAT Gunship (Wave 7)
Easy to fly, Average strength

The LAAT Gunship is the UH60 Black Hawk of the Republic fleet, usually seen providing close air support to legions of clone troopers on the ground.  In X-Wing the LAAT is removed a little from it's usual environment but still provides a very similar role with a powerful Fire Convergence ability granting nearby ships extra accuracy from their attacks and with enough room inside for a Jedi master or two to provide tactical support too.

The LAAT is hardly a glamorous ship but it's a useful one to have at your disposal and in 'Warthog' in particular it adds some steel to the Republic's squads.  There's also a bunch of new crew cards for both the LAAT and the ARC-170 to field, including Yoda himself!

Also of interest: Clone Commander Cody (ARC-170) 


V-Wing (Wave 8)
Easy to fly, Weak

It's an odd bird, the V-Wing.  In canon this ship comes at a turning point for the Galactic Republic, right where their technology starts to disappear into a tunnel before finally emerging as TIE Fighters in the Galactic Empire.  Thus the V-Wing is in the X-Wing Miniatures Game too, kind of uncomfortably straddling a few other ship roles without necessarily excelling at any one of them.

In it's raw form the V-Wing's stats, dial and actions are rather similar to an A-Wing - light and fast with weak offense - although the linked Target Lock action instead of a Focus is punishing for a ship with 3 Agility.  As a nice touch you can see the TIE Fighter underneath starting to come through in that the V-Wing's 1-bank maneuvers are red (the TIE loses them completely).  When equipped with the 'Besh' configuration the V-Wing gains a bomb slot and starts to become something more like a TIE Bomber or TIE Striker, though without the Bomber's toughness or the Striker's more powerful cannons.

Also of interest: R4 Astromech (Guardians of the Republic, N1 Naboo Starfighter) 


ETA-2 Actis Interceptor (Wave 8)
Hard to fly, Average strength

The ETA-2 Actis is the smaller Jedi starfighter that we were introduced to in the opening battle over Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith.  In many ways it's very similar to an Aethersprite fighter equipped with Calibrated Laser Targeting - similar stats, similar dial, similiar force-powered reposition actions, similar requirement to land bullseye arcs to really deal damage, and similarly brimming with powerful Jedi pilots.  The Actis is a cheaper and more lightweight option than the larger Aethersprite, though, and it fits more comfortably into space where the Aethersprite has to really make compromises on points.

It's brand new (released just days before this guide was first written) so it's hard to say exactly where it falls in the over power level scheme for X-Wing, but at this point I suspect it's going to prove more of an annoyance for opponents than being a particularly potent threat.  This ship looks like it excels at flitting in and out of combat and being very hard to kill, but is perhaps less good at doing a huge amount of work in the meantime.  Maybe it's best suited to a support role and allow some bigger ships to do the heavy lifting for it.

Also of interest: Predator (Core Set), Ion Cannon (B-Wing, M3-A, TIE Heavy), Stealth Device (Guardians of the Republic)

X-Wing Buying Guide - First Order

BUYING GUIDE - FIRST ORDER
"Let the past die.  Kill it, if you have to"
 
*** UPDATED NOVEMBER 2020 ***


1) INTRODUCTION

The First Order are the bad guys who have emerged from the scattered remnants of the Empire to threaten the galaxy anew in The Force Awakens.  Here you'll find Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma and General Hux as the most recognisable protagonists, usually surrounded by their TIE Fighter escorts.  There's also the first signs of ships coming in the Resistance cartoon series, with Major Vonreig's deadly red TIE Interceptor coming in Wave 6.


The First Order currently has one of the smallest selections of ships in the game with only four available.  You're going to see an awful lot of that familiar H-shaped TIE Fighter profile in a First Order squad, although the First Order do at least have the good graces to put some shielding onto their TIEs before they push them out the door to die.  The headline-grabbing aces in the First Order fly Kylo Ren's TIE Silencer from The Last Jedi, which is a deceptively tough ship to kill, and the selection is completed by the hefty Upsilon Class shuttle which has fearsome firepower to bring to bear... so long as it can turn fast enough to keep shooting at things!


The First Order certainly leans into it's Imperial heritage when it comes to the ships it uses, although they tend to be more advanced variants.  You'd be wrong to assume that they follow the Empire's playstyles though, and Fantasy Flight have clearly made a real effort to ensure they have a different feel.  Yes there are TIE Fighters but they tend to have independent abilities rather than rewarding being played as a swarm of TIEs like the Empire does.  And although they have some speedy ships and high Initiative pilots in the likes of the TIE Silencer and Quickdraw they don't really (yet) have the elements that would support an Imperial Aces style.

What the First Order has instead is... uh.  Their ships really reward being flown as... uh.

Ok, it's not clear.  It's really hard to put a First Order squad together that has a strong strategic goal and doesn't just look like a bunch of ships that happen to have turned up on the table at the same time.  That's not to say it's a bad faction, just that First Order lists tend to just play the game with little subtlety or overarching grand plan other than 'try and shoot them faster than they shoot us'.

NOTE: that variety and openness of First Order squadbuilding is celebrated in this blog!


2) STARTING SQUADS

One advantage that buying into First Order has is they tend to be quite self-sufficient for having the right upgrades in their expansion packs, especially in the TIE/fo expansion.  A budding Resistance player almost has to buy their Conversion Kit a First Order player can build a pretty good squad straight out the expansions, not least because their ships are so good with few or no upgrades at all.

And it's also true that because the First Order squads so often tend to look like a random collection of ships it means you can basically start out by buying almost any selection of First Order expansions and it will probably add up to a working squad...

Random First Order I (200pts)
  • Kylo Ren (TIE Silencer) - Advanced Optics
  • Major Vonreg (TIE/ba) - Proud Tradition
  • Scorch (TIE/fo) - Fanatical
  • Lieutenant Rivas (TIE/fo)
Purchases Required: TIE Silencer expansion, Vonreg's Interceptor expansion, 2x TIE/fo expansion  ($80)

OR

Random First Order II (200pts)
  • Avenger (TIE Silencer)
  • Zeta Squadron Survivor (TIE/sf) - Special Forces Gunner
  • TN-3465 (TIE/fo)
  • Lieutenant Rivas (TIE/fo)
  • Seinar-Jaemus Engineer (TIE Silencer)

  • Purchases Required: 2x TIE Silencer expansion, 1x TIE/sf expansion, 2x TIE/fo expansion ($100)  

    OR

    Random First Order III
     (200pts)
    • Commander Malarus (Xi Shuttle) - Fanatical
    • Seinar-Jaemus Engineer (TIE Silencer)
    • Seinar-Jaemus Engineer (TIE Silencer)  
    • Zeta Squadron Survivor (TIE/sf)
    • Lieutenant Rivas (TIE/fo)

    Purchases Required: Xi Shuttle expansion, TIE Silencer expansion, 2x TIE/sf expansion, 1x TIE/fo expansion  ($110)  

    Because there's not really a clear way to build 'a good First Order squad' it means there's not many bad decisions to make when buying into the faction.  The only ship you really need to think carefully about is the Upsilon Shuttle which probably isn't worth the immediate investment as you also have to buy the Conversion Kit just to put it onto the table.


    3) SHIP BY SHIP GUIDE
    DISCLAIMER: This advice is accurate at the time it's given.  Because X-Wing uses flexible point costs they could easily change and make a bad ship good or a good ship bad.  I can't predict that, I'm afraid, but this is the best advice we can give right now.

     

    TIE/fo (Wave II)
    Easy to fly, Strong

    Although it doesn't sound like it would make much difference the extra shield that First Order TIE Fighters get over an Imperial TIE does make a pretty big difference to how frequently they'll explode on you.  What doesn't change, though, is that they're still not a particularly potent damage threat as they only have the same tiny laser cannons that the original TIEs had.  

    At their current low points cost in the game that limitation barely matters and you can feel pretty safe to stock up on multiples of these TIEs as they will be the backbone of many First Order squads.  Be it filling in alongside aces like Kylo Ren and Major Vonreg, or supporting Commander Malarus in her Xi Shuttle, the First Order TIE is a dependable annoyance for your opponent to deal with, and in characters like Scorch, Null and Lieutenant Rivas there are plenty of good pilot abillities to squeeze in.  Just as importantly the TIE/fo expansion pack includes both Fanatical and Advanced Optics upgrade cards, which you'll probably want for your other First Order ships.

    Also of Interest: None

    Special Forces TIE Fighter (Wave 4)
    Easy to fly, Average Strength

    The Special Forces TIE Fighter (or TIE/sf) is the ship that Finn and Poe escape in at the start of The Force Awakens - the two-man variant with an optional rear gunner.  The TIE/sf combines the raw speed of a TIE Fighter with the durability of a T-65 X-Wing to create a decent, if unspectacular, all-rounder of a ship that has a flexible threat profile depending on whether you add the Special Forces Gunner upgrade or not.  The addition of Passive Sensors has also given the TIE/sf a new lease of life as a potent long-range missile carrier and squads of five TIE/sfs have had a decent amount of success.  Just beware that assembling such a squad is going to stretch your wallet - those Passive Sensors only come from a couple of expansion packs!

    Also of Interest: Fanatical (TIE/fo expansion), Passive Sensors (Naboo N1 expansion, Hyena Bomber expansion), Concussion Missiles (First Order conversion kit)

    TIE Silencer (Wave 4)
    Easy to fly, Strong

    The TIE Silencer is the ship that Kylo Ren flies during The Last Jedi and it's for the elite of the First Order pilots.  As it's both very quick and very hard to kill the TIE Silencer is probably the most obviously beginner-friendly ships for a First Order player to start with and there's multiple strong pilots for the ship including Kylo Ren himself.  The recent points changes in 2020 have also dramatically reduced the price of the most basic Silencer pilot and it's becoming something of a force in its own right.  From a ship that you tended to only need one of (for Kylo Ren) the Silencer has pushed it's way towards the front of the queue to compete with the TIE/fo and TIE/sf as an effective brawler.

    Also of Interest: None


    Major Vonreg's TIE (Wave 6)
    Hard to fly, Average strength

    One of the early themes of the First Order was that they don't really have any specialists and everyone was pretty good at a bunch of things rather than mastering one thing: a bit tough, a bit fast.  Major Vonreg's TIE Interceptor changed that somewhat by adding a nimble but fragile fighter which takes real practice before you can get the most out of it. Vonreg's TIE is a very deceptive ship - it's not as good at avoiding incoming fire as it first looks so has a tendency to explode more often than you'd want - but in the hands of brave pilots it's also capable of throwing out a lot of damage before it ultimately leaves the table.  It's an exciting ship I unreservedly recommend for adding variety to First Order squads when you're ready to challenge your piloting skills some more.

    Also of Interest: Daredevil (Fang Fighter, RZ-1 A-Wing, N1 Naboo Starfighter, TIE Interceptor)


    Xi Light Shuttle (Wave 7)
    Easy to fly, Strong


    In brief, the Xi Shuttle mainly exists for the Commander Malarus pilot, who is a powerful addition to squads of otherwise efficient First Order thugs, giving them a real boost in firepower.  The Xi Shuttle isn't really a starting point for a First Order collection but once you've had your fun making all sorts of mixed squads in the faction and you're looking to get serious then Commander Malarus is certainly capable of helping you get there.  This expansion also comes with Agent Terex crew (good for supporting First Order aces) and Automated Target Priority tech (good for your thugs).

    Also of Interest: None


    ===== THE FOLLOWING SHIPS ARE UNRELEASED IN SECOND EDITION =====
    You'll need to source a First Edition model and buy the First Order Conversion Kit to fly these ships


    Upsilon-Class Shuttle
    Hard to fly, weak

    The mighty Upsilon Shuttle certainly casts an imposing shape on the table and as one of the few ships in the game with a natural 4-dice primary attack it's capable of withering fire on anything that strays in front of it.  Like the Empire's Lambda Shuttle the Upsilon is very slow and clumsy so keeping enemies in your firing arc can take a lot of forward planning.  You need to work hard to make sure that the fight happens where you want so you can position the Upsilon there ahead of time, especially as without the Lambda's rear arc gun the Upsilon Shuttle can easily overshoot the fight and take an age to turn back around.  There are some potent pilot abilities, and Lieutenant Tavson in particular can be a real pain to try and kill, but in a world of mix-n-match First Order squadbuilding the Upsilon Shuttle is the one ship that you need to plan long and hard for once you include it. 

    All that said... I bloody love the Upsilon Shuttle.  I love how it looks, I love it's big 4 dice gun, I love the challenge of ensuring I actually get to use that big gun.  Sometimes the heart overrules the head :-)