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"


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.  The most successful format has seen swarms of disposable Vulture droids, which are the cheapest ships in the game, and usually they're supported by one or two leaders to help give the droids a little bit of steel.  That's certainly not all the faction does and any two Separatist squads could be very different to one another - standing back with probe droids and missiles, or ducking close with tractor beams and deadly turrets - but it's fair to say that when the Separatists appear the Vulture droids tend not to be too far behind.


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.

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're actually one of the most expensive factions to play (wallet-wise).  When you pay $20 for a T-65 X-Wing you're filling out 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 pack gives you three ships for the price of two as well as being the only box that has General Grievous' Belbullab starfighter in, making it a pretty much compulsory starting point for Separatist players.  There's one really cheap way to get Separatists onto the table, though, and that's by picking up Darth Maul's Sith Infiltrator which can quite happily cost in the region of 100pts and take up half your squad.  

This example squad can be entirely constructed from one copy of the Servants of Strife expansion and a Sith Infiltrator (though you'll need to pull the Outmaneuver out of the Core Set)...

Separatists on the Cheap (200pts)
  • General Grievous (Bellabub) - Outmaneuver, Soulless One
  • Darth Maul (Sith Infiltrator) - Hate, Chancellor Palpatine, Scimitar
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Grappling Struts, Energy Shell Charges
  • Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Grappling Struts, Energy Shell Charges  

Purchases Required: Servants of Strife, Sith Infiltrator ($80)

That's a pretty unusual Separatist squad these days, though, and most Separatist players will look at expensive upgrades like Chancellor Palpatine and Energy Shell Charges and think "hmm, I reckon I could buy a couple more Vulture Droids with those points".  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.

Assembling a squad like this would see you rapidly scale up your Vulture Droid numbers by adding a couple of extra expansions to your Servants of Strife.  Although Servants of Strife is a great value pack it's still worth picking up the standalone Vulture expansion a couple of times as it does bring a couple of different pilot cards and upgrades to your range of options including the annoying Discord Missiles.

Strength in Numbers (200pts)
  • General Grievous (Belbullab) - Treacherous, Kraken, Soulless One
  • Chertek (Nantex) - Ensnare, Gravitic Deflection
  • 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, Nantex Starfighter expansion ($100)


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... 


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

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 excellent 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'.

Sith Infiltrator (Wave 3)
Hard to fly, Average strength

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.  Either of these powerful force users can be a potent threat on the table but compared to the raw firepower of the Vulture Droids, or the tractor beam traps of the Geonosian Nantex fighter, the Sith Infiltrator feels a little bit off the pace.  

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.
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.  So far it hasn't really mattered, though, because 9 times out of 10 it's been better to simply buy two Vulture Droids than it is to buy one Hyena and kit it out with advanced weaponry.  That may change if FFG ever put the points of the Vulture Droid up, though - the Hyena is a good ship that's waiting for its time to shine.


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 at the moment.  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 even move opposing ships to lock them in place with tractor beams!

For a lot of players the Nantex' ability to create large 'no-go' zones on the table which enemy ships have to stay out of to avoid being hit by a tractor beam has proven less fun than the game designers probably anticipated.  Away from all that, the Nantex is yet another Separatist ship that requires you to pay close attention to the complex interactions of its gravity-bending abilities to get the best out of it.  You also have to fly with pinpoint accuracy to avoid the opponent simply swatting you out of the sky before you can become a problem.

Monday, 18 November 2019

X-Wing Buying Guide - Republic

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


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 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 Guardians of the Republic boxed set is a fantastic launchpad into the faction and I think any budding Republic player should start there.  Not only do you get your first three ships but it's home to some unique Jedi pilots that aren't in the Aethersprite expansion pack (including Obi-Wan Kenobi) and it 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.

From there it's possible to take your Republic collection in any direction as all the ships are good.  Probably the first thing I'd do is buy a second Aethersprite from the expansion pack as it gives you access to the other Jedi pilots and Anakin Skywalker.  The only thing better than playing with a Jedi is playing with two Jedi!  In this example I've also added the speedy N-1 Naboo Starfighter to create a trio of high Initiative ace pilots, including paying a lot of points to upgrade both Jedi starfighters to the battle-ready Delta-7B variant with increased shielding and firepower!

Where The Fun Begins (200pts)
  • Anakin Skywalker (Aethersprite) - R2 Astromech, Delta-7B
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi (Aethersprite) - Delta-7B
  • Ric Olie (Naboo Starfighter) - R2 Astromech

Expansions required: Guardians of the Republic, Aethersprite expansion, N-1 Naboo Starfighter expansion ($80)

But as an example of how different the Republic squads can be, in the squad below we take the same startpoint (Guardians of the Republic and an Aethersprite expansion pack) and instead beef up our forces with three cheap and efficient clones.  The cheaper Calibrated Laser Targeting upgrade keeps the cost of the Jedi pilots down meaning we can bring in some extra guns.

Obi Wan's Clone Army (199pts)
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi - Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • Mace Windu - Sense, Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • 104th Battalion Pilot - Clone Commander Cody
  • Gold Squadron Trooper
  • Gold Squadron Trooper

Expansions required: Expansions required: Guardians of the Republic, Aethersprite expansion, ARC-170 Starfighter expansion ($90)


3) SHIP BY SHIP GUIDE

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

Important: you get an Aethersprite in the Guardians of Republic box, but the individual ship expansion features different pilots so you'll almost certainly want to pick up both packs.

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)
Easy 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.

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, Average strength

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)


X-Wing Buying Guide - First Order

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


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'.


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.  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 a random selection of First Order expansions and it will probably add up to a working squad...

Random First Order I (198pts)
  • Kylo Ren (TIE Silencer) - Advanced Optics
  • Backdraft (TIE/sf) - Fanatical, Special Forces Gunner
  • Scorch (TIE/fo) - Fanatical
  • Null (TIE.fo)

Purchases Required: TIE Silencer expansion, TIE/sf expansion, 2x TIE/fo expansion  ($80)

OR

Random First Order II (200pts)

  • Kylo Ren (TIE Silencer)
  • First Order Test Pilot (TIE Silencer) - Fanatical, Advanced Optics
  • Scorch (TIE/fo)
  • Epilson Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo)

  • Purchases Required: 2x TIE Silencer expansion, 2x TIE/fo expansion ($80)  

    OR

    Random First Order III (200pts)
    • Kylo Ren (TIE Silencer) 
    • Zeta Squadron Survivor (TIE/sf) - Advanced Optics
    • Zeta Squadron Survivor (TIE/sf) - Advanced Optics  
    • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo)
    • Epsilon Squadron Cadet (TIE/fo)

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

    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 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)
    Average to fly, Average Strength

    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.  What doesn't chance, 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.  Imperial TIE Fighters tended to get over this limitation by running in sheer numbers alongside Howlrunner, while the First Order tends to see their TIEs more as nice filler ships than the basis of their entire squad.

    It's almost always going to be worth picking up a couple of the basic TIE Fighters, though.  They tend to be important in finishing up squads when everything else is a bit too expensive 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 ship.  In recent months the addition of Passive Sensors has given the TIE/sf a second 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, Average strength

    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.  You'll likely need to buy some TIE/fo expansion packs to get the upgrades but the Fanatical/Advanced Optics loadout is a proven combination and you'll even see players fielding three TIE Silencers as their full squad.

    Also of Interest: Fanatical (TIE/fo expansion), Advanced Optics (TIE/fo expansion)


    Major Vonreig's TIE (Wave 6 - COMING SOON)
    ???, ????

    One of the themes of the First Order is that they don't really have any specialists - everyone is pretty good at a bunch of things rather than mastering one thing.  That looks set to change with the release of Major Vonreig's TIE Interceptor in Q1 2020 - this ship looks like the first pure ace pilot the First Order will have at their disposal.  Vonreig is likely to be a similar experience to Soontir Fel for the Imperials - a devastingly fast ace who will take expert flying to keep alive but who promises to punish any opponents who can't live with his extreme agility.  We'll know more closer to the release date but I think most First Order players have buying this expansion pencilled onto their 'to do' list.

    Also of Interest: ???


    ===== THE FOLLOWING SHIPS ARE UNRELEASED IN SECOND EDITION =====


    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. 

    Saturday, 16 November 2019

    X-Wing Buying Guide - Resistance

    BUYING GUIDE - THE RESISTANCE
    "I've known a lot of trigger-happy flyboys like you"


    1) INTRODUCTION

    Arriving with the release of The Force Awakens the Resistance is the future of the 'good guys' in Star Wars.  It's where you'll find heroes like Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron as well as some older version of General Leia Organa or Han Solo.  There's also just starting to be a line of new ships coming in from the Resistance cartoon series with the Fireball arriving in Wave 6, early 2020.


    Ship-wise the Resistance leans heavily on the next generation of classic Rebel Alliance technology like T-70 X-Wings, RZ-2 A-Wings, the rusted remains of the Millenium Falcon.  Although the ships may often look very similar to Rebel ships they've been designed to play quite differently so the Resistance features a lot less dependency on running your teams closely together to benefit from teamwork abilities.  That can be a positive as you're not shackled to each other in the same way, but that freedom also means you're given more opportunity to make mistakes.  You want your squad to be working together ultimately, after all!


    Like the Rebels the Resistance has some pretty tough ships so they're a pretty safe place for a new player to drop into the game and there's not really any bad ships in the whole faction so you can pick up whatever you like and make it work.  They're mainly focused on flying squads of one-man fighters but in the Millenium Falcon and MG100 Starfortress there are a couple of bigger options to build a squad around if you fancy a change of pace - you will need to go via the Resistance Conversion Kit to play either of those ships though.


    2) STARTING SQUADS

    Although most of the Resistance's best ships have been rereleased for Second Edition the frustrating thing is that most of the upgrades you will want to use on those ships are actually NOT in the Resistance expansion packs - they're great for ships and pilots but dreadful for upgrades.  The following squad is something you can assemble from just the four Resistance ship expansion packs:

    Bare Bones Resistance (200pts)
    • Poe Dameron (T-70 X-Wing) - Heroic, BB-8, Integrated S-Foils
    • Lieutenant Bastian (RZ-2 A-Wing) - Integrated S-Foils
    • Tallisin Lintra (RZ-2 A-Wing) - Heroic
    • Greer Sonnel (RZ-2 A-Wing)
    Purchases Required: T-70 X-Wing expansion x2, RZ-2 A-Wing expansion x2 ($80)

    Although it adds extra cost to your initial buy-in to the faction it may be worth taking the hit and buying the Resistance Conversion Kit straight away.  It gives you a lot of the upgrades you'll really want to use (Heroic, Crack Shot, Advanced Optics, R4 Astromech) and set you up to add the Millenium Falcon or Starfortress to your squad.  If we go the Conversion Kit route you could build something much more well-rounded straight away.

    Let's Go Resistance (200pts)
    • Poe Dameron (T-70 X-Wing) - Heroic, R4 Astromech, Integrated S-Foils
    • Lieutenant Bastian (RZ-2 A-Wing) - Integrated S-Foils
    • Tallisin Lintra (RZ-2 A-Wing) - Heroic, Advanced Optics
    • Zari Bangel (RZ-2 A-Wing) - Heroic, Advanced Optics

    Purchases Required: Resistance Conversion Kit, T-70 X-Wing expansion x2, RZ-2 A-Wing expansion x2 ($110)

    Having a Conversion Kit at your disposal also gives you access to Rey and her Millenium Falcon:

    Poe and the Girls (200pt)
    • Poe Dameron (T-70 X-Wing) - Heroic, R4 Astromech, Integrated S-Foils
    • Rey (Salvaged YT-1300) - Finn, Rey's Millenium Falcon
    • Tallisin Lintra (RZ-2 A-Wing) - Heroic, Advanced Optics

    Purchases Required: Resistance Conversion Kit, Millenium Falcon expansion, T-70 expansion, RZ-2 A-Wing expansion ($110)

    If you've got enough money set aside to go the Conversion Kit route then the whole of the Resistance Faction opens up to you and you can buy almost any other expansion packs thereafter as the ships are all good.  Without the conversion kit you're always fighting with one hand tied behind your back as you'll be fielding weakened versions of any ships you fly.

    TL;DR: buy the Resistance Conversion Kit even if you're starting your collection from scratch and have nothing to convert!


    3) SHIP BY SHIP GUIDE

    T-70 X-Wing (Wave II)
    Very easy to fly, Strong

    The T-70 X-Wing is probably the best all-round ship in the game, featuring enough hull and shields to take a while to kill, enough firepower to pose a real threat to any opponent and some fantastic pilot abilities to help drive you forwards.  Leading the charge is the Resistance's top ace, Poe Dameron, whose flexible pilot ability means he can switch seamlessly from defensive flying to piling on the explosions when he's got into position.

    But Poe isn't all that the T-70 offers and right the way down through Nien Numb, Temmin Wexley, Jess Pava and Lieutenant Bastian you've got a raft of strong pilot abilities dedicated to ensuring the T-70 punches above its weight.  You're almost certainly going to want at least one T-70 X-Wing in your Resistance collection and it's not uncommon to field 2 or even 3 T-70s at once.

    Also of Interest: Heroic (RZ-2 A-Wing, Resistance conversion kit), R4 Astromech (Resistance conversion kit)

    RZ-2 A-Wing (Wave 2)
    Easy to fly, Strong

    Alongside the T-70 X-Wing the RZ-2 A-Wing is one of the twin pillars of Resistance squadbuilding on which the entire faction is based.  Smaller and more nimble than the T-70, the RZ-2 A-Wing is one of the fastest ships in the game and features the powerful ability to switch its laser cannons from firing forwards to backwards.  This makes them a tricky opponent on the table as you're never sure if they're going to fly slowly towards you and continue firing out of the front, or fly right over the top of you and switch to firing backwards.

    Like the T-70 there are several A-Wing pilots worth flying and it's not unheard of to see players flying as many as five A-Wings in a single squad!  Although each A-Wing only packs a modest punch the opponent can be left blasting uselessly at empty space as a cloud of speedy A-Wings swirl around the table switching between front and rear guns. 

    Also of Interest: Crack Shot (Resistance conversion kit), Advanced Optics (TIE/fo expansion, Resistance conversion kit)

    Resistance Transport (Wave 4)
    Hard to fly, Average strength

    Resistance Transport Pod (Wave 4)
    Easy to fly, Strong

    The Resistance Transport expansion contains two ships: the transport itself, which is what Leia arrives in during The Force Awakens, and a detachable cockpit pod which is what Finn & Rose travel to Canto Bight in.  Neither ship may sound too exciting but they've both proven to have their place in the game, and it's actually the little Transport Pod that has made the biggest impact!

    The main Resistance Transport is a pretty unexciting support ship like the Rebel Alliance's Sheathipede or the Escape Craft from Lando's Millenium Falcon.  The reason the Resistance version is less useful is because the rest of the faction features ships that are so independently powerful that they don't really need a support ship to be effective.  When you fly Cova Nell with General Leia Organa on board the Resistance Transport changes role and becomes a tough brawler, but outside of that combinationit's not seen much use.

    The little Transport Pod, on the other hand, is small but mighty.  There are great pilot abilities on three out of the four pilots and when Finn is at the controls the Pod becomes one of the cheapest and most efficient damage-dealing threats in the game.  It's well worth picking at least one Resistance Transport expansion up just to add Finn to your squadbuilding options, and it's also worth noting that there's a lot of great crew upgrade cards in this expansion that can be used on the Millenium Falcon or Starfortress to good effect.

    Also of Interest: Heroic (RZ-2 A-Wing, Resistance conversion kit), Pattern Analyser (Resistance conversion kit), Advanced Optics (TIE/fo expansion, Resistance conversion kit), R4 Astromech (Resistance conversion kit)


    Fireball (Wave 6 - COMING SOON)
    ???, ????

    The Fireball is the main racer from the Resistance cartoon series and is frequently described as 'an explosion with wings'.  We don't know much about the forthcoming Fireball expansion but what we do know makes it sounds like the ship is going to be a lot of fun... but not necessarily very good.  And that's fine, btw, not every ship has to be a cold-blooded killer!  The Fireball is going have the SLAM action so it'll be very very fast but not really pack much of a punch, and the danger is it will just be overshadowed by the already fantastic RZ-2 A-Wing.

    Also of Interest: ???


    ===== THE FOLLOWING SHIPS ARE UNRELEASED IN SECOND EDITION =====


    Salvaged YT-1300
    Hard to fly, Average

    The rusting remains of the mighty Millenium Falcon have been salvaged from Jakku and are flying once again!  This isn't the prime Falcon that the Rebel Alliance gets to enjoy - the maneuver dial is worse and it's lost a couple of shields along the way - but there's life in the old girl yet.  You'll usually find Rey in the pilot's seat of the Resistance Falcon and her Force abilities make the Falcon a tough jouster that can deal a lot of damage to anything foolish enough to sit in front of her.  The Resistance Falcon is not for the faint of heart, though: it blows up significantly more easily than the Rebel version and can take great piloting to keep the Falcon from being shot at too often.


    MG-100 Starfortress
    Hard to fly, Weak

    If you've watched The Last Jedi you may remember the Starfortress as the Resistance bombers that lumbered slowly into battle and mostly died long before they achieved anything meaningful.  You'll be pleased to hear that experience has been faithfully translated into the X-Wing Miniatures Game!  The MG-100 Starfortress is one of the clumsiest ships in the game and once you've loaded it up with bombs is just an attractive target for the opponent to gun down as quickly as possible.

    The key word in that description turns out to be 'mostly'.  In The Last Jedi one bomber sneaks through to devastating effect and in X-Wing that role is played by Vennie.  The gaping weakness the Starfortress has is that it takes spending a ton of points to load it up with weapons, at which point the opponent focuses on it and makes sure it dies long before it gets to use all those weapons.  Vennie is the pilot who can add to the Starfortress' defenses and although you don't see her often she can be genuinely difficult to beat.

    If you're the type of player who's always liked the idea of a B-17 Bomber flight simulator where you and your escort fight off enemy fighter attacks then the Starfortress is for you.  For most Resistance players the Starfortress is a ship you can comfortably forget even exists, though.