Wednesday, 13 November 2019

X-Wing Buying Guide - Imperials

"Are we blind?  Deploy the garrison!"


The Galactic Empire feature all your favourite bad guys from the original trilogy of Star Wars films.  It's a melting pot of evil where you'll find Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, Grand Moff Tarkin and seemingly endless swarms of disposable TIE Fighters and TIE Interceptors.  Alongside the classic villains you'll see Director Krennic and his TIE Strikers and TIE Reapers from Rogue One.  Grand Admiral Thrawn has yet to make an appearance in X-Wing but his beloved TIE Defenders are here alongside the Grand Inquisitor and Agent Kallus from the Rebels cartoon series.

Like Rebels the Empire was one of the original factions in the First Edition of the game and Fantasy Flight have plumbed the depths for a variety of lesser known TIE models from the 'Extended Universe' or books and games.  The TIE Punisher or TIE Aggressor may not be household names but they're in the game along with some Extended Universe mainstay characters like Soontir Fel and Maarek Stele

TIE Fighters are cheap and lightning fast but completely unshielded and that really characterises most of the Imperial faction.  That also tends to make them a steeper learning curve for new players - make a mistake with a B-Wing and leave it in a bad spot on table and you'll lose a few shields, make that same mistake with a TIE Fighter and you'll be taking the ship off the table entirely!  But for the brave and skillful who can learn to minimise the risks that the Empire naturally takes there's rewards to unlock in just how many guns you can get onto the table - facing a swarm of TIEs can be like swimming with piranha.

The Empire has more than just disposable TIE Fighters at their command, though, and they also benefit from some of the best elite starfighter pilots in the galaxy.  Darth Vader, Grand Inquisitor, Soontir Fel, Duchess, Whisper... the 'Imperial Aces' archetype has a long and successful history of simply being too good and maneuverable to ever get shot at in the first place!  The Empire also has access to a few technological terrors like TIE Defenders, Alpha-Class Starwings and TIE Bombers to wield the Empire's iron fist with overwhelming firepower.


The X-Wing Core Set comes with two TIE Fighters so that's the obvious place to start your first squad and it's just a question of what you add to complete it.  You were going to buy Darth Vader's TIE Advanced anyway, right?  Of course you were.  The Dark Lord of the Sith is one of the Empire's strongest pieces and you'll find him played in all types of squads so it's a purchase you'll get a lot of value out of.  Buy a couple more cheap TIEs to round out your squad and you're good to go.

Vader Miniswarm (200pts)

  • Darth Vader (TIE Advanced x1) - Sense, Fire Control System, Afterburners
  • Howlrunner (TIE Fighter) - Elusive
  • Gideon Hask (TIE Fighter) - Crack Shot
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter) 

Purchases required: Core set, TIE Advanced Expansion, 2x TIE Fighter Expansion (RRP $100)

With a miniswarm you'll want to run Howlrunner and her TIEs in tight formation to benefit from her rerolls, while Vader can run a flanking action to get in behind the enemy and start tearing them apart.  Vader can even use his mastery of the Force to read opponent's maneuver dials so your TIEs know where they need to be!

If the Imperial Aces style is more likely to be your sort of thing then we can assemble something like that very quickly and cheaply

Beginners Aces (200pts)

  • Darth Vader (TIE Advanced x1) - Fire Control System, Afterburners
  • Grand Inquisitor (TIE Advanced v1)
  • Duchess (TIE Striker) - Crack Shot
  • Gideon Hask (TIE Fighter)

Purchases Required: Core Set, TIE Advanced Expansion, Inquisitor's TIE Expansion, TIE Striker Expansion ($100)

Vader, Duchess and the Grand Inquisitor make for three high Initiative pilots in extremely agile ships and you're going to try and run rings around the opponent, while the dastardly Gideon Hask adds an extra little bite of firepower to punish your opponents as they chase your aces.  Not many Imperial squads are beginner-friendly and going straight to an aces style certainly doesn't help but that learning curve is always going to be there and the best way to start climbing it... is to start climbing.


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 Fighter (Core Set / Wave I)
Average to fly, Average strength

The iconic TIE Fighter defines so much of what we think about as Star Wars.  The heroes may fly X-Wings or the Millenium Falcon or the Ghost but TIE Fighters are the ever-present enemy.  TIEs are deliberately stripped back basic ships with no shields and only minimal weaponry - flying a TIE in your squad is easy but flying one effectively is the real challenge and often it requires a strong positional sense to avoid them from becoming floating space debris too quickly.

TIE Fighters work well in any numbers, from a full swarm of 6 or 7 ships down to a single TIE as a filler just to finish off a squad.  You get two TIE Fighters in the Core Set and to be honest that may well be enough for you if you don't plan on using them as a focus for your squad but picking up a couple more TIEs is rarely going to be a bad idea and the TIE Expansion pack is the only place to get the Queen of TIEs, Howlrunner.

Also of Interest: None

TIE Advanced x1 (Wave 1)
Easy to fly, Strong

The TIE x1 is also known as Darth Vader's TIE, and a quick look at the last month of tournaments confirms that 91% of all TIE x1s that saw play were being piloted by the Dark Lord of the Sith.  Vader is serious business - a legitimate damage threat who is hard to kill and too fast to easily pin down - and no Imperial player's collection is really complete without the ability to put him on the table.  Vader will see play in Imperial Aces, alongside a TIE Swarm, or even accompanying a big ship like the VT-49 Decimator so he's a very safe investment for your cash.

Also of Interest: Passive Sensors (Hyena-Class Bomber Expansion, Naboo N1 Expansion), Afterburners (Core Set, several other expansions)
TIE Striker (Wave 3)
Hard to fly, Average strength

TIE Strikers are the atmosphere-adapted TIEs scrambled to defend Scarif in Rogue One and it's their unique Ailerons ability that really defines them in X-Wing.  TIE Strikers and Reapers get a pre-move 'boost' action before they reveal their dial and that makes them incredibly fast and unpredictable opponents, but also means that they simply can't fly slowly even if you want them to!  TIE Strikers are glass cannons, with the firepower of a T-65 X-Wing allied to the weakness of being a TIE Fighter with no shields meaning they're often among the first things opponents will try to destroy.  Nevertheless the elite pilots are pretty good and Duchess in particular is a proven ace.

The big problem: the best way to avoid the weakness of the Striker's low hull value is to bring Fifth Brother in your gunner slot for his Force abilities.  That'll mean buying the VT-49 Decimator expansion, unfortunately!

Also of Interest: Crack Shot (TIE Fighter Expansion), Fifth Brother (Decimator Expansion)

VT-49 Decimator (Wave 4)
Hard to fly, Average strength

The VT-49 is one of the Imperial factions few large ships and the closest thing to an Imperial 'Millenium Falcon'.  Although superficially similar to the Falcon the Decimator actually plays very differently - the Falcon is adept at running and fighting a long attritional game, but with no defense dice or repair abilities that the Falcon has to stay alive the Decimator is going to die and it's just a matter of whether it can take the enemy down with them!  It's a complete change from how any other Imperial ship works and that's both a positive and negative.  The Decimator is a breath of fresh air for when you're tired of scooping up pieces of smashed TIE Fighters every game, but it's also not usually the type of thing that players got into the Imperial faction to play in the first place.

Note: the Decimator comes with a lot of the Empire's best crew & gunner options.  If you want to make best use of ships like the Lambda shuttle, TIE Reaper or the ace pilots Whisper or Duchess then you may need to pick up the Decimator just for those upgrade cards.

Also of Interest: Moff Jerjerrod (Imperial Conversion Kit), Minister Tua (Imperial Conversion Kit), Proton Bombs (TIE Striker Expansion)

Inquisitor's TIE (Wave 5)
Average to fly, Strong

The Inquisitor's TIE is a technologically advanced TIE favoured by the evil Force users of the Inquisition, which we mainly met through the Rebels cartoon series.  Being able to use the Force is 'A Good Thing (tm)' in X-Wing and following a little points reduction partway through 2019 the Inquisitor's TIE really jumped to the forefront as one of the strongest tools the Empire has available.  The Grand Inquisitor is one of the most annoying aces to try and kill and was in the recent World Championship winning squad.  Even the generic Inquisitors are a potent threat when armed when they're throwing missiles at you, although it's likely you'll need to pick up a few other bits & pieces to really make the most of that.

TIE Interceptor (Wave 6 - COMING SOON)
Very hard to fly, Strong

To most intents and purposes the TIE Interceptor Expansion Pack may as well be called the 'Soontir Fel Expansion Pack' as that's who pilots 95% of all Interceptors you'll see on the table.  Soontir is ace of legend who had a long and storied career through the old extended universe and could lay claim to being the best pilot in the galaxy.  In X-Wing Soontir is the definite Imperial ace who can dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee... the only problem he's about as squishy as either of those insects too and it takes a great player to keep Soontir safely out of harm's way.  Once you master him Soontir will terrorise many opponents, but until then he's going to blow up as often as a TIE Fighter and cost twice as many points.  There's a painful learning curve here!

Also of Interest: Stealth Device (TIE Fighter expansion)

TIE Defender (Wave 6 - COMING SOON)
Easy to fly, Average strength

Grand Admiral Thrawn's beloved TIE Defenders are probably the single best all-round starfighter in the game.  Defenders are quick, tough with lots of agility, action economy when they go quickly and with a devastating white K-turn meaning they can turn around and keep pouring on the pressure undimmed.  The only downside for the TIE Defender is that it costs a lot of points but once it's on the table the TIE Defender is a tough match for almost any opponent!  Because they're so quick and tough the Defender is one of the few Imperial ships that's genuinely beginner-friendly, you just have to be aware that it's going to suck a lot of points away from everything else in your squad.

Also of interest: Fire Control System (TIE Advanced x1 expansion)

TIE Reaper (the First Edition expansion pack contains Second Edition cards)
Hard to fly, Average strength

The TIE Reaper is a larger troop carrying cousin of the TIE Striker from Rogue One and it shares the TIE Striker's need to go fast with ailerons.  There's a problem, though: where the TIE Striker's small base and nimble maneuver dial lets it take good advantage of the ailerons the TIE Reaper's medium base and stunted dial makes the ailerons as much a curse as a blessing.  Keeping your TIE Reaper involved in the fight with it's guns pointing the right direction is genuinely tough to do and often needs strong advanced planning skills.  Everything else about the Reaper is pretty good - it's got a lot of hull so it doesn't die easily, it hits pretty hard and it has some great pilot abilities.  But can you learn to fly it so that it doesn't just 'turn off' every other turn by facing the wrong way?  That's the challenge.


As one of the original three factions there are a lot of Imperial ships but not all of them have been re-released in Second Edition yet.  To play these ships you'll need to find a First Edition miniature or expansion, and purchase the Imperial Conversion Kit. 

TIE Bomber
Easy to fly, Average strength

TIE Bombers are a dirt cheap platform for loading up with missiles, torpedoes and bombs... all that fun stuff.  You'll usually see them equipped with Barrage Missiles which makes them a potent damage threat that can rival a T-65 X-Wing.  Bombers can have more tricks up their sleeves and make good use of Proximity Mines or Proton Torpedoes too.  They're not a glamorous ship but they're efficiently costed for their stats and great maneuver dial, and I've got to admit that I've got a personal soft spot for them.

TIE Phantom 
Average to fly, Strong

TIE Phantoms feature a powerful cloaking device which makes them a unique and potent threat.  Cloaking and decloaking each turn is a combination of extra defense and tactical maneuvering... probably the main reason why TIE Defenders aren't seeing more play is that TIE Phantoms do a lot of the same job but for less points!  In 'Whisper' the Phantom has one of the most reliable Imperial ace pilots but you'll also see any of the other pilots working their way towards the winners bracket more often than not.  Oh did I mention they have a Gunner slot so you can take Fifth Brother and add force abilities to their already potent arsenal?  Yeah, they've got that going for them too.

Lambda Shuttle
Average to fly, Strong

Fly casual!  The Lambda shuttle may be pretending to be a luxury transport for the Imperial elite but don't be fooled by appearances as it also brings plenty to a fight.  It's tough, it's got good guns and a rear arc, it can Coordinate to boost nearby ships and it has some great pilot abilities in Lieutenant Sai and Colonel Jendon in particular.  Add to that all the great crew options you can add to the Lamba, like Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine himself, and you've got one of the most solid support packages in the game.  The only weak point that the Lambda has is that it's incredibly clumsy moving around the table so there's a bit of learning curve to plan ahead and ensure the shuttle is in the right place when the shooting starts.

TIE Punisher
Average to fly, Average strength

The TIE Punisher is like a TIE Bomber in steroids - bigger, badder and with more room for nasty weaponry.  It also costs a ton more points but in Deathrain and Redline the ship has a couple of pilots who have proven capable of dealing tremendous damage to anyone foolish enough to sit in front of them.  The Punisher isn't subtle, but it does exactly what its name would suggest.

TIE Aggressor
Average to fly, Weak

I don't like calling the TIE Aggressor weak because I genuinely think that in Lieutenant Kestal they have a pilot who can pose a real threat to enemy aces.  I have to respect that the TIE Aggressor really has never achieved anything, though, and it was notably one of the five ships that didn't get played at all at the 2019 World Championships which has to be a bad sign.  The TIE Aggressor is unique in the Imperial arsenal as the only ship that has a turret upgrade, but aside from pretty much that one unique selling point the Aggressor is just a bad TIE Bomber in almost every other regard - less health, worse dial, higher points cost.  You can probably avoid this one for now.

Alpha-Class StarWing
Hard to fly, Average strength

Like the Rebel's K-Wing the StarWing has the powerful SLAM action allowing it to blast about the table at unmatched speed.  However also like the K-Wing the StarWing's dependence on torpedoes and missiles to deal damage and it's unique movement options makes it an unusual challenge to fly.  With the right planning and loadout the StarWing can be truly devastating but as it's so different to almost anything else in the game there's not many transferable skills to help you learn how the StarWing operates - you'll just have eat those losses until you work out the kinks!