Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Generic Efficiency Revisited - new points, new ships, new stats!

You can often track the things I'm thinking about and planning through the blogs that I write and one of the most influential blogs on my thinking was Rule #32 - Enjoy The Little Things which I wrote back at the very start of November.

If you missed that blog it was essentially a response to how often players seemed to be surprised by perfectly good ships doing well in tournaments just because they were cheap generics not glamorous aces with loads of upgrade cards.  Here I'm thinking about things like the Bandit Squadron Pilot that was in the World Championships Final, or the TIE/fos and TIE/sfs that had begun a First Order resurgence at the end of last year and almost won the Polish national championships under the expert piloting of Maciej Paraszczak.

When you bring Epsilon Squadron Cadets to fight Boba/Fenn
It's an article that a few people have spoken to me about in how it changed their thinking, and it certainly had a big impact on me pretty much from the moment I finished writing it.  I switched almost immediately into flying First Order for December, then a discussion with Green Dragoon about why the TIE/fo was so good and the Scyk was so forgotten ultimately became the Hyperspace squad that I played at the Milton Keynes system open.  And it's likely that if I hadn't been looking at this space I'd never have thought to play my Sloane Swarm and grab my ticket to Worlds!

Not a bad payoff for one blog, eh?

A fair bit has changed since early December.  We've got new points for a lot of stuff, especially the lower end generics, we've got two new ships to evaluate.  We've also seen the game swing quickly towards higher ship counts and lots more generics and I've been busy working out a different way of looking at generic efficiency for a more rounded view.  So let's dust off my excel tables and have a second look at the subject.



Generic Efficiency II: Judgement Day

In my original blog I spent the whole time looking at the unloved little nippers that only have a 2 dice primary attack, like TIE Fighters, Torrents and Z-95 Headhunters.  I benchmarked their ability to survive incoming attacks long enough to return fire against the basic Academy Pilot TIE Fighter, long held as a fundamental building block of X-Wing maths.

In this revisit I'm going to widen that view out to include a lot of the most common 3 dice primary ships like TIE Strikers, B-Wings, ARCs and so forth.  I'm going to benchmark their survival efficiency against the humble T-65 X-Wings for much the same reason that I used the TIE Fighter for the 2 dice ships.

I've also now added another type of statistic that looks how many hits on red dice the ships will roll per point spent, which allows you to compare the 2 dice and 3 dice ships against each other to some degree.

Here are the 2-dice primary ships, benchmarked against an Academy Pilot TIE Fighter...

And here are the 3-dice primary ships, benchmarked against a T-65 X-Wing...


How To Read This Table

My original blog explains a bit of a step-by-step of how I arrived at these tables so if you feel like you just had a numbers fruit salad thrown at your face you may want to go and read that first blog.
If not, let's pick a ship and follow it across the table and see what we learn.  Let's take the generic TIE/sf.

The TIE/sf costs 32pts for a Zeta Squadron Survivor, and to be honest a lot of the time you see it flown exactly as that, just 32pts for a naked ship.

Going from left to right, the first set of stats compares the TIE/sf's likelhood to explode if it gets shot at by multiple 3 focused red dice, and compares it to a TIE Fighter.  With it's extra hull points the TIE/sf is a tougher target to kill than a basic TIE Fighter, 21% less likely to die to 2 attacks (because the TIE is quite likely to survive too), 37% less likely to die to 3 attacks (which are pretty likely to kill the TIE Fighter) then 31% less likely to die to 4 attacks (that lower Agility value starts to catch up as more attacks rain in).

That increased likelihood translates into the TIE/sf being likely to roll more hits than a TIE Fighter once it starts taking damage: first of all because it's more likely to still be on the table, and secondly it's more likely to have kept hold of its focus token in the process.

That all makes the TIE/sf sound like a much better ship than a TIE Fighter... and it is!  But it also costs a lot more points.  The third table reflects that and says that even though the TIE/sf is rolling 0.4 more hits than a TIE Fighter after being shot at by 2 attackers that's a smaller increase in damage output than it was an increase in points cost, so the TIE/sf is actually a less cost-efficient if it's shot at by 2 ships.  That flips to the TIE/sf being more cost efficient as more attackers pile in and the /sf remains on the table longer.
NOTE: this is basically where my original blog stopped.  At this point you've highlighted the ships that were tougher than you thought, which meant they lived longer than you thought, and dealt more damage than you thought.  This time we're going further, though.
The final section of the table, on the far right, show's the raw damage output PER 100 POINTS SPENT*, which is an important new measure I've added for this revisit.  What it shows clearly is that the TIE/sf is actually a pretty mediocre source of damage output when nobody is shooting at it - it deals no more damage than a TIE Fighter would and costs nearly 50% more!  But it also shows that the TIE/sf starts to shine once it gets stuck into the fight and survives a lot longer than the TIE Fighter would, losing only 49% of it's damage output after its been shot at by 4 ships while the basic TIE would lose 78%.

*the only reason it's 'per 100 pts spent' not 'per point spent' is that it turns into nice full numbers instead of tiny decimals.


You: "Cut to the chase.  What does all this tell me?"

When you take a TIE/sf in your squad you're not looking to maximise the initial damage output of your squad - if you were you'd take TIE/fo's as they're much more cost-effective at rolling hits (4.7 hits per 100 points vs 6.0 for the TIE/fo if you've not had to defend yourself). 

You're not even putting TIE/sf's in because they're tougher and will last longer under fire, as even vs 3 or 4 incoming shots the TIE/sf is no more cost-effective at rolling hits than the TIE/fo is (2.4 after 4 attacks vs 2.4 for the TIE/fo). 

You need a different reason for taking a TIE/sf - that you plan on making strategic use of the ship's other abilities like it's rear arc to leverage having more shots on target, or by keeping your dice mods when the TIE/fo would stress itself to k-turn.

And now you know what the ship is for.  You know what you need to do in order to get value from the points you're spending... and you also know that if you're not doing those things reliably then you should probably be taking a TIE/fo instead!


Round Pegs for Round Holes

That runthrough of the statistical strengths and weaknesses of a TIE/sf can be repeated for any ship in the table, and if your favourite ship isn't there then Punkuser's wonderful X-Wing calculator will help you work it all out for yourself.

But to save you some of that effort I'd go so far as to say we can see that there are some pretty clear strata in performance that we can fit ships into - roles that we can see they're mathematically better at performing than their competitors.  Once you understand these roles, and why each ship is naturally better at performing a certain role rather than another, you can really start to pick the right tool for the job, and to use your tools in the right way.


Unopposed Firepower
eg. Vulture Droids, TIE Fighters, TIE Strikers, Z-95 Headhunters

The ships in this bracket shine at cost-effectively putting as many red dice onto the table as possible.  Generally speaking these ships are very weak and vulnerable and will see their offensive output deteriorate rapidly once they start taking shots, but if you can avoid that happening somehow they really shine at pure offense.  How do you stop them being shot at?  Maybe you just bring lots and lots of them (the Vulture Swarm approach), maybe you have other things that the opponent has to pay more attention to (the Soontir/Vader and a few TIE Fighters approach).  But make that happen somehow and you're right at the bleeding edge of sheer firepower than you're going to hurl at the opponent.



Efficient Toughness
eg. Torrents, TIE/fos, T-65 X-Wings, B-Wings

These ships are probably the ones that my last blog really shone a spotlight on - the little guys that everyone was ignoring but which were far harder to kill than their points cost really deserved - you can hurl 120pts of T-65 X-Wings at a 25pt TIE/fo and still only have a 28% chance of killing it!  These ships tend to be a step below the real peaks of pure damage output that the Unopposed Firepower boys are capable of, but they're able to deliver that damage output more reliably in the face of enemy action instead of folding up like a paper plane at the first sign of blaster fire.

In truth there's a real sliding scale in this bracket, particularly in the ships with 3 red dice.  At the cheapest end the Feethan Ottraw Autopilot in his Belbullab fighter is a real hybrid of Unopposed Firepower - as close to a TIE Striker as he is to a B-Wing.  At the other end of the scale the more expensive and durable options like a B-Wing are so good at holding onto Focus for their dice mods that they are starting to head towards the next bracket of Long Haul Hogs


In general, though, I think the Efficient Toughness guys are really having their moment in the spotlight right now.  The way points costs have come down on a lot of these ships means they're a pretty efficient source of damage output, and unlike the Unopposed Firepower guys you're not quite so close to watching the whole thing fall apart at the first sign of bad variance because they're almost always going to take that little bit longer to kill than either you or your opponent really expect for their cost.


Long Haul Hogs
eg. ARC-170, T-70, Scurrg Bomber, U-Wing

To my mind there are two defining characteristics of the Long Haul Hog category of ship: first of all they're not actually all that good at dealing hits per point spent so you're not a particularly big offensive threat, secondly they're usually big fat ships with lots of hull & shields that don't really care about incoming fire and can keep pouring out damage regardless (often because they only have 1 Agility so spending it on defense doesn't do much).  These ships aren't about trying to remove opponents with a mass of initial damage, they're about keeping that threat on the table not just through the first engagement but on into the next turn, and the turn after that.


You don't often see squads relying solely on these types of ships, though.  Often (though not always) that much toughness and hull tends to mean the ships have more limited maneuver dials or reposition actions.  They also tend to be expensive enough that you can't really mass many of them in one place.  That doesn't make them bad ships, though, and they're often used as a dependable source of damage output for a squad that wants to really not have to worry about keeping a chunk of the squad alive for a while.  Target priority in your squad can make a real difference to how useful these big hogs are - often they'll be so annoying for your opponent to try and kill that they'll be left alone entirely!  That may be good if you're hoping to bait people into chasing something else, or may be bad if you were hoping to bring something to take the heat off a more fragile ace!


Needs More Than Stats
eg. RZ-2 A-Wing, TIE/sf, Fang Fighter, Starviper

This final group is really where 'everything else' sits.  These are ships where the raw statline, damage output, resilience to incoming fire etc just isn't best-in-class quality in any area really.  So does that make them bad ships?  No, it just highlights that there's more to ships than stats and you're taking them for some other benefits they might have.  It could be rear arcs, linked actions, awesome ship abilities, great maneuver dials, bendy barrel rolls... all that good stuff that just crunching numbers through a machine will tend to ignore.

Being able to fire backwards has its advantages...
But it also means that you should be aware that you're taking these ships FOR that extra ability.  Take a squad of Starvipers and joust with them... you probably should have taken a Kihraxz Fighter instead and saved some points.  Try to maximise your Howlrunner damage with some Inquisitors and their Force token... you probably should have taken Academy Pilots instead.  If you've not got a plan for how the unique abilities of these ships are going to give you an advantage on the table then their raw efficiency and statline is going to be a step or two off the pace.



Size Matters... Quite A Bit

Yoda was talking shit when he said size didn't matter.  But then the little dude was like 2 foot nothing so he was hardly going to come out with anything else was he?  When it comes to X-Wing maths size definitely does matter, and in particular the size of the incoming shots matters a great deal. 


All through my original blog and the efficiency tables above I've talked about how damage and cost-effectiveness changes as you come under increasing enemy fire.  All those incoming shots are single-modded 3 red dice attacks at range 2, but if you change that basic assumption it can have a big effect on what ships do best.

In particular I think there's a bit of a feedback loop in play at present: all the points reductions to ships like TIE/fo and Scyks, and low starting costs on Vultures, Torrents and Fireballs, mean that more than ever we see players fielding masses of 2 red dice primary ships.  And when you change the assumption of incoming fire from 3 dice attacks and 2 dice attacks you start to skew the results towards higher Agility ships doing better.


I'm not going to restate the whole table again for 2 dice ships because it's kind of repetitive, but this example really shows you how much it can change.  When you flip 4 incoming 3-dice attacks (say, 4x T-70 X-Wings) to double the number of incoming 2-dice attacks (8x TIE/fo; the "FOcho") it has a big impact on how well 1 agility ships like a B-Wing manage to repel that many incoming dice and they ultimately lose about 50% of their expected damage output.  A 2 agility ship like a T-65 will lose about 20% of its damage output, while a 3 agility ship like a TIE Advanced x1 basically works out exactly the same as it was vs 3 dice attacks.

Depending on the metagame you expect to play in the decision between two ships may be best being steered by whether you need that 3rd agility or not.  I'm certainly steering towards TIE/fo ships over TIE/sf at the moment for that very reason.


Special Snowflakes

As well as calling out a few big segments within the table I also want to take the opportunity to talk a bit about a few particular ships and results that caught my eye.

TIE Advanced x1

Let's start here, seeing as we've just spoken about how well the 3 agility chassis stands up as the metagame swings towards facing the likes of TIE/fos and M3-A Scyks.  The Sith Taker's Tim King sealed his Worlds invitation at Milton Keynes flying five TIE Advanced x1 and to be perfectly honest until I reran all my numbers for this article I kind of felt like he must have fluked it somehow.  I know a lot of players feel the same way - you go without defensive tokens to take a Target Lock for their Advanced Targeting Computer so surely they just die? 

Well actually they die a lot less often than you'd expect, and that's particularly true if you can range control to a R3 engagement or are fighting against 2 red dice ships.  Played the right way, or against the right things, and the TIE Advanced can match our outperform a T-65 even despite having to take it's Target Lock actions.  And that's before you get onto the benefit of all those tasty crits...


Fireballs

The new Resistance racer, the Fireball, is costed very attractively in two configurations.  The generic Colossus Station Mechanic is only one point more than a V-19 Torrent at 26pts and has a better dial and the awesome SLAM mechanic.  I know Ryan Farmer of the Fly Better Podcast has already won with them and this table suggests it's not a fluke - they're really good cost-effective ships.  But you've also got Kazuda Xiono and if you assume that he gets his pilot ability active he's a very efficient equivalent to a T-70 X-Wing.  In many ways Kaz is the best E-Wing pilot in the game with his 3/3/6/0 statline at 40pts, and he still gets to SLAM around and Initiative 4 into the bargain!


First Order Provocateur
I'm no fan of the TIE/ba at all and I think you can see why when you look at where the Provocateur sits in the table - way down in 'needs more than stats' with a lowly level of damage output for its point cost combined with losing what firepower it does have very rapidly as it has to spend Focus to stay alive under fire. 


And yet... if you decide to switch modes and hurl the TIE/ba in for more firepower, taking a Target Lock and Strain token with the ship's ability... it's actually not as bad as you'd expect.  That's the version of the TIE/ba that's sitting up in the Efficient Toughness section, almost like the Feethan Ottraw Autopilot as a hybrid into Unopposed Firepower.  If you're allowed to use your Target Lock and Focus to attack you're an efficient source of hits, even at 45pts, and even if the enemy decides to shoot at your Strain token the TIE/ba doesn't die quite as easily as you'd expect and if you can stick around thanks to your Focus token you've still got your Target Lock on hand to exact revenge.

I still don't love the TIE/ba, but I thought the Strain token was going to hurt a lot more than it actually does when you math things through.  Particularly if you have something else worth firing at more I think the First Order Provocateur can deal some real damage.


Ion Scyks
Oh lordy I love the Ion Scyks.  I loved them already which is why they were my squad going into the Milton Keynes System Open.  My original blog created some discussions about why nobody was using Scyks if I thought the TIE/fo was so good, and what we hashed out was basically the perfect scenario you'd want to see to justify playing the Scyks... and thanks to the January points changes that scenario is exactly what came true!


Ion Scyks stand out on this table as having the best of both worlds available to them - they deal out hits-per-point about as effectively as the best of the Unopposed Firepower ships like Vulture Droids, but they are also able to defend themselves from incoming fire much better and retain that output despite coming under pressure.  Yes not all those red dice are dealing damage but Ion tokens are usually an acceptable replacement for damage cards, and in my experience it's rare to be over-ioning something, the Ion Cannon is usually just a much better chance of dealing 1 damage through their green dice. 

Yeah.  I love Ion Scyks.  You should love Ion Scyks too.



In fact, in general maybe you should learn to appreciate the little things too.  These days they're capable of surprising even the best pilots in the galaxy!

3 comments:

  1. If you like Ion Scyks you should try 7 Autoblaster Scyks :D

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  2. I had wanted to try serissu with 5 ion scyks at the MK SOS, but in the lead up to it, I just could get my head around flying them well. I did place 70th with 4 t-70s (red squadron Experts with heroic and r4 astromechs, 3 with advanced optics) and only lost my 6th game by 9 points (43 to 52, the opponent making it to the second to last round)

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