Monday, 15 November 2021

My Shortest ROAD Blog

I didn't set out to write a ROAD trilogy, but here we are.

My first ROAD blog was 2,343 words, my second ROAD blog was even longer at 3,461 words.  This, hopefully my final ROAD blog (though let's be honest, this one seems set to have more parts than the Wheel of Time) is going to be considerably shorter...

Go and listen to the latest Carolina Krayts podcast: "It's all going to be ok, promise".

Listen to that.

They discuss everything to do with ROAD - the changes themselves, the community response, the way AMG have communicated, the reasons for why changes are being made, what the possible impacts on competitive play and the metgame might be - and on every topic I think they absolutely nail it.  

They say what they like, they say what they don't like, they say what they're optimistic for, they say what they're worried about.  On every topic I find that they're really grounded and level-headed and speak from experience and I found myself agreeing and nodding along with almost every word that was said.  I share their optimism and I share their concerns.

If you like ROAD, listen to it.  If you don't like ROAD, listen to it.  If you don't know what to think about ROAD, or even what ROAD is... listen to it.

That is all.

Sunday, 7 November 2021

The ROAD Warrior

Not long ago I wrote a blog that was broadly very critical of AMG's proposed changes to X-Wing, and what we know as ROAD (Random Order After Dials).

Quite a lot has changed for me over the past week, in what is increasingly looking like the post-apocalyptic wasteland of X-Wing.

Today I'm going to write a blog that is broadly pretty positive about AMG's proposed changes to X-Wing.  If you don't want to read about why people might think ROAD is good then you can stop right here, or if you do want to read on then please remember all this is one person's personal point of view, not a manifesto.


My last blog was met with a lot of nice words but far more importantly it triggered my involvement in a lot of interesting discussions across Facebook, Reddit and Discord which helped to hone my personal opinions on the best route forwards.

If you read that blog you may remember this graphic, which had the sliding scale of possible options for X-Wing's future format that everyone was discussing.  After I posted my blog I started to whittle a lot of these options down as we talked them through.

On the left-hand side of the scale we have the rules that X-Wing currently runs to (Bidding determines initiative, bids are the last thing that get scored when MOV is calculated).  As I prepared to play in an event that was the next option along - bidding but with your bid points being handed to the opponent for their MOV at the start of the game - I quickly came to the conclusion that the two options were *extremely* similar.  The squad I wanted to use wanted to move second and was going to bid whatever I felt I needed to in order to force that situation in the majority of games.  Whether my bid was the first thing the opponent scored, or the last thing, simply wasn't a significant contributing factor in my decision making.  I think switching to deficit scoring is a quick & simple improvement on the current rules, but I'm happy to lump them together and say they're basically the same thing.

On the right-hand side of the scale were lots of options for how we could shift Initiative every turn over the course of the game, with ROAD (deciding after dials were set) being the most extreme version of this possible format.  

If I'd had a favoured option at the point I wrote that blog it would have been Alternating initiative between players each turn but as we talked through how that would work I was quickly convinced it was a bad idea because it's too easy for players to 'game' that situation to their advantage.  Imagine two alpha strike lists and the complicated positional dance they would have to do as both players tried to stall the engagement until a turn when they were the ones moving second and could get target locks for their torpedoes.  Or imagine an aces dogfight where players take turns flying defensively and negatively then trying to win on 'their good turn' when they would move second.  

Games where players were only spending 50% of their time trying to move the game state forward sounded like a recipe for boring games where very little happened.  Incredibly tactical games where the best players would almost certainly navigate planning ahead for initiative shifts better than their opponents... but also really fucking boring.

Many players seem to like the idea of ROBD (random order before dials) but I was also talked around to the idea that it was actually the worst of both worlds.  You keep all the feelsbad of rolling for initiative and losing, but in ROAD you at least have the equality of having planned without knowing and thus your moment of bad variance may not be completely punished.  In ROBD not only do you get the feelsbad of losing the dice roll but you also know that the opponent is now going to try and make that bad variance destroy your chances in the game as much as they possibly can.  Rather than mitigating the problem with ROAD, I think ROBD actually doubles down on it.

And, finally, I couldn't ignore that the vast majority of feedback that I saw about ROAD from people who had tried it was... actually pretty positive.  X-Wing was still X-Wing, maneuvering still mattered, it affected a couple of turns but otherwise didn't make too much difference.  I thought there was probably a correlation that the people who were first to try ROAD were probably those who had not been utterly disgusted by the concept of it and they were more likely to see positives in it as a result, but as I read more and more of the same type of feedback I felt like I couldn't really ignore it completely.

(Note: I've also since played a game with ROAD myself: the impact was much smaller than I expected, though we didn't use any of the additional rules changes AMG have hinted at that would make it more impactful.  One game is a crappy sample size, though it's better than zero games, but so far I have to agree that ROAD isn't a big deal).
So... I was increasingly sure that ROAD was one of only three viable options - Current Rules, RPO decided in turn 0, or ROAD.  I shifted my focus a little bit to trying think of what the major problems with ROAD were and how you could mitigate them.  Mostly it came down to wanting to fly things with passive mods if possible - most of the time ROAD games would be exactly like normal games as you'd not even be overlapping initiative to make it an issue, in some games you'd be overlapping and have to cope with uncertainty about moving first, but the biggest issue would come in games where both of you wanted to be in the same place on the table and you didn't know who were get their first.  It seemed like ROAD would create a lot more unavoidable/accidental bumps so having ships who weren't completely dependent on taking actions to survive had an advantage.

Bumps are a big deal in X-Wing, and as somebody who plays swarms a lot I know that landing a bump is often a matter of life of death and it can swing the results of games.  It occured to me that in a ROAD world with lots more unavoidable bumps you might want to try to shrink the delta between being bumped and not being bumped.  Maybe if you could take a red focus action or something?   At least then every ship got access to some sort of mitigation for being bumped instead of being led towards including passive mods on everything when squadbuilding. 

But that was just blue sky thinking, kind of like a 'ROAD+' that made other changes to the game that would smooth out a lot of the biggest problems I could see ROAD causing.  It wasn't real.
If the initial announcement about ROAD had left me at liking it with a score of just 1/10 then by the time I'd reflected enough to write my last blog I was up to 3/10, and the discussions that followed my blog being published chipped me up a little bit further to a 4/10.  


A couple of days ago AMG finally got to share the Livestream of playing a game with us, and during it they fielded some of the thousands of questions from the community while sharing more details about what they were going to change, and why they saw the need to change at all.

There's a lot in those notes but I've pulled out some of the bullet points that I think best encapsulate the new ethos of X-Wing that AMG are proposing:
  • Why Deficit  Scoring?  Because  bidding  hides  points,  that  wasnt  fun.  And  you  should  be  incentivized  to use  ALL of  your  points 
  • Why ROAD?  Tried  back  and  forth  player  order:  didnt  accomplish  what  they  wanted  the  idea  that  x-wing  needs  to  go  back  to  its  roots  -  it's  a  dogfighting  and you  are  not  supposed  to  have  perfect  information,  They want you  to  have  choices  in  the  game  that  doesnt  have  perfect  information.
  • You may not like  this.  Old  x-wing  may  have  been  the  game  of  your  dreams. maybe  you  like  tower  defense  games.  That  is  not  the  game  we  belive  it  should  be,  and  not  the  way  of  the  future.
  • New OP and tournament scoring pushes  the  needle  away  from  being  conservative  - less worrying  about  how  many  points  you’re  giving  up,  and  rather  how  many  you can  score 
  • The most  fun  and  enjoyable  for  the  widest  range  of  people..  Wanted to  lower  the  skill  floor.
As far as a declaration of intent goes, I could not agree more with every word of those bullet points.

Bidding wasn't fun, it may have been tactical and it may have rewarded people for making very tight decisions after spending a log of time watchng what everyone else was doing, but it wasn't *fun*.  You should be able to build your squad and use all 200pts and not be punished for it, that's both more enjoyable and (coincidentally) it makes more sense from a games manufacturer to not have rules that incentivise people to not use the products they manufacture.

I've already said that I feared Alternate initiative was just giving strong players even more information to outplay weaker players with and that's  how AMG's designers feel too.  Most of the time oilots with higher initiatives will move after lower initiative pilots with all the advantages they've ever enjoyed, but when initiatives are tied ROAD does leave both players in a similar state of uncertainty and I had already seen that was actually potentially a desirable trait, not a problem.

A lot of people seem to have been offended by the Tower Defense remark, but if you look at some of the ways that a minority of players have exploited tournament rules to win games - stalling engagements, playing the clock, fortressing, sitting in your corner with StarVipers or Vulture Droids, diving in to score a half ship then running away... the Tower Defense remark seems pretty much on point.  Every single one of those things has always felt distateful to me, personally, and if AMG feel the same way and are confident enough to come out and say as much so clearly... fuckin' A.  They got my vote.  I think the vast majority of X-Wing players didn't play the game this way and shouldn't have any reason to feel targeted by the Tower Defense comment... AMG are on our side on this one, chaps!

And "the most fun and enjoyable for the widest range of people" really just makes it so simple.  How can you disagree with that being the ultimate goal of game design?  

Make more people more happy.  Boom.

I started out at a 1/10 with my opinion of ROAD and the changes AMG were proposing and after reading all that I was up to a 6/10, even before I got into the details of any extra changes they might talk about..  They may not be experienced in X-Wing, they maybe don't know the game very well and could be about to screw it up, but their head and heart is aligned 100% in the direction that mine is.  
The open, exciting, tactical and attacking X-Wing that AMG want people to play is the X-Wing that I want to play.
But wait, what was that they also said?

Possible  Changes  to  Bumping  and  Range 0:
  • Looking  at  that  you  can  still  take  actions  if  bumping, but  it  MUST  be  focus  or  calculate
  • Blocking  was  a  discovered  mechanic - there's  limitations  of  a  3d  game  on  a  2d plane. 
  • Looking  at  allowing  all  ships  to  shoot  range  0  (no  range  bonus)

I agree with them completely on this, not only about changing bumping rules because it'll happen more often, but because bumping itself is an artificial interaction that only happens because two squares of plastic can't overlap on a 2D plane.  Ships not being able to take actions or shoot at each other kind of ignores all the rest of the time that is supposed to have happening during the period that a turn represents - the ships didn't instantaneously crash into each other, there was a whole periodof time when they were flying at each other where acitons and shooting could happen.  It makes perfect sense.  I also remember the first time that the guy who was teaching me to play deliberately bumped my ships... it felt like cheating.  I still remember that feeling 5 years later. 

Not only are mine and AMG's hearts in the same place about what the ideal style of X-Wing should be, but we were right in each other's heads about looking at reducing the impact of bumps now that ROAD would be generating them more often.  That these changes were mentioned as being explored gave me a lot more confidence that the AMG design weren't desperately playing catch up in a game they didn't really understand, but that they were actually out front and leading the way with how they could be required to adapt the game to provide a better experience.

I want to reserve final judgement until I see the rules they decide to implement: is it a white focus or red focus action?  Is it for any bump?  Is it only if you bump into an enemy ship?  Is it only if you bump into an enemy ship of the same initiative?  Bumping is a huge part of X-Wing strategy, and denying repositions and other actions means it still WILL be a huge part of X-Wing strategy going forwards should this rule come into the game. I'm comfortable with toning it down a bit.

But the end result of the AMG livestream moved me sceptical to cautiously hopeful.  Excited, even.  Mark me down as a 7/10 in favour of ROAD, and I'm hoping the detail of those rules changes will push me even higher.


This is the last outstanding question, really.  If X-Wing isn't broke, why fix it?  Why is AMG messing with it at all?

Well, I think this answer has two facets that take the discussion in two very different directions, and both get very contentious very quickly so I'm not going to do either in much depth because I think they're just lightning rods for disagreements.

1) X-Wing may not have been broken, but it was probably bent.  For all the reasons that I discussed above I think AMG are addressing things that aren't perfect in the current game, and often are exploited to reduce the enjoyment that average players get out of X-Wing.  You may disagree.  You may STRONGLY disagree.  But I agree with that and AMG believe it's true too.

2) As a product line, it's highly likely that X-Wing was dying.  We used to be a big deal, we used to outsell basically everything but Warhammer 40k, but those days are a long long looooooooooong way back in the past.  I think X-Wing has been in significant decline since as early as mid-2017, which has continued right through the Second Edition relaunch and then obviously wasn't helped at all by a global pandemic either.  I've blogged about this before, and I think we're still on the narrative that I outlined in that old blog.  A key element, for me, is that the fates of competitive play and the sales revenue have long since disconnected and while competitive play is continuing in rude health sales have crashed.  Hardcore tournament players may be playing the game as much as ever (more, arguably, thanks to TTS) but there's very little that they actually need to buy (again, partly due to TTS).  

Worse yet, I think pandering to that hardcore audience - of which I am a card-carrying member - has been an obstacle to any efforts FFG made to try and reinvigorate sales to the wider audience.  Conversion Kits bridged us all into Second Edition but meant we didn't need to buy anything after we jumped on, while older ships being strong remained a big hurdle for newer players jumping in and for stores who might want to support X-Wing but couldn't stock the ships their customers wasnted to buy.

Hyperspace might have been intended to force us onto new ships and fix the problem but a lot of the community refused to really engage with that format and it failed.  Serious hardcore tournament players aren't enemies of the game, but they're not exactly helping it very much either.  Their opinions were arguably given far too much value by FFG and it's stood in the way of making major changes that were radical enough to at least stand a chance of turning around X-Wing's sales decline.

Will it work?  Probably not.  I think X-Wing is nearing the end of its useful economic life to Asmodee.  But at least they're giving it a wild punt to see if it does work.


AMG seem very confident their changes are for the best.  I don't think they're going to back down or will be made to back down.  ROAD is going to be in the official rules very soon, tournament scoring will be uprooted, bumping will change, cats and dogs will get along... it's going to be wild.  When ROAD was first announced there was a chance that they didn't really understand the scale of the changes they were making or that some people would really hate them.

I think it's much more clear that they knew this all along and were ready to piss a bunch of people off to make the significant changes to the game that they believe make it better.

ROAD is going to be real, probably by the end of the year.

The only question that's really outstanding is what the community will do about it.  Can the people who are really pissed off with ROAD assemble enough of a critical mass that they can launch a valid splinter group who remain on the old rules of X-Wing.  I'm not sure if that's ever happened to a game before.  There's been times when communities have kept games alive after manufacturers dropped them, like the Blood Bowl Living Rulebook, or the NISEI community for Netrunner, but I'm not sure there's been a time when anyone managed a successful breakaway while they still had to compete with the game's designers.  The closest I'm even half aware of is Age of Sigmar vs Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and although I'm the wrong person to talk with much confidence about the state of Games Workshop AFAIK it's Age of Sigmar that's won that battle.

I'm starting to believe that for 80-90% of the X-Wing playerbase the changes AMG are making will work out just fine, and maybe even make the game a better experience.  The 10-20% of players at the top of the game - the players who are most committed and spend the most time on the game, often with the loudest voices, most followers and who wield the most sway... they need to decide what they're going to do.  They've a choice either to head off ROAD coming in by breaking away, learning to deal with the changes to the game and remaining the best players in X-Wing's future, or in moving on to play something else instead.

I'm still on the fence, and I don't need to make a decision.  I'm waiting to see what the final version of ROAD is but I'm confident I'll enjoy playing it so I'm not worrying about selling my ships.  I know I enjoy playing the current X-Wing rules even though they're flawed so I'm happy to play in a breakaway too should one come about (though if I'm honest the idea of a breakaway led by players who specifically value & enjoy all the things about X-Wing that I don't necessarily enjoy isn't ideal).

I don't know how it plays out.  But I do think the recent frenzied tempo of revelation and reaction should now calm down a lot and players can reflect and plan.  AMG have shown us as much of their hand as they currently can and this little moment of calm will be good for everyone, I think.

Monday, 1 November 2021

Hit The ROAD, Jack!

 So, how's about that Random Player Order, huh?

In case the atomic explosion of X-Wing social media hasn't reached the rock you are living under, AMG shared their vision of what Random Player Order rules would be this week and, well... it did not go well.


What we had come to know as Random Player Order (RPO) has been replaced by Random Order After Dials (ROAD) and the general consensus among the Online X-Wing Community (OXWC) is that it's a bit of a SNAFU (Situation Negative: Al-Fresco Unicorn).  AFAIK.

I thought the general response to this announcement was nicely summed up by this gif someone posted...

...while my own immediate response was along very similar lines.

I can't remember the last time 103 people liked something I said, so it's a pretty good indicator that I was in line with how a lot of people were feeling.  In that immedate moment I simply couldn't fathom how ROAD was the version that AMG wanted us to play.  It honestly felt like a deliberate attack on X-Wing that was calculated to drive people out of the game and into Star Wars Legion, where the spend to play was much higher.

In my last blog I said a lot of very nice things about the idea of RPO.  I didn't have anything good to say about ROAD when I first saw it.

I know a lot of very prominent members of the community were very vocal with their dismay/disappointment/disgust at these proposed changes to the rules and it was immediately suggested that the OWXC should ignore it completely and splinter away from the official ruleset.  That may well yet come to pass because I think AMG have truly underestimated the damage that these changes will do to the committed X-Wing playerbase.  I'm not sure this is one they can just ride out and wait for it all to blow over.


Personally, though, a day or two's distance from the initial announcement has given me some time to reflect and my stance on ROAD has softened.  A least a little.  A little little.

Like I said, at first take these new rules felt like an actual attack on the game, whether through ignorance on the part of the designers or a wilfull attempt to damage X-Wing, I just couldn't see how anything positive had been intended by moving to ROAD.  I think I can see now what the designers are attempting to do, even if I still think it's ultimately misguided and extremely harmful to the game.

Picture two identical pilots in identical ships.  Let's make them Alpha Squadron Pilots in their TIE Interceptors. 


If you imagine the dogfight in space that X-Wing is supposed to be simulating then these ships are identical and the pilots are identical, but because X-Wing is a board game where each player takes turns doing things that simulation of space combat is imperfect and one of the two ships has to move first while the other moves second.  Whichever ship moves first is an Alpha Squadron Pilot - they move with no information of what the opposing ship is doing and have to guess well in order to be at all effective, while whichever of the two ships moves second may as well be the ACE OF LEGEND that is Soontir Fel as they have perfect information on where the opponent is and what actions they took.


As the player moving first you know that the deck is stacked against you and the opponent has a big advantage.  But it's also entirely in your control how you respond to that situation and how you position your ships and take actions that will best allow you to fight uphill against the opponent and win the duel.  It's not easy but it's skills you learn, and it's rewarding when you use those skills to overturn the odds and come out victorious despite being the underdog on paper.  

For many of the people who are committed X-Wing players enough to play lots of events, collect lots of factions, buy lots of ships, and sink many hours into playing the game and talking about the game... this exact interaction of how you manage the dance between moving first and second, advantage and disadvantage, is probably one of the key elements that got you really hooked on the game.  It was difficult, but you got good at it, and you like being good at it because it's skill-intensive and skill-rewarding.

For many of the people who are committed X-Wing players... how you manage the dance between moving first and second, advantage and disadvantage, is probably one of the key elements that got you really hooked on the game.  

But if you're coming into the game as an outsider.... I think that dance looks a lot like abusing game mechanics.

But if you're coming into the game as an outsider, as the AMG designers are, then I think the very same dance that is why committed X-Wing players love the game... I think that dance looks a lot like abusing game mechanics. 

If they're both identical ships with identical pilots why is the experience of planning dials for these identical ships so completely different?  It's a better simulation of space combat to try and create a situation where the two identical pilots in identical ships are faced with identical situations when you're deciding what maneuvers to plot in for them... and that means not knowing which of the two ships is going to move first when you're setting the dials.  

It's not a desirable skill-intensive trait to be celebrated but a flaw in the game design to be removed to prevent players abusing it.

And (I think) that's how you get to ROAD.

ROAD means an even playing field when pilots of the same initiative are meeting each other.  Neither player has a big advantage or disadvantages that they can plan for and take advantage of.  It's a better simulation of space combat and it's also the fairest system for both players.

The trouble is: it's still shit.


I can reason myself to a place where I can understand why somebody thinks ROAD might be a good idea.  I can tell myself that in a lot of games it won't matter at all as I won't match initiatives with my opponent.  I can believe that rolling 3 dice and looking for Crits isn't much more cumbersome than rolling 1 dice and doing 'hits or misses' and may be future-proofing for formats with more than 2 players.  I can appreciate that it's levelled the playing field by meaning both players are in the same position when it comes to setting dials.

But I can't make myself like it.  And believe me: I've tried.

I'd rather move first every turn and know I was moving first then roll the dice and not know.  And worse yet: have to plan for what an opponent is going to do when they also don't know if they're moving first or second.  Yes, both players are now in the same position when it comes to planning your turn but that position is worse for both players then it used to be when you knew what was going on, whether you moving first or second.  This is Star Wars, overcoming greater odds is part of the deal, part of the appeal!

And yes, this might make it a better 'simulation' of space combat, but it also makes it a much worse boardgame experience, and I think that's more important.  X-Wing is a tactical miniatures game and ROAD directly impacts on player's abilities to actually apply tactics to the game instead of just saying two Hail Mary's and letting Jesus take the wheel.

And yes, maybe the designers see this as ironing out a flaw in X-Wing's original design, but that flaw is pretty much the entire reason why X-Wing has kept me interested for six years.  That flaw is why I've played it for hundreds of hours and bought multiples of pretty much every expansion that has ever been released along the way, instead of going 'hum, it's fun enough, I guess' and putting X-Wing right back down again and just carrying on playing whatever boardgame people brought to that Monday night session.

If you like X-Wing.  If you *really really* like X-Wing, then ROAD is only going to bring pain. 

It's replacing one of the most unique, intellectually challenging, and endorphin-supplyingly rewarding mechanics of the game with just fucking tossing a coin.  I can't get past this.  I personally stop right here: this is WHY I play I X-Wing.  AMG aren't fiddling with some random little corner of the rules that I'm going to make a stink about because I don't like change... this actually cuts right to the heart of why X-Wing is such a compelling game that I keep wanting to come back to.

It's also going to lead to ENDLESS people fucking whining and moaning about how their games were decided by dice not skill.  People already bitch about this and they're usually wrong, but once ROAD comes in there's going to be more salt than the Dead Sea, and worse of all (unlike today) a lot of it will be properly justified.  When combat dice fuck you over then you rolled them often enough over the course of a game, or a tournament, that variance probably about evened itself out.  But you're going to roll ROAD dice far less often and there's probably more riding on each individual roll than with combat dice.  ROAD is a recipe for feelsbadman moments to happen far too often... and that's before you factor in that people are already primed to hate it.
I hate it.  I think I understand what they're trying to do.  I'm trying to be enlightened and see both sides.  But I hate it.  It's a visceral reaction I can't shake.



So, we're probably at a critical junction for the game.  AMG don't have years of goodwill accrued and they don't have the playerbase invested in their ongoing Organised Play schemes.  Right now X-Wing players don't really need anything from AMG aside from new ships so I think it's possible that the competitive X-Wing just decides to say "thanks but no thanks" to ROAD and heads off in their own direction.  
The scene is set for a revolution in a way that I think wouldn't have been true at all pre-Covid.

Indeed, because of the botched way that AMG have introduced this concept staggered over several different announcements that process has already begun: several major US tournament organisers had already moved to trialling a version of RPO after it was hinted at.  Ostensibly they were testing out the system, or players wanted to get used to the idea of not having to keep bids and see just how the game changed.  As I currently understand it those tournaments are going to continue to use RPO, at least for the time being.

And they're not alone, the fact those major tournaments decided to unhitch their wagon from the official rules opened a pandora's box of tournament organisers deciding which rulesset they wanted to implement.  My next event in real life will not use RPO, nor ROAD, nor even the current rules in the RRG around bidding for initiative - we're going to be keeping bids but taking the concept of deficit scoring from the intial hints around how RPO would work.  Competitive X-Wing is already splintering into different formats and while I think nobody wants it to remain splintered for long and we'll all eventually coalesce around one or two rules sets, the momentum is currently entirely away from using the official RRG and in the direction of the X-Wing community deciding their own rules.

  • Do you want to keep bids, or move to random initiative?
  • If you're keeping bids do you move to deficit scoring?
  • If you're doing random initiative how and when do you decide it?  
  • Do you decide it at the start of the game?  Do you decide it every turn before dials?   Do you decide it every turn after dials?
  • Do you alternate initiative? 
  • Does initiative change depending on game state - who is losing/winning?
It's currently open season on rules, and this is a mess entirely of AMG's making.

It's into these waters that ROAD was dropped, like a turd dropped into a hot tub.  It's currently hard to imagine that the most committed, high-profile and influential playes are going to accept ROAD, and it's equally hard to see what AMG are going to be able to offer that would encourage them to.  We're 18 monts into a pandemic that has seen official Organised Play disappear and the community has stepped whole-heartedly into the breach.  

AMG have some hard yards ahead of them.  For a lot of players even a backtrack away from ROAD won't be enough - I think bridges have been burned that may never get rebuilt.  If they decide to perservere with ROAD then the yards get harder still and I honestly think the momentum is entirely against them.  If they don't recognise that then we may never again have the players and developers of this game reconciled onto the same ruleset.

That's not something I could ever have imagined myself saying even 7 days ago, but with hindsight the seeds for this have been gradually planted all along the path from Hyperspace format, through Covid, to RPO and ROAD.  The makers of X-Wing want to change something that many of the players of X-Wing don't want to have changed, and I think the balance of power may just have decisively shifted.

I don't know what happens next.  But I think a lot of players are on the edge with X-Wing and looking for something hopeful and positive to cling onto, and whoever offers that first will take the helm.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Points Changes & Rules Changes - 2 Good / 2 Bad

The times, they are' a changin'.  New points, new rules, new owners, new ships.  I'm going to touch one some of the big winners and losers I can see in each faction after this latest points change, but first let's talk about a topic that is completely non-controversial and everyone can agree on.

Random Initiative

More words and blood have spilled on the internet over this topic since AMG announced their intention to change the rules than I care to think about.  I don’t want to go into it on too much depth because I think it’s a bit pointless to do so – people’s opinions are pretty firmly entrenched on one side of the aisle or the other at this point.  Personally, I’m in favour of the change, and here’s a few thoughts about why…

  • It Never Made Sense – I dropped into the game with the Force Awakens core set and the bid system has always stuck out as an oddity.  I get that the intention was to be that players would make tough decisions to sacrifice valuable upgrades to take the initiative but in reality the cost/benefit ratio was never well aligned and when movement order really mattered there wasn’t an upgrade in the world that you’d take instead of winning the bid by 1pt.  You can imagine that AMG came into the game cold and had new eyes on everything.  What was the point of an upgrade system that punished people for buying upgrades?  
  • It Made Too Much Difference – somebody did the maths that the benefit of moving second in matchups against the same initiative was 20-30% win rate – the difference between being 65/35 and likely to win or 35/65 and likely to lose.  When the odds are flipping that wildly it says that you’re playing with a mechanic that is very potent and which is often overwhelming how you actually play on the table.  Are we playing a game where the best player wins, or a game where the person who took off the most upgrades wins?
  • It Was Getting Worse – In 1.0 we saw the important of initiative mainly as Veteran Instincts being overplayed, but in 2.0 the compression of the Initiative values led to bidding wars becoming deeper and deeper so it was a much bigger problem in 2.0 than it ever was in 1.0.  You were more likely to match initiative with an opponent’s ship, and ships were more likely to have reposition actions to take advantage of moving second – it wasn’t just aces even Norra Wexley could barrel roll out of your arc in her Y-Wing if she moved second.
  • It Supported Imbalanced Squads – there’s some very subjective opinions in here, but I think that if you’ve built a squad that HAS to move second to have a good chance of success then that squad is not very well balanced or well rounded and you’ve only been able to make that squad work by leaning on the crutch of the bid system to give you a huge chance of moving second and securing the unfair advantage of doing so.  I’ve been on both sides of this and my Rebel Aces list 100% abused the bid system to give me all the information before I had to make decisions – S-Foils, R2 regeneration, Target Locks, actions from Ahsoka, arc-dodging with impunity – I’d banked my whole list on 193 being a deep enough bid to move second.  It didn’t have to be that way, and Oli Pocknell’s World Champion list is an example of building aces (with the same 6-5-5 initiative pattern as my Rebel Aces) that could move first happily.  My squad was not well rounded and the deep bid was a vital crutch I was leaning on… that’s not necessarily healthy for the game.
  • It Prevented Aces Being Played – ironically I think removing bids will mean we see MORE aces played, not less. Dedicated aces lists will suffer if they don’t adapt but it’s now much more viable to include an I5 or I6 into a ‘normal’ squad without having to worry about leaving a chunky bid just to give them a chance.  While there were a lot of aces running round with a deep bid nobody else could really afford to play an ace in their squad.
  • It Doesn’t Actually Make That Much Difference – wait, didn’t I just write a bullet about how it made too much difference?  Well in how it can affect the outcome of any single game I think bidding and initiative order can have a huge impact (which is a bad thing), but over the course of a number of games the move from bidding for initiative to deciding it randomly with a dice roll… doesn’t actually make that much difference.  If you’ve got an I6 pilot he’ll still move last in 82% of matches, yes it’s not 95% but it’s still a lot.  And if your win percentage dropped 30% in those 13% of matches that flipped to you moving first… it’s going to change the result in about 1 game in 20.  And that’s the worst case because you’ve now got points that you were going to spend on your bid to buy actual upgades with, so in fact it may only change the result in 1 game in 30.  That’s not quite the “skill is dead in X-Wing” apocalypse that I read a lot of people worrying about.
  • It’s A Distraction – the addition of sideboarding has been heavily hinted at by AMG and if that comes to pass then I guarantee it’s going to be 10x more impactful on X-Wing than anything they’re doing with initiative order.  For a start the answer to the question “what happens when I face opposing I6 pilots and I may lose initiative 50% of the time” could be answered by sideboarding for that matchup more effectively than the opponent, but in truth sideboarding is going to hugely affect EVERY game you play.  If they adopt the Marvel Crisis Protocol system then 200pt squad lists will be a thing of the past and we’ll be making 250pt squads then leaving 50pts on the sidelines every game.  Do you bring specific tools for specific jobs?  Do you leave whole pilots on the bench?  Honestly, if we move to a world of objective play and sideboards then rolling dice for initiative is going to be the least of your worries and your win % is going to be determined far more by how you can react and think on your feet to deal with the opponent and task in front of you that round.

Bring on random initiative.  It's screw me over from time to time but I think the gains FAR outweigh the losses.  And in the grand scheme of the changes coming to X-Wing it's just a little kink in the road and there's some much bigger bumps and bends ahead.



The first bit of good news for Rebel players is a surprise to nobody – it’s Dash Rendar.   With both the pilot and his Outrider title getting a big discount this time around (a combined 15% price cut, from 99 to 84) I think it’s finally time for Dash to hit tables in a serious way.  Along the way Dash has traded a gunner slot for a second crew slot and that’s a really good move – it’s good to break his reliance on the wombo-combo Bistan double tap trick that has so far been the only way to justify Dash’s cost, and that second crew slot gives you access to more goodies from the Rebel unique crew options, like Kanan, R2-D2, Magva Yarro etc.  Dash is ready to prove his worth as an independent ship, not just as the output channel for 200pts worth of combolicious actions.

My second pick is Hera Syndulla in her B-Wing.  I think by now we all understand that Hera’s pilot ability to share tokens is really great, but while the A-Wing version takes a big price hike the B-Wing version has come down to match it at 48pts.  Here’s some homework: go and check how many B-Wing pilots cost the same as their A-Wing counterparts with similar initiative and report back to me with just how much of a bargain the B-Wing version of Hera now is.


Dash is going to get a lot of table time and if that comes to pass I think it’s really going to shine a light on just how lacking the YT-1300 chassis is.  It’s pretty much the least cost-effective way of putting red dice onto the table and now that Han’s 3 red dice cost the same as Dash’s 4 red dice that’s going to be more apparent than ever.  I think there’s potential for the Falcon to benefit from the gunner slot now that it’s been removed from a bunch of ships and some of the best gunners have dropped in price, but I still think the Falcon is just not suited to dealing the amount of damage it really needs to be putting out.  That’s only been cast into more sharp relief than ever by this round of changes to the YT-2400.

Y-Wings in general still seem very lacklustre.  Do you remember that brief moment with Veteran Turret Gunner cost next to nothing and the Y-Wing was actually good?  Well that’s a long time in the rear view mirror and I’m not really sure what dropping their gunner slot for a missile slot (which competes directly with the existing Torpedo slot they didn’t use much) does to help the Y-Wing out.  I think this ship still needs a clear sense of what it’s actually good for and I’m no clearer on what that is.



I’ve been banging on about TIE Aggressors almost as long as I’ve been banging on about Scyks and I’m not about to stop now.  With so many of the key generic ships getting a price hike this time around I think the TIE Aggressor now stands almost unchallenged as the most efficient and effective generic ship in the game.  At 26pts for just the raw chassis you get you’re at the cutting edge of a TIE/fo and outclassing the V-19 Torrent by having a much more flexible dial.  Add a Dorsal turret for a bargain 2pts and you’re a 180 degree firing arc threat, and upgrade that turret to an Ion Cannon Turret at 31pts and you’re adding a whole 3rd red dice.  At all three cost points the TIE Aggressor is best in class and if anybody thought these things were only making waves because of Admiral Sloane I think they’re going to find themselves given a rude awakening.  Probably the best ‘little engine that could’ in the game right now.

Dust off your ACE OF LEGEND and get them ready for the table because I think Soontir Fel is coming back to play.  He likes that most of the swarms are going, he likes that Fifth Brother has gone up in price a lot so there’s less Homing Missiles being flung around, and he likes that you don’t feel like you need to bid 8pts just to play him once we move to random initiative.  Soontir will happily hunt any opposing I6 aces if the initiative roll goes your way but can run and hide effectively without wasting too many points in the games where you lose the dice roll and the opponent has to chase your ACE OF LEGEND.  Removing the need to take a bid is like a 15% price cut to Soontir and I think he’ll be back to support tougher and more efficient Imperial ships with a little bit of finesse.


The humble TIE/ln has seen it’s better pilots get another round of price cuts… but I suspect it’s still not enough.  The decision to keep Commander Malarus & 6 TIE/fos viable means that the original Imperial TIE Swarm is still going to come off badly in a straight fight against a list with more hull, more guns, and more tactical flexibility.  The gap has closed a lot and I think you’ll see TIE Swarms much more than you have been used to, and even doing pretty well here and there, but that -1pt they knocked off Commander Malarus is felt very keenly over on Team Howlrunner.

The Defender Elite title now costs 0pts, coming down -2pts from the initial points cost.  Now there’s only another 15pts left to come off before it’ll be worth playing.



It’s big changes in StarViper world, losing their coveted Sensor slot to gain the future-era Tech slot instead.  That means they can look forward to whacking Automated Target Priority onto things for the extra free dice mods, but it also means Guri gets a lot cheaper.  A Guri who could reliably S-Loop and reposition to get into range 1 used to cost 74pts (Guri & Advanced Sensors) but now only costs 65pts (Guri & Pattern Analyser).  By Grabthar’s Hammer: what a savings.

Illicit Slots in general still look really attractive for the sort of short burst of action economy that can decide games.  False Transponder Codes may have gone up to 3pts but I expected more and they’re still good, while Overtuned Modulators look like a really attractive rework of the old Glitterstim.  Scum still have the tools to produce big turns that really punish opponents.


It took 18 months but they finally stopped me from playing Cartel Spacers, at 27pts the extra bit of value I was scraping off has gone and I'm going to go looking elsewhere (see: Republic).  Sunny Bounder is still unchanged value at 27pts so a lone Scyk in a list can be a really strong filler to round a squad out, but the days of my bringing a squad of seven Scyks to the table are behind me.  Sad times.

The whole Scum faction still looks a little bit unsure of what the future is.  Every time a good Scum lists crops up it gets rapidly determined to be TOO good and gets whammed with a big hammer.  Boba has been hit into unusability twice, the Torkil Swarm is gone, the Scyk Swarm is gone, the Jabba & Contraband combinations are gone, Zam Wesell is gone… the cupboards are looking a little bare.  Scum players do love rising to a challenge of finding new ways to win, but by crikey I think they’re going to need to because they do seem to keep getting hit by the rough end of the stick.



Probably about two years ago I was trying to explain that Poe Dameron was overcosted at around his 68pts, and really if you benchmarked him against Wedge Antilles in another I6 X-Wing with a strong pilot ability he should probably cost around 60pts.  We’re finally getting to that point, but in this round of price changes there was a BIG cut to the Heralds of Hope version of Poe and now he actually costs Wedge Antilles money!  I think this Poe is a real steal at this price point, and he also makes a lot of sense to bring in the world of random initiative being decided as he’s happy to joust it out when he doesn’t have the drop on opposing I6 ships, or be a top ace if you do win the initiative roll.  He makes Ello and Nien look sad and I think you’re going to see his white and orange T-70 around a lot.

Is Vennie’s Starfortress ever going to stop going down in price?  It’s happened again here, with the typical Vennie build benefitting from multiple savings on her pilot card itself, on Veteran Turret Gunner and on M9-G8.  Vennie was once that oddity of a pilot who you rarely saw and could catch you out if you weren’t quite sure what she did… these days she’s probably just one of the single strongest pieces the Resistance can call on and there’s plenty of room for two strong pilots to run alongside her.


I think Rose Tico’s price increase may well be enough to push her out.  In truth 28pts for her still isn’t a ridiculous amount to pay but I think I’d now put her behind Vi Moradi in the pecking order.  Vi was always the unfairly ignored transport pod as Finn & Rose grabbed the headlines but with the incoming changes to the initiative rules I think Vi’s intelligence-gathering and ace-thwarting abilities gain a lot of value.  Rose is going to the be the pilot who most often pays the price for Vi leapfrogging her in the queue.

I don’t get what the Rebel Y-Wings are for and unfortunately I feel very similarly about the Resistance Y-Wings… only moreso because for some reason they cost more points despite having worse stats.  There’s a lot of pilots who all have a lot of words in their text box and to be honest with you I fell asleep before I could finish reading them all and trying to work out what they actually did.  It’s possible there’s some secret sauce in here among the pilot abilities that makes them worthwhile… but it’s still a secret to me if that’s true!



Midnight finally costs about the right amount!  The I6 TIE/fo pilot has spent the last three years paying the price for what Omega Leader did in First Edition but she’s finally been let down from the naughty step with the same type of 15% price cut that all the other TIEs had enjoyed.  It’s a nice little gift that Fanatical has also come down in price, and that being an I6 that doesn’ really want to take a massive bid has gained value with the move to random initiative.  I’m not sure Midnight is going to ever become the terror that Omega Leader was as it’s still a defanged version of the original ablilty, but they’re now the correct price for what you get and you’ll see them around a lot.

Commander Malarus.  What a difference a point makes.  The decision to cut Malarus by -1pt has baffled me because it’s the difference between culling one of the most efficient and oppressive swarm lists (Malware) or allowing it to run rampant after most of its competition has been wiped out.  I wouldn’t have done it, personally, and I think we may come to view this as a mistake but until then there’s no doubt that Commander Malarus and her accompanying TIE Swarm is going to be a big part of the coming metagame.


The First Order Bombers have been a long time coming and… I don’t get it.  I love a Scimitar Bomber as much as almost anybody but the key to the Scimitar is that it’s super cheap for how hard they are to kill – the FO Bomber is no harder to kill and costs 15% more.  Yes you’ve got that funky boost preposition but you’ve got to make that really work for you to make back the excess cost.  The named FO Bombers close the points gap over the Imperial Bombers – Breach is only +1pt more than Tomax Bren at I5 – but the named Bombers have never really proven their worth anyway.  I really wanted to like this ship but so far I don’t get what you’re doing with them that wouldn’t be better served as being a TIE/sf.  Happy to be proven wrong!

Deuterium Power Cells… that’s not enough to come off this card.  I want to see DPC as a valid option for Vonreg to make them a bit more reliable but at this cost it’s just not worth considering – a bad regen option at a bad cost.



If the TIE Aggressor has any real competition for the spot of being the best little ship in the game then that is surely going to come from… the V-Wing.  The V-Wing?  Seriously?  Was that a typo?  The Loyalist Volunteer came down a point to 26pts, it’s direct comparison is the TIE/fo who went up a point to the same 26pts.  Except the V-Wing also has a boost action… not just that but a LINKED boost action into a target lock.  And it’s also now got a completely free “Esk” configuration that adds the possibility of being an Ion threat as well.  In a side-by-side comparison I think the V-Wing is a clear winner over the TIE/fo and the only thing holding the TIE/fo up is that it gets fire support from Commander Malarus for less than the V-Wing can get it from a LAAT or Sinker.  You may never have seen a V-Wing on the table before, but I’d say you’re about to get all too used to them.

AnakYn, Ynakin, AnYkin, however you’re used to nicknaming the Y-Wing version of Anakin Skywalker I think he’s now got a much bigger role to play in the game as he’s another I6 pilot who never really wanted to bid but was being held back by losing initiative to all the other I6’s who did want to bid.  Anakin’s role in the Y-Wing is simple – fire Proton Torpedoes into the opponent’s aces until they’re gone, leaving Obi-Wan and Plo-Koon to mop up what’s left.  Anakin has consistently dropped in points since his initial release and this latest round makes him better than ever just as the impending rules reference changes also play into his hands.


As for the rest of the Jedi I’ve not got much good to say.  The ETA-Actis was a badly conceived ship design that doesn’t really have the tools it need to fulfil any role – it can’t joust, its bad at arc-dodging, it’s not a good blocker etc.  The one saving grace this ship had found was being able to punch above it’s weight thanks to equipping a cannon, and now that’s gone.  I’m genuinely a bit staggered by this change and I’m not sure what the ETA pilots are supposed to use instead… harsh language?  Maybe the Trick Shot/Scattering Shot build won’t just be a janky meme.  I think it probably is though.

And don’t be fooled by all those price cuts you can see on the Aethersprite versions of the Jedi, either, because they’ve been offset by increases to the CLT and Delta-7B titles that mean the cost of these ships has actually gone up!  So the Jedi weren’t very good, the faction overall was struggling and relying on them as a crutch… and they got a price increase?  Awesome.



It’s been a while coming but is the Tri-Fighter finally going to make waves?  Although the Colicoid Interceptor still looks pretty sad there’s some hefty discounts applied to the Phlacc-Arphocc Prototype and the Independent Calculations modification that could really shake things up.  You’re now able to field an I5 Tri-Fighter with two calculate tokens for 38pts and that looks pretty nice compared to similar TIE Interceptors that are currently seeing play, like the I4 Saber Squadron Pilots at 36pts.  I think the Tri-Fighter is another ship set to benefit from the changes to bidding – in the past these would cost 45pts and then you’d have to bid to give your flimsy I5 droid a chance of moving last and dodging arcs, where in future you’ll be able to bring them at 38pts and not worry about the bid at all.  Definitely one to watch and I think they’ll open up new ground for CIS squad-building that’s not just a block of droids moving as one.

Independent Calculations.  I’ve mentioned it once but I think changing Independent Calculations to cost 0pts is huge for not just Tri-Fighters but for Vulture Droids too.  Sitting on a stack of double the number of calculate tokens makes you a potent threat and now you can have your cake AND eat it.  It also makes many of the costs that included Calculate tokens being spent that much more tolerable, like Discord Missiles or the K2-B4 tactical relay.  I think Independent Calculations could be a massive change for droid squadbuilding, freeing them up to move independently of each other and activate powerful effects without going tokenless.


I understand that Nantex are a bit of a dirty word and that very few people have fond memories of the Stalgasin Hive Guard or Petranaki Arena Ace, but did they really need to be bombed back to the stone age with another 10% price increase?  At 35pts the Stalgasin Hive Guard is the most expensive it’s ever been.  A Stalgasin Hive Guard with Ensnare now costs 54 points… FIFTY FOUR!  On release they were 44pts and not exactly dominating anything… and that was with the old Tractor rules.  Stop it, they’re already dead!

The Sith Infiltrator got edged down in price but I think it’s got a long way to come yet.   Stats-wise the chassis is the same as a Scurrg Bomber (3 red, 1 green, 10 hit points) but the base Dark Courier costs 6pts more and comes on the dreaded front-arc-only large base.  That’s not a great starting position but even worse is the +14pts and +15pts you have to pile on top to get to Dooku or Maul.  They simply aren’t worth the investment to get there and  I could see another 6-8pts coming off those two villains before they really get back onto the table in a meaningful way.



I'm actually a little bit nervous about the 50% discount we just got on Tactical Officer because I remember just how much we saw that guy when he was 2pts.  X-Wing has moved on a long way from those early days of 2.0 so I may be worrying about nothing, but I'm sure there's going to be players putting him back into their U-Wings, Escape Crafts etc.  Is there going to be some ridiculous Nodin Chavri action-spewing combo?

There's two side of the same coin in new force abilities from the Fury of the First Order expansion, and I'm pretty sure people are excited about the wrong one.  Compassion may only trigger on 25% of the crits somebody receives, and may mean moving damage from another ship onto a fragile Jedi instead, but it only costs 1pt and if it keeps a ship on the table it'll be the best 1pt upgrade you bought since Crack Shot.  With no need to bid in the new random initiative rules I think cheap little upgrades like this are the real beneficiaries - you'd have sacrificed them for a bid in the past because they were too niche, but now you can pay the little cost and wait for them to win you a game.


And as much as I like Compassion because it's cheap I've got no time for Malice because it's expensive.  Forget Malice as a force regen mechanic because it'll only trigger a tiny % of the time (they have to not dodge the attack, not have shields, then you've a 25% of hitting a Pilot crit) so what you're really buying for Malice's 6pts is the ability to deal crits.  Unless you were slam-dunking Marksmanship and R7-A7 into squads at every chance you got I would suggest you're overpaying for the effect here.  Compasson is a 2pt upgrade that costs 1pt, but Malice is a 3pt upgrade that costs 6pts.  Avoid it 9 times out of 10 and take Sense instead.

Passive Sensors wasn't too bad for 2pts, 4pts for the luxury is a lot to pay and it's importantly no longer undercutting the Targeting Computer.  It was an upgrade that shortcut a key skill-testing limitation of ordnance (actually maneuvering into range and getting the TL you want on the ship you want to fire at) and I'm glad to see it get punted a little further downrange.

So what do you reckon?  Have I missed some absolute sitters?  What are you looking forward to sifting out of the latest points change?