Wednesday 1 November 2023

The Other Games - What I've Played When I'm Not Playing X-Wing

For a long time I was a one-game kinda guy.  I played Magic, then I played World of Warcraft, then I played Netrunner, then I played Game of Thrones, then I played X-Wing... I moved on but I always kept one game as my focus.

Since lockdown that hasn't been the case and I've been trying to my hand at quite a few different games alongside X-Wing.  I wanted to share my journey through those games, what are they like, and did I have fun?

2021 - Marvel Champions: The Card Game

It’s fair to say that 2020 was an odd year for everyone.  This was when a whole ton of X-Wing play moved online to Tabletop Simulator and has never really looked back.  I tried Tabletop Simulator but quickly decided it wasn’t for me, I probably didn’t manage a dozen games before I gave up on it.  Moving digital ships around a digital tabletop and waggling my cursor around to try and communicate with my opponent was not how I wanted to spend my evening.  I figured out if I wanted to stare at a screen I’d rather be playing on my PS4, and if I wanted to do something with X-Wing I’d rather be doing it on an actual tabletop so in the second half of the year I was mostly playing games against myself and cracking through painting lots and lots (and lots!) of ships.

But as 2020 turned into 2021 and the lockdown and social distancing seemed to have no signs of slowing down I decided to look beyond X-Wing (which I wasn't actually getting to play much anyway) and the thing that caught my eye was Marvel Champions.

  • It’s Marvel.  I like Marvel superheroes.
  • It’s a card game.  I used to be a hardcore Magic player.  I like card games
  • It’s one of FFG’s Living Card Games.  I used to play Netrunner.  I understand the LCG model.
  • It’s solo-playable.  Perfect for those long socially-distanced evenings.
Ok, let's stick that on the christmas list and see if Santa brings it to me!

What Is Marvel Champions?

Marvel Champions sees groups of 1 to 4 players come together as superheroes to defeat a villain’s dastardly plans, with the game mechanics running the villain’s side of the table and the players all working together to save the day.  It's got a really neat mechanic that sees you having to balance time in your superhero persona - where you get to fight bad guys and disrupt their plans, but get attacked and can't heal - with time spent on your everyday alter-ego persona where the villain can't attack you and you can recover, but the villain is free to work towards their evil scheme unhindered.  It's a really nice hook that helps to capture the personality of the heroes as well as just their abilities.

Captain America, for instance, will want to spend most of his time in hero mode and using his shield to avoid taking damage from attacks...

...while Ms Marvel gets a tremendous benefit from going to Alter-Ego frequently and as Kamala Khan having her friends and family around helps her to prepare for the next time she gets to be Ms Marvel.

And Marvel Champions scales nicely across the player counts although I very rapidly found that 1 single hero was quite dull and not very balanced but it was easy enough for a single player to run 2 heroes at once and that was a much better experience.  That ‘dual-wielding’ mode is popular with solo players and it’s how I wound up playing 99% of my games.

The design of FFG’s Living Card Game range is entirely modular – you buy the core set and can there’s then a steady stream of small releases which you can buy as many or as few of as you like.  In Marvel Champions most of those small expansions are in the form of adding a new hero to your collection, so if you want to play as Captain America you buy the Captain America expansion, if you want to play as Wolverine you buy the Wolverine expansion.  In theory, at least.  In reality FFG know their stuff and continually dangle just enough really good cards in each expansion that you’ll feel like there’s something you want in the box even if you don’t want to play as Captain America or Wolverine.  Because so much of the appeal of the game comes in customising your hero’s deck of cards to do exactly what you want it to do to defeat the next villain you’re going to face you’re going to keep being tempted to dig out your wallet for just that one more card you really want.

BTW, if you’re interested in reading more I actually set up a blog like this one for Marvel Champions which ran for pretty much the whole of 2021: Have At Thee.

The first couple of expansion waves were focused around building the Avengers heroes, then the game pivoted into space for Guardians of the Galaxy adventures before returning to earth for Spiderverse characters and then moving on into the X-Men. 


I was fully complete right through until about 18 months ago but then I started to feel like there was diminishing returns in continuing to buy stuff.  

When you buy the Core Set your card pool to design decks from is very small and a lot of the cards are actually not very good.  Your first dozen expansions or so that you buy see you cycling the bad cards out of your decks to put better cards in that you just bought.  The next dozen expansions or so hit a sweet spot for me where I started to have multiple ‘good cards’ and was able to choose the one that would work best with the hero I wanted to play.  I love building decks/squads and optimising them and so around this time the game was really smashing it out of the park and I loved it.  

The Spiderverse wave is where I started to feel like I wasn’t really getting much value out of the new cards, and the game design turned quite insular around this time – so many of the Spiderverse cards only interacted with other Spiderverse cards that I wasn’t gaining new toys for any of my other characters to play with.  My interest was cooling off and so when I found the same experience from the X-Men wave – insular design, less value from incremental purchases – I stopped buying expansions and as IRL X-Wing play started to pick back up again I put Marvel Champions back up onto the shelf.

Did I Like it?

Yeah, I loved it.  I think I should have stopped buying about 6 months before I did and just left the X-Men wave in the store but even though I haven’t touched Champions in a year I have fond memories and many of my favourite heroes are still fully built and ready to go.  What really killed Marvel Champions off, for me, was that those solitary evenings where I’d play a game of Champions turned into a solitary evening where I’d be busy painting miniatures for my next hobby…

2022 - Star Wars Legion

IRL X-Wing play was back at the end of 2021, but attendances were definitely down and all the fuss about 2.5 wasn’t helping.  My regular Friday night games store nights were basically just me and one friend playing against each other every week.  When, one week he said to me “I’ve just bought into Star Wars Legion.  It’s not that bad, £150 got me set up with an army” I could tell that the writing was on the wall for Friday X-Wing nights.  So I bought into Legion too.  

He was wrong about how much I’d spend, though.  By a whole digit.

What Is Star Wars Legion?

You've almost certainly seen it around but if you haven't: Legion is Warhammer 40k set in the Star Wars universe.  Except if you say that to any Legion player who used to play Warhammer they’ll turn a bright shade of red before telling you all the reasons why it’s not just Warhammer 40k.  

But from any sort of distance, if you squint… it’s Warhammer 40k set in the Star Wars universe.  You play on a big table, just like Warhammer.  You have dozens of models, just like Warhammer.  You buy overpriced boxes with not many figures inside that you have to glue together and paint, just like Warhammer.  You move and shoot at each other and roll lots of dice, just like Warhammer.  And yes there’s lots of reasons why it’s also not just Warhammer, but you have to be pretty familiar with both games to work out what they are.

I jumped in with both feet.  I didn’t intend to - I only planned on dipping a toe in the water – but, yeah... as the meme goes, mistakes were made.

In hindsight the mistakes that were made were actually the huge warning signs that I needed to stop and get out.  I kept buying stuff because I wasn’t enjoying playing the game with what I had, but that other unit looked like maybe it would be better or different and I’d enjoy playing the game if I had that unit.  So my limited little Imperial force that I’d planned to build, based around Krennic and Deathtroopers, morphed into me systematically buying everything the Empire could play with as I tried to chase units and armies that I would actually enjoy playing with.  That became buying some Rebels instead because I gave up on enjoying playing as Empire, then that became buying everything in Rebels because I sort of felt like maybe I was starting to enjoy the game and just needed some different Rebels and then I’d really like it.  And then I bought Droids too, because there was a deal on.  And maybe the reason I didn’t enjoy playing with the droids was because I didn’t have *those* units, *those* units would be the ones that I would want to play.

Did I Like It?

Hell, no.  I tried REALLY FUCKING HARD to like Legion.  I threw so much money and time and effort at liking Legion and eventually I just had to give up and accept I really didn’t like the game.  And it wasn’t me, it was the game.  

The short form of why I don’t like Legion is this: I felt like the rules were constantly getting in the way of playing the game.  The game is good, in principle - it’s Star Wars pew pew, I should love it.  There’s a fun subgame around setup and choosing scenarios and deployment and stuff.  The alternating activations adds more depth and strategy than you’d expect at first, and choosing which tactics cards to play each turn could be decisive moments for outplaying opponents.  And the rules are all designed to be straightforward and less fiddly than Warhammer (I’m assured by people who know) so the game flows a bit more quickly.

But the rules… all those quick and simple rules.  All the cut corners and smoothed out edges.  Each rule is simple and makes sense in isolation but frequently adds together with other simple rules to make nonsensical and counter-intuitive things happen.  Those counter-intuitive interactions also create lots of opportunities for gamey people who’ve memorised every bullet point of the rulebook to find all the hidden abuses and maximise them.  

I was trying to play the game as it appeared on the tabletop but that wasn’t what was actually happening when the rules took over.  Sometimes the exact position of a figure on the table would matter down to the millimetre with tremendous importance, and other times the characters behaved as though they weren’t actually standing where their figure was, that was just like the centre of a gaussian probability distribution for where they actually were when they wanted to do something.  And the fun stuff like setting up scenarios at the start – it turned out that’s often used to ensure games are functionally over before they begin by bidding so deep in your army list (remember bidding?  Remember how good it was to get rid of it?) that you could create a Hobson’s Choice for your opponent where every scenario was skewed massively in favour of the type of army you’ve decided to make.  And the importance of those tactics cards you play each turn?  They’re actually wombo combo generators that can easily take over the game and make everything else irrelevant.  Or so it felt as I struggled to just turn up with things I liked and play a game.

Oh, and it was an FFG game and I could see so many of the same DNA strands of what had gone wrong in 1st Edition X-Wing present in what was going wrong in Legion during the time I was playing it.  Increasingly overpowered offense requiring them to print overpowered defense which then required them to print even more overpowered offense… that death wobble of power creep, hyper-modified dice and token-stacking was well underway.  I mean, it’s a game where unpreventable damage (which X-Wing learned was a feelsbad experience) is a celebrated core mechanic. 

Rather than try to convince all the people who like Legion that it’s actually a bad game I’ll stop there and end with the three things pop into my head first when I see the Star Wars Legion logo.

  1. I had a great time collecting and building and painting my armies.  It’s Star Wars and I learned a lot from painting them (I hadn’t done Warhammer in 30 years) and planning and collecting my forces was a lot of fun.  That fun ended when I got to the table but the prep time was evenings well spent.

  2. The rules making no sense is encapsulated by the time that my Han Solo shot at his Darth Vader and wound up killing a trooper who neither Han or Darth could see because he was standing behind a house about 12" away from anyone involved.  Each rule was correctly applied and the end result was ridiculous as Han's blaster shot apparently bounced around several corners to hit this guy.

  3. I had my breakthrough game where I felt like I finally got the rules, felt fully engaged with them rather than have them get in the way, made good good decisions, won the game.  Then when I discussed that great game experience with another player it turned out that we only had the satisfying game that we’d had because we’d been getting several rules wrong.  The rules SHOULD have spoiled our game and the only reason we had fun was because we accidentally ignored them.

My last throw of the dice trying to like Legion was to join a mini-league and force myself to play a faction a bunch of times in proper games.  I played my last game of that league between Christmas and New Year in 2022.  I didn’t intend that to be my last ever game but I’ve actually not looked at Legion for a heartbeat since and I’ve not missed it one bit.

2023 - Actually just X-Wing for a bit

I blogged my way through this period but the reason I put a hard stop on Legion at end of 2022 was so that I could focus on playing X-Wing ahead of my trip to the World Championships.  So from January to April I was pretty hardcore about being X-Wing focused.  It was great to return to the game in a more dedicated way even if I kept managing to miss out on playing as much as I'd hoped to prepare.

Prep was great, worlds was great.  I came back and flew some jank I'd been waiting to play and that was great.  And then about 5 minutes into this latest iteration of points my enthusiasm for X-Wing was virtually entirely snuffed out.  My last X-Wing tournament was several months ago, I dropped out halfway through because I wasn't having fun.

I still play X-Wing about half the weeks at my FLGS, I keep my eye in and play my lists and try not to worry too much about how many Falcons and Lukes and T-70s I see on the tables around me.  But my desire to play it more often has gone right now, and I've gone back to switching X-Wing up with a second game for the rest of the year...

2023 - Blood Bowl

As it happens, the World Championships at Adepticon was where I accidentally fell into the game that I have tried out for the past six months: Blood Bowl.  While Adepticon was closing up I wandered the traders hall.  The last few dollars I’d got out for spending money burning a hole in my pocket but I knew I had limited space in my suitcase to take home anything I would buy.  The compromise I came to was to buy a nice 3rd party Blood Bowl team.  It was relatively high value but small and easy to pack and I figured I’d try to sell it when I got home and if I couldn’t sell them I could at least have a fun painting project.

I actually used to play Blood Bowl waayyyy back before I went to university, and I’d actually bought and half-painted an Old World Alliance team in 2020 as a lockdown project.  One of the world’s longest-running Blood Bowl leagues actually meets in my FLGS on the same night as X-Wing night so I always saw people playing it.  So I grabbed a rulebook, a board and some dice and together with another local X-Wing player I set about dabbling in Blood Bowl again.  

I painted up my Old World team, I painted up my new 3rd party team….

 I kind of got the bug and painted up a Chaos team as well.  

And then I hacked up some Ewoks and Wookiees from Legion and made another team.  For a while I had more Blood Bowl teams than games of Blood Bowl I’d played!

What is Blood Bowl?

Are you serious?  It’s Blood Bowl.  A light Games Workshop game of fantasy football (the American version) featuring Orcs and Elves beating each other up while trying to score touchdowns.  Games are high in variance but a lot of the enjoyment of the game comes from how your teams and players develop and learn skills, pickup injuries, are born, live and die… all during the course of one or more Blood Bowl league seasons.  For a Games Workshop game it’s incredibly cheap to get into as you only really need like 15-16 models, which is probably one reason why Games Workshop hide it away in the furthest darkest corner of their store while shining a spotlight on their new Tyranid army box and all the stuff they actually want to sell you.

Did I Like It?

Disappointingly… no.  I have incredibly fond memories of playing Blood Bowl as a teen and was really looking forward to it.  My first few games with that fellow X-Wing player saw us relearning the game together and having a great time.  Then we decided we were ready to move on up to play proper players and joined an offshoot of the local league and my enjoyment of the game almost immediately hit a brick wall.

What I learned is that when bad players play Blood Bowl it’s really fun and exciting and loads is happening as the action wobbles all over the pitch.  Each badly-executed turn opens up an opportunity for the opponent to punish your mistakes, which you in turn can punish on your turn.  

When *good* players play Blood Bowl, especially good players who’ve been playing every week for 20 years, it’s a very different experience.  Blood Bowl becomes cerebral, slow, mathematical, risk-averse and very deliberate… and Jesus Christ, I was bored.  I got tired of watching my opponents turns helplessly and hoping for the Blood Bowl variance slot machine (that only had a 3% chance of my opponent failing an action) to finally come up as triple cherries and let me actually do something.

I think I would probably like bad Blood Bowl but good Blood Bowl is not my cup of tea at all.  I have a couple more games to play to see out my obligations in the local league but then I'm going to be finished with it.

2024 – Marvel Crisis Protocol?

After a few detours I’m back at square one.  X-Wing isn’t as all-consuming for me as it once was.  In person play is still at a low ebb and online play still doesn’t interest me.  There’s Shatterpoint, but I’m backing away from that one for a couple of reasons: I’m still stinging from how badly my time with Legion went and though Shatterpoint is different it’s maybe a bit too close to Legion, and I also feel like Shatterpoint is a bit of a doomed game.  It doesn’t seem like many people around me are playing it, possibly precisely because X-Wing, Warhammer and Legion are so strong here that everyone has already had a game to play and didn’t look at Shatterpoint.

But then I remembered something… I’d already bought Marvel Crisis Protocol!

Duh.  How do you forget buying a whole game?

I’d bought MCP early last year when there was a core set on a good deal.  I’d primed the minis and painted a couple of them then Legion had taken over my time and Crisis Protocol got shunted to a bottom shelf of my collection and started to gather dust.

What is Marvel Crisis Protocol?

MCP is another Atomic Mass Games game and the more I look into it the more I can see the DNA strands that they’ve been pulling into X-Wing with their rules and scenario changes and with Standardised Loadout cards.  I can even see the beginnings of what they could do if they travelled further in this direction with X-Wing for a proper ‘3rd Edition’.  In Marvel Crisis Protocol you start by picking a roster of 10 heroes, then you decide the scenario (or ‘Crisis’) that will be played and that determines the points value that will be played in this game and you pick characters from your roster up to that points level, reacting at the table to the 10 characters you can see your opponent has available in their roster.  I can see that sort of approach working for X-Wing.  But anyway... I digress.

The two things I’ve been told most consistently about MCP as I’ve been getting into it has been: 1) you can play whatever heroes you like (people always say this when you’re learning a game, it’s never true) and 2) there’s a ton of dice variance involved.  I’m not so sure about 1) being any more correct in MCP than it is in X-Wing, it seems like some characters are ‘good’ and some characters are ’less good’ just as has always been true in every other game I’ve played but there seems to be a lot of room for surprising opponents with offbeat choices or unexpected synergies and interactions.  

I can see that 2) is probably right, though – all the various effects of all the heroes and their superpowers are channeled through dice very much like X-Wing’s attack/defence dice, but instead of having four results possible (blank, focus, hit, crit) the MCP dice have 6 different results and so each dice roll is capable of heading off in wildly different directions.  Accepting those whims of fate and responding to them seems a key skill for MCP and I can imagine it would frustrate some players but I actually kind of like it.

I know the designers of MCP used to play X-Wing and I can see how X-Wing informed some of their decisions.  And I can see how it's now looping back into X-Wing as they come back and take it under their wing.  X-Wing and MCP are like brothers, even though maybe one of them is adopted.

Did I Like It?

It’s too early to tell.  I’m optimistic, though.

In the last month I’ve been enjoying painting up the core set miniatures and then started to gradually research the game and the affiliations and slowly assemble a team.  I thought the sculpts were going to be too advanced for my level of painting but actually I’ve had a good time tackling them and I’m proud of how a lot of them look.  

I’ve also played my first game of Marvel Crisis Protocol, against one of my old X-Wing friends who had migrated over onto MCP last year.  And… it was fun.  Dice were wild and all sorts of things happened but my big takeaway from the game was how thematic all the wild things seemed to actually be.  Black Panther was a blur, leaping from opponent to opponent.  Iron Man took a beating but deflecting his reflector beam off Cap’s shield to take down Star-Lord was a cinematic piece of teamwork.  Cap turtled up behind his shield and was an absolute tank, while on the other side of the table She-Hulk smashed up scenery and opponents in equal measure with the final coup de grace being a beautiful moment of clonking Nebula and Drax’s heads together to take them both out in one attack.

So I think I’m in to try MCP out properly.  I’ve no idea which characters are ‘good’ in MCP but I know which Marvel superheroes and villains I like the most so I’m letting that lead me on most of the decisions.  

I’ve got to be really careful, though.  MCP works around an overlapping system of character loyalties called ‘Affiliations’ rather than the rigid ‘Factions’ I’ve had in X-Wing and Legion.  When you buy War Machine he’s linked to the Avengers affiliation but he’s also linked to SHIELD.  So now you’ve got one foot in SHIELD and if you just added Nick Fury you could play a SHIELD list… and if you’ve got Black Panther then you’ve got the Wakanda leader and he’s come with Killmonger so you’re actually close to playing a Wakandan team if you add Okoye and Shuri… and Okoye can work with A-Force alongside She-Hulk and Black Widow that you’ve already got from the Avengers.  It’s a slippery slope and I can see how hard it may be to pull those blinkers down and say your collection is finished and you don’t need anything else.  The next thing you could add is always going to placed juuuuust within your reach to tempt you.  I’m definitely going to stick with Avengers though.  And maybe SHIELD as an option within my 10-man roster.  Or A-Force.  Or Wakanda.  I’m definitely not going to get into Spidey-Foes.  Definitely.

And I’m mindful that I’ve been here before.  I don’t want to remake the mistakes I made in chasing that I would enjoy playing Legion, or take for granted that I’ll still enjoy the game once I get into playing it properly as happened for Blood Bowl.

I Think I Did A Learn

Writing this blog has helped me to maybe crystallise what it is that I like and don't like about the games I'm playing, which I'd not noticed until I put them all side by side like this.  X-Wing is a very intuitive game to play and experience - by and large what is happening in the game is what it *looks like* is happening on the table.  It's thematic and it makes sense, you could get into the flow of what is happening with each move and dice roll.

In its own way Marvel Champions is like this, it may all be cardboard but you can very well understand what is actually happening in the game.  It's not just a calculator moving around numbers, it's thematic and narrative and it tells a story.

Legion was not like that, and the fact that the rules kept ignoring what the game state *looked like* was happening to make artificial and arbitrary decisions in order to keep the game moving along and determine a winner was a continuing stumbling block for me.  I had a game where I'd killed all but 4 more of my opponents models but three of those models were standing in contact with crates while the dozens of soldiers I had left were only standing *near* to crates.  So I lost.  It's the rules but it's counter-intuitive, or feels so to me.

And Blood Bowl as well, once you played it properly it looked like a chaotic frenzy of action and violence but was in fact more like playing Minesweeper.  That dissonance between the concept and the reality left me cold.

So Crisis Protocol, where my first experience of the game was one of "wow, this is all mega thematic and I can picture what's happening"... that's hopefully a good start for appealing to what *I* like about games.

Monday 3 July 2023

Begun, the Initiative Wars Have

Ooh, I’m in a funk about X-Wing.

I like my blog to be positive and optimistic so usually when I’m in a funk about X-Wing (which does happen from time to time) I’ll just not write a blog about it.  In this case I really want to just get it out of my system and hopefully there’ll be some catharsis in this, I’ll shake it off and be right back to feeling chipper about the game.

So, my last blog saw me navel-gazing about the prospect of going to the UK Games Expo regional national world championship qualifier whatever event under the old points regime.  Fortunately my problem was solved moments after I wrote that blog because we got the new points update, and so I was able to swiftly switch gears and start looking at what new nastiness I could brew up in a short space of time.

I’m one of those people who LOVES it when something new lands and shakes a game up.  I always have been, right back in playing Magic: The Gathering in the 1990s the new blocks, new expansions, new formats were always where I got to stretch my deckbuilding/squadbuilding wings and try to get out ahead of the competition for a brief period.  So the new points landed for X-Wing and I was like…

But then pretty soon I was like…

And now I’m like…

I like almost everything about X-Wing 2.5.  I like ROAD, I like bumping with focus, I like objectives, I like the split points squadbuilding, I like the asteroid rules… to varying degrees I think Atomic Mass have done an excellent job in putting their mark on the game with a clear vision of how different the game could be and still be basically the same.  I’ve stood up and championed AMG in various places around the internet, not because I need to support them but because I think they’ve been getting things right.  

But I worry a lot about the impact these new points are having.


X-Wing is a game that has survived for a decade and proven very popular and successful.  For most of that time the most commonly played format of game has been within pretty well-defined and unchanging parameters: a 3x3 game area, played with squads of 100pts of ships (that then became 200pts of ships, but ships cost twice as much as they used to).  I would suggest that some of the fundamental game mechanics are balanced around situations that occur on a 3x3 table with 100/200pts of ships, by which I mean things like how fast ships move, how long a range ruler is, how wide firing arcs are, how many turns ships survive can incoming shots and their points cost relative to that.  Those are the situations the game was balanced around.

At the start of the year we were already playing lists that were probably more like 250-270pts in old money.  I felt like the game system was starting to stretch at the seams, but at the same time the move to objectives had meant those 250 points actually tended to be spread around the table a little bit more widely, so often it was more like you were playing two 125pt games at the same time and the effect of that points inflation wasn’t being felt too badly.  At the same time, though, I was very clear on what I thought the next round of points change should be – the good stuff like Vader, Scorch, Boba etc needed to get a bit more expensive, so that the rest of the game could close the gap and be considered worth playing.  

What we actually got was the opposite.  Instead of a deflationary points change we actually saw points inflation turbo-charged to the extent that very few of the things that were good in March could still keep up with the pace that was being set in May.  From being a ~250pts game it was now pretty reasonable to be fielding around ~300pts of value on the table.

I think that’s right at the red line limit of breaking the game.  

When the opponent can field ~300pts of efficient damage-dealing ships, especially when they can do it at a high Initiative, it becomes almost impossible to cost a lot of ships where they’re playable.  There’s 50% more lasers sitting across the table now than there was in 2020, but your ships don’t have 50% more Hull and Shields, they just melt faster.  And when that fire is all coming in at I5-I6 your ships could well be melting before they even get to attack.  What’s an attractive cost for a ship that will never fire and just gives the opponent 20% of their win condition when you put it into the table?  There isn’t one.

This has been a very theoretical fear that I’ve held ever since I saw how aggressively the points were being pushed, and to be honest I was a bit surprised that we didn’t already hit this problem in the last points iteration.  Potentially we actually did start to hit it and I didn’t notice it personally because I was playing the good stuff – if you look back at the old points there was a lot of stuff that was simply pushed out of the game.  But I also think that the way the efficiency point seemed to pivot around I4 ships that were primarily jousters meant the game retained a decent amount of balance and flexibility.  There was still room for I5 and I6 ships to ace their way around the table against the I4 jousting blocks.

In the new points it seems like the efficiency of I4 has gone and there’s no longer any real brakes on the Initiative inflation – you can bring ship-melting firepower at I5 and I6, you don’t have to play I4 at all.  And that seems to be shrinking the available pool of options exponentially vs what we had just a few months ago.  I think the initial response of players was to go “oh wow, everything got cheaper, I can add an extra ship!” but that has quickly turned into “oh wow, everything got cheaper, now I can just play higher initiatives!”.  The reality of using those extra points to buy more ships turned out to be that you were just feeding points to the guys who used them to buy high initiative sledgehammers instead.

Personal opinion, which may be wrong and you are free to disagree with – I find it difficult to justify playing any ships of Initiative 1-4 at present (aside from obvious stuff like the TIE Bombers), because they’re just going to get initiative-killed.  As players increasingly move towards big Initiative numbers it feels like in the majority of games it seems like an I4 pilot may as well be I1.

And I think the problems start to compound each other very rapidly once it becomes too easy to bring a lot of I5+ firepower.  

  • You degrade the effectiveness of another massive chunk of pilots at I4, who used to be able to trade shots but now are quite likely to die without firing.  

  • You degrade the value of arc-dodging and positional aces at I5.  More of the time they’re going to be moving first against the big guns across the table and can’t rely on being able to arc dodge an I4 jousting block.

  • The more the game consolidates onto I5-I6 the more the ROAD roll will come to be pivotal in who moves first and decide more games.  And that matters A LOT more when players are tied at I5 than it did when you were tied at I4 because the I5 ships tend to include more aces with positioning/positional abilities.

  • The more that I5-I6 jousting blocks come to be dominantly successful the more we pull back from the advantages of spreading those squad points over a wide table and the more we see the consolidated firepower of 300pts brought to bear on a single spot.  

  • We've seen the variation of 3-ship to 6-ship squads pretty much entirely gone in favour 4-5 ship squads of high initiative pilots.  So as much as high-ship count efficiency lists are being removed by initiative kills I also think it makes things much harder for low ship count ‘murder lists’ to work.  A big ship like Rey or Boba usually had the advantage of knowing where the opponent was to arc-dodge and the advantage of being able to initiative-kill opponents, all to offset the natural disadvantages of bringing a lower ship count.

Oh, and another thing.  The lower loadout points.  That’s something I didn’t expect to be annoyed by but actually it’s really pissed me off because just as the game as hardened into a tough problem that I’d usually set out to try and crack creatively, I’ve had a lot of my choices for how to be creative with B-Tier ships taken away by their reduced opportunity for customisation.  

I didn't know where to stick that loadout gripe into the narrative flow of this blog so I just hurled it there.  Sorry!


I wanted to add some wider context to my own personal experiences, so I turned to Listfortress and Metawing.  I pulled all the recent tournament results, sorted by Pilot, and then I compared them to what was being played in April and May until the points changed.

At the crudest level, I looked at how each Initiative tier was performing.

In the old points you could see the impact of that I4 jousting efficiency that I talked about and the variation of successful and unsuccessful initiative values as you moved up through the tiers.  In the new points the story is sadly a lot clearer – every Initiative does better, on average, than the one below it.

There’s a further detail here, actually, which I want to point out – I3 and I4 are very close to each other on the face of it.  The only reason I3 is so close to I4 is one pilot – Keo Venzee, who tends to crop up next to Han Solo in the big Rebel lists we see around.  If you take Keo out of the mix then the whole of the rest of the I3 pilots drop away from the I4 pilots and sit a lot closer to I2.  

So does that mean Keo is really good?  He’s played all the time and has a high win rate.  Well, before the points change Keo was also played a lot but had a very low win rate.  I would suggest Keo is a small cog in a big machine and his win rate is not about what Keo himself does, but about how good all the I5 and I6 pilots around him are.

I3 Pilots in the old points

I3 Pilots in the new points

So is playing more I6 pilots really the easy answer?  It’s always more complicated than that, but I’d like to share the journey I’ve been on in the few games of X-Wing that I’ve played in the new points.

At first I played a melange of I3-I5 pilots, but found myself losing ships to being initiative killed too often.  So I made a Republic list with four I5 pilots and Anakin as an I6.  And that was fun for a couple of weeks but then there was a noticeable change in the lists I was playing against as my opponents adjusted to play more I5 and I6 pilots themselves.  My initiative advantage was removed and replaced, in the first instance, by the fact that ROAD now mattered hugely as I was trying to land a lot of positional effects at I5 (CLT arcs, Chopper R1 bubbles etc).  The another week or two went by, and now my opponents were bringing multiple I6 pilots and simply moving after me and countering my positioning abilities.

So I played with one I6 pilot and lost to the list with two I6 pilots.  I  learned my lesson and a fortnight later I played with three I6 pilots instead and beat the list with two I6 pilots.  This past weekend I saw multiple lists capable of making 4 or 5 attacks at I6, all to get ahead of the other I5 and I6 lists.  It seems like a lot of players are in a race of trying to scramble over each other for who fires first and hardest… and that’s a race where we’re going to hit the ceiling pretty damn soon because there’s not that many ways of firing 4 or 5 times at I6.

So far the movement of pilots through the initiative is quite gradual - about 4% of I1 to I3 pilots have moved up to I4+, but that trend is accelerating and I expect it to continue as the store championship season cements players into the most successful archetypes.

There's another smoking gun to watch the rise of in this metagame: Swarm Tactics.  In First Edition we had periods of time when Veteran Instincts became an essential Pilot Talent upgrade because of how fierce the Initiative wars were.  We don't Veteran Instincts around any more (thankfully) but we do have Swarm Tactics as a crutch that players can use to bring even more guns to bear at high initiative phases of combat.  In the old points Swarm Tactics was in 5% of squads (basically just the Midnight/Whirlwind combo that Chrispy popularised) while in the new points it's already in over 8% of squads and being used by multiple factions, especially Rebels.


We've been here before, of course.  Sometimes the X-Wing competitive metagame makes me happy and sometimes it doesn't.  In the past I've always been happy to duck away from competition for a while (eg. pretty much the whole of 2017!) and just go and pootle around with some janky stuff on the kitchen tablex, play tournaments only now and then.  It's frustrating that I can't really do that because the loadouts have been so culled, and it's not helping that the power level of the high initative ships is so strong that it can't really be bridged by a smattering of cunning tricks and a can-do attitude. 

So… I’m in a proper funk with X-Wing.  My squad builder has never been used so little because the idea of trying to build a squad to solve this problem seems largely futile.  If I1-I4 pilots are mostly bad then I’m immediately building my list almost entirely from a much smaller pool of I5-I6 pilots.  I’ve got less pilots to choose from and less points to customise them with.  For the first time in the entire six years of my playing X-Wing I’ve simply built a squad, put it in a box and then forgotten about squadbuilding and just taken the same thing everywhere.

But on the bright side... if you look at List Fortress there’s FAR more squads registered in the new points than there was in the old points, even though there’s a bigger time span in the old points.  The relaunch of proper official Organised Play tracks has seen activity pick up massively.  It’s great to see that many events of X-Wing being made, that many games being played.  Great that so many people who had been turned off 2.5 are coming back to it and finding it’s not what they feared it was.  Even if I'm personally in a funk as it happens.

I’m just a bit concerned that they’re returning just as so many of the things they worried about are finally coming true.  

  • Granularity of points *shouldn’t* be an issue in a game with a two-tiered points system because you can compensate for one with the other, but at the moment it feels like the expensive ships have been brought down in cost so much that the points are less granular in 2.5 than they’ve ever been and the dynamic range for ship costing is narrower than it’s ever been.
  • It feels like the random variance of ROAD rolls matter more than ever as we’re all cramming ourselves onto an Initiative system with basically only three settings (I6, I5, Everything Else) and we’re all overlapping, and overlapping with pilots and ships where the timing can really matter.  I played 2.5 from day one and I’ve complained more about ROAD influencing games in the last month than I have in the whole time leading up to it.
  • Squadbuilding decision-making is being simplified to moving a few Duplo blocks around for maybe the first time in 2.5.  We’re still not in a world where we’re being forced to take Standardised Loadout versions of pilots and there’s no customisation, but the potential for customisation has been cut thinner than we’ve ever had it.

All though all the hoo-ha about X-Wing 2.5 and the transition to Atomic Mass Games my advice to people who didn’t like what was happening to X-Wing was simple: stop playing X-Wing and do something else instead.  And so that’s what I’m finding myself increasingly doing… I’m doing something else.  I’ve got my squad, I can leave it in a box and not worry about it and not have to open my squadbuilder and not have to think about X-Wing or talk about X-Wing because right now X-Wing isn’t holding my attention.  

Right now I’m actually playing Blood Bowl for the first time since 1995, and I’m waiting for my Kickstartered copy of the Apex Legends game to arrive, and those are happily filling the gap that X-Wing has left.

So, it’s kinda sad that I’m feeling disappointed when a Blood Bowl game falls through and I *have* to play X-Wing instead.  But also if I’m having fun doing something else instead then it’s kinda positive too.  

I hope that the next iteration of X-Wing points reverses a lot of what has happened.  Or that somebody cleverer than me finds a way to pivot this I5-I6 dominated metagame on its head and reopen up squadbuilding and game play.  And while everyone else seems to be having loads of fun playing X-Wing then clearly something is going right.  I'm happy to be at the thin end of the wedge.

Even if, right now, I’m in a proper funk about X-Wing.