"Twice the pride: double the fall"
*** UPDATED NOVEMBER 2020 ***
The Separatists are a loose coalition of all the various interest groups that have been coerced into serving Darth Sidious' nefarious scheme. In this faction you'll find iconic villains like Darth Maul, Count Dooku and General Grievous but also the Trade Federations squadrons of mass-produced Vulture Droids and the weapons of the insectoid Geonosians who played such a pivotal role in developing the Death Star. As well as featuring across the prequel trilogy of films they've also had a prominent role in the Clone Wars cartoon series
As befits a faction that brings together such a wide range of different groups the Separatist squads can be very different to one another, and their ships often have very little in common in terms of how they work on the table in Miniatures Game form. We've seen hugely successful swarms of Vulture and Hyena Droids and we've seen the deadly Nantex swarm to great effect, but we've only occasionally seen the various parts of the Separatist movement successfully coalesce into one squad. The ships are so different to each other I think it can be a real challenge to get them all pulling in the same direction at the same time.
What almost every Separatist ship and squad does have in common, though, is that they're probably the single most complicated and frustrating faction to learn to play. I described the Jedi as "easy to learn but difficult to master" and by that measure the Separatists are probably "difficult to learn and even harder to master". The Belbullab is probably the only 'normal' ship the Separatists have to call upon while all the others rely heavily on players mastering tricky combinations of unusual maneuver dials and fragile ships that are propped up by complex abilities and interactions, and a need for extremely accurate flying.
Take that as a warning but also as a recommendation. The Separatists can do some amazing tricks and completely baffle opponents with all the options available to them... once you've got past the bit where they baffle you trying to play them! There's a lot of fun to be had from just how different the Separatist ships are but if you're jumping into X-Wing for the first time then this is definitely the deep end and you're in for a pretty steep learning curve
2) STARTING SQUADS
If you're still reading after my concerted efforts to scare you away from playing Separatists then congratulations! You should steel yourself for one more piece of bad news, though: because the Separatist faction features the cheapest ships in the game (points-wise) they can actually be one of the most expensive factions to play (wallet-wise). When you pay $20 for a T-65 X-Wing you're filling out 40-50pts in your squad, while that same $20 of Vulture Droid only goes half as far in terms of getting you to 200pts.
The Servants of Strife expansion pack was designed as the introduction to the Separatist faction and it's still a fantastic place to start your collection. This pack gives you three ships for the price of two so it's a good head start on building your ship numbers. It's also the only box that has General Grievous' Belbullab starfighter in, so for that reason alone you're likely to wind up buying Servants of Strife eventually even if it's not your first purchase.
CIS on the Cheap (200pts)
- General Grievous (Bellabub) - Outmaneuver, Impervium Plating, Soulless One
- Jango Fett (Firespray) - Lone Wolf, Zam Wessell, Thermal Detonators, False Transponder Codes, Hull Upgrade
- Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Grappling Struts
- Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Grappling Struts
Purchases Required: Core Set, Servants of Strife, Jango Fett's Slave I ($110)
The aim of the game here is to get Jango Fett to be your last ship on the table so he can mop up what's left of the opponent. General Grievous is a huge threat when he has Outmaneuver so the opponent should try and chase him first, giving you time for Jango and your Vultures to destroy as many ships as possible. It's actually unusual to see a Separatist squad with so few ships and a lot of that is down to Networked Calculations, the Vulture Droid's innate ability to share Calculate tokens between each other. Hurling as many Vultures onto the table as possible has a proven success rate and with their networked calculations ability each droid makes the others stronger. They just drain your wallet to do so, unfortunately.
This squad below is on the way towards a more typical Vulture swarm, starting to build some strength in numbers. Even this is scrimping some to save the wallet, though. The HMP Gunship is interchangeable with a Nantex starfighter or even a Tri-Fighter, but if you were really looking for the maximum value it would probably just turn into another three Vulture Droids (for $140 not the $100 here)!
- General Grievous (Belbullab) - Treacherous, Soulless One
- Geonosian Prototype (HMP Gunship) - Synced Laser Cannons, Repulsorlift Stabilisers, Kraken
- Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Discord Missiles
- Trade Federation Droid (Vulture) - Discord Missiles
- Trade Federation Droid (Vulture)
- Trade Federation Droid (Vulture)
Purchases Required: Servants of Strife, Vulture Droid expansion x2, HMP Gunship expanson ($100)
So far both these squads have started with a Servants of Strife expansion but with the newer ships released in second of 2020 it's no longer such an essential starting point. Here is a squad that ignores the Servants of Strife and goes directly to all the more complicated and interesting ships in the Separatist faction...
Technological Terror (200pts)
- 0-66 (Sith Infiltrator) - Plasma Torpedoes, DRK-1 Probe Droids, Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious, Hull Upgrade
- DIS-347 (Tri-Fighter) - Marg-Sabl Closure, Intercept Boosters
- Geonosian Prototype (HMP Gunship) - Synced Laser Cannons, Repulsorlift Stabilisers
- Techno-Union Bomber (Hyena Bomber) - Proton Torpedoes, Landing Struts
Purchases Required: Sith Infiltrator expansion, Tri-Fighter expansion, HMP Gunship expanson, Hyena Bomber expansion ($100)
Those target locks allow 0-66 and the Techno-Union Bomber to fire their deadly torpedoes, they also allow the Geonosian Prototype to reroll it's attack dice with its Networked Aim ability, and finally having target locks strewn around helps DIS-347 with his pilot ability too. The abilities don't stop there, because 0-66 also has Darth Sidious aboard and his coordinate ability can really add a lot to how the Tri-Fighter moves and has lots of defensive tokens. And three out of your four ships have unique movement upgrades to manage too in the Intercept Boosters, Repulsorlift Stabilisers and Landing Struts!
Get it all wrong and all of those synergies fall apart. You wont be able to fire your torpedoes, your Gunship won't be able to reroll dice, your Tri-Fighter won't pick up a target lock and you'll have spent loads of points on effects and abilities you can't use. And THAT is really what the Separatist faction is all about in a nutshell!
3) SHIP BY SHIP GUIDE
Vulture Droid (Wave 3)
Hard to fly, Strong
Trade Federation Vulture Droids are currently the cheapest ships in the whole game, which makes sense as stat-wise they're also the worst ships in the game. That individual weakness is more than made up for just how many Vulture Droids you can hurl onto the table at once, though, and through their Networked Calculations ability the swarm grows stronger as it gets larger. Despite being the 'worst' and most fragile ship in the game the Vulture Droids have actually been terrorising competitive X-Wing tournaments for the last few months.
They're not easy to fly, though. Their robotic nature means they have a maneuver dial that loves to work in binary 90-degree turns "Left, Right, Forwards!!!" but only reluctantly switches to analogue diagonal lanes. You need to plan ahead to minimise the impact of that weakness, while opponents will certainly try to exploit it. Although surprisingly effective in a swarm Vulture Droids also explode very quickly once they're isolated so they can be a very frustrating place for a new player to join the game.
But the sheer number of guns you can put on the table...
Also of Interest: Discord Missiles (Vulture expansion, Tri-Fighter expansion)
Belbullab-22 (Wave 3 in Servants of Strife)
Easy to fly, Average strength
In a faction of oddballs and outcasts the Belbullab-22 is pretty much the only 'normal' X-Wing ship that the Separatists have to play with. It's got an average number of red dice, a pretty average amount of agility and hull, a pretty average action bar and maneuver dial, and even the pilot abilities are pretty normal.
Although there's no separate expansion for it you get the Belbullab in the Servants of Strife expansion pack, and for most purposes that one Belbullab is probably going to be all you need. They're good ships and in Captain Sear or General Grievous they're decent additions to a swarm of Vulture Droids, particularly as the Belbullab can equip a Tactical Relay to buff all the nearby droids. But you're rarely going to want 2 of them. They're just a bit too 'normal'.
Also of Interest: None
Sith Infiltrator (Wave 3)
Hard to fly, Weak
The Sith Infiltrator is the ship that Darth Maul flew to Tatooine in The Phantom Menace and in the X-Wing Miniatures Game the Sith assassin can be replaced by Count Dooku as a pilot. The Infiltrator's big problem comes from being a large based ship with just a front-facing weapons arc. That's a combination that's always been problematic as it makes it difficult for the Infiltrator to keep its arc pointing at things it wants to shoot, and it takes a lot of forward planning to ensure that Maul or Dooku are in the right place when the shooting starts.
However... although the Sith Infiltrator itself is pretty weak this expansion pack is actually pretty important to pick up anyway because it has some very good upgrade cards. In particular the DRK-1 Probe Droids are a staple for the Separatist faction and 'unlock' a lot of what ships like the Hyena Bomber has to offer by giving you target locks before the firing starts. It also has General Grievous, Count Dooku and Darth Sidious crew cards and they may prove really useful aboard Jango Fett's Slave-I.
Also of Interest: Proton Torpedoes (Core Set)
Hyena Bomber (Wave 4)
Hard to fly, Average strength
The Hyena is the Vulture Droid's bigger, meaner brother. As this is the Separatists faction, though, it defies such simple classification and in fact every Hyena pilot in the game has different upgrade slots. Some are bombers, some are torpedo carriers, some are support ships, some are jousters... that alone makes them a pretty complex ship to squadbuild for as they all have their own unique roles to play.
Hyena Bombers have now proven their worth to Separatist forces in several configurations - as torpedo-flinging artillery alongside DRK-1 Probe Droids, as frustrating Proximity-Mining close quarters combat forces, and the unique DBS-404 is a potent threat capable of rolling 6 red dice at range 1! The annoying bit about the Hyena Bomber is that almost all these uses require you finding the right upgrades from elsewhere so it might be an awkward ship to pick up if you've not got the right toys to make it work.
Also of Interest: Proton Torpedoes (Core Set), DRK-1 Probe Droids (Sith Infiltrator), Proximity Mines (Slave-I, Fully Loaded, Decimator), Advanced Proton Torpedoes (Sith Infiltrator, Fully Loaded)
Nantex Starfighter (Wave 5)
Very Hard to fly, Strong
Ah, the dreaded Nantex... there's probably not a single ship more hated by the broad X-Wing gaming population. The Separatist faction trades on complex and awkward interactions and in the Nantex that manifests as manipulating gravity fields in how their ships fly and attack, thanks to the controversial Ensnare pilot ability. At face value a Nantex starfighter is a fragile little ship with a limited range of movement, but once the Nantex pilot starts shifting gravity fields around they can appear in unexpected places and with Ensnare they can even move opposing ships to lock them in place with tractor beams!
History Lesson: For a lot of players the Nantex' Ensnare ability to create large 'no-go' zones on the table proved less fun than the game designers probably anticipated. FFG put the points cost of Ensnare up to make players happy and suddenly the Nantex disappeared entirely from tables. Then in July 2020 FFG put the cost of the basic Nantex ship down so people would use them and swarms of six Ensnare-less Nantex immediately took over and won everything in sight, leading to an emergency points change a couple of months later.
Touch wood, Nantex are finally in a good place - playable with or without Ensnare but not incredibly unpleasant to play against. Personally I think they're a fun and whizzy little ship and like how their unique tractor/turret interaction works, but they don't naturally fit into all the target lock/calculate synergies that are so much a part of the Separatist identity. I'd recommend picking one up to try out Chertek or Sun Fac first and see if you like them before buying more.
Also of Interest: Crack Shot (Servants of Strife)
HMP Gunship (Wave 7)
Average to fly, Average strength
You can find my full review of this expansion pack here.
The HMP Gunship would be just another missile & cannon boat without its unique Repulsorlift Stabilisers configuration, which allows the ship to strafe around the table in ways no other ship can do. That makes the HMP both a useful offensive threat that can track targets as they maneuver, and it also makes the HMP hard to pin down because while most ships fly forwards the HMP can potentially zip off in three different directions. Although there are a lot of upgrade options in the Gunship's loadout you can keep it pretty simple, just give it a gun and enjoy sidestepping your way to success - you may want to track down some DRK-1 Probe Droids from the Sith Infiltrator though!
Also of Interest: Diamond-Boron Missiles (Hyena Bomber), DRK-1 Probe Droids (Sith Infiltrator)
Tri-Fighter (Wave 8)
Hard to Fly, Average strength
The Tri-Fighter is the Separatist equivalent to the Empire's TIE Interceptor - it's a super-fast ship with strong cannons that will melt under fire faster than a Ben & Jerry's stand in the Australian outback! This ship was only released a few days before I wrote this guide, but my initial take on the ship is that with the way the pilots are costed it seems like we're being steered towards playing just one or two Tri-Fighters as a flanking threat rather than dropping them into existing droid formations. The high initiative Phlacc-Arphocc Prototypes may be the strongest pilots just because the best way of keeping these things alive may be ensuring they never get shot at!
Also of Interest: Predator (Core Set, TIE Interceptor)
Jango Fett's Slave-I (Wave 8)
Easy to fly, Strong
This isn't the first Firespray-Class Patrol Craft in X-Wing and players are well used to dealing with Slave-I when it was in Boba Fett's hands as part of the Scum & Villainy faction. This version of Slave-I is the ship that daddy Fett flew in Attack of the Clones which is why it appears in the Separatist ranks, although interestingly a lot of the upgrade cards are dual-purpose and can be used by both Scum and Separatist players.
The sheer success of Boba Fett may well have led to Jango's Slave-I being toned down a bit and on first sight this isn't quite as powerful as the Scum version. That said, the Firespray is still arguably the best all-rounder ship in the game with no real weak points and it's always going to be a solid ship on the table, even if you don't quite have all the Scum version's bells & whistles. Jango Fett brings a new Initiative 6 pilot which is a threat in itself but it may be the changeling Zam Wessell, whose mindgames lead to free target locks and bonus attacks, that you'll see played most often.
Also of Interest: Lone Wolf (Servants of Strife), Treacherous (Servants of Strife), Count Dooku (Sith Infiltrator), Contraband Cybernetics (Punishing One, Xi Shuttle)