In this extended article, I will document my thoughts on learning to get the best out of my X-wing experience (based on my previous wargaming background) as (at time of writing) we enter the 2016 Store Championship season!
I am in no way an expert, but I hope that these learning thoughts from a neophyte might assist other new players to start to strategize and get the best results they can whilst gaining experience.
I believe that there are broad 3 steps to winning a game of X-wing, and these we will deal with in detail:
- List creation
- Strategy determination
- Tactical execution
1. List creation
There is an element of “rock-paper-scissors” in this game (to a certain extent) – so regardless of what you do, some lists will match up better against whatever you come up – that’s something you’re just going to have to accept and move on.
There are many approaches to list building but let’s take a step back to explain why this is an important step. Unlike a pure strategy game (like Chess), you have access to a lot of ‘tools’ to help you determine a good list / squad, but you may not be able to use all of them (for faction limitation reasons, points costs forcing a ‘choice’ between tools etc.). In Chess, both parties have access to the same toolset and the determination of a winner will depend upon how well they use those tools.
Miniatures games in general, introduce a variability into strategy in that opponents will not necessarily have chosen the same ‘tools’ to use in their list (for reasons summarised above). Therefore some selection / trade-off must be determined before you even see your opponent’s choices.
What sorts of tools are available to the X wing ‘pilot’?
- Stress mechanic – R3-A2, tactician, Mara Jade, Rebel Captive
- Ionisation – Ion Cannon, Ion Pulse missile
- 360 degree shooting – Primary Weapons Turrets, Twin Laser Turrets
- Arc dodging through high pilot skill
- Regeneration – Miranda, R2-D2, R5-P9, Gonk
- Cloaking – Phantom, Advanced Cloaking Device, Stygium Particle Generator
- Defensive ‘buffs’ – Stealth device, Autothrusters
- Offensive ‘buffs’ – Secondary weapons
Let’s look at some of the ‘theories’ in list / squad creation and what these translate to in meta builds (or squad archetypes if you prefer).
Like ‘bringing balance to the force’ this theory involves using a number of different tools in your list to cover off different scenarios. An example of this would be Paul Heaver’s (X-Wing World Champion 2014, 2015, and 2016) 2016 winning Squad list:
- Poe Dameron (T70 X wing) – EPT: Veteran Instincts, Droid: R2-D2, Modification: Autothrusters
- Gold Squadron Pilot (Y wing) – Title: BTL-A4 Y Wing, Droid: R3-A2, Turret: Twin Laser Turret
- Gold Squadron Pilot (Y Wing) – Turret: Twin Laser Turret
- Bandit Squadron Pilot (Z95)
This list has the following ‘tools’ at its disposal
- Stress – using the BTL Y wing, this squad can cause 2 stress tokens to be dealt out to an opponent’s ship per turn as follows: 1) the title allows the ship to fire its primary weapon and then a secondary weapon, 2) the R3-A2 droid provides a stress token to an opponent when the target is declared 3) after firing the primary, the TLT is then fired – causing a second stress causing event for the opponent. Note that this also means that the Y wing itself gains 2 x stress tokens, but it can still continue operating with an unlimited number of stress tokens, while it prevents an opposition ship from taking actions and performing red manoeuvres.
- Arc-dodger – by providing Poe with Veteran Instincts, his Pilot Skill (PS) goes from 8 to 10, meaning that he will be able to move after almost all opponents and thus stay out of arc through the use of ‘boost’ if necessary
- Blocker – the Z95 is a cheap and excellent ship for blocking opponent’s ships. Not only is it cheap, but at PS2, it will move before most opponents and thus be able to position to block. Blocking means that a ship loses its ability to take actions (making it less potent in attack and more vulnerable in defence) and also denies it the ability to attack the blocking / touching ship.
- Hull / Shields – this list has a good number of hull points and shields – coming in at 28 in total (each Y wing has 3 shield and 5 hull, the X wing has 3/3 and the Z95 has 2/2).
- Consistent damage output – using TLTs means that you will have the ability to create consistent damage on your opponent.
- Regeneration – the main ship in the list uses R2-D2, which provides the recovery of a shield token when you perform a green manoeuvre – this means that the longevity and survivability of this craft is very good.
The list also has some downsides:
- With the title (BTL-A4 Y Wing) a Y wing can only fire out of its front arc with the TLT, while an untitled y wing is unconstrained in this regard and can fire 360 degrees (out of its primary arc).
- Like many lists, arc dodging doesn’t work against ships with 360 degree firing capabilities (Primary weapons turret like the YT 1300 or the Decimator, or TLTs) which can shoot out of arc.
The overall benefit though is that the list can, if flown well, take on most opponents as it has tools to cater for a variety of situations.
These sorts of squads allow for a devastating initial strike to weaken an opponent and make it very difficult to recover from. They have a primary tool / trick which, if used successfully, can be devastating.
An example of this type of list is the following:
- 4 x Tempest Squad pilots (Tie Advanced) with Title: Tie/X1, System: Accuracy Corrector, Missile: Cluster Missile.
Post edit note: The best example of these lists in the current wave is U-Boats (3 x torpedo laden Jumpmasters! Also known as a Wolf pack)
The idea of the list is that you choose your target, take target locks as your action then unleash 4 x cluster missiles from the Tempests. The Cluster missiles do 2 x attacks with 3 dice – the accuracy corrector will work to ensure that you at least get 2 hits from each of those rolls, meaning 4 x 2 x 2 = 16 successful hits (before evades). An attack like that (if successful) can bring down a Decimator in one shot.
Post the Alpha strike, the accuracy corrector continues to work on normal attacks (guarantying 2 hits per attack) and allowing the Tempests to take an ‘evade’ token as their action.
This list has the following ‘tools’ at its disposal:
- Consistent damage output – using the accuracy corrector means that you will have the ability to create consistent damage (at least 2 hits per round) on your opponent.
- Alpha strike capability – the ability to perform one devastating strike against your opponent (or split the damage between two or more targets if so desired).
The list also has some downsides:
- The major weakness is the Pilot skill of the Tempest Squad at PS 2, this means that higher pilot skill ships can arc-dodge and avoid the front arc of the Tie Advanced ships.
- If the Alpha Strike doesn’t work (e.g. if your opponent dodges arcs and ensures you get no / limited shots off), you’ve invested 16 points (4 x cluster missiles at 4 points each) that may not be used.
- Stress can be an issue – with only 4 green moves on its dial (reasonably standard), stress can deny actions and ensure that you cannot use an alpha strike and become predictable in your subsequent movement.
Lists that sport “Crack Shot” (EPT) and “Glitterstim” (Illicit) can also somewhat be considered alpha-strike type lists (given that they can have one serious round of attack and defence).
These sorts of squads allow 360 degree shooting – whether that be through a primary weapons turret or something else. The original exponent of this type of list was a “Fat Han” squad. Below is an example:
- 1 x Han Solo (Millennium Falcon) – EPT: Veteran Instincts, Crew: C3P0, Crew: Gunner, Title: Millennium Falcon, Modification: Engine Upgrade (coming in at 60 points)
- 1 x Rebel Ace (such as Poe Dameron)g. Poe Dameron (X – T70) EPT: Veteran Instincts, Astromech: R2-D2, Modification: Autothrusters
An imperial example is the use of a Decimator (say Rear Admiral Chiraneau) with an imperial ace like Soontir Fell.
With 360 shooting and generally many hull points, the fat turret lists are a counter to an arc dodger list that tries to avoid shooting (though arc dodgers benefit from autothrusters).
This list has the following ‘tools’ at its disposal:
- 360 degree shooting – so nothing can avoid being shot when in range 3 of the turret ship – note that although this is true – if out of the fat turret ship’s arc, opponents CAN take advantage of autothrusters to change a blank into an evade still.
- High hull values – this means that an opponent must chew through a lot of hull points to take out your ship.
- With the “ace” – there is also an element of arc dodging in this list too – so it can combine two sub archetypes successfully.
Well – here you throw as many ships at your opponent as possible – the aim being to overpower your opponent with the amount of red dice you can bring to bear in a single round.
The most extreme example of this is the Tie Swarm:
- 7 x Academy Pilots (Tie Fighters)
- 1 x Dark Curse (Tie Fighter)
Other examples might be better termed as “mini swarms” – where you have a combination of 4 cheap ships (flown in formation) and one ace.
This list has the following ‘tools’ at its disposal:
- Massed shooting – at range 1, the full Tie Swarm throws 24 attack dice at an opponent!
- No obvious primary target – all the ships in your list (to a certain extent) are cheap and disposable – so there’s no ‘juicy’ target for an opponent to concentrate on.
- Blocking – with so many cheap ships, you can peel one off to block opponents and deny them actions – thus setting them up to be hit by the rest of the swarm.
- Low Pilot skill – in general, the cheaper the ship, the lower the pilot skill – that means that you will have to fly and be aggressive to ensure you get shots – with higher pilot skill ships trying to avoid direct engagements and your frontal arcs.
- Loss of attack efficacy when ships are lost – because the swarm is greater than the ‘sum of the whole’ – when you start losing ships, your attacks start to look less effective. For example – in the Tie Swarm example – taking only 6 hull damage means that you have 6 less shots / attacks at range 1 (meaning the number of attack dice rolled decrease from 24 to 18 max) and so on.
Aces / Arc dodgers
These sorts of squads aim to have the highest possible pilot skill available – this means that they get to move and react after the opponent has – meaning repositioning out of arcs through barrel rolls or boosts (or both).
One of the most successful examples of this list recently has been dubbed “The Palp mobile” and uses the Emperor to great effect:
- Omicron Group Pilot (Lambda Shuttle), Crew: Emperor Palpatine
- Soontir Fel (Tie Interceptor), Title: Royal Guard Tie, EPT: Push the limit, Modification: Autothrusters, Modification: Stealth Device
- Darth Vader (Tie Advanced), Title: Tie/x1, EPT: Veteran Instincts, Modification: Engine Upgrade, System: Advanced Targeting Computer
This is especially effective given the emperor’s ability to change 1 friendly dice roll once per turn – meaning a blank attack can become a critical hit, or a blank an become an evade (for defence). The shuttle is a cheap vehicle to base the emperor on (at 8 points and 2 x crew slots).
It has the following benefits / tools:
- Arc-dodger – 2 x arc dodgers in the list at PS 9 (Soontir) and 11 (Darth) – both able to boost and/or barrel roll out of arcs.
- Hull / Shields – the aces themselves don’t have much hull (3 each with Darth also having 2 shields) but the shuttle adds 5 hull and 5 shields that the opponent needs to eat through to win).
- Change dice – better than a Predator or Lone Wolf reroll, the emperor can change a dice per turn – never underestimate the survivability of the aces in this regard!
- The shuttle dial is one of the worst in the game – it essentially wants to avoid a full scale combat in this list – preferring to keep the emperor safe – so that means it must “slow roll” or use it’s red / zero move to keep stopping.
- Vulnerable to PWT (Primary weapons turrets) from which the aces can’t dodge attacks
It should be noted that this is not a comprehensive list of the list archetypes or options – there are many! Rather I wanted to point out that your selection will avail you of tools to use and deny you other ones – which may prove a weakness against specific lists.
2. Strategy determination
Now that you have a list – you should (hopefully) know its strengths and how it helps you win. This is the first part of the strategy. For example, if I were using the Palp Mobile (arc dodgers) list in section 1 above, my general approach / strategy would be:
- Fly the aces around the edges of the board initially to try to outflank the opponent and/or offer one as bait, while the other flanks.
- Slow roll (i.e. move as slowly as possible) the shuttle – there is no range limit on the emperor’s ability, so he doesn’t need to be anywhere specific. Setup the shuttle in the corner, taking a zero red move each other turn to slow me down. Run around the edges and avoid conflict. If a target of opportunity presents itself, use the shuttle’s primary weapon to attack.
However, then you need to consider your opponent’s list in light of this and refine your strategy – this is really important. How do you do that? Well – let’s break it down:
- Review your opponent’s list – what type is it? What strengths and weaknesses does it have? What sort of strategy does it have in mind to try to win?
- How can you avoid and / or nullify the opponent strengths?
- How can you avoid their strategy while employing your own?
Let’s take another example to demonstrate.
- Assume we’re flying the Palp Mobile list referenced earlier.
- Now let’s assume that our opponent is using the ultimate 360 shooting / consistent damage list – 4 x TLT Y wings.
- What do we know about our opponent’s list and tactics?
- It can shoot 360 degrees in ranges 2 and 3
- In range 1 the Y wings can only shoot primary (and thus have an arc)
- They will be a lower PS than us (and thus move first)
- They have a LOT of hull / shield (8 total per ship x 4 ships = 32 hull + shield in total)
- The Y wings have low agility – throwing only 1 evade dice in ranges 1 to 2.
- The Twin Laser Turrets (TLTs) will perform 2 attacks per round and if a hit or more gets through – it counts only as 1 hit – thus the ma any ship can do per round is 2 damage – but throwing 3 attack dice per attack. That’s a theoretical maximum of 8 damage per round.
- So what should our strategy be?
- The obvious approach is to get into range 1 out of their primary arc – that way they get no shots. If flown correctly – that means that we can deny them shots while shooting them (the best case outcome of any engagement).
- At range 1, Soontir will throw 4 attack dice, Darth 3 (plus one critical for ATC if a target lock is chosen) – assuming that Soontir and Darth take focus actions when in R1, we can say that we should be doing around 4+ damage per turn to the opponent – or, killing a Y wing every other turn.
- What are our risks?
- Knowing what we’re trying to do, the opponent may try to go for the shuttle – that’s not a disaster as the Y wing dial is also not great and while they’re flying towards it (and hopefully you’re avoiding that), you can take them out with the aces.
Thus now we know our list, the opponent’s list and our approach to the game. The last component of planning is the tactical execution of the strategy.
3. Tactical execution
This component is one where you constantly through the game need to be agile and assess how to achieve your strategy. Continuing on our example listed in the previous section, the first question is:
- How do we get into range 1 while avoiding getting shot?
So we could come up with some ‘on-the-ground’ tactics like the following:
- To ensure that the opponent flies the Y wings in the direction we want, we will use one of the Aces as ‘bait’ – flying them towards the swarm of TLT Y’s. For this we may choose Darth as he’s slightly more durable with 2 shields and 3 hull.
- We’ll save the emperor’s re-roll for Darth’s defence to ensure success.
- While this is happening – we’ll make sure that the shuttle and Soontir is away from the Y-wings.
- We then fly Soontir around to flank / get a rear position on the Y wings over a number of turns and then fly into range 1 quickly – paying attention to predicting their moves and adjusting his accordingly via boost / barrel roll to get and stay within range 1.
- At a suitable time (not too long) pull Darth out and get out of range of the Y wings and then try top likewise flank the Y’s.
So – what can go wrong here?
- The opponent may choose not to fly the Y’s in formation and break up the 2 x 2 formation to spread the shots – in this case – the impact of a round of shooting will diminish and we should be able to complete our execution.
- The opponent may not take the Darth bait. In this case, if they ignore Darth – he can flank them and get into range 1 – keeping our strategy intact.
This is far from a comprehensive study of planning to win, but I hope that it provides some food-for-thought into how you may be able to best use your list.
There is no substitute for experience – so the more you fly (and fly your preferred list) – the better you’ll become. I would also recommend writing a few notes about your games and keeping them handy to refer to – this codifies your thoughts and lessons learned when you may be beaten or uncover something that you can’t seem to counter.
Fly casual and have fun!