Thursday, August 8, 2019

How FFG should address fortressing

There are two problems with the current fortressing/stalling rules. Fortressing occurs when a player keeps all of their ships stationary by bumping into their own ships for two consecutive turns. Afterwards, they must break the fortress or forfeit the game. Stalling rules are subject to interpretation. The floor rules describe stalling as "intentionally playing slowly to exploit an advantage they could gain from the time limit". Some judges also reference the "[fortressing] is considered a form of stalling, as it seeks to create and exploit a stalemate" line under the fortressing rules to issue warnings to players who don't engage quickly enough.

Both of these rules have problems. The fortressing rules don't prevent situations where a player keeps their ships in roughly the same area to force an enemy to either take an unfavorable approach or concede an unfavorable final salvo. Examples include using barrel rolls or decloaks to stay in the same area, or K-Turning back and forth along a side of the board.

The stalling rules in the floor rules document don't say anything about cagey play as long as decisions are made at a reasonable pace. The "create and exploit a stalemate" interpretation creates difficulties for players and judges alike. Judges have to figure out whether a player is trying to avoid engagements or whether they're waiting for a better opportunity to engage. Players may feel like they're being rushed into an unfavorable engagement. More concerning, both players can get warnings if the engagement doesn't happen quickly enough. Some board games are built around a game of Chicken, but I'm pretty sure X-Wing isn't supposed to be one of them.

If we agree that players staying in one area of the board to avoid or get a favorable engagement is a problem, then this should be addressed by a more direct rule.

There's an adage in game design where players are good at identifying problems, but are usually terrible at finding ways to fix them. Well, I'll try anyway :).

I think FFG should implement this rule for tournament games:

After the Activation Phase, check if any players have a ship beyond Range 2 of all board edges. The first time a player meets this condition and their opponent does not, that player wins scoreless ties. (This range check stops after one player meets this condition and their opponent does not, or after a scoreless game becomes impossible based on the game state.)

There are several benefits of this rule. First, it directly addresses the problem. An engagement is inevitable if both players keep their ships beyond Range 2 of all board edges. Otherwise, one player wins a scoreless tie and the other player will be forced to engage. This contrasts from solutions like an equal-dice final salvo where a player may still want to stay in one area if engaging gives them less than 50% chance of winning.

Second, it's minimally disruptive to strategies. This rule only affects scoreless ties. If a player intends to engage, they can freely ignore this rule and play their normal strategy. It doesn't create weird situations where a player is forced to engage before they are ready or until time is running out. Finally, it's hard to abuse. It's difficult to return to fortressing after leaving the gutters and deployment zones.

Third, it's minimally disruptive to gameplay. This rule tries to minimize the measuring and tracking required. It doesn't affect casual games. In tournaments and league games, players would need a token or paper slip to track who met this condition first, but this can be provided by the organizer. The measurement will take some getting used to, but it's somewhat forgiving. If a measurement is forgotten, players usually have until a ship moves next turn to check. If ships have moved, play can continue and the condition can be checked after the next activation phase if it's still needed.

Fourth, it's fair. Every list can send at least one ship beyond Range 2 of all board edges on the first turn. It's tough to see this rule disfavoring any lists, especially because it only affects scoreless ties.

Fifth, it works well with the tournament structure. This rule doesn't create situations where there are no winners, which would mess with elimination rounds. It also doesn't increase the maximum game time or create situations where games may never end.

Finally, if this isn't enough to address the problem, simply changing Range 2 to Range 3 of all board edges rules out almost all instances of bad cagey play. It does give some lists a slight advantage because not all lists can send a ship beyond Range 3 of all board edges on the first turn, but this only matters if the other list didn't intend to engage.

Asking FFG to implement any changes, much less a specific change, can be difficult. Still, I figure I'll get this out there so hopefully those with closer ties to FFG can bring this idea up to them :).

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Beginner's Guide to X-Wing Second Edition

Who is this article for?

This article can help you decide whether you want to play X-Wing Second Edition. It also suggests what ships to buy if you do decide to play the game.

What is X-Wing?

X-Wing is a miniatures wargame where you bring a squad of Star Wars ships and try to blow up your opponent's Star Wars ships before they blow up yours.

In X-Wing, players simultaneously and secretly choose how each of their ships moves. Once all the choices are locked in, they are revealed and resolved one by one in order of pilot skill. There's a template for each movement option for simplicity of movement.

Most ships can only shoot in a 90-degree arc in front of them, and some ships have broader and/or mobile firing arcs. While there is luck in the game, predicting your opponent's maneuvers so your ships get shots while avoiding your opponent's firing arcs is the key to winning consistently.

Why should you play X-Wing?

I believe the biggest reason to play X-Wing is the community. X-Wing has many active groups around the world and X-Wing players tend to be pretty friendly. The community spans the casual to competitive. I started playing X-Wing because I enjoy getting deeply into the games I play and I lost my board game groups after a move. I've made some really good friends in X-Wing. While I've heard that bad experiences with other players does happen in the community, I've rarely had a bad experience.

The game is fun and has a lot of depth. If you enjoy visualizing (pre-measuring is not allowed) and predicting where all the pieces will go on a gridless board, X-Wing is a great game for you. It's hard to find board games that do this outside of miniatures wargames.

How expensive is X-Wing?

The biggest drawback to X-Wing is the cost. You can build a viable list for around US $150, but if you want a large number of options, the cost can easily run into the thousands. The ships need to be stored, and storage options can cost around $50-$200 or more. This investment can buy many complete board games.

That said, if you want a lifestyle game, X-Wing is one of the more affordable options. The time commitment is lower especially because the ships are pre-painted. Players tend to be reasonable about letting you borrow cards and ships you don't have, and casual games generally allow proxies. Still, this game isn't cheap. Expect to pay at least hundreds of dollars.

Unlike the previous version of X-Wing, the developers have stated a goal of allowing players to get all the cards they need without buying ships across factions. Overall, it seems like all factions will get access to all options, although sometimes it takes a few months for this to happen. The initial investment is more manageable if you stick to one faction and you can expect to spend $20-$80 every three months to keep up with the newest options.

Before I moved, I had two board game groups which mostly played a single non-collectible board game each. I could scratch my strategy board gaming itch at a very low cost. If you have a regular board game group already and don't have a special interest in wargames on gridless boards, then X-Wing may not be the best option for you.

How do I find a place to play?

You can ask on the X-Wing subreddit. Most X-Wing groups are on Facebook and a search for "X-Wing" and your city or region might help. You can also ask your local game store(s) if they have an X-Wing night.

What's the difference between First Edition and Second Edition?

If you're starting new, play Second Edition. Most players play Second Edition now. First Edition is no longer supported by official tournaments and is extremely rare. Overall, Second Edition improves the game and makes player choice more important.

As you can see on the official website, the Second Edition products are mostly black. First Edition packaging has more beige and overall tends to be more colorful. There is one exception: the First Edition Saw's Renegades and TIE Reaper expansion packs have all of the Second Edition components for the ships in the same box.

The First Edition plastic ship models can be used in Second Edition. However, you will need the Second Edition maneuver dials, cardboard ship bases, and pilot/upgrade cards to use them. There are conversion kits which provide those components (see the next section). They are not worthwhile if you only have a couple First Edition ships, but they are a great deal if you have a large number of different First Edition ships. To set expectations, a conversion kit converts a limited number of each ship, so you may need two if the collection has many copies of the same ship.

How are people playing with unreleased ships? What are the different formats?

The developers released conversion kits so players with large First Edition collections don't need to re-buy all of the plastic models to play Second Edition. In doing so, all of the First Edition ships can be played even when the Second Edition ships haven't been released yet.

There are two main formats: Extended and Hyperspace. All ships are legal in the Extended format. The Hyperspace format has a limited set of legal ships, almost all of which have been released in Second Edition. In casual play, people will usually play Extended. Formats are more important for tournaments.

You usually do not need to play unreleased ships to be competitive even in Extended tournaments. For example, some newer factions have no unreleased ships but have done well in Extended tournaments.

What ships should I buy?

You'll almost always need a Core Set. I usually recommend buying only one Core Set. Buy a second Core Set only if you want to fly a TIE Swarm (two Core Sets, two standalone TIE Fighter expansions) or want a fourth X-Wing (get the second Core Set after the standalone X-Wing expansion and Saw's Renegades). You won't have a full set of dice, but I recommend asking to share a set with your opponent. This is always legal and actually recommended in tournaments. If you want a full set of dice, you can buy a dice pack (or win an extra set in a tournament).

Then, you have a few choices. Second Edition has points adjustments every six months. This means ships tend to be more balanced (although outliers exist in both directions) and there aren't any perennial faction-defining ships to guide purchases. As such, I recommend one of these options:
  1. Buy the ships you think are cool. This is great for your first few purchases so you can get some games under your belt, and it also works as you get more experienced.
  2. Buy one copy of many/all expansions in your faction. This gives you a lot of different options. You can buy more copies of a ship later as needed.
  3. Buy a competitive list you'd enjoy playing. Obviously this is harder to pull off when you're just starting out, but you can ask your local play group for recommendations on useful ships that can fit into many good lists. The Meta Wing website tracks tournament data and its List Archetypes shows what the popular and well-performing lists currently are. To set expectations, competitive lists will change over time and especially after a points adjustment (regular points adjustments happen every 6 months with rare emergency points adjustments as needed).
  4. You can buy out an existing collection for ~33% of the retail price (less if First Edition, very large collection, and/or a limited selection of ships). I strongly recommend this for building your collection because it gives you a lot of options at a discount, but expect to shell out $500 or more in one go. Check the FFG Trade subreddit, the Star Wars Swap and Sell Facebook Group, your local/regional X-Wing Facebook Group, and ebay for options. IMPORTANT: check whether the cards and dials are First Edition or Second Edition. First Edition ships are fine, but you will need to buy the faction's conversion kit to use them ($30-$50, great deal for large collections with many different types of ships in each faction).
  5. You can start with buying the ships you think are cool and/or building a competitive list, and then buying out a collection later when you have a better sense for the game. You can also split the purchase of a collection with your local group so the up-front cost is lower for everyone.

How do I choose a faction?

There are seven factions in X-Wing across roughly three time periods (Original Trilogy, Prequels, Sequels). All factions are legal and there are no restrictions on time periods (e.g. a Rebel player can play against a First Order squad or another Rebel squad). Squads can only have ships and faction-restricted upgrade cards from a single faction. For example, a squad can't mix Rebel ships and Resistance ships.

Sticking with one faction is a great way to keep your options open on a budget. Most players will buy into more than one faction, but I think a majority of players in Second Edition don't buy all of the factions.

I recommend picking factions based on which ones you like the most fluff-wise. If you're more focused on mechanics, you may want wait before deciding to have a better sense of what the competitive options for each faction looks like.

Faction identities are loose in X-Wing. Each faction feels distinct, but they're hard to pin down especially with the possibility of points adjustments and new releases. Broad mechanics and strategies tend to be available to multiple factions, but the factions usually express them in different ways and no faction has all of them available.

With that said, here's my best take on the faction identities:
  1. (OT) Rebellion: Rebel lists have a reputation for wanting to fly slowly at their opponents and win a bruising fight. They have lots of "workhorse" ships with good offense and enough defense to survive a turn or two of focus fire. These ships often have below-average maneuverability and low-variance defenses. They also have ships (usually big ships like the Millennium Falcon) that can be stacked with upgrades and support ships into fearsome bruising monsters. They lack a prototypical nimble "ace" ship.
  2. (OT) Galactic Empire: Imperial ships tend to be extreme and specialized, and the faction has support abilities tailored for specialized strategies. Most of their ships tend to be fragile and rely on dice for defenses. Their durable ships tend to be extremely durable compared to their offensive output. They have several nimble "ace" ships.
  3. (All?) Scum and Villainy: This faction tends to have ships that are weird in some way. "Workhorse" ships like to go slow to keep their arcs wide, but Scum's "workhorse" ships aren't great at going slow. Their nimble "ace" ships are better at flying into close range than skirmishing from a distance. Scum also tends to have more options for messing with their opponent's ships.
  4. (Seq) Resistance: The Resistance feels like a more durable and expensive Rebel faction. They have a collection of workhorse ships and they can also stack ships into fearsome bruising monsters. Unlike the Rebel faction, the Resistance does have a couple nimble "ace" platforms.
  5. (Seq) First Order: The First Order feels like a less extreme/specialized Galactic Empire. Their ships tend to be more durable and generally more balanced in terms of offense and defense, and they do have a "workhorse" ship chassis. Their ships also tend to be more self-reliant and they lack most of the support options the Galactic Empire has.
  6. (Preq) Galactic Republic: Like their lore, the Galactic Republic has nimble quality ships mostly piloted by aces and clunky bruisers that are mostly flown by clones. They have support abilities which benefit friendly ships beside them, unlike most other support abilities which affect nearby friendly ships or friendly ships in front.
  7. (Preq) Separatist Alliance: The faction has cheap swarmy droid ships that can share tokens at close range and a collection of more "normal" ships. Unlike most ships, their droid ships are better at making sharp turns than gradual turns. Separatists also have the most abilities which which feel downright mean and dirty to their opponent.

You may want to consider cost in your faction choices. The Core Set comes with a Rebel X-Wing and a pair of Galactic Empire TIE Fighters. Starting with one of these factions is usually a bit easier. Keep in mind cheap ships are usually more expensive to field because you need more ships to fill out a list, especially if a list requires many copies of the same ship.

How do I build a list?

With points adjustments, point costs are no longer printed on the cards. The best way to build a squad is through third-party apps like YASB 2.0 for PC or Launch Bay Next for mobile. There is an official squad builder app, but it's usually considered to be worse than these options. Point costs can also be found in PDFs near the bottom of the official website.

For casual play, you can also use the "Quick Build" format. Expansions come with pre-built ships. Decide on a threat level (usually 8), select a group of ships with total threat equal to the threat level, and play. Note the Quick Build format is distinct from using points to build ships and sometimes has ship layouts that would not be legal in "normal" play.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

"Some" List Ideas for the June 2019 Points Update

Feeling lost after the new points update? I've been brainstorming some list ideas, so here's "a few" you can try out!

The goal is to consider strong lists with strong ships informed by my Ship Efficiency Model and by previous tournament results. These are lists that should have a reasonable shot at placing well or winning a tournament. There are definitely new combos to be discovered, and I don't have a great handle on the new ships yet. Some strong lists will definitely come out of left field. Still, I think there are some clear candidates for the top contenders.

For this article, I'll mainly focus on the Extended format. I'm going to divide this into three sections:
  • High Confidence: lists which I'm pretty sure are strong. Similar lists have performed well in the past and they were largely untouched by the points adjustment.
  • Medium Confidence: I'm pretty sure these are strong lists with strong components. They may be stronger or weaker than High Confidence lists, but they haven't had as many strong tournament results in the past to prove it.
  • Low Confidence: These may be strong, but there are some experimental elements to them or they have been nerfed and had to make significant compromises to fit.

Overall, I think every faction has some good lists, but some factions have more options and some have less. This is how I think the factions stack up after the points change:
  • Many good options: Imperial, First Order, Republic
  • Several good options: Scum
  • Few good options: Rebel (E-Wings), Separatists (1 Belbullab + Vultures), Resistance (Rey)

Again, this doesn't say anything about the strength of the options. For instance, I think E-Wings and Rey are some of the strongest ships in the game.

High Confidence

Quad Phantoms

Quad Imdaars
  • 4x Imdaar Test Pilot with Shield Upgrade

Whisper Imdaars
  • "Whisper"
  • 3x Imdaar Test Pilot
  • 11 points of upgrades: Fifth Brother (9), Afterburners (6), Shield Upgrade (6), Juke (7), Outmaneuver (6), Passive Sensors (3), Predator (2), bid

There are two hypotheses on why Quad Phantoms lists were so good in the past. I thought the base Phantom chassis was too efficient. Other people felt Phantoms were fine but Juke was too good. Well, we'll see who's right! Juke went up by 2 points and the elite Phantoms went up by some more, but the criminally-cheap Imdaar Test Pilot only went up by 1 point. My money is on me, and the 44-point ship with an effective 3/2/3/3 statline, initiative 3, Cloak, and the occasional "regen".

Three Imdaars is a strong foundation. With the larger nerfs on Whisper, I'm not sure she's the best choice anymore, but she fits the remaining points and still seems to be reasonably efficient. Soontir is another choice, and I'm sure there are other viable options.

Vader Soontir X

Imperial Aces
  • Darth Vader with Afterburners
  • Soontir Fel
  • Your choice of: "Duchess" (32pts left), Major Vermeil (25pts left), 2x Scimitar Squadron Pilot (16pts left), Delta Squadron Pilot (5pts left), 2x Sienar Specialist with Dorsal Turret (12pts left), Proton Torpedo combo Nu Squadron Pilot with Passive Sensors and Advanced SLAM (17pts left), Omicron Group Pilot with Emperor Palpatine (20pts left), etc.
  • Spend remaining points on: bid, Fire-Control System (2), Hate (3), Shield Upgrade (8), Hull Upgrade (7), Outmaneuver (6), Predator (2), etc.

The Vader-Soontir combo was very successful before the points change and only got 3 points more expensive. It should still be reasonably successful. With the nerfs to I6 pilots across the board, this list may be able to get away with a smaller bid. Discounts and the new Passive Sensors gives Vader and Soontir some new wingmates to consider.

Three Ship FO (No Shuttle)

Kylo Quickdraw Null
  • Kylo Ren with Hate, Proton Torpedoes
  • "Quickdraw" with Fanatical, Pattern Analyzer, Special Forces Gunner, Fire-Control System, Afterburners
  • "Null"
  • 7 points of upgrades: Pattern Analyzer (5), Scorch (pilot, 3), bid

Quickdraw Silencers
  • "Quickdraw" with Fanatical, Pattern Analyzer, Special Forces Gunner, Fire-Control System, Afterburners
  • First Order Test Pilot with Fanatical, Advanced Optics
  • First Order Test Pilot with Fanatical and Advanced Optics, OR "Recoil" with Crack Shot and Advanced Optics (and 1 extra point of upgrades)
  • 2 points of upgrades: Pattern Analyzer instead of Advanced Optics (1), Predator instead of Crack Shot (1), bid

Before the points adjustment, First Order probably had the biggest gap between perceived performance and actual performance. Reddit threads were bemoaning the "weakness" of the faction while it won tournament after tournament. The First Order PR campaign paid off. Not only do they control the galaxy until Episode 9 comes out, they also dodged any major nerfs in the points adjustment and sometimes came out ahead. Both of these lists have performed well at or won tournaments.

I'm not sure about the First Order Test Pilot, but it took top 2 at a large event so what do I know?

Kylo Upsilon X

Kylo 2 Upsilon (Bunn Bunn Bunn)
  • Kylo Ren with Hate
  • 2x Starkiller Base Pilot
  • 5 points of upgrades: Captain Phasma (5), Pattern Analyzer (5), bid

Kylo Quickdraw Upsilon
  • Kylo Ren with Hate
  • Starkiller Base Pilot
  • "Quickdraw" with Special Forces Gunner
  • 8 points of upgrades: Lieutenant Tavson (pilot, 6), Captain Phasma (5), Fanatical (2), Fire-Control System (2), bid

A three-ship FO list with Kylo and an Upsilon Shuttle was also successful before the points adjustment. While the Upsilon Shuttle went up in price, most other components stayed the same and the lists are still legal. Tavson is a big loss in the Kylo 2 Upsilon list, but Phasma is a decent replacement. Kylo Quickdraw Tavson loses its bid or a 2-point upgrade but is otherwise still affordable.

Quickdraw Scorch Backdraft X

Four-/Five-Ship First Order
  • "Quickdraw" with Special Forces Gunner
  • "Scorch"
  • "Backdraft" (optionally, replace with another ship in list below)
  • Your choice of: Lieutenant Tavson (8pts left), Starkiller Base Pilot (14pts left), Recoil with Crack Shot (13pts left), 2x Zeta Squadron Survivor (8pts left), Lieutenant Rivas and Epsilon Squadron Cadet (18pts left), Omega Squadron Ace and Longshot (11pts left)
  • Upgrades: Fanatical (2-10), Pattern Analyzer (5), Afterburners (6), Fire-Control System (2), Captain Phasma (5), Advanced Optics (4-16), Special Forces Gunner (10)

How to build a First Order list:
  1. Throw away "Midnight", "Static", every Upsilon Shuttle except Starkiller Base Pilot and Lieutenant Tavson, and maybe "Avenger" if you only want 3 ships.
  2. Add ships with their logical upgrades until you run out of points.
  3. Congrats, you have a strong First Order list!
The Quickdraw Scorch Backdraft foundation has seen some tournament success, and you have all sorts of options to pair it with. Finish up with your choice of upgrades; Fanatical is great on most ships but especially Quickdraw, and Advanced Optics on the right ships can be a nice boost to your offense. Backdraft is probably best used without Special Forces Gunner.

Four Fangs

Only if you're Oli
  • Fenn Rau
  • 3x Zealous Recruit

This list has taken Oliver Pucknell to several Hyperspace Trial wins and wasn't touched at all in the points adjustment. Is it good enough to play in the broader Extended meta? I'm not sure. This list is also really hard to fly. Still, it's an option for Scum that had some previous tournament success.

Super Aces

Guri Fenn
  • Guri with Outmaneuver, Advanced Sensors, Advanced Proton Torpedoes, Afterburners, Virago, Shield Upgrade
  • Fenn Rau with Outmaneuver, Advanced Proton Torpedoes
  • 10 point bid

SuperKylo Quickdraw
  • Kylo Ren with Supernatural Reflexes, Primed Thrusters, Proton Torpedoes
  • "Quickdraw" with Fanatical, Pattern Analyzer, Special Forces Gunner, Fire-Control System, Afterburners
  • 8 point bid

Pre-maneuver repositioning didn't change at all with the points adjustment, and these two Super Ace lists only took 1-point nerfs to Guri and Proton Torpedoes. These lists still have bad matchups since they rely on I5 aces. With the nerfing of the most popular I6 ships, they may face fewer tough machups. Despite having a reputation for being hard to play, the pre-maneuver repositioning makes the dial game pretty forgiving while being much harder to play against.

Unlike the other lists, I loaded the ships with upgrades here. You can consider taking off some upgrades for a bigger bid.

Republic Beef

9 Arcs
  • 4x 104th Battalion Pilot
  • Gold Squadron Trooper
  • 7 points of upgrades: Clone Commander Cody (3), Hull Upgrade (3-6)

8 Arcs
  • "Sinker"
  • 104th Battalion Pilot
  • 4x Gold Squadron Trooper
  • 4 points of upgrades: Clone Commander Cody (3), Hull Upgrade (3)

Don't let the buffs to the ARC and V-19 "aces" distract you: the cheapest generics are still the best deals. These lists put an overwhelming number of ships and firing arcs on the board to grind their opponents down. They had reasonable performances in some tournaments and all of their costs stayed the same.

Vulture Swarm

Belbullab 7 Vultures
  • Wat Tambor with Treacherous, TA-175, Impervium Plating, Soulless One
  • 7x Trade Federation Drone
  • 8 points of upgrades: General Grevious (pilot, 2), Separatist Drone (pilot, 2-8), DFS-311 (pilot, 4), Discord Missiles (4-8), Grappling Struts (1-7)

Belbullab 6 Vultures
  • Wat Tambor with Treacherous, TA-175, Impervium Plating, Soulless One
  • 3x Trade Federation Drone with Discord Missiles
  • 3x Trade Federation Drone with Energy-Shell Charges

While Vultures felt weak before the points adjustment, they still made an occasional high showing. The buffs to Vulture Droids and the defensive Belbullab upgrades along with the the release of TA-175 make these lists much stronger. These lists felt a bit underpowered before but should be contenders now.

My theorycrafting says Discord Missiles was good even before the points adjustment, and they seem to be extremely efficient now. They can be awkward to use, but I think their value of creating a "virtual ship" to soak attacks or deal damage separately is a bargain at just 4 points.

Medium Confidence

Four Ship E-Wings

E-Wings and Sheathipede
  • 3x Knave Squadron Escort
  • AP-5
  • 12 points of upgrades: "Zeb" Orrelios (pilot, 2), Rogue Squadron Escort (pilot, 2-6), Norra Wexley (ARC-170 pilot, 3), Wedge Antilles (pilot, 3), Luke Skywalker (pilot, 10), R4 Astromech (2-6), R3 Astromech (3-9), Leia Organa (6)

Generic E-Wings were some of the more efficient Rebel ships before the points adjustment and they went down by 2 points. A Sheathipede and 2x E-Wings makes for a solid foundation, and the list can be rounded out with a third E-Wing or another efficient Rebel ace. Wedge got nerfed but should still be strong, and Norra and Luke are other Rebel aces to consider.

I was considering some other 4-Ship Rebel lists. Luke and Norra are still good, ARC Garven seems strong, and Attack Shuttle Sabine might be a sleeper. After a few attempts, it just felt like too much effort for something that isn't noticeably better than the E-Wings. Other options (e.g. 4X, U-Wings) should be playable, but E-Wings are probably the best thing Rebels can build around.

2 Jedi 2 Torrent

Obi Plo
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi with Delta 7-B, R2 Astromech
  • Plo Koon with Delta 7-B, R2 Astromech OR Mace Windu with Delta 7-B, R2 Astromech
  • 2x Gold Squadron Trooper
  • 9 points of upgrades: bid, Heightened Perception (3-6), Afterburners (6), Blue Squadron Protector + Dedicated (pilot, 4-8)

Anakin Lumi
  • Anakin Skywalker (Delta-7 Aethersprite) with Delta 7-B, R2 Astromech
  • Luminara Unduli with Delta 7-B OR Saessee Tiin with Delta 7-B
  • 2x Gold Squadron Trooper
  • 1 point bid

The 2 Jedi 2 Torrent archetype was one of the most successful before the points adjustment. I included the old Anakin version here but I'm not sure it's the best version of this list anymore (if it were alone, it would have been filed under Low Confidence).  That version got a lot more expensive, losing its big bid and its two favorite second Jedi in Mace and Ahsoka. Even though he's a strategic win condition at I6 with regen, I'm not sure Anakin is worth his higher cost and the smaller bid means he won't move last against as many lists. Still, the list is affordable with Luminara or Saessee.

On the other hand, you can replace your I6 and I4 aces with two I5 aces. Obi-Wan and Plo Koon got big buffs and I was shocked how many points were left even with the nerfs to R2 Astromech. A 9-point bid should beat everything but the super aces, which means you'll still be moving last against many lists. Obi-Wan and Mace are probably the efficiency options, but Plo has some strategic uses as a second I5 ace. This version lacks the I6 win condition in Anakin, but it should still be strong enough to do well at tournaments.

RAC Whisper

Marcel Herzog's RAC Whisper, AKA What is this Jank and Why is it Winning
  • Rear Admiral Chiraneau with Lone Wolf, Moff Jerjerrod, Darth Vader, Veteran Turret Gunner, Proton Bombs, Dauntless
  • "Whisper" with Juke, Fifth Brother, Stealth Device
  • 1 point bid

A week before the points change, I snickered when my friend Marc found this list and took it for a spin. Three hours later, I was eating crow after my jousting list got completely dismantled across two games.

Here's the problem. RAC rams the jousting formation and won't die in the first or second turn of shooting. Keeping guns on RAC means eating the Proton Bomb and likely a VTG double-tap. The alternative is to correctly guess where Whisper will be after her System Phase decloak and possible boost (in any order), and then kill her through Stealth Device and up to four defensive tokens (lol). Meanwhile, the heavily-modded RAC with Vader is getting free shots.

Juke+Vader and Proton Bombs gives this two-ship list enough offense. Moff Jerjerrod is actually really good in this list even with its restrictions. It gives Chiraneau the maneuverability he desperately needs while also making Whisper harder to pin down. Don't be afraid to use it for just one ship. System Phase boost -> bomb drop is also legal and cute.

The points adjustment actually made this list go up by 1 point and it lost Hull Upgrade on RAC. I think it might have a tough time against arc-dodgers, but it should have a great matchup against any jousting list. Overall, I think the author of this list (I was told Marcel Herzog was the one who originally came up with this list. Jose Oliveira also had games on List Fortress.) did a great job of optimizing the upgrades for this playstyle.

First Order Swarm

TIE/fo Swarm
  • 4x Epsilon Squadron Cadet with Advanced Optics
  • 2x Epsilon Squadron Cadet
  • Lieutenant Rivas

Ace and FO Miniswarm
  • 4x Epsilon Squadron Cadet
  • Kylo Ren with Hate (17pts left) OR "Quickdraw" with Fanatical, Pattern Analyzer, Special Forces Gunner, Fire-Control System, Afterburners (26pts left)
  • Spend remaining points on: extra Epsilon Squadron Cadet (26), Lieutenant Rivas (pilot, 2), Zeta Squadron Pilot (pilot, 1-4), Omega Squadron Ace (pilot, 3-12), Advanced Optics (4-16), bid

6 TIE/sf Swarm
  • 6x Zeta Squadron Survivor
  • 8 points of upgrades: Omega Squadron Expert (pilot, 2-8), Advanced Optics (4-8)

Quickdraw and SF Miniswarm
  • "Quickdraw" with Fanatical, Pattern Analyzer, Special Forces Gunner, Fire-Control System, Afterburners
  • 4x Zeta Squadron Survivor
  • 2 point bid

After the buffs, the cheap TIE/fo and TIE/sf pilots are now pretty efficient. They should be good on their own or paired with an ace.

Scum 5s

Ketsu OT Talonbane
  • Ketsu Onyo with Fearless, Maul, Shadow Caster
  • Old Teroch with Fearless
  • Talonbane Cobra with Fearless

Ketsu OT Nym
  • Ketsu Onyo with Maul, Shadow Caster
  • Old Teroch with Fearless
  • Captain Nym with Dorsal Turret, Proton Bombs

Old Para's Scum 5s list got a discount with the new points update and it should still be viable in this meta. Ketsu and Old Teroch are both very strong. The third piece is harder to figure out. I think Captain Nym might be better than Talonbane Cobra in this list, but both feel somewhat mediocre.

I think all of these components are strong, so you can also consider mixing them into your other Scum lists.

Three Jedi

Mace Lumi Saessee (My Version)
  • Mace Windu with Delta 7-B, R4 Astromech
  • Luminara Unduli with Delta 7-B, R4 Astromech, Spare Parts Canister
  • Saessee Tiin with Delta 7-B, R4 Astromech, Spare Parts Canister
  • 1 point bid

Obi Plo X
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi with Delta 7-B
  • Plo Koon with Delta 7-B
  • Barriss Offee with Delta 7-B
  • 14 points of upgrades: bid, Mace Windu (pilot, 6), Luminara Unduli (pilot, 4), Saessee Tiin (pilot, 4), R4 Astromech (2-6), R2 Astromech (6-12), Sense (5)

Three 7-B lists are lots of fun, but it has a terrible matchup against I5 lists it can't joust (e.g. Resistance 5's, anything with Rexler). A version of the Mace Lumi Saessee list with R2 Astromechs and Sense took top 2 at a large tournament but is no longer affordable. My version used Spare Parts Canister to deal with higher-initiative pilots and is still legal but lost 3 points of its previous bid.

With the buffs to Obi-Wan and Plo, the list can instead run two I5 pilots to deal with higher-initiative aces. I think the third ship should be an I4, but you have some choices on which one to run.

Palp Aces

Palp Rexler Duchess
  • Omicron Group Pilot with Emperor Palpatine
  • Rexler Brath
  • "Duchess" with Fifth Brother
  • 14 points of upgrades: bid, Outmaneuver (6), Juke (7), Fire-Control System (2), Shield Upgrade (6), Hull Upgrade (5), Crack Shot (1), Predator (2)

I think this version of the Palp Aces archetype is the strongest. Both Rexler and Duchess are annoyingly durable with Palp support and either ship can cause big problems when they reach the endgame. I'd suggest an offensive talent for Rexler and Shield Upgrade for Duchess, but you can mix and match upgrades to your choosing.

Rey and Poe

Rey Poe Talli
  • Rey
  • Poe Dameron with Heroic, R4 Astromech
  • Tallissan Lintra with Heroic
  • 19 points of upgrades: bid, Finn (10), Rose Tico (9), Kaydel Connix (5), Chewbacca (5), Engine Upgrade (7), Rey's Millennium Falcon (5), Korr Sella (6), Contraband Cybernetics (3), Pattern Analyzer (5), Black One (2), Plasma Torpedoes (9), Proton Torpedoes (13), Advanced Optics (4), Crack Shot (1)

Rey Poe
  • Rey with Finn, Kaydel Connix, Engine Upgrade, Rey's Millennium Falcon
  • Poe Dameron with Heroic, R4 Astromech, Black One, Plasma Torpedoes
  • 18 points of upgrades: bid, Rose Tico (9), Chewbacca (5), Korr Sella (6), Contraband Cybernetics (3), Pattern Analyzer (5), Primed Thrusters (10), upgrade to Proton Torpedoes (4)

Rey might be top 5 in efficiency after her latest buff. I don't have any experience with her, and I don't have a sense for how much the upgrades (e.g. Finn, Rose Tico, Chewbacca, Rey's Millennium Falcon) add to her effectiveness. Kaydel Connix looks incredible and potentially degenerate combined with Engine Upgrade, Rey's Millennium Falcon, and a bid.

For now, I tried pairing her with the classic choices. Poe should work well as a second ace and to add burst damage. If you go with a 2-ship list, I included the extra damage and maneuverability upgrades. These are probably less necessary in a 3-ship list, and Talli's still strong even after her small nerf.


Asajj Kihraxz
  • Asajj Ventress with Contraband Cybernetics, Shadow Caster
  • 3x Cartel Marauder
  • 6 points of upgrades: Sense (5), Heightened Perception (3), L3-37 (4), Boba Fett (4), Tobias Beckett (2), Zuckuss (2), 4-LOM (2), Deadman's Switch (2)

Ketsu Kihraxz
  • Ketsu Onyo with Maul, Shadow Caster
  • 3x Cartel Marauder
  • 1 point bid

Scum Swarm
  • 3x Cartel Marauder
  • Captian Seevor
  • Jakku Gunrunner
  • Binayre Pirate

Meme Dream Deadman Team
  • 5x Cartel Marauder with Deadman's Switch

The generic Kihraxz should be one of the most efficient Scum ships. Compared to a generic T-65 X-Wing (already reasonably efficient), it gets a whopping 3 point discount for worse maneuverability and trading a shield for a hull.

They can be paired with other strong ships. Ketsu and Asajj are both very efficient and their disruptive abilities pair well with jousters. The Scum Swarm looks efficient, but could be hard to fly. The Meme Dream Deadman Team looks hilarious but it seems like it could backfire horribly (the last 10 points could be spent some other way).

Low Confidence

CLT Lottery

Four Jedi
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi with Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • Plo Koon with Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • Mace Windu with Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • Luminara Unduli with Calibrated Laser Targeting OR Saessee Tiin with Calibrated Laser Targeting
  • 7 point bid

Bullseye was so close to greatness. If it were just a bit larger (e.g. width of straight maneuver template), it could feel skillful to line up. Right now, it feels completely random. I once pointed my ship at a TIE Swarm in formation and had the bullseye arc go between the ships and miss everything. There are too many games where bullseye abilities never trigger.

That said, Calibrated Laser Targeting is dirt cheap after the buffs and are extremely efficient even if you rarely get the bullseye. I'm hesitant to recommend this because the entire list feels like RNG (bullseye and fragile 3-agility ships!). Still, its average strength should be high. A better use of CLT might be on a support-oriented Jedi with two Delta 7-B aces, but what's the fun in that?

Torpedo Combo Nu

Rexler Nu's
  • Rexler Brath with Lone Wolf
  • 2x Nu Squadron Pilot with Passive Sensors, Proton Torpedoes, Os-1 Arsenal Loadout, Advanced Proton Torpedoes
  • 6 points of upgrades: bid, Outmaneuver (1), Juke (2), Advanced SLAM (3-6)

Outside of Palp Aces, this is probably the best way to use Rexler. Passive Sensors fixes the Alpha-Class Star Wing's biggest weakness: having to declare a target in the activation phase. The burst damage of torpedo combo Alpha-Class Star Wings also fixes Rexler's biggest weakness: his cheap helpers dying before getting Rexler into the endgame, or not being able to threaten enough damage if they turn on Rexler first. Advanced SLAM is usually an auto-include but may be optional here.

This is in low confidence because I'm not sure these components are that strong. I think there's a chance Passive Sensors push the Nu's into being a top-tier ship and the synergy between Rexler and the alpha strike could make this a list that's stronger than its components.

Rey Bomber

Rey Vennie
  • Rey with Kaydel Connix, Finn, Engine Upgrade, Rey's Millenium Falcon
  • Vennie with Trajectory Simulator, Pattern Analyzer, Perceptive Co-Pilot, Veteran Turret Gunner, Proton Bombs
  • 4 points of upgrades: bid, Shield Upgrade (4), ???

Rey Edon
  • Rey with Kaydel Connix, Finn, Engine Upgrade, Rey's Millenium Falcon
  • Edon Kappehl with Trajectory Simulator, Proton Bombs, Proximity Mines
  • 15 points of upgrades: bid, Shield Upgrade (4), Veteran Turret Gunner (8), ???

I don't have a great sense for building Rey, but I have absolutely no idea how to evaluate or build Resistance Bombers. They got a points decrease, but is it enough to make them good? If so, they might be a good wingmate for Rey. Bombs add extra damage to the two-ship list and the StarFortresses can also add some punch.


200-Point Chewie
  • Chewbacca with Heroic, Han Solo, Finn, PZ-4CO, Contraband Cybernetics, Engine Upgrade
  • Cova Nell with C-3PO
  • BB-8
  • Vi Moraldi
  • 3 points of upgrades: bid, R4 Astromech (pending FAQ on if it works with Cova) (2), etc.

200-Point Rey
  • Rey with Kaydel Connix, PZ-4CO, Finn, Engine Upgrade, Millennium Falcon
  • Logistics Division Pilot with Leia Organa
  • Vi Moradi with C-3PO
  • 10 point bid

The "hyperstack a single ship" idea has been around from Dengaroo to Double Sheathipede Rey in 1.0 to the 2.0 Dash Roarke. Resistance seems to have the easiest time doing this with already-efficient buff targets, cheap coordinators, and infinite-range support effects.

For Chewbacca, the idea is to drive him into the fight stacked with Focus, Lock, Calculate, and multiple Evades from Han Solo. Finn not only contributes on offense, he also gives Chewbacca two green dice against ships in front of him to activate Heroic. When the Transport Pods trickle into the fight and inevitably die, Chewbacca will be there to avenge them with the bonus attack. Cova can stay out of the fight and coordinate from infinite range.

Rey plays the arc-dodge game. She can dial in a 2-speed maneuver to perform any 3-speed basic maneuver and take actions afterwards. Even after Leia goes down, she can still use Kaydel and boost after doing the red maneuver. She can't tank hits like Chewbacca, but she can easily avoid them. Thanks to Finn, she can also punish enemies that try to ignore her and go after her support first. 

Other Resistance

Talli and the Double Mods
  • Tallissan Lintra with Heroic, Crack Shot
  • Temmin Wexley with Composure
  • Jessika Pava
  • Lieutenant Bastian with M9-G8
  • 1 point bid

Heroic Reds
  • Joph Seastriker with Heroic
  • 2x Red Squadron Expert with Heroic
  • Tallissan Lintra with Heroic
  • 15 points of upgrades: Pattern Analyzer (5), Plasma Torpedoes (9), Autoblaster Turret (2), Advanced Optics (4), upgrade Tallissan to Red Squadron Expert (11)

Resistance 5's
  • Nien Nunb with Heroic, Pattern Analyzer
  • Ello Asty with Heroic
  • L'ulo L'ampar with Heroic
  • Tallissan Lintra with Heroic
  • 1 point bid

  • L'ulo L'ampar with Heroic
  • Tallissan Lintra with Heroic and Advanced Optics
  • 3x Blue Squadron Recruit with Heroic and Advanced Optics
  • 1 point of upgrades: bid, Crack Shot

Resistance was carried by Heroic and the I5 A-Wings. L'ulo got a massive nerf and I'm not sure he's worth it anymore. Talli got a small nerf and is still really strong. The cheapest Heroic carriers also got a small nerf.

Some of the previously-popular Resistance lists are still affordable with worse pilots, fewer upgrades, and smaller bids. I've included them, but I'm not sure they're that great now. Instead, the ones featuring lower-initiative X-Wings may be more favorable with their new discounts.

Boba Fett

Boba Guri
  • Boba Fett with Perceptive Co-Pilot, Proton Bombs, Slave I
  • Guri with Outmaneuver, Advanced Sensors, Afterburners
  • 14 point bid

Boba OT X
  • Boba Fett with Perceptive Co-Pilot, Proton Bombs, Slave I
  • Old Teroch with Fearless
  • Choose one: L3-37 (15pts left), Lando Calrissian Escape Craft (12pts left), Captain Seevor (11pts left)
  • Spend remaining points on: bid, Fearless (3), Contraband Cybernetics (3), Shield Upgrade (6), Hull Upgrade (5)

Boba Emon
  • Boba Fett with Perceptive Co-Pilot, Proton Bombs, Slave I
  • Emon Azzameen with L3-37, Proton Bombs, Andrasta, Proximity Mines
  • 7 points of upgrades: Contraband Cybernetics (3-6), Fearless (3-6), upgrade L3-37 to Perceptive Co-Pilot (4), Shield Upgrade (6), Hull Upgrade (5)

The Firesprays didn't get much of a buff, and most of it is offset by losing Trick Shot. Still, sometimes the best way to stand out is to stand still while everyone else steps back. I'm not sure these lists were that strong to begin with, but they should be viable.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

When to scream for nerfs

The title is a bit dramatic :), and I think we can all agree that nerfs (and buffs) are important. But, when should something be nerfed? Are the commonly-heard arguments for nerfing good ones, and is there a set of guidelines that suggest when something should be nerfed?

I had an interesting conversation with Travis Johnson on Facebook a while back about Ion Y-Wings, specifically 5 Y-Wings with Ion Cannon Turret where 4 have Veteran Turret Gunner. I argued one list has to be the best list at jousting (assuming for now that list is the best jousting list, which seems to be dubious), and it doesn't make sense to always call for nerfs for the best jousting list. Travis argued number of attacks and the ion effects feel bad to play against. Someone (I can't remember if it was Travis or someone else) also said the Y-Wings are too easy and boring to play for how good they are and thus should be nerfed.

These are things I've been thinking about for a while. What are the easy lists or hard lists? Should easy lists be nerfed? Also, what is this "burden of execution" thing that gets thrown around and how does that relate to nerfs? What are other good reasons to nerf a list?

My conclusion is whether a list is "easy" or "hard" isn't a good argument for whether it should be nerfed. Furthermore, lists whose success depends more on the opponent's decisions than the player's tend to be weak for tournament play.

The ships and lists that deserve nerfs are the ones that lack counterplay, where their success depends mostly on their player and less on their opponent's decisions. Signs that a ship lacks counterplay include out-jousting most less-maneuverable ships and changing their position with perfect information. These aren't hard-and-fast rules, but are rather warning labels that suggest a closer look.

Aside: Sometimes people consider calls for nerfs as attacks on the player's skill. Lists that lack counterplay scale really well with player skill because they depend more on their player's decisions than the opponent's. Winning with a list that lacks counterplay may mean the player is high-skilled, not low-skilled. The list may still need to be nerfed for the health of the game.

Finally, some game effects are balanced or weak but aren't fun to play against. I think there are reasonable arguments to remove these from the game by nerfing them, but the case to nerf these is harder to make. Different people find different things fun, and they won't be too common if they're already balanced or weak.

Easy vs. hard lists

First, let's consider lists that are easy to play or hard to play. Lists that are easy to play have a natural advantage over a long tournament, and it feels good to reward players that master a hard-to-play list.

But what are the hard lists? I often see the idea that fragile arc-dodgers are hard to play while stodgy jousters just 1-straight to victory. A strong jousting list does well against beginners and arc-dodgers are much weaker in the hands of a beginner. But for this standard, we should consider players who make the cut or are on the bubble of major tournaments. After all, the mental tax argument isn't relevant for casual night games.

Note: I usually use the terms arc-dodger and jouster as roles ships play within a matchup and not a universal feature of ships, but here I'm going to refer to less maneuverable ships as jousters and more maneuverable ships with great repositioning options as arc-dodgers.

And at the tournament level, jousters and arc-dodgers are usually equally hard to play. If anything, jousters are harder to play.

Sure, the arc-dodger has more options to consider. But to catch the arc-dodger, the jouster also has to consider the arc-dodger's options with probably less experience flying those ships! Who has an easier time figuring out where Advanced Sensors Guri can go: the player who's practiced Advanced Sensors Guri and is looking actively at the dial considering her options, or the player flying X-Wings playing against it for the first or second time?

Sure, an arc-dodger might suffer crippling damage after one careless maneuver. But it's the same for jousters. They might not die right away, but one bad maneuver is all it takes to lose the game. A bad maneuver might do anything from taking multiple ships out of the fight to simply having some ships just out of range in the initial joust and thus lose the damage race.

For the Toronto System Open, I flew Wedge, Luke, ARC Norra with Leia, and a Z-95 with Selfless. Three very efficient jousters and a Selfless chaff that hopefully gives its life for the others. I went 3-3, and although all of my losses were close, none of my games felt easy. My first game against 5-ship Rebels started with me initiative-killing two ships in the first two rounds in exchange for Luke. One round of bad maneuvers, bad target priority, and bad dice luck later, I lost Wedge and the Z-95 that round and by 1 MOV when time was called a few rounds later. Similarly, my third game was a loss against Resistance 5's. One careless maneuver put Luke out of the fight for two crucial turns and put me in a position need decent dice luck on the last round of shooting. Some of my wins followed a similar pattern: a good opening would turn into a much closer game after I made a mistake.

If anything, arc-dodgers are more forgiving to fly. Losing an arc-dodger means you can't initiative-kill weakened ships as easily, but at least the rest of your arc-dodgers will have more room to play. For jousters, each firing arc they lose means a smaller chance of catching their opponent in the future, and it's much harder to outplay for free shots with jousters to recover from a bad decision or bad luck.

In the last few rounds of that first game at Toronto, I had to out-fly a generic T-65 and a Sheathipede with an ARC to win. That was too much for me to handle. On the other side, after seeing PhilGC do crazy things with his two-ship lists, I tried out his Fenn Guri list. I have nowhere close to his experience with two-ship lists (never flown in 2.0) or Guri (only flown a few times in 2.0, although I've flown generic StarVipers a few more times). In my first game, Fenn was crippled in the first round of shooting after one of my patented terrible barrel rolls took him out of range 1 but not out of arc. In the second, Fenn died in the first round of shooting to two 2-dice attacks at range 2 and 3. But I still had Guri. She danced around, forcing and capitalizing on small mistakes, avoiding shots while hitting back. A last-round misplay by my opponent put me 1 MOV ahead in the first game. In the second, Guri bumped to deny shots and initiative-killed a crucial ship to open things up for a full wipe.

If jousters or arc-dodgers don't determine a hard or easy list, what are the truly hard lists to fly? Those are the lists full of low-maneuverability ships that consistently lose the joust, or fragile high-maneuverability ships that can't reliably arc-dodge or put out enough damage before they're inevitably caught. In other words, these are lists that have tons of bad matchups. The hard lists are the lists that are weak. And similarly, the easy lists are the strong lists which have good matchups across the board.

And if that's the case, "hard" and "easy" don't give us any information on whether a list should be nerfed. Yes, list that has good matchups against most of the field is too strong/easy, and it should be nerfed. Yes, a list that has bad matchups against most of the field is too weak/hard, and it should be buffed. If they mean the same thing, then a list being "hard" or "easy" isn't an argument for it being strong or weak. We'd be saying a list should be nerfed because it should be nerfed.

Burden of Execution

Another popular term is "burden of execution", where the common argument goes that lists which place the "burden of execution" on their opponent should be nerfed. I think it may be used in different ways, but for this article, I'll say this means a list's success depends more on the opponent's choices than your choices.

As my attention turned to the Hyperspace Trial season after the Toronto System Open, I tried Wedge, Luke, a generic U-Wing with Leia, and a generic X-Wing. Again, I had two efficient jousters, the hyper-efficient Leia, and a strong filler ship. I got some wins with it, but my friend Marc (top 4 Toronto System Open, master of memes, and the noble sacrifice that saved us all from the Toronto Tallon Roll) was consistently beating me with his 4-ship TIE Salad.

After banging my head against the wall to try to figure out this list, I finally realized what the problem was. My best overall and end-game ship is Luke (second is Wedge). My most fragile ship in proportion to the damage they deal is Luke (and Wedge). That meant Luke (and Wedge) is the priority target. And unfortunately, I couldn't find a reliable way to keep them safe.

In other words, that list put the "burden of execution" on my opponent. If they correctly chose to kill Luke first, I was in trouble. Otherwise (some people got distracted by the U-Wing), I'm favored to win.

The problem is, I have no control over my opponent's target priority. A good player like Marc will make the right decision every time. That made the list highly unreliable and a bad choice for tournament play. Rather than a reason for nerfs, lists that place the "burden of execution" on their opponent tend to be weak.


If lists that win or lose mostly by your opponent's decisions are weak for tournament play, then lists that win or lose mostly by your own decisions are too strong. And it's precisely these lists that are most concerning for balance. If the success of a list is only determined by its player's decisions and not by its opponent's, then it'll be unbeatable in the hands of a great player. X-Wing is a two-player game, and we usually play these games to interact with the other players. Both players' decisions should contribute to the end result, or in other words, both lists should allow for counterplay (I prefer "counterplay" to "agency" for this concept).

Of course, lists don't have to be literally unbeatable to deserve nerfs. If the decisions your opponent has to make to win are too hard to reliably execute (perhaps a different use of the phrase "placing the burden of execution on the opponent"), then the list doesn't have enough counterplay. Maybe he has to put his ships in multiple exact spots for multiple turns, correctly guess the exact maneuver you picked, or outfly you so much that he gets a full round of free shots even when his ships aren't that maneuverable.

A list can lack counterplay for two interconnected reasons. First, a list can have an overwhelming numerical advantage. This might be a list which simply deals or avoids too much damage. As an example, the generic TIE Phantoms (with Jan 2019 points) are among the most efficient ships in the game even without Juke.

Second, a list can have an overwhelming maneuverability advantage. These are ships with high initiative that can change their maneuver or reposition before executing their maneuver after seeing where the opposing ships are. Normal arc-dodgers have counterplay in that they are committed to the maneuver they dialed. Opponents can turn off their ability to reposition by blocking them. Ships that can reposition or change their maneuver before executing their maneuver are almost impossible to block, so there's no universal mechanic that any list can use to pin them down.

These are interconnected problems. A list full of shuttles may have a numerical advantage if their dials aren't considered, but they're easy to get free shots on. TIE Phantoms may have worse stats compared to shuttles, but their numerical advantage is partially based on their above-average maneuverability. In fact, they joust better than most less-maneuverable ships, a classic sign of a ship that lacks counterplay. Similarly, the Grand Inquisitor can take Supernatural Reflexes just like Kylo Ren can, but Kylo's stats make him more effective at dealing enough damage to get ahead on points.

It's worth mentioning hard-counters here. Hard-counters are effects which are much stronger against some lists. Even though they are weak against certain lists, lists they hard-counter may not have enough counterplay against them.

Similarly, nerfs can also be justified if the gap between top-tier and "normal" lists is too large. Top-tier lists may be competitive against each other, but may lack counterplay against most lists. This was the situation for most first edition, and most players could agree this wasn't an ideal situation. There will always be good lists and bad lists, but the bad lists should still stand a chance against good lists with strong play.

Balanced but feels bad

Finally, there are effects which may not win a lot, but aren't fun to play against. The most common examples are effects which take away choices players can normally make, like ion effects or multiple stress effects. Effects that reroll your opponent's dice can also feel bad because of loss aversion.

There's an argument that these should be nerfed. X-Wing is a game, and games are played for fun. If you're not making choices in a game, you might as well not be playing. If these effects reduce the amount of fun in the game, then a nerf that reduces their prevalence can make the game more enjoyable.

That said, there's a couple reasons why this is a harder argument to make. First, different people have different ideas of fun. Some players may enjoy having a control element in their list, and some people may not mind playing against them when balanced. Second, if these effects are already balanced or weak, they're not likely to become popular. They might not be widespread enough to significantly impact the fun of the game.

Keep Calm and Scream for Nerfs

With all of this in mind, we now know some warning signs for when we should scream for nerfs. We should be on the look-out for ships that out-joust most of the less-maneuverable ships. We should also keep a close eye on ships that can change their positioning after having full information of where most enemy ships moved. Finally, we should also keep an eye out for effects which take choices away from players.

I also hope we can give more credit to players who prefer swarms or jousting lists. Rather than being easy no-skill lists, jousting lists require good decision-making to win with and are probably harder and less forgiving to fly than aces. A recent meta analysis found there are slightly more I4, I5, and I6 ships being played than lower-initiative ships. That's the opposite of what's expected since lower-initiative ships tend to be cheaper so more fits in a list. I hope FFG can show more love for these lower-initiative ships (maybe by raising the price of higher-initiative ships) so jousters and swarms will see more play.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Value of Heroism

is 2 points.

Heroic is a fun card for theorycrafters. It's cheap, can have a big effect, but rarely triggers. Its benefit is pretty easy to quantify. Many have done the math on this upgrade, with Zombie Squadron's article as one of the more recent examples. Still, opinions seem to be mixed on whether this card is good. Some people say the benefit is strong enough, some say it triggers too rarely to matter, and some say it's only good because it provides insurance against bad outcomes.

I want to answer two questions to fill in some gaps and settle the debate. First, exactly how much does Heroic improve a ship? Second, how many points is Heroic worth? To answer these questions, I calculate how much more effective a ship with Heroic becomes. This is the best metric to see whether Heroic is strong or weak.

Most of the numbers were generated from the X-Wing Probability Calculator. I'll average the benefits using these assumptions:

Attacks received are always assumed to have a single mod, and I also assume 2 attacks received per round for focus on defense.

Technical note: the damage dealt scaling turns average damage dealt against a defense profile into "average attack equivalents". These are calculated using the meta assumptions on attack profiles. For example, 1 damage against a 0-agility target is only half of an "average attack equivalent" while 1 damage against a 3-agility target is worth one "average attack equivalent". Damage is scaled so a percent increase in damage dealt to a 3-agility target is worth the same as a percent increase in damage dealt to a 0-agility target (before adjusting for the frequency of these defense types). Without this adjustment, percent increases in damage dealt to a 3-agility would be worth less because it starts from a smaller value.

Heroic Offense

The graph below has the percent increase in damage dealt that Heroic adds. The average benefits at the bottom average across the meta assumptions including range bonuses, while the numbers above the line are just for those raw dice.

As expected, Heroic adds the most benefit for 2-dice attacks. 2-dice attacks improve by 6%, while 3-dice attacks are only improved by 1.5% and 4-dice attacks gain a negligible benefit. This means the average benefit including range bonuses is roughly 4% for a 2-attack ship like an A-Wing, while the offensive benefit for X-Wings is only 1%.

The percent benefit of Heroic on offense is about the same with or without focus. Of course, the raw damage increase is larger with focus because it starts from a higher base. Intuitively, this makes sense. Heroic gives you a retry, and the strength of that retry is just the strength of the base attack. The benefit of Heroic as a percentage of the base attack will just be the percent chance it triggers, and focus doesn't affect that at all.

This is not part of the analysis, but keep in mind Heroic doesn't help at all if you have already have a Lock on the target except by improving the chances to keep the Lock for the next turn. If you're frequently taking Locks, then Heroic's value on offense goes down.

Heroic Defense

The graph below has the percent increase in durability that Heroic adds. The average benefits to the right average across the meta assumptions including range bonuses, while the numbers left of the line are just for those raw dice.

Again, Heroic adds the most benefit for 2-die defense rolls and 2-agility ships. If we assume a 50% chance of having a focus in a round for defense (as opposed to saving it for offense or not having a focus token at the start of the round), a 2-agility ship like the X-Wing sees an 8% increase in durability while a 3-agility ship like the A-Wing sees a 5.5% increase in durability.

Unlike its benefit on offense, the benefit of Heroic on defense improves when the ship has a focus token. Intuitively, this also makes sense. For the easiest case to imagine, consider a 1-hit attack. When the defender doesn't have a focus token, this will only deal damage when the defender rolls only blanks or some combination of blanks and eyeballs. Heroic reduces the chances of rolling blanks, but not the chance of rolling some combination of blanks and eyeballs. When the defender has a focus token, this will only deal damage when the defender rolls only blanks, and Heroic reduces all of that chance.

Similarly, Heroic is also stronger against weak attacks than strong attacks for a similar reason. A weak attack relies on the defender blanking out to push through meaningful damage. A strong attack can still push damage through even if some evades are showing.

The Value of Heroism

We can use the simple method in my last article to calculate the total benefit of Heroic. We add the offense benefit to the defense benefit and divide by 2 to adjust for focus fire. It turns out the benefit for A-Wings and X-Wings are pretty close; Heroic makes A-Wings 4.8% more effective and X-Wings 4.5% more effective.

We can multiply these benefits by the ship's cost to find out how much Heroic should cost to keep the ship's efficiency the same. Here are some examples based on the January 2019 point costs:

  • Blue Squadron Escort A-Wing: 1.5 points
  • Tallissan Lintra: 1.7 points
  • L'ulo L'ampar: 1.7-1.8 points (based on how often he's stressed)
  • Blue Squadron Recruit X-Wing: 2.1 points
  • Nien Nunb: 2.5 points
  • Poe Dameron: 3.1 points

As we can see, Heroic should cost about 2 points on average to keep the ship's efficiency the same. If Heroic is added to a ship with other upgrades, the cost of the other upgrades should also be included and further increases the value of Heroic.

It only makes a small difference, but the true value of Heroic is based on the true value of the ship and not the official FFG point cost. Most of these ships are costed pretty accurately, but Tallissan and L'ulo are some of the most underpriced ships in the game. If they were priced more accurately (and with more precise modeling), Heroic adds about 1.9 points of value for Tallissan and 2.4 points of value for L'ulo. Poe might also be a bit overcosted, but the difference is small with R4 Astromech and he already benefits greatly from Heroic.

Overall, Heroic would be fair for most ships at 2 points and it's a steal at 1 point. The efficiency of Heroic is magnified because it's a cheap and unlimited upgrade that most of the popular Resistance ships can take. You can bring 4-6 copies of Heroic in a list and get 4-6 extra points of value.

That said, this might be a good thing. The point of faction identity talents is to make each faction feel different, and they can't do that if no one uses them. Heroic differentiates Resistance from the other factions and doesn't hard-counter specific archetypes (like Treacherous), greatly limit list-building (like Ruthless), or restrict the playstyle of lists that take it (like Selfless, or Dedicated to some degree). Fearless and Fanatical are other examples of what I think are well-designed faction identity talents in that I wouldn't mind if every Scum or First Order list included those (I wonder if Dedicated is interesting enough to qualify or if it would just get old fast). I'd be happy to see these talents undercosted so they see the table more frequently and do their job of making each faction play a bit differently.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Evaluation and Calculation: Gains from trade

How do we decide whether a ship is strong or weak? In this series of article, I'll describe how I evaluate ships. The goal is to keep things as non-technical as possible and focus on tips you can use to help you evaluate ships.

Since my Ship Efficiency Model is a reflection of how I evaluate ships, these articles will also explain how it works and what it looks at. You can always find the latest version linked at the beginning of this page.

Evaluation and Calculation series index:
What is best in X-Wing? (1v1 effectiveness)
Heroes on that mission (Focus fire effectiveness)
Gains from trade (Efficiency)
- It's time for action (Actions)
- Stayin' alive (Durability)
- Dealing the damages (Damage)
- Dial me up (Maneuver dials and firing arcs)
- If you can dodge a wrench... (Arc-dodging)

Gains from trade

The point cost is the single most important piece of information when evaluating any ship or upgrade.

People may talk about how Obi-Wan is bad because his force runs out too quickly, or how bullseye effects are bad because they rarely trigger, or how the mid-initiative TIE Advanced/x1 pilots are bad because they can't reliably get target locks for Advanced Targeting Computer. They sound very different, but really they're saying the same thing: these ships and upgrades cost too much for their effectiveness.

People may talk about how Tallisan and L'ulo are good because they have a rear turret, or how Hate is good because it bends the rules on 1 force per turn, or how VTG Y-Wings are good because they roll lots of red dice. They sound very different, but really they're saying the same thing: these ships and upgrades are too cheap for their effectiveness.

Once upon a time, there was a pilot with 3 Force. He saw some play but wasn't considered one of the strongest pilots. People usually left him in their binders in favor of his friends. One day, his full loadout got a 5%-10% discount and he now consistently makes top cuts at tournaments. To put that in context, a 10% difference in efficiency is roughly the gap between the 25th and 75th percentile of ships and between the 75th and 97th percentile of ships. His name? Darth Vader. Obi-Wan would love to regenerate multiple force every turn, but that's not what he needs to be viable. He just needs a point cost decrease. (Note Hate was also released at this time, but many players are succeeding with different upgrades on Vader.)

Y-Wings with Veteran Turret Gunner have been part of the game since the beginning, but they saw little success at first. An 11% discount later and people are asking whether the ship is healthy for the game.

These examples show point costs are the single most important factor for determining a ship's strength. The ship with the worst attributes can be wildly overpowered if it's too cheap, and the ship with the best attributes will never see play if it's too expensive. Ships feel satisfying mostly when they can do their job, and the job they need to do depends on how much they cost.

So what does that mean for evaluating ships? What we really care about is bang for the buck: what we get for the points we spend. In other words, we care about efficiency.

If we define efficiency as the ship's effectiveness divided by its point cost, we usually end up with a very small number that's hard to work with. Since we have 200 points in a standard list, let's define efficiency as effectiveness per 200 points:

We can summarize this section as a few guidelines:
  • If you are considering whether a ship is strong or weak, you must consider the ship's point cost.
  • If you are discussing unreleased content which doesn't have point costs, it's more helpful to discuss how many points the ship or upgrade should cost to be average or strong, rather than only considering the effectiveness of that ship or upgrade.

Come Get Your Armor

At first glance, the efficiency equation seems absolutely useless for people who'd rather play X-Wing than do math for X-Wing 😊. A ship's effectiveness isn't easy to calculate! Fortunately for us non-droid carbon-based lifeforms, there's an easy way to use the efficiency equation to compare ships and evaluate upgrades.

Let's start with upgrades. An upgrade will change a ship's efficiency by increasing both its effectiveness and its point cost:

Thankfully, since most upgrades increase a ship's effectiveness by a percentage, we don't need to calculate the ship's effectiveness! We just need to figure out the percent change in effectiveness and point costs.

By the properties of multiplication, it doesn't matter whether the increase in effectiveness comes from stronger attacks or greater durability (although this may be important for other aspects of list-building). A 20% increase in offense or a 20% increase in durability both increase the ship's effectiveness by 20%.

With this in mind, let's get down to evaluating upgrades. We want something easy to use instead of something precise, so here's a simple "good enough" method:
  1. Find what the upgrade does in the list below. Adjust the percent changes by the percent of the time you'll get the benefit.
  2. Add all the adjusted percent changes together.
  3. Divide this by 2. This is the percent increase in effectiveness (roughly an 90% weight on focus-fire and 10% weight on 1v1 effectiveness).
  4. Divide the cost of the upgrade by the ship's cost. This is the percent increase in cost.
  5. Take the increase in effectiveness and subtract the increase in cost. This is very roughly the increase in efficiency, although this will be imprecise for large changes in effectiveness and cost.

Value of attack upgrades:
  • 2 -> 3 attack: +80% effectiveness
  • 3 -> 4 attack: +50% effectiveness
  • unmodded -> single-die mod (force or 1 reroll): +60%, +55%, +50% effectiveness for 2, 3, and 4-attack
  • unmodded -> one mod (focus or TL): +80% effectiveness
  • one mod -> one mod + single-die mod: +30%, +25%, +20% effectiveness for 2, 3, and 4-attack
  • one mod -> double mod: +40% effectiveness

Value of defense upgrades:
  • Extra hull/shields: percent of previous total hull/shields
  • 0 -> 1 agility (assume no mods): +17% effectiveness
  • 1 -> 2 agility (assume no mods): +18% effectiveness
  • 2 -> 3 agility (assume no mods): +20% effectiveness
  • Unmodded -> calc: +15%, +25%, +30% for 1, 2, and 3 agility
  • Unmodded -> focus: +15%, +27%, +40% for 1, 2, and 3 agility
  • Unmodded -> evade: +25%, +33%, +40% for 1, 2, and 3 agility
  • Unmodded -> calc+evade: +30%, +40%, +50% for 1, 2, and 3 agility
  • Unmodded -> focus+evade: +30%, +45%, +55% for 1, 2, and 3 agility

There's a bunch of shortcuts here so this method gives you an imprecise answer, but the important thing is it's easy to use and it's usually close enough. These are also rough numbers based on some assumptions about the meta and 2 attacks received per round, but they should be pretty reasonable.

If you care about precision, then for step 2, multiply (1 + the percent changes) together and subtract 1 at the end instead of simply adding the percent changes together. For step 5, divide (1 + total percent increase in effectiveness) by (1 + percent increase in cost) and subtract 1 afterwards for the percent change in efficiency.

Example 1: Suppose we're looking at Advanced Optics on an RZ-2 A-Wing. The benefit of Advanced Optics for a 2-attack ship is probably lower than adding a single-die mod to the ship (especially at Range 1), so let's put it around 24%. We'll say the A-Wing probably gets focus on attack about 2/3 of the time. That puts the increase in effectiveness at 18%. Divide by 2 for focus fire, and we're at 9%. If Advanced Optics costs less than 9% of the A-Wing pilot's cost, then it improves the ship's efficiency when taken.

Example 2: Consider the Delta 7-B configuration on a Jedi Knight or other pilot without support abilities. Going from 2 to 3 attack is +80% effectiveness, going from 3 to 2 agility is -20% effectiveness, and the 2 extra shields is +50% effectiveness for a 4-health ship. Adding it all up, we have a +110% increase in effectiveness, or +55% after dividing by 2 for focus fire. If the Delta 7-B configuration costs less than 55% of the pilot's cost, then it improves the ship's efficiency when taken.

Ships with support abilities are tricky because the value of support abilities usually don't scale with attack upgrades. You'll have to reduce the effectiveness increase of attack upgrades by your best guess at the fraction of the ship's value the support abilities represent. To evaluate support abilities, you can figure out how valuable it'd be as an upgrade for the ship you're supporting, and then discount it by some fraction because it requires both ships to be alive (I currently discount the value of support abilities by a third).

Upgrades that improve a ship's maneuverability are also tricky. The best way to think about it would be to guess how many more shots the upgrade would let your ship take or avoid as a percentage of . As a baseline, you can expect a max of 14 rounds in a standard timed game with 8-10 rounds where at least one ship is shooting.

That one's garbage

We can compare ships using the same process. Treat one ship as the baseline and upgrade it until it turns into the second ship. Find the list of differences between the two ships, add up the total percent change in effectiveness, and compare that to the percent difference in point costs.

It's important not to use the official point cost for things like Hull Upgrade to value differences in statistics. There's no guarantee the official point costs properly reflect the value of those upgrades for that ship. For example, Hull Upgrade costs the same for an Academy Pilot and Soontir Fel, but there's no way Hull Upgrade is worth the same on both ships.

The most important thing is to pick an appropriate benchmark. If you use one of the most efficient ships in the game as your benchmark, then of course most ships are going to look bad compared to it. Pick the benchmark to suit your purpose. If you want to find ships that are competitive, then compare it to other ships that do well in tournaments. If you want to see if a ship is good for casual play, then compare it to an average ship.

Stay Tuned!

We've covered evaluating upgrades and ships for efficiency in this article, but we glossed over the components of ship efficiency so far. How do we tell how durable a ship is or how much damage it deals? We'll cover these topics in the next few articles!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Evaluation and Calculation: Heroes on that mission

How do we decide whether a ship is strong or weak? In this series of article, I'll describe how I evaluate ships. The goal is to keep things as non-technical as possible and focus on tips you can use to help you evaluate ships.

Since my Ship Efficiency Model is a reflection of how I evaluate ships, these articles will also explain how it works and what it looks at. You can always find the latest version linked at the beginning of this page.

Evaluation and Calculation series index:
What is best in X-Wing? (1v1 effectiveness)
Heroes on that mission (Focus fire effectiveness)
Gains from trade (Efficiency)
- It's time for action (Actions)
- Stayin' alive (Durability)
- Dealing the damages (Damage)
- Dial me up (Maneuver dials and firing arcs)
- If you can dodge a wrench... (Arc-dodging)

There were heroes on that mission

According to TV Tropes, the first principle of Mook Chivalry is to attack one at a time (disclaimer: I claim no responsibility for any time lost to that website). Unfortunately, chivalry is dead in Star Wars. Once a swarm gets all their guns on target and someone misreads Crossfire Formation as Deadman's Switch, action heroes quickly turn into dead heroes.

In the last article, we talked about rating ships in a 1v1. Isolated matchups happen in X-Wing, so we do want to rate ships in these scenarios. However, we also need to rate ships in the far more common situations where multiple ships are shooting on the same turn. Two 3-attack ships with 4 health each is roughly a fair matchup for one 3-attack ship with 8 health if they attack one at a time. If they attack at the same time, the two 4-health ships deals about 50% more damage than the single 8-health ship!

This leads us to a common guideline for list-building:
  • For the same points, adding a second copy of a ship is better than doubling the effectiveness of the first ship.

Of course, this rule of thumb conflicts with some earlier ones. You want to put good upgrades on strong ships that already survive a long time and dish out good damage, but upgrading one ship gets less and less effective in focus-fire situations. Play-testing or a math model can help you figure out when it's best to stack a ship with upgrades and when it's better to spend your points on more ships.

Lanchester's Square Law

To deal with this issue, we need to do something to the effectiveness formula so multiple small ships are rated better than one big ship with the same total health. We can do that by shrinking the value of big ships more than the value of small ships.

Normally, I'd reach into my bag of math tools and pick a well-known function that shrinks big numbers more than small numbers. In this case, someone has done the hard work and found exactly what function to use! If we had a really large number of ships that can focus fire each other, Lanchester's Square Law tells us to take the square root of their 1v1 effectiveness to get their effectiveness in focus-fire situations. Through simulation, MajorJuggler found that the small number of ships in X-Wing means we shouldn't quite take the square root, we take the 1.85th root instead (shrinks numbers less than the square root does, but it's pretty close).

Taking the nth root is the same as raising to the exponent 1/n, so if you look in the spreadsheet, you'll see something like this equation:

If you're not familiar with square roots or exponents, the important thing to remember is we're shrinking big numbers more than small numbers. Here's what the 1.85th root looks like. If we plug in 1, it stays the same. Plugging in 4 (3 higher than the previous number) gets us a number slightly larger than 2, and we have to plug in 9 (5 higher than the previous number) to get a number slightly larger than 3. The larger the number we plug in, the more it gets shrunk.

It's dangerous to go alone!

You can't have focus fire without having multiple ships, and multiple ships introduces a limitation of the effectiveness model. Our measure of ship effectiveness is pretty good when the squad is just multiple copies of the same ship. It's less reliable when some of the ships are tankier or more fragile than others.

Here's some more guidelines:
  • It's not ideal to mix tanky ships with glass cannon ships in the same list.
  • Generally, you want to kill your opponent's glass cannon ships first and leave their tanky ships for the end.
Sloane swarms are a great examples of lists which take advantage of these guidelines. TIE Interceptors and TIE Strikers are on the glass-cannon end of the spectrum, while ships that carry Sloane are normally tanks. However, Sloane is a powerful offensive support ability that flips its carrier's profile toward offense, and as such, all the ships in the Sloane swarm have similar offense-to-durability profiles.

Stay tuned!

We've learned about how to think about a ship's effectiveness, but that's only half of what's needed to evaluate ships. Since X-Wing is a game with a points budget, we also care about the ship's point cost. In the next article, we'll talk about point costs and efficiency and how to evaluate ships and upgrades.