Friday, January 31, 2020

Beginner's Guide to Not Jousting

I've said in the past that flying arc-dodgers is not harder than flying jousters at the tournament level, but there's an initial learning curve on how to avoid jousting.

Here's a basic idea you can try to avoid jousting: Don't put your ships in the same place.

In this case, "same place" means "area covered by the same firing arc(s)". In other words, flank with your ships.

This is not a flank:

This is a flank:

The important thing is where your ships are during the engagement, not where they are deployed. You can start your ace ships anywhere as long as they are spread out before the engagement. Similarly, don't get baited by spreading your ships during deployment but have all your ships end up in the same place by the time the shooting starts.

Of course, things get more difficult if enemy ships have multiple arcs, but this general concept still applies.

There are several reasons to spread out your ships. First, it's easier to arc-dodge and avoid shots with one ship than it is with three ships. When your ships are in the same place, their escape routes may end up getting blocked off by your own ships.

Second, it's hard to arc-dodge and get shots at the same time. Even when all your aces successfully arc-dodge, you may not have gained anything. Flanking means the ships that don't arc-dodge get free shots.

Third, it forces your opponent to make decisions and thus gives them more chances to make mistakes. If all your ships are in one place, your opponent's choices are obvious (turn towards all of your ships). When they have to decide which of three ships to turn toward, they might make the wrong choice and give you a significant advantage.

There's an added benefit of flanking for all ships, even ships that aren't aces. When ships are flying head-on at each other, they usually have to K-Turn to keep their guns on target. Flanking ships can keep guns on target without turning around. This means flanking is especially beneficial for ships that are often stressed and can't K-Turn (e.g. Soontir Fel, Braylen Stramm) or ships that don't have a K-Turn (e.g. the Upsilon Shuttle).

As such, flanking is also important if your list has both a jousting block and a flanker or arc-dodger, or if you only have ships with average or below-average maneuverability but you'd lose a straight joust.


For the other side of the matchup, there are a few ways to play against a flanking list. First, you can try to jump on one ship before the others can capitalize. In the best case scenario, you can kill or cripple one ship for free. If you play it especially well, you may have time to regroup before your opponent can punish even if you don't catch or cripple the target.

Second, you can try to herd your opponent's ships together. You can threaten to jump on a ship and force it to turn into its allies. Once your opponents ships are in the same place, you'll have an easier time catching them.

Sometimes, you can split your firing arcs. This threatens your opponent with at least some damage and may make them play more cautiously with spending tokens on offense. Don't do this if the enemy ships have strong defenses that require focus fire to overcome. This can also leave your ships uncoordinated and in a position to be picked off by the aces.

Finally, you can make sure you catch at least one ship in your arcs, even if you have to give up the flank to the other enemy ships. As long as your ships are shooting, you may still win the damage race. If possible, leave yourself with an option to threaten the flankers with your maneuver the next turn.

There's currently one more strategy against flankers that's potentially problematic for the game: "mobile fortressing". This strategy involves only flying your ships along the board edges, either waiting for your opponent to approach or for a favorable final salvo. It removes one of the flank approaches using the board edge while threatening the other approaches with hard turns and K-Turns. It's often the best strategy if you have a less-maneuverable list. Unfortunately, this strategy could be degenerate since it's pretty easy to execute and has limited options for counterplay. I believe the rules should heavily discourage mobile fortressing for this reason, and judges at various events may already be using their discretion to penalize mobile fortressing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What a close joust vs. aces game looks like: implications for time limits and strategy

When there's an aces vs. jousters matchup, what does an even game look like? This would be a game where both players have roughly equal chances to win until the end.

For this exercise, we can imagine some hypothetical 2-3 ace list (maybe Boba Fenn or Republic Aces) against a hypothetical jousting list (maybe 5 X-Wings).

Suppose after a few rounds, both lists have lost about 80 points of ships. One of the aces and two X-Wings died. Does this even trade of points create an even game state?

Actually, this even trade of points means the jousting list is losing unless the aces are in a bad position.

We know from escalation leagues and epic games that lower point budgets favor aces while higher point budgets favor jousters. With lower point budgets, jousters don't have enough firing arcs to get reliable shots on aces. With higher points budgets, aces die well before they get value for their cost.

Unless the aces are in a bad position, we now have a 120 point vs. 120 point game after this even trade of points. We know this favors aces. The jousters aren't likely to cripple any aces before the aces get another kill or two. At that point, the jousters won't have enough arcs to keep the aces from getting uncontested shots. The jousters may never shoot again and they're going to lose the game.

If an even trade of ships doesn't produce a fair game, then the jousters have to kill more points than they lose to keep the game fair. Even when the jousters are ahead on points, a couple bad turns is all it takes for the jousting list to lose one too many ships and any reasonable path to victory. The jousting list has to continue getting shots, dealing damage, and removing ships. The aces have to look for openings where they can kill enough ships to get reliable uncontested shots the rest of the game.

So, what does this mean?

First, time limits favor jousting lists (or less-maneuverable lists in general), especially since they tend to have a favorable final salvo. The scenarios where the aces get ahead and run to time feel bad, but aces are heavily favored when they get ahead on points anyway. On the other hand, the game could end in an even state where the jousting list is ahead on points. Jousting lists can even win in a position where the aces are in a commanding position as there aren't enough ships left on the board to pin them down.

Second, in terms of game strategy, ace lists probably want to play the opening quickly. If they don't get a large advantage out of the opening, they want the extra time to outmaneuver their opponents and recover from their points deficit. Jousting lists may want to delay the engagement so ace lists get fewer opportunities to exploit their maneuverability later in the game.

Finally, aces are probably more forgiving to fly than jousting lists. An ace list that gets behind can still exploit its maneuverability to look for uncontested shots and a way back into the game. A jousting list that gets behind may not even be able to shoot the rest of the game. At some point, they may even lose while exchanging fire and they usually don't have the maneuverability to get the uncontested shots they would need to recover.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Quick Hyperspace Takes on the Jan 2020 Points

Along with the massive changes to Hyperspace legality, the Jan 2020 points adjustment makes huge changes to the Hyperspace meta. In this article, I review the best Hyperspace-legal pilots in each faction and discuss my overall thoughts on each faction as a whole. For those more interested in Extended, I'll also list what I think are the best non-Hyperspace-legal pilots for each faction.

Overall, the Jan 2020 points adjustment solidifies the bar for efficiency set by the generic Kihraxz in the previous adjustment. Previously-efficient ships and ships which received further buffs to meet that standard are strong options in this new meta. Generics that were previously reasonable but didn't receive further buffs have fallen behind.

Tier list (number of good options; NOT strength of strongest lists!; NOT ordered within tiers):
A-Tier: Scum
B-Tier: Resistance, First Order, Republic
C-Tier: Rebels, Separatists
D-Tier: Empire


Strong pilots: 
  • Leia Organa (Modified YT-1300)
  • Luke Skywalker (T-65 X-Wing)
  • I2 and I3 T-65 X-Wings
  • I1 A-Wing
Rebels don't seem to have many great options in Hyperspace (or in Extended?). Leia's probably their best ship. Unfortunately, I'm not sold on their other options. Neither Y-Wings nor B-Wings kept up with the new efficiency standard. Stabilized S-Foils is great on Ten Numb and gives him double-modded shots without any other upgrades, but the order of the BR->lock linked action and the extra cost mean he doesn't quite keep up with the newly-discounted options. For the rest of the B-Wings, chasing the cannon double-tap seems to be too expensive to be worthwhile.

Even worse for Rebel players, the Resistance may pull off the efficient X-Wings and A-Wings lists even better. Still, Rebels have an efficient YT-1300 and can put more ships on the table compared to the Resistance.

Most missed non-Hyperspace options: I2 E-Wing, Leia Organa crew and efficient crew carriers, force crew (e.g. Kanan Jarrus, Luke Skywalker)


Strong pilots: 
  • "Duchess" (TIE Striker)
  • I1 TIE Strikers
  • Major Vermeil (TIE Reaper) with Seventh Sister crew
  • Maybe I2 TIE Advanced x1
The Empire has a plethora of the best ships in the game. Admiral Sloane backed by the newly-discounted generic TIE Interceptors looks hard to beat. I3 generic TIE Phantoms were really strong and got a discount. Previously-strong pilots like the Inquisitor, Grand Inquisitor, Darth Vader, Soontir Fel, Whisper, and Rear Admiral Chiraneau all stayed in place while other ships got buffed, but these should still be good options. Even generic TIE Aggressors and TIE Bombers may be strong now.

Comically, none of these made it into Hyperspace. Even the ones that did (e.g. Darth Vader, Rear Admiral Chiraneau) are missing vital upgrades that make them work (e.g. Afterburners, Hate, Darth Vader crew, Moff Jerjerrod, Proximity Mines).

I think the best attempt with Hyperspace Empire might be to spam TIE Strikers. Or, maybe try to make magic happen with the I2 TIE Advanced x1; it keeps getting discounts, and at some point it's got to be a good value despite its Lock requirement drawbacks! "Duchess" and Major Vermeil may be OK named options. Darth Vader still has Passive Sensors, but there are much fewer I6 arc-dodgers that the build counters.

Most missed non-Hyperspace options: Admiral Sloane, I3 TIE Phantom, I1 and I4 TIE Interceptors, Afterburners, Darth Vader crew, Moff Jerjerrod, etc.


Strong pilots:
  • Dengar (JumpMaster 5000)
  • Nom Lumb (JumpMaster 5000)
  • I1 generic Fang Fighter
  • Sunny Bounder, Laetin A'shera, I2 and I3 M3-A Interceptor
  • I2 and I3 Mining Guild TIEs
  • Boba Fett (Firespray)
  • Fenn Rau (Fang Fighter)
Oh, how the turns table. Scum keeps its proven options like Boba Fenn and Quad Fangs and builds on them in several ways. It's not a meme, I really think the buffs to Dengar finally make him an efficient option, which gives Scum two good I6 options in Hyperspace. Consider Expert Handling or Contraband Cybernetics, be very careful about taking stress, and play him a few times to get used to his asymmetric dial.

Despite leaving their best low-initiative options in Extended, Hyperspace Scum still has good swarm, filler, and workhorse options. Nom Lumb doesn't give up unanswered shots and a cannon (Autoblaster or Ion) limits most of the drawbacks of his ability. Most of their generics provide good value for their points, including the I1 Fang Fighter, generic M3-A Interceptors, and generic Mining Guild TIEs. Some of the named M3-A Interceptors including Sunny Bounder and Laetin A'shera can also be efficient options.

Most missed non-Hyperspace options: Asajj Ventress and I2 Shadowcasters, I3 Kimogila


Strong pilots:
  • Tallissan Lintra (RZ-2 A-Wing)
  • Zizi Tlo (RZ-2 A-Wing)
  • I2 and I3 T-70 X-Wings
  • I2 Fireball
  • Poe Dameron (T-70 X-Wing)
  • maybe all other RZ-2 A-Wings
Resistance has extremely efficient X-Wing and A-Wing options, and not much beyond that. Tallissan is still extremely efficient and Zizi joins her as another great A-Wing pilot. I've never been sold on the other A-Wing pilots, but Resistance players like them so they may still be fine. On the other hand, it may be worth trying out the generic T-70 options now that they've received large discounts. Finally, Poe remains as an I6 option that can double-reposition.

The generic Fireballs look reasonably efficient. Compared to the hyper-efficient I2 Torrent, they cost an extra point and their K-Turn options aren't as strong. Still, their SLAM makes them unpredictable blockers and the option to attack after a SLAM is welcome. They're worse than the generic X-Wings, but they may be a reasonable filler. Kazuda looks too expensive to be efficient, even with R5 Astromech to make his ability more reliable. At this time, the other Fireball pilots have not yet been spoiled.

Most missed non-Hyperspace options: Rey (Scavenged YT-1300), Finn (Resistance Transport Pod), Chewbacca (Scavenged YT-1300)

First Order

Strong pilots:
  • All TIE/fo Fighter pilots except "Static", "Midnight", and maybe the I4 generic and Commander Malarus
  • All TIE/vn Silencer pilots except maybe "Blackout" ("Avenger" needs a 4+ ship list)
  • I2 TIE/sf Fighter (with or without Special Forces Gunner)
  • Major Vonreg (TIE/ba Interceptor)
First Order continues to have lots of efficient options. You can build a pretty reasonable list by just taking the above ships with their logical upgrades until you fill up 200 points. Unfortunately, most of the strong First Order options only have 2-dice attacks which are especially weak when facing 3-agility ships.  Beyond their low-initiative options, First Order are one of the few factions in Hyperspace with multiple high-initiative pilots that can double-reposition. Kylo is still very strong. Even though Major Vonreg doesn't seem very efficient, an I6 ship that can double-reposition with good offense can always win games. Finally, "Rush" starts off as an inefficient I2 but he becomes wildly efficient if his ability ever triggers.

Outside of "Rush" and Major Vonreg (and even with Vonreg), I'm not sold on the new First Order options. The TIE/ba Interceptor looks great at first glance, but its Fine-Tuned Thrusters ship ability seems hard to use. Losing red or green dice to double-reposition can be more punishing than taking stress or losing a force, while not having the boost -> barrel roll option limits their ability to arc-dodge. Their pilots don't seem too strong at their current prices. The new TIE/sf options, Captain Phasma and Lieutenant LeHuse, have cute sharing abilities that both seem overpriced and impractical. Usually, 1 point per initiative (2 for I6) is fair for chassis with one reposition; Phasma pays 4 points and LeHuse 3 for their respective abilities (compare LeHuse to Synchronized Console, for example). Finally, the regen option Deuterium Power Cells may be good on Major Vonreg, but otherwise it's expensive and has a punishing timing.

The new Proud Tradition talent compares roughly with Contraband Cybernetics at 2 points and seems OK. It's probably best-used on the TIE/sf Fighter with Special Forces Gunner, and unfortunately the ones with talent slots don't seem that strong. The TIE/sf with Gunner has 3 attack to take advantage of the dice mod, does red maneuvers reasonably often, and has Lock and Evade as backup actions. For similar reasons, it may also be good on the TIE/ba Interceptor. For an additional 5 points, ships can take Pattern Analyzer (edit: only in Extended, oops!) to get double mods after fully executing a red maneuver until Proud Tradition gets flipped.

Most missed non-Hyperspace options: "Quickdraw" (TIE/sf Fighter)


Strong pilots:
  • All ARC-170 except "Odd Ball"; 
  • Barriss Offee with CLT
  • Ahsoka Tano with CLT
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi with CLT
  • Plo Koon with CLT
Can a faction thrive in Hyperspace with just the CLT Jedi and the ARC-170? All of these options are strong and the CLT Jedi can be fun to fly. Barriss Offee is probably cheap enough at just 41 points to overcome her limitations, and you can easily fly a 4-Jedi list with many points to spare. Alternatively, you can fly a list entirely of ARCs or mix and match them with the Jedi. The I3 generic ARCs are now nearly as efficient as their I2 counterparts, and I3 will have value in a format with lots of strong low-initiative ships. "Jag" and "Wolffe" are also reasonable options (sorry "Odd Ball").

Ric Olie is still around, but I think he's best with regen and that build took a 6.5% cost increase. Broadside is also around, but I'm not sold on him.

Most missed non-Hyperspace options: Delta 7-B, I2 V-19 Torrent and ARC-170


Strong pilots:
  • Bombardment Drone with Cluster Mines and Delayed Fuses
  • DBS-404
  • I1 Generic Hyena-Class Droid Bombers
  • Count Dooku
  • I1 and I3 generic Vulture Droids (with Discord Missiles)
Separatists lost a lot of linchpin options with the Hyperspace limits and largely stood in place while everyone else stepped forward. Vulture Droids are still around, but they have to compete against newly-buffed options and they lost all but one of their swarm buffers. Count Dooku with Heightened Perception and Tractor Beam is the only remaining option. The Dooku Vulture Swarm is a very strong list that should still be competitive, but other good Hyperspace Separatist options are harder to find.

The Separatists do have some sleeper hits. Bombardment Droids with Proximity Mines did well near the end of the June 2019 points cycle. They got a discount, but Cluster Mines may deal less damage while being more expensive and there's a chance they can hose your own ships even with Delayed Fuses. DBS-404 is a meme pilot that may actually be a sleeper strong ship. The generic I1 Hyena-Class Bombers look very efficient. A mix of Vultures and Hyenas may be the stronger option than a swarm with only one or the other.

Most missed non-Hyperspace options: Ensnare, General Grevious (Belbullab-22 Starfighter), Wat Tambor (Belbullab-22 Starfighter)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

What can we learn from tournament results?

Tournaments are fun for everyone! We catch up with old friends, play some good games of X-Wing, and crown a winner. After they're done, we can look at the results to see what to complain about for the next few weeks/months! :)

That raises an interesting question: how much information do tournament results give us about card or list strength?

I think the answer might be: not much. We can be more confident when we have more data, but we should be careful drawing firm conclusions from tournaments.

We've had a history of drawing hasty conclusions from tournament results. When 2.0 first launched, Wedge had the worst performance of the popular Rebel ships across several months and many tournaments. People thought he was a bad ship. In the span of just a few tournaments, he shot up to be the best-performing Rebel ship. He continues to be one of the best the Rebel ships, even after his recent nerfs. Turns out, it was just hard to build a good Rebel list back then, and Wedge was really good.

When the January 2019 points came out, VTG-Ion Y-Wings were all the rage. It won the Hyperspace Qualifier during the Toronto System Open. We had post on post talking about the "Y-on" menace. But looking back on that meta, it never really performed at that level in future tournaments. Horton sometimes showed up in a Rebel Beef list, but VTG Ion Turret Y-Wings otherwise didn't do too well after that first tournament.

With the January 2019 points, it was widely known that the Decimator was awful. I chuckled when Marc brought out Deci Whisper for a game, and you can imagine my surprise when it completely dismantled me two games in a row. Turns out, Rear Admiral Chiraneau can be very strong with the right combination of upgrades (Moff Jerjerrod and Darth Vader crew are key), and it took a strong list-builder like Dalli to see that.

When CIS first launched, there was a question of which Belbullab to run with a Vulture swarm. My model really loved Captain Sear, but the early results and the community favored Wat Tambor. Many months of experience later, and it's not a question. The Sear Swarm is a noted top-tier list, and no one runs Wat Tambor anymore.

In the early days after the July 2019 points adjustment, Anakin Obi Ric won a big tournament. People were all up in arms about how broken Jedi with regen are. Now, it seems clear that list is just one good list in a field of good lists. Jedi with regen are strong, but so are many other ships.

I think tournament results can be used for examples of viable lists that can do well or win. A truly broken list could stand out in tournaments. Beyond that, it's hard to use tournament results to rank lists. We should be very careful drawing conclusions here because of data limitations. It's especially easy to overrate lists that make the top 2, and especially the winning list. The biggest problem is a small sample size of games compared to the large amount of variance (e.g. skill, matchups, dice, mind-games) in the game. Ideally, we'd also have some type of matchup-based Elo-like ratings by specific ship builds, not just final results aggregated across pilots and builds that can differ wildly in function and strength.

What do we want to know?

When we think about list strength, we have an experiment in mind. Take the same player, swap out their list, and assume they can play the lists equally well. How does their tournament performance change? We're interested in a causal effect, not merely the correlation between a list and winning.

We can imagine a list's strength as something abstract, but objective and real. The chance to win a game depends on factors including:
  • your list's average strength
  • opponent's list's average strength
  • matchup-specific list strength adjustment
  • your average skill
  • your list-specific skill adjustments (e.g. familiarity with list; range depends on skill floor/ceiling)
  • opponent's average skill
  • opponent's list-specific skill adjustments
  • net matchup-specific skill adjustments
  • time-dependent variation in your skill (e.g. rust, fatigue; may depend on list)
  • time-dependent variation in opponent's skill (e.g. rust, fatigue; may depend on list)
  • performance-dependent variation in your skill (e.g. tilt, nerves)
  • performance-dependent variation in opponent's skill (e.g. tilt, nerves)
  • random variation in player skill (e.g. brain farts)
  • random variation in dice luck
  • other random variation (e.g. 50/50 decisions, barely hitting/missing a rock)
The strength of your list affects your chance of winning any particular game, along with many other factors.

How can we figure out list strength?

Obviously, we can't just see how strong a list is, we have to figure it out somehow. We need something that corresponds with list strength that we can observe. We can imagine things that correspond well with list strength, and things that don't correspond well with list strength. Printing out all the lists, throwing them down the stairs, and ranking them by how far they went would be a bad way to figure out the strength of lists.

There are two ways we can judge how good the method for figuring out the "true" list strength. First, we want it to be accurate. If the method gets things right on average, then we might say it's pretty good. If not, the method could give us something that looks like list strength at first glance, but really isn't (the method is biased). Second, we want it to be precise. If a method gets things right on average but it's all over the place most of the time, we'd need a lot of data before we can trust what it says.

Ideally, we would take every possible list and play lots of games against every other list with players of a broad range of skills. Failing that, we could randomly assign lists to players X weeks/months in advance of tournaments, let them do their stuff normally, and record their tournament performance. With a large number of tournaments, we could probably get a good picture of which lists are strong and which are weak.

Problems with our current methods

Instead, we often use tournament results. Many websites currently show information about final tournament results for (e.g. average percentile of the tournament ranks of lists that include...) ship chassis, pilots, and upgrade cards. Are tournament results (e.g. average percentile or win rates) a good way to figure out how strong a list is, or is it likely to be wrong or suboptimal? It's probably closer to the X-Wing playtest sweatshop method than the gravity-stairs method, but how good is it?

If we think about this carefully, we can imagine some differences between tournament win-rates and average percentile statistics and the stats produced by those idealized and infeasible methods. Unfortunately, these differences mean tournament results are limited in what they can tell us about how strong a list is.

The biggest problem is the small sample size of tournament games compared to how much variance there is in the game. This creates several problems.

First, there's a lot of variance in the game, and without enough data, it's hard to draw strong conclusions about any results. If you shuffle a deck of poker cards, one of the cards will be on top. Is that card more likely to show up on or near the top, or is this just random? Without a lot of shuffles, it can be hard to tell.

In X-Wing, someone has to win the tournament. In general, we seem to give the winning list a lot more attention than other well-performing lists. With so few tournaments, it's hard to say without outside theory whether a list won because it was much stronger than other lists, if the player was better, or if their opponents made more mistakes. Right now, I believe most competitive lists run around 210-220 points of Academy Pilot value. That's less than a 5% difference, and variation in skill and dice can easily swamp that.

It's even more difficult to draw conclusions from tournaments because there are differences in player skill. It may look like a list generally performs well, but that may be because it's usually played by a stronger player. In fact, if we don't have multiple people playing the same list in the data, it's impossible to separately identify the list's strength from the player's skill. We'd be trying to figure out two variables with one data statistic.

Second, we don't have enough data to sample the entire range of cards and lists. There are over 500 pilots in the game. A list usually has multiple pilots, but most tournaments have an order of magnitude fewer players than there are pilots in the game. This is compounded by transformational upgrades that dramatically change how a pilot functions. For example, Obi-Wan Kenobi might as well be flying a different ship if he has the Calibrated Laser Targeting upgrade versus the Delta 7-B upgrade. Most websites would give you the average strength of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the average strength of Delta 7-B, but Delta 7-B may have a very different effect on Obi-Wan Kenobi than on the generic Jedi Knight.

Similarly, a card's strength may be hard to observe since it exists in a list with other cards. In the early days of 2.0, Wedge was strong but his wingmates often couldn't keep up, so his performance looked weak. More concerning is the preliminary evidence on high-initiative pilots having dramatically different win-rates based on whether or not they are the first player. We can't ever have enough tournament game data to infer list strength because of how many different lists there are.

This can be fine if all the unused ships and lists are weak, but that's not necessarily the case. Part of a ship's play rate depends on its strength, but play rate also depends on "coolness factor," previous tournament performance, and whether it has misleading builds. There are simply too many ships and upgrades to explore, it's not surprising if some strong options are missed.

For example, I'm pretty sure the generic E-Wing is strong, but no E-Wings were played at Worlds 2019. The problem is a combination of the generic E-Wing's poor strength historically going back to 1.0, misleading builds and ideas of what it does (it's a jouster), and the fact that most E-Wing fans are Corran fans (Corran is the weakest of the E-Wings). I'm pretty sure FFG will buff the E-Wing again in January and we'll have E-Wing-Pocalypse for 6 months :). Similarly, ships like Rear Admiral Chiraneau and Latts Razzi may be strong in certain contexts and with the right upgrades, and it may take a keen listbuilder to realize this before they get played.

Besides the problems of small sample size, there's a question whether the commonly-reported statistics like win rate or average percentile are good measures of list strength. When we look at the list of things which affect your chance of winning, it's clear much of that is left out from these statistics. If what is left out is correlated with list strength, then our method of figuring out list strength would actually be telling us some unholy amalgamation of list strength and other stuff rather than what we're really interested in, which is the causal effect of switching lists (this is known as omitted variable bias).

There are several ways this problem can show up. First, we can imagine stronger players are more likely to play strong lists. If this isn't accounted for, a strong list's win rate will reflect both a higher list strength and player skill. As such, win rates and average percentiles are likely to overstate a strong list's strength and understate a weak list's strength.

Second, in a Swiss tournament, you play against other players with your same record. That means stronger lists are more likely to face other strong lists, while weaker lists are more likely to face other weak lists. A list that went 4-2 by winning the first four games against progressively stronger lists and losing the last two against strong lists can be very different from one that goes 4-2 by losing the first two games against average lists and winning the next four against weak lists. If this isn't accounted for, then win rates and average percentiles will understate the strength of strong lists and overstate the strength of weak lists.

These effects bias the win rate figure in opposite directions. It'd be nice to say they cancel out. Unfortunately, it can be hard to say which effect is stronger. It could be that one effect is very large and the other is weak. It's hard to know whether differences in win-rate

There's also a weird issue with simply using play rate statistics without adjusting for points. For example, pretend Captain Seevor and fully-loaded Rebel Han Solo were equally strong. Captain Seevor is much easier to throw into a list as a cheap filler, while Fat Han is more two-thirds the points budget and only goes into lists that feature him. Just looking at play rate would overstate the popularity of cheap filler ships and understate that of expensive or synergy-reliant ships.

What can we do?

With these limitations, it's hard to find differences in list strength from tournament data beyond the extreme outliers in either direction. So, what can we do about it?

First, we should remember the value of patience. We should pay less attention to lists that win a single tournament. For overpowered lists, we should be looking at lists that consistently do well across tournaments. For viable lists, it's still best to look at ships that perform consistently across tournaments, but we can also look at lists that performed well at single tournaments (e.g. 4-2 and above) for ideas.

Second, I'd like to see continued innovation in the tournament results reporting space. At the very least, I'd like to see builds with transformational upgrades reported separately. The statistics for Delta 7-B Obi should be separate from that of CLT Obi, just like X-Wing Luke would be very different from a hypothetical A-Wing Luke. Other examples include Supernatural Reflexes, Special Forces Gunner, and maybe even Afterburners. It may not be possible with limited data, but a matchup-based Elo rating may provide more accurate information than using raw win-rates.

Finally, I'd like to see more theory-based approaches to identifying list strength. The benefit of a theory-driven approach is while it has to be informed by the data, it doesn't rely 100% on data alone and thus can avoid some of the problems with data limitations. My Ship Effectiveness Model takes a crack at this, but it's not perfect. Some of it is based on fundamental math concepts, but a large chunk is a reflection of my judgement about ships where I off-loaded the effort it takes to apply a consistent standard across 600+ ship builds to the computer. It's a huge effort, but I'd love it if someone else also took a serious effort at modeling ship strength. If nothing else, it'd be interesting to see other people seriously understand how the model works so they can apply their own assumptions to it.

Anyway, if you read this far, thanks! :) I know this can be a dry topic, and hopefully I shared something you find interesting.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Playing against the Nantex

As Wave 5 was released, I predicted Sun Fac would cost enough that he'd be mediocre, although I was concerned about the pricing of the cheaper Nantexes. Well, I was wrong about Sun Fac and right about the other Nantexes. They're all extremely strong. In my experience, Nantexes can lose when I blunder them, but they've completely dismantled some strong lists in games that weren't even close. At this point, I fully expect the Nantex to do well at Worlds, and I'd rank it as a favorite to win.

When a new strong card or list comes on the scene, you have a few options:
  1. Whine about it.
  2. Change your list to give you a better chance against it.
  3. Play the list yourself.
  4. Learn to play against it.

Whining can feel good (anger is addictive), but it's probably counterproductive to actually winning. Playing a counter is harder than it sounds. You'll face a variety of lists in a tournament. It won't do you any good to win the 1-2 games against the Nantex and lose every other game. Plus, with how few hard counters there are in X-Wing, you'll still have to fly well to beat the Nantex and there's a real chance you'll lose even a "favorable" matchup. I highly recommend playing a list you enjoy that gives you the best chance of winning, but playing the new strong list may not be the best option for everyone.

So that leaves figuring out how to play against the Nantex. It's important to realize the Nantex is not a gimmick ship. It's very strong and understanding how to play against it won't auto-win you the game, but it gives you a reasonable fighting chance that'll come down to the mind-games and dice.

1. Try out the Nantex

If you don't know what the Nantex can do or what to do against the Nantex, you're probably going to lose horribly. You need some reps with or against the Nantex. Playing the ship is a good way to figure out its weaknesses even if you don't plan on flying it yourself.

If you don't have CIS, you can proxy it with a similar dial. The TIE Advanced Prototype v1 dial is pretty close to the Nantex dial. Swap the 2 Tallon Rolls for 3 Sloops, the 4K for a 5K, and keep a reference of the real blue maneuvers handy. The E-Wing dial is also pretty close if you don't do the 1 straight and swap the 4K for a 5K. You can also play it on VASSAL.

2. Consider your obstacles

The obstacle choice against Nantex isn't obvious. They are maneuverable aces with repositioning that goes over obstacles and a turret that can be rotated for "free". It's tempting to see their tractor beam and take small rocks or gas clouds, but then there are no obstacles to restrict the Nantex's arc-dodging options. More importantly, gas clouds are great for Nantex because they have 3 agility and your shots against them need to count.

The best option against the Nantex is debris clouds. They can sit on them and shoot, but going over them prevents them from tractoring themselves on that turn. At this time, it's not clear whether a Nantex that tractor beams itself on a debris cloud rotates its turret or not. The stress will also limit their maneuvers next turn.

Otherwise, you can go with asteroids if you feel very confident about playing with them. You may not want to go with the largest rocks, but medium rocks may be an option that compromises between restricting the Nantex and restricting your own options.

3. Know their threat range

The 5-straight boost moves the Nantex half a base past Range 3. That means if you have a small ship that can go 1 straight around Range 5 of the Nantex, they can get a tractor beam if they rush in.

If the Nantex isn't facing your ship, its threat range is roughly Range 4 with a bank and about Range 3.5 with a turn.

This is a long threat range, but just because they have the option doesn't mean it's a good idea for them to go in. Know this is an option and you can guard against it.

4. Prepare to sacrifice a ship

In a neutral opening engagement, chances are good the Nantex squad will kill a ship. Once a ship gets tractored that first round, it'll probably take heavy focus fire and die. It's hard to stop this given the threat range of the Nantex.

If you can't get the perfect R2-R3 engage, accept a ship will get tractored and killed and make the best of it. Throw your least-important ship out to occupy space and protect your better ships from the Range 1 Ensnare. Put your other ships in position to take good shots at any Nantex that gets in range to tractor that sacrifice. If needed, block with the sacrifice ship to deny a token.

As an added benefit, throwing a ship farther forward can also give you a free shot if the Nantex decide to hang back for a turn. It might not get through their 3-agility and evade, but a lucky crit can really swing the game.

5. Hunt the Nantex with higher-initiative ships or with lots of ships

Making decisions with the Nantex when they move last is easy. When the Nantex has to move first, things get much harder. They can wreck ships they block, but it's more feasible for a higher-I ship to avoid their turret arc and the Ensnare. This also means a low-ship endgame is much more manageable if you have the higher-initiative ship.

As such, sending a solo ace to tango with lower-initiative Nantex is an option. Of course, beating Sun Fac this way is less feasible. Nantex lists can easily run a 9-point bid, or a 13-point bid if pressed. If you can't beat them in initiative, you'll have to beat them in numbers.

6. Keep multiple shots on target

The approach is where the Nantex is at its weakest. Their repositioning options are deadly up close, but it won't save them at an intermediate range. Their attacks are much weaker without Ensnare. The best-case scenario is to catch them at range 2-3 with multiple ships.

If you can't do that, make sure you at least have all your arcs pointed at the target. The Nantex are annoyingly tanky. On average, they take 4x single-modded 3-dice attacks to kill. You can't afford to split your firing arcs. Remember, each Nantex can only tractor one ship away. Point enough guns on them and they will take attacks and damage.

The Nantex get much stronger in a knife-fight. It can be hard to avoid getting tractored. In these cases, try to keep multiple shots on target. One ship will get tractor beamed out of action, but your other ships have to be ready to punish.

7. Play around their dead-zones

Playing around the Nantex's rear dead zone is not reliable. A 1-hard with a turret arc pointed to their side covers a lot of area that was previously behind them. However, when they have their turret arc pointed in a direction, they can't take a tractor token without turning their turret arc. Keep in mind the Nantex doesn't have to turn its turret arc, but the way their arc is currently pointed does make the them more predictable.

Another thing to keep in mind is this also applies for their engagement. The Nantex does not want their arc pointed in the direction they'll engage the turn before the engagement. This gives you the option to possibly surprise them and catch them with their turret the wrong way.

8. Blocking can be a good option

The Nantex doesn't need to fully complete their maneuver to take a tractor token and turn their arc. However, they do have 3 agility and benefit greatly from focus tokens. Blocking the Nantex denies them the tokens and makes them much easier to kill. Just remember to have another ship or two ready to shoot them.

Again, doing these things aren't a magic bullet to winning, but can make the Nantex matchup more reasonable. The Nantex is very strong and many lists probably have a bad matchup against them. With some practice and good flying, you might be able to survive a difficult Nantex matchup to advance, as long as you win your other matchups.

Playing a Counter

If you decide Nantex are concerning enough to play a counter, there are some lists that should have reasonable or good matchups against them. With the new rules change, medium-base ships require two tractor tokens to be tractored and large-base ships need 3 tokens. Unless they have that many tokens, none of the Nantex abilities work against them. That includes Gravitic Deflection and the Chertek and Sun Fac pilot abilities.

That said, you can't just throw out any medium- or large-base ships and expect them to work. For one thing, some lists bring multiple Nantex so they will still tractor your ships. For another, you have to win your other matchups or else you'll never even get a chance to match up against the winning Nantex players and ruin their day. You need to bring good ships, and not all medium- and large-base ships are good.

There are some strong lists that have medium- and large-base ships. Below are some lists I found on Listfortress that have had some good results:
  • Quad U-Wings
  • Double Decimators
  • Republic ARCs (e.g. Sinker Swarm, Obi 3 ARCs, Obi Ric 2 ARCs)
  • Kylo Tavson X
  • Deci-Whisper
  • Rey Poe (optionally with Talli or Finn?)
  • 4-Ship Scum (Seevor, generic Kimogila, Sol Sixxa, 4-LOM)
  • Boba X
  • Ketsu OT X
Other big-base ships you can consider include:
  • Rebel Han Solo
  • Resistance Chewbacca (with Pods)
  • TIE Reapers and TIE Punishers
  • Asajj (but you probably want at least 2 more ships)
I haven't tested this, but swarms with 6+ ships may also have reasonable matchups against the Nantex. A formation can limit the options to pull a ship out of position and swarms should have enough guns to reliably kill any Nantex that lands in front of them. Options include:
  • Sear Swarm
  • Vulture Swarm
  • Sinker Swarm
  • TIE Swarms may not have enough guns, but it could work
Aces have a rough time getting tractored, but some ace lists can get a large enough bid (10+ or 14+) to move after Sun Fac. These lists may have a reasonable chance at dodging the turret arc and blowing up Sun Fac early. Options include:
  • Guri Fenn
  • SuperKylo Quickdraw
  • Light Imperial Aces

Addendum: Possible Nerfhammer Targets

I don't think the Nantex will survive the next iteration of adjustments in its current state. As with anything, a sufficiently-large points adjustment will take the Nantex out of contention.

Annoyingly, the Nantex is much more effective against small-base ships than medium- and large-base ships. As I discussed earlier, these effects are very difficult to balance. The best thing would be to flatten the effectiveness of tractor against small-base ships and larger ships. This can be done by making tractor beam weaker in general. One local player suggested forcing a player to spend the tractor tokens to move a ship. An idea I had is to weaken the barrel roll option on small ships by only allow the middle option (no forward or backward barrel rolls) and the 1-straight template is placed vertically like a medium- or large-base barrel roll.

In any case, there probably won't be any more adjustments until Worlds is over. Good luck, and please beat some Nantex lists so they don't dominate the tournament! :)

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.