The strength of Kylo Ren depends on the strength of the Pilot critical hits. They include:
- Blinded Pilot (old and new). The old one causes your next shot to miss, while the new one prevents you from taking your first shot next round. Probably the best all-round Pilot damage card to pull with Kylo Ren.
- Injured Pilot (old). Removes your pilot ability and Elite Pilot Talent. Can be incredibly strong, "merely" good, or useless.
- Damaged Cockpit (old and new). Sets your pilot skill to 0. Very strong against high-PS arc-dodgers, not very useful against other ships.
- Stunned Pilot (old and new). Take damage when bumping. Situational, but can be strong.
- Shaken Pilot (new). Can't do a straight maneuver next turn. Very situational.
On the other hand, upgrade cards that take your action have a high bar to clear. Players often forget the default actions are very strong. Is using Kylo Ren's ability really better than taking Target Lock? After all, killing the enemy ship a round earlier is like preventing a shot with Blinded Pilot while getting an extra shot from your ship. Do the early critical hits make up for the loss in damage output?
To answer this question, I run a simple duel between two Rear Admiral Chiraneaus, one with Kylo Ren and one with Ysanne Isard. Both ships have their common build with Gunner, Hotshot Co-Pilot, Veteran Instincts, and Engine Upgrade. I assume combat always happens at Range 2 to make things a bit easier. To be generous, I assume the Kylo Ren Decimator has initiative and shoots first (it technically has the 1-point initiative bid).
This isn't a perfect test. The true measure of a ship's strength is how well they fare against many different 100-point lists, not against a similar ship in a duel. Still, this is a useful way to benchmark Kylo Ren's power, especially because it's strongest against big expensive ships. I'll discuss other factors to consider below. Ysanne Isard costs one extra point, so we'd expect it to be slightly stronger.
I run the numbers for both damage decks. In the first scenario, the Ysanne Isard Decimator brings the new damage deck. Here, Kylo Ren wants to pull two Blinded Pilot (new) cards and a Damaged Cockpit. It takes Target Lock every round afterwards.
In the second scenario, the Ysanne Isard Decimator brings the old damage deck. Blinded Pilot (old) is negated by Gunner, so Kylo Ren only pulls an Injured Pilot critical hit to eliminate Chiraneau's ability and Veteran Instincts. He'll then take Target Lock every round.
Since there's a 31% chance a Decimator will keep its target lock, I let the Kylo Ren Decimator have focus and target lock every third round it takes target lock.
I use the excellent X-Wing Probability Calculator to get these damage numbers. Please note the Round 5 end HP numbers are repeated after the line break.
The ships are pretty even with the new damage deck. Ysanne Isard ends up doing more damage, but Kylo Ren has the pilot skill advantage. Target lock's extra damage and Ysanne Isard's free evade eventually outstrips the two missed rounds of shooting and the lower pilot skill. Using the original damage deck widens the gap to give the Ysanne Isard Decimator a comfortable lead.
With this in mind, there's a few things missing from this analysis which helps Kylo Ren:
- Kylo Ren defends your whole list while Ysanne Isard only defends the Decimator.
- Kylo Ren is front-loaded while Ysanne Isard needs time to take effect. In general, the first rounds of shooting are often more influential. In this duel, the Kylo Ren Decimator can deal a crippling critical hit earlier.
- Kylo Ren is stronger against ships with very strong attacks (e.g. the Ghost). You avoid a stronger attack, and Ysanne Isard loses value when the Decimator dies faster.
- Kylo Ren goes through shields, so it's stronger against regeneration and evasive ships with shields.
- The Kylo Ren Decimator could take target lock every round and only use the Kylo Ren ability when he keeps the target lock from the previous round (31% chance of not needing it). I think this improves his damage output slightly. It might be enough to nudge him ahead, but it seems contrived and negates the front-loaded benefit of Kylo Ren.
And here's a few points against Kylo Ren:
- You can also boost and use Ysanne Isard, but Kylo Ren takes your action. Boosting can often prevent a shot just like Blinded Pilot would.
- The Blinded Pilot critical hit (new deck) is wasted if the enemy ship didn't have a shot this round.
- You have to shoot the ship with the strong attack to make use of Kylo Ren. For example, you may want to kill a Lambda Shuttle with Emperor Palpatine first, but need to shoot and hit Countess Ryad to defend against her attack.
- Kylo Ren is much worse at Range 3 where Chiraneau's ability doesn't work. You only have a 37.5% chance of rolling at least one natural critical result.
- The chance of at least one critical result at range 2 is 77% with Chiraneau's ability. Kylo Ren won't work about 1 in 4 times even with no green dice. Granted, the condition does stick around until used.
Overall, this analysis shows Kylo Ren crew is roughly comparable to other options around his point cost. Kylo Ren is 1 point cheaper and comes out roughly even with Ysanne Isard. That feels OK since Ysanne Isard isn't a top-tier upgrade. Kylo Ren looks strong, but I'm not ready to say he's overpowered until the tournament results come in. I'm not even ready to say he'll drive archetypes out of the meta.
There's two general lessons to draw from this. First, the default actions are very strong, and most ships can only take 1 action per round. It takes a truly powerful ability to be worthwhile over the "boring" actions you already have like focus and target lock. Engine Upgrade on big ships with turrets is one example. Black Market Slicer Tools is another.
Second, when you can, you should run the math before saying something's too strong. The X-Wing Probability Calculator makes it easy to run the numbers and see exactly how strong a ship/upgrade is. Or don't run the numbers, post on reddit, and give me more material for this blog :).