Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dreaming of X-Wing 2.0 is Dangerous, but I'll Do It Anyway

There's been a spate of X-Wing 2.0 podcasts and threads recently. I haven't seen or listened to too many, but I've had some thoughts about X-Wing 2.0 that I haven't seen in other places. I figured I might as well write them down :).

First, a warning. For me, thinking about "what-ifs" is pretty dangerous. I can easily end up pining for the "better" game which won't ever exist at the cost of enjoying the still very fun game that doe exist. This may also apply to you, in which case you've been warned!

I'm going to try to avoid this problem by not thinking about these things too much (despite appearances, I actually haven't thought about this too much 😛). There's a decent chance these are bad ideas! Writing this will probably be the last time I think about these issues in detail. Also, I don't expect any of these ideas to ever happen; it's a fun exercise, and definitely isn't a practical idea for improving the game.

For this, I'm going to focus some big systems stuff. I won't worry too much about nitty gritty things like doubling the points or buffing/nerfing a specific ship or type of upgrade through numbers tweaks (e.g. I think free Extra Munitions and weaker ordnance is a good idea, but I'll focus on bigger overhauls). Some of these depend on each other so it's largely a package deal.

Finally, it's important to say I think the designers of X-Wing are doing a good job. The game is fun even with possible imperfections. I think they've come up with some creative solutions for big problems in the game. For instance, I think Final Salvo is a really well-designed solution to the intentional draw problem. I have the benefit of hindsight, years of testing by tons of playtesters in competitive situations, and the complete absence of constraints. It's much harder to deliver a new game, or to work within the constraints of an existing one. Besides, they might fix some of these issues through other ways I haven't thought of in the future. Finally, some of these "problems" are restrictive but still leave a good game once they're accepted by the players (e.g. the importance of action economy).

Accuracy Dice

The game is severely constrained in ship variety because there's only one attack stat, and it can only take on three values. People have suggested adding different types of attack dice, and I think the new type of dice should be accuracy dice.

An accuracy die is like an attack die but has accuracy results instead of hit results. It's rolled with attack dice as part of the attack. Its faces are 1 crit, 3 accuracy, 2 focus, and 2 blank. Evade results must first cancel accuracy results before hit and crit results. If you only have uncancelled accuracy results and no hit or crit results, the attack deals 1 damage. For example, after-evade results of 1 accuracy, 2 accuracy, and 1 hit + 1 accuracy all result in the defender taking only 1 damage. Spending a Focus token on offense changes all focus results to accuracy results on accuracy dice in addition to changing focus to hit results on attack dice.

The average attack stat line would probably be 2 attack and 1 accuracy, compared with 3 attack today. Low-agility ships with lots of hit points might need their hit points reduced. As examples, a TIE Fighter might have 1 attack and 1 accuracy die, an A-Wing might have 1 attack and 2 accuracy dice, an X-Wing or TIE Interceptor might have 2 attack and 1 accuracy dice, and a B-Wing might have 3 attack dice.

Adding accuracy dice has a lot of benefits:

  1. It adds a second attack statistic. X-Wing has a problem where there's only one attack statistic and it can only be one of three values. One is the default, and the other two are either really good or really bad. This severely limits ship variety from statistics alone and contributes to ability creep. Adding another attack statistic increases the variety of ships possible.
  2. It's possible to differentiate some higher-PS pilots by giving them an extra accuracy die, which again limits the amount of new abilities needed.
  3. It matches the lore. Right now, "interceptor" ships with weak attacks are best against big bulky ships while powerful attacks are best against evasive ships. A-Wings should be attacking the Decimator while your Ghost kills the TIE Fighters, which seems backwards. Accuracy dice allows you to design interceptors which are good against evasive ships while being bad against big bulky ships.
  4. It makes evasive ships less binary. It's harder to 1-shot them, so other measures can be used to make them a bit easier to hit (see next item).
  5. It helps limit the importance of anti-variance measures like token-stacking. Accuracy dice naturally have diminishing returns, so making sure they come up accuracy isn't that important against most ships. On the other hand, adding lots of accuracy dice is a good way to reliably hit evasive ships without token stacking and without being super-strong against non-evasive ships.
  6. It makes focus -> crit mechanics much better. Usually they're not worth their points, but being able to reliably have your accuracy dice contribute to damage output is very strong.

Recost High Attack + High Defense Ships and Nerf Action Economy

X-Wing had a fatal flaw in the formula used to cost stats from the very beginning. Being able to roll lots of dice is only good if you can modify them. Since most ships only have one action, they can't modify both their attack roll and their defense roll. Thus, ships with 3+ attack and 2+ defense dice paid too much for their stats and are mostly underpowered.

Don't believe me? Try listing the underpowered ships with more than 2 attack: X-Wings, generic TIE Interceptors, E-Wings, pre-fix TIE Defenders, Khiraxz Fighter, StarViper, etc.

However, it's cheap and easy to get action economy in this game. Push the Limit requires only an EPT slot, 3 points, and a good dial, and provides benefits way in excess of its costs. Other sources of action economy for a similar cost have also been extremely strong and popular (see Attanni Mindlink, R2-D2, Fire-Control System, K4 Security Droid, Dengar crew, etc.) Cheap action economy distorts the game by making evasive ships extremely hard to hit, especially in a 1-on-1. When you can have a ship that almost lives forever for 35 points, many ships have a hard time competing. Action economy upgrades are so cheap they're almost mandatory for a strong list.

You can't fix one of these problems without fixing the other or severely upsetting the balance in the game (either making some ships too strong or some ships too weak), so both need to be fixed at the same time. Doing this means more generic ships would be viable and action economy would no longer be mandatory.

Can't Natively Boost and Barrel Roll on Same Turn

Highly-maneuverable ships like Dash and Soontir Fel are frustrating to play against since you could potentially never get a shot on them. I'd support changing Boost and Barrel Roll so you can't perform both on the same turn through normal means, similar to how you can't perform an action twice. Higher-PS pilots can still arc-dodge, but their maneuvers will have to be more precise.

For those who love slippery ships, there can still be ways to boost and barrel roll on the same turn. Pilot abilities which let ships boost or barrel roll won't block the other one from being used (although they still don't let you boost or barrel roll twice!). Finally, we'd have a use for pilots like Turr Phennir and Rebel Sabine Wren! We can also have a Push The Limit-style upgrade card which gives the pilot an extra action and the ability to Boost and Barrel Roll on the same turn, but the extra action can only be used for Boost or Barrel Roll.

Specialize Missiles and Torpedoes

Having missiles and torpedoes (and maybe bombs/mines) come with Extra Munitions while making each individual shot weaker is a good idea, but I want to focus on something bigger. Right now, there's little difference between missiles and torpedoes. Both are mostly 4-dice attacks with some benefits attached.

Instead, I'd like to see missiles be specialized towards taking down evasive ships and torpedoes be specialized towards taking down low-agility ships. For example, a Concussion Missile might roll 4 dice, but only deals 1 damage if the attack hits. A Proton Torpedo might roll 3 dice, but deals 2 damage if the attack hits (pretty good if average primary attack is 2 attack 1 accuracy). We could also think of an anti-big-ship Torpedo which rolls only 1 die but deals 4 damage if it hits.

This also means missiles and torpedoes can be cheaper since they're so specialized. Generalist or cross-purpose missiles and torpedoes could exist, but at a higher cost and/or with less effectiveness.

This has a few benefits:
  1. It improves variety. Now it really matters whether a ship has missiles or torpedoes.
  2. It's a buff for ships with lots of Missile and Torpedo upgrade slots. It lets them have a silver bullet for every opponent.
  3. It matches the lore. Concussion missiles were anti-fighter weapons while proton torpedoes were useful against both capital ships and the slower fighters.
  4. It improves strategic choice. You can take missiles and torpedoes to shore up a weakness in your list or to target a specific meta. You can also take big ships if you predict people are trying to snipe an evasive-ship meta by taking lots of Concussion Missiles, or take evasive ships if you predict people bringing lots of Torpedoes.
  5. Missiles and torpedoes can now be balanced both for ships with average attacks and ships with weak attacks at the same time. Because missiles and torpedoes exist as attack boosters right now, it's best on low-attack ships that didn't pay for a good primary attack it's not using. Specializing missiles and torpedoes gives them a niche even for average-attack ships. It also means that weak-attack ships aren't going to be effective against everything by taking missiles and torpedoes.

Cannons Modify the Primary Attack

The biggest problem with cannons is you're paying points for what's often a sidegrade or downgrade to your primary attack. Rather than being a secondary attack, I think cannons should modify the primary attack.

An unfilled Cannon slot is represented in-universe as having that slot filled by a normal laser cannon. This is represented in-game by the normal attack statline. Cannons that inflict statuses on opponents (Tractor Beam, Flechette Cannon, Ion Cannon) swaps out that laser cannon with a different cannon (e.g. Ion Cannon). This comes at the cost of reduced attack dice or swapping attack dice to accuracy dice, but now the ship inflicts a status effect if it hits. These cannons would be very cheap, free, or possibly even cost negative points. Cannons like Mangler Cannon or Heavy Laser Cannon can instead boost your primary attack.

For example, Ion Cannon could cost 0 points, swaps an attack dice to an accuracy dice, and gives the defender an ion token if they're hit. Tractor Beam could cost 1 point, reduces your attack and the defender's agility by 1, and gives the defender a tractor beam token if they're hit. Mangler Cannon could cost 2 and let you change a hit to a crit. Heavy Laser Cannon could cost 7 points and increases your attack by 1.

This has a few benefits:
  1. It makes it worthwhile to use a weak cannon. Using a cannon no longer costs your primary attack.
  2. It lets you balance cannons for ships with low, average, and high attack values at the same time.
  3. Thematically, it makes more sense. I was shooting my ion cannon with my lasers in the X-Wing video games.

Turrets are Much Worse Out-of-Arc

X-Wing is a game of maneuvering, and turrets make maneuvering much less important. I won't talk about this at length since this is mentioned a lot, but either making all turrets a mobile arc or dice penalties for out-of-arc shots could work.

Secondary Weapons Follow Same Range Rules

Turrets and cannons not having range modifiers makes no sense thematically, and even torpedoes and missiles are easier to dodge when they're shot from a longer range. Removing this also reduces the amount of rules in the game. Of course, doing this requires the secondary weapons be designed with range bonuses in mind, so it'd take X-Wing 2.0 to change this.


That's all! I hope you found these ideas interesting. In any case, I'd suggest not wishing too much for changes. It's not worth pining for games we can't have if it kills your enjoyment for the games we do have :).


  1. I like a lot of what you've got here, especially the missiles/torpedoes bit. I also really wish all turrets used the mobile arc mechanic; I think this changes turrets from being arguably too good (especially in an Autothrustless vacuum) to something that can be powerful but also brings with it a meaningful decision when it comes to choosing an action.

    I think the accuracy dice idea is an interesting idea but I feel like it adds too much complexity for not enough benefit. The red dice vs green dice is so elegant in its simplicity, compared to more complicated systems in games like Warhammer (where you throw approximately 14,000 dice for a typical attack) or Warmachine (where you only succeed on your attack after correctly answering a skill-testing math question). Throwing a handful of red dice and hoping to roll more things than your opponent rolls on his green dice is so intuitive and, I think, is one of the biggest ways this game gets its hooks into new players so quickly. That first demo game doesn't involve a twenty minute sit down with the rulebook, it's just "here's a dial, try to roll explodey things on these dice when you're shooting and try to roll squigglies when you're being shot at, good luck."

    I think, if anything, the problem has been a slight lack of discipline in keeping the potential number of dice regularly being rolled from straying too far from what the old ships could muster. A world where there are 3 ships with a baseline 4-die attack (to say nothing of folks like Fenn Rau or Swarm Leaders) is not the world the Y-Wing or TIE Bomber were born to survive in. Large (robotic) ships with 3 agility also seem like a bit of a stretch.

    I do wonder if there's room in X-Wing design space for some sort of damage reduction mechanic (i.e. if a given ship would take X damage, it instead takes X-1 damage), and whether this would a) fix more problems than it would cause or b) be worth the added complexity.

    On the other hand, I think the idea of one repositioning move per turn is great. Unlike the accuracy die, I think you can make this a pretty intuitive rule. Every turn, you dial one maneuver, you take one token action from your bar (e.g. focus, evade, or target lock), and you get one reposition action from your bar. However, I don't know if levelling the dice modification playing field like that would come at the cost of removing an interesting decision point.

    Ultimately I feel like I've gone in big circles, but that might be because I think the game's ruleset itself is generally sound, and that it's just a few ships/upgrades that have caused chain reactions of unfavourable results. Frankly, if they just kept the rules as is, threw out every printed card and remade the pilots and upgrades from the ground up (and doubled the cost of everything while they were at it so that they have a bit more granularity for accurate costing), I'd probably be perfectly content... once my blood pressure had come back down.

    1. I think the dice inflation problem is precisely because there's only one attack stat that can take on values of "average", "really bad", or "amazing". Ironically, the 4-attack ships are best against highly-evasive ships, and Y-Wings tend to do pretty well against them.

      I've seen lots of comments about an extra die adding complexity, which actually surprised me. This would be similar to Imperial Assault's dice mechanics (or Armada's with a defense roll), and while I don't follow them too closely, they seem simple enough to grasp. In fact, this is probably easier than those because the probabilities of success are the same between the two dice. I'm curious about what would change if another type of attack dice is added?