This series describes the strengths and weaknesses of the factions in X-Wing, with this article covering the Imperial faction. Rather than general statements like "Rebels are more supportive and Imperials are more self-sufficient" (which isn't even true), I'll highlight the factions' strongest pilots and upgrades as well as some of its weaknesses. This can help you choose which factions you want to play and which expansions to prioritize.
For the other two factions, check out the links below:
1. Great Closers
Imperials have a wide array of ships which are fantastic closers. Unlike other factions, these ships are often cheap enough to fit three of them in a list. It can make target selection for opponents extremely tricky. These ships are also often durable enough to survive a round of shooting and are maneuverable enough to escape the next turn.
- Omega Leader (pilot; TIE/fo Fighter) . Perhaps the best ship in the Imperial faction today, Omega Leader wins almost every 1v1 endgame that doesn't go to time. He pushes consistent damage through with Juke, and being able to modify his dice when his enemy can't makes him fairly durable. He's very easy to fit into lists at just 26 points and forces opponents to deal with him early. Extra points should go toward Hull Upgrade or Shield Upgrade, with Stealth Device being a distant third.
- Quickdraw (pilot; TIE/sf Fighter) . A versatile and powerful ship. While his durability isn't fantastic, his pilot ability makes attacking him a Catch-22. Killing Quickdraw early spikes his damage output, but he's very hard to deal with at full health in the end-game. Most builds will use the title, Fire-Control System, and Lightweight Frame. He works with an extremely wide array of EPT and Tech options. Besides the two examples, other interesting EPT options include Crack Shot and Draw Their Fire. Extra points can also be spent on Cruise Missile or Homing Missile for extra damage output.
- TIE/x7 (title; Imperial Veterans) . Extremely durable ships. It's great in the end-game since it can out-K-Turn its opponent while being very hard to hit. These are some of the easier Imperial ships to fly, and they're a good place to start for beginner Imperial players. The first two TIE Defender pilots are the most popular since they have consistent offense to go with their strong defense. The third is a cheap generic with the same defensive abilities, but doesn't have the consistent offense.
- Darth Vader (pilot; TIE Advanced) . His mediocre offense is a weakness, but he's one of the few ships that can reach PS 11 with both boost and barrel roll. His action economy with focus and evade makes him fairly durable. He's not great when pilot skill isn't as important, but he's a great pick to counter other aces. With extra points, Cruise Missile is a great option to boost his offense.
- Whisper (pilot; TIE Phantom) . Whisper is a dangerous but streaky ship. She can explode the first turn she's shot at, or she can destroy your opponent's list by herself. When Whisper gets to shoot first, she rolls 4 dice on attack and on defense with plenty of tokens to modify them. She has one of the best ways of staying on her target with the "candy cane" maneuver of decloaking to the side and doing a 1 hard turn towards where she came from. While strong, Whisper's vulnerable to disruption (stress prevents her from cloaking), ships with higher pilot skill, and bad dice luck. Agent Kallus is fantastic, but optional. Other options include Rebel Captive and Gunner.
2. Arc-dodging aces
Imperials have some of the best arc-dodging aces. These pilots share five features. First, they have six or more green maneuvers, including green hard turns. This lets them use Push the Limit (elite pilot talent; A-Wing or Imperial Aces) to perform two actions each round at a minimal cost. Second, these pilots have high pilot skill and both the boost and barrel roll actions. Combined with Push the Limit, they can perform a boost and barrel roll in the same turn and have great flexibility in dodging enemy arcs. Third, they have access to the evade action. When they can't dodge arcs, they can focus and evade to become very difficult to hit. Fourth, they have a pilot ability which effectively gives them a third action or denies actions from the opponent. Finally, they can equip Autothrusters (modification; StarViper) to counter turrets. These pilots come in at an affordable 31-35 points, which makes it very easy to fit them into a list.
Thanks to their defenses, these ships are excellent in a 1v1 endgame. They can even win some unfair fights with luck and good flying. These ships depend on their actions, so bumps and stress can get them killed pretty quickly. These ships have recently fallen out of favor due to the prevalence of bombs and higher-PS ships.
- Soontir Fel (pilot; TIE Interceptor) . Stealth Device is optional. Soontir Fel used to be one of the best ships in the game, but he's fallen in popularity thanks to the prevalence of counters.
- Carnor Jax (pilot; Imperial Aces) . Hull Upgrade is optional. Carnor Jax has seen more play recently since he can disrupt lists which depend on focus or evade tokens.
- The Inquisitor (pilot; Inquisitor's TIE) . Sometimes takes Proton Rockets. Very popular since he only costs 31 points and has more health than the TIE Interceptors.
3. Three-crew ship with a turret
The VT-49 Decimator is one of two ships in the game with 3 crew slots. The other is the YV-666, which doesn't have a turret and has a hard time turning around. You'll almost always want Gunner (Slave I or YT-2400 Freighter) in one slot. The other slots can be filled with Darth Vader (Lambda-Class Shuttle), Hotshot Co-Pilot (Heroes of the Resistance), Kylo Ren (Upsilon-Class Shuttle), Rebel Captive (Lambda-Class Shuttle), or Ysanne Isard (VT-49 Decimator). Unlike other large ships with low agility, the Decimator doesn't have access to defensive abilities like C-3PO or Kanan Jarrus's pilot ability. They die very quickly for their cost, which makes the Engine Upgrade modification and arc-dodging especially important.
- Rear Admiral Chiraneau (pilot; VT-49 Decimator) . The first build tries to miss with the first shot to strip enemy focus tokens, leaving the target vulnerable to the Gunner shot and the wingmate. The second uses Kylo Ren to put Blinded Pilot or Damaged Cockpit on enemy ships. The third also uses Kylo Ren, but has Palpatine to keep the ace alive or force through a critical hit for Kylo Ren.
- Captain Oicunn (pilot; VT-49 Decimator) . Oicunn is a cheaper Decimator with a strong ability. He doesn't use Hotshot Co-Pilot or Kylo Ren as well as Chiraneau does, but Darth Vader and the defensive crew are still strong options. Engine Upgrade is still a strong upgrade for maneuvering, but the lower pilot skill limits Oicunn's ability to arc-dodge.
4. Support crew cards and platforms
Imperials have the best selection of support crew. Most support abilities costs one action to generate an action, or passes a token from one ship to another. Imperials have the best selection of crew which generate additional actions for allies, including Emperor Palpatine (Imperial Raider epic), Fleet Officer (VT-49 Decimator), and General Hux (Upsilon-Class Shuttle). Imperials also have the best ships to put support crew on, so they also take the most advantage of support crew like Operations Specialist (Upsilon-Class Shuttle), Systems Officer (Imperial Veterans), and Inspiring Recruits (U-Wing). Finally, Imperials have the best targets to support with these abilities. Most of their ships have high agility and can make good use of extra focus tokens, and their aces can make especially good use of extra actions and defensive abilities.
- Emperor Palpatine (crew, Imperial Raider) . Emperor Palpatine's errata makes him less consistent and overbearing, but he's still very strong when supporting aces. It can be used on defense to keep your ships alive or on offense to push through extra crits. The first two options are in the more supportive shuttles. They'll usually be used with 2-3 aces who do the heavy lifting, while the shuttle adds a tanky threat that can't be ignored. The third option is in a Decimator. It's a threat on its own, but you'll only have the points to run it with one ace.
- TIE Shuttle (title; Imperial Veterans) . While a bit fragile, the TIE Bomber with the TIE Shuttle is the cheapest way to field support crew. If you have extra points, Rebel Captive is probably the best defensive option.
- Major Stridan (pilot; Upsilon-Class Shuttle) . Major Stridan's ability is great with support crew and his Coordinate action.
The TIE Fighter is the best swarm ship in the game. Not only are its stats and dial superior to comparable cheap ships, it also has a cheap offensive support ship in Howlrunner and generics with the ability to equip Crack Shot. I list several TIE swarm variations in this post.
- Howlrunner . The force multiplier of your swarm, She often adds 2-3 hits across the rest of your swarm. Expect your opponents to focus her, so don't be afraid to spend actions defensively to keep her on the board.
- Black Squadron Pilot . This is the cheapest generic pilot with the ability to take Crack Shot. Extra points can be spent to upgrade these to named pilots, or to upgrade to the equivalent TIE/fo Fighter for the extra shield.
- TIE Bomber . These are a bit more expensive than the TIE Fighters, but they're very durable and have some interesting options. The first build uses Unguided Rockets to get a 3-dice attack. The second build is passes focus tokens with Operations Specialist. Extra points can be spent on Tactician or Intelligence Agent. One ship can also run Darth Vader or Kylo Ren for variety.
- TIE Aggressor . Imperials finally get their Twin Laser Turret carrier in Wave 11. They're less durable than Y-Wings, but have better maneuverability and barrel roll.
6. High-PS alpha strike
Thanks to their cheap aces with missile slots, Imperials can pull off an alpha strike at pilot skill 11 and 10. These ships make sacrifices for their alpha strike, so these ships will have trouble if the alpha strike doesn't work.
- Quickdraw . He probably makes the fewest sacrifices, but the loss of Lightweight Frames is big. Still, he probably functions the best of these three ships after the initial alpha.
- Darth Vader . Losing Engine Upgrade hurts, but Darth Vader still has most of everything he wants.
- The Inquisitor . You can alternatively run him with Proton Rockets for insurance against being in range 1. Unfortunately, this ship sacrifices a lot for the alpha strike and doesn't perform well afterwards.
Imperials have a couple weaknesses. First, their ships tend to have less health and rely on green dice to survive. While this can keep them alive longer in the end-game, it means they're vulnerable to bad luck. It encourages you to spend your focus on defense, which weakens your attacks. It also makes your ships vulnerable to disruption. Stress, tractor beams, and automatic damage (e.g. bombs) are all especially deadly for Imperial ships.
Second, Imperials don't have many great options for disruption. Their disruption options tend to be fragile, unreliable, and/or expensive enough to limit their use.
If I had to bet on one ship which is potentially underrated in the Imperial arsenal, it'd be the PS 2 TIE Punisher with Lightweight Frame and Unguided Rocket. It's a 25-point ship with 9 health, 2 agility, and a pseudo-3 attack. Compared to the 25-point naked Jumpmaster 5000, it has better offense but worse maneuverability. The top-tier meta right now isn't very good for jousters, but this ship should be fine in more casual games.