Friday, June 30, 2017

Beginner's Guide to Turn < 1: Who's the Joust?

In X-Wing, the decisions start long before you put down your first dial. Asteroid placement and ship deployment is often called "Turn 0", and some have called pre-game preparation "Turn -1". This series will explore the strategy behind these decisions. We'll start with a fundamental concept which I'll be using in the later articles. Because it's fundamental, this is pretty long. You've been warned! :)

Joust (X-Wing): To fly your ships straight at your opponent's ships to exchange attacks.

A long time ago in a place somewhat far away, I played Magic: The Gathering. For those who haven't heard of it, it's a card game about mages trying to kill each other by casting spells and summoning creatures. One of the best strategy articles written for Magic was "Who's the Beatdown". To summarize, each player has a role they should assume based on the matchup. The player which can kill their opponent faster should play the "beatdown" role. They should deal as much damage as possible, even if it means sacrificing their own life or board position. The other player should play the "control" role. They should preserve their life total and play the long game instead of trying to win the damage race. If a player tries to play the wrong role in the matchup, they're probably going to lose the game.

This concept is also central to your pre-game preparation and opening strategy in X-Wing. When you're matched up against your opponent, you should ask yourself this question:

If we just line up our ships and fly straight at each other, who will win the game?

If you'd win, your role should be the jouster. You want to herd your opponent into a position where they can't escape your ships, get all of your ships to shoot at your opponent's ships, and blow some of them up with the sheer weight of your red dice. Then, you chase or K-turn behind the remaining enemy ships and blow them up.

If you'd lose, your role should be the arc-dodger. You need to get free shots, where your ships can shoot while most or all of your opponent's ships cannot. You need to limit the amount of shots you take by repositioning, flanking, and/or range control. You need to engage in favorable positions where you have easier ways to take follow-up shots. Your opponent often won't get themselves into a bad spot in the initial engagement, and you may have to play a longer game. You may have to sacrifice some health or even an entire ship to bait your opponent into a bad spot. Regardless, you can't afford to fly straight at them and trade shots.

If your list can't win a joust but also isn't maneuverable enough to reliably get free shots on your opponent's list, then you're playing a bad matchup. You'll need your opponent to make mistakes, and you'll often need the dice to help you out. Conversely, if you can win a joust but also consistently get free shots on your opponent, you're playing a good matchup. If you're playing for margin of victory and for less dice variance, you should probably take on the arc-dodge role. If you want to limit mistakes in long tournaments, playing a jousting role can be easier.

The terms "joust" and "arc-dodge" are often used as ship archetypes. For example, the Black Squadron Pilot TIE Fighter is classified as a jouster, and The Inquisitor in the TIE Adv. Prototype is classified as an arc-dodger. Here, I'm using "joust" and "arc-dodge" as roles taken on in-game, not as specific ship archetypes. Unlike the ship archetypes, these roles are situational. They depend on how your squad matches up with your opponent's squad, and can change as ships are destroyed. The Inquisitor might feel most natural when played as an arc-dodger, but if you're trying to kill Soontir Fel with him, you should fly him as a jouster. Similarly, the Black Squadron Pilot TIE Fighter might be OK with jousting a squad of B-Wings at the start of the game, but he should be the arc-dodger if they're the only two ships left on the board.

X-Wing has plenty of depth which complicates this simple analysis. The first complication is that many lists have split roles or options in certain matchups. For example, suppose you're flying Soontir Fel with 4 TIE Fighters against three Imperial aces with pilot skill 8 (e.g. The Inquisitor, Carnor Jax, and Omega Leader). In a straight-up joust, you'll probably trade Soontir Fel for one of their ships and end up in an unfavorable end-game with only four TIE Fighters against two agile aces. Even if Soontir Fel survives, he'll have a hard time turning around and contributing in the next couple turns. On the other hand, trying to arc-dodge with TIE Fighters against Imperial aces isn't a recipe for success. Instead, you want to joust with one portion of the squad (the TIE Fighters) while arc-dodging with another (Soontir). This lets you trade some TIE Fighters for one of his ships, and you can enter a favorable end-game where Soontir Fel can clean up.

Now suppose you were flying the three Imperial aces list in this matchup. Against many lists, you can play as purely an arc-dodger. Unfortunately, trying to arc-dodge Soontir Fel with lower pilot skill ships isn't ideal. Similarly, you can't simply fly straight at your opponent's list (assuming your opponent doesn't serve Soontir up on a platter) or the TIE Fighters will tear your ships apart. Instead, you have two good options. You can assume the role of the jouster against Soontir. Ideally, you'd kill Soontir at the loss of no more than one ship, and enter the favorable end-game of two aces against four TIE Fighters. Alternatively, you can play as the arc-dodger against the TIE Fighters. Soontir will almost always have good shots, but if you can limit the TIE Fighter's shots, you should be able to kill off enough of them to turn on Soontir before losing two ships. If you're especially skilled or lucky, you might be able to joust Soontir while also arc-dodging the TIE Fighters. I've found I can usually focus on one plan at a time, but I'm not that good :).

The second complication is some ships are more effective at certain range bands than others. For example, consider three Protectorate Starfighters with Fearlessness, Concord Dawn Protector, and Autothrusters against a TIE Swarm with Crack Shot. Which list wins the joust depends on where the engagement occurs. At range 3, the Protectorate Starfighters have the advantage with the 4th green dice and Autothrusters. At range 1, the Protectorate Starfighters have their title and Fearlessness, and while they'll probably take damage, they'll still probably inflict more damage than they take. At range 2, the TIE Swarm wins handidly. With only three green dice and a focus token for defense, the TIE Swarm will tear the Protectorate Starfighters apart with Crack Shot. The player with the Protectorate Starfighters can likely play as the arc-dodger, but can also choose to play as the jouster if he's confident in avoiding the range 2 engagement. That's easier said than done, since TIE Swarms have options for range control through blocking.

This central concept can be applied in many phases of the game. It can help you decide how to deploy the asteroids and ships, choose your opening maneuvers, and even build your list. I'll talk about these in more detail in future articles. For now, try asking yourself that question before every game you play, and see if that helps with your game plan!

Inspiration for this article was drawn from "Blue Five" and his post An Alternative Look At Arc Dodgers and Jousters.

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