Tuesday, 15 May 2018

X-Wing Buying Guide - *** SECOND EDITION ***

By far the most popular blogs I've ever written are my buying guides for the three factions, racking up over 150,000 views to date!

A ton of players found them useful, but a whole new edition of X-Wing requires a whole new edition of my buying guides for a whole new group of new players.  So if you're looking to jump into X-Wing and have literally no idea where or how to start allow me to be your guide to entering a galaxy far, far away with the X-Wing Miniatures Game: Second Edition...



INTRODUCING THE FACTIONS

The X-Wing Miniatures Game originally launched with two factions - Rebels and Imperials - then as the game became an unprecedented smash hit a third was added - Scum & Villainy.  When the new Disney film series picked up the new pilots and ships from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were rolled into the existing faction structure.

In X-Wing 2nd Edition, though, there are FIVE factions instead of the three that were in 1st Edition.  There's the original three - Rebels, Imperials and Scum - but now the Resistance and First Order have been set up as their own separate factions.  The first Wave of releases will only have three factions, with Wave 2 arriving a few months later (so potentially in time for Christmas 2018) and setting up the First Order and the Resistance.

With five distinct factions it's going to be pretty expensive to get stuck in into all of them at once right off the bat.  If you're new to X-Wing I'm going to assume that you'll be trying to keep things on the down-low for a start and picking one of the factions to start with, and as we don't know anything about the contents of Wave 2 at the moment this guide is going to focus on the original three factions.


REBEL ALLIANCE

Who Are The Rebels?

Unless you've been living under a pop culture rock for the last 30 years you'll recognise some of the most important Rebel characters, like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2 etc. The Rebel faction also includes ships and characters from Rogue One and from the Disney cartoon series Rebels, so you'll also find Jyn Erso, Ezra Bridger, Sabine Wren and Cassian Andor in here.


As well as the films and TV shows there was a whole load of novels and video games that expanded the Star Wars universe.  When Disney bought the franchise all that stuff become unofficial but a lot of it had already found its way into the X-Wing Miniatures Game.  You may not know who Corran Horn, Dash Rendar or Norra Wexley are but they were all heroes of some book or game somewhere, and chances are they'll all be back in 2nd Edition.

It's NOT the characters or ships from the 'new' films.  If you're looking for Poe Dameron, Rey, BB-8 or Finn then I'm afraid you'll have to wait for the Resistance ships coming in Wave 2.


How Do They Play?

Rebel ships tend to focus on toughness over speed or agility, able to take a hit or two and carry on trucking.  This can make them a relatively forgiving faction to play because you won't be losing ships every time you make a strategic error.  Rebels also have plenty of ships with turret-mounted cannons, like the Millenium Falcon, Y-Wing, K-Wing, Ghost and Outrider so they can be perfectly happy running and hiding from enemy fire and dishing out shots from their turrets even if they're not facing towards the bad guys.  They do have some fast and nimble ships (mainly the A-Wings) but they're few and far between.


In 1st Edition the two defining characteristics of the Rebels were probably shield regeneration and defensive synergies, making them the toughest of the three factions.  The Rebels excelled at repairing their damaged ships or working together as a team to spread damage around the team to keep everyone alive.  Those ultimately proved extremely effective strategies and while we've seen that they'll retain that identity I think we've also seen that it's going to be toned down a little from where it was in 1st Edition.


GALACTIC EMPIRE

Who Are The Imperials?

Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are the two most recognisable faces among the Empire's ranks, at least to people who primarily know Star Wars from the films.  Most of the rest of the time the heroes were up against faceless disposable Stormtroopers or TIE Fighter pilots so there's not that many iconic characters, especially as the bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back appear in the Scum & Villainy faction instead of Imperial.


Unless you've scoured the depths of various Star Wars novels and games you may not recognise the names of the elite pilots in the Empire's ranks, but you'll probably recognise a lot of their hardware - TIE Fighters, TIE Interceptors, TIE Bombers, TIE Strikers and TIE Reapers and Lambda shuttles all featured heavily in the films, for instance, while TIE Defenders turned up towards the end of the Rebels cartoon series.

What's not included in the Galactic Empire is any of the ships or characters from the First Order, which rose from the ashes of the Empire - no Kylo Ren or General Hux here, I'm afraid.


How Do They Play?

A lot of the Empire's strategy is about sending out under-trained and under-resourced pilots to die for the Emperor in spaceships made out of papier mache and bits of string.   You can field proper swarms of 7 or 8 TIE Fighters against just 2 or 3 Rebel ships and still be fighting manfully to win despite outnumbering the enemy 3:1.  There's also naturally a little bit more dice variance in how a lot of the cheapest Empire ships work as they're so fragile that you're only ever one terrible dice roll away from a dead ship.  On a good day your TIE Fighters will dance through laser blasts like a ballerina, but on a bad day they'll crumple up like wet paper.  


That's not all Imperial ships and the faction certainly does have the odd big hog, like the Decimator or the TIE Defender, and at the opposite end of the scale to the cannon fodder TIEs the Empire also some of the most fearsome ace pilots in the game.  Anybody who managed to get through a dozen battles without their TIE Fighter spontaneously combusting around them was obviously a hell of a pilot, hence why you'll have some awesome fun flying rings around the slower Rebel ships with people like Darth Vader and Soontir Fel.  The Rebel scum can't hit what they can't see and Imperial Aces are the best at simply staying out of the enemy's firing arcs completely.

With very few turrets available in their ranks the Imperial faction is primarily defined by just how much it rewards and depends on good flying from the player behind them.  Most of your ships can only fire forwards so you need to work on predicting where the enemy will be and boxing them in to kill zones, while defensively your ship's best odds of survival are just being somewhere that the enemy can't see them.   The learning curve for Imperial players can be a little bit steeper but once you've got the hang of it they're a very satisfying faction to play.


SCUM & VILLAINY

Who Are The Scum?

The poster child for Scum & Villainy is Boba Fett.  We briefly met a cadre of bounty hunters in The Empire Strikes Back but Fett was the only one to have actual lines or be dressed in something more than a Dr Who extra's cast-offs.  Since their fleeting appearance in Empire Strikes Back most of the bounty hunters have picked up cult followings and had their backstory and adventures fleshed out in novels, comic books and games.  Although Bossk, Zuckuss and IG-88 may not be household names to more casual Star Wars fans they're actually a bit of a big deal in their own right.


Alongside the bounty hunters the Scum & Villainy faction has picked up a rag-tag collection of pirates and rogues from other sources, like the Clones Wars and Rebels cartoon series.  Who and what the Rebels and the Empire are is pretty obvious if you've seen the films but if you want to put some flesh on the bones of who Prince Xizor is, or Fenn Rau, Ketsu Onyo and Palob Godalhi then it's likely to require some further reading.  And don't look at me - I don't know either!

It's worth mentioning that it's anticipated that anything related to the new Solo movie, such as the original Millenium Falcon, will most naturally fall into the Scum & Villainy faction.  If the adventures of a young Han and Lando are going to be translated onto the tabletop then Scum is likely to be where you'll find the pair of scoundrels.


How Do They Play?

More than the other two factions the Scum & Villainy can be a two-man job, especially if you're backing the bounty hunters rather than the pirates.  Dengar, Boba and Asajj are all fearsome opponents on the table, which is how they earned their dreaded reputation as the best bounty hunters in the galaxy, and that means they come to the X-Wing Miniatures Game with pretty large and expensive ships loaded with tricks and weaponry.  It's pretty common to see Scum players just fielding 'Dengar & Bossk' or 'Asajj & Boba' as the whole of their squads, where Rebel and Imperial players use smaller fighters a lot more often.


If the bounty hunters are villainy then the scum in Scum & Villainy are the pirates, and it's probably fair to say they play a bit more like the Rebel faction - there's a lot of ships in Scum & Villainy that are just 'the Scum X-Wing' or 'the Scum B-Wing', while the pirates flat out stole some of the Rebel's Y-Wings and HWKs for their own purposes.  There's a bit of both factions tied up in Scum (the Fang Fighter is most like a TIE Interceptor, for instance) but they definitely lean more towards Rebels with tougher ships and plenty of turrets.

What has defined Scum & Villainy in the past has partly been just how much they rely on the 'X & Y' model of squad-building, partnering two tough ships together.  That's not really a format you see a lot of in the other factions and it can be a real strength to bring two ships to the table that are naturally independently powerful, challenging the enemy to find a weak spot.  The other defining trait has been that they tend to play around with more unusual game mechanics, control effects and odd interactions.  If the Rebels are all about toughness and outlasting the opponent, and the Empire are about disposable cannon fodder and arc-dodging aces, then the Scum are about making your opponent pick up all your cards and furrow his brow as he tries to work out what you're planning to do to him.



THE BUYING GUIDE

I'll be picking the factions off one at a time, but as people are going to have different amounts to throw into the pot I'm going to lay this guide out in three stages for each of the factions, depending on how much cash you're prepared to throw at the game.
  • Yeah, But Who's Gonna Fly It Kid?  You? - so you've seen a bunch of people playing X-Wing in your store and you want to join in?  This will give you the bare minimum ships you need to be able to walk up to the table and start shooting at them with your own squad.
  • That's Great Kid!  Don't Get Cocky! - without sinking in a load of extra cash, how can you give yourself a few more options from the Second Edition expansions so you can mix up what you're playing with and keep it fresh?
  • At That Speed, Will You Be Able To Pull Out In Time? - we're going in, we're going in full throttle.  All the recommendations in the first two stages come from Second Edition expansions, but if you've got the cash to throw at buying one of the Conversion Kit boxes a whole galaxy of 1st Edition expansions opens up for you to plunder.  It's too early to say what's going to be 'good' or not before the game is even out, so for each faction I work to a $250 budget that will give you a wide range of different ships and experiences, plenty to be going on with for a good long while!

PLEASE NOTE: for all my recommendations I've used the official FFG recommended retail price (in $).  Your mileage may vary, your FLGS may be doing some great deals, and especially in chasing down older ships it might be worth checking out eBay and the like for some bargains.


REBEL ALLIANCE

Yeah, But Who's Gonna Fly It Kid?  You?
Core Set, Saw's Renegades

You're going to need a Core Set because it has all the templates, tokens and, you know, little things like the rulebook in!  Handily for Rebel players it also has a T-65 X-Wing and some pretty killer pilots, like Luke Skywalker himself.  Just buying the rulebook gets you over a third of the way towards a functioning squad!


From there, to be honest there's two routes available and neither is 'wrong'.  The first option is to pick up a standalone X-Wing expansion and a Y-Wing expansion, the second option is to go all Rogue One and buy the Saw's Renegade's expansion.  Although Saw's Renegades is officially a 1st Edition expansion it contains all the pieces you need to fly those ships in 2nd Edition as well (clever FFG) so it's a great option.  

Whichever option you'll choose it costs the same amount of money and you'll wind up with two X-Wings and a third ship, it's just whether you want that ship to be a Y-Wing or a U-Wing.  Those three ships will definitely be enough to form a functioning squad and fight for freedom in the galaxy!


That's Great Kid!  Don't Get Cocky!
X-Wing Expansion, Y-Wing Expansion

If you want to expand your options a bit beyond the basics then, to be honest, there's nowhere better to look than just grabbing whichever of the two routes you didn't initially go down and filling in the blanks.  For $120 you'll have five ships in your collection - three X-Wings with all the available pilots (the pilot cards in the core set, expansion and Saw's Renegades are all different), a durable Y-Wing with its turret and the U-Wing bringing some dangerous crew to support your raids.


At That Speed, Will You Be Able To Pull Out In Time?
Rebel Conversion Kit, Millenium Falcon, Rebel Aces, ARC-170 Expansion

At this point you'll have exhausted all the Rebel Alliance ships that have been released for 2nd Edition, but have no fear there's more to come.  If you're ready to take the plunge then you can buy the Rebel Conversion Kit and then go hunting down some of the older expansion packs.  There's one massively awesome reason for doing this,which is the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy - the Millenium Falcon.

Not only is the Falcon an iconic Star Wars ship but it also brings completely different styles of play and squads to what it available in the basic 2nd Edition expansions, so that would be my first stop.  After you've got the Falcon then picking up Rebel Aces gives you a nippy A-Wing and rugged B-Wing to add to your X-Wing squadron for some more variety, and then either the ARC-170 or Sheathipede shuttle would make a great way of rounding out your $250 spend to give you a bit of everything in your collection.


GALACTIC EMPIRE

Yeah, But Who's Gonna Fly It Kid?  You?
Core Set, TIE Fighter Expansion x2, TIE Advanced Expansion

Just like for the Rebel players you're going to need a Core Set because it has all the templates, tokens and, you know, little things like the rulebook in!  The Core Set also has two cannon fodder TIE Fighters in, so you can start imposing justice and order right away.  Unfortunately because those TIE Fighters are so cheap and disposable they don't necessarily go a long way towards completing your squad.  This means starting out with Imperials is likely to be a little bit more expensive than Rebel, just because you're going to wind up fielding a couple more ships on the table.

The TIE swarms always look awesome though, so it's worth it.


Let's face it, you decided to play Imperials because you get use Darth Vader, right?  It's ok, you're among friends here, we can be honest with ourselves here on the dark side (also known as: the cool side).  The TIE Advanced expansion will give you everything you need to force choke some rebel scum, and then you can finish your squad off by giving Lord Vader a full squad of wingmen with another two TIE Fighter expansions.  You could pick up a second Core Set for those TIEs, but there's some great pilots in the standalone expansion pack that aren't in the Core Set so it's best to diversify and get the expansions.

Darth Vader and four Black Squadron TIEs is a classic 'miniswarm' strategy from the days of 1st Edition and it's going to work just fine in 2nd Edition too.


That's Great Kid!  Don't Get Cocky!
TIE Reaper Expansion

If you want to expand your options then the TIE Reaper expansion is definitely the place to go.  Officially part of the final wave of 1st Edition the TIE Reaper also comes with all the kit to use it in 2nd Edition too, and it brings a ton of new toys for the Empire.  You'll get the option to bring crew aboard the Reaper, like Director Krennic, and on top of that the tough TIE Reaper will give you something new that the Empire doesn't usually get from it's agile yet fragile TIE Fighters.


At That Speed, Will You Be Able To Pull Out In Time?
Imperial Conversion Kit, TIE Interceptor Expansion, Imperial Veterans, TIE Striker Expansion

If you're ready to enlist in the Imperial Navy for real then picking up the Imperial Conversion Kit opens up a wealth of options.  So far you've really been restricted to picking up more and more cannon fodder TIE Fighters but there's a rich history of elite TIE pilots and ships to draw on and you can't really start anywhere better than grabbing the classic TIE Interceptor and Baron Soontir Fel.  You might not recognise Soontir from the movies but he was a boss in a lot of the Star Wars novels and one of the most dominant pilots in 1st Edition X-Wing - his Interceptor will run rings around the scum!

Imperial Veterans gives you the twin technological terrors of the TIE Bomber and TIE Defender, while the TIE Striker would round out your $250 investment with a super-fast flanker that can harry at the heels of the enemy.  At that point your collection will have everything from the simplest TIE pilot right out of the academy to the greatest ace in the galaxy, and most of the stuff in between.  It'll also have access to the dark powers of the Force, with the TIE Reaper able to ferry Emperor Palpatine himself into battle to watch over your squad.

Fear will keep the local players in line.


SCUM & VILLAINY

Yeah, But Who's Gonna Fly It Kid?  You?
Core Set, Firespray Expansion, Fang Fighter Expansion x2

The Core Set has TIE Fighters and an X-Wing in.  Scum players can't use TIE Fighters or X-Wings, but unfortunately you can't really sidestep picking up the Core Set because it still has all those pesky little things you're going to need to like dice, templates, and the rulebook.  Gosh darn it!  If you're really committed about flying Slave-I around (which I don't blame you for, btw) then you're probably going to have to take this one on the chin, unfortunately, and starting out in Scum is going to leave a slightly bigger hole in your wallet as a result.


The bad news: the initial options for Scum in Wave 1 are really limited.

The good news: SLAVE-I, baby, yeah!  Boba Fett's iconic ship is maybe the most exciting ship in Wave 1, hopefully finally bringing Slave-I to the table in the truly terrifying form it deserves.

More bad news: the initial options for Scum in Wave 1 are REALLY limited.

More good news: you may not have heard of the Fang Fighter (it's from the Rebels cartoon show) but Fenn Rau was one of the stars of 1st Edition X-Wing so you should be in a good place picking them up to add to your squad.  Fast and deadly, the Fang Fighter is a potent threat.


That's Great Kid!  Don't Get Cocky!
...

Even more bad news: the initial options for Scum in Wave 1 are REALLY limited.

Good news: well, at least you've not got anything else to spend your money on, I guess?  Silver linings and all that.


At That Speed, Will You Be Able To Pull Out In Time?
Scum Conversion Kit, Punishing One, Hound's Tooth, Scurrg H6 Bomber Expansion

A lot of the best bits of the Scum & Villainy faction are locked behind the Scum Conversion Kit, but once you've made that commitment you can grab some of the most iconic bounty hunter legends from The Empire Strikes Back.  Dengar's Punishing One was a scourge on everything before him in 1st Edition, almost certainly the best ship in the game (so great they had to nerf it like half a dozen times, stick a stake through its heart, stuff it with garlic, then bury the remains in concrete).  

The Shadow Caster is another powerhouse ship from the 1st Edition that's a strong pick for Scum players, as both Asajj Ventress and Ketsu Onyo were great pilots, and the same is true for Captain Nym's Scurrg Bomber.  With Dengar, Boba, Asajj and Nym in your collection you've a great selection of big hitters, but to round out your smaller fighter collection I'd recommend the humble Z-95 Headhunter expansion.  The Z-95 is a tired old fighter that's outclassed by almost every other ship in the game but yet... but yet... you know how if you've got a tiled room, like a bathroom or something, and you just have that odd gap where the tiles don't quite match to the size of the wall and you have to find a tiny cracked bit of tile just to fill it in?  That cracked little bit of tile is the Z-95 Headhunter, and having one around will really help you finish up squads where the points from the rest of your ships left you just a little bit short.



THAT'S ALL FOR NOW

With only a few official 2nd Edition expansions announced, and the strength of the new pilots and ships in the conversion kits unknown, I don't want to overwork the buying guides for now.  Hopefully the above has given you some great places to start in jumping into the 2nd Edition of X-Wing.  It's a great game, and well worth dipping at least one toe in the water to try it out.




Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Let The Past Die. Kill It , If You Have To

X-Wing 2.0

I have to admit that I totally didn't see it coming.  It didn't fit with what I thought I could read was happening at FFG and how they thought, how they did business.  X-Wing sales were booming, the design team were busy with Legion, it didn't seem like FFG would have either the desire or capacity to tackle a full remodel of their biggest game.

Let the past die.

It's actually a pretty massive gamble for FFG, I think.  There's going to be a ton of people who are deeply invested in X-Wing over the last few years and who don't play much but keep dipping their toes into the water and buying new ships.  They're going to lose a lot of those players, who can't face the significant one-off cost of the conversion kits to use their old stuff in the 2nd Edition.  FFG need the soft reboot to 2nd Edition to open the game up to new players who will replace those who will inevitably drop out.

Kill it if you have to.

I'm partway through my series on the Six Ages of the X-Wing metagame.  I was going to cover the 3rd and 4th Ages together and that blog is still sitting unfinished in my drafts.  Right now I think I'll probably never finish that series because they've been stripped of so much of their relevance.  A lot of the reason for doing that series was not just a nostalgia trip, but also to pull out learnings from the past that players could apply to the present and the future.  That future is now virtually a clean break from the past.   

That's the only way you can become...

Why rake over the old legends, the old rivalries?  I want to talk about the future instead.

...what you were meant to be.


X-Wing Miniatures Game - Second Edition


Cost

I'm going to just grab snippets from the FFG release articles and talk around them.  Let's start with what is likely to be the most important part for most of us... how's hard is it going to hit our wallets?


If I didn't see X-Wing 2.0 coming then I certainly didn't see Conversion Kits coming.  FFG have been pretty merciless in wringing every last penny from its X-Wing playerbase and if X-Wing 2.0 was ever going to happen I didn't see much reason for them to change their ways and give us all a leg up into the new game.  I expected a game to start virtually from scratch, with incompatible models/dials/bases/dice forcing players to pay through the nose to start again.  That was basically how FFG approached rebooting A Game Of Thrones LCG into a second edition, so if it ever happened in X-Wing I expected the same.


Conversion kits are going to be expensive as a one-time catch-up purchase, but if the Second Edition game is a meaningful improvement on the game we have now, or if you play X-Wing pretty frequently, I think it's going to be relatively easy to justify that cost as delivering a tremendous amount of value for money.  I've always championed buying an FFG playmat simply because although it's pretty expensive you'll get so much use out of it that it's one of the best value purchases you can make.  I'd make a similar argument for just taking this one-off investment of the conversion kits on the chin.


There are going to be players who can't make that jump.  Either the cost is too much, or the frequency of play too low and it just doesn't make sense for them to make that outlay.  Whenever there's big changes like there are people who are going to be left out in the cold and I think it's reasonable to expect about 20-30% of the current X-Wing playerbase to refuse the transition into Second Edition.  There's plenty of time for those sorts of decisions to be made, though, so if you think you're in that boat don't kneejerk and do anything you might regret, and I'm sure FFG are going to be doing their best to persuade you that the X-Wing you enjoyed playing is only going to be better in future.


Maybe you don't need to buy all the conversion kits at once.  Maybe you just pick Rebels, maybe you just pick Scum.  Take it slow.  We want as many of you to come on the journey with us as possible.

And however much it hurts your wallet it hurts a whole lot less than having to start again from scratch with incompatible models!



Mechanics

A lot of the fundamental X-Wing mechanics appear unchanged.  We still use dials, we still have maneuver templates, we still plan/activate/action, we still have red dice and green dice.  Look at an X-Wing 2.0 dial and you'll recognise it as X-Wing, look at the stat line of an X-Wing 2.0 ship and you'll recognise it as X-Wing.


It was so similar that my initial response was that this wasn't really X-Wing 2.0 at all, it was more like an X-Wing 1.5 that patched a lot of issues with specific cards and pilots but didn't really change the game much.  This really worried me because I've always felt like those specific design issues were a result of the limitations of the game mechanics, which placed a lot of boundaries on what the designers could do.  When they'd tried to break out of the natural design boundaries (around Wave 7 onwards) it had upset the balance of the game and X-Wing had been in a bit of a slow death spiral ever since, at least from a design/balance point of view.  

Patching old problem cards without fixing the basic issues that had made them problems could prove to be be a very short term solution, and it had me worried.


Reading the articles in more depth, though, I'm happy that this is a proper 2.0.  

Some of the ways that they've opened up design space are really neat and create some great opportunities for tactical decisions.  There's extra room for designers to work in, there's extra tools for ensuring ships feel distinct from one another, and there's extra room for players to outplay each other in.

It's certainly a bit more complex than vanilla X-Wing 1.0 was, but the base mechanics are the same and I think X-Wing has long since proven itself ready to take that next step and become a more fully rounded game.

  • Red Actions that induce stress - why has nobody thought of this before?  It's so elegant, and yet suddenly it opens up so much diversity in how ships behave.  If you think about how often people have complained about Engine Upgrade on large ships, but if it had been a red Boost action on large ships a lot of that never would have happened.  Actions are no longer a binary yes/no but there's shades of grey introduced, and you can maybe do things but they're harder.
  • We've already seen an example of how they're playing with these colour codings as the X-Wing 2.0 version of Tactical Officer that's arriving in the TIE Reaper requires a red co-ordinate action to be equipped to your ship, but turns it white.  It's a simple change, but it adds a layer of depth and tougher decision-making.


  • Changes to Turrets - basically, turrets are gone.  The Shadow Caster's rotating firing arc turned out to be the testbed for the new turret mechanic and instead we get movable firing arcs replacing turrets on all ships.  The image they show of the Millenium Falcon even takes that mechanic further and seems to suggest the Falcon covers two opposite arcs at once with it's two gunners.  You can see that the Falcon's primary firing arc isn't shaded in at all so it seems like the Falcon's only going to be able to fire from those two opposing arcs, which will make positioning the Falcon AND flying against it particularly tricky!
  • Many people hated how turrets worked.  I wasn't personally one of them - I felt like there was more problems with specific turret cards (like TLT and Outrider HLC) than with the fundamental mechanics - but it's not a hill I care enough about to bother dying on.  For a whole load of people this change alone is reason to buy into 2.0!


  • Linked Actions - one upgrade I've seen notably missing so far is Push The Limit.  I HATE Push The Limit, because it's so damn good that it dominates the EPT slot and often defines which ships are good or bad simply by whether they have a dial that can support Push The Limit or not.  In X-Wing 2.0 it seems like Push The Limit is being partially replaced by these Linked Actions on a ship's action bar: perform X then do Y.

  • We can see some examples of this on the new Dengar's pilot card, with his Focus and Target Lock actions both allowing him to chain moving his Shadow Caster-style arc around (as a red action).  These linked actions are a great way to even further separate how different ships behave from one another.  You might previously have had three ships that could all Barrel Roll and were all very similar, and now in X-Wing 2.0 one of them has Barrel Roll, one of them has a red Barrel Roll, and one of them can take a Focus token then perform a Barrel Roll as a linked action.  

  • Force Upgrade with Limited Charges - it's not just the introduction of the Force tokens that bring the idea of limited resources to X-Wing, but it's how a lot of other upgrade cards are being designed as well.  We can see a lot of that here on the example Luke Skywalker the article laid out...


  • So Luke has two Force Charges to spend during the game.  They explain that these can be used to flip a dice result in your favour at any point.  We also see that Luke's pilot ability allows him to recharge his Force charges, and combined this means Luke potentially works quite a lot like his original version - instead of his old pilot ability flipping a dice in his favour he recovers a Force charge that he can use to flip a dice in his favour.  We can also see from Instinctive Aim (the new Deadeye) that he can spend a Force charge to ignore having to spend a Target Lock to fire his Proton Torpedoes.  So the Force charges are a dynamic resource he has to decide how to manage through the game, which is more interesting and skillful than having abilities that are either on/off.

  • But we can also see that Luke is equipped with R2-D2 and Proton Torpedoes, and both of those cards have Energy charges that dictate how often they can be used during a game.  R2-D2 can regenerate 3 shields over a game, Proton Torpedoes can be fired twice 

  • And there's a fantastic example of how these limited Charges are going to be used to create a more dynamic playing environment in the new Elusive EPT.  Elusive recharges these limited Energy charges when you perform a red maneuver.  Red maneuvers are you flying your ship to its limits so it makes sense that's where you get sent to if you're evading incoming fire.  

  • What I like about these limited charges is that they mean the game state changes.  In X-Wing 1.0 we've seen plenty of examples where a game state can be quite static - if your ship struggles to deal damage against Luke Skywalker with R2-D2 because he can flip a focus to an evade then regenerate a shield, then it's always going to struggle to do so.  In X-Wing 2.0 that game state changes as players use up their charges and you'll get stuck in 'unwinnable' situations a lot less often.




Squad Building

One of the most unexpected changes is that there's no points costs at all on any of thse cards, with most of the advanced squad building being run via an app.  This means with FFG can dynamically control what ships/upgrades are available at any point in time, and are able to amend points costs.  



The days of a pilot or upgrade costing a set number of points appears to be gone, as it sounds like value is going to be affected by other things on your ship or in your squad, as well as being changed over time by FFG as they try to balance the game and stop particular things from dominating.  How frequently will prices change?  Will they change a lot of prices or just the odd one or two?  Who knows.



I'm lukewarm on this change, personally.  I can see how it could be used beneficially to shake things up in the game but I hope it remains easy to use doesn't just devolve to a lot of unnecessary meddling for meddling's sake.  I'm not keen that I won't be able to mentally squadbuild without having to crack out the app to find out what things cost, or that I can try to build a squad that should work only to have an upgrade change in price because of other things in the squad.


I'm a bit of a technophobe.  I don't like apps.  This idea just makes me a bit uneasy.  


On the flipside, though, I LOVE the 'Quick Build' rules and Threat Level idea.  


This really makes the game super-accessible to new players and I strongly hope that a lot of store level tournaments use Quick Build rules instead of the app because that would remove a significant barrier to entry.  Having to accurately gauge the power level of all your pilots and upgrades to create a strong squad was just throwing an extra hurdle in front of new players trying to graduate into the game when they should have been able to just jump in and play.  Quick Build solves that.

Quick Build moves the focus further from squadbuilding and back into what happens on the table and how you fly them.  It should be a very skill-intensive format that tests your flying and decision making to the limit.  

I very much hope that we see Quick Build used occasionally to break up tournament formats and prevent things from getting stale.


The Nitty Gritty

And finally, I'm just going to lay out some of the card fans and talk about some of the things that we can learn about the new edition of the game from them.



There's something really important in how they're treating the Fang Fighter - red dice inflation appears to be getting reined in a bit!  The old Fenn Rau would get into range 1 and with Fearlessness he could be rolling 6 hits.  The new Fenn Rau still gets an extra red dice but Fearless only helps him to reroll it rather than adding even more on top.

This is a big deal.  Red dice inflation was an unwanted consequence of X-Wing's balance being lost after Wave 7/8.  The likes of Soontir Fel's defenses got so strong that the designers had to throw more red dice at them just to punch through.  Indications that the red dice in X-Wing 2.0 are being pulled back down to a more balanced state is extremely welcome.  I also understand that Evade tokens have been similarly changed, and now change a dice result to an Evade rather than adding a whole new Evade dice result on top of your existing dice roll.



The TIE Phantom and TIE Advanced show something else that's quite important, which is that titles and unique ship abilities have been moved onto the ship itself and away from being upgrades.  This is further evidence of how much the designers are working to create unique characteristics for each ship.

Oh, and did you notice the Reinforce action on the Decimator?  Or the red Coordinate action?  Or that it's arc icon on the pilot ability is a half moon, not a single arc?



The TIE Fighter card fan highlights two EPTs that take advantage of another mechanic that's now common across all ships.  If you've not noticed yet then every ship base has the 'Bullseye' arc lines as well as it's usual front arc marked out.  I've not seen any indication that the bullseye arc has properties of it's own, the way that the Kimogila's prevented dice mods being used, but it's clearly being picked up by upgrade cards and used to generate effects like Crack Shot and Marksmanship.  That's nice because it returns more emphasis to the details of positioning and getting your opponent lined right up for the kill!


Fight To Save What You Love

I was cautious about X-Wing 2.0, but it's hard to ignore the rising excitement.  I like almost everything about it - I like the mechanics changes, I like the removal of old problems, I like the opportunity to give old forgotten ships a new lease of life without waiting for some hokey upgrade patch, I like splitting the Empire and First Order into two factions, I like the new turret implementation.



There's very very little I don't like.  Yes there's a conversion cost, but I think it's reasonable value if you're going to play X-Wing a decent amount of the time.  By one nagging concern is that... this is just where it starts, this is the baseline and we grow from here.  In the past X-Wing has grown partly through FFG holding players to ransom with more powerful 'must-have' pilots, ships and upgrades.  Will that change going forwards?  How much will we get to enjoy and explore all the fantastic possibilities of having over FIFTY new ships thrown at us at once, before new expansions and power creep just leave them all back gathering dust on a shelf?


Uncertain, the future is but I think there is A New Hope.  

September can't come soon enough!



Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Six Ages of X-Wing: 2) Twin Laser Palps

Welcome to the second part of my whistlestop tour through the development of the X-Wing metagame, what I have dubbed the Six Ages of X-Wing...
  1. Jurassic Park
  2. Twin Laser Palps 
  3. Scouts
  4. Veterans
  5. Mindlink
  6. Rebel Revenge

Let's set the scene...

It's August 2015.  The X-Wing players are having a wonderful party with their metagame: turrets like Han, Oicunn and Dash, aces like Corran, Jake and Soontir, and generic jousters like Blue Squadron Pilot, Tala Squadron Pilot and Obsidian Squadron Pilot swirling around each other in an intricate dance of one-upsmanship.  It's a cosy and familiar party because everyone knows their place, everyone knows how they fit together.  

This is how the game is.  It's how it's been for a long time.


Then, released two weeks apart during August, the Imperial Raider and Wave 7 crashed the party and X-Wing would never be the same again...


TWIN LASER PALPS

Of all the six 'ages' of X-Wing I'm going to talk about in this series of blogs I think this second age is probably the most important for understanding how we came to play X-Wing the way that we do now.  The period between Wave 7 and Wave 8 saw the old structures of the X-Wing metagame demolished entirely and replaced with something much more recognisable as what we see today.   Here are the top 20 pilots in Meta-Wing each month over this period...


Revolutions are rarely bloodless affairs.  There was chaos at first as the old order struggled to survive and fight off the Wave 7 insurgency, but from the ashes of the old world a new metagame was born and by February 2016 the transition was complete.

August 2015
  • Large Based Turrets
  • Autothruster Aces
  • Generic Jousters
February 2016
  • Palp Aces
  • TLT
  • Rebel Regen
  • Crack Swarm

EXECUTE ORDER 66

The Imperial Raider expansion thrust the two endgame bosses of Star Wars right into the metagame mix, with Darth Vader getting a much-needed buff to his ailing TIE Advanced and Emperor Palpatine finally arriving in the game.


Although Palpatine carried a hefty price tag (8pts, plus the shuttle he can ride in) players immediately seized on just how powerful his ability was and he soon ascended to his throne room at the top end of the metagame.  As Palpatine was an upgrade card not a pilot you have to track his progress indirectly through the Top 20 pilots, primarily through the rapid rise of the Omicron Group Pilot that was the cheapest Lambda Shuttle carrier for the Emperor but he also quickly found himself replacing the existing crew on board the Decimator.


Palpatine's impact on the Jurassic Park metagame was huge, primarily because he added an extra layer of impenetrable defence to the green dice of the Imperial Aces that had already been hanging around near the top of the game, like Soontir Fel, Whisper, or Darth Vader in his new and improved TIE Advanced.  

Until this point players knew what they needed to do to batter Imperial aces down - if you fired into all their green dice and tokens you'd struggle to scratch the paint, but if you could hit them multiple times in a turn they'd run out of tokens and your later shots would squeeze through.  That was the theory behind the likes of B-Wing & TIE swarms trying to catch Soontir in multiple arcs, and it was also the theory behind the likes of Gunner or Luke Skywalker in the large-based turrets trying to push for a second shot that would do the damage.


Palpatine's extra layer of dice-meddling changed all that.  Two shots weren't enough now, you'd likely need three or four, and Palp was also on duty if you managed to successfully bump your target ace as well.  The Emperor's ability to bend the Force to his dark ends transcended such trivialities, and as such he was a dagger to the heart of the existing metagame.  


The Jurassic Park era had seen Imperial aces used primarily alongside the Decimator a 'mini-swarm' of TIE Fighters.  By being able to flexibly support wherever the point of pressure was Palpatine changed the game, making it possible for Imperial players to bring two otherwise flimsy aces and trust the Emperor to help whichever was the enemy's target.  Palp Aces was born and it's a squad archetype that we can recognise as surviving largely unchanged to this day - the particular aces may switch in and out as the metagame demands, but the premise and strategy remains as valid now as it ever did.

Further still, the huge success of the Omicron Group Pilot really proved for the first time the viability of a dedicated support ship, particularly one able to influence the game from any range.  That's a theme which runs strongly through many of the most dominant squads of the next few years of metagame rotation, such as Manaroo.

The only thing going wrong for his Palpness at this point, was that he was about to be upstaged...



INTENSIFY FORWARD FIREPOWER!

It's not really possible to understate the impact that Twin Laser Turret had on competitive X-Wing.  

The fat turrets that had ruled over the Jurassic Park metagame couldn't compete with the raw firepower of all those turrets heading back at them - in the three turns it would take Han Solo to kill a single Y-Wing he would almost certainly die to the 72 red dice that were coming back his way.  The aces could hide behind tokens and Autothrusters against the incoming fire, but the raw number of shots they had to take meant their green dice were likely to fail eventually.  The B-Wings and Z-95s simply weren't fast enough to catch up to the Y-Wings and just melted under the fire.

From the second Wave 7 arrived the Syndicate Thug took over at the top of the metagame, with Quad TLT cutting a bloody swathe through almost anything else in the game.  Players running their BBBBZ and Flying Pancakes into the Quad TLTs were just replicating the futility of charges across a muddy battlefield into the face of machine gun fire.

For three straight months the Syndicate Thug was the #1 pilot in Meta-Wing. 


The Thug wasn't alone, though, and pretty much anything you could strap a TLT to became a solid body to put into the fray - even HWKs started to pick up wins!  Alongside the Y-Wings the new K-Wings were rapidly proving a potent force - you couldn't afford four of them like you could with the smaller Y-Wing, but you could bring three K-Wings with a few more toys.  Miranda Doni's powerful shield regeneration ability made her an instant success and a deadly late game finisher, while in the old timing rules TLT and Tactician combined to deal two stress tokens (one for each TLT 'attack').


The TLT/double-stress combination didn't stop there, though, and in fact it rolled on into the next turn of the metagame wheel.  The 'Stresshog' Y-Wing became one of the strongest counters to disrupting the action economy of the new Palp Ace squads.  With Emperor Palpatine adding to the defensive tokens of Soontir Fel, Darth Vader and Whisper it was all but pointless even trying to throw your red dice at the Imperial Aces.  But deny them actions with two stress tokens, that a green maneuver won't clear it all, and they became flimsy pinatas to squish at your leisure.

The Stresshog was a key part of a brand new Rebel archetype, one that we recognise very well today: Rebel Regen.


The Rebel faction had always had access to shield regeneration - R2-D2 was in the base set and Corran Horn had been putting Artoo to good use all through the Jurassic Park age of X-Wing.  But here, for the first time, was a squad where multiple ships with shield regeneration that formed a dedicated attempt to simply outlast the opponent over a long game.  That's a style of play that we recognise very well today - a clear ancestor to the likes of Fair Ship Rebels, Plot Armour, or Stressbunker.

Specific pilots and upgrades may have changed, but I think this squad is very recognisable as a 'modern' X-Wing squad.   It's also entirely unlike what was being played before TLT arrived in the game.


GANG WARFARE

This all spelled the end of the line for the old generic jousting model of squad - the B-Wings, Z-95s and Osidian Squadron TIEs.  Are you up against Palp Aces?  You can't hit them.  Are you up against Quad TLT?  You can't catch them.  Are you up against Rebel Regen?  You lose an attrition race.

Jurassic Park had seen many various builds of jousters - B-Wings, Z-95s, TIE Fighters, BTL Y-Wings - and during this period they virtually all went extinct.  All but one, which was able to change and adapt to find a new niche, in the process inventing another X-Wing squad archetype that we recognise very well today: the Alpha Strike.


Crack Swarm may superficially look like the TIE Swarms that had previously existed but although it retained most of the strengths of old TIE Swarms it was able to embrace something new and become a much more potent early game threat: the Crack Swarm had Crack Shot.


Crack Shot is ordnance.  It might sit in the EPT slot.  It might not require a target lock.  It may not mean you roll extra red dice.  But it's ordnance nonetheless.  When you equip & use Torpedoes and Missiles in an alpha strike you're spending points to launch a one-off attack that does more damage, hoping it will generate a game-winning advantage.  When you equip and use Crack Shot you're spending points to launch a one-off attack that does more damage, hoping it will generate a game-winning advantage.  It's the same strategy.

The alpha-strike may have really grabbed people's attention with Deadeye Scouts, but in truth the ability to cost-effectively alpha strike arrived a wave earlier than people commonly think.


And Crack Swarm answered all the problems that generic jousters faced.  Are you up against Palp Aces?  Crack Shot will push damage through their defences.  Are you up against Quad TLT?  Your TIEs are fast enough to catch them, and with Crack Shot you'll reduce incoming fire a lot faster.  Are you up against Rebel Regen?  Crack Shot will give you an early spike in damage that will overwhelm their ability to regenerate shields quickly enough.

It had to be the TIE Fighters.  They were fast, they were cheap enough to run as many as SIX copies of Crack Shot, with three green dice they had the best chance against TLT and with Howlrunner along for the ride they had the best chance to reliably deliver a decisive first strike.  The TIEs were the last swarm left standing because in Crack Swarm they invented the alpha strike - the dedicated attempt to win the game with one decisive blow at the start of the game.  That's also very recognisable as a modern X-Wing squad.


As you may have gathered so far, Wave 7 was a hammer blow that transformed the X-Wing metagame.  There were a couple of archetypes that survived relatively unscathed though.  The IG-88 'Brobots' had already demonstrated their ability to magpie the best pieces from the metagame around them, and during this time they were able to continue to evolve and prosper.  They had the speed and green dice of the TIE Fighters and Aces against the TLTs, they had the Crack Shots and Gunner abilities against the Aces, they had the punching power of Heavy Laser Cannons to burn down the regenerating Rebels. Brobots could adapt, Brobots could survive.


Also clinging to life was Dash Rendar, probably the last of the large base turrets really standing other than the new Palpatine-laden Decimators.  The heady days of the YT-2400 chassis being able to support multiple pilots in the Top-20 were long gone but Dash's long range playstyle and firepower meant he was better suited than some of the competing turrets for survival in the post-TLT landscape. 


Dash's model was pretty much unchanged, and in truth the rise of Miranda Doni as a competing Rebel turret in the second half of this period meant Dash was running on fumes by the time Wave 8 arrived, but he only had to make it to the finish line in one piece and wait for Kanan Jarrus to jump aboard for a second lease of life.



SUMMARY

Its February 2016 and X-Wing is a different game now.

This second age in my breakdown of X-Wing metagame history is a pivotal one in the development of the game we now play, and like any point of pivot there's a before and there's an after.  The first three months, with Syndicate Thugs and Imperial Aces pinned to the top of the metagame, were about breaking down what had gone before and proving the point that it simply wasn't going to work any more.  The second period, particularly through the run of Store Championships in January and February, saw players adapting to the new game and developing new strategies.

You see the two halves of this period played out in that Top-20 pilots table, with large turrets and jousters dropping away, before Miranda, Poe, Omega Leader and Black Squadron TIEs start their rise in the second half.


It's this second period in particular where we see the foundations laid for the types of squad we're still playing today: super-tanky Rebels, super-defensive Palp Aces, Twin Laser Turret spam, super-aggressive Crack Swarms.

Somewhere during this era the game had shifted gears.  It was now clear that squads needed a plan and they needed to commit to it fully.  Bringing 100pts of ships and trying to work it out on the table was no longer going to be good enough because players who had spent time planning their squads carefully before they got to the table were now able to build an unassailable advantage.  That advantage could come from overwhelming offense (alpha strikes and TLT spam) or overwhelming defense (regen and Palpatine), but there would usually be an attempt to dedicate at least a significant portion of your squad to doing one or the other as well as you possibly could.


That's not to say that nothing now changes in X-Wing from here on forwards.  I've got four more ages to cover yet and there's some pretty big missing pieces that are yet to arrive, such as buffs for ordnance -Torpedoes, Bombs and Missiles - for instance.  But I would argue that in most instances those changes happen within the overarching structure of 'modern X-Wing' and the types of archetypes laid down during these pivotal few months.  Overwhelming offense, overwhelming defense, intense synergies and card combinations.

I think it's also important to recognise that this period was one of seismic change for X-Wing, even outside of the impact of new waves, pilots and upgrades.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released into cinemas alongside a new Core set, and all this happened to coincide with many disenchanted players of other systems like Warhammer 40k who were hanging about looking for something new to play.  The X-Wing Miniatures Game exploded in popularity between November and February (I've seen estimates that it doubled in size), picking up more casual players who just liked Star Wars as well as attracting more hardcore competitive gamers from other systems.


It's anecdotal, but I've often heard that there was a shift in just how many players were trying their hardest to actually win at X-Wing rather than just play the ships and squads they enjoyed.  Arguably a revolution in the most powerful upgrades and squads in the game arrived at the same time as a revolution in the players who were playing that game, with the huge shift towards 'modern X-Wing' a result of both factors at once rather than one or the other in isolation.

Regardless of whether it was design-led or community-led, though, the game that emerged from the Store Championships in February 2016 was completely different to that which had been played in the previous tournament season, and much closer to what we're still playing today.


NEXT UP: Scouts & Veterans