Thursday, 25 February 2016

"Never Tell Me The Odds" - PART II - X-Wing Dice for Squadbuilding

In the first part of this blog about how the basic dice maths of X-Wing work I really focused on the basics and highlighting some of the simple ways that even the most mathematically-challenged players can keep a few rules in mind that will help them shoot straight and harder.

In this second part I'm going to be spending more time looking at how you can use Maths before you even get to the table, in helping you plan your squads.

Better Planning Through Dice

I'm going to run through a bunch of scenarios where I've actually used some quick maths and dice calculations to decide how best to equip my squad for battle.  All this has been done with the wonderful number-crunching help of:

What I did first of all was set up a 'straw man' for my ships to face: an X-Wing, which is a ship with 2 agility for me to shoot at, and who is firing 3 red dice back at me.  In that hypothetical scenario of "me vs X-Wing" I wanted to see what various loadouts and options would mean for how much punishment my ships would deal out (against 2 green dice), and also how durable they would be under fire (from 3 red dice).  

How much damage would I take on average?   How many shots would it take to kill me (which matters when you're comparing ships with different amounts of Shield/Hull)?


Crunching numbers like this is very useful for comparing ship's performance to each other (saying "if I include Twin Laser Turret my damage output goes up by x%") but there are limitations to how accurate that is in being applied to reality.  A great example would be the Lambda shuttle, who with 3 red dice and a huge Hull/Shield looks really good in this sort of analysis, which ignores the limitations of the maneuver dial.  Another example is that I tend to assume actions like Focus/Evade/Target Lock but against multiple attackers those tokens may not always be available.  Basically, take the numbers for what they are and let them help you make decisions but don't rely on them entirely.

If you've been reading my blog all the way through you'll know that I have a bit of a man crush on the T-70 X-Wing, but I was looking at also including Wedge Antilles in his older T-65 X-Wing because his pilot ability is very strong.  At the time I really liked the idea of giving Poe Dameron the 'Lone Wolf' elite pilot talent.  Being able to reroll a blank dice, and then flip a focus roll into a hit/evade without spending the Focus seemed like a really powerful combination - Poe would hit like a train and would also be able to survive vs multiple attackers.

The downside of this was that I felt like Wedge was a real weak spot as the T-65 rolls with one less shield than the T-70.  Integrated Astromech could give Wedge an extra hit point in a pinch, but I'd given Poe (the tougher pilot) the elite pilot talent that made him more durable (Lone Wolf).  Poe was hitting slightly harder than Wedge, but was as much as 70-100% harder to kill.  I wanted to look at what happened if I flipped the Lone Wolf onto Wedge instead.

This balanced things up a bit, but now I had two ships that weren't particularly tough, and in moving Lone Wolf over I'd actually taken a lot of the 'teeth' away from Poe and in fact he was just worse than Wedge in every respect.  I didn't like this build because it put everything onto the ship with the worse maneuver dial, and also Lone Wolf requires a ship that can handle itself away from the pack - it made sense to boost Poe to a survivor spec with Lone Wolf, but Wedge with Lone Wolf was still in a tough spot if he was out on his own.  It didn't make sense.

(This, by the way, is a perfect example of what I said in the disclaimer about using the numbers to inform decisions, but not letting them make decisions for you.  You understand the context of the game far better than the dice do!)

So, settling on the idea that Wedge would have to be a 'glass cannon' I looked at what elite pilot talents would best enhance his firepower while he was still on the table: Outmaneuver to strip a second Agility away from his target, or Predator to reroll his own dice.  

This direct comparison proved that even in situations where you could trigger Outmaneuver AND the opponent had a second Agility to strip away... Predator was still marginally better, for the same cost.  This, BTW, explains precisely why you see so many people playing Predator and very few playing Outmaneuver - Predator is just plain better in almost any situation, making it the go-to elite pilot talent of choice for players looking to maximise their damage output.

Now it turned out that the 36pts I was spending on my Wedge/Predator build (with R2 for survivability) was the exact same as the 36pts I could choose to spend on a "Red Ace" T-70 with Comm Relay and R2-D2...

"Red Ace" traded approx 35% of Wedge's firepower for a boost of over 200% in durability!  And that was before I even factored in that "Red Ace" would live longer and thus use R2-D2 more often, and thus generate more Evade tokens... so the true defensive upgrade of "Red Ace" was probably even higher than this.  It was "Red Ace" that I flew in my Store Championship, and I was very happy with that change.  Yes he hit a little less hard but he stayed on the table much longer than Wedge would have done, so over the course of the day his damage output was almost certainly better (plus in the last game of the day his Tallon Roll was a key maneuver in taking down Carnor Jax).

So... to finish this example off.  Does that simple comparison between "Red Ace" and Wedge capture every difference between the two ships?  No, there's Wedge's higher pilot skill to factor in, there's the better maneuver dial of the T-70 X-Wing, there's the likely number of red and green dice from opponents to factor in.  But it gave me a very good summary of what the difference between the two ships was, which clearly informed my decision. 

Ship to Ship Comparison

So I took that basic structure of "Me vs X-Wing" and have since been applying it to a bunch of other scenarios to see how things change (again vs that same hypothetical X-Wing), and I think it can be really interesting.

This chart explains why you see Soontir Fel so often in tournaments but hardly ever see a basic TIE Interceptor.  With Push The Limit to assign both an Evade and a Focus token, a Stealth Device to give another green dice and then Autothrusters to help at Range 3 the TIE Interceptor goes from being a flimsy investment to one of the toughest ships in the galaxy!  Trying to pick off Soontir Fel at range 3?  Good luck with that!

On the flipside it also shows precisely how important it is to deny the Interceptor aces those actions that stack the Focus and Evade.  If you can stress them or cause them to bump into another ship then their odds of survival plummet dramatically once they're left with just 3 Hull to rely on.  So that one table above is telling us not just how to build a TIE Interceptor, it's also telling us how to beat TIE Interceptors!

This was an interesting one, because I was looking to see the difference in survivability between big ships with no agility but a lot of Shields/Hull (like the Decimator) vs a comparable big ship that has some agility (like Slave I).  The ability to evade at least some of the attacks makes a big difference so despite having 38% less hit points Slave I is actually 30% tougher than a naked Decimator.  You'd think that 16 combined hit points would make the Decimator a real tank, but when it has to take every hit on the chin because it can't roll any evades you'll find it a tank you can't rely on for long!

A lot like the TIE Interceptors you seem to rarely see a basic Decimator in tournaments and it's frequently combined with the combination of Commander Kenkirk as the pilot and Yanne Isard as Crew.  This adds 20% to the cost of the Decimator but improves your survivability by a huge amount.  This is because once those Shields are down you gain an Agility and a free Evade token!  
(for transparency that 'Shots to Kill' for the Kenkirk Decimator includes 5 damage to remove shields without the Agility/Evade and the rest with the extra defensive buffs).

And lastly, after focussing on how much damage ships could take for a few examples, I wanted to look at a change in firepower in another common archetype - the "Super Dash" YT-2400 build that trades the basic 2 dice of the freighter's turret for the Heavy Laser Cannon on a unique 360-degree mount.  You can clearly see the trade-off in firepower, with the Heavy Laser Cannon unable to fire at Range 1 at all (the YT-2400's barrel roll action tends to keep them at a distance to use the Heavy Laser Cannon) but pouring out VASTLY more damage at range 2 and 3, where the "Super Dash" build spends most of its time.  Is that extra 2+ damage per shot worth the 12 points to mount the Heavy Laser Cannon (7 for the cannon, 5 for the Outrider title)?  Hell yes, it's worth it!


The Dice Probability Calculator tool means that adding some science to your squadbuilding like this is not hard to do, and you can do it to!  

You don't have to use an X-Wing as an example if you think another ship is more important as your test target.  I was listening to World Champion Paul Heaver talking on the Scum & Villainy podcast about how he prepared for Worlds 2015, and he said he basically built a table of which ships were most effective against Twin Laser Turrets.  

Given how many TLT Y-Wings and K-Wings there are around at the moment it could be really useful to plug one of those in as your testing target and re-running some numbers.  This could be especially useful because the unique way the Twin Laser Turret deals multiple little nibbles of 1 damage is different to most other ships you'll face... and the helpful Dice Probability Calculator will do all the tough stuff of crunching the two shots from the TLT for you!

I did an example to show you, comparing a B-Wing to a TIE Interceptor when faced against a Y-Wing with Twin Laser Turret.  The B-Wing and TIE Interceptor both have the same damage output, but even though the TIE Interceptor has more Agility and is stacking an Evade token (in this hypothetical example) the Twin Laser Turret will burn through the 3 Hull of the TIE Interceptor faster than it would the tougher hull of a B-Wing.  This is because the B-Wing's low agility isn't being 'punished' by the Twin Laser Turret being able to deal multiple damage in one shot.  

But is the B-Wing tougher than a TIE Interceptor in a fight against a non-TLT ship, say a T-70 X-Wing?

The TIE Interceptor is tougher here because the higher Agility (and particularly the Evade token) are more useful if you're only being shot at once per turn instead of twice.  Notice how the B-Wing is more durable at Range 1, though?  That's because at Range 1 the T-70 gets a 4th red dice... the 'Overload' dice against the Interceptor's 3 green dice!  I explained in the last blog how important the Overload dice were, and it's getting that 4th red dice which suddenly increases the damage that the Interceptor has to take.

In fact, the B-Wing's survivability doesn't change much against either target, while the TIE Interceptor's lifespan is almost halved by the Twin Laser Turret - definitely worth knowing!

The permutations of ship vs ship are endless and will drive you wild so I don't recommend you plotting every ship vs every ship, but if you know there are a lot of a particular build of ship in your local metagame then it's probably worth factoring your ships against that to help you pick the best performers.  

I've found that if I model a ship against a TLT Y-Wing, Soontir Fel and Poe Dameron then I've covered off most of the obvious bases.  You need to know how you respond to TLT attacks and the Y-Wing is also a low agility target that resembles a B-Wing or similar clumsy ship.  You're certain to run into Soontir Fel at some point and he represents the high agility target where you need to throw enough dice through all his defenses.  Poe Dameron is a pretty average target, rolling plenty of attack dice, having agility and some health.... really middle of the road.  

You could layer on "what do I do vs Omega Leader", "what do I vs Super Dash" and so on if those are more revelant, but for a good quick guide then I think Y-Wing, Soontir and Poe cover a lot of ground.

Target Lock vs Focus vs Evade

Finally... as well as comparing various ships and loadouts this dice template is a simple tool for comparing the outcomes of different actions... are you better to Target Lock or Focus?  Should you Boost forward a range?  If you're under fire should you Focus or Evade?

We can use the same basic template (vs that hypothetical X-Wing, remember) to see the outcome of these decisions.  First of all, let's look at the difference between a Focus and a Target Lock.

Well, that's straightforward!  A Target Lock provides no offensive benefit over a Focus token and you don't gain the option of having any defensive benefit either.  It's a slam dunk that you should always Focus, right?

Well... no, in fact if anything its the other way and you should Target Lock unless you've a reason to Focus.  This is because an unused Target Lock stays on the table.  If you roll three red dice and get three hits then you didn't need either the Target Lock or a Focus, but if you went for a Target Lock then it's still there next turn, allowing you to also Focus and hit your opponent with both positive attack modifiers...

There's another minor benefit to the Target Lock, which is that your rerolls can always turn into Critical Hits, while Focus only flips to basic Hits.  Unless you think you need that Focus for defense then Target Lock is your best shout.

Ignore the fact a T-70 X-Wing can't usually Evade - we're dealing in hypotheticals here!
Next up, if you're coming under fire then a Focus can flip more Evades your way and adds 30-40% to your survivability (more at long range, where you get that extra green dice to throw).  An Evade, though, is a guaranteed extra Evade on top of your dice and it definitely outperformed the Focus in terms of pure defense.  So if you're limping along on your last hull, or you feel like you're shooting early in the Combat Phase and won't know if you can afford to use your Focus anyway, then put the Evade on - it's better to be safe than star dust!

And one last choice that comes up quite frequently (I've had it many times with my T-70s) is whether or not you should Target Lock/Focus, or use a Boost to close the range and roll an extra red dice.

On paper this is a pretty clear decision - a Target Lock or Focus adds 70-80% to your damage output, while boosting closer without a Focus/Lock adds only approx 35-45%.  So you should never Boost, always Focus?  Well, yes in theory but actually kind of no, and I think this decision is more nuanced than that.  Yes, if you're chasing down a ship with one Hull left on the last turn of the game then the maths are that your best chance of doing that damage comes from a Focus or Target Lock.  But although Boost is worse at dealing damage that turn the benefits of being at a closer range could multiply over future turns if it means you're now on their tail at a whole range closer, rolling an extra dice every turn.

When I'm faced with the Focus/Boost decision I actually tend to flip it on its head.  Instead of asking "how much more damage do I do with the Boost vs Focus" I ask "how much damage am I prepared to sacrifice for a better board position".  That boost might get me closer for a few turns, or it might get me clear of an asteroid for my next maneuver, or move me out of another ship's firing arc, or change my heading by 45 degrees for next turn.  That it does all this while also adding 40% to my damage output is just gravy - I'm in the Boost action for the positioning and not the damage.

The one niche situation where the Boost really comes into it's own for damage-dealing reasons is when you're really desperate and need to get lucky.  Rolling three red dice with a Focus has a really good chance of getting you three hits... but it can never get you four hits.  A Boost into Range 1 can, though.  Yes, the odds are against you but if it's your last big throw of the dice and you need to deal four damage to win the game, then Focus is a 0% chance to win the game, while Boost is like 2% or something.

1 comment:

  1. This is great! Really interesting comparison; and great to see maths being used! Do you, by any chance, have a copy of the excel file you used? (I assume it has formulas etc in it?) It'd be really useful!