Passing command

Two years ago, Star Wars: Armada was all my gaming brain could think about. I wanted this game. I needed this game. My inner fleet admiral had been repressed for years, and Armada was the game that would let me prove my tactical genius. After what seemed the longest handful of months ever, I rushed in to pick up my two copies of the core set, and frantically began demoing the game for anyone who I could pin down.

I left work early this day, couldn't wait to get my hands on these.
I left work early this day. Just couldn’t wait to get my hands on these.
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Setting my first maneuvers

At first, I enjoyed the game from a novelty standpoint, it was a much needed break from game after game of X-Wing Miniatures.  Several of my friends were playing the game, and it was a cool new experience to be outflanking Victory Star Destroyers with my speedy little Corellian Corvettes.

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Dueling over a space station.

I dove in deep. I volunteered to run tournaments at my FLGS.  I bought multiple copies of the Assault Frigate Mk II, the Gladiator Star Destroyer, and all the Rebel and Imperial fighter squadrons. I started a second Star Wars game night so that we could get in multiple games while still getting my X-Wing fix in.

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Experimenting with the new toys.

Sure, there were some issues with the game. Fighter squadrons were very finicky to move and manipulate, and they felt either worthless or overpowered, never balanced. The Victory Star Destroyers were so slow that my opponent could just decide to go the other way and not play the game. But it still scratched the strategy itch, and some of my friends still played.

Then tournament season rolled around, and we got real competitive. 5 Gladiator Star Destroyers are balanced and fun, right? I countered that and similar fleets with a Rebel gunline that never moved toward the enemy, specializing in long range strafing fire, with a handful of A-Wings flying as a fighter screen. A friend of mine, perhaps the last guy that I knew and got along with well who was still playing, had torn me apart with this Admiral Ackbar led monstrosity, and I quickly realized that it neutralized many lists that tried to rush in to close range with multiple glass-cannon style ships.

About 7 months ago, I plopped that gunline fleet down on a table at a Store Championship tournament. One of my opponents looked at my deployment, then stared straight at me and said I was a “fu***ng as****le”. I’d like to think that he was wrong, or at least that it was mutual, considering he was fielding a spam build that required him to use photocopied proxies of an upgrade card because he couldn’t get his hands on enough copies of it. But regardless, I realized at that moment that I no longer enjoyed this game.

What kind of community spawns players that think it’s okay to say that? Really? I have a partial answer, because I know what other games that guy and his buddies play, but out of respect for those communities I’ll try not to judge them all based on the few members I know.

But thanks to that comment, I began to look at Armada with a critical eye. I saw fighter squadrons “accidentally” get re-positioned while adjusting damage counts. I saw maneuver tools being bent just slightly to place ships safely next to one another and avoid collisions that should have occurred. I realized I hated to lose games, but didn’t truly enjoy winning them. And more than anything else, I looked around the tables at the people playing the game and saw strangers.

So I took a sabbatical. From the end of the Store Championship season this year, I didn’t play a single game. For five months my Armada fleet gathered dust. I played the role of host and judge for our Regional Championship, and didn’t mind that I couldn’t play.

Last month, new life was breathed into Armada. The infamous Imperial Interdictor promised to change the game, adding tactical elements that had been missing from the game thus far. The new flotilla elements like Rebel Transports gave players new options for fleet composition and action economy. And the upcoming Correlian Conflict campaign looks to refresh the game with even more new options, new missions, and a campaign based gameplay that gives weight to your in-game actions.

But for me, it was too late. I had fallen out of love with the game, and felt too far afield from the community. I had kept up with the game and promoted it locally for months, frustrated with it as I was. But a new player stepped up to run a tournament at my FLGS last week, and loved the experience. I missed that tournament as it overlapped with several other events, and in doing so I passed on buying the latest releases to catch up and stay competitive. And GenCon brought the announcement of new games on the horizon that want to play but don’t have time for without Armada, let alone with. So I’ve passed command on to him.

Yesterday, I sold my fleet yesterday in its’ entirety. May it serve its’ next admiral well. There’s too much fun to be had with gaming for me to justify struggling with something that I don’t enjoy, so it was time to let Armada go.

– The Tabletop Admiral General

Grinning at Death

Our Kingdom Death: Monster campaign continues, previously discussed here. Last night was our third session, and we’re amazingly not all dead yet.

Achilles, freshly added to the bottom of the census as a child at the end of our first session, has now grown up to be a god-king. There are no rules for this, there is no in-game role or bonus for the designation, but as a group we decided this would be our story. Born under an auspicious sign, Achilles is tougher than the other members of our group, has gathered the best equipment, has killed just as many members of our society as he has beasts, and he has scored more killing blows against beasts than the rest of our hunting party combined. He is generally treated with reverence by our players, and this extra bit of story helps us keep our heads-out of game in order to deal with all the weird things that happen in-game.

In this most recent session, we faced two new creatures that we had not yet seen (one of which will not be discussed here for storyline purposes), and managed to win both battles with minimal casualties. Specifically, our only casualty was my previous character, Forgot to Duck, and she didn’t actually die in combat. Instead, she found out something she shouldn’t have known about the dark world we inhabit, and was summarily murdered for it by Achilles. Our society accepts this; Achilles is our savior, and thus I must have been a witch that would have killed us all in our sleep had he not intervened.

What we’re doing here is filling in the gaps. The game rules tell us that Forgot To Duck died, and that Achilles was the killer. In any other RPG game, I might have been upset about this; I had invested a decent bit of time and effort in this character. While not the efficient instrument of death that some of our other characters have turned into, Forgot To Duck was progressing nicely toward a sniper role, in which I envisioned she would outlive all the other members of the hunting party. But by spinning a story around it, we accept her death, and it is now simply part of the legend of Achilles. I created a new character (technically, two, as an in-game event caused my first to immediately be made unavailable for the upcoming battle), and we moved on.

Our quote of the night followed…
“Should we try fighting the Screaming Antelope [with a man-sized second mouth covering its’ lower torso]?”
 
“Well, yeah, it’s not called Kingdom LIFE…”

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Borrowed image from Board Game Geek, I forgot to take a photo from in front of the Antelope.

I’ll skip details on the remainder of our session, just as I skipped our first encounter of the night. The important thing is, we’re doing something very stupid. Instead of allowing Achilles to be killed automatically, our best hunters are charging into a battle that we likely cannot win. We will lose them all for the hope of saving the one. In a meta-game sense, this is a certifiably Bad Idea™.

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“Meat Shield”, fresh from the Antelope hunt, last seen charging at Achilles’ would-be-executor.

But we’re not trying to “win” Kingdom Death: Monster, if such a concept even exists, by surviving. We’re winning by creating a story, by being part of an experience. We’re enjoying ourselves by spinning a tale around our heroics. Every loss and injury is taken in stride (figuratively, it’s hard to take the loss of a leg in stride). Failures are seen as part of the process. And successes become the stuff of legend.

It’s hard to explain why it’s such a wonderful thing that Achilles landed two hits from the blind spot of our first opponent of the night, only to find that he had struck two locations that could not be damaged, regardless of the result of his attack rolls. It’s impossible, in fact, without giving away what we were fighting. But the mental picture created by that moment, and the subsequent one where Achilles followed up, dodging the same block, and ripped the enemy’s face off for a killing blow… THAT moment is what makes this such a wonderful experience.

We don’t expect to win the upcoming fight, and that very well may doom our campaign. Another player not in our group but who has played Kingdom Death: Monster before called us crazy for what we’re doing, saying his much better equipped group made a similar choice but changed their minds and backed down after seeing in-game stats of the enemy we’ll fight next. If anything, I think hearing that doubled our resolve to fight.

Competitive gaming can sometimes get the best of us, I know I’m as guilty as anyone for putting a huge emphasis on winning, directly associating the final score with fun. Sometimes we need a breath of fresh air from just enjoying the game we’re playing. A reason to grin in the face of death. Even if that means losing to do it.

– The Tabletop General

Dungeons and Demons at the OK Corral

Trying to keep this one short, not much time today but I wanted to share a new gaming experience with you all. I had a chance to play Shadows of Brimstone for the first time last night, which is an… “interesting” game. It’s a fully cooperative dungeon crawl, set in an alternate Wild West with monsters straight out of the H. P. Lovecraft mythos.  Grab the loot, upgrade your boots, and try not to go insane.  Our adventuring crew sounded like a bad joke about a spaghetti western; a Saloon Girl, a U. S. Marshall, a Gunslinger, and a Bandita walk into a bar, realize they’re all broke, and head out on an adventure.
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Synopsis: The group is in search of an easy score. So when a productive mine gets abandoned because the mining crew starts making up stories about some sort monsters down in the dark depths of the tunnel, the party sweeps in to gather up anything left behind. Easy score? Naah, the monsters are real.
Every adventure in Shadows of Brimstone is different. As your party moves throughout the mine, new dungeon tiles are randomly added to the map. Random items can be found on each new dungeon tile, and the larger rooms have the chance to spawn random encounters that aren’t directly tied to the tile, they can be anything from a collapsing mine shaft, to a horde of monsters attacking.
I love the concept. But the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Granted, we were just learning the game and playing our first adventure. But it took FOREVER to do anything. With two regular gamers driving the action and our better halves playing along with us, exactly half the party was anywhere near awake by the time real action took place. We had to explore nine dungeon tiles before we found any monsters. This process consisted of rolling a d6 for movement points, and seeing if we had made it to the other side of that tile or not yet. Yay, fun! For bonus fun, we passed on those rolls and made small talk while waiting to see if party members who had rolled poorly on previous turns had caught up to us yet. Yay, more fun!
There’s a reason for the labored movement to remain in place though, you can’t just skip those die rolls and say that players can move freely without breaking designed game mechanics; each turn the party leader (holding the group’s only lantern) rolls to “hold back the darkness”. Failing this roll brings impending doom just a little bit closer to the surface, which is supposedly where the really nasty stuff starts happening; your characters REALLY don’t want to still be in the mines when that happens.
Even after exploring those nine dungeon tiles, we only encountered monsters because I convinced the party to try and dispose of an arcane summoning circle we found on the last one, knowing full and well that we would probably fail and that failing meant that monsters would attack.
So we failed that check, and the summoning circle spawns an encounter of 1 level higher than normal. Which in turn became 2 encounters of the level we would normally expect to fight. One of those ended up being two more smaller groups. And then for the weakest of the monsters, you roll a die to see how many show up. By the time we were ready to place the miniatures, we had run out of one particular type. There’s rules for how to handle that, but I stepped in and house-ruled that we just rolled less of them “because-holy-crap-we’re-about-to-die-in-our-first-fight”.
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Thar’s demons in dem there hills!
The movement mechanics really bit us here. We were tightly packed at the end of this hallway, with the Saloon Girl up front, one of our weaker (but thankfully more agile) characters. Since the monsters couldn’t move through us, they pretty much all lined up to attack her. And perhaps we had a perfect storm situation going on, but this was a brutal fight. The spiders up front had really high initiative, moving before any of us could react and blocking our path forward, which prevented us from spreading out into the room and thus balancing the incoming attacks. We blasted a couple of the spiders, which only cleared room for the tentacle beasts to reach us and pin us in place (their specialty), leaving the Saloon Girl unable to pull back to a safer position. We had to kill those to try and get some mobility, which opened up gaps for the lumbering behemoths behind them to charge forward and hammer away at the poor Saloon Girl with their heavy damaging attacks.
We eventually won the fight, but the Saloon Girl was knocked out even after we used all the bandages that we had, and the encounter didn’t really feel fun. In particular, we were never actually able to move around in the fight, we never once succeeded in an escape roll that would let us reposition and cause the monsters to rechoose their target. So the board might as well have been a conga line leading up to a piñata, with monsters lined up to hit our closest party member. I’ll say this again in clearer terms – it’s a map based game where we couldn’t move around the map at all when it mattered.
On top of all that, the rulebook is laid out atrociously, even as a veteran of similar games I couldn’t figure out what some things did. We stopped mid-fight and searched for about 5 minutes looking for “what happens when a player gets KOed?” before ruling that we would go back in time a turn and use bandages to heal her, which in turn we assume is a free action but couldn’t find the rules for that either. Then she was knocked out again just before the end of the fight, and we just decided we would figure it out later.
A little over three hours in, we had figured out some of the rules, mostly survived one fight, and lost half our party to exhaustion. We’ll try it again another day after doing some more reading, but I can’t recommend the game yet. Maybe after another session or two. This time we’ll start at high noon.
– The Tabletop General

The Coruscant Landfill

With the newest Imperial Assault map rotation, Coruscant Landfill (from the Bantha Rider expansion) replaces Mos Eisley Cantina (Twin Shadows box set), joining Nelvanian Warzone (Leia Organa expansion, requires Return to Hoth box set) and Training Ground (Stormtrooper expansion) as the tournament legal skirmish maps. I’m sure people are going to play the Coruscant Landfill as much as possible over the next few weeks to prepare for GenCon or other local events. I’ve been looking over the map, and thought I should share my observations.
Credit to Ibsh, obtained from http://ibrahimshaath.co.uk/imperialassault/

Credit goes to Ibsh, who hosts these awesome maps at http://ibrahimshaath.co.uk/imperialassault/

Both missions:
Those terminals are REALLY exposed. The farthest terminal can be reached in 8 movement points on turn one, so it IS possible to take with the last move of the turn. But still, don’t plan on a lot of card draws here.
 
Mission A, Lair of the Diagona:
The Diagona does not deal damage to anyone behind a closed door (ref: Counting Spaces, Imperial Assault Rules Reference, page 9). This mission will be rewarding to players with burst damage in a single activation, pick the right moment and whack the beast for the bonus 5 points. But damaging it can be just as valuable, even if you don’t kill it. With that being said, overkill appears to count. If the Diagona is at 1 health and you deal 7 damage beyond its’ defenses with a single attack, you’ll get the kill, and 7 extra tokens that immediately turn into points.
 
The red deployment zone gets a slight advantage in positioning; a figure with speed 4 can open the door to the center and get out of the Diagona’s damage radius, the same is not possible for the blue deployment zone without some form of movement assistance.
Of particular note is the wonky way that this scenario interacts with its’ patron expansion, the Bantha Rider. Being Massive, the Bantha Rider can ignore the difficult terrain in the center area, and can easily tank the Diagona’s damage in addition to some fire from the enemy if it moves late in the turn. In the process, it can block your enemy’s line of sight to the Diagona by stopping on top of it and also occupying the next closest squares to the opponent. Assuming the door is open, it takes the Bantha 8 or 10 movement points from the edge of a deployment zone to reach this position; easily done, especially with Beast Tamer (Bantha Rider).
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Mission B, One Man’s Trash:
The terminal closest to the deployment zones is better protected (10 health 2 def door between you and the enemy), but you have to break down the same door to claim it yourself. Blue gets a positional advantage for reaching tokens, having 5 on their side of the room, 3 on the red side. But in a miracle of geometry, it’s an average of exactly 6 movement points from the corner of each deployment zone to capture range of all tokens.
 
If you’re planning on picking up a token that you’re adjacent to at the start of your activation, do your move action first before you get the speed penalty, that will get you another movement point. I don’t really see this mission getting a lot of tokens turned in on deployment zones; maybe builds with multiple Officers will shuttle one or two tokens, but not many. The big deal will be the terminal, which has relatively easy access to several of the tokens.
The figure of note for One Man’s Trash is Obi-Wan Kenobi, releasing this week alongside Greedo and The Grand Inquisitor.  Obi-Wan’s Alter Mind forces the enemy to remove him from the board, or the majority of their army will not be able to pick up the crate tokens at all while he is nearby!
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The above is all theory-craft, while I’d been trying lots of the maps out lately in order to I’m really looking forward to going hands-on with this map, and trying it out. Do you think I missed something important about the map? What are you going to change about your tournament builds because of the change? Drop me a line and let me know!
– The Tabletop General

The Adventures of Murdered Squad

At first, there was nothing.

Movement revealed feeling, and feeling told me that there was something below, hard and uneven.

Then the light of my lantern revealed sight, and the sight revealed more darkness in all directions, as well as the nature of the ground; stone faces grimacing in pain or agape in horror.

A bestial roar from beyond the edge of sight revealed sound , followed quickly by the scurrying of my feet and of others like myself who crawled quickly over the macabre floor and away from the approaching sound.

But we could not move fast enough, and the twisted cat-like figure tore into those closest to it, splattering a crimson rain over the granite faces all around.

This sight begat fear, there would be no escape. Fear spurred ingenuity. I battered my lantern against the ground below me, snapping off a shard of the rock face. The others within sight followed my lead, arming themselves with similar pieces of stone teeth and noses.

We turned to face our death with what we had.

Thus begins the game of Kingdom Death: Monster. A wildly successful KickStarter campaign, the base game now sells for approximately $400. That’s a staggering figure, but is probably appropriate for what you get out of it. The box is absolutely huge, and comes with an unbelievable amount of supplies; sprue after sprue of bits to assemble your characters and monsters from, over a thousand cards, a rulebook covered in unique artwork, dice, tokens, the showdown board for tactical battles, and everything else you need to play this game. And the level of detail in the plastic is amazing. If you’re carrying a bone dagger, wearing a loincloth, a helmet of bone, and leather boots, you can build exactly that model from the parts available. The owner of this copy of the game is magnetizing pretty much all of it to be able to hot-swap his equipment from model to model, which I think is a brilliant idea if you’re going to play multiple campaigns (and you should at this price point).

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Meet the Pheonix, something we hopefully don’t have to face for a while.

Kingdom Death: Monster consists of three parts: Construction of a kingdom of survivors, lots of death, and monsters. The kingdom part is considered optional, and only comes about if you defeat your first opponent, a nightmarish creature that somewhat resembles a lion. That is to say if that lion had supernatural levels of cunning and was a twisted shadow of its’ traditional self with random hands reaching out of its’ body to grab and hold you as it ate you alive for sport. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a game for children, nor is it one that you win. At best, you delay defeat.

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Naked and Afraid; setting up for our first fight.

With incredible luck, a full health player character in this introductory fight can take 5 damage without being knocked down, one to their arms, legs, and body, and two to their waist thanks to the loincloth they wear for armor. One more damage to any of those locations or to a character’s head will cause them to be knocked prone and be unable to attack that round. Any further damage to that location causes critical injuries with permanent effects. We’re not talking dislocated fingers either… losing an eye or suffering from a collapsed lung would probably be considered one of the less serious criticals; most result in major trauma and any can result in instant death. Even the less serious injuries cause players to receive bleeding tokens, five of which result in that collapsing and dying. So of course, I took plenty of time getting attached to my first character, “Grey Lady”.

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Grey Lady and I bonded over a game of X-Wing Miniatures

Already a brutally hard game, with a last minute addition of a fifth player this encounter went from “you’re going to lose” to “don’t bother trying”. By the book, adding a fifth player increases the damage output of the monster by two per attack (from 1-2 per hit to 3-4 per hit at this level), as well as an extra attack per turn (increasing most of its’ actions to three attacks per turn against a single target).  Attacks resolve using a ten sided die, and in this “intro” battle, the monster’s hits land on a 2+. So chances are, if you luck out to be the monster’s victim, you’re taking somewhere between nine and fifteen damage. Remember, our threshold for “you might die instantly” is somewhere around seven damage, but is possibly as low as two points.

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Slash. Roar. Slash. Chomp. Chomp. Oh, look, the game’s owner died without ever having taken a turn.

We died at a rate of one character per turn, with detailed descriptions from the critical hit charts in rulebook explaining exactly how each one happened… some of us died of shock and rapid blood loss as our arms were ripped off by the beast, others were cleanly decapitated.

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Take two, action!

Determined to make this work, we cleared out character sheets of damage, renamed ourselves, and tried again, this time with only +1 speed (extra attack) and +1 damage for the beast rather than the +2 damage per attack recommended to compensate for our extra player. Combining a bit of luck with surviving long enough to implement a few tactical moves, only three of our five characters died in the rematch.

As brutal as some of the hits can be on the players, they can inflict similarly visceral damage on the enemy. “Nero”, a character that ended up surviving this first fight, inflicted a particularly brutal critical hit on the Whie Lion. The description of the damage was something along the lines of the following: “You slam your weapon into the Lion’s throat, causing it to shower you in a vomit of blood. It feels awesome! [Gain 3 points of insanity]”.

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(Professional reenactment)

After finishing off the wounded beast, the two survivors gathered up what they could harvest from the Lion’s corpse, and set off in search of other people.

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Together, they will rebuild civilization.
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Things happen when you return to (or establish) camp.

Now in the settlement phase, the survivors gathered up the other people they could find (eight, for a total of ten potential characters to work with and for us to replenish our losses from), and began to establish a humble kingdom, taking time to build a few basic structures, fashion some very basic armor and weapons out of the bones and hide taken from the vanquished White Lion, and making the important decision of what to do with their fallen comrades. They chose to bury us, rather than harvesting us for parts as well, which by the sound of it was actually an option.

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The finest goods available anywhere in this grim world of darkness.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start. My new character, still in the process of being named, made the official discovery of voice and language, teaching the others to speak. Now a part of a tribe, it felt appropriate to chose a tribal name, and I chose to honor my previous character while burying her by naming my new one after her demise.

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Dry-erase markers and my handwriting makes for a tough combination. Meet “Forgot To Duck”.

To build our civilization further, we would have to find more resources, which meant tracking down and fighting another White Lion. One of our adventurers from the last fight was so seriously injured that she could not hunt this round, but “Nero the Hero” gathered up a handful of his new allies and led them off into the darkness, wrapped in furs made from the prior foe. With a voice of experience to lead us, slightly better protected this time, and with a few extra weapons as well, surely we would have an easier time of things. But the beast that served as our welcoming party came to us, and now we had to track down another one somehow. Enter the Hunt track.

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<Fudd>Sshhhh… Be Vewy Vewy Quiet. I’m hunting a wion!</Fudd>

This phase represents the party’s trek to find our prey. Random event cards are placed along the board, some specific to this creature, some more generic. These events are encountered and resolved one at a time, and can do anything from causing the beast to move further away in an attempt to escape the hunt, to extra scavenging for resources, or the ever present possibility of death. In our case, we lucked into finding a patch of herbs that could be used as medicine when needed, which was given to Nero, our best equipped and most seasoned party member. But we also spent longer on the trail than anticipated, and hunger struck, reducing all of our speed (attacks per turn) values by one for the upcoming fight. A definite hindrance for any battle, but so early in our campaign where we have only two attacks with our basic weapons each round, that could be crippling. Our potential damage output had been cut in half right before we found the beast.

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Even when the beast is prone, finding cover seems prudent.

Luck is a fickle mistress though. Somehow, our lack of quantity meant that our attacks became high quality. We rolled lantern after lantern (standing in as the 10 on the d10) on our attack rolls. Our very first attack reduced the beast’s accuracy, as did multiple subsequent blows, eventually reducing it to landing no more than half of its’ strikes in the open, and that would be reduced even further if we could taunt it into fighting us in the grass. And we even managed to trip the creature up a couple of times, preventing an attack that turn.

Even with this streak of good fortune, the hunt was still perilous, as Nero and one of the other newcomers were torn to shreds by our prey. But we eventually downed the creature and limped back to camp victorious.

With more resources to work with, and more opportunities to do things around camp (called “endeavors”) this time around, we resumed building our civilization. We discovered ammonia. We learned to read auguries out of bones. We built ourselves more weapons and armor. Nameless villagers copulated, resulting in a couple of new children in our village, but one of the mothers died in childbirth, bringing our total headcount to nine after our latest battle casualties. Celebrating the arrival of the newborn children, we decided to raise them as warriors from day one; this was not a world where coddling and sheltering would do any good.

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The village census, where every 10 minutes we see who is still alive, and if anyone has been doomed to dying next by receiving a name.

And just in time to wrap up for the evening, and pick up here in the next session, something even more haunting and unnerving than we had seen thus far screamed in the distant darkness, letting us know that there was more in this world than just us and the White Lions.

Welcome to Kingdom Death, enjoy your short stay.

– The Tabletop General

 

Davith and the Gang

If you play Star Wars: Imperial Assault, you’re going to learn the name Davith Elso, and you’re going to learn it quickly. Davith is the newest Force User to join the game, by way of The Bespin Gambit, which released today, along with several supporting figure packs: Agent Blaise and his team of ISB Infiltrators, the durable and deadly Bossk, and the always-tricky Lando Calrissian.

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The sneakiest Jedi since Palpatine.

Easily the sneakiest one around, Davith might be the deadliest Jedi in the game short of Darth Vader himself.

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Damage, damage, ridiculous survivability, and did I mention damage?

Okay, so maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration. But on a point-for-point basis, it’s not as crazy as you might think. For 18 points, Vader gets to attack twice with Brutality, doing up to 9 damage per attack (6% chance of that), averaging out around 7 damage per swing (54% chance). So assuming he has two targets to hit, Vader will generate 14 damage compared to his cost of 18 points, a Damage per Point rating of 0.77. Assume that he doesn’t have to move that turn, and the Dark Lord of the Sith can toss in a Force Choke for another 2 damage and a Strain, we’ll assume the Strain is taken as damage, and that makes for a DpP rating of 0.94.

Now let’s run the numbers on Davith. They’re a little harder to calculate because of how his Fell Swoop ability works, so we’ll have to abandon online calculators and run this one by hand. And I’ll save you the spreadsheet, but explain what I did – I ran a cross product of all the possible results that could be rolled on a green die and a yellow die, tossed in a surge because we presume that Davith is hidden, and added in what the “right” surges were – Fell Swoop when you can, +1 damage when you get 3 surges or can’t Fell Swoop (no surges on attack dice, or this is already the second attack). Here’s what I came up with:

Average damage dealt on first attack: 2.5833
Chance to trigger Fell Swoop and attack again: 83.3%
Damage dealt by Cut & Run during Fell Swoop: 1
Damage dealt by Fell Swoop and second attack: 3.333
Average damage dealt: 2.5833 + (3.333 * .833) = 5.36
DpP rating: 5.36 / 6 = 0.89

How is Fell Swoop doing damage, you ask? Take a look back at Cut & Run. Davith moves two spaces via Fell Swoop. That’s not movement points, that’s spaces. Which means he can walk straight through an enemy figure, or right into and then back out of that figure, returning to his original space, dealing a Cut & Run damage in the process.

Now Vader’s initial DpP rating of 0.94 was too low, I was working off of the round numbers found for him at the 54th percentile mark. Running the same math as I applied to Davith gets you a DpP of 1.01, assuming again that Vader can stand still to perform both attacks and use a Force Choke too. Vader also has the option of surging for a pierce to make sure that the damage sticks, and his big attacks are going to be reduced less by defense dice than Davith’s. But the efficiency in raw damage is still way closer than I would have expected, and Davith loses no effectiveness (In fact, he can gain some) while on the move – With a speed of 5, a double move action can let Davith weave his way across four enemy figures and Cut & Run would deal a single unblockable damage to all four of them. Or moving through two figures before attacking a third can bump him up to an impressive value of 1.23 DpP.

Now, math and statistics are all well and good, but how does Davith perform on the table? I put together a list intended to find out exactly that. I’ve been itching to play a list comprised mostly of figures with the Force User attribute for quite some time now, but there just haven’t been enough of them available. Today, that is no longer the case.

Deployment Cards
Davith Elso – 6 (The Bespin Gambit)
Luke Skywalker – 10 (Core Set)
Diala Passil – 7 (Core Set)
MHD-19 – 5 (Return to Hoth)
Leia Organa – 8 (Leia Organa)
C-3PO – 2 (R2-D2 & C-3PO)
Rebel High Command – 2 (Core Set)
Heroic Effort – 0 (Lando Calrissian)

Command Deck
Force Illusion – 2 (The Bespin Gambit)
Camouflage – 1 (The Bespin Gambit)
Vanish – 2 (The Bespin Gambit)
Son of Skywalker – 3 (Core Set)
Miracle Worker – 2 (Return to Hoth)
Heart of Freedom – 2 (Alliance Smuggler)
Deflection – 1 (Core Set)
Deflection – 1 (Core Set)
Telekinetic Throw – 1 (Core Set)
Against the Odds – 0 (Echo Base Troopers)
Take Initiative – 0 (Core Set)
Fleet Footed- 0 (Core Set)
Rally – 0 (Core Set)
Planning – 0 (Core Set)
Devotion – 0 (R2-D2 & C-3PO)

Heroic_Effort                            Vanish

This build lives and dies by the command deck, and is constructed appropriately. One of the down sides of running unique figures that aren’t ridiculously hard to kill (like Chewbacca, or Boba Fett) is that your figure is often dead before you can draw or have a chance to play the command cards that only they can play. That is addressed in three major ways here with Devotion, Rebel High Command, and the new (and free) Heroic Effort card. And with Leia around to recycle cards with Military Efficiency, you can get multiple uses out of your most powerful cards.

I’ve only had time for a single test game thus far, but this list was brutally effective. We played a new scenario on the skirmish map from The Bespin Gambit, in which figures could be frozen in carbonite and thus scored a second time, and my opponent did a great job of making use of that ability, eventually freezing both MHD-19 and Davith for an extra 11 victory points, and holding that room to prevent me from safely returning the favor.

One of the keys to the game was that Davith and Diala pressing the attack early, both got right up in the enemy’s face in round 2, and MHD-19 wasn’t far behind. All three represented major threats that had to be eliminated, leaving Luke and Leia clear to line up kill shots from medium range, with C-3PO steadily feeding one or the other a Focus token.

My opponent wisely sniped MHD-19 early, and as a result I lost Davith and Diala sooner than I would have wanted to, but they took down several enemy figures with them and set the scene for Luke & Leia to mop up the end game. Davith just had a rough string of luck, attacking enemies rolling white dice on defense resulted in multiple instances where the attack was evaded, leaving him out in the open several times without the benefit of Hidden . With no innate ability to recover health, that’s how he dies, folks.

But the new Hidden mechanic is very powerful when it works, especially when chained together with Deflection. Combining Force Illusion or Camouflage for an on-demand Hidden condition with a Deflection resulted in being able to take off a significant 4 Accuracy points from an attack. Within this single game, this resulted two instances of missed attacks and free damage. And since I cycled the cards back in with Leia, my opponent had no choice but to leave his fortified position and come closer in order to ensure his attacks would hit.

Hidden                       Deflection

I don’t know how well this list will hold up against a more traditional Trooper swarm list (my opponent was also dabbling with the new figures), and I can see Trandoshans handing out Strain to be a major issue considering how fast I’m burning through my command deck. But I’ve struggled to find a Rebel build that I’ve enjoyed playing until now, and this was a lot of fun.

Now if only I could figure out how to make Agent Blaise worth playing… but we’ll save that for another day. I’m gonna go swing my lightsabers some more and see if this is good enough for Regionals.

– The Tabletop General

Frenzy before the storm

The event doesn’t start for another 36 hours, but I’ve been wired all day; all week, really. As far as I’m concerned, the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Regional Championship at Atomic Empire is already underway. It’s tournament time.

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Crack Shot. It’s a hell of a swarm.

For weeks now, I’ve basically eschewed other games in favor of X-Wing. When I’m taking a rare break from work at the office, I’m loading up the squadron benchmarking tool over at https://xws-bench.github.io/bench/ (It’s far from perfect, but I can run a game in 5-10 minutes). I feel like I’ve barely touched the beta test material I’ve got in hand. My plans to run more event streaming or “Let’s Play” sessions have evaporated. My mind is locked in on Saturday.

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One of many practice games. I’ve definitely learned how to lose with the Crack Swarm. Still working on doing so graciously.

I’ve redone my entire carry kit tonight; fitting everything except templates into a smaller version of one of these containers, down from the two to three of those that my supplies are normally spread across. That kit includes exactly two more copies of every token than I need, all the way down to the “nobody uses these” critical hit markers. For the first time since the release of the new damage deck in the updated Starter Set for The Force Awakens, I’ve dug out an old damage deck because it better suits my squad. Dice, tokens, sequential identification chits, ship cards, upgrades, and even that precious plastic card signifying that I’ve earned a first round bye at this event, it’s all packed away in that case.

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Traveling light. I had to dig deep to find the TIE Fighter dice bag for templates.

At this point, you might even say that I’m going overboard. I’ve pulled out extra acrylics to loan to friends that may not have them. Headphones? Packed. Tablet? Packed. Laptop? Likely to be packed as soon as I finish this article. I’m scheming away on how soon I can leave work tomorrow so that our group can hit the road for our six hour drive to up to Durham.

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Jake Ferrell is no Soontir Fel, but he makes a decent proxy for training purposes.

I actively avoided casual games with folks that don’t dive deep into the tournament scene this week. I don’t feel like I handled that well, I struggled to find the right way to say that I couldn’t be anything but competitive right now. They couldn’t understand where my mental state is right now. Hell, I barely can understand it.

I feel like I’m wasting energy, but I can’t slow my pace. I’m going through all the preparation I can, mentally and physically. Staying hydrated. Getting (relative) extra sleep. Go out somewhere for dinner? Naah, pound back a protein shake and keep going. It almost looks like I’m trying to be healthy suddenly. I went from “I go to the gym every other week or so” to “I’m going to get on a machine and run in place for at least five miles on multiple consecutive days” in a failing attempt to settle myself down.

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New high score! But the scale still says TILT…

And just like clockwork, I had my pre-big-event existential crisis last night. “This list isn’t good enough… I’m chasing the meta… I can’t seem to win a single ****ing practice game… I’d be better off flying something that I know better, something that comes more natural…”, I had all of that and more hit me. But I know that I’m playing folks that know me, that know my tendencies, and know the list I’m flying (it’s been a holy terror on the local scene this year). So I’m sticking to my guns and by extension to the list I’ve planned for months to play in this event, the Crack Swarm.

Howlrunner – 18 (TIE Fighter)
Crack Shot – 1 (Kihraxz Fighter / Hound’s Tooth)

Black Squadron Pilot – 14 (TIE Fighter)
Crack Shot – 1 (Kihraxz Fighter / Hound’s Tooth)

Black Squadron Pilot – 14 (TIE Fighter)
Crack Shot – 1 (Kihraxz Fighter / Hound’s Tooth)

Black Squadron Pilot – 14 (TIE Fighter)
Crack Shot – 1 (Kihraxz Fighter / Hound’s Tooth)

Omega Squadron Pilot – 17 (Force Awakens Core Set TIE/FO)
Crack Shot – 1 (Kihraxz Fighter / Hound’s Tooth)

Omega Squadron Pilot – 17 (Force Awakens Core Set TIE/FO)
Crack Shot – 1 (Kihraxz Fighter / Hound’s Tooth)

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Have to prepare for that inevitable mirror match.

This may all sound like a ridiculous amount of build-up and preparation for one (long) day of gaming. In truth, it probably is. But my girlfriend pointed out to me earlier this evening she hasn’t seen me this worked up for a particular cause for quite a while, and it suddenly hit me how much good it has done for me.

All my issues at work, all my stresses, all my cares, they get shut out during all of this preparation. My problems aren’t problems right now. I don’t care what my micromanaging boss in California is nitpicking today. I’m not worried that my hunt for a new job is going slowly. Sticking to my pseudo-diet isn’t a willpower battle right now. Family issues aren’t getting in the way of the rest of my daily life. I’m simply not worrying too much about these things; I’m not ignoring any of them, they’re just not getting any more attention than they deserve. I’ll find another way to deal with all those things next week, but for now I just can’t let them bother me.

I don’t need the prizes – the alternate art Hera Syndulla card, the acrylic Cluster Mine tokens, the challenge coin, or even the exclusive fancy dice (I really would like those, but I don’t NEED them). I’ve already got a set of all of them for running our local Regional. Heck, I don’t even know where I would put the trophy if I ended up winning the whole thing, although I can say that I would probably carry it around with me everywhere for a week or two. And I don’t know that I would (or could) use the bye that would grant me at the next level.

But really, it’s not about the prizes. It’s not about winning. It’s about the experience. It’s about the competition. It’s about finding (or trying to find) a way to win, and doing so against the highest level of competition available. It’s all about the love of the game. And it’s about looking my friends in the eye and knowing that we all gave it our best shots to come out on top, and being proud of one another for that.

So bring on the competition. I’m ready. Are you?

– The Tabletop General

Using the Mist Hunter

It’s been about a little over a month since Wave 8 was released for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures. The new ships made a big splash on the tournament scene as we wrapped up this year’s Store Championships and moved on to Regional events. The Ghost has proven itself a veritable toolbox, capable of serving as a heavy hitting gunship. The TIE Advanced Prototype has seen immediate usage as a cheap and efficient fighter, either as a generic swarm or slipping The Inquisitor into an existing build like Sith Lords and freeing up points to upgrade the other ships in the list. And the Punishing One has quite possibly caused the largest impact, with Dengar fueling my own Store Championship win, and the Wolfpack / “U-Boats” build of 3 Contracted Scouts appearing all over the place. The one ship that hasn’t gotten a lot of love yet is the Mist Hunter, and after a series of questions from my local group, I wanted to find a way to make it usable.

The Mist Hunter / G-1A Starfighter serves as the B-Wing of Scum & Villainy, with base costs in the 20’s, average maneuver dial, 8 total health, 3 attack, 1 evade, access to Crew and System Upgrade slots, a Barrel Roll*, and a Cannon* [*one ship via the title, and only a Tractor Beam].  B-Wings are rarely seen on the table in my local meta lately, and appear in specialized roles when they do – an equivalent of BBBBZ isn’t possible, with the cheapest G-1A weighing in at 23 points. The strengths of the 4 B-Wing lists without a 5th ship that I’ve seen lie largely in having access to a Barrel Roll for blocking arc dodgers, so that’s not going to work here either, as only one ship can have it. The Mist Hunter will need a new approach, despite the parallels to the B-Wing.

As for a stand-alone ship; the M3-A Scyk serves as a cheaper cannon carrier for the Tractor Beam, albeit a much less sturdy one. A generic Ruthless Freelancer with a Fire-Control System (B-Wing / TIE Phantom) does come out to 25 points, allowing it to slot nicely in to a modular build (which scum tends to do easily, as referenced in my article on the Kihraxz). But it certainly doesn’t feature the ship, it would  simply be serving as a cog in the wheel.

No, I want to make the G-1A into a headliner, so that meant exploring the named pilots.

My build:
Palob Godalhi – 20 (Most Wanted)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)
Veteran Instincts -1 (Slave 1 /  Millennium Falcon)

Zuckuss – 28 (Mist Hunter)
Opportunist – 4 (Imperial Aces)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)
Fire-Control System – 2 (B-Wing / TIE Phantom)

4-LOM – 27 (Mist Hunter)
Stay On Target – 2 (Rebel Aces)
Intelligence Agent – 1 (HWK-290 / Lambda)
Advanced Sensors – 3 (Lambda / E-Wing)
Mist Hunter – 0 (Mist Hunter)
Tractor Beam – 1 (Mist Hunter)
Inertial Dampeners – 1 (IG-2000 / Starviper)

Zuckuss              4-LOM

Opportunist                           Stay_On_Target

The concept: Mess up the enemy’s actions via stress and token denial, then let Zuckuss drop the hammer on somebody 6 attack dice at a time (3 base, +1 for Range 1, + 1 for his pilot ability, +1 for Opportunist).

The execution: Messy. Very Messy. Almost Lionel Messi (sorry, had to slip that one in there for the benefit of a certain pirate).

Facing off against two minimally equipped X-Wings (one of each generation) and Han for my first test-run, I had a lot of trouble getting shots lined up early. Facing an unfamiliar opponent with an unusual list, I had no idea what to expect from his movements. I also got confused early on as to which G-1A was which, and that certainly didn’t help matters. Palob didn’t hold up well under concentrated fire, but Zuckuss managed to do his thing – After stripping shields from the T-70 on one turn, stressing it in the process, and snagging a Target Lock to keep, he rolled up into Range 1 and fired a short range rail gun, 4 hits and 2 critical hits without spending any modifications.

Zuckuss was knocked out soon thereafter, leaving a damaged 4-LOM by himself against mostly full health Han and a pristine generic T-65. Not exactly a great situation. 4-LOM was never intended to be a closer in my design – his role was to help set up Zuckuss’s attacks and then harass and kite another ship out of the fight. But he had all the tools needed to win this battle, and was in prime position to do it.

For about the next 12 turns, 4-LOM worked magic. Each turn, I looked at the board state, and ruled out there the Falcon couldn’t go without landing on an asteroid or risking the table edge. I ruled those out as possible landing spots, and picked a move I knew I didn’t want to make. With Intelligence Agent, I would peek at Han’s dial, then I would watch where the X-Wing moved. Having perfect knowledge of final board state, 4-LOM would barrel roll for extra reach if necessary (snagging a token otherwise), and adjust his maneuver via Stay on Target to get right into Han’s way. Falcon bumps the Mist Hunter, Mist Hunter hands that stress away at the end of the turn… wash, rinse, repeat. But the X-Wing was still a threat. He got off a shot or two, luckily to little effect. But more often than not, I could prevent that shot with the Tractor Beam, placing the lower PS pilot onto asteroid after asteroid, letting them be the damage source that slowly pecked away at the T-65’s shields, and nullifying its’ return fire in the process.  And when I couldn’t stop the shot with a Tractor Beam movement, the G-1A’s Evade action came in handy.

Eventually, the Falcon managed to escape the trap with 3 stress tokens in tow, and the X-Wing was taken out in the same turn. Now we had a fair 1-on-1 fight on our hands, in which 4-LOM, as equipped still had an advantage. After circling around to make another attack run while the Falcon cleared stress, 4-LOM went back to work, actively blocking the Falcon onto asteroids when possible for potential damage, or saving up Target Locks on turns that would have a collision, and passing off stress again. When firing -did- occur, Han had naught but his native reroll (soon removed via an Injured Pilot critical), and the Mist Hunter would have a Target Lock for offense and an Evade for defense. With action support for the war of attrition that followed, my scum managed to limp away from the fight victorious.

What I’m trying to express, and feel that I’m falling short of fully conveying, is how much 4-LOM was in control of that fight. I didn’t care what maneuver the Falcon picked, I was going to block it over and over again until I was ready to shoot at it. I came in to this match expecting 4-LOM to be a distraction, a side show and support for Zuckuss. Instead, he took the main stage, and made it his game. It was a pleasant surprise.

– The Tabletop General

To the Death

On March 15th of 2016, Fantasy Flight Games released new tournament rules documents for all of their games. These new documents included a lot of cleanup and standardization across all game systems – formalized roles for all participants in an event, clear definitions of core concepts and event types, and removal of a few silly draconian rules (such as the total ban on ship modifications for X-Wing). These are all good things. But unfortunately, a very bad thing came along for the ride: Intentional Draws.

The concept of an intentional draw is relatively simple: two players matched up at an event can agree to a tie game, rather than playing the game out. Seems pretty harmless, right? But when you look at the tournament structure and game scoring for these events, you see where it leads to underhanded tactics and poor sportsmanship.

All FFG tournaments start with multiple rounds of Swiss pairings; similar records are paired up, avoiding duplicates. Swiss pairings are considered the best way of finding the top players of an event where time does not permit a full single elimination or round robin structure, because the top players are paired against one another round after round. In a pure Swiss setting, an intentional draw is generally tantamount to resigning (except in extreme cases), because the number of rounds is set such that the leader at the conclusion of Swiss is undefeated.

But FFG events don’t stop after Swiss, except in events with low turnout (16 or less for X-Wing’s “Basic” event structure, 8 or less under “Advanced”). Immediately following Swiss, there is a cut to the top X players (based on attendance) for a single elimination bracket. This cut usually corresponds directly to a tier of prize support, so even if you’re guaranteed to lose the first round after the cut, players still want to make it in.

So going in to the last round of Swiss play, several players have something major on the line. Let’s take a look at how a hypothetical X-Wing tournament would run under both the Basic and Advanced structures. For the sake of simple math and minimal edge cases, we’ll assume a nice even number of 16 players show up (4 rounds of Swiss under either format), and that no modified wins or natural draws occur.

Breakdown_16
Number of players at each record on a round by round basis, assuming that all games end in a full win for one player.

Let’s label our top 8 players after round 3 “Player 1” – “Player 8”. Player 1 and Player 2 have perfect winning records up to this point. Player 2 has been squeaking by all day with the smallest full wins possible in each game, walking in to this game with a 336 total Margin of Victory. Player 1 has been stomping folks all day, and has a near-perfect 560 point Margin of Victory.

Example MoV’s for our other hypothetical players:
Player 3 – 488
Player 4 – 488
Player 5 – 450
Player 6 – 440
Player 7 – 425
Player 8 – 415

Basic_16
The kid gloves option.

Consulting our Basic tournament structure, listed above, there won’t be a cut to a single elimination bracket in this event, instead the standings after 4 rounds will be final. While it is guaranteed that one or the other of them will win the event, Player 1 and Player 2 have huge incentives to take a draw here. Player 2 doesn’t feel like he can win that game, and a draw guarantees him 2nd place; that one tournament point puts Player 2 out of anyone else’s reach. Player 1 stands to gain nothing by not accepting Player 2’s offer, as he is also out of reach of the other players, and wins the Margin of Victory tiebreaker against Player 2. An Intentional Draw is now the “right” play for both players.

Meanwhile, if Player 1 and Player 2 don’t take that draw, 2nd place is up for grabs. A loss for Player 1 could push him down as far as 4th place, as Player 3 and Player 4 are still in striking range of his Margin of Victory with a potential gain of 200 points in a round. And something like a 0-100 loss for Player 2 risks knocking him down as far as 11th place out of 16 with his poor MoV.

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The “we came to play” option.

Now, looking at the Advanced tournament structure, things get uglier. Going into our 4th round, there are exactly 8 players with at least 10 tournament points from having a record of 2-1 or better. Anything other than a loss locks them in to a spot in the single elimination bracket.

But going back to our breakdown from above, that’s only going to happen naturally for 5 out of those 8 players, 3 of them would drop to a 2-2 record. With 6 players at a 1-2 record coming in to the 4th round, 3 of those players will win their game – meaning Players 9-14 would normally have an outside chance to continue. But he insertion of the Intentional Draw rule says otherwise. Players 3-8 have zero reason to play their games, and instead they can shake hands and turn in their score sheets for 1 tournament point each. It doesn’t matter that they could be caught if everyone played their games out; they were lucky enough to be in the lead, so they get the ability to cut the competition short and say that only the rounds that they already did well in count.

How can this be, you ask? Surely this isn’t really allowed???

The Intentional Draw rule, as written, is currently left open to interpretation. There’s a really interesting reference in the rule pointing back to the section on Unsporting Conduct.

Intentional_Draws

Unsporting_Conduct

Collusion among players to manipulate scoring is expressly forbidden” – That seems to be exactly what Intentional Draws are, manipulation of scoring. Proponents of the rule argue that the judge’s presence prevents the term “collusion” from applying here, as the agreement is not made in secret. I’m not sure if I want to laugh at this attempt to lawyer the rules, or ask the player to make sure it isn’t secret by announcing to the entire room that they feel they have the right to decide how long the event runs, and that they’re cutting it short because they’re winning. Cowards.

In case you can’t tell, this rule upsets me greatly. The exact impact on scoring is a little different for each FFG game, but the general effect is still the same – players have an opportunity to advance their position in a tournament by choosing not to play a game. This is asinine, elitist, and exactly the opposite of the old worn out and downtrodden concept of “Fly Casual”.

I’ve seen multiple circumstances in this tournament season where my day could have been ended by a handshake on a different table, where I could pass either player (or at least one of them) had they lost but I couldn’t do anything about a draw. Even worse than that, I dread the idea of having tell a player at one of my events that they had a chance at making a cut, but someone else decided that they didn’t like playing fair. Let’s say that was this hypothetical player’s first tournament where they were doing well, and might have a fighting chance to win it all that day – if someone locks them out via Intentional Draw, they might never show up for another event. So I’m fighting this rule as hard as I can.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve tried really hard to get clarification from Fantasy Flight Games regarding how they intend this rule to be used, and why it was added. I’ve used the contact form on the FFG web page. I’ve reached out to FFG Organized Play on Facebook, and by direct email. I’ve also emailed individual employees at FFG. None of these have been met with any response whatsoever. If, by chance, you happen to be one of the recipients of those messages and didn’t reply, please know that I’m very angry with you.

Meanwhile, a small number of players are claiming that they will not attend the X-Wing Regional Championship I’ll be hosting later this month, because I had originally made it clear that, pending feedback from FFG (see previous paragraph) I would not permit Intentional Draws while I had the ability to interpret it as Unsporting Conduct, because that’s exactly what it is. This stance has since been forced to soften by the usage of Intentional Draw at the Hoth Open, despite the fact that I still have no clear guidance from FFG. Before my stance was changed, I was accused of being a horrible TO for taking this stance. I was told to go play Hello Kitty games since I can’t stand “true competition”. I was told that I should be reported to FFG for this. I was told by folks with absolute zero control over the matter that this would be the last tournament I ever run if I don’t permit Intentional Draws. Nobody seems to understand that I don’t benefit from this in any way beyond knowing that my players, both local, visiting regularly, or coming in for the only time I’ll ever see them at a tournament won’t get screwed over. Gee, that makes me SUCH a bad person.

To my great dismay, I’ve been told that the Intentional Draw rule was invoked by players during the last round of Swiss at the recent Hoth Open event at Adepticon, and the request(s) received permission from FFG officials. I don’t know the precise details, but that gives me no room to interpret the rule as only applying to a Father/Son matchup in round 2 of 8 of an X-Wing event (Because no family conflict happens in Star Wars), or anything along those lines. As a result, I may have to reverse my stance and permit them, under great protest.

Just don’t expect me to disclose anyone else’s current scores, nothing says I have to arm you with the information to make an informed choice about this crap.

And don’t expect me to ever agree to one when I’m playing. I don’t care what I’m risking by not taking your offer; as soon as you utter those cowardly words, that match is to the death.

– The Tabletop General

Payback at Vendetta: An X-Wing Store Championship

Chaos. Pure, undiluted chaos. The kind that Scum and Villainy thrives within. That’s what you get when a new wave of ships and upgrades releases in the midst of the Store Championship season for Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures. Two days between “okay, you can sell these now” and a tournament, zero time to find a comfortable and competitive build. Sure, you can theorize all you want, players can proxy what content has been revealed, but nothing prepares you for the chaos of the new meta.

I’d had plenty of chances already this season at a Store Championship win, but I fell just short over and over again. I placed second with my Dual IG-2000 build, as well as with a borrowed Crackshot TIE Fighter Swarm. And I barely missed more cuts than I’d like to admit, not liking where my favored builds fit in with the current opposition and not having better ideas that I was comfortable flying.

But I knew that Wave 8’s release was my ticket to the top. As soon as he was revealed, I started cranking on a Dengar build; which was refined more and more as additional upgrades were exposed. I was bound and determined to make him work. And what better frenemy to team him up with than Boba Fett himself? Not being certain of where Dengar would end up, I played Boba frequently in casual games with minimal upgrades, overloading a Bossk that served as a stand-in for the Punishing One. I knew whatever my final build was, Boba should stay lean and efficient, with the primary goal of being an early game threat and allowing Dengar to close out the match.

Boba_Fett              Dengar

I managed to get in exactly one practice game between release and the next tournament. I had thrown iteration after iteration of the list at a friend, and it all sounded great. In practice, I lost out to a list consisting of three Trandoshan Slaver YV-666’s, and rather badly. I had hampered myself greatly by relying on stressing Dengar via Experimental Interface to trigger “Gonk” every turn, which gave me great potential for late game regeneration, but in turn it limited my mobility greatly, and I never reached that late game state.

Gonk                         Experimental_Interface

With little time to refactor, and no time to practice, Experimental Interface came off, and I had nowhere I wanted to put those points on Dengar, so over to Boba they went. Lean and mean became lean-ish, flexible, and REALLY mean, as those 3 points became the Navigator that he would later use to great success.

My build:
Dengar – 33 (Punishing One)
Punishing One – 12 (Punishing One)
Predator – 3 (TIE Defender / Kihraxz / Ghost)
“Gonk” – 2 (Punishing One)
R5-P8 – 3 (Punishing One)

Boba Fett – 39 (Most Wanted + Slave 1)
Veteran Instincts – 1 (Slave 1 /  Millennium Falcon)
Engine Upgrade – 4  (Millennium Falcon)
Navigator – 3 (Lambda Shuttle)

Boba’s loadout is minimal, and essentially all about giving me options. I flew him with a similar mindset to how I would fly a TIE Interceptor in days past, giving up the ability to combine a Boost and a Barrel Roll, but getting an arguably better option to avoid blocks in having the Navigator and Engine Upgrade. I could easily dodge arcs by flying past an opponent and utilizing my auxiliary arc instead, and frequently would find myself with full modifiers in combat thanks to a simple Focus action and his innate pilot ability.

Navigator                           engine-upgrade

Dengar, on the other hand, is set up for maximum damage output across the board. Usually moving last or close to it with a Pilot Skill of 9 and a native Barrel Roll available, he can potentially set up some unopposed shots that still have Predator to modify them. When he’s in the thick of the fighting, Predator can modify both his attack and counterattack, and R5-P8 (lovingly known as “R8-P3” and “dickbot”) can also toss in an extra damage here and there. “Gonk” and his regeneration ability was the icing on the cake. Without extra action economy from Experimental Interface, “Gonk” can’t trigger often and didn’t provide any passive boosts like Bossk or Tactician could, but a single shield recovered equates itself to a half cost Shield Upgrade, and there’s potential for recovering much more than that over the course of the game.

R5-P8                         Punishing_One

So how did it all work?

Round 1

Opponent’s list:
Manaroo – 27 (Punishing One)
Attanni Mindlink – 1 (Punishing One)
Recon Specialist – 3 (HWK-290 / TIE Phantom)
R5-P8 – 3 (Punishing One)

Serissu – 20 (M3-A)
Wingman – 2 (Z-95 Headhunter)
Stealth Device – 3 (M3-A / Slave 1)
Tractor Beam – 1 (Mist Hunter)

Guri – 30 (Starviper)
Attanni Mindlink – 1 (Punishing One)
Virago – 1 (Starviper)
Autothrusters – 2 (Starviper)
Fire-Control System – 2 (B-Wing / TIE Phantom)
Cloaking Device – 2 (Mist Hunter)

List Commentary:
Holy Scyks, Batman! What a way to kick off Wave 8!!! Cloaking Device, Manaroo, two Attanni Mindlinks, R5-P8, and a Tractor Beam, all in one list. This thing is sneaky good on defense, because the list can generate up to 6 Focus in a turn, has defensive rerolls, and can move Target Locks off of the easiest target to hit.

Manaroo              Serissu

Attanni_Mindlink                           Tractor_Beam

The match:
I caused some serious confusion right out of the gate by not engaging immediately. Instead, I ran my forces perpendicular to the enemy, creeping along my board edge, all the while building up shields on “Gonk”. As I had hoped, in addition to preparing for late game regeneration, this also gave me time to find an opening where my opponent would be out of position and unable to fully engage.

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Ready to turn in and attack, only Guri can get to a firing position from here.

While a great defensive plan against a swarm of ships with just a couple attack dice each, my opponent’s build was vulnerable to attacks that could surge for high damage, which Boba and Dengar were more than happy to provide. Having the ability to fire just about anywhere, I gave very few hints as to where Manaroo’s tokens should go each turn; I could usually just pick the easiest target and fire away. And while the Tractor Beam could increase the damage output of the other ships, it didn’t play a large role, and the Scyk was basically helpless on its’ own.

Result: 100-0 win
Standings: 1-0, 200 MoV

Round 2

Opponent’s list:
Gold Squadron Pilot – 18 (Y-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)

Ezra Bridger – 20 (Ghost)
Rage – 1 (Punishing One)
Dorsal Turret – 3 (Ghost)
Phantom – 0 (Ghost)

Kanan Jarrus – 38 (Ghost)
Ion Cannon Turret – 5 (Y-Wing / HWK-290)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)
Recon Specialist – 3 (HWK-290 / TIE Phantom)
Reinforced Deflectors – 3 (Ghost)
Ghost – 0 (Ghost)

List Commentary:
Moar chaos!!! My first look at a Ghost (of many, I’m sure). This thing packs a punch, and I have no idea how to expect my opponent to fly it.  I’m just glad there isn’t room for it to have much support. I expect Ezra to stay onboard for as long as possible for the extra stress and Ion potential, especially against my large ships. The Y-Wing can wait, I’ve got to get that behemoth off the table, stat. Then I’ll figure out what to do with Ezra after that.

Kanan_Jarrus_Ghost              Ezra_Shuttle

Reinforced_Deflectors                           Rage

The match:
So of course, seeing the Ion Cannon, Tactician, and ability to double tap them, what do I do but serve myself up on a platter? I honestly expected to be in Ion range, but I thought my opponent would have turned to face me rather than give up unopposed range 3 shots. So my Punishing One that was supposed to race by ended up right in the enemy’s sights. Dengar took several damage from a primary, an Ion in the end phase, and two Stress tokens to boot. The obvious move from there was to swing out to my left with green maneuvers to start clearing that, but I couldn’t afford to be obvious now, as the Ghost packed too much of a punch if I stayed in arc, and could send me off the board if I wasn’t careful about my facing. Not really needing modifiers to do damage against a ship without evade dice while packing Predator, I kept the stress and stayed ot of harm’s way.

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It turns out that folks find Boba Fett’s presence distracting.

Big and beefy, especially with the added defense offered by Reinforced Deflectors, the Ghost took a while to chew through, but every damage card stuck, including more than a fair share of Critical Hits. Battered, but not beaten, Boba and Dengar converged on the Y-Wing, downing it quickly before Ezra could engage. The rest of the game was a game of keep-away. Ezra was forced to commit blindly each turn to his move and actions, and spammed Rage whenever possible. But with higher pilot skill and repositioning abilites, I could kite him indefinitely. With Boba already under half health (largely thanks to the turn pictured above), I let him score the finishing blow while Dengar re-Gonk-erated to save points.

Result: 100-23 win
Standings: 2-0, 377 MoV

Round 3

Opponent’s list:
Prototype Pilot – 17 (Rebel Aces / A-Wing)
Chardaan Refit – (-2) (Rebel Aces)
Autothrusters – 2 (Starviper)

Blue Squadron Pilot – 22 (Rebel Aces / B-Wing)
Tractor Beam – 1 (Mist Hunter)

Blue Squadron Novice – 24 (T-70 X-Wing / Starter set 2.0)
R2-D2 – 4 (Starter set)
Integrated Astromech – 0 (T-70 X-Wing)

Warden Squadron Pilot – 23 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
C-3PO – 3 (CR-90)

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List commentary:
As opposed to the previous two lists, this doesn’t look too different compared to what this guy might have been running prior to wave 8’s arrival. There’s nothing that sticks out to me as being scary here. Still, I don’t want to underestimate what it can do, he’s 2-0 for a reason, and he just beat another Dengar build in the hands of a seasoned vet.

The match:
I want this guy’s dice checked. I had a hard time reading the results (he had painted in all the symbols to be able to identify them as his dice), but he was legitimately rolling the results he claimed. And they were ridiculous. I don’t think his T-70 (masquerading as a T-65 model) ever rolled less than 2 hits and a critical hit, usually before any modifiers were applied.

I always have trouble against newer players that don’t do what “makes sense”, because they tend to surprise me and take the move I had struck off of my list of possibilities. Knowing that he was newer, I tried to stretch his coordination, and dragged him through the asteroid field while charging up Gonk again. Instead of actually doing anything of note, though, I found myself struggling to engage safely, having a hard time turning Boba in to start the fight. And when I finally did, those hot dice bit deep.

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That T-67.5 had Boba’s number.

Boba Fett went down quickly, and Dengar followed right behind, only taking the A-Wing and B-Wing with them. I’m still scratching my head and wondering if I remembered to assign all my shield tokens at the game’s onset. I know I did, and I’m not trying to take anything away from my opponent, he did a good job of concentrating fire, leaving me with few maneuvering options, and never giving me a good shot at the “right” target. But I’m still trying to figure out where all that damage came from.

Result: 40-100 loss
Standings: 2-1, 417 MoV

Round 4

Opponent’s list:
Wedge Antilles – 29 (X-Wing)
BB-8 – 2 (Starter set 2.0)
Integrated Astromech – 0 (T-70 X-Wing)
Veteran Instincts – 1 (Slave 1 /  Millennium Falcon)

Jake Farrell – 24 (Rebel Aces)
A-Wing Test Pilot – 0 (Rebel Aces)
Proton Rockets- 3 (Rebel Aces)
Veteran Instincts – 1 (Slave 1 /  Millennium Falcon)
Autothrusters – 2 (Starviper)
Push the Limit – 3 (A-Wing /  Imperial Aces)

Tycho Celchu – 26 (A-Wing)
A-Wing Test Pilot – 0 (Rebel Aces)
Proton Rockets – 3 (Rebel Aces)
Veteran Instincts – 1 (Slave 1 /  Millennium Falcon)
Autothrusters – 2 (Starviper)
Push the Limit – 3 (A-Wing /  Imperial Aces)

List Commentary:
So here I stand, knowing I need a slam dunk to make the cut, and it’s my old friend InstantAequitas back for another chess match. This would be my third time facing this exact same list, and I wasn’t happy about it.  Last time I squeaked by with a crackshot swarm, and the game before that he made Dual IG into Solo IG before I realized combat had started, and then made it IG-0000 quickly thereafter. There’s enough of an alpha strike in his list that one of my ships is going to be crippled or even dead in the first round of combat, and for the first time all day I’m not holding all the trump cards in pilot skill. Bleh.

The match:
In our previous games, he’s played a cat and mouse game with me, daring me to chase one A-Wing or the other while Wedge creeps up unmolested. The first time, I took the bait. The second time, I left the A-Wings in my dust and ran Wedge over before turning back to engage his flankers. Today, he risked no such thing, committing Wedge to the joust right away; no divide and conquer for me.

IMG_20160319_152300507
Getting ready for the joust.

Looking back on it, he tipped his hand in the photo above – Tycho, on the left, didn’t use Push The Limit to double up on tokens in the opening turn, despite the fact that Jake did. I was looking to quickly down Wedge again, and keep the A-Wings from dropping their missile payload on me, so I surged forward with both of my ships, and Dengar moved into Tycho’s way with a Barrel Roll, while Boba already had Jake’s likely path covered. Sure enough, I caused a collision with Jake (I had initiative), but Tycho’s speed 5 Koiogran Turn dropped him down right behind Dengar, and still able to perform actions. Even having blocked an A-Wing, Fett got absolutely blasted, taking a Damaged Engine crit in the opening round of fire. Meanwhile, I scored all of a single damage on Wedge in the exchange.

My luck would improve from there, however, as Tycho’s heavy payload was spend, Jake flew out of the fight temporarily to set up his next attack run, and Wedge just plain missed after a K-Turn of his own; and I cleared his shields with return fire, the subsequent round would see Wedge removed from the board. Tycho did a good job of harrassing me, but green dice eventually fail, and Tycho dropped at the same time as Boba Fett.

Dengar, who had taken significant damage already, was trying to dodge away from Jake, who was being his normal shifty self and still had his rockets. Flying into the corner of my opponent’s deployment zone, I pulled out the one big trick I had up my sleeve – that beautiful white Segnor’s Loop to the left let me nestle precisely into the corner. A quick survey of my health showed me as having full hull and one shield; I played the odds and recovered a second with “Gonk”, meaning it would take three damage to score half points for my ship. Jake had covered all options, taking a straight maneuver in case I had turned right instead and continued to flee – and this left him unable to escape my firing arc at Range 1. Knowing that he couldn’t score a kill and would be taking two shots in return, Jake took a Focus and Evade, and fired his rockets out of desperation, dealing two damage and leaving me just above half health. And that’s where Dengar unleashed hell. 4 die counter-attack, stripped tokens, dinged shields. 4 die attack, no more A-Wing. A hearty handshake followed, for what was yet another great game between us.

Result: 100-47 win
Standings: 3-1, 570 MoV
With 18 players in attendance, the format for the day was 4 rounds of Swiss, with the top 4 players continuing in single elimination. In 3rd place after the 4th round, it was time for a quick meal break, then on to the cut.

Semi-Finals

Opponent’s list:
Poe Dameron – 31 (Starter set 2.0)
R5-P9 – 3 (GR-75)
Autothrusters – 2 (Starviper)
Veteran Instincts – 1 (Slave 1 /  Millennium Falcon)

Ezra Bridger -20 (Ghost)
Phantom – 0 (Ghost)

Chopper – 37 (Ghost)
Accuracy Corrector – 3 (Starviper / IG-2000)
Autoblaster Turret – 2 (Most Wanted)
Zeb Orellios – 1 (Ghost)
Ghost – 0 (Ghost)

List commentary:
Here it was, the oft discussed “cannonball” build. So long as Ezra stayed docked, anything that found itself at Range 1 of the Ghost could find itself taking 4 unblockable damage in a turn.

autoblaster-turret                           Accuracy_Corrector
Ghost_Title                           Phantom_Title

On top of that, a regenerating Poe was floating around out there. The Ghost needed to be my first concern, but Poe might be the bigger priority to kill.

The match:
My opponent, whom a few weeks back had chased my IG-88 for half an hour with Miranda, was (to my knowledge) brand new to flying large based ships like the Ghost. So seeing an opportunity to do so, I dared him to fly in to the asteroid field – I wanted clean shots at the Ghost while Poe was still out of the picture, and what better way to do so than with the VCX on a rock?

IMG_20160319_173649124
Boba has a clean approach between the rocks, but does Chopper?

That didn’t work out for me. Chopper cleared the turn with scant micrometers to spare, and blew Boba’s shields off within the turn, not caring the least bit about what anyone’s dice said. But I put some damage back on the Ghost, and resolved not to be caught like that again. With the new ship now dodging subsequent asteroids, I shifted my attention to the T-70, who found himself nose to nose with Boba. Poe proceeded to roll four Focus icons for his attack, and boldly spent the token, a risk that would prove to not pay off. He dealt damage, certainly, but it was the last I would take for the game. Two quick blasts from my ships chewed into the X-Wing’s hull, and a blocking move by Boba left Dengar with a sure kill shot.

I then spent a couple of turns kiting the Ghost. Just like on a Firespray, the side arc of the VCX is big and (natively) defenseless. With a pair of ships that can move quickly, don’t have to point at their target to fire, can reposition themselves with actions, have higher pilot skill than the enemy, and all the patience you’d ever need, Chopper’s health slowly ticked away. Ezra made a momentary appearance to little effect, he never got to roll attack dice. Chopper would meet a similar fate on the following turn.

IMG_20160319_181253225
Ezra is blurry because he’s exploding.

Result: 100-23 win

Final Round

Opponent’s list:
Prototype Pilot – 17 (Rebel Aces / A-Wing)
Chardaan Refit – (-2) (Rebel Aces)
Autothrusters – 2 (Starviper)

Blue Squadron Pilot – 22 (Rebel Aces / B-Wing)
Tractor Beam – 1 (Mist Hunter)

Blue Squadron Novice – 24 (T-70 X-Wing / Starter set 2.0)
R2-D2 – 4 (Starter set)
Integrated Astromech – 0 (T-70 X-Wing)

Warden Squadron Pilot – 23 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
C-3PO – 3 (CR-90)

List commentary:
Pop quiz, don’t look, but what’s the first word of the name of this article? I’ll give you a hint: It’s something Dengar is famous for. If you said “Payback”, you’re right and you cheated, because I’m more than 3000 words in at this point; I had to double check the title myself. You could turn this in for a term paper in some courses (X-Wing 101?).

Anyway, the point is that it was time to get revenge for my earlier loss. Nothing new about the list itself, but I wasn’t about to mess around and play coy. I smelled victory and this Rebel rabble was all that stood in my way.

The match:
I wanted the joust. The straight up, my stats beat your stats, damn the torpedoes joust. But he set up on my left flank, and I didn’t want to run Dengar down that edge. So I took the opposite corner, and picked a spot at mid-table for the engagement. I wanted to focus fire and down something early, but I was more concerned about not taking a ton of damage either of my own ships.

I rolled in toward the engagement point, and realized Boba might be in a world of hurt. If I came straight in at my opponent, there was no way for me to adjust the Firespray to be out of anyone’s firing arc. So I studied the field, and spied an out, banking in and taking a Boost out the side of his formation. This worked ALMOST perfectly; I didn’t want to shoot the A-Wing with Boba, but  it was my only option. A questionable move and Boost by the A-Wing had left it with no shot, no tokens, and facing an asteroid; perhaps he was looking for a block, but all he got was a hail of blaster fire from Fett instead. The B-Wing had a blindside hit available on Boba, but couldn’t hit Dengar. The X-Wing, on the other hand, could only shoot Dengar. Damage got spread across both squads, and I was happy – I now had multiple targets that could be focused down within a turn, and was in a great position to press that advantage.

IMG_20160319_184759154
I literally kissed my dial, and that still somehow didn’t give away what was about to happen.

Looking back on the previous game, the X-Wing had taken damage early, and my opponent had prioritized moves for shield recovery. Having gotten the free counter-attack from Dengar, I got some damage there, I expected him to fly defensively. That left me free to pour fire into the other ships, and I concentrated fire on the K-Wing, making quick work of it – as the only turret in his list, I felt I could outfly him and play the long game so long as that steady damage went away. In the exchange, I took a bit more damage on both my ships, but the X-Wing obliged me by giving up shots in exchange for health; and I can tank a solo B-Wing shot or two on these big fellows.

Shields only hold up so long, though, and my opponent’s dice were still hot, so Dengar was hurting and carrying several damage cards. I managed a couple of dodgy moves, and got a free shot off on the B-Wing, stripping a couple shields. Then my next move brought Dengar face to face with that ship, and clinging to life with a single hull. I imagined that would be a possibility when planning the turn, and thought I could barrel roll out of arc to safety. Looking at the Blue Squadron Pilot’s firing arc, however, it was too close to call. Not having a lot of practice with the JumpMaster yet, and not having played the Outrider in a while, I couldn’t tell if I would make it out or not. I couldn’t risk it. I was bound to lose that ship, and took a Focus, planning to go out with a bang like Dengar should….

… and then I flipped Boba’s dial, and his conservative slow 1 Forward movement. The clouds parted, a choir of Mandalorians began to chant, and Boba sprang into action. Navigator. 4 Forward. Boost around the asteroid. Throw some naked dice. My turn to roll hot. Shields down, scratched the hull. Dengar takes the opening, and vaporizes the B-Wing, surviving the turn. Crisis averted.

IMG_20160319_191510608
There used to be a B-Wing in front of the Punishing One. Boba, to Dengar: “You owe me.”

The A-Wing was eliminated easily soon after this, having taken several damage in the early exchange. but our nemesis in the X-Wing was long since back to full health; and a single attack could potentially finish off either of my ships. So with no time limit in the match, I went on the full defensive, zooming around the field and building up a few shields via Gonk where I could, firing shots of opportunity, but generally just trying not to die.

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A-Wing down!

Eventually, the X-Wing cut the corner enough to catch up, and my ships wouldn’t be escaping. Shots were exchanged, and shields were traded; all three survived the initial fire thanks to Gonk’s recovery. Dengar didn’t have a lot of options for a move this time, and just prepared himself for another exchange. It was now or nothing.

Boba and Dengar both unloaded into the X-Wing, who managed to barely survive by ejecting R2-D2 via Integrated Astromech. The lone remaining enemy then finished the Punishing One off. I wish I could say that’s when something epic happened. But the X-Wing was out of arc, so no counter attack. R5-P8 failed to come through too. So the ending wasn’t storybook. But with no regeneration available, a single hull, and a legendary bounty hunter still on the field, that X-Wing wasn’t long for this world. Boba was my closer, nothing like my plan. But I had my vengeance, and my win.

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“Payback, it’s not just for Dengar anymore.”

Final thoughts:
I was so happy to be a part of the chaos, learning on the fly about what these new ships were capable of and how folks would equip and maneuver them. I’ll take that over an established and exhausted meta any time. I’m impressed with the Ghost and the Punishing One, the jury is still out on the Attack Shuttle, and I’m looking forward to seeing the Mist Hunter and TIE Advanced Prototype in action. Now I’ve just got to pick a regional to drive to…

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– The Tabletop General