Last night at a family dinner, I talked gaming with a couple of kids that are about to graduate high school, and one of the things they discussed was finding folks to play Dungeons and Dragons with at their respective colleges this fall. I couldn’t help but smile to myself, knowing how much of an impact role playing games had on my own college life. I sincerely hope that they get at least a fraction of the positive experience out of them as I did.
Living on campus, the gang would gather together at my place for an adventure every weekend; exploring dungeons whose walls were drawn out with spare change on the kitchen table, sharing a single laptop full of PDF versions of the various rulebooks (I’ve since kept to my word and collected lots of D&D books that have never been opened to attone for the “digital borrowing” performed as broke college student), chowing down on communally funded food purchased from whatever restaurant we could get the best employee discount from out of our friend circle.
In doing so, we discovered who the rules lawyers were, who the smooth talkers were, and who the creative geniuses were. We watched relationships bloom at the table and continue out of character. We decided for ourselves what our characters would be good at (let’s put that 18 into Strength, I’ll use Charisma and Intelligence as my dump-stats and just grunt at the other characters), but we also discovered what our own skills and weaknesses were. We discovered one another’s minds, and we discovered our own.
The character sheets are long lost, but my heroes are still a part of me. When I’m out in a crowded bar, and a scuffle breaks out nearby, Tallon, Knight of Pelor, places himself between danger and my allies. When I’m feeling mischievous, Kettch the Kobold Sorcerer speaks through and has me play a prank on my friends just to see what will happen. Yeah, it’s cheesy to think of that way, but in retrospect I see where I was learning about myself through these characters, revealing to myself both who I was and who I wanted to be.
Now, looking back, it’s probably been 7 years since the last time I ran a D&D game and almost 10 years since I played in someone else’s. Considering how much that was a part of my social gaming previously, it blows my mind to put those numbers in writing. It’s not like I’ve moved over to Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Firefly, Mistborn, or any other role playing game system. I just haven’t been playing tabletop RPGs at all. The closest I’ve been to an RPG group in a long time was the Kingdom Death campaign I discussed a few months back (article links HERE and HERE). I’ve moved on to the real world of jobs and responsibility, where you can’t put the same 5 people in a room on any kind of casual schedule. I still get my gaming in, but the focus is drastically different. I play one-shot games that are about improving skill and tactics against whoever is across the table, not about adding new chapters onto an evolving story with the same group of friends for months on end.
So with last night’s conversation still bouncing around in my head, my psyche was primed for what was to come this morning. One of my Facebook friends re-shared a post (shown below) about a D&D game with a twist. All of the players start the game with a blank character sheet. The Dungeon Master has their own copy of everyone’s sheets, which are fully filled out. The idea is that players will discover their character’s strengths and weaknesses over time via trial and error. Frankly, I’m hooked on the concept. It’s not going to suit everyone ([Clunk clunk] “Aww, man, I wanted to be a thief. What do you mean I failed the sneak check on a 19 roll?”), but I think it’s an interesting challenge for more experienced role players that will challenge them to step outside their comfort zone and approach problems in a new way.
So if this interests you, how do you set up the story that nobody knows their skills? Well, the Dungeon Master can take the easy way out and say that the characters arrived where they are by magic, with little to no memories beyond their names. Poof, hand wave, you’re in the middle of an unfamiliar city, standing in front of an inn with a job board in front of it, a guild recruiter across the way yelling for your attention, and a shifty character in the nearby alley eyeing your coin purse. What do you do?
But there’s other ways too. Perhaps your characters all grew up in a life of relatively secluded luxury as bastard children of nobility, sent off to a special boarding school. They were sheltered from the outside world to protect their secrets, probably never being told about them, but were treated accordingly to their partial nobility. They never had to lift heavy things, they were never told that belching at the table was seen as crass, and nobody dared tell them that “fluffy the dire wolf” was actually “fluffy the house cat”; their proficiency (or lack thereof) at basic skills was never questioned by those around them. All that changes when someone hires mercenaries to kidnap them, hoping for leverage over their noble parent. Boom, the characters know each other (grew up together), have a motivation (escaping and getting home), and have no particularly known talents or applicable worldly knowledge.
The idea that not every member of the group is a powerhouse and master of their craft opens up a lot of space for true role playing as opposed to min/maxed “roll playing”. If each character seems to have a hidden talent, how would the group treat the last character who hadn’t found something they have a knack for? If poor Jim doesn’t seem particularly charismatic, strong, or agile of thought or body, is it a running joke that this average civilian is dragged along on these dangerous adventures? Or does the group treat him as something extraordinary because his hidden talent must be something beyond mere statistics?
Taking the concept just a little bit further, perhaps the characters don’t have any hidden strengths at all. Maybe all those unknown stats are mediocre at best, but can be improved through play. Whatever the player puts the most effort in to, whatever the character practices the most, that’s where the improvement will come. This lets your story show the growth from average person with a noble heart into a well seasoned adventurer, as opposed to the stereotypical progression from well trained savant to a well trained and equipped one.
Character discovery isn’t going to be the right concept for every RPG group. There’s no problem with picking what you want to play. Little Timmy just wants to smash things, and that’s okay. Let him put all his points into CoolGuy the Barbarian’s Strength stat and double bladed battleaxe exotic weapon skill. Johnny has a serious crush on Katniss Everdeen, so he’s allowed to be Naktiss Neverneed, heroic Ranger, martyr, and savior of the 5th District of Neverwinter.
But for more experienced groups, those looking for a new challenge and a novel way to explore a game, this seems like a refreshing way to go about it.
Now to dust off those old spell tomes and relearn how to cast “Conjure Enough Time for a Campaign”. But maybe this time I won’t have to spend the first hour filling out a character sheet!
Recently, I asked players in my local X-Wing community for a list of things they wished they knew more about or were better at within the game. I did so with the idea in mind that I would pick one to expand on in length as an article here, as I hadn’t felt inspired to write in a while and knew I was far overdue for new content. But I kept finding myself giving an immediate response to things and the experience turned into a “Dear Abby” column, or as I call it, “Dear General”. An outside observer from another area asked permission to share the whole thing with his local group, and that made me realize that there might have been some half decent information in there. As such, I’m here to share it with all of you.
Wish I was a better judge of when the dice were utterly going to fail me, and when FFG was going to take a nerf bat to half the meta…
Dice will utterly fail you whenever possible. It’s your job to find a way to win anyway. You can negate the impact of failing dice in three ways: throw as many of them as possible, stack modifications, and find ways to make dice matter less such as flying low agility ships that have more health or abilities that do automatic damage.
As to when will FFG take a nerf bat to half the meta, the time required to nerf the meta is directly correlated to the number of cards that define said meta to the point where other cards are near unusable.
Process of events and such. Like what comes first when resolving really complicated combat with lots modifications and such.
What comes first when resolving combat with lots of modifications?
Combat modifications have a relatively simple timing structure that is obscured by the swap of names from attacker to defender between the steps. When you take those names out of it, you get the following:
Player A rolls dice. Player B modifies those dice. Then Player A modifies those dice.
C-3PO (CR-90) is the only currently released card (that I can think of) which specifically breaks this pattern. But Sunny Bounder, the new and forthcoming M3-A pilot , will also fit in to this window, so I guess we have to make things a touch more complicated.
Player A rolls dice, triggers abilities that depend on the rolled result.
Player B modifies dice, triggers abilities that depend on rerolled results.
Player A modifies dice, triggers abilities that depend on rerolled results.
But it all boils down to “the other guy gets to modify dice first”.
When I know there’s going to be a pile up, I wish I was better at positioning my ships to take advantage of it.
Positioning ships to take better advantage of a pile-up:
Attacks / damaging abilities that ignore arc are helpful here, especially on low PS ships. You can use them to initiate said pile-up, denying as many enemy actions as possible, and not worry as much about a loss of damage output because you can target anyone in the scrum.
This is a place where having matching pilot skills in your squadron is really helpful too. One of the most masterful moves I’ve ever seen to demonstrate this was when a local ace was flying his Crackshot TIE swarm last year. I think he was fighting a list including Contracted Scouts, it was something with a big base that moved before him. If all his TIEs moved front to back, left to right, then half of his squad runs in to the scout, losing their shots. The other half would have run in to the back of those, and had range 1 on the enemy, but lost their actions. But by swapping up the order that he activated his ships in (because 5/6 of the TIEs were the same pilot skill), he moved one of the back ships first, and gave it a Barrel Roll into a position where all of his subsequent ships either hit that ship, or one of the ships that had already bumped, preventing any collisions with the enemy. The end result was still no Focus tokens, but 6 range 1 shots on the enemy ship before it could fire instead of 3.
Judging that minute distance between R3 and just out of range.
Judging the difference between in and out of firing range:
Unless you’re 200% sure you’re out of range, assume you’re in range.
Yes, judging this comes with practice. Some people have an eye for it, most can develop it with time. But there’s tricks to be used here. Obstacles can be no closer than range 1 to each other, or range 2 from the board edge. Place one or two of them at the tightest limits of those rules, and you’ll get a visual indicator to help you judge.
This is also a good time to point out that everyone should learn the “rule of 11” if they don’t already know it. It’s on a lot of old blogs and forums from the early days of the game that newer players might not have found yet. The rule of 11 goes essentially as follows: Assume that you and your opponent are lined up directly across from each other, on the edge of your deployment zones. Both ships take straight maneuvers, no barrel rolls or curved boosts. Straight boosts count as a 1 speed maneuver. Add up the speed of all the maneuvers done, plus 1 per move with a small base ship, 2 per move with a large base ship. If that number adds up to at least 11, you’re in firing range. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t be in range yet.
Figure out the opening for my lists. I’m usually ok once it gets going, but I’ve never had a good plan of where to start and the first couple of moves in a game in order to take advantage of my strengths and my opponent’s weaknesses.
Determining an opening for your lists:
Folks get cutesy about this and it burns them constantly. I loved seeing Palpatine (Imperial Raider) / TIE Defenders pull the infinite shuttle block opening where they would alternate hard stops and blocked moves with the shuttle while their Defenders k-turned back and forth, because I knew it would eventually break down. Sooner or later the angle would eventually drift off, and that Defender would fail to complete the K-Turn because it hit the shuttle. I’d just be circling around and waiting for that opportunity to dash in while the enemy couldn’t bring all of his firepower to bear the next turn.
I can think of four considerations on how to create and adjust an opening, some of which are more in your control than others.
1) Does your list depend on a certain formation? If you need Biggs Darklighter (Starter set) behind Kanan Jarrus (Ghost) and his Tactical Jammer (Decimator, Shadow Caster), or if you’re setting up a “castle”, you’re a bad person. But these and other less deplorable formations can often require more room than you have in your setup area, especially if you don’t want to telegraph which direction you’ll be moving before the game begins. If this is the case, take some time by yourself to put your ships where you want them to end up, and work backwards from there to determine what moves you can do to place your ships in that exact position. Optimally, this can be done in a single turn. If you can’t quite make that happen, maybe you need to consider a simpler formation.
2) How flexible do you want to be? In the previous point, I mentioned not wanting to telegraph the next few moves during setup. This is also a consideration for the opening rounds. If you go zooming toward the obstacle field, and leave your formation right at the entrance of it, with asteroids on either side of you along your firing arc, it’s a pretty safe assumption that you plan on doing straight moves the following round. Similarly, if in the process of assembling your formation on turn one, all your ships end up facing right, you’re probably not covering your left flank with firing arcs on the next turn. There’s something to be said for a simple opening / formation that leaves you options for the next turn. Rebel jousters are known for using a non-committal series of 1-forward opening moves that lets them wait for a turn or two to see where the enemy goes before really committing to anything. And the pinwheel formation is a classic way to keep everything tight and together, but leaving lots of options open for which way to move the squad next round.
3) Where do you want the fight to take place? You’ll have a general idea coming in to the game if you want to be away from obstacles (more room to maneuver with large bases, escape routes with arc dodgers) or among the obstacles (protecting a blind spot, trying to Ion / Tractor the enemy on to something). You’ll also likely have a preferred range band to begin combat, which will dictate if you should be gunning your engines toward the enemy, sliding to the side to keep things as distant as possible for the opening salvo and/or storing up tokens on Gonk / Rey / (etc), or a mixture of the two to allow a flanker like Carnor Jax to take position. Once you see your opponent’s list and where obstacles are placed on the table, this will adjust a little bit, but you’ll have a general idea going in, and you should adjust your obstacle placement accordingly. But
4) What does your opponent want to do? Yes, Howlrunner (TIE Fighter) can vastly boost the offense of a swarm. Biggs protects nearby allies. Manaroo (Punishing One) has to stay close to do her thing now that she’s been hit with the nerfbat. But if the opponent is packing Ion Torpedoes (Decimator, Gozanti, Starviper), Assault Missiles (Slave 1, TIE Bomber, Falcon, Z-95) and Proton Bombs (TIE Bomber, Decimator), perhaps having everyone clustered up all tightly together isn’t such a good plan anymore. So don’t blindly do your default opening. Look at the opponent’s list and identify threats that will be a huge problem. Figure out where THEY want the fight to occur, and whether or not you’re playing into their hands if you stick to the script. If you think this is an issue, then it’s time to improvise a new plan for your opening moves.
Judging bomb drops, both mine and my opponent’s.
This can be a very tricky thing, especially if you aren’t playing against them often. Even though Sabine (Ghost) shoves bombs in weird places, very few ships have the option to slingshot mines into offensive positions and in a reactive manner. So with most ships, you’re only worried about the on-reveal bomb drops. So there’s a little “no-fly-zone” trailing behind those guys. Dance around that, or get aggressive and take it on the chin if you have to, just don’t give the enemy a chance to hit multiple ships with it if you can avoid it.
The part that folks are worried about lately is the mines. Really, you shouldn’t be. My mines are friendly. Hug them, they’ll keep you warm.
With those, you can protect yourself to a limited extent by keeping a loose formation that gives less opportunities to SLAM across a ship. without hitting another one and thus losing their action. Often times, though, when facing K-Wing bombers your best option is to plan for the worst case scenario: They’re going to find a way to hit you with those bombs. You’ve just got to find a way to take them down anyway.
Also, judging when to be aggressive and when to break off.
Judging when to be aggressive and when to break off:
Difficult question, and it depends on many different factors.
What’s the score, and how many shots would it take to make a major change in that?
How much time is left in the game?
Is there an immediate benefit to not being aggressive (such as avoiding a likely block or bomb drop, or improving your action economy by grabbing a target lock as you disengage)?
Is there an immediate benefit to your opponent by you letting off the gas (likely unopposed shots for one or more turns, opportunities to regenerate shields / tokens)?
The game is all about shooting down the enemy’s ships before they can shoot you down, and some degree of aggression is generally required to accomplish that. But one of the biggest boosts to the quality of my competitive play has been learning to be patient when it benefits me to do so.
There’s no easy way to define what that patience needs to look like for a given player, list, or matchup. It’s a balance of risk and reward, immediate payoff vs long term potential, methodical advancement vs unpredictability. And truthfully, it’s one of the things that defines us as individual players of the game.
How to force where the initial engagement will take place.
It’s rare, but sometimes you can’t. Before the advent of final salvo, we’ve seen 0-0 tie games. I’ve played the maneuver game before and completely circled the board completely while looking for an opening to break in to an opponent’s formation. There’s going to be times where you want the fight to be between the board edge and a dense corner of obstacles (or on the opposite side of the board where things are as clear as possible), and the opponent won’t come near you. And there’s going to be times where something nimble like a TIE Interceptor is going to skirt the edge of the board until they catch you, and refuse to come in to the kill zone you’re imagining at the table’s center.
But assuming your opponent is going to be willing to joust with you, forcing the engagement where you want it can be relatively simple: Until your opponent commits to flying into that location, keep it between your ships and theirs. Circle your target area, and make them cut the corner to get into firing range. Once you see them commit, you can turn in to face them.
If both players are doing this and have picked different locations, then I dunno, thumb wrestle and the winner gets 100-0, or something. I just go blow things up wherever they are.
I wish I was better at knowing how all the different upgrades *should* play into my planning. I cannot keep up with all the busyness of those scum lists. I’ve been Dengared-Manarooed-Gunnered-Chipsed to death many times.
When you’re first starting the game, upgrade cards and pilot abilities can create a tangled web of triggers and bonuses that can be mind boggling. There’s simple things out there, like 8 Academy TIE Fighters, or 4 B-Wings and a Z-95. But some lists are built to meld together a fistful of cards into one giant combo. This isn’t exclusive to Scum & Villainy, but it is one of their hallmarks. As new players are just learning the game, one of the simplest things I can suggest is to leave that faction out of the equation entirely until you’re at least moderately familiar with the game.
Because when you run in to the really intense Scum stuff, you’re going to take an automatic tractor beam because you got close to this ship that has a particular pilot. Now you’re on an asteroid, and can’t shoot. You’re going to get shot by that same ship, and this other ship is going to spend the target lock they got for free by doing a green move to lower your agility further for this attack. You’re almost certainly going to get hit by the first attack, and because that ship had a title equipped, you’re going to get another tractor beam token to reduce your agility before the other ship attacks you. Now this is the first time that the second ship has attacked this turn, so this crew says the first damage card you take is face up, which means that the enemy is going to discard this other crew to remove the one upgrade that could keep you alive when we do it all again next turn.
For those reading this and who aren’t familiar, the above example is a real thing. Latts Razzi (pilot, Hound’s Tooth), K4 Security Droid (crew, Most Wanted, Hound’s Tooth), Boba Fett (crew, Punishing One), Greedo (crew, Most Wanted). Ketsu Onyo (pilot, Shadow Caster), Shadowcaster (title, Shadow Caster). That’s 79 points, which gives them room to spruce those two up a bit more or slip in another little ship with them. Folks that have seen all these components before can connect the dots and figure out what’s going on here. But if you consider yourself a rookie pilot at best, and you’re new to these kinds of shenanigans, how do you keep track of it all?
Priority #1 is looking over the opponent’s list before the game and identifying what you don’t understand or haven’t seen before. If it’s a friendly game, ask your opponent what’s going on, and why they’re using that card. Many players will explain the whole thing to you, gamers are proud of their creative combos.
But even then, it might not all stick. After all, you’ve got your own maneuvers to plan, and actions to pick. And you can’t concentrate on your list and theirs at the same time. Nobody can, not really. You might be able to give 75% attention to your own stuff, and 75% to theirs, but you’ll miss something on both sides. This maneuver took you further forward than you thought it would, and you didn’t realize the enemy ships moved so fast, and now you’re in that danger area and the whole death combo kicks off. You just can’t keep track both sides at once.
So you need to learn your own stuff inside and out. “But wait,” you say, “I’m concerned about their janky combos, not my own cards”. And in response, I tell you that you’re right, but we’re laying a foundation here.
You will need to practice your own ships and upgrades until you barely have to think about them anymore. Get yourself so familiar with your list that you could write it all down, hand that paper to your opponent, and play without cards. You should be able to pick your moves before you even look at your dials. Get intimately familiar with what your list can do, and don’t change that list for a while.
Once you know your own cards and ships so intimately that you have to pay them little to no attention, your entire focus can be on your opponent, their ships, and their cards. Don’t pay 75% attention to your stuff, and 75% to theirs. Pay 100% attention to them. At that point, you’ll start having an easier and easier time understanding what traps are being laid for you, how to avoid them, what your priority targets should be, and how to hit them where it hurts.
So, there you have it, folks, Volume One of Dear General. I hope you found something useful in it.
Want to see something discussed in greater depth, or have a similar topic you’d like advice on that wasn’t listed here? Write me in the comments below, or reach out to me on Facebook.
Get comfortable, readers, because I need to tell you a story of a particular game of Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures. A handful of you have already heard it, whether you knew I was in it or not. But it’s a story that has already been told, albeit from a very different point of view. It’s going to take a bit to get there though.
First, let’s set the stage.
November, 2016 – FFG World Championships – Fantasy Flight Game Center, Roseville, Minnesota.
Previously, I’ve not been able to justify trips beyond Regional championships for any FFG games. I couldn’t see paying for travel, hotel, event entry, and the extra overhead of a convention entry to wherever the National championships were held when Worlds was here in the United States. Thanks to not needing that convention badge for entry, it’s cheaper to attend the more prestigious event, seemed like a no brainer to me to skip straight to Worlds. But the timing just hadn’t worked out for me over the past couple of years.
Instead, I had lived vicariously through friends who were attending Worlds, and they had come away with a vast expansion in their knowledge of the games and how they play at a high level. They also came away as a general feeling that our local meta wasn’t up to par when compared to the larger scene, as I noted in the closing remarks of this guest article from last year. That fit with a reputation we had picked up somehow, as traveling players tended to talk a bit trash about the Atlanta X-Wing scene. The oft quoted “They don’t know how to fly Phantoms down there” was half the reason I picked up Cloaks and Dagger, just to prove everybody wrong.
As a group, the Atlanta HWKs wanted to change that reputation. More and more Atlanta players showed up to regional events, traveling much farther away than before. We scoured blogs, podcasts, and forums for reports coming in from more distant ones still. We ran our own ELO rankings for a while. We instituted a local championship series outside of the FFG official events. Eye of the Tiger would be an appropriate theme song for a montage about that year, perhaps in some sort of odd mash-up with Duel of the Fates as Worlds approached.
And this year, I got to make the trip to FFG HQ for Worlds, just as I vowed to do in Sam’s article last year. A few weeks ago, I stated in my subsequent Regional write-up that I had neglected to write an article about my trip. There’s several reasons for that. Being my first time at an event of that size and scope, I wanted to be in the moment instead of taking notes and pictures. My memory only goes so far for the details and having played for three days straight between X-Wing and Imperial Assault, I didn’t know that I could make significant and accurate observations about all of my games by the end of that. And even when I wasn’t playing, I was observing and soaking in other high level games. But now, in order to tell the story I have in mind to share, I have to tell you about how I got there.
Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 :
A whirlwind of a day, thrown completely off kilter by a lifelong friend being in town randomly. Most of my plans for the day are abandoned to see him instead, during which we talk over a couple of beers… reminiscing about the good old days where we’d drive over an hour each way to hold court at the nearest game store, and discussing how much I’ve been looking forward to this weekend, how badly I’ve wanted to prove myself against the very best in the world.
By 6:30PM Eastern, I’m on my way to the Atlanta airport. I reach Minnesota around midnight (Central), and get to the hotel just after 1AM.
Day 1A of X-Wing begins at 10AM. 6 rounds of Swiss play, all players with 4 or more wins are combined with the same from Day 1B and advance to Sunday. My goal is to make the cut to Sunday in X-Wing or Imperial Assault, and I think my odds are better here. As we’re waiting for pairings, the weight of the moment starts setting in on me, I’ve been trying to get into this room for two years, and now it’s time to prove I belong there. I’m flying Dash / Miranda (discussed in more detail in my Regionals writeup), and in doing so I’m running the gauntlet. Every game is intense, highly competitive, and coming down to the wire.
I started my day with back to back games against an archetype that we’d discussed locally, but erroneously dismissed: Twin Shadows (two Lancer Pursuit Craft). We couldn’t have been more wrong about how hard this setup can hit.
I squeaked out a win against the first guy I faced, but in the hands of a National Champion that probably heard a bit about how the previous game had gone from his friend, the second variant of the list takes my lunch money. 1-1, poor MoV, and I’m suspicious that someone bribed the fellow making those pairings (not really, but that was some strange luck in an event this big).
After that, I got a couple more familiar lists. Palpatine in a Lambda Shuttle & TIE Defenders (win), 4 B-Wings (win). MoV is still very bad though, because the games are played really tight, and really deliberately – all four games have gone to time thus far. I expected it, I knew that things would slow down on the big stage, but it still shocked me just how much it did. I still can’t believe I couldn’t finish the B-Wings in time. I’m used to my games being over within 45 minutes, an hour top. Things just don’t go to time in our local events, excepting against certain opponents, which I’m now very thankful for facing in preparation for this pace.
Next up was Dengar/ Bossk. I fought this one hard, but my bomb drops failed me – I blocked Dengar into what I hoped would be a lethal Seismic Charge hit, but he was just a hair too far away. And I just completely overlooked an opportunity to finish him off with Cluster Mines. Still kicking myself three months later for this loss.
At 3-2 now, I’m flying for my tournament life. I’m fairly certain even if I win the next 3 games 200-0, I’m not making the cut to the top 16. Regardless, I need to win my next game to play on Sunday, which I was bound and determined to do. And so I did. It was a seriously close game against something that fits the archetype of “scum garbage” – something that you think shouldn’t work but does anyway, yet I was so into the game and so stressed out that I couldn’t tell you for sure what was in the guy’s list. All I know is that I found a way to win the game. I couldn’t take time to write it all down afterwards, and I don’t have any good photos, might have been Asajj / Bossk, or something like that. I was too excited to take note of it, because I was going to be playing on Sunday.
My initial goal was achieved. I had proven to myself that I could hang at this stage. But now, even burdened with the poor Margin of Victory, how far could I go?
I met up with the other players from our area, some of which had just arrived, some fresh out of the Imperial Assault warm-up event, and others who had fought the good fight in X-Wing but missed the cut to Sunday with 3-3 records. Dinner, a quick drink for some of us, and back to the hotel by 11:30 or so – there was work to be done in the morning.
Imperial Assault kicks off at 10AM, and it’s obvious from the start that I’m outside my weight class here. As a secondary game for me, that’s okay. It’s far harder for me to keep track of IA than X-Wing from the standpoint of documenting my experiences; there are much fewer opportunities to take photos, so I didn’t even pretend that I was going to write about this.
But let’s give it a shot anyway: In rounds 1-6, Stormtroopersshoot stuff. Stuff shoots Stormtroopers. Objectives happen, or sometimes they don’t. Stuff and Stormtroopers die at variable rates. Someone wins.
Man, that was a thrilling battle report, huh?
Anyway, for the second day in a row, I took a loss from a National Champion, and thoroughly enjoyed the game despite it being a stressful loss (I thought I was good with the Bantha Rider, then I saw what he did to me with it…). Nationals are a bigger deal outside the US, and it feels good to play against the best – that’s the whole reason I wanted to be there. I hope I run in to both of those guys next time, and perhaps with time to grab a drink, as they’d probably have gotten along really well. (“A Welshman, a Spaniard, and a southern gentleman walk into a bar…”)
But the big takeaway is that I surprised myself, hanging in to close games and finding a way to win at the last minute as often as not. I finished up with what I consider a respectable 3-3 record on the day, with a new appreciation for how this game is played at a high level, and a few new tricks up my sleeve that I’ve gladly brought back to our local player base. I generally got the feeling that this was how my friends felt in previous years with X-Wing – getting a first look beyond the Regional level and a new understanding of what it takes to be on top.
Throughout the day, I would check my phone for status updates from my friends. We had a couple local IA players make the cut at the end of the day, including the eventual runner-up for the whole event. But it was a tough field for X-Wing, and I found myself realizing that I was going to be our group’s sole representative on day two. Now I had a new goal set out for myself: Regardless of whether or not I made the top 16 cut, I was determined to place as high as possible in the final standings.
We gathered up the troops for dinner and a few drinks (more for those whose days were ended), and a retrospective for all. In the process, we discovered that even for those who missed the cuts, none of us from Atlanta had losing records for any game. It was a big pride moment for us, and those of us who were still in the tournaments were encouraged by our peers to represent us all well. We return to the hotel around 11PM, resting up for the last leg of the event.
X-Wing kicks off again at 9:30AM, and I’m pumped. With the results of Day 1B added in, I’m somewhere around 55th coming in to Day 2. Players could make the cut to the top 16 at 6-2, my best record possible at this point (two out of the sixteen were 6-2), but the Margin of Victory tiebreaker was going to bury me regardless of my record. That wasn’t the point though. I didn’t care that my MoV has me out of reach of the next cut, I was still going to represent my city well, and I had two games to climb as far up those rankings as possible.
Pairings go up for round seven, and I’ve got a doozy in front of me. Palp / Aces, Soontir Fel and Rexler Brath to be precise. I don’t know the guy, but everyone else seemed to, and for good reason. We flew like madmen in that game. I caught him napping early on with Soontir, and managed to hit him with a Cluster Bomb drop that he didn’t see coming, but he rolled well (with some assistance from Palpatine) and limped away, never to be touched again. Even without scoring that kill, it was a net win, because Soontir was flying much more carefully to ensure his survival, which probably kept me alive over the course of the game. I got half damage on his Lambda Shuttle, putting myself into the lead. Then he gets half on Dash, swinging things the other way. We continue our merry chases, Miranda after the shuttle, the Imperial Aces after Dash.
Time is called with no other score changes, but there’s still a chance. We’re in mid activation with Miranda breathing down Palpatine’s neck, a good shot finishes the shuttle off. Rexler was almost certainly about to line up a kill shot on Dash too, but my opponent ends up revealing a move that turns him away from my ship. He says his dial spun on him as he flipped it, but at this level, what you revealed is what you revealed, and I have no way to know that you weren’t guessing I was going to try something desperate to escape (which we had both managed to do a LOT in this match). So I have to hold him to it, Rexler finds himself without a shot, Soontir can’t finish Dash, and Miranda cleans up the shuttle for a 3 point win. I feel bad about it, and told him as much, but I just couldn’t let him change the dial at that point.
And then, some 2,000 or so words of text later, the stage is set. We’re on to round eight; the whole reason for this post. His story on how this game went got shared with me recently, and I feel like I need to share my side of it.
Maybe it’s the fact that it was my last game of the event, maybe it’s because of how it went, but I remember this game with more clarity than anything else that happened that weekend. I recognize my opponent to some extent, and the guy playing right next to him as well, but can’t place them right off hand. If I didn’t know already, with only getting an MoV of 103 out of the previous win, it’s beyond certain that I have no chance to make the cut after this round, and something spurs me to have the following conversation during setup. The exact words are beyond my memory, three months after the fact, but the following paraphrasing is at least close…
Me: “You look kind of familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”
Opponent: “Maybe? Did you play in the [place] Regional?”
Me: “No, I haven’t played anywhere around [that area]”
Opponent: “Well, I don’t know where we would have met, then.”
Me: “My Margin of Victory has been horrible. It probably doesn’t really matter what our score is, this is going to be the end of the line for me.”
[Opponent takes a side-long look at the guy next to him, who I realize is running an identical list to his, they know each other]
Opponent: “Well, if I win, I’m guaranteed to be in the cut. So… yeah…”
Me: “Well, best of luck to you, but I’m not going to take it easy on you.”
He sort of laughed that off and glanced back at his buddy again. For a second, I thought that laugh was because he might have been covering up for discreetly asking me to throw the match to let him get through to the cut. I’ve got no proof of that though, so I feel remiss in saying it, but the thought was there. Maybe it was his way of breaking the tension of the moment that he seemed to be feeling. Or, now that I’ve heard his side of this, it might have been that he didn’t think it mattered how hard I was playing, this was a sure win for him. And on paper, I would agree with him.
His list is set up to absolutely melt lists like mine. If Kanan catches Miranda in range, he’s guaranteed to deal 4 damage a turn to her with that Twin Laser Turret; Accuracy Corrector takes dice out of that equation entirely and makes for more hits than I have defense dice. 4 damage is pretty likely inside the minimum range for the TLT as well thanks to that big primary shot. And while I have a chance to dodge some of it, he’s got a fairly good chance of dealing 2-4 per turn to Dash instead, with Dash being unable to fire his HLC from anywhere without being fired back at. Meanwhile, this big threat is protected by a regenerating Biggs who benefits from the Tactical Jammer and Kanan stripping my attack dice. This is about as close to a hard counter as you’re going to see anywhere to my list.
I’m playing for pride though, and as such I’m determined to go down swinging. After all, if everything goes absolutely perfectly, I can deal 16 damage in a single turn (Kanan bumps and loses actions, Seismic Charges for 1, full Cluster Mines dropped on a previous turn for 6, Sabine for 1, range 1 Miranda sacrificing a shield for 4, Dash’s HLC for 4). So if something goes wonky, that Ghost can go down from full health in a single round, even without critical hits being a factor. It’ll take a LOT of luck, but it’s possible, and there are way more likely scenarios here that also lead to victory if I can survive long enough to spread it out over several rounds.
Priority #1 though, is getting Biggs out of the way so that I can even shoot the Ghost. The game begins, and we engage at mid field. I get lucky, rolling hot and dealing significant damage to Biggs over just a couple of turns, although I’m taking a beating on Dash in the process. I thought I had a masterpiece lined up to seriously swing things my way with a bomb drop from Miranda. With the X-Wing hurting badly and the Ghost pointing in that same direction, I brought the K-Wing in with a SLAM and dropped cluster mines, hoping to finish Biggs off by clipping him with one token and to leave the others right in Kanan’s path for the next round. Doing a better job than I had with a few of my desperation bomb drops on Friday, I dropped the mines right on target, but he rolled zero damage beyond Sabine, and Biggs remained alive with two more tokens lined up directly in front of his X-Wing. Dash was forced to waste another shot on him, I rolled poorly, and R2-D2 was ejected to leave him alive with one health.
This in turn brought about our first call for a judge, during which it was confirmed that Biggs could fly through and remove both of the remaining tokens before Kanan could hit them, even knowing that he would be killed by the very first mine and even with another blank roll, if I simply chose to activate Sabine. Despite wishing it was otherwise, no objection from me, the ruling makes sense because you don’t interrupt the maneuver to trigger the mines. Kudos to him for having matching pilot skills and finding a way to use it to his advantage and protect Kanan, I often feel like weaving matching pilot skills around are an under-used ability in X-Wing.
So, Biggs down, big time damage on Dash, Kanan at full health, lot of time left on the clock. I’m ahead by 3 points (26 for half of Dash vs 29 for Biggs). I’m not sure I even realized that at the time, but even if I did, it wasn’t useful info. It’s not like I could just haul ass with Dash one more turn to secure a close win, he’s going to get shot at again, and likely be killed. If it’s a bad setup, it might only take one shot.
Miranda can’t solo the Ghost, even if she’s doing constant recovery she loses 3 health per turn. I figure I need to land bombs, turn both guns on him, and have Dash soak up at least two rounds of fire by having Lone Wolf active, taking obstructed fire, and with Focus tokens backing all his rolls, no offensive spending. If it takes him a turn and a half of TLT fire to off finish Dash (2 hull remaining, so that calls for a lot of luck), then Miranda might have enough in the tank to finish Kanan from there. Not knowing exactly how to set this up, I retreat, looking for an opening. There’s not a lot of safe places to go, considering he covers over half the board with his TLT radius, but I do what I can to buy a turn or two by not chasing after Kanan when he’s already flying away from me. In doing so, I set my dials quickly, and keep my brain churning for an answer to what looks like an un-solvable puzzle. I’m not avoiding the game by fiddling with my dial for 5 minutes at a time, staring for a minute or two to decide if I need to barrel roll or not. That’s bush league stuff, underhanded, and against the spirit of the game. I’m not looking for a way to not lose. I’ve been fighting like hell for days now, I’m looking for a way to WIN!
Remember what Sam says: “Make ’em fly with you for a few turns”. If I can catch him stressed by running him through a debris field, there’s no Focus / Evade tokens for him. Dash can’t get an unopposed shot, but if I can get into Range 1, outside his firing arcs, Miranda can. I have one seismic charge and one set of cluster mines left, and I have to make sure they all land. If I can spread the mines out perfectly, I can trigger Sabine twice. I wonder if I can convince him somehow that the healthier Miranda is a better target for a turn and leave Dash alive for a turn longer than he should…
All of those things and more were tumbling through my head, but running out the clock is not one of them. I asked for a time check, but with the measured pace of the last three days of games, that had become a second habit; I just wanted to know where we stood.
Maybe the panicked retreat on my part got to my opponent. Perhaps it was the added pressure as a handful of friends and strangers gathered around to observe what was a tighter game than it should have been to close out the tournament (I don’t know exactly when that happened, just noticed the crowd at the very end of the match). Or maybe he was more aware of the score than I was, and thought I was really going to try and run away for the whole remainder of the match (from memory, I’m estimating 30-35 minutes). Whatever it was, something had my opponent unnerved. When he got the chance to turn around he came after me at full speed. Better yet, rather than cutting the corner and relying on his TLT coverage to have me in range, he came right on in to the corner of the map, cutting off his options for subsequent maneuvers, and in an ironic fashion giving me more of them.
And that was the mistake I had been looking for. I might not win from this position, but it was my best opportunity.
Since Kanan had come in so aggressively, I was able to roll Dash to safety inside his blind spot, keeping him around for another turn. Miranda then managed to SLAM to a safe position just on the other side of his ship, also out of arc, and in doing so to drop all three of my Cluster Mines on the Ghost; although we had to pause for a judge call again so that he could verify that I was positioning them legally. Major damage ensues. And with the Ghost having flown so close to the board’s edge, I had him boxed in; there was nowhere he could go and not be in range of Miranda’s Seismic Charges the next turn without flying off the table, and he would almost certainly bump and be unable to take actions.
The damage all started piling up, and the next thing I know I’ve got a chance to kill him with Dash before any return fire comes in. I’m pumped up again! Without tokens to reduce my dice or evade the damage, a perfect HLC shot can finish Kanan off. I throw out my roll, hit – hit – blank – blank, but that second blank was leaning on an obstacle token, and by the rules MUST be rerolled. I called out the cocked die and picked it up to reroll it results in a hit, and then Lone Wolf allowed me to reroll the remaining blank into what would be a lethal hit.
But in my excitement, had I neglected to ask my opponent to verify that the first die was cocked before I snatched it back up to reroll it, and he objected. He wasn’t trying to pull anything, I knew as soon as he said something that I had moved too quickly there. His tournament life is on the line, so he’s upset, and justifiably so. I feel bad, even knowing that I was in the right to reroll the die, just because I couldn’t prove that it had been cocked and I knew that I rushed that whole sequence. I ask what he wants me to do about it, because I can’t go back and prove that the die is cocked. He says he wants it to be a miss, obviously. I look at the game state, knowing I’m about to lose Dash to return fire, but I know it’s the right thing to do. Sure, it’s a “miss”, my mistake for being in a hurry.
And then, the dice gods smiled upon me for letting that one go. Without any Focus tokens, none of the four TLT shots land more than two hits, Dash proceeds to dodge three of them, and ends the turn with a single hull remaining.
At that point, it’s mop-up. Kanan won’t ever fire again, needing only one hit to finish him off. Zeb pops out right before Kanan gets vaped, but can’t get away from Miranda to chase down Dash. Ball game, 100-26 victory.
Thus ends both of our days. I’m turning to my buddy and saying I can’t believe that just happened, he’s pretty much doing the same. A 6th win and a less-than-stellar 922 total MoV netted me 32nd place overall, out of somewhere approaching 350 players. I wanted to do even better, but I certainly won’t scoff at that result.
In fact, I’m awfully proud of it, and for good reason. But I didn’t share the details here. Not knowing how to best approach writing about what was an awkwardly tense final game, along with being fuzzy on details of some of the other matches, I was content to let it be and just not give any details about my experience beyond that I enjoyed my trip to Worlds and was happy with the final results. No reason to talk about the not-so-nice ending with an obviously upset opponent, when that’s the one match that I’ve got the most clarity on the details of what happened.
However, it was brought to my attention that this gentleman was cordial enough to not use my name (nor shall I use his), but there is publicly posted material of him breaking down what happened in our game from his point of view, which seems to have been distorted by the time between the tournament and his remarks. In that discussion, he stated that he felt that “some of the tactics [I] used were very troll-y”, and that I was seeing what I could do to knock him out of the cut. He insinuates that I should have played the game differently because I had nothing on the line while he had expensive dice and templates that he could still win.
Early in his description of the game, he points out that his constant Twin Laser Turret damage would be a major problem for my “squishy” ships, so he claims that I “naturally just ran away from [him] for 45 minutes”. He goes on to say that I don’t have the correct attitude for this situation, whatever that means. Was I supposed to be tossing him a softball while other folks are fighting their hearts out for that same spot in the cut? Consoling him when rolls don’t go his way? Asking him for a cut of the prizes in exchange for flying off the board perhaps? I assure you, I’ll take my dignity over dice or templates any day, thank you very much.
Throughout his story, he makes it sound time and again like I’m popping in to a wormhole of sorts, teleporting to the furthest corners of the board whenever he moves in my direction, giggling at him like that blasted dog from Duck Hunt. He says he chased me down and engaged again because he didn’t want to “lose to a technicality”. Sorry, man, I guess I should have told you in advance that I wasn’t flying my squishy ships that you match up against so well, a technicality was. </sarcasm> In truth, we might have been disengaged for 4-5 turns at most, at least a couple of which he spent turning around to face me again after the pass where I killed Biggs while I was looking for an opening to attack. Must be a crime in his meta to do anything other than joust like British redcoats lining up for musket fire.
Perhaps just as insulting as the hints that I should have just let him win (“Intentional draws are a thing!”, cried the peanut gallery. “The hell they are, I replied, long before FFG agreed) were the blatant accusations of slow-playing. “[He] definitely thinks that there was an element of that here”. I’m the last person you’re ever going to see intentionally stalling a match for time by not taking actions. If anything, I play FASTER when others might see an opportunity to use delaying tactics. No, I’m not going to fly straight at my opponent when it doesn’t benefit me to do so. Why would I? But most of the time I’m going to have my maneuver dials set before my opponent, even when I’ve got them outnumbered and obviously needing every second they can get in the game. I pride myself in being the type of person that is going to give you a fair shot. So it burns me up to hear, “I honestly think [slow-playing] is one of the main strategies of this list”. You’re dead wrong, at least when it’s in my hands. Or the hands of anyone I associate myself with. I can point you to some potential opponents that can work the clock with the best of them, and to have lumped me in with them is a slap in the face.
As the description rolls on, there are definitely some inaccuracies in the retelling of the sequence of events… I apparently got Kanan to half health and started running away (or was running away from the start, that’s a little unclear in this version of the story), which made him be more aggressive than he wanted to be (I suppose I’m supposed to feel bad about not engaging on his terms?) and that in turn enabled me to get in to position with Miranda to kill Biggs with bombs, which I had to do before I could shoot Kanan. Can I get a flowchart of that sequence? I think it’ll probably look something like the one I made for FFG’s new Star Wars OP Pyramid.
Oh, then he turns around and mentions how those bombs are something that’s “really intimidating for [him], too”, despite this being described as such a good matchup for him earlier in his breakdown. Because that’s consistent, right?
To wrap things up in his version of the story, time was called just as Dash dodged all of Kanan’s shots, ending the match right then and there. My recollection of events said otherwise, as did our final score sheet (100-26). I’ve got a picture of that for posterity’s sake, but I’ll leave that out of the article (and crop it from the photos I did share) since there’s a name on it.
But hey, he sounded like a patron saint (or at least a martyr) of sportsmanship when he said it all his way, so long as nobody paid attention to the details.
Okay, so, I intended this post rant to be an article about what did and didn’t constitute fair play, and perhaps a bit of discussion about when it’s okay to give up so that your opponent can improve their standings in a tournament (short article: “Never.”). It’s morphed in to something else entirely, I’m not sure what I’d call it, but it’s heart-felt and it’s full of truth that I felt like I needed to express.
So I’d like to redirect it in to something positive with my closing notes. Specifically, I’d like to ask all my readers to do a few things for me, and encourage their peers to do the same:
If you’re going to be a part of the competitive gaming community, do so with some dignity. Don’t play the game like you’re never going to see your opponent again, because you’re likely wrong.
Or put that another way, you can get screamed at by a petulant child on a video game console from your couch. Tabletop gaming is a more social matter. Treat it that way, please.
Get stalling and slow-playing out of your repertoire if it’s one of your tricks. That is unsportsmanlike conduct. I don’t condone it, and neither should you. Period.
Remember, while a lot of competitive games involve luck, all competitive games involve skill, from both players. Whether luck didn’t favor you, or you made mistakes, don’t try to take credit away from your opponent when it’s due to them.
Also remember, so long as the rules are adhered to, there’s no such thing as winning on a “technicality”, either you have a higher score than your opposition, or you don’t.
If you’re going to enter a competitive event, don’t ever let off the gas before a tournament is over, or expect anyone else to.
If you’re gonna tell a story, tell all of it, and tell it truthfully.
In regard to that last note and my last opponent in particular, I have to add the following: I bear no ill will toward you over our game. Before I heard your statements, I’d have gladly met you again with a handshake and a genuine smile, I’d even have bought the first round of those local beers you like so much if we were to cross paths in Minnesota again. Perhaps everything was a bit more clear in my memory than it was in yours. Or perhaps it just really stung to take a loss to a list you feel you should have beaten. I don’t want anyone holding a grudge over something silly like that, I’d have a lot of enemies in that case. But instead of being surly over it, I’ll still hold to that offer to buy the first round, because this might just be a big misunderstanding.
I had to make a hard choice yesterday, and it affects a lot of my fellow gamers.
For a combination of a dozen different factors (fatigue, seasonal, personal obligations, etc), attendance had dropped significantly at my FLGS’s X-Wing nights. Where once we had 15-20 players every Tuesday night, now we had 6-8. Seeing underutilized table space, the store’s owner took the opportunity to revitalize the local Warhammer community, putting together a series of events that have filled the place up on Tuesday nights. As a result, as I’ve worked hard to bring back X-Wing players, I haven’t had anywhere to put them. For weeks now, we’ve had no more than 4 games running at a time, elbow to elbow to make that happen. As for the extra folks? A few of us would observe, some would grab a card table and play Destiny, and some folks just turned around and left. I always gave up my spot for someone else to play, because on a given X-Wing night it’s less about the games themselves for me and more about hanging out with my friends.
But realizing that this situation wasn’t getting any better, I spoke with some of the prominent players and agreed to move X-Wing night to Wednesdays. This is a big deal to me because Wednesdays are our Imperial Assault nights. And while we’re at it, let’s go ahead and formally organize Destiny players to gather on Wednesdays as well.
So, the good news is that none of this conflicts with the schedules for these games at any other store in the area, there’s plenty of room available for everyone to play, and I’ll never go without a game of something on Wednesday nights. I’ve got some ideas churning for ways to tie everything together too, having a bit of a “faction war” that spans multiple games. But on the other hand, the players like myself who might have been overextending a bit to get in to all three of these games now have to pick one of the three each week.
I just hope that this works out, because the harder part of this is knowing that this does lock out some of our potential players – I’ve heard from equal amounts of X-Wing players that have said “I haven’t been coming on Tuesdays for a while, and I was about to start coming back, but I can’t make it on Tuesdays” and those that have said “Finally, a night other than Tuesday, I’ll be able to come back!”. I’m sure there will still be pick-up games on any given day, and a few dedicated players will still come in more leading up to major events, but I don’t like giving up table time.
It’s hopefully a good move for the health of all affected games that I make this move. But that doesn’t mean I like paying the cost.
– The Tabletop General
As is fitting for my first post for quite some time outside the occasional sentence or two on Facebook, today’s post has to be prefaced with a story I haven’t told, my trip to Fantasy Flight Games HQ for the 2016 World Championships. I competed in Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures and Imperial Assault, putting up a respectable (if I do say so myself) 6-2 record in X-Wing, and 3-3 for Imperial Assault. I was proud of my entire crew, as all of my friends making the trip at least broke even in every event, and I was happy to represent Atlanta well as the top X-Wing player from our area. And the scary thing about that is that I know I could have done better, because I was still learning my list.
I had been surprised by what I liked (and moreso what I didn’t like) out of the recent releases for X-Wing. The ARC-170 didn’t really move the needle all that much for me, and the Special Forces TIE was underwhelming when looking at competitive play. Despite its’ similarity to the TIE Interceptor, the Protectorate Starfighter just didn’t feel right, and I didn’t like my chances with the Shadow Caster, but I had been trying to make both work, and doing a decent job of it until I ran into the wall that was Dash/Miranda, a terror of the local tournament scene for all of 2016. In frustration, I picked up that list for a few days to see how it worked, what I had been doing wrong against it… and I realized that I really liked it.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
Of course, that phrase couldn’t be applied to any local group less than the Atlanta HWKs. I stubbornly clung to TIE Interceptors way past their prime. You’ll not find a better wizard behind a wall of T-65 X-Wings than Brendan. And then there’s Saint Eddie, our patron saint of stubbornness and bombs…
Eddie has ascended to a higher plane, or at least a higher latitude, calling Minnesota home now, and plying his trade there with TIE Bombers loaded with ordnance because that’s what he does. But he’s a permanent member of the Atlanta HWKs, and he’s embraced his holy status within our group. So it was with much good-natured joking that our local Facebook group was covered with a smattering of “Hail Eddie” prayers by those of us with bombs in our lists before we began play at our local Regional Championship for the 2017 X-Wing season. I’d been running hot over the past few weeks, tearing up a lot of players that usually have my number, but the blessing of our patron saint couldn’t hurt my chances for the day.
Two powerful ships, each doing what they do best, working together while trying not to stay close to one another. Miranda wants to stay away from Dash to drop bombs with wild abandon, Dash wants to stay away from Miranda to keep Lone Wolf active. HLC deals early damage, bombs in the mid-game, and Miranda serves as the usual closer with her slow and steady TLT damage.
This is a slight tweak from the original version of the list, using Cluster Mines rather than Conner Nets. The Conner Net is a powerful control element, but I was having trouble lining it up in practice, and in addition to their different shape, the Cluster Mines have so much more damage potential that it’s hard to pass them up.
Every time I flew the list over the past few months, I felt like I got better at it, even once I’d been putting basically nothing else on the table for nearly 3 months. So of course, I was bound to discover something new (and awesome) at this event.
Dengaroo, flown by a competent player. Not what I wanted to see today, and oddly enough not something I’ve seen firsthand in quite some time. For those of you unfamiliar (what rock are you living under?), Dengar and Manaroo form an interesting pairing – Dengar has amazing damage output, enhanced further by abilities that require him to load up on stress tokens to the point that he could never imagine taking another action; meanwhile, Manaroo’s usual role is playing keep-away and passing her actions to Dengar in lieu of his own.
I’ve thrown it into the benchmark simulator a time or three, and we put a version of it on the table a few days prior to the event for a practice game, but it didn’t run like this one did. This variant of the pairing that won the 2016 World Championships is definitely more aggressive and front-loaded than others I’ve seen discussed, looking to get enemy ships off the board quickly with the help of the three torpedoes on board that normally go toward upgrades that keep both ships on the board longer.
I did not bring my A-game here. I’ve got a host of reasons, foremost of which being that it was early and I had only managed a couple hours of sleep (very unintentionally). But regardless to the reasons, I didn’t pay quite as much attention as I should have to my opponent’s list. I saw what was there, but I didn’t see what WASN’T there: Engine Upgrade on Manaroo, 4-LOM or Countermeasures on Dengar, all of which should have caused me to alter my approach. Most importantly, without Engine Upgrade, Manaroo is much easier to catch and kill – which would have been enough to cover giving up half points on Dash, and made Dengar much more vulnerable on his own and likely actionless.
Instead, I went head to head with Dengar, hoping to bring him down quickly with bombs, and accepting that the torpedoes would spell Dengar’s doom easily. I almost pulled this off, but the dice weren’t in my favor, dealing only two damage (one of which came from Sabine) on a beautiful cluster mine drop on the big fellow. Dengar escaped with a single point of hull, and I had to get hyper aggressive, fighting not only against my opponent but against the clock as well, something my opponent seemed to embrace VERY heavily. In the end, that got Miranda killed off as well, trying to fight through Manaroo to get to the fleeing Dengar as time expired.
Alright, this I could do something with. Two maneuverable but arc-dependent ships, both with lower pilot skill than my own. Both of these have got some solid damage output, but nothing especially tricky.
I did something with this alright… something bad. I lost Miranda, and early. Coming in for a bombing run, Miranda got herself caught in the corner of the board; unable to SLAM anywhere meaningful. Asajj painted a target and stripped shields, IG-88 lit her up, and suddenly I found myself with just Dash remaining. But hope remained. In the process of trapping Miranda, my opponent’s ships ended up passing each other, rotating in opposite directions around the board and hesitating to turn in immediately, thanks to a pair of cluster mine tokens remaining on the field. With heavy damage already applied to Asajj, I knew this was a winable game.
Dash proceeded to kite around the edge of range, staying as far as possible away from IG-88. My action plan was as follows: Try to get range 3 on Asajj only. If both could fire at me, and a Barrel Roll would change that, escape both if possible. Barrel Roll into range of Asajj and outside her arc if possible. Asajj wouldn’t go down easily with Focus, Evade, and two agility, but with Lone Wolf on at all times and never being afraid to spend one of my pair of Focus tokens, I’ve got around a 90% chance of landing at least 3 hits per turn; no matter how tough the wall, sooner or later the hammer wins. Asajj went down, with plenty of time remaining for one of the other remaining ships to be taken out.
I slipped out of IG-88’s arc and range a couple of times before turning around taking a single jousting run. Perhaps expecting me to slip away again, he approached quickly, using PTL to stack up on tokens and stressing himself. I lost a couple of shields in the exchange, but it gave me exactly what I needed: the opportunity to get a chase position. Counting the score; I led by a single point, but I knew I needed more to climb the standings. Unable to turn around and fire without giving up tokens for multiple rounds, my opponent simply ran away turn after turn, and I was perfectly willing to play the long game there. Two ships, only one of which is shooting, that clock might as well have still had 75 minutes on it.
Again, eventually the hammer wins, and now we’re on the board.
1-1, 182 MoV
At this point, we had an hour break for lunch. I wasn’t feeling great about the results so far, but some food and a bit more time to fully wake up would do me some good. Panda Express was the order of the day, and my fortune cookie read, “HAVE PATIENCE – IT WILL BENEFIT YOU”. This lined up directly with what I had been told by my friends for months now about how to approach flying this list, and it seemed a good omen. I slid it into my wallet for safe keeping.
TIE Defenders have made a major comeback this year, in no small part thanks to the x7 title, conferring a cost discount and free Evade token in exchange for the oft-unused Cannon slot. No blocking maneuvers and no amount of Stress tokens can strip that token from them, they just have to fly fast to get it. That’s dirt simple for even the newest player to do. The tricky part is, sometimes players know when to catch the enemy off guard and go slow. This guy, a fellow Atlanta HWK and “Murder Squad” member, knows how to do exactly that, which sets him a step above the field of players lining up to fly this list.
And it came down to exactly that; my opponent knew when to put on the brakes. Being extremely familiar with me, the way I fly, and having faced a near identical list to my own countless times over the past year, he faked me out by chasing Dash momentarily before swapping targets. This caught Miranda as she positioned for a bomb run where I thought he was going, dead to rights and squarely in his sights.
“I’m gonna hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by.” – Maverick Countess Ryad
I managed to limp away and survive a few more turns, but there wasn’t much I could do to change the momentum of the game. I brought Ryad down with me, and got half credit for the Emperor’s Caddilac, but I was outplayed through and through here.
1-2, 233 MoV
For many tournaments, my day is effectively over right there, play a few friendly games and go home with a participation prize. But I had my pride to play for, and there was still hope.
That hope? Well, I knew we had 77 players in attendance at this event, and that’s a magical number. Under the current tournament rules for X-Wing, any event short of a major convention is set up such that all players with no more than one loss will make the cut to single elimination in a bracket without byes. At 76 players, this can be done with 6 rounds of Swiss play and a top 8 cut. But once you add that 77th person, there’s a chance that the 9th place player at the end of Swiss has a 5-1 record. To accomodate that, the playoffs are expanded to 16 players, letting in 7 players with two losses, using Margin of Victory to decide on those players. My MoV wasn’t great, but it could be worse, and I knew how to save some points. Dash tends to bleed me dry, he is shot down pretty frequently in this list, and gives up half points when he doesn’t die. But Miranda can limp in on one health and still protect all 47 of her points, and can recover health too. I just had to make sure she was the primary target for the rest of the day, and pray to St. Eddie that I wouldn’t mess around and take a third loss in the process of changing my approach.
Here’s something you don’t see much anymore: a B-Wing loaded to the gills. I can see a similar philosophy behind this list’s design and my own, though. A maneuverable end-game piece supported by a heavy hitter designed to make the job easier. If you leave Nera alone and try to pin down Dash while you still have your full force on the board, Nera will make you pay for that. Regardless of which ship you attack first, these two are going to hit you, and hit you hard.
The original “Super Dash”, this YT-2400 has some advantages and disadvantages compared to the one from my list. Capable of 3 “actions” per turn once you have Kyle up and running, there’s a lot of flexibility there, from a Target Lock and two Focus tokens, to a Focus, a Barrel Roll, and a Boost. And there’s an advantage in using Kyle to generate an action, as you can still get his Focus on turns where you otherwise wouldn’t have them thanks to Stress or collisions. On the other hand, being dependent on Push the Limit makes the ship much more vulnerable to blocking, as there are only so many green moves on the dial. And I’ve come to love Lone Wolf lately for the defensive boost it gives.
Running some quick numbers on a head to head matchup between “Super Dash” and Lone Wolf / Recon Spec Dash, assuming that both ships are taking a Focus action (for a total of two tokens each) and “Super Dash” is getting a Target Lock too, “Super Dash” will deal 2.120 damage per turn to the Lone Wolf version. Meanwhile, Lone Wolf Dash will deal 2.270 in return, or if initiative works in his favor so that he can save up a Target Lock while inside minimum range, he can spike that average to 2.500 damage per turn. And at a cost 5 points cheaper than the other version, Lone Wolf Dash is definitely a better deal, assuming that you can keep the necessary distance from the rest of your ships.
So, flying Miranda more aggressively and getting her targeted first only works if your opponent is willing to take the bait. And that wasn’t happening here. Both enemy ships locked in on Dash from the start, and he quickly lost his shields. But at the same time, that B-Wing had nowhere to hide and couldn’t guess where Dash’s blind spot would be; two HLC shots and four twin laser shots had Nera off the board before she could fire a second time.
From there, I flew Dash much more defensively, trying to preserve those points. My opponent had given me initiative, so I couldn’t completely guarantee safety by taking a Barrel Roll into minimum range or outside his Dash’s reach, but I did block him a time or two, and generally stayed behind cover backed by Focus tokens. Miranda did her thing, bombing the enemy into submission, and finishing the match in all of about 25 minutes. I gladly took the extra time to sit down and rest, hoping to turn this into a long day.
I’m used to Fenn and Old Teroch by this point, they’re popular choices in our local meta. Talonbane was a surprise to me though, as I’m accustomed to seeing Manaroo in that slot. So we’re looking at a less durable list, but one that is definitely going to be capable of high damage output if I let them stay close.
So, knowing that my opponent wanted to live at Range 1, I decided to play a game of chase. With Dash, I flew at a right angle to his likely approach lane, and I crept forward slowly with Miranda. Over the next turn or two, Miranda continued to approach slowly, and Dash turned away from the enemy, pointing toward an empty corner of the board. The higher pilot skill ships Boosted and Barrel Rolled into position to chase, sensing an opportunity to pounce on Dash when he had few places to go. And just like that, the trap was set.
Miranda jammed the K-Wing’s throttle to full, adding in a SLAM, and dropping Cluster Mines right onto Fenn Rau, which vaporized his ship. And for the lack of a better description, my opponent simply deflated. Seeing Fenn go up in smoke like that was just too big of a blow to handle, especially having done no damage to me yet.
Preserving points, I continued to play cat & mouse games, but my opponent simply wasn’t as aggressive anymore. I dropped my second set of cluster mines to no effect, as Talonbane didn’t press forward like I expected, but even then they were of use, making him take longer to circle the area in fear of hitting them by accident. Without being charged in upon, and with no defensive tech to help either ship deal with multiple long range shots, the target practice session was a mere formality.
Nom-nom-nom… B-Wings! I didn’t want to see either of my ships stressed, so Stramm was an obvious early target, but Dash / Miranda is just not what this list is designed to deal with. Not worried.
Repeat after me, class…
“12 attack dice are scary. 3 are not”. Good, on to the next lesson.
“Being 25% is no worse than being 100% wrong”. Excellent.
I’m tempted to conjure my inner NFL Analyst on this one and mark up how bad of a position my opponent is in here with X’s and O’s and squiggly lines, but bad positioning happens naturally through the course of a game. The more important and damning point is that we haven’t engaged yet; this is just where he flew himself to. So Dash is a subject of focused fire this turn after the ARC flies into the debris field, but between long range, Lone Wolf, and Focus tokens, all my opponent gets for his trouble is two stress on Dash, and decent damage on one of his B-Wings, marked “1” in the photo above. And it doesn’t get much better from there.
Miranda skirts around the left side, completely avoids all firing arcs except #1, who doesn’t really do any damage. With Lone Wolf in play, Dash isn’t crippled by stress, and it’s not a huge priority for me to clear it. So he zooms up field, and is only threatened by a single B-Wing who isn’t as close as he expected to be if I took a green move. Braylen and B-Wing #3 are stranded with no targets.
The rest of the game follows suit, with both of my ships staying stress free despite R3-A2’s presence, allowing them to reposition away from any really dangerous situations. Miranda drops a seismic bomb when the enemy does get close, and I’m generally picking off lone ships that are taking much more damage than they deal while their allies are just out of range. I kind of feel bad about how lopsided this matchup and similar ones seem to go, but I needed every point today.
4-2, 807 MoV
Position at cut to top 16:
Dinner break, just long enough to freak out a little bit that I’ve clawed my way back in, and realize that as tired as I am, I’m barely past the halfway point if things go well. And, as a hail to St. Eddie of our Holy Ordnance, I drag our crew over to the mexican restaurant we had spotted at lunch, a place named “La Bomba”.
Not exactly your standard Palp/Aces list. Soontir has a standard loadout, but the Countess is tweaked a bit to make her fit, as Soontir is a point more than the Vessery that normally accompanies her. I feel really good about this matchup though; Soontir is very vulnerable to bombs, and I’ve got a bit of intimidation factor on my side, my opponent has seen Dash/Miranda enough to know how dangerous it is.
Using a bit of misdirection to start the game, I wanted to threaten Palpatine’s shuttle early with Miranda, and then switch targets to the other ships when they came to help.
Instead, that just got Dash caught up in a jam. He stripped a shield or two off of Ryad, but took way more damage than I’m accustomed to getting through to him, and I had to pull some desperate moves to keep him in the game. And boy I do mean desperate.
But the cavalry was on the way, loaded for battle. Dash went down, but kept the Imperials’ attention just long enough to set up a bomb run. Remember how I needed one more damage from a cluster mine in round 1 to finish Dengar? Well, that comes back around full circle now… I dropped in a set of clusters onto a slightly Ryad for a shot at dealing —some— damage, and ended up hitting the jackpot instead, 4/4 hits from the two tokens that landed, plus an 5th from Sabine. Even Palpatine’s influence wasn’t enough to keep the Countess alive.
Now, with Dash and Ryad down, and time in the match dwindling, it was all up to Miranda. I knew I couldn’t get Soontir so long as Palpatine was on the field, but finishing off the shuttle was an easy matter. The K-Wing and Interceptor circled the battlefield for a few more minutes, but time elapsed with both on the field, giving me a less than comfortable margin but a win, and that’s all that matters at this point. Oh, and dice. Shiny, shiny, shiny dice.
In contrast to the prior list, this is exactly your standard Palp/Aces list, with the exception of the Guidance Chips added as a joke. It’s boring, but it’s effective. Of note, my opponent looked familiar, and made a comment about not sticking his Chewbacca on a rock this time around. Apparently, we’ve played before, in the finals of a store championship last year.
Fatigue was really setting in at this point, so the game was a bit of a blur at times, and I don’t have any photos to jog my memory or reconstruct things from. What I do remember is that I took one on the chin from Ryad onto Miranda to drop Cluster Mines right in front of her, clipping her with one and leaving two in her path for the next turn. Already stressed from PTL, and with an automatic damage from Sabine and one resulting from the mine, and more coming the next turn, my opponent wanted to avoid the last token, and did so by taking a 1-bank. This kept her from getting an evade token for incoming fire, and she was cleared from the board that turn anyway. But that last token hung around.
Dash goes down. Palpatine is taken out. And now it’s down to Vessery and Miranda, with about 30 minutes to go. The game is mine so long as the K-Wing survives. Miranda has fully recovered her shields, and Vessery is limping around on one hull point, but any Defender is a dangerous Defender. So I play it careful, SLAMing away turn after turn. My opponent is careful as well, doing an excellent job of avoiding the area threatened by my Seismic Charges. I pick up a Target Lock when I can, and throw out an attack when it presents itself, but my primary goals are A: Not losing, and B: Not stalling. You see, there’s a difference between running and stalling, one I think my first round opponent could use to learn. I’m running, but I’m setting my movement dial in about 10 seconds per turn, and never hesitating on my actions. I want to win this game, but I’m bound and determined to do so with a clear conscience. Turn after turn, I dip into the TLT well and come up dry, no damage is getting through. But then my clear conscience was rewarded by St. Eddie, as I had a flash of insight.
You see, my opponent had avoided the handful of mine tokens remaining on the field really well. So well, in fact, that he was able to dart around them and not worry about cutting it close, he knew that he wouldn’t hit them. But he didn’t think about how close he was to them. In my head, I can just see Miranda leaning on the flight controls as she swerves around a debris field and yells at Sabine to hold on… SLAM, right into my own mine token, and the damage from Sabine finishes Vessery off to close the game. I probably would have been just fine flying in circles for another 10 minutes or so, but it felt better to finish it that way.
And here we go again, another Palp/Aces variant… wait, no, no Palpatine! It’s a Christmas Miracle!
Instead, we’ve got a slightly watered down Vessery, paired up with good ‘ol Carnor Jax, he of “thou shalt not token up” fame. Still, 3 health is awfully squishy for bombs blessed by St. Eddie, especially when you have to get in close to do your job.
I’m not sure that any match this late at night could be said to be putting on a clinic, as it was midnight as this game started and mistakes happened on both sides, but I came pretty close to it here. Dash pulled off a beautiful block of both Vessery and Carnor simultaneously, setting up Miranda to clean house on the following turn. Carnor fell to the Cluster Mines, Ryad followed suit soon after- despite assurances from onlookers that using brand new dice was “bad ju-ju”, these things were rolling too hot for me to put them down. So after a long day of X-Wing and looking at a serious uphill climb with a single ship remaining against my full-strength force, my opponent graciously bowed out of the event.
My opponent, perhaps one of the earliest readers of the Tabletop General, ran roughshod over me in round 6 of the 2015 X-Wing Regional Championship in Atlanta, and went on to win that event. Since then, we’ve adopted him as an honorary Atlanta HWK, and we’d yet to have an opportunity to play each other again. That didn’t change the fact that his list, out of everything in the top 16 bracket, was the last thing I wanted to see on the other side of the table.
Dengaroo, flown by a competent player. Not what I wanted to see to start my day, and certainly not to end it.
If you can get either one off the table, the other half of this list falls apart, but that’s easier said than done, especially decked out the way that this one is – Manaroo will be hard to pin down.
Now, a wiser man than I, or one that was a little more on top of things lately, would have written this report while there was still video of the game available on the Twitch channel used for the event. But, it turned out to not be the greatest quality, and the commentator was just as out of it as we were and had nothing to fight his exhaustion over, so I can understand not posting it. That just means that I’m having to reconstruct this match from memory, and it’s even more of a blur than the rest. Still, I’ll provide what I can here.
We started with some verbal sparring and posturing. Nothing serious, mind you, just feeling each other out. It’s late, we’ve had a long day. He’s got a long drive home, and is willing to shake hands and call it a mutual win, I’m not far from the same, and I’m not comfortable with my odds after round 1. The prize allocation is pretty much identical either way, neither of us thinks we’d use the bye for Nationals, but we can’t decide who would get custody of the trophy, and that’s a deal breaker for both of us. So, to the table we go.
In my mind, the decision is made, Dengar has to go. Throw everything I have at him, pick up the pieces I have left, and use that to finish Manaroo. I almost pulled it off this morning, and I think I can make it happen now. Giving him the opportunity to trade 2 shots to my 1 in the end game is a losing proposition, I’ve got to bring him down while I’m taking 3 shots to my 2, or 2 for 2 if I can dance away from Manaroo and keep her out of the engagement. Without R5-P9 or Gonk, Manaroo isn’t such a bad idea to throw a few shots at, but she is a less effective closer, so I don’t mind saving her to the end. I’m also no longer worried about whether or not I need to score MoV from her, as we’ll be done with this long before time is up.
Manaroo, as expected, keeps as much distance as possible, working her way counter-clockwise around the board. In order to put some early pressure on, I feint a chase of Manaroo, combining a Barrel Roll from Dash and a SLAM from Miranda to close the gap before Dengar can engage. In turn, Dengar isn’t as aggressive as I would have liked about positioning for those opening turns, and I don’t see a clear path to him for a Cluster Mine run.
We’re well past the hour where casual onlookers would still be hanging around at table side and making inadvertent comments, but with the TO on one side of the table and the couple of Murder Squad members that I rode with on the other, I can almost feel the tension in the room heighten as the occasional move on my part doesn’t make sense.
For instance, thanks to my sharp push up the field in the opening rounds, I found myself closing in on Manaroo as she turned the far left corner and started coming toward my side of the field. I found myself with a perfect Cluster Mine opportunity, as my K-Wing maneuver dropped me right in front of her position, and able to SLAM across her. With the large base, just about any move I picked that didn’t collide with her would land all three mine tokens, a holy grail of bombing worth up to 7 points of damage. I took the SLAM, headed straight at Dengar, who had yet to activate, and skipped the bomb drop.
A couple times, I do hear commentary AFTER I do something, which I’m pretty much fine with… I just don’t want my opponent to get any insight into what I’m planning, or to feel like something I might have missed was pointed out by an observer, or vice versa. What I did keep hearing was something to the effect of “see, things like that are why we’re sitting over here and he’s playing for a championship”. That got a solid chuckle out of me, as for all I could tell, I was standing there through sheer luck, but at the same time I know this list doesn’t exactly fly itself on autopilot like the x7 Defenders tend to do.
In this case particular case, I have mixed feelings about whether or not I earned that statement. This turn played out exactly like I wanted. Dengar ran right in to Miranda, protecting her from his attacks for the turn. And that set me up for the next round; I didn’t have bombs to waste on Manaroo, I needed to nail Dengar with them. Splitting damage is bad, and bombs go on the most important target. No better position from which to do that than in base contact and pointed at a higher PS ship.
The next turn, that was a bit wonkier and showed that I might have just been lucky after all. With my brain working in a crazy adrenaline-fueled and fatigue-ravaged version of full tilt, I chose a more conservative maneuver with Miranda the next turn, turning back to my right and pointing directly at an asteroid instead of staying straight. This kept me clear of Dengar’s firing arc if he performed the expected Segnor’s Loop, but also meant that I would hit that obstacle for sure next turn, and only one out of the three Cluster Mine tokens landed on target, while at least two would have landed had I not turned. It did damage, but not as much as I wanted. And in a classic example of the mental chess match not going as expected, Dengar chose another maneuver, throwing extra shots at Dash instead, meaning that in hindsight I would have been much better off flying straight with the K-Wing.
At this point, Dash had taken a beating but was still in the fight. Miranda still had one set of Cluster Mines, and decent health. On the other side, Dengar was starting to build up some damage. It was going to be close, but this was a winnable fight. Getting back to basics, I started putting distance between myself and Dengar. With our loadouts, I get defensive range bonuses, he gets offensive ones, so being further away is a better deal for me. In the process, Manaroo ended up being out of the fight once again, which was fine with me; let’s keep that little gun silent.
A damage or two more on Dengar, Dash ends up on death’s door, and then through it thanks to an ill-advised attack while Dengar has Countermeasures active; dealing no damage and giving a free return shot that proves lethal. Panic starts to set in, it’s a serious up-hill battle from here… and then I see it. Lined up perfectly in front of me, I see the right move for Miranda like it was painted on the table for me. Bank right into Dengar’s forward viewport, SLAM across with a hard turn, Cluster Mines dropped, and *BOOM*, Dengar is off the board before he can activate again.
New ball game. Miranda is carrying a little bit of damage, and has expended her mines. Manaroo is at full health, but has very few applicable tricks for this fight. We engage, and Miranda does her thing; point or two of damage dealt per turn, point of shields recovered, point or so of damage taken in return for a net positive result. After two or three turns of this exchange, afraid to get too close with Seismic Charges still available, and facing a long drive, my opponent reached across for a handshake.
We’re due for a rematch in 2018, and who knows what we’ll be flying at that point?
Bombs, man… bombs are crazy. It’s amazing how little serious attention the X-Wing community has paid them over the course of several years, but now they’re suddenly a thing. Granted, these Cluster Mines needed a buff via errata before I was willing to use them, and my predecessors using the list had taken advantage of the new Conner Nets, neither of them having been in the game for long. But now we’re seeing triple K-Wing builds pop up carrying Proximity Mines, Thermal Detonators, and Proton Bombs too.
The field of viable builds feels so narrow with TIE/x7 Defender builds all over the place, and Dengaroo a close runner up behind it, but at the same time things are wide open, and you can find a way to make almost anything work. The following weekend I went undefeated at a charity tournament with a Starviper and two M3-A Scyks (let that sink in for a moment).
Winning this Regional still feels like luck. And maybe it was. But it’s luck I’ll take, and it makes my life easier. With a win here under my belt, I can cancel my plans for a second X-Wing Regional, which in turn will let me attend an Imperial Assault Regional in my own back yard. That is, assuming I can tear myself away from playing Destiny. Because, you know, I have PLENTY of time for another game. But I’ll seriously try to get some writing done too. I know you all miss me otherwise, right?
Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures has expanded once again, and the designers of the game continue to add new and unique options to the game. Wave IX brings with it four new ships, none of which feel like rehashes of any others in the game. With thirty-six unique ships now in the game, and somewhere between two and eight unique pilots for each ship on top of the generic options, the fact that these continue to have a distinctive feel and don’t seem to be duplicating existing works is rather impressive.
We’ll start with the latest addition to the Galactic Empire; the Special Forces TIE. Don’t scroll by too fast, because this isn’t just another TIE Fighter. In fact, it has very little in common with its’ ancestor. In maneuvering comparison, the Special Forces TIE has slower moves across the board, 2 out of 3 hard turns are red trades the Koiogran Turns for speed 3 Segnor’s Loops. For roughly double the base cost of a TIE Fighter, the Special Forces TIE drops a point of agility, but doubles in health by adding three shields, has slots for Tech, System Upgrade, and a Missile, and it adds in a rear auxiliary firing arc. This rear arc is an important part of the ship’s identity, as demonstrated by the free title card included with the ship; Special Ops Training allows a second attack from this rear arc, or adding an extra die to your forward primary attack.
One of my favorite ideas so far with the SF/TIE is essentially a gimmick, but it’s fun none the less, and it makes use of some less commonly seen upgrades. Optimally firing 4 times in a single turn with little to no return fire, I call it the “TIE Gatling Gun”.
Here’s how it works: Pick a red maneuver that you probably don’t neccesarily want to do, but will match the speed you think you want this turn. Watch the board develop until Quickdraw (Special Forces TIE) activates at Pilot Skill 9. If your chosen maneuver works out, great. If not, no big deal, change it to something else with Stay on Target (Rebel Aces); your priorities being that your maneuver is red (or becomes read via SoT), you end your move with an enemy ship in both arcs, and hopefully minimizing return fire. Electronic Baffle (Mist Hunter) eats the stress from the red maneuver, and pulls a shield off of you, activating Quickdraw’s ability. He fires forward, and triggers Special Ops Training (Special Forces TIE) to fire backwards. Then, stress token gone, Quickdraw takes an action, and fires two more times in the actual combat phase. Once the shield tokens are exhausted, you fly a bit more conservatively, not being afraid to use Stay on Target (without taking damage from Electronic Baffle unless you REALLY need to) to escape tight spots, and being likely to still have a shot somewhere with the secondary arc.
Next, let’s take a look at the Rebellion’s newest toy, the ARC-170. I’ve heard this ship referred to as an X-Wing on steroids, and the comparisons aren’t completely unwarranted. The maneuver dials match, with one extra green and red on the ARC (2 bank, 4 forward, respectively). Once the free title is equipped, the forward firepower matches. And both can make use of Astromechs. But the comparisons stop there.
The ARC-170 is the first ship in the game to allow both a Crew and an Astromech slot, which opens up a lot of interesting pairings like R5-P9 (GR-75) and Recon Specialist (HWK-290 / TIE Phantom). Like the SF/TIE, the ARC-170 has a rear facing auxiliary arc, but the title on this one works a little differently. The ARC-170 only fires once per turn, with 3 dice forward, or with a free Focus-to-Critical modification backwards. This plays very nicely with one of the pilots, Norra Wexley, who also gets a lot of utility out of the new R3 Astromech. Between the two upgrades, Norra can essentially spend a Target Lock for its’ normal effect, to add a crit behind her, or to add an evade token for defense later in the round; throw in Push The Limit (A-Wing / Imperial Aces) to get a Focus token too, and you’ve got a lot of potential for solid defense that can be switched out on demand for large damage spikes
The meta is still settling in, but the ARC-170s, led by Norra, look to be a strong factor over the coming months for Rebel lists.
Bringing up the rear, we’ve got a pair of Scum & Villainy ships to discuss, both vastly different ships, and what I’m flying the most so far.
I’ve looked forward to the Protectorate Starfighter from its’ initial announcement, seeing it as a re-imagining of my beloved TIE Interceptor. They have a very similar maneuver dial (white 1 hards, lots of green 2’s), enhanced in this case by a speed 2 Tallon Roll. They have matching stats across the board, with the exception of an added hull point on the Protectorate. Where they differ is their usage. TIE Interceptors specialize in eluding the enemy, dancing away from attacks, and hitting hard when the opportunity arises. The Protectorate Starfighter doesn’t believe in that dodgy stuff at all, preferring to go head-on toward the enemy. Nothing makes that more evident than the two (and only two) upgrade cards included with the ship, Fearlessness and Concord Dawn Protector, both of which give benefits for being face to face with your foe.
Throw on Autothrusters (Starviper), and you’ve got a lean and mean jousting machine that can handle itself just fine even if the enemy is running something cowardly like turrets.
Then the unique pilots bring their own tricks to the table, two of which reinforce this jousting mindset even further. Old Teroch acts as a poor man’s Carnor Jax (Imperial Aces), and Fenn Rau lays the hurt on an opponent (an early fun build was using Advanced Proton Torpedoes on him), and is a little less vulnerable than your average ship at close range too.
So as custom tailored to my style as those Protectorates are, surprisingly, they’re not #1 for me in this release. Instead the Shadow Caster, or Lancer Class Pursuit Craft, is my early favorite thus far out of Wave IX. Not quite a full blown turreted ship, the Shadow Caster comes with an auxiliary arc that can be rotated to any given quadrant of the ship, most variants hand out multiple status effects, and depending on how you build it, the ship can do a great job of supporting the rest of your list, or be surprisingly defensive and hard to damage.
Most of the Shadow Caster’s tricks rotate (pun mildly intended) around having targets within a certain range and inside the mobile arc. Sabine gets a free Focus result on defense in that arc. Asajj can give a Stress Token a ship in that arc. And Ketsu can assign a Tractor Beam token inside that arc. Then the Shadow Caster title allows you to assign a Tractor Beam token if you land a hit on an enemy inside that arc. It takes an action to turn your mobile arc, but the Gyroscopic Targeting modification will take care of that for you each turn provided you move fast, which this ship seems to specialize in doing. With straight maneuvers, banks, and hard turns all being green at speed 3, and a 5 straight available with a large base, this ship is built for high velocity combat.
My favorite pilot by far for the ship is Asajj Ventress. So far, I’ve been kitting her out with Push The Limit (A-Wing / Imperial Aces), Gyroscopic Targeting, Latts Razi, Black Market Slicer Tools, and the Shadow Caster title.
In this configuration, Asajj is very tough to harm in a late game duel. Each turn she can stack up a Focus and Evade, assign a stress to a ship that will be attacking her, roll 2 dice on defense, and if that’s still not enough Latts can pop that stress back off for an extra evade. There’s plenty of attacks out there that can get a damage or two through that kind of defense, but if you’ve left Asajj alone until the end-game and she still has all 10 health, you’re going to have a hard time bringing her down.
So that’s the highlights of wave IX, folks, or at least as I see them. All of these ships, the Special Forces TIE, ARC-170, Protectorate Starfighter, and Shadow Caster should now be available at your FLGS, run out and pick ’em up today. And if you’ve got a novel combo I didn’t mention, or think I overlooked something major here, feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on Facebook.
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 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.
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.
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…”
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™.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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!