Dear General

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, GozantiStarviper), Assault Missiles (Slave 1TIE BomberFalconZ-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.

But seriously, Conner Nets (K-Wing, Ghost) and Cluster Mines (K-Wing, Imperial VeteransTIE Punisher) are really only attached to one chassis. While Burnout SLAM (Heroes of the Resistance) with Experimental Interface (Outrider) on Emon Azzameen (Most Wanted) can do a fun one-time trick, the primary ships that can hurt you with mines are K-Wings with Advanced SLAM (K-Wing).

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.

— The Tabletop General