Tag Archives: Game Mechanics

Hidden information, bluffs, and dirty lies

What’s the harm in a little lie?

Earlier this week, I was playing a game against one of the up & coming members of our local X-Wing Miniatures group. He has a really cynical and self-deprecating sense of humor that can cause players to underestimate him at times, but I’ve observed enough of his progress over the past year or so to know better and not take that bait. I had specifically sought him out for a game to test my list against the triple K-Wing build (see below) that he had grown fond of, and which had been used just days before by another player to win the 49 person Store Championship event at my home store. His first two turns were simple; all 3 K-Wings took slow forward movements, maintaining a tight formation and waiting for me to come to him. In planning for the third turn, he turned his maneuver dials  over and over, and took the time to sarcastically say aloud, “This is the part where I pretend I’m doing something different”. And then, of course, he did something different, laying on the throttle and surging ahead with all of his ships.

A white lie, a bluff, or playful banter, you decide what to call it. I normally would have thought nothing of it. But on this day, it struck a chord with me, because I had recently read a rant about a very similar situation. In the story, while practicing for an X-Wing Store Championship, a player was shocked and angered by his friend outright lying about his maneuver for the turn. Player A, our angry protagonist, had moved one of his ships, and Player B said something along the lines of “You played it right. I’m glad I decided not to take [X maneuver], because that right there would have blocked me. and probably killed me.” Player A acted on this information, and took a Boost or a Barrel Roll to re-position his ship, and Player B proceeded to turn over his dial to reveal that exact maneuver, the final position of which was now free and clear of enemy ships. Player A was mad enough about this blatant lie to take his campaign to the internet and call for such underhanded tactics to be banned from the game entirely, and I was surprised to have seen that the suggestion garnered no small amount of support from others.

All three of the Fantasy Flight Games lines that I actively play right now (X-Wing, Armada, and Imperial Assault) rely on hidden information to some degree, and all three handle it differently. In X-Wing, each ship plots its’ maneuver in secrecy, and there are a limited number of game effects that allow you to influence, modify, or spy on this information. Armada lays out all its’ cards on the table (literally), but each ship secretly plans a series of commands to execute over the course of the game, and there’s certainly some bluffing and strategy added by these to positioning and the order of ship activation, which is left up to each player to decide each turn. Imperial Assault shares the mechanic of freeform unit activation order, and adds in a customizable deck of Command cards that can hold nasty surprises for your opponent – extra attacks, sturdier than expected defenses, rapid repositioning of units, or even hidden explosive traps.

This hidden information is what makes the game exciting. Dice are always going to be random, builds are a combination of a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors and an optimization problem. But tactics and secret plans are what truly make these games fun. With the right surprise move, you can clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. But all the power of your hidden information can be ruined by a bad poker face.

A sigh of relief at an enemy’s move in X-Wing can cause them to move right into your way with a Barrel Roll. Measuring carefully to ensure your Armada fighter squadrons are right on the edge of activation range for a Squadron command next turn can allow your opponent to react to that threat by moving his own squadrons out of reach, or into a covering position for a capital ship. Reaching for your hand of Command cards can make an opponent rethink his order of actions in Imperial Assault in order to minimize the impact of a Parting Blow or Overcharged Weapons.

Overcharged_Weapons                       Parting-blow

In Imperial Assault, it seems that it is rare for both players to have “beginning of round” effects to play, but it is possible for both players to do so, and the player with initiative that round has to go first.  Take Initiative is a very common card to see in Command decks, and it has been explained to me that if the player with initiative uses a copy of that card, it blocks the opponent from doing so. But otherwise, there’s no reason to want to do it – not only does it prevent you from using it on a future turn to actually steal the initiative token, it forces you to leave one of your deployment groups out of action for the round. I make sure to ask frequently if my opponent has any effects to play before I play mine (as per the normal sequence of the turn), hoping that they might interpret that as that I have something to play after their window has closed, and getting them to waste the card if they have it. But more importantly, I want to make sure that when I do have it, they don’t (correctly) assume that I have the card when I ask if they have any effects to play first.

Take-Initiative

Giving mixed signals regarding game actions impact on your future plans helps cover up for when your reactions are legitimate. Pausing as though considering an interrupt ability in a card game can give away that you have it available, but can just as easily be a bluff to make the opponent cautious. Perhaps you won’t fool your opponent about what you are doing right then at that moment, but you might be able to truly make it a surprise when you do act upon the opportunity in question.

“Table talk”, mind games, bluffing, and braggadocio are to be expected in a competitive environment. Plastic stormtroopers and starships are boring; it’s the mind across the table that I’m there to compete against. And if you expect me, or anyone else, to not try to get in your head a little bit, knock you off balance, and make you second guess your actions in game, you’re silly. Lie to me, and I’ll lie to you. Then we’ll let the dice figure out who told the better lies.

— Sidebar —

img_20160206_220058380.jpg
Not affiliated with any acronym based groups.

The following is the K-Wing build I was referencing, made popular via a relatively good showing at this past year’s X-Wing World Championship. Capable of stressing a ship into oblivion, pouring out 6 TLT shots per turn, and containing a steady late game threat in Miranda, this build is currently the bane of my existence. It’s not fun to play against and it’s not particularly fun to play with, but in the right player’s hands it’s deadly. And if all goes well, I’ll end up playing against it tomorrow. Yay!

Miranda Doni – 29 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
C-3PO – 3 (CR-90)

Warden Squadron Pilot – 23 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)

Warden Squadron Pilot – 23 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)

– The Tabletop General

Simultaneous Attack; X-Wing rules discussion.

One of the first rules that players learn in Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures is how Pilot Skill affects the order of moving and firing; ships are activated in order lowest to highest when moving, highest to lowest when firing. Simultaneous Attack is almost always brought up immediately following that explanation because you have to know how to resolve ties. The player with initiative does everything first, but thanks to Simultaneous Attack, ships that are shot down by pilots of the same skill level get to perform their attack if they haven’t already. That’s not the exact definition of the rule, but it covers what a novice player needs to know at that moment; if your PS 5 guy shoots down my PS 5 guy, I still shoot, but if your PS 6 ship takes me out, my finger wasn’t on the trigger yet. The visual that the novice comes away with is that everybody at a given pilot skill shoots simultaneously, we just can’t roll all those dice at the same time and make any sense of it all, so we resolve one at a time.

However as the game grows and gets more complicated, and we start combining more upgrades and abilities, the intricacies of the core rules start meaning a lot more, and our understanding of the rules changes, or we simply apply them incorrectly because that’s how we thought they worked. In a discussion regarding whether or not a new FAQ was needed after the release of the Wave 7 ships (the K-Wing, the TIE Punisher, the Hound’s Tooth, and the Kihraxz Fighter), I posited that there were certainly rules that could use clarification.

miranda-doni                     twin-laser-turret

Consider Miranda Doni, the “Ace” of the K-Wing pilots, carrying a Twin Laser Turret. If you fire a Twin Laser Turret, and deal a damage to kill your target with the first shot, does the second shot still happen? It seems pointless to worry about at first, or when looking at Twin Laser Turret by itself, but Miranda Doni could potentially sacrifice a die on the second shot and regenerate a shield, not caring whether or not the attack actually dealt damage. Does she get that opportunity? I believe the answer is “yes”, always, but it could be argued that the second shot cannot be performed because the target is destroyed by the first shot. To convolute matters further, it then matters whether or not the target is the same pilot skill, and which player has initiative.

This turned into an interesting discussion, and the quotes below arose from other players in the conversation.

“I think the rule is that technically that shot will happen because the ship isn’t removed until after all pilots at that skill level have completed their turn, BUT can you fire at ships with no [Hull Points] left? I’m not aware of any rules on that, so I’d be interested in any references to that.”

“The short answer is: yes. If you have eight ships firing at [Pilot Skill] 1, but the first one deals enough damage to the only legal target to destroy it, the other seven ship may continue to fire at that ship.”

The above are both correct and incorrect to an extent. All eight of those Pilot Skill 1 ships could fire at the target even if the first shot dealt enough damage to kill the target, but only if the Simultaneous Fire rule has triggered. For reference’s sake, I’ve copied the following text from page 16 of the X-Wing rulebook (emphasis is written in): 

Destroying Ships
When the number of Damage cards dealt to a ship is equal to or greater than its hull value, the ship is immediately destroyed (faceup and facedown cards count toward this total). Immediately remove the destroyed ship from the play area, discard all of its Damage cards to a faceup discard pile next to the Damage deck, and return all of its tokens to their respective supplies.

Exception: See “Simultaneous Attack Rule.”
Note: Because ships are destroyed immediately after receiving Damage cards, ships with low pilot skill values may be destroyed before having an opportunity to attack.

Simultaneous Attack Rule: Although ships perform their attacks one at a time, ships with a pilot skill value equal to the active ship’s pilot skill value have the opportunity to attack before being destroyed. If such a ship would be destroyed, it simply retains its Damage cards without being removed from the play area. It may perform an attack as normal during the Combat phase, although any faceup Damage cards just dealt to it may affect this attack. After this ship has had its opportunity to attack this round, it is immediately destroyed and removed from the play area.

So, as written, you can fire at a ship with zero hit points if Simultaneous Fire has triggered, because it’s still on the field until the end of that initiative step, and nothing about the target selection rules checks the target’s health. This is because every Critical Hit has a chance to a hinder your opponent’s retaliation.

Even with a Twin Laser Turret that cannot inflict Critical Hits, some players have discussed running Miranda Doni with a Gunner, which could result in the following sequence:

Fire with Twin Laser Turret shot #1, hit, kill with one damage.

Fire with Twin Laser Turret shot #2, regenerate shield, miss.
Gunner triggers, primary attack hits, inflicting a critical hit.

This third attack is why it’s crucial that Simultaneous Attack allows Doni to continue to fire at the enemy even after inflicting a deathblow with the first shot. The extra point(s) of damage normally wouldn’t matter, but critical hits do. A Weapon Malfunction, Munitions Failure, Injured Pilot, or Blinded Pilot could potentially reduce the impact of return fire.

But stepping back a second, our quoted discussion example from above doesn’t work. Not all eight of those Pilot Skill 1 ships are guaranteed to be able to fire, even if the target is also PS 1. As written, Simultaneous Attack only triggers if the target’s pilot skill matches the attacker’s pilot skill AND the defender has not yet had an opportunity to fire this turn. If your opponent has initiative and shoots first, then Simultaneous Fire will never trigger when you are the attacker.

If the destroyed ship has fired already, it is removed from play immediately. And if it has not fired already, and Simultaneous Attack goes into effect then it is removed immediately after it does shoot, not at the end of the initiative step.

Consider the following game scenarios for examples of why these distinction matters. 

Player 1 (has initiative)
Whisper – 32 (TIE Phantom)
Advanced Cloaking Device – 4 (TIE Phantom)
Sensor Jammer – 4 (Lambda Shuttle)
Veteran Instincts -1 (Slave 1 /  Millennium Falcon)
Recon Specialist – 3 (HWK-290 / TIE Phantom)

Soontir Fel – 27 (TIE Interceptor)
Royal Guard TIE – 0 (Imperial Aces)
Push the Limit – 3 (A-Wing /  Imperial Aces)
Autothrusters – 2 (Starviper)
Stealth Device – 3 (M3-A / Slave 1)

vs.

Player 2
Patrol Leader – 40 (VT-49 Decimator)
Rebel Captive* – 3 (Lambda Shuttle)

Kath Scarlet – 38 (Slave 1)
Veteran Instincts -1 (Slave 1 /  Millennium Falcon)
Rebel Captive* – 3 (Lambda Shuttle)

*For the purposes of the first example, assume Rebel Captive is non-unique. It’s just easier to highlight the issue that way.

Now, let’s say we’re near the very end of this game, and all four ships are down to one or two hull points remaining. Soontir Fel and Whisper both have shots available on the Patrol Leader, neither can fire on Kath.

Both Whisper and Soontir are stranded in the firing arc of the Firespray, and cannot maneuver out of it or manage to get a shot off. Neither ship is stressed, but both skipped the action phase. We’ll say that Soontir was planning to Barrel Roll out of Whisper’s way, but clipped an asteroid during movement, causing the Phantom to collide with him and losing both sets of actions in the process.

The semi-obvious solution is for Fel to fire first and take the Stress from Rebel Captive, and thus gain a Focus. But if Fel’s shot kills the target, Simultaneous Attack does not apply, and it is removed immediately. Whisper is now left uncloaked and extremely vulnerable to Kath’s attack.

Whisper could shoot first, and would most likely get a Focus for hitting the target, but would be unable to Cloak because of the Stress assigned by Rebel Captive. And Soontir would be left defenseless without having found a way to get that Stress token.

However, had Player 2’s ships been in the opposite positions and the target had been Kath, Simultaneous Attack DOES take effect. The Firespray would be able to shoot too, but not until after Fel gets his Focus, and Whisper gets to fire, most likely hit to get a Focus and Cloak after the attack regardless of the results of Fel’s attacks.

Now flip the Initiative around, because Soontir wanting to move last was less important to Player 1 than Whisper shooting first. Kath Scarlet fires first, and we’ll say she completely misses. Because Player 2 has already had the opportunity to attack with the Firespray, Simultaneous Attack does not go into effect if Kath is killed, even within the same Pilot Skill. So in that case, if Soontir scores the kill, Player 2’s ship is removed immediately, and Whisper is again hung out to dry with no tokens to defend against the Patrol Leader’s shot.

Next example:

Player 1 
Esege Tuketu – 28 (K-Wing)
Chewbacca – 4 (Millennium Falcon)
Twin Laser Turret – 4 (K-Wing)
Seismic Charges – 2 (TIE Bomber / IG-2000 / Slave 1)

Garven Dreiss – 26 (GR-75)
R5-P9 – 3 (GR-75)

Kyle Katarn – 21 (HWK-290)
Blaster Turret – 4 (HWK-290)
Moldy Crow – 1 (HWK-290)
Recon Specialist – 3 (HWK-290 / TIE Phantom)

vs.

Player 2
Zertik Strom – 26 (Imperial Raider)
TIE x1 – 0 (Imperial Raider)
Advanced Targeting Computer – 1* (Imperial Raider)
Draw Their Fire – 1 (Millennium Falcon)

Howlrunner – 18 (TIE Fighter)
Stealth Device – 3 (M3-A / Slave 1)
Push the Limit – 3 (A-Wing /  Imperial Aces)

Academy Pilot – 12 (TIE Fighter / Starter Set)

Academy Pilot – 12 (TIE Fighter / Starter Set)

Academy Pilot – 12 (TIE Fighter / Starter Set)

Academy Pilot – 12 (TIE Fighter / Starter Set)

Zertik-strom                   Draw_Their_Fire

Let’s say Player 2 has initiative. We’re a couple turns in, and Zertik Strom is almost dead. In fact, right after Zertik fires, Tuketu drops him with an immediate retaliatory shot. Strom is removed from the board immediately, because Simultaneous Fire doesn’t apply here. His abilities stop applying, and Howlrunner gets shot by Garven and Kyle, who manage to sneak through one Critical Hit each, and Garven has an additional hit on top of that! Howlrunner drops like a rock.

Now turn the initiative around, and say that Player 1 has it. All the attacks are directed at the exact same targets. When Zertik Strom gets shot down by Tuketu, because he hasn’t fired yet, Zertik remains on the board thanks to Simultaneous Fire. Now Garven and Kyle take their shots at Howlrunner, but Strom is still there, and his Pilot Ability causes enemies at Range 1 to lose their range bonus when attacking, so Garven loses an attack die and each of the attacks results in one just one uncanceled Critical Hit. But the doomed TIE Advanced causes problems for the Rebels again; it has Draw Their Fire and is still on the table, so both of those Critical Hits are pulled off of Howlrunner, who now escapes unscathed! Zertik makes his attack now, and only then is he removed from the field.

One more (slightly silly example):

Player 1
Biggs Darklighter – 25 (Starter Set)
Han Solo – 46 (Millennium Falcon)

vs.

Player 2
Mandalorian Mercenary – 35 (Most Wanted)
Latts Razzi – 33 (Hound’s Tooth)
Guri – 30 (Starviper)
Palob Godalhi – 20 (Most Wanted)
Kaa’to Leeachos – 15 (Most Wanted)
Drea Renthal – 22 (Most Wanted)
Black Sun Ace – 23 (Kihraxz Fighter)
Tansarii Point Veteran – 17 (M3-A)

Trivia question: What do all of Player 2’s ships have in common?

Biggs-darklighter

Answer: Assuming that none of them have taken Veteran Instincts, they’re all Pilot Skill 5, the same as Biggs.

And that means that Player 1, obviously having an initiative bid when outnumbered 195 – 71, should give initiative to Player 2. It doesn’t matter if there’s 50,000 additional Mandalorian Mercenaries on the field, if they have Biggs in arc and range, so long as Han stays close enough to his sacrificial lamb, they can’t shoot Han if Biggs was alive as Pilot Skill 5 shots began ringing out; Since Biggs hasn’t had an opportunity to shoot yet, he remains on the field and his ability still applies. Quite the martyr, no?

So is there something you should do differently when designing your lists based on understanding exactly how the Simultaneous Fire rule really works? Probably not.  Has misunderstanding it hurt you badly in any previous games? The chances are slim. But not knowing how the rule works can possibly force players into a bad position that could be avoided if you know the rules.

Lets look back to our first example with Whisper and Soontir Fel. If this is a timed match, and time has almost expired, there’s absolutely a right decision to make. Knowing that you might not be able to protect both ships with tokens, protect Whisper by firing with the Phantom first, cloaking, and hopefully scoring a Focus token too. At 44 points, keeping Whisper alive can score you a modified win over the 43 or 42 points invested in Player 2’s remaining ship, whereas Soontir’s 35 would leave you with a loss.

Going back to how this whole thing got started, can Miranda Doni regenerate a shield via Twin Laser Turret’s second attack against a dead target when Simultaneous Fire applies? Absolutely. Does it work if Simultaneous Fire doesn’t apply? Only a FAQ update can say for sure.

If you’re still with me, thanks for sticking around, because let’s be honest… that is way too much to think about on the subject of Simultaneous Fire.

And while we’re talking about “sticking around”, thanks for sticking around for a year with the Tabletop General. I hope you’ve learned a little from me, I know I’ve learned a lot in the process of writing it all down.

– The Tabletop General

Armada FAQ changes

Like a daring raid on the Death Star II’s shield generators, we never saw this one coming. Fantasy Flight has quietly released a FAQ update for Star Wars: Armada, and it carries with it some major changes to the rules, or at least how they have been interpreted until now.

The Hyperspace Assault scenario has been clarified so that any fighters that cannot deploy legally are destroyed, but this won’t be an issue moving forward because you won’t see fleets without more than one ship at the 300 point level once wave one releases (rumored to be happening as early as today).

Additionally, the Most Wanted scenario has been clarified to only grant bonus attack dice to ships. It was a big eye-opener for us at our first tournament when someone (correctly) claimed the bonus dice for their X-Wings, making this a much more brutal scenario than intended.

The biggest change in my eye is to addition of attack dice. Specifically, abilities that add dice to the pool can be triggered regardless of range restrictions. That means that if an effect or ability (like the Opening Salvo objective card, or the Dominator title) can add black or blue dice to the pool, they are applied at medium or even at long range. However, there is a caveat: the ship must have dice available to it at that range originally, so a CR90 B still cannot attack at long range, even if a game effect could add red dice to its’ pool.

Attacks triggering from the Counter keyword receive bonuses as normal. That means that your TIE Interceptors are definitely going to want Howlrunner around.

And speaking of Fighter Squadrons, your point allowance is based off of the total allowed, not the total spent. So even if you’re only spending 290 points in a 300 point game, 100 out of your 290 spent can still be allocated to fighter squadrons.

The full FAQ document is available here. Personally, I think these are all changes and clarifications that needed to happen. But let’s hope these kinds of changes come with a bit more pomp and circumstance (read: announcement) going forward. And stay tuned, perhaps we’ll have some new ships to play with soon!

– The Tabletop General

Armada Incoming!

The latest Star Wars game from Fantasy Flight Games, Star Wars: Armada is officially set to release next week. I’ve been chomping at the bit to get my hands on this one. The only reason why I haven’t posted much about it is that Fantasy Flight tends to do a really good job of previewing their own content, revealing exactly what components from a given ship that they intend to reveal, and showing in detail how those components work within the game. But today’s release announcement also provided a link to the Learn To Play Armada PDF as well as the Armada Rules Reference PDF. Now, for the first time since Armada’s announcement, more information was released than was reviewed, and there’s finally a place for me to add my own observations and notes about things that stand out to me.

Here’s some of the things I’ve found that seem noteworthy:

Setup
In a standard game with a 6’x3′ play area, ships and obstacles cannot be placed within 1′ of the short board edges. That makes me wonder if we will see tactics involving use of the board edges for a clear maneuvering lanes.  Perhaps the scenarios will force players into the center more often than not.

All ships have their initial speed set as they are deployed, before any further ships are deployed. So the first ship on the table is going in 100% blind.

Squadrons are deployed in pairs, and do NOT have to be in the deployment zone, but they do have to be close (range 1-2) to a capital ship. This gives you a little bit of flexibility, and means that some of the ambush scenarios may involve squadrons being really close to the enemy from the start of the game!

Measuring
The range ruler can be used to premeasure at any time. The navigation tool can also be used freely during the “Determine Course” step, but inserting the tool into the guides on your ship locks in your decision.

Capital ships will maneuver appropriately. It’s kind of obvious from looking at the maneuver template, but it’s explicitly stated that nothing can allow you to yaw (click the maneuver template) more than two points away from straight at any single point. Only fighters will be able to take tight turns and zip around the battlefield.

Although none exist yet, the base dimensions are already specified in the rules for large ships (with Victory Star Destroyers being Medium ships, for scale reference). That tells me that they’re probably coming sooner than later.

Scoring
The “Second Player” wins in the case of a tie score at the end of a 6 round standard game. And scoring is based off of objectives achieved and ships destroyed, points remaining does not matter. This may possibly a rare occurrence, but it means that a player that chooses to be “Second Player” with an initiative bid can force the opponent to come to them.

Tactics
If your ship’s chosen maneuver causes a collision with another ship, the speed of that ship is temporarily reduced by 1 to a minimum of 0 until it doesn’t overlap. Then both the ramming ship and the final ship overlapped receive one damage. Combine that with the fact that you can’t spend defense tokens when your speed is 0, and I see a potential way for swarms of cheap ships like the CR90 Corellian Corvette to overwhelm a juggernaut like a Victory Star Destroyer, but it wouldn’t work as well on an Assault Frigate or a Gladiator Star Destroyer. (Pending probable FAQ clarification on whether you check the ship’s speed dial or the reduced value).

Line of sight is required for squadrons to be engaged. Which means if there’s an asteroid or a ship between your TIE Interceptors and my Y-Wings, I’m free to move them away, regardless of range. Fighters can ignore obstacles for movement purposes, and obstructed shots remove one attack die, which in some cases makes those fighters immune to capitol ship attacks (looks like all capital ships except the Nebulon B Frigate in the initial launch only has one anti-squadron die) This leads me to believe that squadrons hiding out among obstacles and debris fields will be a valid tactic for fighter builds, especially in scenarios that involve controlling a particular portion of the playing field.

Hopefully we’ll be able to put some of these thoughts into action on the table soon! I’m ready to play! (insert obligatory “pew-pew-pew” noises here!)

– The Tabletop General

Competitive vs. Fair

Just about everyone has played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” (RPS) before, right? If nothing else, it’s a great way to decide with your buddy which one of you is going to have to step away from the gaming table to go order a pizza (or which one of you will be paying for it). The rules of the game are simple: players both simultaneously reveal and compare hand signals for rock (defeats scissors),  scissors (defeats paper), or paper (defeats rock). Believe it or not, there are some groups that play RPS competitively, a bit far-fetched for me, but rock on for having the competitive spirit.

Now I’m going take a bit of a trip down memory lane… Back in primary school, I remember quite clearly playing RPS as a daily ritual at the lunch table, and it never got old. Why? Because we didn’t stick to Rock, Paper, or Scissors as our options. We had hand signals for a Tree, which Scissors couldn’t cut and would crack a Rock in half if it fell on it. We had a Chainsaw (that one was a complicated hand sign). that could cut down that tree, and worked pretty well on most other things.  We had Dynamite, that would blow up almost anything it faced (a decidedly overpowered ability), but would have its’ fuse cut by Scissors. We had Fire, which would burn a Tree or Paper, and make Dynamite blow up (which we determined made Fire win). Half the fun was figuring out how to contort your hand into something that looked like your weapon of choice, and then debating about how it interacted with whatever your opponent came up with for their selection.

Apparently, adding more hand signs is a real thing, causing such combinations as “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock”. This change recreates a conundrum from my childhood games. Spock loses to Paper, but defeats Rock and Scissors, so the first player to introduce Spock has a 2:3 win chance, as opposed to the 1:3 chance from games with 3 choices. Adding in the Lizard makes things fair again, and levels the playing field. But what if you couldn’t select the Lizard or Spock, only your opponent could? Believe it or not, it’s pretty common to run across those sorts of situations. In particular, “Free-to-play” video games tend to do this a lot; players with free accounts playing against one another is a balanced fight, and it’s (usually) a technical possibility for a free player to win against a player who is paying money in to the game, but the paying player usually has major advantages in abilities, equipment, or power level.

Today we’re seeing this effect in tabletop miniature gaming. Games such as Warhammer: 40,000 make it a straight-up cash grab, as the player who can buy up the newest army released and paint it up and get it on the table quickly tend to have an advantage over all other armies until the next release, at which point the newer release tends to once again have an advantage. This is known as “power creep”, or “codex creep” specifically in reference to Warhammer.

But that’s not the only place that I’m seeing it. Star Trek: Attack Wing has created a permanent disparity between highly competitive players (or those with the money for eBay), and the more casual crew with their Organized Play prize ships and blind booster ships. These ships are generally (but not always) alternate versions of other ships that have already been released at retail or will be available in the future, but the ship abilities and included upgrade cards are different from the retail version and aren’t available anywhere else.

This adds prestige to competing in and winning events, but some of these abilities are really powerful. For example, the P.W.B. Aj’Rmr, available only to winners of OP #3 of the Dominion War, is the same model and base stats as the I.R.W. Khazara out of the starter set for Attack Wing, but has drastically better action economy towards the end of the game, essentially getting a free target lock out of each attack once the ship has taken some damage. The Aj’Rmr also includes some great upgrades like Romulan Pilot, a 2 point Crew Upgrade that can be discarded for a free Scan token and a free green maneuver on top of your normal actions for the turn. I would LOVE to have the Aj’Rmr in my Attack Wing collection, but I wasn’t playing at the time this was available, and won’t be buying one off of EBay.

While neat and occasionally powerful, none of the ships with limited availability really break the game or significantly alter how it is played. Do I think it’s fair? Not at all. But it’s an accepted and semi-agreed upon part of the rules for Attack Wing. I also don’t think Attack Wing is successful because of a strong ruleset or balanced competitive play. I’ve come to expect and accept this slight imbalance from Wizkids with Attack Wing.

Fantasy Flight Games, on the other hand, is a group that I have come expect much better meta-game management from, and they’ve created a no-win situation for players and tournament organizers. This year at the GenCon gaming convention, Fantasy Flight Games sold convention attendees the next two months of releases for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, and it’s been a headache for me as a TO.

The Rebel Aces expansion wasn’t such a huge deal, as it was releasing to the public soon and the ships themselves are alternate paint schemes of existing ships, so they could be used fairly without introducing the new cards in the expansion. The upgrade cards and new pilots would cause a competitive imbalance between players who did and did not have access to them: A-Wings got a huge boost to their ordnance upgrade slot out of the Proton Rocket and Chardaan Refit cards. Jake Farrell moves like no other A-Wing pilot. The B-Wing-E/2 title gave B-Wings access to upgrades that had previously been closed to them. Keyan Farlander’s unique ability turns the B-Wing into a stress-eating machine gun. This expansion made significant changes to how these ships worked, and some of the upgrades, like those Proton Rockets, could be shared with other ships as well.

The bigger deal was the VT-49 Decimator and the YT-2400 Outrider, which wouldn’t release to the public for two months after their limited sale at GenCon. As of the writing of this article, they still haven’t been released, and won’t until after the next X-Wing tournament to be held at my home venue, the grand prize for which will be a copy of either ship upon its’ release. And for the third event in a row, I’m having to defend my position that players who purchased these ships at GenCon shouldn’t be able to use them.

At first, the argument was based upon a loophole in the tournament rules for X-Wing which states that all expansions would be considered tournament legal at events held in the U.S. once the ships were available for sale, and players argued that their sale at GenCon should qualify these conditions. I stuck to my guns on this one, because not everyone could have traveled to Indianapolis to buy them. This argument was upheld by the fact that these ships were not allowed in the 2014 World Finals tournament for X-Wing earlier this month.

Now, I’ve been reminded by a player that we’re trying to encourage more competitive play in our area, and these ships will be a part of the next major round of tournaments, the 2015 Store Championship series kicking off in January. “Shouldn’t we get as much practice against these as possible?”, goes the argument of the day. Sorry, but I don’t buy that one either. This is a competitive event, which should have a level and fair playing field. I’ve played in over a dozen casual X-Wing gaming sessions since GenCon, and I’ve yet to see either of the release wave 5 ships on the table. Anyone looking to use them in tournament play against people who haven’t had an opportunity to see these ships in action, let alone be able to buy their own copies, is looking for an unfair advantage in that event, and it saddens me that this is argument is made while flying the banner of being more “competitive”.

We’ve got 2-5 months in front of us before the 2015 X-Wing Store Championships, depending on the scheduling of the individual venues. There is plenty of time to figure out how to use and fight against these two ships.

If you’re worried about something upsetting the tournament scene, look at the Scum and Villainy faction’s upcoming release first, which will bring entirely new play styles to the game, and will release even closer to the start of the Store Championship tournaments. One more event and roughly one week’s further delay until the retail release of the VT-49 and the YT-2400 isn’t going to make any significant difference. My answer to these players wanting to use these ships early in tournament play is “no”, it will always be “no”, and I doubt that I would find myself playing in competitive events where the answer was “yes”.

I want to match wits with my opponents, not show off how much I can afford to spend time and money to gain an advantage. I want to compete and I want to win, but not as bad as I want a fair fight. I want to prove myself against my opponent, and I’m proving my wits, not my wallet.

Discuss.

– The Tabletop General

X-Wing Escalation Furball

If you get more than four players in a room for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, the laws of physics mandate that a “Furball” will be suggested by at least one of those players. The Wikipedia definition of a Furball is “a large dog fight between groups of fighter aircraft”. More specifically, in X-Wing a Furball is considered a Free-For-All format, in which three or more players each field a force which is much smaller than used in standard games (30-35 points as opposed to the standard 100) and battle it out amongst themselves to be the last pilot standing. Another nearby venue whose regular X-Wing night conflicts with my schedule tends to run a Furball match about every other week, so players are familiar with it and like it as a change of pace, but I’ve not played in many.

With that being said, this week my Tuesday night group decided they wanted to change things up do something other than yet another round of 100 point 1-on-1 games. We’ve got an RPG-style campaign in the works, but the rules aren’t finished, so we couldn’t really kick that off. As busy as I’ve been lately, I didn’t have it in me to play a long and relatively slow Epic format game; I can only bring out the big guns on the CR-90 Blockade Runner so often. But not wanting to disappoint the group I dug out an idea that had been bubbling in the back of my mind for a few weeks; an Escalation Furball. I didn’t have any fully defined rules for it yet, but the group jumped all over it, so we cooked something up really quick, and the rules we used for a trial run are described below:

All players began the match with 15 points to spend on a single ship. Players were randomly assigned an initiative order in case of matching pilot skill which did not change through the course of the event. Players were also randomly assigned a board edge along which they deployed their ship as per normal rules. Assignment of a board edge was done using a die roll, which also included a wildcard value that allowed the player to chose any board edge from which they would deploy.

The game turn sequence was handled as normal, and every pilot was out for themselves to score as many kills as possible. No credit was given for damage, only for kills, so in many cases having a high initiative value was a bad thing, as subsequent pilots could steal your kills after your target was been softened up. The points spent on each ship killed were added to the cumulative score of the player scoring the kill.

But instead of being out of the match as per normal Furball rules, pilots who were shot down were given an additional 5 points above their previous allowance in order to create a new ship and re-enter the fight from a new random board edge. Not only did this keep the chaos churning, but it meant that players who were picked on early got something with more teeth to it to come back for revenge. The game continued until the end of the round after one player had scored a cumulative total of at least 100 points of kills, with the highest total score winning the game.

New players were allowed to join in at any time, and would receive the same amount of points for their ship as the points allowed to the majority of the group at that time. They would be coming from behind, with a starting score of zero, but would still be able to join in on the fun.

To keep players from rushing up to a higher point ship, suicides were discouraged (if it could be argued as intentional, flying off the board would disqualify a player), but being sent off the board or into an asteroid that would kill the ship by an ion cannon shot would earn a kill for the player who caused the ionization effect.

Escalation Furball
About 5 turns in, the first wave pilots taken out are starting to re-enter the field with heavier armaments. The Y-Wing just entering the center map is an un-welcomed surprise for the TIE Fighter next to it. I think the damage cards on the left are from where my TIE Bomber was swarmed in a hurry for an easy 20 point score.

The event itself was pure chaos. With 13 players, we used 3 maps side by side, 3 sets of asteroid tokens, two damage decks that were cycled back in as ships were destroyed, and there were dice flying everywhere. To keep deployment in check, I randomly assigned both a map and an edge for entry points. The 3-map format meant that not as many players entered from the center map, which essentially split the melee in half, and players entering from the middle went to one extreme or the other to pick which fight they would join. This split helped tremendously with keeping the game moving, as two or more players could move and shoot simultaneously, not being able to affect each other or really caring as to what the other did so far away from one another. After about 10 turns, players started handling things for themselves, only consulting me and my scribbled notes when they needed to know which of two ships with the same skill had initiative over each other.

As opposed to the “last pilot standing” Furball format which can lead to some cat-and-mouse type games, Furball Escalation turned into a race to the finish. Of the 13 players in this trial run, I think that 11 of the 13 managed to score at least one kill. The final score included at least 4 players at or above 80 points, all one more kill (of anything but a starter ship) away from victory. I had a horrendous start myself, as my Black Squadron TIE Fighter (Veteran Instincts, PS 6 in the opening 15 point bracket) and Scimitar Squadron TIE Bomber (2x Flechette Torpedoes, just because I could) were both shot down quickly, but Turr Phenir and his TIE Interceptor didn’t need any upgrades to quickly chew through a HWK-290, a Lambda Shuttle, and another TIE Interceptor in rapid succession, bringing me screaming up from the back half of the pack to pull off a last-second win.

I’ll be making some tweaks to the system before running it again, but the core idea seems solid. Some of the proposed modifications were:

  • Prohibiting a given player from using the same ship class twice.
  • Only allowing a certain number of lives per player.
  • Adding bonuses for surviving a certain number of turns in a ship.
  • Changing the win conditions to favor players with less deaths.
  • Splitting the game into two or more tables with a “hyperspace” option.

The system isn’t perfect by any means, but it seemed like everybody had a great time with it, and we will definitely be running it again in some fashion. It gave everybody a sneak peek at how our campaign will run, because the games will likely be similar in size and mechanics, but with scenario specific rules added in. It was a welcome break from just another series of 1-on-1 matches. We had a bigger turnout for this casual weeknight gaming session than we’ve had for some recent weekend tournaments (there were others watching and commentating). This was one of the first games ever played for a couple of participants, and being able to focus on just one ship in a target rich environment was a great way for them to start. All said and done, I’d call it a successful night.

— The Tabletop General

Flight Academy – Setup and Gameplay

Most of my articles concerning Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures and Star Trek: Attack Wing make assumptions about you as the reader; usually that you understand the game or that you’ve played a similar game before, but that you might not have seen the particular facet of the game which I am writing about. In today’s article, we’re going back to the beginning, and I’ll be assuming you’ve never played either game. With any luck, the “Flight Academy” series will become a go-to guide for when somebody searches “how do you play X-Wing Miniatures” or “how do you play Star Trek: Attack Wing”.  Today I’ll be covering setup and basic turn structure.

For the purposes of this article, both game systems work in exactly the same way unless otherwise noted. There are exceptions to almost every rule I’m about to describe in both X-Wing and Attack Wing, but this guide will give you a head start and form the basis for your understanding of the game.

While there are plenty of variants out there for more players or even solitaire games, a game of Attack Wing or X-Wing begins with two players agreeing upon a size of game to play based on a number of points, with 100 points being a suggested standard size. Each player builds a fleet of ships and optional upgrades from their collection; each card has a cost printed on it that counts against the points they have available. Each ship card has an “upgrade bar” which contains a quick reference as to what upgrades that ship may have equipped to it, not all ships can carry all items. Once all of your points are spent (or at least as close to it as you care to get), you’re ready to play.

The standard play surface is a 3 foot by 3 foot area, which may have a few obstacles placed on it; asteroids or a planet token perhaps. Players set up their fleets on opposite sides of the play area, within 4 inches of their edge of the field. This 4 inch distance is known as “Range 1”, and can be easily measured with the appropriately marked section of the 12 inch range ruler included with the base set of each game. Each ship will have a skill level associated with it, either from the pilot (in X-Wing) or the captain (in Attack Wing). Ships are placed onto the field in ascending order of skill, with different rules to break ties in each system. Once all ships are placed, the standard turn cycle begins: Planning, Activation, Combat, End/Cleanup.

In the Planning phase, players secretly select the maneuvers that each of their ships will be performing this turn. This is the part where you’re trying to outguess your opponent’s moves, as all players are simultaneously making their plans, normally without any solid information as to what the opponent will do. Each ship class has a maneuver dial associated with it, which shows all possible moves for that ship. For each ship in play, the controlling player takes a movement dial of the same class and turns it to the move of their choice for the turn, and places the dial next to the ship. The moves listed on the dial all have a direction, a speed, and a color. The direction indicates the shape of the movement template that will be used by that ship, the speed indicates which of multiple sizes of that template will be used. The color of the maneuver reflects how much effort is required to perform the maneuver. White moves are considered normal, and have no effect on the ship. Red maneuvers are difficult, and put the ship into a stressed state (represented by a Stress Token or an Auxiliary Power Token) if it is not already in that state, or is considered illegal if the ship is already stressed, which is rectified by allowing the opponent to choose a legal move for that ship. Green maneuvers, on the other hand, are easy to perform and remove one of the aforementioned tokens if one or more have been previously assigned to the ship.

Once both players have completed their planning for the turn, and all ships have a dial assigned to them, the activation phase begins. Ships are activated one at a time in ascending order of skill, in the same order that they were deployed (unless some game effect has modified their skill). During the activation, the maneuver dial for that ship will be revealed, the matching template will be placed at the front of the ship’s base, and the ship will be moved to the opposite end of the template. If the maneuver removes a Stress token or Auxiliary Power Token, it does so immediately.

Each ship moves and takes its’ actions one at a time. Players cannot change their selections on the maneuver dial once this process has started without an ability that specifically allows it, so there are bound to be some collisions eventually. The lower your skill, the sooner you move, and for low skill ships, the board looks mostly like it did before the activation phase began, making collisions more and more likely as the phase progresses.

Obstacles are handled differently in each game, and can have effects such as causing damage to the ship, preventing them from firing that turn, or causing them to not be able to take actions that round. If a ship’s final position would overlap another ship, it’s movement is shortened until it no longer overlaps a ship, perhaps not moving at all, and that ship is not allowed to perform actions for that turn. On the other hand, higher skilled ships have more information about what the board will look like during the combat phase, and can use that knowledge to their advantage when selecting actions; ships that are safely out of sight can take purely offensive actions, while ships that don’t have targets available to them can attempt to take defensive actions.

Assuming that no collisions have occurred, and that the ship has no Stress/Auxiliary Power Tokens, the ship may perform one Action after moving. Each ship’s card will have an Action Bar with multiple symbols on it denoting what actions the ship may take by default. Examples include acquiring a Target Lock, taking an Evade token, or taking a Focus/Battlestations token (same effect, different name per system). Many upgrade cards have text that begin with the phrase “Action:”, which may be used for the effect that follows instead of taking an action from the Ship card. In addition to the ship’s normal action, many ships and upgrades allow Free Actions, which are additional Actions that can be performed freely at this time (before or after the standard action). The only constraint is that no Action may be performed multiple times by the same ship within a turn. The process of revealing a dial, moving, and taking action(s) is repeated with the un-activated ship with the lowest remaining skill value on the field until all ships have been activated.

Now comes the part you’ve been looking forward to; it’s time to blow some stuff up in the combat phase! Once again, skill values come in to play to determine the order in which ships are resolved, but this time it’s reversed – highest skill shoots first. There are plenty of individual instances that modify this (weapons with no defined firing arc, or with specific range restrictions), but in general each ship may fire a single shot with their primary weapon at a target inside their forward arc (marked on the ship’s base) up to 12 inches away (the length of the standard range rulers).

The attacking ship nominates a target and rolls attack dice equal to their ship’s primary attack value, plus one extra at Range 1 (within 4 inches). The results of this roll can potentially be modified by effects from upgrades or actions taken during the turn (such as re-rolling miss results by spending a Target Lock). If there are any dice displaying a [Hit] or [Crit] result after modifications, then it’s on to the target to try to dodge the shot, otherwise the attack has automatically missed.

If there were [Hit] or [Crit] results from the attack (there’s usually at least one), the target then rolls defense dice. The number rolled is equal to their ship’s agility, plus one extra at Range 3 (and another extra if the shot crosses an obstacle of some type other than another ship). The defending ship may potentially modify their dice (such as spending a Focus/Battlestations token to convert the corresponding results to [Evade] results), and each [Evade] result cancels one [Hit] or [Crit] result, starting with the [Hit] results first. If there are at least as many [Evade] results as there are [Hit] and [Crit] results, the shot has missed. If any dice are uncanceled, then the defending ship takes damage. Starting with the [Hit] results first, each point of damage removes a shield token, if any are present, or deals one card from the damage deck to the ship. [Hit] results are dealt face down, [Crit] results are turned face up and have some additional effect. In either case, each card counts as one point of damage, and when the damage allocated to a ship meets or exceeds its’ hull value, the ship is destroyed.

Once all surviving ships have had their opportunity to shoot (regardless of whether they actually got a shot off or not, it’s pretty common to have someone without a legal shot), we move to the End/Cleanup phase. I phrase it that way because it’s technically two separate steps, there are lots of effects that can be triggered “at the end” of the turn from upgrades and abilities, but it’s simply a timing opportunity, nothing distinctly happens there without those abilities. After any of those effects have been resolved, tokens which last through the end of the turn (Focus/Battlestations, Evade, Scan, etc) are removed. Target Lock Tokens, and Stress/Auxiliary Power Tokens remain in place, as these abilities have continuing effects. Cloak Tokens are a special case in Attack Wing, they must be removed if flipped to the red side, or may be removed voluntarily if the controlling player wishes to do so.

After the Cleanup phase is completed, the next turn begins with another Planning phase. The game continues through these steps until one player reaches the victory conditions for the scenario (usually wiping out the opposing force), or until time runs out for the game. If there isn’t a specific scenario in play that says otherwise, the player with the most points of ships and upgrades still active in the game wins the match.

So there you have it, the core rules for both Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures and Star Trek: Attack Wing in well under 2000 words. Keep an eye out for future editions of Flight Academy, in which I’ll be discussing things that AREN’T in the rulebook: hit probabilities, the concepts of action economy and list economy, basic list archetypes, and so on. If there’s a concept you’re curious about, or want more information about, by all means, let me know and I’ll be glad to add it into the series!

— The Tabletop General

New Tournament Format for Attack Wing

As per a blog post today from Wizkids, they are going to be bringing up official forums for Attack Wing hosted via the Wizkids Event System. More importantly, the same post stated that a new set of suggested tournament guidelines will be forthcoming, and will include the following, or something close to it:

SUGGESTED TOURNAMENT FORMAT

120 Points per fleet

• 3 Ships per fleet

50 Points maximum per ship (at the start of the game) including all upgrades, captains, admirals, and resources assigned to the ship. During game play, it might be possible that you will exceed 50 points through game effects that let you steal or add upgrades to your ship.

• If your ship’s base cost is 43 points or more you may add up to 8 Points for upgrades (Crew, Tech, Weapons, and Borg) and a captain even if those cards bring your cost over 50 points.

• If there is a Blind Booster, 30 of your available Fleet Points are reserved for use with game elements from your Blind Booster leaving 90 points to build your fleet. The game elements in your Blind Booster may not be mixed with the 90 points from the rest of your fleet.  The Blind Booster ship counts toward the 3 ships minimum.

(Full blog post: http://wizkidsgames.com/blog/2014/10/24/star-trek-attack-wing-updated-suggested-tournament-format/)

This completely invalidates certain builds, like my version of the Enterprise E. The Borg Cube in particular is nerfed into near irrelevance, having exactly one point left for a Captain or other upgrades if you make use of it’s ability to equip a Borg Ablative Hull Armor at a discount.

But what this format prevents is worth the sacrifice. Attack Wing is going to go back to being less about collecting the pieces to build one or two nigh-unkillable dreadnaughts that will yield no points to your opponent; and will once again focus on tactics. maneuvering, and outwitting your opponent on the fly. No longer can players stuff all their points onto one battleship with multiple attack-canceling abilities. Weyoun and Varel is a much less scary combo when that no longer protects 75% or more of the opponent’s fleet. If your opponent still brings that in their build, then just shoot the other ships!

As I’ve told my local group, I’m willing to play by any reasonable set of rules put forth by the venue / TO, but I think this is a positive step for the game and the community. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the community reacts.

What are your thoughts on the new format? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what your opinions are!

— The Tabletop General

On “Netdecking”

The internet… how I love and loathe thee at times. Without the internet, the world as we know it wouldn’t exist. I certainly wouldn’t have this site with which I can reach out and share my thoughts, and for that matter I wouldn’t have my day job in IT either to be able to support my gaming habits. At the same time, competitive gaming, in whatever form it might exist in an alternate universe without the internet, would be a far more interesting and varied experience. Without the ability to share builds, strategies, and gaming concepts over long distances, every gaming community’s “meta-game” would be wildly different; things that see heavy use in one area might never be used at all elsewhere. Granted, gaming in general wouldn’t be quite as common, but this is my theoretical mirror universe and I’ll make it up the way I want to!

Anyway, disregarding the idea of alternate universes, let’s do some time traveling, back to the early 2000’s. I was still in high school at this point, and I had “big fish in a small pond” status as far as gaming was concerned. My school had a rather sizable group of kids who played Magic: The Gathering, and near half of that group had either learned the game from me, or from someone that I had taught to play. I funded my way into several other gaming ventures by buying and selling cards – someone would want to get rid of a box of “useless” cards for cheap, I would buy them and make a killer deck out of it, and then I would sell that deck for a hefty profit, sometimes even back to the original owner, and the remaining cards from the transaction that weren’t in that particular deck then piled up into the boxes upon boxes that I still have to this day. Those players would usually win more often than before, but they wouldn’t have the same success with the deck because they didn’t understand the concepts behind it.

To give a specific example, consider a deck containing (amongst others) the following five cards: False Demise, Iridescent Drake, Altar of Dementia, Horseshoe Crab, and Hermetic Study.

Iridescent Drake               False Demise                Altar of Dementia

hermitic study               Horseshoe Crab

For those following along but not familiar with Magic terminology and gameplay, these cards don’t do much on their own, or if played improperly, but they’re tough combos if deployed right. Playing Hermetic Study on the Horseshoe crab allows you to spend a basic renewable resource to trigger that damage dealing ability over and over, which turns that creature into a living machine-gun capable of wiping out multiple creatures per turn and burning down your opponent’s life total quickly. As to the other three cards… False Demise is basically a one-shot resurrection for a given creature, but Iridescent Drake with False Demise on it can bring itself back from the dead an infinite number of times, allowing you to completely remove the opponent’s draw pile instantly by sacrificing the creature over and over via Altar of Dementia. This in turn causes the opponent to lose the game the next time they should draw a new card into their hand.

In order to be the most effective possible with this build, False Demise is saved to play on Iridescent Drake, and only that enchanted creature is sacrificed to Altar of Dementia; while Horseshoe Crab was the only creature to put Hermetic Study on. Sure, there could be emergency uses for cards, but in general, those two combos didn’t mix. If sacrificing the Horseshoe Crab to the Altar of Dementia twice would win the game for you, by all means go ahead and play False Demise there, and do your thing. Or if your opponent was near death but had blocking creatures you couldn’t get past, use Hermetic Study on whatever you have available to do direct damage.  Still, those uses needed to be the exception, not the rule. These two are fairly obvious as distinctly separate combos to experienced Magic players, but I wanted an example that would stand out here for discussion’s sake.

Meanwhile, back to that group of Magic players… we were an odd lot in general, an intersection of several social groups. Within that group, I had a particular nemesis that I could never turn down a chance to play and beat.This young man, who shall remain nameless, had previously been unwelcome around me for very personal reasons (you might say it was a matter of honor, in the way that teenagers look at the world), but he had a reputation as a skilled Magic player and I wasn’t one to back down from a challenge. We played on a fairly regular basis for a while, and I don’t think I would have liked him even without the past issues, but I had to admit he could give me a run for my money. Soon, however, I learned that he was giving me a run with someone else’s money, and lots of it. Coming from a wealthy family, he saw no problem with spending lots of his parents’ money on buying Magic cards on the internet, and he wasn’t even picking out which cards to buy. Instead, my rival was looking up the deck lists of recent major tournament winners, and just buying everything that they used, recreating that deck, and bringing it as his own against my home-brewed decks.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of the term “netdecking” – finding a design for what to bring to a game on the interNET, and bringing exactly that as your DECK (or fleet / army /etc). This was a new concept to me at that point, and I didn’t like it. I still don’t, really. Even though I’m happy to provide some of my own ideas, I enjoy discovering a game’s mechanics and combos almost as much as I enjoy playing them. So what he was doing felt odd to me, it felt cheap, and it felt like he was cheating.

But even facing championship caliber decks, I still won more than my fair share. The decks he would recreate were designed to win high level tournament matches, and a lot of things that I did at the time wouldn’t have made the cut at that level. As a result, he would often hit a figurative Wall of Stone playing against me, because his decks didn’t have answers to the problems I presented him with; they were designed for a different setting. To be successful with a given build, it’s important to know the goals behind the design, the idiosyncrasies of the build, and what to do when your initial plan falls apart. Going back to magic terms, is it more important to do damage to your opponent early, or not take any unnecessary damage? Should all of your spells be cast as quickly as possible, or are there specific ones that should be held back for a key point in the match? Players can learn these answers for themselves as they play the game, but the answers aren’t necessarily packaged in with the shopping list they pulled off of some random website, despite the fact that the player who originally designed that list has thought those questions out thoroughly.

Fast forward back to this week: As I mentioned in my recent battle report for a tournament at a new venue for Star Trek: Attack Wing, I lucked in to facing a player who was using a variant of a Federation build which I had prototyped in a previous article as a thought experiment for fighting the against the Borg. He made me sweat, but I came away with the victory because that design (and the general tactics that I provided with it) wasn’t specific to the scenario in play. I had based my design of that ship with a standard 100 point build in mind, in which you would face no more than two heavy hitting Borg ships: Spheres, or Tactical Cubes, or even the new Octahedrons. But in this event, with 120 points, I had three such ships and as a result I was able to overwhelm his defenses; in particular, thanks to the extra shot per turn from the 3rd Borg ship, he had to load up on more Auxiliary Power Tokens to keep powering his Ablative Hull Armor than he could clear from his ship in a turn, but he continued to take easy maneuvers with his ship in order to clear those tokens, which resulted in having him unable to shoot at my fleet for multiple turns, making the problem worse.

In theory it was the right build to beat my faction (by my very own theory, no less), and I would consider what he was doing the right move if I only had one ship remaining to fire on him. But the combined fire of my multiple ships available in this scenario made his resistance… well…  futile (I couldn’t pass up on that one). Knowing that the odds were against the Enterprise E clearing those tokens off as fast as he was taking them, I would have given up on taking small maneuvers which would clear the Aux tokens, and instead I would have accepted that the Auxiliary tokens would be there and would be preventing his ship from taking utility actions like Evades or Target Locks, and I would have tried to work my way into range and finish off another ship to reduce the quantity of those tokens being given. But recognizing that situation only comes from experience, both with the game and the pieces in play, and he was not only just trying out this build for the first time, but also relatively new to Attack Wing. I’m sure once he gains more experience with both, that fight would be even harder still for the Borg if replayed.

The internet can be a wonderful medium by which to exchange ideas. A small portion of those ideas can be concerned with how to design a winning build for your miniatures game or card game of choice. But without context, without knowing the goals and constraints with which the concept was created, and without taking time to learn those for yourself, success isn’t guaranteed just because you have a superior design. That’s why here at the Tabletop General I try to give context, to share not only what I’m doing, but why I’m doing it. You might have an army of tanks to take on the enemy’s cavalry, but an army is only as good as the orders it’s given.

— The Tabletop General

(Like a) Boss Monster

For our anniversary, my better half gave me a copy of Boss Monster, along with the expansion, Boss Monster: Tools of Hero-Kind. Any time she can beat me to the purchase, I’m reminded as to how well she knows me. Despite my current opinion on the game (more on that below), this was a great pick, and I’m glad she got it for me. Boss Monster looked like a game I would eventually buy for myself, and I had been hearing people say how much they enjoyed it.

What was attractive about Boss Monster? The game box looks for all the world like a NES cartridge box, with the expansion in a Game Boy box. All of the cards have original 8-bit artwork, and pay homage to gaming legends such as Castlevania, Mario Bros., the Konami Code and many others. The game is playable with 2 players, but expands up to 4 with very little change. And the game itself turns the traditional dungeon crawl game on it’s head, as the players represent the eponymous dungeon-building Boss Monster that noble heroes are trying to defeat. Players build traps, cast spells, and lure greedy heroes to their doom.

Sounds awesome, right?

Unfortunately, the great concepts behind the game aren’t enough for me to overcome the weak mechanics in the game. Players have very minimal interaction with each other beyond a quick score count each turn. Planning and decision making is almost minimal, as you’re basically stuck playing what Room cards you draw, and the Spell cards are underwhelming and hard to acquire. Hero cards either enter your dungeon or they don’t, and either they survive or they don’t; you might have a trick up your sleeve to change one of those outcomes once per game. The Boss cards, which form each player’s identity, serve very little purpose outside of getting the game mechanics started and enforcing turn order (they all have a mid-late game “level up” ability that is laughably weak or even useless). The Tools of Hero-Kind expansion feels like it expands the slight aspect of “the rich get richer” present in the game even further, as players doing well enough to handle Hero cards carrying Item cards probably don’t need the boost they receive for capturing the Item cards.

Every three-player game we’ve played so far has either resulted in one of the players feeling as though they’re out of contention from turn one, and there’s nothing they can do to improve their situation, or the Hero lures of all players’ dungeons completely cancel one another out and lead to the game bogging down endlessly. Two player games have been better; they move along faster than with more players, and feel more balanced, but they’re still not great. I’m already feeling burned out on this game. Personally I need something with more heavy lifting involved: more tactical decisions, more planning, and more interactions.

I think it says a lot about Boss Monster that after one small expansion, the developers are now working on a sequel, rather than expanding the current game further, and also that there are more “promotional” cards for the game (32) than there are total cards in that one expansion. To me, this game feels like pure nostalgia and marketing, nobody stopped the presses long enough to put decent mechanics into the game.

Am I being too harsh on Boss Monster? Is this your group’s favorite game? Do you have house rules that make this the best game ever? I would love to hear your opinion in the comment section below.

– The Tabletop General