Saturday, May 16, 2015

Squad Composition - The Beginner's Guide to Tournaments Part 1

                I attended my first store tournament when I had been playing the X-wing Miniatures for barely three weeks. I felt I had studied the game thoroughly and had a firm grasp on ships and strategy. A tournament, I thought, was a good step in my progress in the game and I was excited to try something new. Since I was quite fresh I understood that I wasn't going to be the best and I would make some mistakes. But what really blind-sided me was how many mistakes there were to make and how I had no way to prepare for them. You can only get so far by studying the rules and watching games online. Some things you just have to experience in person. However, that doesn't mean you have go in ignorant like me. This article will be the first on giving tips to players going to tournaments for the first time. Let's talk about squad composition:

                The first part of the X-wing experience is actually my favorite: getting to build your squad. I truly enjoy new combinations of ships and seeing what works with the numbers available. I recommend to take some time to learn your own play style and build a squad around that. If you feel you aren't creative or you don't like squad building, then you need to do online research. Watch some worlds tournament games and see what the professionals fly. Then you can adopt or tweak one to call your own.
                After you have selected a build, make sure you can assemble it. If money isn't an issue then start buying away to your heart's content. Cards and pilots are far spread so make sure to research what is in each expansion before you buy it. But if you are more like me and are on budget, then try out substitutes. There are many different ways to get the same result: for example you can fly Wedge or an Outmaneuver card to lower an enemy's agility. I classify most of my squads builds under the "Militia" header because hey, that's all I got.
                When creating or choosing your squad there are more things to consider than just if you like it. The first thing you need to do is make sure it has a balanced number of ships. You don't want just a couple of ships loaded to the gills with every upgrade they can take. This results, all too often, in these ships dying with a lot of their squad points unused. A great player gave me some good advice during my first tournament, he told me to follow a 4 Ship Rule. A viable competitive list should at least have 4 ships on the table (large ships like the Falcon count as 2). There are notable exceptions to this rule - such as a Decimator & Phantom build - but for the most part it is the rule of thumb you should stick to.
                Now that you have considered ship balance, it is time to look at strategy balance. Each ship has its strengths and weaknesses. Get to know about ships from all factions so you know how best to fly your own as well as fly against others. For example, Y-wings and Tie Interceptors make great flanking ships but they really suffer in head-on collisions. Tie Bombers and B-Wings are tanky but they have a hard time chasing quick, nimble ships. And the Hawk should never be used for anything but tactical support, ever... While assembling your squad, take a step back and look at the strategy of your ships. What is it really good at doing? When you find that niche, practice it to maximize your squad's strength in a match. And what will really throw a wrench into your plans? When you've established that, practice flying against it and see what kind of counter strategies you can find. After that, if you still feel too vulnerable, try swapping out one of your ships for one of a different strength. That way you cover the gaps in your strategy and your build will be more solid.
                Once all of this is complete, check for errors and look for any possible substitutes that you overlooked. Then simply practice with your squad. I made the mistake of thinking I knew how my squad functioned without having practiced it enough. Because of that I overvalued the strengths it had and had trouble flying in formation: two fatal mistakes in the game. Even if you have been practicing with your squad, practice with them some more. Fly against your friends and get feedback from them.

                 Below is the squad I took to my first tournament. It serves as a great example of the points I have just talked about: finding strength and balance in your squad and overcoming weakness.

Poor Grey Pilots's Naive Beginner Build:

Razorback Squad - 100 Points
Wedge - 35 Points
                w/ Swarm Tactics
                w/ R2-D2
Ten Numb - 39 Points
                w/ Autoblaster
                w/ Fire Control System
Blue Squad Pilot -26 Points
                w/ Enhanced Scopes
                w/ E2 Mod
                w/ Jan Ors

4 Ship Rule - Did not pass. True, B-wings are hearty ships but they aren't miracles workers. Maybe 1.25 of a ship on the ship count scale.

Strengths - Just from looking at all the upgrade cards, it is easy to see that my young self wanted this squad to be great at everything: Range 1 deadliness, action economy, strong evasive defense, high pilot skill, etc, etc. It tries to have everything and ends up being only ok at all of those things.

Weaknesses - Apart from general lack of direction and strength, this build suffers from one big weakness: flanking. I didn't realize how big it was until I flew against two Tie Interceptors with Push the Limit. My ships may have been able to hit hard but it turned out I didn't get to shoot most of the time.

Results - In the tournament I played 3 games and came out 1-2 win-loss.

Poor Grey Pilot's Revised Beginner Build:

Razor Squad -100 Points
Blue Squad Pilot - 27 Points
                w/ Autoblaster
Blue Squad Pilot - 27 Points
                w/ Autoblaster
Rookie Pilot - 23
                w/ Flechette Torpedoes
Rookie Pilot - 23
                w/ Flechette Torpedoes

4 Ship Rule - Check! This insures me a solid amount of offensive dice as well as a large number of hit points on the table.

Strengths - I decided that I needed to streamline what I wanted from this squad. So I threw out higher pilot skill and better defense and focused solely on having a solid hitting power. And with the rules being updated, the Auto-blaster now eats through evade tokens making it a much more cost-efficient card.

Weaknesses - Flechette torpedoes were my answer to the flanking weakness. I can give the flanking ship stress out at range 3 before they can swing around behind. Then while they take a green move to rid themselves of the stress, I could more easily line up shots on them. If that isn't really your play style, consider replacing the X-wings with Gold Squad Y-wings equipped with Ion Turrets. Also 23 points and great for riding back and covering your squad's six.

Results - This squad had preformed great for me in my causal play. But I probably won't take it to tournament...maybe too many bad memories, haha. But also because of the many other options of squads there are to fly. Endless possibilities.

                And there you have it. You have now made all of your necessary preparations. Your squad has been created and error-tested and you have learned to fly it backwards and forwards. You are ready for the crucible of store tournament play. But before you start dreaming of signed plaques and cool swag it might be a good idea to know a little about what you are walking into. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will give you my advice on proper tournament etiquette and effective gameplay. Have fun.

Click her for Part 2 & Part 3


  1. This has helped me out immensely! Cheers, and keep it up

    1. I'm glad it helped you. You keep working on squad building!