Saturday, May 30, 2015

Taking Calculated Risk - Why You Might Be Flying Your X-wing Wrong

                The X-wing is the most iconic ship of the Star Wars Universe. But, I have noticed a curious trend in the X-wing Miniatures metagame: Why take an X-wing when you can spent one more point to take a B-wing? What people don't realize is when they say that, they reveal more about their own understanding of the game than of the actual truth of the game.
                Yes, X-wings are underpowered, this is a confirmed fact. FFG employee Alex Davy said in an interview that the X-wing needs a buff. But here's the thing: just because something is underpowered doesn't mean it should be set aside and not used till it gets a fix. When we do that we reinforce in our minds that the X-wing isn't worth the points. In my opinion, this has led to an attitude of believing the X-wing is more underpowered than it really is. Waiting for an update of the game is a passive solution to the problem. Changing our attitude, instead, will help us master X-wing Miniatures.
                I'll start off by saying that the X-wing is not, nor should it be thought as, the most OP ship in the lineup. It may be what the game is named after, but don't think you will a tactical edge just by fielding them. The Rebel Alliance didn't win in Episode 4 just by throwing X-wings at the Death Star. They won because they understood what X-wings were capable of, formed that into a plan of attack, and took a calculated risk.
                X-wings are not just weak B-wings. It is logically fallible to compare 21 points to 22. If you are going to compare Bs to Xs, at least make the field level by providing 1 point astromech. Moreover, even at 22 points, we get very different strengths and roles for each ship. Before Wave 3 came along, X-wings had to be the heavy hitters and jousters. When the B-wing came along, it excelled far better in that role. Because of this, it makes sense why the B-wing somewhat replaced the X-wing in our minds. But if the X no longer needs to joust, what is it good for?
            A B-wing has strong damage resistance, great damage output, and tight maneuverability with its barrel rolls and k-turns. This makes it very excellent at dogfighting. But it is also very slow and it can often find itself out of position.
                On the other hand, while an X-wing has less damage resistance and maneuverability, it has wonderful speed and only one red maneuver on the dial. It may not be able to turn on a dime but it sure can fly! Pair this with its high attack damage and it is great for chasing ships and for tactical strafing runs.
                However, we've run into another problem because those traits are primarily the roles of E-wings and A-wings. Does that mean the X-wing has no unique role in the Miniatures game? I propose that the answer to that is yes. In this writer's opinion, the uniqueness of an X-wing lies in its versatility. It has good - but not amazing - stats on everything: hit points, attack, speed, and maneuverability. Whether this proves to be the ship's strength or weakness depends on how well you understand it and fly it. Just like with the Alliance in Episode 4, we benefit the most from flying X-wings when we take calculated risks.
                By that, I don't mean a gamble. Gambling means thoughtlessly chucking ships into battle, and I wouldn't advice that. Calculated risk is picking your battles carefully, knowing when and where your luck will be optimized and then taking that risk for a good reward. Any time you send in an X-wing to a fight, there is a high risk that it will get badly hurt but you do it because of the potential benefits you might get. If the risk pays off, then great! And if it doesn't, you can be ok with it because you know the it was a good risk.
                A perfect example of this is the 2013 Worlds championship between Paul Heaver and Dallas Parker. Paul took a calculated risk in flying two X-wings with his build. And yes, both Biggs and the Rookie did die but look at what benefit: Biggs killed Dark Curse in one shot, and the two Xs absorbed the attacks of the Tie Swarm, leaving the B-wings completely unharmed and able to take on the swarm in the coming turns. The build would not have been as powerful had he taken 4 B-wings.
                To better understand this concept we can turn to statistics. We can explain the number of hits or evades a ship gets with averages. For example, a Tie Fighter will roll an average of 1.0 hits/crits without a focus. But X-wing miniatures is not a game of averages. If that were the case then you would fly into range, give a set amount of damage and receive a set amount back. That may work in real time strategy games like Starcraft, but here it would be a boring mechanic. The flavor of the game comes not from averages but variance. A Tie Fighter may roll an average of 1.125 evades without a focus, but that doesn't mean he'll get that amount every time. He may instead roll all evades or all blanks, which is a huge difference in the thick of battle. We can predict variance in rolling, but we can never know exactly when the dice will love or betray us. That is what makes the X-wing Miniatures game constantly fresh and exciting.
                Compare the variance of a B-wing versus an X-wing and we can mathematically see why they fulfill different roles. The B has 1 agility die, but high hit points. This means that a defending B has low variance: it rolls 1 evade or it doesn't but either way it is absolutely guaranteed 8 hits before dying. On the other hand, an X-wing has higher agility and a lower number of hit points. This means that it has a higher variance: it could get 0, 1, or 2 evades, but only has 5 guaranteed hits before dying. This means that a little luck is required for it to match the defensive efficiency of a B-wing.
                That is why B-wings are better jousters and are more reliable in a dogfight. They are a low risk and make a safe choice. However, a low risk also includes a low reward. This means we can have a good prediction of how much a B-wing can give us before it dies. On the other hand, if we take a higher risk we have a chance for a high reward. Yes, a fielded X-wing can be blown up in one shot, but it is also possible for it dodge more punishment than a B-wing could ever take.
                Because of human nature it can be hard to see statistics working. One negative experience can override many positive experiences in the game. All it takes is for your Rookie to roll blanks on defense, dying in one shot, and you to forget about all the previous games where he flew quite well. You now question why you even spent the points on a ship like that! We are emotional beings, not logical ones, and X-wing is a game where you want to win. Players don't want surprises and so they take a B-wing instead.
                However, this attitude goes against the very nature of X-wing Miniatures! We are trying to reduce variance in a game that is driven by it! Therefore, if you do choose to fly a B-wing, do it because you know the risk factors of the all ships and you prefer the safety. Don't just toss the X-wing aside claiming its useless; instead learn to fly it with calculated risk. You can find places in the meta game and you will also grow as a player.

Here is a tricky build that has more to it than meets the eye.

Turn Key Squad - 100 Points
                A-wing w/ Jake - 26 points
                                Veteran Instincts
                                A-Wing Test Pilot
                                Chardaan Refit
                Y-wing w/ Grey Squad Pilot - 26 points
                                Ion Turret
                                R5 Astromech
                X-wing w/ Red Squad Pilot - 24 points
                                R2 Astromech
                X-wing w/ Red Squad Pilot - 24 points
                                R2 Astromech

                This build looks straight forward: there's an annoying ion Y-wing, a powerful Jake, and 2 support X-wings. Intuition would tell your opponent to focus on one of former two for the initial attack. But that is where the trap has been lain. The X-wings' upgrades have been allotted to late game strength. That is my calculated risk: that an enemy player will initially ignore my X-wing. This will allow them to do unpressured heavy hitting on high priority targets and then switch in the late game to hunting damaged, low pilot skill ships. The Poor Grey Pilot fits perfectly into this build because his PS fits with the Red X's. If my opponent chooses to target my X-wings first then they have a chance to hold their own while Jake and the turret do the damage. This creates a hard choice for my enemy and a win-win for me.

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