Saturday, July 11, 2015

Learning to Fight Dirty - A Guide to Illicit Scum & Villainy Combat Strategy

                I joined the ranks of the X-wing miniatures world around the same time that underworld syndicates of the Galaxy decided to join in the Civil War. Even though I've never been much of a pirate guy myself, I welcomed the new faction with much anticipation. It showed me just how amazing Fantasy Flight Games really is. It is one thing to create a game with two opposing sides that are evenly matched. It is quite another to have three sides and all of them completely different, yet equal. It requires a much higher skill level to create but in return it makes a game more diverse, deep, and memorable. That is the reason I still play the classic Starcraft but not Warcraft 2.
                In my opinion, the introduction of the third faction brought the X-wing Miniatures game up to that same great level. The Scum faction looks, flies, and acts completely different from the other two but it is balanced and locks perfectly into its place in the miniatures world. And because of my desire to learn I dived right in; it was time to learn to fight dirty.
                To start out I want to briefly talk about the other two factions. Don't get me wrong, the Imperial and Rebel factions were perfectly balanced and autonomous before the introduction of Scum. Rebel ships are inherently more powerful, usually sporting high attack dice while Imperials hold the advantage in number of ships. Imperial starfighers are fast, nimble, and evasive but the Rebel ships always have shields for protection. And to complement gameplay both sides have ample access to synergy-based abilities to make their squads stronger when working together. Either style has strengths and weaknesses and when mastered can be deadly. However, the whole system was thrown when the Pirates came to play. They don't go by the rules and always carry a few tricks up their sleeves. Let's take a closer look at what the Scum & Villainy Faction has to offer us for the X-wing game and find out if it's your style of flying.

                First off, Pirates toss the concept of squad flying out the window. These pilots are bloodthirsty and cutthroat. Though they are looking for the win as a whole, that is only their secondary objective. The number one priority is that they make it out alive and they don't care how many of their squad mates die in the process. (Yeah, Kaa'to and Xizor, I'm talking to you). Because of the type of ships and abilities available to Scum they are much more efficient at solo flying and swarming. If you group in a formation you may find that the extra protection your squad gets isn't worth the restricted efficiency it enforces. FFG wrote about this in their article on the new Kihraxz fighter. They said that these fighters would suffer if forced to fly in formation. Instead they are much better at facing opponents one on one. When flying your scum squad, consider breaking them off into different vectors at the beginning thus forcing your opponent to split or get surrounded.
                Another strong strategy of the Scum faction is to destroy the synergy of the opposing team. Scum Hawks are not just annoying but downright nasty. Palob Godalhi strips an enemy ship of its focus or evade token and takes it for himself. Or you can pick Trokil Mux, who can force an enemy down to Pilot Skill 0 during the combat phase. Both of these support abilities are quite strong and can allow the rest of your pirate ships to overpower a flat-footed opponent. 
               The M3-A Interceptor also does a good job of breaking the enemy's synergy. The ship hasn't received much use because players see them as expensive, inefficient Tie Fighters. But that is not their strength at all. The M3's niche is in being the cheapest cannon ship in the game. Apply the title card to the M3 and you have a Heavy Scyk which can equip a torpedo, missile, or cannon. Torpedoes are expensive and the Heavy Scyk doesn't have the second slot needed for Extra Munitions. And Headhunters, with their low cost and natural missile upgrade, make far cheaper Missile Boats. So let's instead focus on the cannon. A Heavy Scyk with an Ion or Flechette cannon can only do one max damage a turn. But in exchange it can use the cannon the whole game and give an ion or stress token every round. With just one of these you can seriously mess up an enemy formation or synergy-type build. As I said before, they are cheapest of their kind to make, coming it at a lower cost than even the Ion Y-wing. As for the other types of cannons, feel free to experiment with them but be careful, they are pretty expensive.

Illicit Weaponry
                When I first read the title of these of upgrades I laughed. All is fair in love and war, right? If there was some new type of black market weaponry I'm pretty sure the Empire or Rebels wouldn't hesitate to get their hands on it. But I thought about the word illicit some more and what I realized made me cringe. These upgrades aren't called illicit because they are illegal but instead because they are inhumane. Even though the Empire was founded on the Dark Side of the force, and therefore evil, at least they still had some honor about life. These illicits aren't what any sane Imperial or Rebel General would choose to subject their soldiers too. Its only the Scum of the galaxy that are willing to use them to gain the victory.
                Inertial Dampeners: If you have ever read the Honor Harrington series by David Weber you'll have experinced firsthand what happens to a human being in a space ship that accelerates with broken Inertial Compensators. Ugh... Even though some of the Physics are different between the Honor and Star Wars universes, inertia plays a role in both. That is why it stresses a Shuttle to do a 0 move and stay still. Up until this last year, the Shuttle was only ship that could do that maneuver. But this changed when Pirate fleets started rigging their ships with Inertial Dampeners. Now, once a game, a ship with an Inertial Dampener can pull a stressful 0 move. This can get your ship away from a chaser and also get you into better position to shoot. However, take note that the upgrade says "dampen" and not "eliminate". I don't even want to think about what kind of g-forces those pilots are experiencing but I think it is safe to bet that it lowers their already short life expectancy.
                Glitterstim: Now this is an upgrade. Glitterstim was a spice produced as a recreational drug but users found that it also provided temporary psychic abilities. So of course, it found its way onto the battlefield. For only two points, a pilot gets a one-shot item that changes all focuses that round into hits and evades. And it doesn't even cost them their action! This can change an initial jousting Scum swarm from becoming the victims to being the killers. And it provides necessary survivability to Lone Wolf ships, adding strength to the already power strategy of creating a pincer from all sides. But glitterstim is dangerous. Sustained use of it atrophies the brain and people almost always overdose on it. So be careful out there, spice users, there's a reason FFG only lets you stim once a game!
                Dead Man's Switch: If you've played any Star Wars FPS video game then you have been lied to. Whether its Jedi Outcast, Battlefront, or Republic Commando, the game makers give a wrong interpretation of the Thermal Detonator. They present the weapon like a normal grenade that you toss at group of enemies for a little bit of splash damage. But that is not the case! Thermal detonators are actually the Holy Hand Grenade of the Star Wars universe. When Princess Leia, disguised as a bounty hunter, threatened Jabba the Hutt with one it was a real and legitimate threat. That one detonator would have vaporized EVERYONE in the room if she had set it off.
                So when you see a Pirate who has upgraded his ship with the Dead Man's Switch, be very careful. The art on the card shows a Gran pilot with two Thermal Detonators. 2 detonators for 2 points. It turns a normal ship into a bomb that explodes when it dies and sprays the shrapnel of its own hull at a blast radius of Range 1. ANY ship within that radius receives a damage. Put this on an Aggressor and you have a large base ship ready to get up close and personal. Or if you're really feeling sadistic then rig exploseives to a pair of Binayre Pirate and force them to fly point during an initial joust. They cost the same amount as Biggs with a droid and, seriously, they'll be just as efficient at drawing fire.
                Feedback Array: At first glance this card looks pretty bad. No one wants to give up their attack and ionize themselves. But there are 2 amazing things about this upgrade that one must understand. The first is that it is a guaranteed hit, just like the Darth Vader upgrade. But the second thing makes it even better than Vader in my mind: it isn't limited to your firing arc. It may not be labeled as a turret upgrade but the card allows you to attack any enemy at Range 1. That means Aggressors, Headhunters, and other illicit ships can equip a guaranteed Range 1 turret for a price. If you are willing to pay the price then it can be a powerful tactic.

Teaching an Old Y New Tricks
                A fun thing that the Scum faction does is take previous ships in the X-wing game and put a whole new twist on them. The Most Wanted expansion pack is probably one of the best bank-for-your-buck purchases you can make. Not only does it add 1 Scum Y-wing and 2 Scum Headhunters to your fleet, it also provides the necessary cards and dials to turn 1 Imperial Firespray, 1 Rebel Hawk, and 1 Rebel Y-wing into scum ships as well. That's a max of 6 ships from one expansion! I've already mentioned some of the changes that Scum Hawks and Headhunters bring to the table. And there are plenty of good changes for the Firespray as well. But what I really want to focus on is the big changes in the Y-wing.
                The Bomber Y-wing: The first upgrade included is the bomb conversion slot. You place it as a torpedo upgrade and it converts it into a bomb slot. This brings a whole new role to the Y and can really catch people off guard if they are not used to it. It is important to note that the card says "Limited". This means that you cannot equip two bomb slots onto a Y-wing. However, don't be discouraged because this can easily be overcome with the Extra Munitions card. It doesn't allow you to have 2 different types of bombs, just double of the same. But the fun doesn't stop there. A Scum Y bomber can equip Genius, a named droid for a cheap 0 points. He allows your bomber to place a bomb after you move instead of before. And if you want to go really crazy then attach an engine upgrade so you can move, drop, and then boost away to not get hit by your own Proton Bomb. This makes for a fun and fast Y-wing experience.
                The Autoturret Y-wing: The Most Wanted pack also introduced the Autoblaster Turret. We have seen this ability before as the cannon upgrade from the B-wing. However when the Autocannon came out it was far too expensive and didn't hit very hard. The latter problem was fixed in a FAQ rules update: evade tokens are now considered a dice result and therefore cannot block an Autoblaster attack. The other problem was fixed when FFG made the Autoturret cost only 2 points. But wait a second, when you switch from an Autocannon to an Autoturret you lose 1 attack dice but gain 3 squad points? That seems too good to be true.
                And that is because it is. The main reason why the Autoturret is so cheap is because it forces you to give up your turret slot. Think about it. A Y-wing or Hawk's turret is its lifeblood. Without it, neither ship would be worth their points on the battlefield. So yes, an Autoturret is very cost efficient but its range serverly hinders its effectiveness. So you need to learn to fly an Autoturret Y-wing in the right way. Consider the Y-wing bomber I previously mentioned. You can use the engine upgrade to make sure you get into range 1 and always get a shot. Or perhaps you want to use the pilot Kavil. His ability gives him an extra dice outside his firing arc, giving him a deadly 3 dice Autoturret attack. Experiment with it and see what works for you.
                The Warthog Y-wing: The last Y upgrade you get is the Y-wing Title Card. A BTL-A4 Y-wing, nicknamed the Warthog, costs an additional 0 points to make. It turns your Y's turret upgrade into a double tap cannon. And although the Rebellion has access to this upgrade as well, the Scum faction still holds the monopoly on effective Warthogs because of their salvaged droids.
                The first is the Unhinged Astromech. Coming in at 1 point, it is the socially awkward cousin of the R2 Astromech. They both give more green maneuvers to a ship but they do it in different ways. The R2 makes all 1 and 2 speeds green. This gives the Y-wing 6 more green moves and greatly reduces its weakness to stress. The Unhinged on the other hand has a bit more of a punch to it. It changes all 3 speeds to green which only gives the Y 5 more green moves. But at the same time it changes the 3 speed turns from red to green. This frees up its movement dial and makes the Y-wing much faster.
                But what if you don't care about movement? Another really strong option for the Warthog is the R4 Agromech. I had no idea what that droid was and so I had to look it up. But just like the name suggests the Agromech is a stinkin' farming droid! The company that makes Astromechs for space travel also wanted to get in on the agricultural business. So they made a few modifications and started selling droids to farmers. Underground organizations caught onto this and made a startling discovery: it was quite simple to reverse engineer the changes to again make the droids space-ready. Furthermore, buying bulk Agromechs instead of Astromechs prevented the local authorities from being tipped off.
                Because of this we have one of the best combat droids in the X-wing game. When you spend an offensive focus token you can acquire a target lock on the defender which you can immediately use in your second attack.. This gives your Warthog the equivalent of a Fire Control system. The composion of this type of Y-wing actually paved way for a new viable build: 4 Warthogs with Ion turrets and R4 Agromechs. At range 1-2 this squad can dish out 8 modified attacks, giving between 12-16 damage as well as 4 ion tokens.

                In summary, Pirates don't fight in the traditional fashion and work hard to mess up their opponent's strategy. They like to operate solo and have their hands on a whole score of illicit upgrades to give them the advantage. And finally they take new and interesting twists on old ships to make them just as deadly as others on the battlefield. So try out the Scum & Villainy faction and get your hands dirty. You might even find yourself having some fun.

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