Monday, January 11, 2016

The 5th Pillar - Advanced X-wing Miniature Aspects, Part 1

                You know the drill. Build a viable squad, understand what your enemy is doing, and then outmaneuver them. That is the way you win a game of X-wing Miniatures every time. But that is much easier said than done. All of these skills - effective squad building, correctly reading your opponent, precision in your own flying - require time and practice to get right. However, these aren't the only aspects of strategy in X-wing. Once you have mastered the basics of building squads and flying them into combat, there are other aspects of the game that can draw your attention. These higher game skills can turn a mediocre game into an exciting one, as well as brings wins when you would have had losses. Whether you are a beginner who feels they are ready to move on from the basics or a veteran looking to mix up their normal play, these aspects can be a blast to learn and implement.
                When I first got into X-wing Miniatures, I was slightly overwhelmed with how much there was to learn past the simple basics of the Core Set. Things didn't really start clicking into place until I had gone to my first tournament, and had read an article about the three "Pillars" of X-wing by Paul Heaver. It was a big discovery to me to learn that the ships I liked to fly were Jousters and Turrets and to understand why I disliked being beaten by Arc Dodging ships so much. And when Wave 7 was introduced, FFG released an article talking about a new, fourth Pillar: Bombers.        
                Today's will be the first in a series where I talk about some of the more advanced, and somewhat less mentioned, X-wing game aspects. I want to cover three things in this article. First I want to give an overview of the 4 different Pillars in X-wing Miniatures. (And for further learning I would greatly recommend studying the two articles I linked above). The second thing I want to cover is Support-class ships, what I believe to be the 5th Pillar of X-wing. It is a ship role that is very much a part of the game but rarely addressed directly. And third I want to I talk about ways to apply the knowledge of X-wing Pillars to Squad building. I hope by the end that you, whether a beginner or experienced veteran, will have some new ideas as to what kinds of ships you like to fly and how to counter the inherent weaknesses associated with each.

4 Pillars + 1
                A "pillar" in X-wing Miniatures is the main role or class a ship can have. I assume that the designation of "pillar" was chosen because these ship classes are the core of what drives X-wing game mechanics. Before Wave 7, there were three distinctly defined ship classes: Jousters, Arc Dodgers, and Turrets. Let's look at the details of each of these three.

Jousters
                Jousters have the best cost for their raw stats. They are the cheapest ships to buy but that discount comes at a cost. Generally, they have little or no movement actions and are required to fire inside their forward firing arc. This means that they have the hardest time lining up shots at enemies but when they do, they do the most damage. Torpedoes, Missiles, and Cannons all fall underneath this category. Dogfights are straight forward with Jousters: if you can get consistent shots on your enemy then you will win. If you can't get consistent shots then you will lose. Because of this, Jousters are very strong versus Turrets and very weak versus Arc Dodgers.
Examples: B-wing, TIE Fighter, Headhunter, BTL-A4 Warthog

Arc Dodgers
                Arc Dodgers have the opposite story of Jousters. These ships usually trade durability for strong maneuver dials, strong movement actions, and high agility. Their best defense is not getting shot at and they are well equipped to do just that. If they can consistently get shots on their enemy without getting shot back at then they will win. And if they are consistently getting caught in enemy arcs then they will lose. Because of this they are strong against Jousters but not against Turrets.
Examples: TIE Interceptor, A-wing, E-wing

Turrets
                Turreted ships don't care about their bearing when it comes to shooting. Because of their ability to fire outside of their forward firing arcs they generally have slower dials and fewer movement actions. And because so many squad points go towards paying for weapons that shoot outside of arc, they are more expensive to field than other ships. Turrets have only one job to do in battle: kill the enemy before it kills them. Because of this Turrets are strong against Arc Dodgers and weak against Jousters.
Examples: Y-wing, Decimator, Falcon

                Like Rock Paper Scissors, these three X-wing Pillars form a triplet of hard counters to each other that continuously make the game new and fresh for players. However, things were somewhat thrown for a loop with the introduction of strong bombing tactics.

Bombers
                Bomber class ships have been around since Wave 3, when the TIE Bomber was introduced. But it wasn't till until Wave 7 that many new bomber upgrades were brought to the game and allowed Bombers to be considered their own Pillar. Bombers are quite strange when compared to the first three pillar ships. They have the same desire to arc dodge as Arc Dodgers but they don't care where their forward firing guns are pointed. This is because bombs are deployed from the rear guides of a ship's base, rather than the front (with the exception of Deathrain). For the most part they are more costly ships, like Turrets, but have action movements to help them get into the best positions to get the most out of their ordnance. A Bomber's success is based off the skill of its bomb-laying. Whether Jouster, Arc Dodger, or Turret it doesn't matter: if it gets caught by enemy mines then it is going to be having a hard time. Because of the strangeness of this class compared to the other three it makes sense to me that it is taking a long time for it to affect the meta game. It will take longer for players to master the mechanics of the Bombing Pillar, as suggested by the fact that no strong Bombing lists made it into the finals of X-wing Worlds 2015.
Examples: K-wing, TIE Punisher, TIE Bomber, Y-wing, Firespray

                And that is the 4 Pillars of X-wing. However, what is surprising to me is that there is not much talk of one other X-wing mechanic and ship class. And this class was introduced in Wave 3, the same time as Bombers. I am speaking of Support ships.

Supporter
                Support ships were introduced via the Hawk and Lambda Shuttle expansions in Wave 3. If Bomber ships are strange then Support ships are even stranger. They are distinctly noted by their bad stats and bad dials. However, they aren't usually the first ships targeted because their allies are so much more powerful. They are much better at giving support fire rather than destroying the enemy themselves. Their pilot abilities don't help themselves but rather help their allies. And in that same context, Support ships usually have one or more Crew slot, the upgrade type with the most helping abilities. In regards to counters, there is no contest. In most one-on-one fights, any other ship class will beat a Supporter.
Examples: Hawk, Lambda Shuttle, E2 B-wing, Rebel Transport (Epic)

Applying Pillars To Squad Building
                So here is the question: are Bombers and Support ships viable? Clearly the other three pillars have proven themselves over the years. It is this author's opinion that these other two are viable, but not in the way you think. Thinking of a 4th and 5th pillar does not necessarily mean that the game is now Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock. The way I see it, it is still the same triplet mechanic but Bombers and Supporters turn things on their head.
                Let's think about a Support Lambda Shuttle giving covering fire with an Ion Cannon. This Supporting ship can ionize enemy Turrets and then your fragile Arc Dodgers are safer to go in for the kill. Or perhaps consider Kyle in the Moldy Crow. He can give out a focus to allied Jouster who got outmaneuvered by an Arc Dodger. That way your Jouster can boost its defense to try and withstand long enough to get the shots it needs. And it is the same with Bombers. Take a TIE Bomber with your TIE Fighter swarm and your Bomber can clog up the asteroid lanes with mines. That way your Jousters can more easily find and kill Arc Dodgers with no movement options.
                Essentially, there are two ways to prevent enemy ships from hard countering the pillar you choose for your squad. You can pick the third pillar in the triplet or you can pick a Bomber/Support ship for assistance. For example you can fill your squad with Jousting Warthogs but they will be very vulnerable to enemy Arc Dodgers. So you can take away one of the BTL-A4 titles and make that Y-wing a Turret. That way he provide protection against Arc Dodgers while your Warthogs provide heavy hitting. The second option is to take a Supporter or Bomber. You could possibly take Palob Godalhi so he can remove an action a potential Arc Dodger would try to use. (And he can equip a turret as well). In both ways you are using a different pillar to shore up the weakness of your squad and be ready for any type of enemy build.

                Apart from composing your squad, referencing ship classes can also help you with upgrades. There are two different ways you can pick upgrades: to bolster your current pillar or to provide a complementing one.
                For this scenario let's use the popular X-wing pilot Wedge Antilles. Wedge's pilot ability is very strong offensively and this lets him be a better Jouster. But what upgrades are best on Wedge? It depends on what you want him to do. Give him Predator and the R2 Astromech and he is more powerful offensively. Or give him R2-D2 and Determination and he is very durable. Either way you are making him stronger in the Jousting pillar. But that is not the only thing you can do. On a completely different vein, consider giving him BB-8 and Stay on Target. Now we have a PS 9 X-wing that can barrel roll and change course when it isn't stressed. Wedge is now part Arc Dodger and he still is a well-priced Ace.
Offensive Wedge - 33 points
                Predator
                R2 Astromech
                Integrated Astromech

Defensive Wedge - 34 points
                Determination
                R2-D2
                Integrated Astromech

Arc Dodger Wedge - 33 points
                Stay on Target
                BB-8 Astromech
                Integrated Astromech

                Bolstering your current pillar or providing a complementing one is about risk vs reward. Picking Jousting upgrades on Wedge means he now has double the jousting power but it also means he is doubly delicious to the Arc Dodgers that hunt him. If you pick Arc Dodging upgrades instead it means that he won't be as powerful of a Jouster but he can respond favorably to more situations.
                There are many examples in the meta game of how two complementing pillars in the same ship build can be very powerful on the playing mat. Fat Han with an Engine upgrade is both a Turret and an Arc Dodger. The build is very strong and helped Paul Heaver win X-wing Worlds in 2014. Currently, a Lambda Shuttle with an Omicron Pilot and Palpatine is very popular and powerful in the meta. The combo is both a Support ship as well as a Jouster, especially if you attach a Cannon upgrade. The ship can hit hard it its forward firing arc and then use Palpatine anywhere on the board. A final example that is worth mentioning is the yet-unreleased Rebel Ghost and Phantom. They are the first ships that can just be plain Jousters but can also take a Turret upgrade. That way they can provide their own defense against Arc Dodgers.

Conclusion
                Although there aren't as many options for Support ships, the Support Pillar still has a strong impact on gameplay. And practicing this less know semi-pillar can perhaps give you an edge over other players in your region. I enjoy flying my Hawk and am really excited for the introduction of TIE Bomber Shuttles in the Imperial Veterans expansion. My hope is that FFG will continue to release more Support class ships in the future and the Supporter can officially become the Fifth Pillar of X-wing Miniatures.
                In regards to which pillar you should fly, it all depends on what you prefer. X-wing Miniatures is a deep game that can meet the needs and likes of many players. What matters is how well you fly the pillar you chose and how you plan to counter the inherit weaknesses of each. You can bolster your ships' current pillars and rely on your own skill to outmaneuver your opponent. Or you can complement your build with different pillars. It's all up to you. What kind of squads do you like to fly? And what preferences do you have in squad building? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks so much for reading and have a great week of flying.

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