This is maybe a weird concept for this blog considering I’ve previously admitted that I’m actually not that great at playing X-Wing but I have definitely improved since I started. Well that’s not really hard.
For me the hardest thing about getting better is actual games against people. My son and I only get down to our FLGS (JARGON ALERT!) every other week and typically we only manage one game each since it’s a school night. Sometimes we squeeze in two games if I can get him to just go faster. It’s a bit limiting and so most of my development happens through other means.
Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list or expert guide. I’m just listing some things that have helped me to improve my game and will hopefully give someone a quicker start into the game than I’ve had.
Tools & Resources
X-Wing is a very popular game with very passionate players. Many people have spent countless hours/days/weeks/months developing tools and resources and making them public. Nearly all of them are free which is both astounding and humbling. I have created a Player Resource page where I’ve put links to many of these tools, why not go and see if you find something new?
So the first tool that I’m going to talk about that I’ve used to improve myself is playing Fly Casual. Fly casual is a simulation of X-Wing which has apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. It has an AI so you can play a game against the computer. It prompts you for pretty much all interactions which is an important feature as I find it helps you to not forget anything (I can’t even BEGIN to tell you how many times I forgot to drop bombs with Bomblet Generator in V1. Fly Casual has definitely helped me with remembering stuff like this). A game can be done and dusted in about 15 to 20 minutes so it takes up SIGNIFICANTLY less time than actually getting ships out and setting up a board. Now, the AI in this game isn’t all that much to write home about, it uses the HotAC (Heroes of the Aturi Cluster, a fan made mission campaign for X-Wing 1.0) AI process which, while not the same as playing a real person, is good enough at making a reasonably challenging opponent . The AI ships used to always place in the same way with no special tactics or technique but this has recently been updated so that normally they at least deploy together (meaning you can’t just zoom forwards and pick one off quickly). I’ve noticed that AI ships don’t always use upgrades (bombs in particular) and occasionally it flies things off the board for no apparent reason. All that said, I do find it a valuable tool. Fly casual is my yardstick. If I’m theory crafting a list then I know that if after a few attempts I can’t beat the fly casual AI with it then I’m really going to struggle against a real life player.
The next thing to mention (which, if I’m honest, I’m still yet to jump in with both feet to) is Vassal. It’s a tabletop simulator game with an X-Wing plug-in that is kept well up-to-date. There is a very active online community and when you play you play against another person, not an AI. There are some very helpful people around Facebook X-Wing groups who would be more than happy to guide you through your first game and it’s more like a standard game of X-wing except you don’t need to set up and pack away afterwards. It will normally take the same amount of time as a standard real-life game of X-Wing so make sure you give yourself enough time to complete it. There is a competitive league that runs in seasons if you can commit to the games which looks very well run and lots of fun. Check out the Vassal entry here on the Player Resources page.
In the last 3/4 months I have started listening to podcasts (since I do a fair amount of driving for work) to get some information on what’s popular/doing well and what ideas people have on ships/lists/upgrades, etc. There are many good ones but in particular I’d definitely suggest checking out the Sith Takers , Fly Better (previously Mynock Squadron) and Gold Squadron podcasts. The last 2 can be quite long (up to 2 hours) but the content in all 3 is excellent and entertaining. I also enjoy reading many of the blogs that people post up in the various X-Wing Facebook groups.
Something else to consider is that you will just get better over time. The more games you play the more experienced you get. You will start to gauge ship positions better, knowing whether or not your ships will fit through certain spaces, whether you’re likely to bump or land on that asteroid and whether to take a focus or lock or boost for your action. It’s just like anything else in life – the more you do it the quicker you can make the decisions. Of course the tricky thing with X-wing is that you don’t always get to play a lot. We generally get around a 2 hour window once a fortnight unless we play at home (which isn’t all that often), so don’t be too hard on yourself if after playing 3 games in six months you’re struggling to get a win.
Along the same lines of playing more is find out what your style is or what list you like and then play it over and over and over and over. In 1.0 I found a list that I really liked and played that list pretty much exclusively for around 6 months (you can read more about that here). The more I played it the more I found the right and wrong ways to fly it. What were good match ups and bad match ups, good or bad choices for engagement, which ship or list I could favourably joust with and which I should avoid jousting. All of these things come with more reps of the list.
Speak to people. After you play the game get the perspective of your opponent. Were your tactics wrong? Did you prioritise the wrong target? Did you make a mistake that allowed your opponent in or let them off? Were you too predictable or too erratic? Most opponents will be honest about this stuff, especially if you play at an FLGS and have got to know people. You improve by dealing with harder situations and so it’s in everyone’s interest for others to get better at the game to make you better at the game. If that makes sense?! (It does in my head!)
Talk to yourself.
Ok, no, let me clarify that a little. After a game, if it went spectacularly badly, ask yourself some questions.
When you play a game there are four things that will determine the outcome.
Is my list any good?
Am I playing it well?
How is the variance?
Is it a bad match up?
Bad match ups happen. Maybe you have an ion list and are paired with big base ships. Maybe you brought bombs and go against higher initiative ships with lots of reposition options. There are lots more examples, I just can’t think of any right now. Also, some lists are specifically designed to hard counter other lists.
You can’t do a lot about the variance really but you can try and take some upgrades to mitigate it a little (Herioc or Advanced Optics for example). When it comes to it X-Wing is a dice game and we live and die by the results!
So that leaves two questions. Basically:
Is the list bad?
Am I bad?
First is the list any good? I can still remember the first few times I turned up at game night and I was picking ships at random and then flicking through my friends folder of upgrades to see what I would throw on it. Needless to say I didn’t win that much.
List building is not something that I find easy. Finding the synergy between pilots upgrades and working out the interactions that will work effectively can be difficult, particularly when you don’t know every single card off by heart. There are few things that I find helpful here. Net listing is not a dirty word (or pair of words, or whatever). There are many many excellent players all around the world who are far more experienced in building lists than I am so why not look at what other people are doing to see what works?
Now, if you’re net listing then it helps you to answer that by (sort of) eliminating one of those questions. Use a list that is proven as good.
Now the next important thing to understand this:
Good list doesn’t always mean good result.
Some things come down to your play style, how you how you think and plan and what suits you. Some of the very best players will be able to pick up any list and do something good with it but if I’m being honest those are (generally) not the people reading this. For example the list that won the UK system open was Jack Mooney’s Handbrake Han. A very fat Han in the millennium falcon and Jake Farrell in an A-Wing. It’s a bit of a bonkers list if you ask me with 75% of the points on one ship but man, has that ship got some tricks. Freshly home from this UK system open I opened up Fly Casual, played a few games with the list and promptly lost every single one of them. I had no idea how to fly it. So in this case, is the list bad? Well, no, not really since it just won 550 player tournament going unbeaten over 11 games. So I guess then it’s me that’s bad? Well first of all define bad. You have to first ask some questions.
Are my losses close or am I getting tabled regularly? Do I understand some of the significant principles of the game? Am I playing against someone who is really really good? Do you understand how the list is supposed to work (abilities, interactions, etc)? Are there specific tactics for this list and do you know what they are? Does this list suits your play style? Do you know what your play style is?!
I know, lots of questions. Sorry. and yes all of this for a fun game of pushing plastic spaceships around a table and making pew pew noises. And maybe you are the kind of person you can get soundly beaten every game and still enjoy it but I’m guessing for the most part if you’re losing every time you get disheartened and eventually just quit. Nobody wants that.
Now, at this point, I’m tempted to stop. There’s a lot to process already and maybe you can go away and do that. Great. Personally, I want information. Data. Examples. So since I’d be a hypocrite for not doing that in my own blog, here goes:
So a week or so on from writing the bulk of this I actually have a practical example. It’s now 8 days since the summer points changes were announced and while I’ve listened to many podcasts and put together many various lists I’m yet to put anything on the table. Until tonight. I pondered, debated and theorised all day but in the car on the way I decided to try out a list that I think could work.
(47) Obi-Wan Kenobi [Delta-7 Aethersprite]
(6) R2 Astromech
(42) 104th Battalion Pilot [ARC-170 Starfighter]
(9) Seventh Fleet Gunner
(42) 104th Battalion Pilot [ARC-170 Starfighter]
(9) Seventh Fleet Gunner
(25) Gold Squadron Trooper [V-19 Torrent Starfighter]
Total points: 199
Firstly this is very different from the lists I typically fly. Secondly I have never flown a republic list.
The plan is to deploy on one side of the board with the 2 arcs next to each other and the torrent and Jedi just inside. Plow forwards with the arcs, go slower with the torrent and Jedi and over the first few turns barrel roll them in behind the arcs. Use the 7th fleet gunners to boost Obi-Wan’s shots from range before smashing in for some blocks, hitting the opponent with Obi-Wan again and then fly him away to regen shields while shooting out of the back of the ARC-170’s.
Sounds reasonable right?
Well, it didn’t really go to plan.
My first mistake was giving up initiative. My opponent was running 4 initiative 2 TIE/SF’s all with passive sensors and concussion missiles plus Scorch in a Tie/fo.
Giving up initiative meant that his SF’s moved first. Bad for my arcs and torrent it turns out. In my head it would mean I could make more informed decisions but in reality it meant he could block me. And he did.
My second mistake was turning in for engagement when I did. In fairness I had a plan but was caught off guard by how fast my opponent approached. I turned in with Obi-Wan with a three bank which put me at range three of the front tie SF. I debated boosting to put me in range 2 but decided not to as it also put Obi-Wan in range of at least one other return shot. So I fired on the front tie SF with Obi-Wan plus a 7th Fleet Gunner charge from one of the arcs, rolled hit, hit, crit and eyeball and use my focus to get three hits and a crit. The Tie/SF rolls 3 natural evades. Cool. My remaining shots from the arcs were also evaded so after three attacks on one ship I have taken a grand total of 1 shield off 1 of the 4 ships.
The next round of firing went very badly for me since everyone’s manoeuvre was blocked where I had intended to 3 bank barrel roll and boost to get out of arcs before turning around next turn. What happened is that I got blocked buy the front tie SF giving three others shots on Obi wan. It went badly. Obi-Wan came out of that engagement having taken 3 Shields from a previously undamaged tie/SF and only being on one hull at the end of the round.
On the next round I shuffled my arcs forward to still have the shots out of the rear and turned my plucky little torrent into the mix to try and do some damage to the already damaged tie/SF while with Obi-Wan I planned to regenerate a shield, take a 5 forwards then barrel roll and boost to try and get out of ark. My opponents moves were very smart and even though I had gone the furthest distance I could with Obi-Wan I was still in range 3 of one of the tie/SF’s and despite having a range bonus green die his one shot with the tie/SF managed to wipe out Obi-Wan. Meanwhile his other ties ganged up on the lonely torrent and deleted that too. That left me with one full health ARC-170 and the second ARC-170 on roughly half health against 3 tie/SF’s (one of which had half damage one of which has lost two shield) AND 1 undamaged tie/fo. The odds were definitely not in my favour. I was actually on a bit of a deadline so we did one more round of shooting (which also went comically badly) and then called it a definite win for my opponent.
So, time to analyse. My opponent pointed out that our respective variance had been crazy. In the first round of engagement with three shots on one target I should have taken more than one shield off a 2 agility ship (even with the extra green for range 3). It kind of didn’t help that he rolled natties (JARGON ALERT!) with his green dice 3 times in a row though. Also the variance in my attacks meant that even with 7th Fleet Gunner being used and attacking with 4 dice many times even with a focus I was still only coming out with one or two hits which attack. But dice are dice and there’s nothing I can do about those.
What can I do something about? Firstly, since I was matching initiative with several ships I should have taken initiative and been first first player, not second. Also I feel I put Obi-Wan in danger far too easily and too early and my escape plan was too late to save him. I need to find a better way to approach things tactically in order to make sure Obi-Wan is the last ship I have not the first ship I lose. The torrent didn’t do as much as I hoped it would although because my approach was poor it wasn’t in the fight early enough and then was an easy target for focused fire. I also need to look at whether the torrent is useful or if it’s better to ditch that ship and use the points for upgrades on the other ships to make them more effective.What I really need to do is just play the list again. Get more reps in against different types of list and see how it goes and through trial and error find a way to make it work.
So, is there a conclusion this week? Well, I guess so. Looking back at the previous questions:
Is my list any good?
Hard to say. The game went so badly wrong quite early it’s hard to determine. I think it could do ok but I need to adjust how I play it. Speaking of which….
Am I playing it well?
Definite no. Like, really really not. My approach for the first engagement was very poor as I was surprised by my opponent’s opening play. I had a plan, I should have stuck to it. Only then can I know if it’s a decent plan. Currently I still don’t know this.
How is the variance?
Horrible. Like, comically, ‘can’t make this up’ hilarious.
Is it a bad match up?
This is a bit tricky to call. I suspect that under focused fire this list could really do some damage to the 2 agility tie/SF’s and level the field a bit. An end game of Obi-Wan vs 2 or 1 tie/SF’s would probably go in my favour provided I’m patient with finding the right engagement and with the bonus of regenerating 2 shields I’d give it a chance.
So the answer is quite easy. I’ve identified mistakes I’ve made, next time I need to play it better and then re-evaluate again.
The next question – will I actually learn and do it different? Only time will tell!