Turn Zero: Block Party
X-Wing™ World Champion Paul Heaver on the Practice of Blocking
"It's no good, I can't maneuver!"
–Gold Leader, Star Wars: A New Hope
In his Turn Zero articles, guest writer and three-time X-Wing™ World Champion Paul Heaver addresses some of the game's most frequently overlooked fundamentals. Previously, he has turned his attention toward asteroid placement, squad design, ship deployment, and battle plans. In each case, he has offered his insight not only into the different ways you might approach these fundamentals, but also the reasons why your decisions matter.
Today, he advances his Turn Zero series into actual game play, exploring the practice of blocking and its potential impact upon your matches.
X-Wing World Champion Paul Heaver on Blocking
Since the beginning of X-Wing, blocking has been a valuable skill to master. It is one of the reasons that the TIE swarm did so well in the game's early events. People tended to joust one another, and the jousting team that had modifications to its dice rolls tended to beat the teams that were just rolling dice and hoping for good results.
At its most basic, "blocking" is when you maneuver a ship so that your opponent's ship cannot complete its maneuver because it would overlap your ship. The blocked ship is pushed backwards along its template until it is no longer overlapping, and it has to skip the Perform Action step of the activation phase.
Generally, this means that the blocker has had the opportunity to perform actions, while the blocked ship loses that opportunity. Over the course of the game, incremental advantages like this add up, especially if the rest of the blocker’s list is prepared to fire upon the blocked ship. It’s an even bigger bonus if the blocked ship ends up on an asteroid or in a debris field that it would have otherwise avoided. This will penalize them further, and you might be able to keep them on the obstacle the next turn with another skillful block. Finally, if one ship in the opposing formation is blocked, you can sometimes cause a chain reaction that causes the next ship to bump into the blocked ship, and so forth, removing multiple actions from the enemy list!
The Usual Suspects
Clearly, since blocking is most commonly used as action denial, it’s best to block ships that depend on the Perform Action step. In the current metagame, most “ace” ships, like Soontir Fel and The Inquisitor, depend upon using their actions to avoid your firing arcs and stack defensive tokens. Soontir is a lot less intimidating when he doesn’t have two focus tokens and one evade token assigned to him!
Other ships need their actions to prepare to fire ordnance, like JumpMaster 5000s, and have much weaker primary attacks when forced to use those instead. Once you identify which of the ships in your opponent’s list most require actions to be cost-effective, it’s time to determine how you are going to stop them.
In general, blocking requires you to use actions to reposition your ships and to activate at a lower pilot skill than the ship you want to block. You also want to use a ship with a weaker attack, since it will not be making an attack on the blocked ship. Actions like boost and SLAM are great for blocking in the first round of combat, as both squads are approaching one another. They allow you to cover more distance than your opponent was expecting and can set up situations in which the rest of your squad will be ready to shoot the blocked ship.
However, blocking with boost or SLAM actions often ends up with your blocked ship at Range "1" of the enemy squad—and without defensive tokens—so you should expect to lose that ship. These early blocks should only be done if you are confident you will gain more from the rest of your squad than you lose from losing one of your ships.
Barrel rolls tend to be better actions for blocking in the middle of a dogfight. Where the boost action covers a lot of ground, it offers only three possible locations, and the action itself can be blocked. Barrel rolls can be adjusted to help you fit where you need to be. Doing a Speed "1" turn and then barrel rolling back toward your original location can still surprise opponents who were expecting you to move further.
Ships that have reposition actions, weak attacks, and low pilot skills include the A-wing's Prototype Pilot, the TIE fighter's Academy Pilot, the TIE Advanced prototype's Sienar Test Pilot, and the JumpMaster 5000's Contracted Scout. These are probably some of the best blockers in the game. If you are having difficulty defeating lists that depend on their actions, these aren’t difficult ships to fit in your own list.
Plus, there are ways to punish enemy ships even more when they are blocked. You can run the dreaded “BumpMaster,” which uses Anti-Pursuit Lasers, Intelligence Agent, and Feedback Array on a Contracted Scout to see where an ace will land, use barrel roll to block it, maybe do one damage with Anti-Pursuit Lasers, and then damage it with Feedback Array!
Move into Block Position
To block your opponent’s ships, you have to know what their most common moves are going to be. A ship like a TIE Defender with the TIE/x7 Title will mostly be executing Speed "3" turns and Speed "4" Koiogran-turns, for example. Soontir Fel loves his Speed "2" turn, and anything with a Speed "1" turn tends to execute that maneuver often.
Always pay attention to the options your opponent has available to turn his ship around—Koiogran turn, Segnor’s Loop, and Tallon Roll—and be prepared to block those. Opponents will rarely choose to fly through obstacles, so keep them in mind when determining your opponent’s moves. If you can’t guess the move correctly, then you can’t block it!
Being able to guess an opponent’s move is a key part of X-Wing, and a skill that comes with practice and playing lots of games. Often, you can boil it down to two or three possible moves.
Which one do you block? I’d say block the one that, if successful, stands the best chance of causing the most damage to your list. For example, if you are sure an ace is either going to turn to attack your squad or run away, then block the attack move. If you are wrong, then he runs away, and no shots are fired. But if you try to block the retreat move and he attacks, then you threw one of your ships out of position for no effect, and have one fewer shot to send in his direction.
To Block, or Not to Block
Another important skill to develop is deciding when not to block. Like I mentioned above, boosting a ship forward to block your opponent will often result in the opponent’s other ships getting multiple Range "1" attacks on it. If you can’t match that for impact, then it probably isn’t worth making the sacrifice. I’ve also seen people block opposing ships by turning away from the battle. In many cases, this means your ship isn’t firing at anything for multiple turns. If the blocked ship is still shooting at something on your list, then it might not be a smart move to make.
Finally, just because you can make a block, doesn’t mean you should. Say you have four A-wings against Soontir Fel. You might realize you can block all of his moves with three of your ships, while the fourth sets up a shot.
If Soontir’s the last ship with one hull remaining, this might be worthwhile. However, if Soontir’s healthy, just has to weather a single ship's attack, can fire back, and the block points your A-wings in different directions on the next turn, then you aren’t going to win this exchange. In this case, it’s better to try to determine exactly which maneuver he’s executing and sent one A-wing to block it, putting yourself into position to fire into Soontir with the other three fighters.
In general, blocking is all about planning for the future. A good blocker not only plans for what will happen the turn after he blocks you, but for the positions the block puts his ships in for next turn, so that he will still have board position enough to press his advantage. It’s an important part of gaining incremental advantages, and it's a skill that you can keep developing with practice.
Practice Makes Perfect
Whether you prefer to practice with an A-wing, TIE fighter, or JumpMaster 5000, we encourage you to go out this week and try your hand at predicting and blocking your opponent's maneuvers. Then return to our community forums to share your results! Did gain the incremental advantages Paul mentioned? Did you commit too much of your squad build to the effort? Did you block too early or too late? How did you anticipate your opponent's maneuvers?
Practicing your blocking might not lead you to become the next X-Wing World Champion, but it certainly won't hurt!