Flight Academy: Know Your Ships
Guest Writer Zach Bunn Explores the Four Pillars of X-Wing™
Attention! Okay, cadets, you've made the grade. You're all in X-Wing™ Flight Academy, and that means you're all going to be pilots someday.
Sooner or later, you'll graduate, you'll get into your fighter's cockpit, and you'll fly to battle. But will you help us win the war? Will you find glory at the battles of the Coruscant Invitational? Or will you explode in a fiery heap? If you want to be part of our eventual victory, then you had better listen up!
One of the first things you're going to have to learn is that all fighters are not created equally. They're not all built the same, and they're not all meant to play the same roles in your space battles. If you don't pay attention to this basic fact, you're going to fly your ship wrong, and you're going to end up on the wrong side of some other pilot's laser cannons.
In X-Wing, each ship doesn't just come with its own range of possible maneuvers and actions. These things grant each ship its own distinctive style. This was true in first edition, and it's true, now, in the upcoming second edition. And while each ship has its own style, we can group them into four larger archetypes—or pillars. Understanding these pillars is key to approaching your battles successfully.
To that end, we're happy to bring in your guest instructor, Zach Bunn, a founding member of Team Covenant and a perennial contender on the championship circuit.
Zach Bunn on the Four Pillars of X-Wing
This sequence is an example of jousting, the first pillar of X-Wing, and any would-be pilot should know the answer.
The First Pillar: Jousting
To calculate who we would expect to win a joust, we can follow five steps:
1. Calculate the odds of the attack dice (50% chance of each die hitting).
2. Calculate the odds of the defense dice (37.5% chance of each die evading).
3. Calculate how actions like Focus and Evade change these outcomes.
4. Multiply those odds for each attack die and defense die involved in an attack.
5. Determine, based on average damage, how long it would take for each ship to blast through the other ship’s shields and hull.
This may seem complex at first, but after a bit of practice these calculations will become second nature… Stick with me. Learning the odds can even help you win your battles!
Let’s go forward with our dogfight between the Academy Pilot and Blue Squadron Escort. If we go to the board, we can work out the odds of these ships dealing damage to each other. The probabilities below assume no actions, tokens, or range modifiers.
|Ship (Dice)||0 Damage||1 Damage||2 Damage||3 Damage|
|Academy Pilot (2 attack vs. 2 agility)||59%||31.25%||9.75%||0%|
|Blue Squadron Escort (3 attack vs. 3 agility)||40%||33.9%||20.5%||4.8%|
Even without considering how the X-wing’s two shields impact the outcome, we can see that the Blue Squadron Escort is much more likely to do damage. It even has a 4.8% chance of dealing lethal damage on the first shot! Once you’ve seen the math, it becomes obvious that the Blue Squadron Escort is heavily favored to win this joust.
But what happens if we upgrade the Academy Pilot to a Black Squadron Ace ? Who wins? This brings us to the second pillar of X-Wing—arc dodging.
The Second Pillar: Arc Dodging
Arc dodging references a ship’s ability to slip out of enemy ships’ primary firing arcs. So why does upgrading to the Black Squadron Ace force us to reconsider our hypothetical winner?
It may not seem significant, but this shifts the TIE/ln fighter pilot’s initiative from one to three. The Black Squadron Ace can therefore better take advantage of its positional action, the barrel roll. The Black Squadron Ace moves after the Blue Squadron Escort, meaning it can use its barrel roll to create turns that it can shoot at the X-wing while the X-wing cannot shoot at it. This reduces the Black Squadron Ace's chances of taking damage to 0% whenever the Blue Squadron Escort cannot fire, and this changes our math completely, especially if the Black Squadron Ace still gets to attack!
Our example illustrates two key components of arc dodging—initiative values and positional actions. The most legendary arc dodgers also tend to have highly mobile movement dials and access to not only positional actions, but the capacity to use multiple positional actions on the same turn. Classic examples of arc dodgers include Soontir Fel with his Autothrusters and the Grand Inquisitor with Supernatural Reflexes . Both ships have mobile dials, initiative values of five or higher, access to boost and barrel roll, and the ability to use both positional actions in the same turn.
If these highly agile ships can avoid attacks completely, arc dodgers must be the best ships in X-Wing… right? Well, to answer that question we arrive at the third pillar—turrets.
The Third Pillar: Turrets
Some ships can rotate their turrets to shoot enemies outside of their primary firing arcs. Therefore, it is much harder to arc dodge attacks from these ships.
There are two ways to acquire turrets in X-Wing. The first is to field a ship that has a native turret, like the Millennium Falcon . The second is through the turret upgrade slot, which can hold upgrades like the Ion Cannon Turret . While both options allow their ships to line up shots outside their primary firing arcs, the Falcon can fire in two directions at Range 1-3, while the Ion Cannon Turret can only shoot enemies in a 90-degree turret arc at Range 1-2. Not all turrets are equal.
While turrets are powerful, and while they offer some interesting combinations with the game's gunner upgrades, they also have their drawbacks. The first is that rotating your ship's turret arc requires an action, taking away from your chance to focus, lock, or perform a positional action. Additionally, ships with turrets typically cost more squad points, have less mobile movement dials, and have lower agility. The Y-wing is a perfect example, as it sports only one agility and a less-than-maneuverable dial in exchange for its turret upgrade, shields, and hull.
So, if jousting is countered by arc dodging and arc dodging is countered by turrets, what counters a turret? You may have guessed it… jousters!
Joust-based lists do not spend their squad points or upgrade slots on turrets, gunners, or arc dodging capability. Instead, they spend their points on raw efficiency, consistency, and quantity. Just imagine a list packed with expensive turrets engaging a list that never had any intention of arc dodging! Uh-oh…
The Fourth Pillar: Bombers
Late in the game's first edition, we saw a fourth pillar emerge in the form of bombers. A bomber is a ship that carries munitions, like Seismic Charges or Proton Bombs . Bombers turn the traditional math of X-Wing attack sequences on its head, because they don’t need to attack to do damage. Direct damage counters ships that spend their points on defensive efficiency, and dropping munitions on the board limits the maneuverability of enemy ships. Because of their unique capabilities, bombers offer an entirely different way to think about X-Wing.
While the first three pillars naturally counter each other, bombers lie somewhere in the middle. If they can predict the maneuvers of jousters and turrets, bombers can lay munitions accordingly. Against arc dodgers, they can drop bombs in the lanes required for positional actions like barrel roll or boost, and the direct damage is often lethal to these ships.
If bombers can be used effectively against all three of the other pillars, are they the ultimate weapon in X-Wing? Not quite.
While being in the middle of the pillars has benefits, it also has costs. Using munitions effectively is difficult, because it requires predicting enemy maneuvers. Bombers still rely on dice when defending or performing standard attacks, and, like turret ships, bombers tend to have low agility. Also, bombers generally have lower than average attack values, as well as limited maneuverability, and they must spend both points and actions on their munitions.
Like the rest of the pillars, bombers have advantages and disadvantages. They are unique in that they don’t specifically counter a pillar, but they aren’t easily countered by the other pillars.
Using the Pillars
How do we make use of our understanding of the different X-Wing pillars?
Learning how the archetypes interact with each other gives us a starting point for every list, engagement, and maneuver. Some squads focus exclusively on one pillar, while others attempt to bring tools from each to the table. You'll see this at the 2018 Coruscant Invitational, and if one archetype gives you headaches consistently, you can start running ships to counter it.
Your consideration of the pillars begins with squad design. If your entire list focuses on a single pillar, you should have a major advantage against the pillar that you counter, as well as against lists that use the same pillar as you. This is a good route when you are new to X-Wing, as you’ll want to maximize every advantage as you go into your first few games. But this also means you shouldn’t feel bad if your arc dodgers get trounced by turrets or if your jousting list just can’t pin down an arc dodging ace.
If you choose a more balanced approach to squad construction, you’ll find there isn’t really a direct counter to your list. This leads me to the second way you can use knowledge of the pillars—in your macro-level strategy. If you have a list that includes a jouster, arc dodger, turret, and bomber (even if some of these roles overlap on a single ship), your list has no direct counter.
Beyond squad design, your knowledge of the pillars can also help you fly against your opponents. When you watch the Coruscant Invitational on Twitch, you might start to recognize how players prioritize their attacks against enemy ships based on how the pieces of each squadron fit together. As an example, I really like flying Darth Vader as an arc dodger. When I get to the table, I immediately analyze my opponent's list to decide who I will target first. If I can eliminate their turrets and arc dodgers, they stand little chance in the end game against a Darth Vader who never gets shot.
In the end, though, the best way to understand X-Wing is to get your ships on the table and discuss your games with the new friends you make along the way.
Fly casual, my friends!