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Use the Netlist, Luke

The long weekend is over and I have a new Forge World book in my hands, yet I still have my sights set on some more X-wing shenanigans. As I mentioned before, I’ve spent a lot more time reading about and making lists for X-wing than playing in the last little while, and that’s finally starting to change.

As is the case with any tabletop strategy game, the online community (communities, really) provides a wealth of information when it comes to list building and strategy. What works, what doesn’t, what is popular in some of the more competitive circles, etc. X-wing is no exception.

Some of the common builds have been around since the beginning (TIE Swarm; various combinations of Luke, Wedge and Biggs), while others are a lot more recent (Blue Thunder/Bloody Daggers). When you do nothing but read about armies and tournament results for a few weeks, it’s easy to forget that a lot of folks out there are just doing their own thing.

At week 1 of the league a few Saturdays back, there were plenty of Rebel builds with HWK-290s on the tables. I was expecting to see a lot more B’s and a few Falcons, as the old YT-1300 is one of the few ships that can’t be insta-gibbed by the new heavy hitters from wave 3. The 4 red dice from a heavy laser cannon are awesome, but 13 hit points will take a few exchanges for anyone to chew through.

Sadly no longer in print.

Sadly no longer in print.

When it comes to list building, you can really approach the task from a number of different angles. There may not be any obvious right or wrong way to play the game, but each approach does have strengths and weaknesses.

“Fly Casual”

There’s a number of gamers in the community (including the outgoing World Champ, Doug Kinney) that have taken this gem of a Han Solo quote for their motto. Quite simply their goal is to remind people not to take the game too seriously. By all means take a strong, capable list, but play for fun and don’t worry too much about the rest. In a game like X-wing where most ships and upgrades are very well balanced, you can definitely get away with a casual list and still have a good shot at tasting victory.

Some things are still not advisable (TIE Bomber with no ordnance, HWK without a turret, taking Expose in virtually any situation, etc.) but a moderate amount of common sense gets you 90% of the way to the finish line when it comes to building a usable squadron. Theorist on Team Covenant has posted some thoughts on playing around with some oddball lists.

Heavy Synergy Lists

Whether it’s clustering around Howlrunner or Captain Jonus for re-rolls, or using the old Biggs/DTF Luke to soak up damage while Wedge does all the heavy lifting, there’s some lists out there that practically demand some preset formations to work effectively.

These kinds of lists go to extreme lengths to maximize the benefits of one or two rules, often at the expense of opening up some weaknesses. Whether it’s susceptibility to splash damage and blocking, or simply having an obvious target that everyone will hammer ASAP to neuter the rest of the squadron, there’s usually a counter to most of these lists that invest heavily in a particular  brand of synergy.

There’s also the slippery slope when it comes to synergy where you spend points for a special rule, making you want to spend more points to maximize your benefit from it, and then spend even more points to protect it… in the end you’re taking a lot of hulls off the board to play this way. Many of the best players at the Worlds ran pretty close to the max number of ships per faction — 8 for Imperials and 5 for Rebels (6 HWKs without turrets is theoretically possible but simply not gonna happen).

Synergy is a good thing, and everyone knows a well flown Howlrunner swarm is a great meatgrinder, but these lists can be really tough for beginners and certainly aren’t the only way to fly.

Predatory Squadron

If you really expect to see one kind of list a lot more than others, you have the age-old option of list tailoring. Turrets can mess up TIE Interceptors, as no amount of barrel roll/boost actions will get you out of firing arcs. Swarms and other lists that utilize blockers can really mess up some of the more elite squadrons whose pilots move last and rely on actions, etc.

Leading up to last weekend’s World Championships held at FFG headquarters in Minnesota, there has been some thoughtful discussion of this topic on Team Covenant’s site. In the end, you have to ask yourself how much you are willing to invest in something that might not prove useful in all situations.

As an example, if you are building a list to punish the PS1-2 swarms, then all you really need is a pile of PS3-4 pilots and you will get to move last and shoot first. However, if you run into an elite build with a ton of PS5+ pilots, then you have wasted 2+ points per ship. Most upgrades in the game can be used in virtually any matchup, but spending points on trying to shoot first with all your ships is always a gamble.

Some of the really heavy hitting ordnance for taking down big ships is also risky to take. Advanced Proton Torpedoes are brutal with 5 dice and the ability to switch three blanks to eyeballs; however, if you don’t have a way of generating that precious Focus/Target Lock stack (Push the Limit or Fire Control Systems help) during your brief window of opportunity at range 1, then it’s a huge amount of wasted points. Relying too much on multiple ships working in concert to generate Focus/TL stacks is also a gamble, as one early casualty can screw up your ability to get the shots off at full effect. Then consider that Jax is coming out soon and will shut down all enemy focus/evade actions within range 1…

Predatory squadrons often become rather high risk/high reward, so try not to take something so focused on one opponent that they suck against everything else.

Summing Up

Essentially what everything comes down to is a realization of what you’re spending points on, and what you’re giving up to do it. There will be times where Han doesn’t get to shoot first, your swarm will get swatted, and your missile boats will die with their expensive munitions still on-board. That’s just the way it is, and ripping people’s arms out of their sockets when you lose isn’t a recommended approach.

So the next time you whip up an elite 100pt list with just 3 or fewer small ships maybe just ask yourself whether you need all those fancy upgrades. You can cram four of just about anything with upgrades into a Rebel list without too much trouble. On the Imperial side, you can easily take multiple big ships or one big ship and still have points for a mini-swarm.

These lists can give you the tools to take on most opponents with a high probability of success, and one bad dice roll won’t hurt you as much when your points are spread out over a bigger squadron. Green dice are known to be made of pure, condensed hatred, so you have to take that into account.

Perhaps most importantly, still provide enough variety to keep the game fresh for a long time. A lot of folks are tired of the old faithful lists like Howlrunner + 6-7 friends, so it’s awesome to know that so many different builds ended up doing well at the Worlds. Hero posted a lot of the top 8 builds at Worlds for discussion and the variety is great to see.

Remember, just go out there and have fun rolling dice! The game can be as competitive or as casual as you want it to be without sacrificing on the enjoyment factor. Player experience and judgement go a long way in this game, so you’ll be fine.

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