As with most miniatures games, X-Wing uses a point system to rank the general effectiveness of pilots (and subsequently the ship they’re piloting) and the various upgrades available to them. Also like most miniatures games, the player immediately finds himself with a decision to make regarding the makeup of his flight roster- go for few ships worth more points or more ships worth less points?
How many ships?
Again- the most important skill to possess in X-Wing is being able to maneuver and move ships effectively, full stop. The best pilots and upgrades will not save you if you can’t get them into position to maximize effectiveness or have lost Actions because of collisions with asteroids or other ships. For this reason, I suggest to the new player to build lists in favor of more ships worth less points rather than fewer expensive ships. Simply put, there’s more room for error this way. Currently at 100 points, a Rebel player for example is either going to be fielding 3 highly tooled ships or 4 low to medium points ships with perhaps one high PR pilot. If a collision does occur from poor planning or a surprise move from the opponent, the player with only three ships has just lost 33% of his actions for the round, while the 4-ship player has only lost 25%.
The exception here would be the beginner Imperial player as he can mathematically field up to 8 TIEs in a standard 100 point game. Novice players would likely have great difficulty maneuvering all those ships in effective ways without colliding. Recall that X-Wing is played on a 3’ x 3’ surface; now imagine moving around 8 bases worth of TIEs and trying to maneuver them around each other in anything but straight lines. See what I mean?
I think the “sweet spot” for a 100 points Rebel squadron for anything but an advanced player is definitely four ships, and I strongly advise 4 X-Wings for new/ novice players. For an Imperial player, I’d suggest no more than 6 ships, 5 being preferable for the purposes of movement and maneuvering at least while still getting the feel for the game.
How many upgrades?
In the X-Wing Miniatures rule system, not all ships have the same upgrades available to them. In fact, some low-points/ low Pilot Rank ships have zero upgrades available to them while expensive pilots in the game often have a plethora of upgrades available to them in the form of Elite Talents in addition to the more standard ship upgrades.
I think the key to choosing upgrades largely stems from the player and his play style, but speaking in generalities, few ship upgrades (generally secondary weapon systems and droids) are more effective for their points than paying the points for a unique Named pilot over a generic pilot.
For example, a Black Squadron TIE Fighter (14 pts) has access to the Elite Skills upgrades. Contextually (i.e. part of the 5-man TIE squadron I mentioned earlier as being optimal for a player still fairly new to the game), the most advantageous Elite Talent would probably be “Squad Leader” (2). This allows the Black Squadron TIE to bestow an additional Action upon a ship within range 1-2 as long as that ship has a lower Pilot Rating. Total cost with upgrade- 16 points.
Compare that ship to the named TIE Pilot “Backstabber.” Backstabber is for all intents and purposes a 16 points standard TIE Fighter, but Backstabber’s special rule states that if Backstabber is outside of his target’s firing arc, he rolls one additional attack die. With a TIE Fighter’s superior movement over every other ship in the game at this point, coupled with Backstabber’s relatively high Pilot Ranking (6 compared to Black Squadron’s 4), it’s highly likely if maneuvered effectively that Backstabber will be able to bring 3 attack dice to bear with regularity- the same as an X-Wing, and a whopping four attack dice if Backstabber can manage to get into range band 1 of his target while staying out of that ship’s firing arc.
Now, does that mean one should never, ever, ever take Black Squadron TIEs? Of course not. The unique named pilots may only appear in a player’s squadron one time- no multiple instances, so there are times where taking Black Squadron TIE is a great thing... it’s just going to most likely be after the player has already selected Backstabber and some of the other named TIE pilots.
For the Rebels, it plays out largely the same, but it’s much more difficult to kit out Rebel ships with much of anything in the way of upgrades because so few Rebel ships have access to Elite Talents. Really, there are only two upgrades- secondary weapon systems (of which there is exactly one usable by all Wave 1 Rebel fighters- Proton Torpedoes) and an Astromech droid. As Proton Torpedoes are of debatable effect on X-Wings in this game (see below), that really only leaves the droid as a valid upgrade. Of the droids available, only four bestow effects that don’t require an Action- R2-D2, R5-K6, R2 Astromech, and R5 Astromech. This isn’t to say that having a droid whose special ability requires an action is a terrible idea, but nearly all of the named pilots have skills that are always in play and don’t require the player to use an Action. This of course is significant because any collision results in the loss of the player’s ability to take an Action for the round. I won’t get into the specifics of the droids here- I’ll leave that for the Rebel upgrades section.
So Which Do I Choose?
As with most miniatures game, the key to producing a successful list is to find the balance between the expensive few and the cheaper many. In X-Wing, this is artificially imposed by the rule that named pilots may only appear once in a player’s squadron as previously mentioned.
As for how many named pilots versus generics make the final cut into a player’s squadron, it depends on faction and how many ships make up the squadron along with a player’s own play style and tendencies. Taking a named pilot only benefits the owning player with a higher Pilot Ranking and a special ability not otherwise available to other builds of that ship- Luke in an X-Wing is exactly the same as anyone else in an X-Wing stats-wise; all X-Wings have 3 Attack, 2 Defense, 2 Shields, and 3 Hull regardless of who is driving. Tactically, the difference in points between Luke and Rookie X-Wing is Luke moving later in the movement phase (high pilot ranking) and picking his action after most everyone else has moved, shooting early in the shooting phase (high pilot ranking), and when he is attacked, he will change one “eyeball” result to an evade symbol (his special ability). Whether or not that’s worth the 7 points difference between Luke and a Rookie X-Wing pilot depends on the player, but most of the time and in most situations, it most certainly is worth it.
Understanding your upgrades/ special abilities
Realizing what effects a particular upgrade or pilot special ability yields in-game and how that assimilates into your play style is the most important aspect of list building in X-Wing. As there are no massively undercosted/ overcosted ships or options in the game, any build can be viable in the right hands, and conversely a list that the internet has fallen in love with can fall flat on its face if you run your ships into asteroids every turn.