21 January 2015

Point- Counterpoint: Sportsmanship

This is an article (basically- I did a little editing) I wrote for BoLS back a couple of months ago right after Worlds. With Regionals coming up and all, I thought you guys might dig it. 

While you may or may not be a competitive X-Wing Miniatures Tournament player, it’s hard to deny that events like Nationals and Worlds shape the direction the game travels from it’s loftiest, most competitive perches to friendlies at your FLGS against your pals. At the recent Worlds event, some player tactics left some folks questioning the sportsmanship of a participant.

So the actual events that lead to all the internet outrage during Worlds is kinda irrelevant to where I'm going with this. I mean, it’s sort of relevant, but really only as a reference point to introduce this article. Long story short, I don’t plan on recounting everything that happened in the match, and while it may seem like a cop out, I really don't have a stance either way. I’m more interested in talking about the notion of sportsmanship in X-Wing as a whole rather than that one specific instance. Being as how we've had some great discussions in the comments on past editorial type articles like this, I thought it'd be fun to throw this up over here and see what you guys do with it as the comments from that original article seem to have been lost in BoLS' move to WordPress.

See, the short version is a guy used/ exploited/ whatever the rules interaction about bumping ships together to create what’s known on the X-Wing circuit as a “fortress” basically to keep from moving for part of the game. This is legit from a rules standpoint, but a lot of people cried foul as a result.

As I can totally see both sides of this debate, I decided to debate myself on this issue.

Point: Sportsmanship is… what exactly?
Look- first of all, I want to start by trying to define sportsmanship. This is tough to do, and that’s like my entire point. Lots of people can tell you what sportsmanship isn’t, but have a hard time actually telling you what it is, embodies, or entails.

Also, I want to make perfectly clear that I’m talking about sportsmanship in regard to the rules of the game itself. Obviously I don’t condone people trying to bully one another, intimidate, threaten, belittle, or whatever during a match. To me, that’s something totally different than being a poor sport- it’s being a disrespectful turd.

That out of the way, I totally agree with the guy that fortressed up. He employed a tactic that’s within the rules of the game. I got no problem with that and I don’t really see what everyone is so up in arms about. It’s Worlds, people. The guy was playing to win. To me it’s no different than taking a Fat Han list even though you’d maybe rather play something else. It’s a competition, he’s competing. Where am I losing you?

Counterpoint: Sportsmanship is playing the game as intended.
So just because it’s within the rules, it’s acceptable? That’s kinda ludicrous. And the fact that it’s Worlds shouldn’t really have any bearing in this discussion- it’s not like there’s a different ruleset in play for Worlds as normal store tournaments. The expectiation of the participants is to play a game of X-Wing against some really talented opponents, and that’s the definition I think you were looking for- sportsmanship is playing the game as it’s intended to be played and winning as a result of fair play, superior ability, and yeah, maybe even a little luck. X-Wing is about dogfighting, not creating a four car pileup so you can hide in your own corner of the board for 90 minutes. That’s an unintentional rules interaction being exploited.

Point: Rules Exploits?
How do you know the rules interaction was being exploited? There have been people trying to make fortresses work since Wave 2 and folks were worried about what it’d turn into way back then. FFG has done nothing to outlaw fortressing or bumping your own ships together, so it could be debated that they have no problem with it.

The point is this- the guy didn’t break the rules at any time during the match. He took a pretty big gamble and it paid off. It’s no different than fouling the guy with the ball to try and force possession turnover in the dying minutes of a basketball game. It may not be what James Naismith had in mind when he dreamed up basketball, but it’s a legit tactic that’s used at every level the game is played. Would you call that bad sportsmanship or just good clock management?

Counterpoint: Broken rules do not a poor sport make.
Sportsmanship has nothing to do with playing inside the ruleset- if you don’t play within the rules, that’s not poor sportsmanship, it’s just cheating.

To me, it’s really pretty simple- play the game the way you’d like it to be played against you. That’s sportsmanship in a nutshell. If you want to play the game to the very letter of the law, fine, but the reality is most people don’t like to play that way. Most people like to play these games so that it’s fun for both parties, and even if you lose it can still potentially be a good way to kill some time on a Saturday afternoon or whatever.

For me, it’s all about the experience. If we’re playing and you forget to declare an Action and you move on to your next ship, I’ll probably remind you assuming you’ve been a fun opponent throughout the match. If I end up winning that match, I don’t want there to be any excuses- just a fair win for me that we both walk away from having had a good time. Because that’s why I’m there- to have a good time. It’s not that I don’t care about winning or losing- I totally do. I’m just not going to let the result ruin the experience.

Point: That is why you fail.
Again though- we’re not talking about the guy who is known as the voice of the beginning/ casual player. We’re talking about people who actually do want to compete and not have some campfire guitar circle hugfest experience. To wring every ounce of efficiency out of their list, utilize every strategy they’ve ever seen, and apply their hard-fought experience through hours and hours of games played in person and via VASSAL to try and beat the guy on the other side of the table.

Counterpoint: There’s room for both though!
So you made the basketball reference, let me make a sports reference.

Whether or not you think it’s the “best” league in the world, it’s hard to argue that the English Premier League isn’t near the top of the heap when it comes to competition. I started watching the Premier League back in 2008 and having only ever followed American sports (well, and hockey) up until then, I saw the strangest thing happen one match.

It’s been long enough ago (and it’s relatively common, so it’s not like it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing) I don’t remember who was playing, but a guy pulled up after a run with an injured hamstring. He went down in a heap on the field. The guy on the other team who had been racing the guy with the hammy, gained control of the ball, saw the other guy was injured, and kicked the ball out of bounds. This allowed the ref to call the medical folks out onto the field to tend to his injured opponent. Crazy, huh? Guy wins a footrace for the ball, then without even a moment’s hesitation, gives up possession because his opponent is injured.

Here’s where it gets even crazier- the team with the injured guy? They won the ball from the guy playing it out, right? Yeah. They passed it right back to the other team. That's right- double sportsmanship!

There’s totally room for sportsmanship even at the highest levels of competition. Call it “Fly Casual”, call it being a good opponent, a good loser, a good winner, whatever. You can be competitive without being a poor sport. It’s not easy when you have a built-in excuse of playing to win in a tournament environment, but it’s possible, obviously.

Point: Goal still stands.
That’s a heartwarming story about football/ soccer, but I saw the same thing happen once where a guy stole that inbound freebie pass to the other team full of good sports and scored a goal which won the match for his side. He was vilified in the press, ostracized by his fellow players, and pounded by the pundits. Know what though? The goal still stands. The result didn’t change; the other team still lost.

Counterpoint: Is it about the journey or the destination?
I guess it just boils down to what you want out of the activity of playing X-Wing. I mean, it’s super easy for me to say all of this stuff because I’m not, and likely will never be, a tournament X-Wing player. It’s sorta disingenuous for me to even talk about this topic because I’ve never been in the situation or anything even remotely close to it.

That said, I know me pretty well and while I can be competitive as the next guy, I remember a few times in the past when I was a kid playing sports that I cheated or benefitted from a no-call or whatever and the victory always felt hollow to me. So call it what you want, but for me it’s more about the journey than the destination. I’d rather win with no excuses or calls, no doubt. But if I have to pick between winning because of a blown call or exploiting a rules interaction in some weird way that seems to go against the spirit of the game, I’d rather lose. One of those things I’m going to lose some sleep over, the other I’m totally not.

Point: You’re precious.
Have fun walkin’ the Earth, Caine.

Counterpoint: You should have played against me in hockey, sunshine. 
They didn’t call me the fourth Hanson for nothing.

20 January 2015

Named Pilots- Lieutenant Blount

This post regarding Named Pilots is part of a larger article regarding Wave 4 listbuilding- the rest of the posts in this series will be available in the coming weeks. For more info, click the "List Building Resources" tab at the top of the page or simply click here.

Lieutenant Blount (17)
Card Text: When Attacking, the Defender is hit by your Attack, even if he does not suffer any damage.

Usage in game: Hitting even that which cannot be hit.
Breakdown: All right, let's get this out of the way.

Longtime readers of the Bikini will know that I've made this point multiple times in the past, but it bears repeating every time it comes up, because who knows what entry point y'all use to read the site.

So Blount's card text can be a little confusing because of the usage of the term "hit." Hit in X-Wing means one very specific thing, but many folks (me included) throw the word "hit" around during a game when we don't actually mean "hit" in the rulebook sense of things.

When FFG talks about a "hit" in X-Wing, what they're talking about the result of Step 6 of the Combat Phase. That's when the Attacker and Defender compare all their die results, after they've had the chance to modify them with stuff like Focuses and Evades and all that business. If the Attacker ended up with more <filled explosion symbol> results or <unfilled explosion symbol> results than the Defender ended up with <wavy arrow symbol> results, then the Defender got hit.

Not to belabor the point, but a hit in these terms is not a die result- which many times is what we say when we roll the red dice and get some explosions. At least, not necessarily. Those results are just results, even if we usually call them hits and/ or crits.

Right on, so that business clarified, let's look again at Blount's card text- normally, the Attacker has to do at least one more <explosion symbol, filled or unfilled> result than the Defender can handle with <wavy arrow> results. If that happens, as y'all know, the Defender takes damage in the amount of whatever the difference between the red results and the green results. If there are more green results than reds, then the Defender avoids being damaged in that encounter. With Lieutenant Blount though, even if he doesn't get more red results than his defender gets greens, he still is considered to have hit his target.

Ok, now that we understand that, what does that even mean?

By itself, that's kind of not really that big of a deal. It doesn't mean Blount automatically does damage, it just means he automatically hits. Ok, maybe I shouldn't say automatically because you do have to legitimately be able to Attack the target- so he has to be in arc, at least within Range 3, etc., but assuming Blount has a valid target, then regardless of how badly you roll or how well your buddy rolls to defend, you are considered to have hit your target.

So if it doesn't do much by itself, what does it mate up with? Anything that has a "if hit" type criteria. There's not a ton of stuff, but there are a few things this shows up with- namely Assault Missiles and Ion Pulse Missiles. Assaults, again assuming you've got a valid target, will always splash the ships within Range 1 of the target, Ion Pulse Missiles will always ding their target for a point of damage and 2 Ion Tokens. Additionally, even if you're not sporting ordnance on Blount, he's going to peel off any enemy Stealth Devices assuming he can draw a bead on them.

The only real downside to any of this is his ability makes Munitions Failsafe pointless, at least the way I read things.

Now that I've spent 9 paragraphs (ok, I use the term paragraph liberally as my fondness of one sentence paragraphs could be seen as biased towards high paragraph counts) explaining all that business, what's Blount good for?

He's great for getting rid of Stealth Devices. Now, much like his pal Airen, Blount has the potential to be a real day ruiner for your opponent depending on how much he relies on Stealth Devices or how susceptible he is to Assault Missiles or Ion Pulse Missiles. That is to say, against some folks he'll be a target of the highest priority, other opponents will virtually ignore him. That said, I think if you play people who are fond of tournament type meta, that is TIE Swarms and Phantom lists, depending on how you have him kitted out, Blount is probably going to be a fairly high priority target. 

Like I've said on here in the past, the formation is what makes a TIE Swarm more dangerous than the sum of it's parts and Blount can exploit that pretty readily for only 22 points. Sure, the Swarm can simply break formation, but you'll at least knock your opponent out of his comfort zone and keep him a little more honest than he might normally be.

As for the Ions, it may not be the easiest thing to pull off, but being able to auto-hit a big ship that happens to be facing a board edge after a collision or something makes him end up in a spot he wouldn't normally wind up in, forcing him to do a straight 1 could be absolutely priceless. Probably not real likely to happen, but being able to 100% ionize a big ship with a 22 point starfighter has a certain je ne sais quoi, right?

All that said, is Blount worth taking?

Well, he is flying a Z-95, so at the end of the day, if your opponent wants him dead bad enough, it's going to happen. Like I talked about in the Wave 4 preview 10 months ago, a Z-95 doesn't have that bad of a dial, but only having four HP (2 Shield and 2 Hull) ain't exactly a Brinks truck in space.

Also, much like his buddy Airen, I kinda flinch at the idea of tacking a bunch of points on this guy. Ultimately, he's kind of a support ship, though not as obviously as his buddy. Blount can take Elite Pilot Talents, which is kinda surprising to be honest being as how he's only a PS 6. Again, I'm not totally nuts about taking a bunch of upgrades and stuff, but Deadeye could be a good one if you've gone missile-centric with him and you're trying for one of those 1st or 2nd turn alpha strikes with a tube full of Assault Missiles.

19 January 2015

Named Pilots- Airen Cracken

This post regarding Named Pilots is part of a larger article regarding Wave 4 listbuilding- the rest of the posts in this series will be available in the coming weeks. For more info, click the "List Building Resources" tab at the top of the page or simply click here.

Airen Cracken (19)
Card Text: After you perform an attack, you may choose another friendly ship at Range 1. That ship may perform one free Action.

Usage in game: Action support outside of the Action Phase.
Breakdown: As this is my first article in forever, naturally I went back and re-read what I'd written about Cracken when I talked about the Z-95 preview damn near a year ago. Obviously, you can click the link to read the whole thing, but to sum it up, I compared him to a Rebel version of Vader + Squad Leader with his ability, as well as a slightly better version of Garven Dreis. And I made some weed jokes that were probably inappropriate and largely tied to Lieutenant Blount, but managed to catch Cracken with some splash damage.

Again though, that was the preview. Were any of those comparisons at all accurate some 10 months later?

I think so, yeah.

For starters, looking at his text, the Free Action he's throwing around has some satisfaction criteria- the range thing isn't such a big deal as Z-95's are relatively maneuverable and shouldn't give you much trouble putting them where you want them to be, and his PS of 8 means there's a pretty good chance he'll be Attacking earlier rather than later, so you should find a pretty good degree of flexibility getting that Free Action out there somewhere.

I think the main downside is Airen has a pretty awesome special ability while also being in a relatively easy to kill ship. In other words, I don't know that there's a whole lot keeping your opponent from focus firing him out of the night sky early to mitigate him.

With that in mind, let's think about this for a second.

One option might be trying to tank him up to make him difficult to kill so he's around as long as possible. In general, while I talk about it all the freakin' time on here (and even worse, tried and tried to actually make it work), that strategy doesn't generally stand up for very long. X-Wing's dice and rules favor the Attacker, so generally you're better off gearing up to Attack better than be harder to hit or more difficult to kill. There's also the issue of him needing to Attack to activate the ability, and the need to be within Range 1 of the intended recipient of the Action. Me personally, I think you're swimming upstream trying to make Cracken hard to kill because his nature seems to go against hanging back and playing safe. I'm not saying sticking a Shield Upgrade would be the silliest thing you've done all day were you to give him one, but I do think it's spending points against the grain.

Truth is, if you really want Cracken to stay alive, you either need to have him be the Mouse to Han Solo's (or some other big scary Rebel) Gruffalo metaphorically speaking; giving your opponent something much more dangerous that they need to deal with at a higher priority or you need to roll Biggs so you can at least attempt to control the incoming fire to some degree. 

Going with the Biggs idea because lots of people have used Biggs in the past, but he isn't seeing as much action these days, ol' Cracken meshes up pretty nicely with Mr. Moustache. First, Biggs and X-Wings in general get notably tougher to kill when they bring R2-F2 along for the ride. Assuming you can get Cracken a valid target, he can pass the Free Action over to Biggs, then Biggs can use that Free Action to activate R2-F2 which allows him to Focus or Target Lock or whatever during his, and by his I mean Biggs, Declare Action step. So that's a good thing, no? 

Me personally, I'd resist the urge to put too many points into Cracken. He's going to be a pretty high priority target for your opponent as is, and since there's not a great way to keep him from getting killed, you don't want to hand your opponent more points on top of it. Backtracking to the activation criteria thing though, I think the main thing to remember is Cracken's Attack doesn't have to actually hit anything. So it's a two Attack and you're firing at a TIE Interceptor at Range 3. Who cares? So long as it's a valid target, you're going to pass that Action to a pal regardless. Alternatively, you could install the Munitions Failsafe modification and blaze away with Ion Pulse Missiles until you actually hit something and reap the same result(s) with the added benefit of possibly ionizing your target if you do manage to actually hit it. And for what it's worth, Cracken with Muntions Failsafe and Ion Pulse Missiles along with Biggs and R2-F2 is 51 points. Not a bad combination if you ask me.

Since most Rebel players didn't/ don't roll Squad Leader much, being able to pass around Actions is kind of a novel thing for a Rebel squadron. I mean yeah, you had Salm and Dreis in Wave 1, and Lando in Wave 2, but let's be honest for a second- hardly anyone ever actually played Salm, Dreis more or less fell out of vogue in Wave 2, and Lando was always eclipsed by Han or Chewie. About the closest thing we saw to something in the same ballpark is Kyle Katarn's Focus for days setup. The point I'm getting at is Rebel players might take a little longer look at trying to make Cracken work simply because he adds an element to a Rebel squadron that is pretty unlikely to be something an Imperial player has dealt with before.

Like a lot of people, I try not to get in my own way when it comes to upgrades, pilot skills, and Actions. In other words, if I'm flying Wedge with Marksmanship, I'm probably not going to also give him R2-F2 because both Marksmanship and R2-F2 require Actions to activate, so one way or the other, I'm kind of wasting points since I can't normally pull two Actions with Wedge, right? With Cracken flying nearby though, you totally can and I don't think most folks would be used to seeing Wedge rocking both at the same time. That kind of setup forces a tough decision too- go after the X-Wing with 3 Agility that's shooting the lights out of anything it can draw a bead on, or the guy tagging along behind that's enabling all that bad behavior. Tough call!

I think you can roll Cracken without any Elite Pilot Talents, and as I mentioned earlier, I think there's definitely a line of thought that says that keeping his point investment as low as feasibly possible a terrible idea, but if you really want to know, I think there are a couple of EPTs that line up pretty well with what Cracken's up to, depending on how you're using him.

First, Squad Leader would effectively allow you to pass two Actions (assuming you Attacked), which is pretty cool and the Range requirement synergizes with his card text so they don't get in the way of each other. I also kind of like it because you're more or less resigned to using Cracken as a support ship anyway, installing Squad Leader all but makes if official. It also allows you to reliably pass on at least one Action regardless of your opponent running away from him or not. Now, I doubt he's going to live all that long handing off his own Action, but again- I'm not entirely sold on the idea of anything for him to start with anyway.

Determination is something that might keep him around a bit longer and you've got a point to burn after you're done with the rest of the squadron, but with only two Hull on a Z, I don't know that it makes that much difference to be honest. Swarm Tactics works ok here as it has synergy with his card text and he has a PS high enough you might want to spread it around. Predator would essentially give you a Han type ability since a Z only has two Attack dice for three points, and if you're flying support for somebody anyway, in this case a lower PS somebody, Decoy could be a handy and possibly surprising option that also works with Cracken's card text.

Cracken is good for those of us who used to love flying Dreis lists because he's quite a lot cheaper than Dreis for similar role and functionality, and also because he can actually take Elite Pilot Talents should that kind of thing float your boat.

Oh Hai!

Hey sorry for being out of touch for so long. I'm not dead, wasn't injured in a robot uprising, or even sick. Just got busy with work, then Christmas got here, and ok- you know those people at work that joke about coming back to work to get some rest? 

Yeah, this guy. 

I know, it's pathetic. It really is. I remember being like 23 or 24 and Christmas would roll around and I'd get like soooo much work done on some personal project. I remember writing like 5 songs one Christmas break. Reading like 4 novels I'd been wanting to check out. Watching an entire season of a TV show. Getting into Tour School on Tiger Woods. Now with the kids though, it's like non-stop working, entertaining, feeding, and changing. 

Anyway, with all that nonsense going on, I haven't had time to play X-Wing much, so I'm kinda out of it. Now, don't freak out- I'm still going to talk about X-Wing at least once a week on here, but I'm also going to talk about the other games I play, mainly over Hangouts. Currently, we've been playing that Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, so if you're curious about that game, I'll be talking about it here real soon. Couple others too that are fun, can be played over Hangouts, and are something worthy of your bartender's hipster sensibilities. 

Anyway, peace. Thanks for coming back, and I hope y'all had a merry holidays!