24 February 2015

Guest Article- Against Marksmanship by Punning Pundit



Against Marksmanship:

Hello hello! I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion about the card Marksmanship recently, and sat down to write a really annoyed missive about it. Our barkeeper, Clint, kindly agreed to host my thoughts here.

Before I dive in: online, I tend to go by “Punning Pundit”, and I’ll give 5 house points to anyone who can tell me- based on my cognomen- what my Major and Minor were in college.I blog about Class Warfare and Video Games over at Indignant Desert Birds, and tweet about the same stuff, and my dog Branson. I’ve been playing X-Wing since Christmas eve 2011, when my then-GF bought me the core set. Dear reader, a year later we were married.

So: I kinda hate Marksmanship. Probably more than it deserves, which is odd, given how much hate it does deserve. It’s the sort of card that looks good until you get to know the game better, and then you realize how little it actually does for you. The designers were still figuring the game out when they made the card, and players tend to only use it when they’re new.

Lets take a look at the text:
(3 points)

Action: When attacking this round, you may change 1 of your (eyeball) results to a (crit) result and all of your other (eyeball) results to (hit) results.

In effect, it uses your action to create a sort of pseudo-Focus. The biggest difference between Marksmanship and spending Focus on offense is that Marksmanship turns 1 (eyeball) into a crit. Because the action is not actually a focus action, it can’t be stolen by Palob Godalhi, nor can Carnor Jax prevent its being taken as an action, or spent as a token. Nor can it be banked by Mody Crow, passed around by Garven Dreis, or negated by Wes Janson.

Lets go all the way to the basics: this game is won by rolling enough more successes on red dice than your opponent rolls successes on green dice to account for every hull that your opponent has- and doing it faster than your opponent does the same thing to you. (As an aside: that sentence would be a lot easier in algebraic notation, or written in Latin/Greek. Sorry about that).

Lets take a break for today’s asterisk.


(Credit: some guy on YouTube)

When building a squad, points should be spent either on doing damage to enemy ships, or mitigating damage your own ships are taking. The Marksmanship action does not improve the odds of a hit more than a Focus action does. Instead, it marginally improves the odds that, if you cause your opponent to suffer damage, it will be a critical hit.

This seems like rather over-valuing critical hits. By way of comparison, look at the Heavy Laser Cannon and the Mangler Cannon. The HLC does 4 dice at ranges 2 and 3, converts (crits) to (hits)- before dice are modified- and costs 7 points. The Mangler Cannon tosses 3 Dice at ranges 1-3, converts 1 (hit) to a (crit) at any point before the defender rolls dice, and costs… 3 points less than the HLC. This tells us that a critical hit is worth significantly less than a fourth attack die.

Don’t get me wrong: All things being equal, I’d rather roll 3 (crits) than 3 (hits). But unless your name is Ten Numb [Most of this article has a giant asterisk next to it “unless your name is Ten Numb], those (crits) won’t actually make it easier for you to hit another ship.

Does the Marksmanship action give you a better chance to hit than the Focus action does? Nope. At least- not for any single attack. And if you roll an attack with no (eyeball) results, you’ve actually done worse than you would have had you instead chosen the Focus action- Focus tokens can be spent on defense as well as offense.

Crits are good though, right? Well yeah! They can annoy the heck out of your opponent. But for a crit to land, it has to A) Be against your opponent’s unshielded hull, B) Not be the final single damage that kills your opponent (so: a “direct hit” crit that dips your opponent into negative 1 hull is kinda wasted) C) Not be against Chewie.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that spending 3 points for the option of taking the Marksmanship action is overspending for the privilege of putting crits on your opponent. Compounding that, you’re also being a lot less flexible on defense.

Feeling a bit Numb from reading all this?


(credit: a different guy on YouTube)

If all you wish to do is modify your roll, Predator offers a lot more flexibility, does not require an action, costs the same amount of points, and can be combined with a Focus token to convert any straggling (eyeballs) into (hits).

When might Marksmanship be a good idea? I might put Marksmanship onto a build that was going to fire twice in one round, when it also had access to other ways to modify dice. For instance: Coran Horn, with Fire Controll System, and Marksmanship is not the worst thing I’ve ever heard of. I might slap Experimental Interface and an R2 unit on there, just for extra funsies. And then moan that I’ve just eaten half my list on a single ship with 5 hp.

Or maybe: Ibitsam + FCS, Marksmanship, E2 (modification), and Gunner. It will shave 6 points off the Corran build, and cost you 2 PS. Notice, though, that you could get rid of Marksmanship and Gunner in favor of Crew!Luke, and get very nearly the same chance-to-hit, be action independant, and it will actually save you a point.
For super trolling, try: IG-88B + FCS + HLC + Marksmanship + IG-2000.

Remember: you’re not paying for the privilege to turn an (eyeball) into a (crit), but rather for the privilege of turning (eyeball) into (successes) on more than one attack. Frankly, in all the times I’ve run Buzzsaws, it’s been extremely rare for me to need a focus in addition to a pair of target locks on a pair of attacks. Since the FCS/Gunner combo is action-free, it works even when you’ve been blocked. And yeah, writing this post just made me realize how awesome Crew!Luke is.

The StarViper expansion comes with a card called “Calculation”, which will do much of what most of us want Marksmanship to do, and only costs 1 point. It’s still a very situational card (but wonderful on Ten Numb. Pairs so well with an Ion Cannon on Ten Numb that it’s ridiculous.)

So Marksmanship: it takes an action to for marginal gain, uses an EPT, and leaves you incredibly vulnerable in your defense. Marksmanship: It’s a trap.

(I tried very hard to find something with “Ten Numb” and “trap”, but alas.)