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Squadron Commanders

I love X-Wing. That should be a given, as this is the third article recently I’ve written about the subject. But another thing I love is alternative ways to play games. Taking the existing rules of a game and turning one or more items on their head and producing something completely different as a result.

The Commander format within Magic: The Gathering is a great example of this. It featured bigger decks, an easily recurrable Commander card, the ability to include (just about) every card ever made, and a completely new way to define/set your strategy. In Standard you can have up to four of each card in your deck. In Commander you’re limited to one. That might seem limiting when it comes to strategy, but the reverse was true. Because you can easily retrieve your Commander and put him/her into play, you can build entire decks around a central theme in a way that simply isn’t possible in Standard. You could take absolute garbage cards in other formats like Standard, Modern, and Limited and find them to be powerhouses in Commander. As soon as youngest brother Zach introduced me to Commander, I went all-in. I had a Brago flicker deck, a Jhoira suspend deck, a Bruna enchantment deck, a Gisela aggro deck, a Narset combo deck, and more.

One of the best things about Commander, though, is that it didn’t replace Standard Magic. It lived comfortably alongside the primary format. Here in X-Wing, I think that we have a similar opportunity. Sure, there is already Epic play, but that’s an entirely different animal with different ships, a lot of different rules, and a steep investment to get into for those just starting out. On the X-Wing slack chat, we began brainstorming an alternative, easy to get into game mode that beginners could immediately appreciate right alongside veterans who “own everything.” We’ve tentatively been calling this play mode “Squadron Commanders.” The base rules of standard X-Wing play remain completely intact, but we introduce the concept of a “Squadron Upgrade slot”. I asked @pcgamerpirate from both the xwingtmg slack and /r/xwingtmg to put some thoughts to “paper” on the Squadron Commander idea. His write-up is included below:

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Suggested by many in the past, “Squadron Upgrades” seem to be a logical next step for X-Wing. Much like Skirmish Upgrades in Imperial Assault, and Commander Cards in Magic: The Gathering, Squadron Upgrades would add a global effect to your squadron that many, if not all, your ships could utilize. Think of it as a Title for your entire list.

The purpose of the Squadron Upgrades I’m suggesting are in agreement with the reasoning behind “Theme Forces” in Warmachine. These reasons include but aren’t limited to:

  • Implementing fluff mechanically
  • Buffing underpowered options

The first card I am going to suggest is Endless Number:

endlessnumber

Pictured in a mock-up above the card reads, “At the start of the planning phase, if a friendly TIE Fighter with a starting pilot skill greater than 1 was destroyed during the last round, you may place one Reinforcements Pilot in your deployment zone. You must start with at least 4 TIE Fighters in your squad.”

As you can tell from the text, the main effect is that every non-Academy TIE in this list will essentially have to be killed twice. What’s more, while these Reinforcement TIEs would be worth 0 points, they could still contribute to the fight as blockers and more guns. This card combines a number of mechanics already in the game so its implication would not be too difficult.

This Squadron Upgrade hits both aspects of a Theme Force. It represents the in-universe deploying TIEs en masse, requiring an exclamation that “There’s too many of them!” as TIEs that are shot down are quickly replaced.

In addition to being thematic, I think this card solves the current non-viability of TIE Swarms. With only 2 attack, TIE fighters are often at a loss for punching through the many defenses of autothrusters, free tokens, and/or Palpatine and have to rely on multiple shots to cut through. Furthermore, there are a lot of ships that have the offensive capabilities to destroy TIE Fighters before they can shoot, minimizing the number of shots a TIE Swarm can produce.

With Endless Number, one of those issues is addressed. With the opportunity to bring your squadron to full strength, your TIE Swarm has a very good chance of maintaining its volume of fire throughout the battle. If shot volume can be maintained, you increase the likelihood of wearing down defenses and sneaking just enough damage to take down even the hardest targets.

[Mike’s edit: I was remiss in adding in the Reinforcement Pilot card before. It is pictured below.]

reinforcementspilot

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@pcgamerpirate’s write-up above does an excellent job of beginning to unpack the idea behind Squadron Commanders. Think of some of the things we don’t see very often right now as viable in standard competitive play. T-65 X-Wing’s not named Biggs, T-70’s, A-Wings, B-Wings, TIE Fighters, Starvipers, etc… Most of these are classic in their Star Wars look and feel, but have fallen behind the curve in terms of being truly functional in modern X-Wing play. While not “garbage,” we feel like they can find fantastic new life in Squadron Commanders play as seen in the Endless Number card above, all without changing fundamental aspects of the ships themselves. You won’t find “increase the attack value of all friendly ships” or “the T-70 X-Wing now has a native evade action” as both alter the ships at a base level that would take re-learning when transitioning back and forth from Standard play to Commanders.

What follows are examples of other Squadron Upgrade cards that we’ve been thinking about. These are by no means final ideas, and are included as a jumping off point for additional brainstorming and discussion.

Phoenix Squadron – Reduce the cost of non-unique A-wings by 2. When a friendly ship is attacking with their primary weapon, you may add a hit result for each other friendly A-wing that has the defender in arc at range 1.

Phoenix Squadron is a mainstay of the Rebels cartoon show. Filled with relatively novice pilots, they’re out there taking the fight to the Empire without having a high degree of pilot skill. The Phoenix Squadron upgrade brings that to the table. The first part of the upgrade lets you pack in generic A-Wing pilots and include some cost savings that lets you fit a little more onto their loadout. 5x Snapcrack Gold Squadron Pilots have seen some play at recent Regionals, but they haven’t found an overwhelming amount of success. With the Phoenix Squadron upgrade in play, all the Snapcrack Golds can also run autothrusters, making them that much more survivable.

The second half of the upgrade showcases how hard it is to avoid the withering fire of a swarm. The more of these little buggers you let get right up on you the more damage they’re doing to do, even when only rolling two red dice.

Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 17
Snap Shot 2
Chardaan Refit -2
Crack Shot 1
Autothrusters 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20
Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 17
Snap Shot 2
Chardaan Refit -2
Crack Shot 1
Autothrusters 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20
Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 17
Snap Shot 2
Chardaan Refit -2
Crack Shot 1
Autothrusters 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20
Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 17
Snap Shot 2
Chardaan Refit -2
Crack Shot 1
Autothrusters 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20
Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 17
Snap Shot 2
Chardaan Refit -2
Crack Shot 1
Autothrusters 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20

The above is a sample Phoenix Squadron loadout in all its glory. You’ve got five snapcrack A-Wings with the additional survivability from Autothrusters. They want to swam in close and saturate an area with firepower, during both the Activation and Combat Phases (note that Phoenix Squadron’s +hit results do not trigger in the Activation Phase). The list rewards you for flying well, the more ships you have on target, the more hit results you get to add.

Blackmoon Squadron – Reduce the cost of R7 Astromech upgrade cards to 0. Whenever you spend a target lock, if you have an R7 Astromech you do not have to discard the target lock token.

By and large, the R7 Astromech is a terrible card. There are only one or two pilots in the entire game that can make marginal use of the droid, and even then it is a stretch. However, if by equipping the droid you got to keep your target lock after spending it, suddenly we have a wealth of options available to us.

In the old canon the R7 was specifically designed for the E-Wing. E-Wings in our game suffer terribly in the current meta, as lists designed to punch through the defenses of Defenders and other Token Stackers delete these ships in a single volley. By including some “free” survivability through forcing selective offensive dice rerolls, suddenly the costly E-Wing becomes a bit more viable. Fire-Control Systems equipped to those same E-Wings then become a terrific offensive *and* defensive upgrade.

Of course, other notable pilots stand out as benefitting from an upgraded R7 Astromech. Tarn Mison’s pilot ability reads, “When an enemy ship declares you as the target of an attack, you may acquire a target lock on that ship.” Now Tarn’s ability might as well read, “You don’t want to attack me, because you’re going to reroll your dice, and set me up for some good offense next turn. But please, go ahead, hit me.”

Norra Wexley is the other standout. Her card reads, “When attacking or defending, you may spend a target lock you have on the enemy ship to add 1 focus result to your roll.” Coupled with C-3PO, tanky Norra just became (potentially) hyper tanky, without having to resort to regen shenanigans that few opponents care for. It also opens up other viable builds for her such as taking Expertise instead of Push the Limits, while staying under the 40 or 41 point cost she normally clocks in at.

Norra Wexley — ARC-170 29
Expertise 4
C-3PO 3
R7 Astromech 0
Vectored Thrusters 2
Alliance Overhaul 0
Ship Total: 38
Etahn A’baht — E-Wing 32
Trick Shot 0
Fire-Control System 2
R7 Astromech 0
Stealth Device 3
Ship Total: 37
Tarn Mison — X-Wing 23
R7 Astromech 0
Vectored Thrusters 2
Ship Total: 25

Not that we’d necessarily opt to, but Norra, Tarn, and a named E-Wing pilot can all be included in the same list with the new R7 Astromech and fit right at 100 points. Etahn increases the lethality of Norra and Tarn, and is himself hard to hit even before forcing one opponent’s ship into offensive rerolls. Norra is Norra, and is the mainstay of the squadron providing heavy offense and defense. Tarn fills in as another quality jouster who absolutely wants to draw enemy fire both to shield his friendlies, and to set up his own future offensive punch.

Gold Squadron –  When attacking with a Missile or Torpedo, you may add two hit results. If your attack hits, cancel two hit results.

Long-term Star Wars veterans were probably waiting for the “new guy” to get to something from the original trilogy. Gold Squadron is certainly classic Star Wars at its finest. The pilots deserve their spot in Squadron Commanders as a result. What we aimed for with Gold Squadron is simple: higher accuracy, not higher damage. For all the complaining about Twin Laser Turrets, that upgrade did get something right. Increasing red dice should not proportionally increase damage dealt. The concept of a highly accurate attack that doesn’t penetrate well is needed. Thus the Gold Squadron Upgrade card, which should help punch through token stacks to apply an effect, even if you don’t deal damage in the end.

There’s never a worse feeling than when you roll a great Homing Missile, Plasma Torpedo, or Proton Torpedo, only for your opponent to come up all evades. That’s a squad point investment that you made that turned out to be useless. Blech. No one likes that. With Gold Squadron as your selected Squadron Upgrade, munitions can take center stage. Now you’ve got extra chances to hit, even if your hits don’t end up doing damage. Cards like Assault Missiles, Ion Pulse Missiles, Advanced Homing Missiles, XX-23 Thread Tracers, Plasma Torpedoes, and Ion Torpedoes can all be seen in a new light. Before, these were (except for Plasma Torpedoes) seldom played munitions as hitting on some of the targets you really want to be hitting against proved rather difficult. For example, you’re not often hitting Assault Missiles on Triple Defenders. They’re just going to laugh at you. To your face. It’s embarrassing, really.

Not so with Gold Squadron. Now that Assault Missiles is a guaranteed 1 damage to every other ship at R1. Ion Torpedos? Talk about munitions control. That ship and each ship at R1 receives an Ion Token. Who is laughing now, Defenders? No token stacking for you! Advanced Homing Missiles becomes a guaranteed face up damage card. Plasma Torpedoes is at least -1 shield. I think you get the point. Unused torpedoes and missiles suddenly find themselves viable, and the sky is the limit for functional loadouts.

Three TLT + munitions Y-Wings? Six Z-95’s? K-Wings? X-Wings? Munitions-focused squads for the win.

Black Sun – Your Z95, Starviper, and Kihraxz pilots with PS 3 or greater gain an additional illicit slot. You may reduce the cost of each of your illicit upgrades on those ships by 2 (minimum of 0).

I’ll be honest that this Squadron Upgrade could use some work. It still doesn’t address the obscene cost of the Starviper, or the lack of good built-in actions on the Kihraxz. Just giving both of those ships an extra 2 or 4 points of Illicits to play with isn’t going to suddenly make them awesome. There’s still little-to-no reason to choose them over a Protectorate Starfighter. However, lists like the below are possible:

Black Sun Soldier — Z-95 Headhunter 13
Homing Missiles 5
Scavenger Crane 0
Glitterstim 0
Guidance Chips 0
Ship Total: 18
Black Sun Soldier — Z-95 Headhunter 13
XX-23 S-Thread Tracers 1
Scavenger Crane 0
Glitterstim 0
Guidance Chips 0
Ship Total: 14
Black Sun Soldier — Z-95 Headhunter 13
XX-23 S-Thread Tracers 1
Scavenger Crane 0
Glitterstim 0
Guidance Chips 0
Ship Total: 14
Black Sun Soldier — Z-95 Headhunter 13
Homing Missiles 5
Scavenger Crane 0
Glitterstim 0
Guidance Chips 0
Ship Total: 18
Black Sun Soldier — Z-95 Headhunter 13
Homing Missiles 5
Scavenger Crane 0
Glitterstim 0
Guidance Chips 0
Ship Total: 18
Black Sun Soldier — Z-95 Headhunter 13
Homing Missiles 5
Scavenger Crane 0
Glitterstim 0
Guidance Chips 0
Ship Total: 18

That’s a whole heck of a lot of alpha potential. The two Thread Tracer Z’s set up an impressive volley for the Homing Missile Z’s, whose attacks are all the more highly modified with Glitterstim activated. And should their shot finish the target off, free missiles!

Green Squadron –  When attacking with your primary weapon, you may place a weapons disabled token on a friendly ship at range 1-2 that has not attacked this phase to roll 2 extra dice. You may treat that ship’s focus and target lock tokens as your own.

Like Gold Squadron, Green Squadron is all about giving you a higher degree of accuracy while not increasing the actual overall dice pool. Assuming A-Wings for the moment, rolling 4 attack dice a single time is more likely to punch through 3 agility dice than rolling 2 attack dice twice. Not much more needs to be said about this Squadron Upgrade.

Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 19
Crack Shot 1
Chardaan Refit -2
Snap Shot 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20
Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 19
Crack Shot 1
Chardaan Refit -2
Snap Shot 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20
Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 19
Crack Shot 1
Chardaan Refit -2
Snap Shot 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20
Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 19
Crack Shot 1
Chardaan Refit -2
Snap Shot 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20
Green Squadron Pilot — A-Wing 19
Crack Shot 1
Chardaan Refit -2
Snap Shot 2
A-Wing Test Pilot 0
Ship Total: 20

In the above list, half of your Green Squadron A-Wings sacrifice their ability to attack in the Combat Phase to help the others punch through defenses. What’s nice is that those same sacrificial A-Wings can attack during the Activation Phase with Snap Shot. While Snap Shot is not a highly accurate attack in itself, given you can’t modify the attack, that’s still additional red dice that are being thrown around prior to Token Stacks being applied.

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I hope you enjoyed the above discussion on potential Squadron Upgrade cards for Squadron Commanders. We’re really excited at the potential for this kind of alternative play format, but want to hear your thoughts about the upgrades. What did you like? What did you dislike? Are there other Squadron Upgrade cards you’d like to recommend (yes, I know, we only have a single Imperial and Scum)? Leave those in the comments below!

About Mike

Christian. Husband. Father. Writer. Gamer. Sports enthusiast. I have many interests that don't naturally overlap, but love to discuss them all.

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