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You Came in That Thing? You’re Braver than I Thought.

In the spring of 2016, my best friend introduced me to the X-Wing Miniatures Game when she handed me a T-65 model at the LGS we’d both been hanging out at to play Magic for years.  The life-long Star Wars diehard in me couldn’t resist the siren call, and before I knew it I had a Core Set, an X-wing, an A-wing, and an E-wing.  It was decided: my team would be my Rogue Squadron heroes.  I was going to field Tycho Celchu, Corran Horn, and Wedge Antilles, and it was gonna be great.

That phase didn’t last long.  I lost many more games than I won, and it was probably only a week or two before I transitioned to trying some of the more popular lists I’d seen online like Corran/Dash.  Not as flavorful as I wanted, but it was powerful and I was winning more.  The game was still thrilling, but in a different way.

What compels us to play X-Wing?

The answers to basic (but not simple) questions like this one reveal a lot about who we are not just as players, but as people.  X-Wing offers me a creative outlet, a place for my imagination to escape to a galaxy far, far away, a challenging game that helps me stay a sharp strategic thinker; X-Wing at its best is all of these things at once, and it’s still appealing when it’s only one or two of them.

I came to the game for its flavor.  I hadn’t touched a miniatures game in my life at that time and had no real interest.  Warhammer looked like a chore (and an expensive one at that), and I was pretty content to stick to MTG as I had for years.  Star Wars was different.  I couldn’t say no to the chance to blast TIE Fighters with the Rebel heroes I’d grown up cheering for.  I continued with the game for the competition.  Phoenix Squadron is an amazing group that hosts excellent events, and it’s the most positive and welcoming gaming community I’ve ever been part of, bar none.  I met new friends, lost a lot of games, and won some others.  I remain with X-Wing because it has something very special in common with my other longtime gaming hobby: X-Wing is a game of creative expression.  In 100 points, we’re challenged to design the game experience we want to have, and there’s an experience in these vast multitudes for each kind of player.

Asymmetrical strategy games offer us the chance to step out of the box of just being a player and become game designers in our own right.  It’s why people like me are drawn to hobby gaming; so many games revolve around choosing from enormous lists of options and collapsing every possibility into a singular experience.  What this really means is that the experience we have is largely the experience we choose to have, which is a mindset that I find helps me avoid slumps over bad dice or just being totally outflown.  If my dice are getting me down, I can revise my strategy to address that, and the more I practice a specific squad the better I should be at handling whatever comes at me.  Some squads really reward persistence, and you’ll see not only an increase in win rate as you rack up reps, but unfolding gameplay possibilities you hadn’t really considered before.  Theorizing about a squad is one thing, but once you start analyzing lines of approach and laying down templates in a real game you start to understand that man plans and the Force laughs.

The high-level structure of X-Wing is the same from game to game, but the particulars of what rules and mechanics I am leveraging to my advantage can be radically different.  Metagame considerations aside, fat turret strategies coexist alongside swarms, elite stacked aces alongside cheaper generics, combo engines with efficiency-driven ball-o’-stats style squads, and so on.  The ability to reach into my bag of models or to whip out my phone and build a totally different list on the fly during game night keeps X-Wing fresh.  Naturally, there are a lot fewer “good” lists than “bad” ones.  There are good reasons to play lists with questionable features, though.

For my ally is the Jank, and a powerful ally it is.

“You want to go home and rethink your life.”

This is the beating heart of jank.  Jank isn’t just about playing bad stuff, it’s about why we play what we play.  Some of us are Trajectory Simulator “Genius” Nym players, some of us want to live the Fenn Rau Advanced Proton Torpedo dream.  There are Minefield Mappers and Thug Lifers.  I play games like Magic and X-Wing for the experience of combing through what’s left behind by the competitive community.  The unloved and forgotten pilots and upgrades are where I experience the greatest joy in this game, whether it’s making Cassian Andor into a Raging, Advanced Sensoring machine or jamming my beloved T-65s or taking a good hard look at the possibilities that Ibtisam has with Maul crew (spoiler: they’re… limited).  X-Wing’s quintessential spirit to me is a game of, “What if we tried this?”

I build and throw away a lot of lists.  I’ll reach for a ship, kit it out, reach for a second ship, tweak the first one, think a moment, set it aside, and continue the process until my Rebel Frankenstein reaches its points cap.  Most of these are ugly babies, but occasionally there are diamonds in the rough.  At my second store kit tournament I won a challenge coin with the following:

The Saga Begins (100)

Corran Horn (48)

  • R2-D2
  • Fire-Control System
  • Push the Limit
  • Engine Upgrade

Tarn Mison (25)

  • Integrated Astromech
  • R7 Astromech

“Hobbie” Klivian (27)

  • Integrated Astromech
  • Targeting Astromech

I was proud to win that tournament, but I was especially proud to do it with this list.  Corran here is nothing special, a concession to the fact that I should probably play at least one tried and true ship if I want a real shot at winning.  Hobbie and Tarn?  The looks of confusion I got from opponents were delicious.  And the squad looked good on the table: a commanding, powerful E-wing fighter escorted by a pair of the Alliance’s august signature snubfighters.  I was thrilled every time I lined them up at my edge of the board, imagining to myself that they were emerging from hyperspace to intercept an enemy patrol.

Each game was hard-fought.  My squad wasn’t great, but I flew it well and I got lucky where it counted.  The final match against Whisper RAC was a nailbiter, and Corran pulled it out against the badly damaged Decimator as an act of revenge for his fallen comrades.  It might sound corny, but my internal narrative even at a tournament was blasting full volume.  There was no other reason for me to be there if I wasn’t playing X-Wing with my squad and crafting stories to tell myself about their exploits.  It was X-Wing at its absolute best, scratching the itch for competition, flavor, and creativity all at once, and that’s what makes the memory so vivid.

Nowadays, every list I build has a seed.  I take a concept, pilot, or upgrade and build around that, trying to figure out what the best and most interesting ways to develop the idea are.  One such concept is the Weapons Engineer + M9-G8 combination that’s possible on the ARC-170 and now the Sheathipede as well.  This list was developed in March of 2017 before the Sheathipede was even announced, but it could easily be adapted for the cheaper shell:

Shara’s Grays (100)

Shara Bey (35)

  • Weapons Engineer
  • M9-G8
  • Veteran Instincts
  • Alliance Overhaul

Gray Squadron Pilot (33)

  • Twin-Laser Turret
  • Plasma Torpedoes
  • Extra Munitions
  • Guidance Chips
  • R2 Astromech

Gray Squadron Pilot (32)

  • Twin-Laser Turret
  • Proton Torpedoes
  • Extra Munitions
  • R2 Astromech
  • Guidance Chips

M9-G8 is working overtime in this squad.  The first engagement begins with both Y-wings locked to boost the power of their TLTs if the enemy is out of Shara’s TL range, or with her distributing target locks to increase the potency of their payloads when combat starts otherwise.  Jousting the torpedo carriers is a dodgy plan for most squads, but trying to skirt around them is also tough thanks to what is essentially a pair of TLTs with predator.  Finding the right vector and moment to engage the formation is not necessarily obvious.  As a bonus, setting a pair of pretty much identical generic Y-wings on the board with their team leader in her ARC-170 makes for a pleasingly symmetrical squadron.  With a little bit of tweaking, a new possibility opens up for the team, too:

Double Dutch (100)

Shara Bey (35)

  • Weapons Engineer
  • M9-G8
  • Veteran Instincts
  • Alliance Overhaul

“Dutch” Vander (36)

  • Twin-Laser Turret
  • Plasma Torpedoes
  • Extra Munitions
  • R2-D6
  • Veteran Instincts
  • Guidance Chips

Gold Squadron Pilot (29)

  • Twin-Laser Turret
  • Plasma Torpedoes
  • Extra Munitions
  • Guidance Chips

Dutch’s ability to move after Shara gives him a chance to pass a double-value target lock action to her during the Activation Phase, enabling her to switch around her locks for optimal munitions firing and accuracy boosting.  This extra value does come at the cost of losing access to Proton Torpedoes and R2 astromech though, meaning it’s harder for the torpedo boats to make bold K-turn plays with Shara’s ability to share her target locks and then shed the stress the turn afterwards.  Both versions have been tremendously fun and reasonably successful for me in casual play, but the most satisfying part of the whole experience is definitely the thrill of seeing an idea that’s really your own bear fruit.  All of these ships could plausibly exist together in a “canon” list and that has nonzero appeal to people like me, too.  Once again, the secret is in knowing what motivates you.

The seed of a list could really be anything.  Maybe you want to build a canon movie squad with Han, Luke, R2-D2, and Chewie.  I like exploiting high-value interactions between cards like Operations Specialist and Moldy Crow or Rey crew.  Some people are more into lobbing bombs with Trajectory Simulator after coordinating a boost on their Resistance Bomber for maximum possible coverage.  Take an idea and see how far you can run with it, and don’t worry if there are obvious flaws that could be exploited by an opponent’s list.  That’s another part of the beauty of X-Wing: no squad is really good against everything, and generally the ones that have even matchups against most things lose representation as other things arise over time, too.

“It’s the list that made the cut in less than 95 points.”

The lists above, quite obviously, are jank.  But they’re my jank, not necessarily unique in all the world, but creations of my mind that free me from the stifling constraints of competitiveness as the sole goal.  They’ve got that mixture of conceptual cuteness, aesthetic pleasantness, and potency that motivate me to play.

None of this should be taken as a rebuke of the competitive mindset.  I like to win too, and I’m not invested in making sure other people think about, play, or approach X-Wing the way I do.  At the risk of repeating myself too much, jank is not about lists that struggle to compete or suboptimal combinations of ships and upgrades.  It’s about exploring a broader space of possibility and finding excitement in the often messy and unsuccessful process of discovery.  As long as I play this game, I’ll never forget my Corran/Tarn/Hobbie list, even though I might never realistically play it again.  “Secret OP” is the white whale I’ll continue to brew for and chase after, and as long as I get to do that, there’s joy in the game yet.

So, why do you play X-Wing?

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