I’ve been thinking recently about people’s play styles and the list archetypes we know exist out in the wide world of X-Wing. Two of the major contenders appear to be “Triple Aces” or “Ace and Friends” (Or Ace Miniswarm, Ace + 4, call it what you will).
But what is an “Ace”? We’re not talking about a pilot with five or more confirmed kills here, that’s far too real-world for this blog, but in X-Wing terms what is an Ace and what do they do? Is it down to their Pilot Ability? Initiative? Is an Ace an Ace all the time? These are questions that have been rattling round my head for a while now, and I think it’s time to put them “on paper” so to speak…
But first, this happened:
This blog started in 2011 as a method of keeping track of my 40k games and holding myself accountable about progression in my hobby. Back then I had a core of readers centred round my local Games Workshop, and when I started blogging about X-Wing at the start of 2.0 this focus changed. My readership may not be huge, but every view I get or every comment I receive is much appreciated – thank you to everyone who graces this pokey little blog with your presence, it means a lot!
What is an Ace?
When I think of Aces in X-Wing, I immediately think high-Initiative ships that can reposition while still benefiting from offensive or defensive dice modification, or ships that can reposition twice to ensure they never take incoming fire while being in a position to capitalise on this the next round (or that round if they are lucky). We’re looking at our Soontir Fels, our Kylo Rens, I5 and 6 Jedi, and to a lesser extent ships like Fenn Rau, Quickdraw or Poe Dameron; though I’d consider these pilots brawlers rather than Aces.
But is this necessarily true? Do Aces have to be High Initiative? Or is it more about positioning and capitalising on it? I put it to a few X-Wing Discord servers and got a variety of responses; many agree with the concept listed above; High Initiative, probably low health, decent options for repositioning and damage output. However, one reply stuck in my mind:
“Anything that is mobile can be an ace; I2 Striker vs I1 Vulture is insane levels of ace.”
If this is true, it turns the concept of the “Ace” on its head; if your opponent lines up and jousts you, even your average T-65 or TIE Fighter can become an Ace so long as it doesn’t just obediently line up and commit to the honourable joust itself. There are pilots whose built-in abilities seem to imply they are built for Ace-style play, speeding up the flank, dropping in behind the enemy, and generally making a mess of things for them. Of course, some might say this is a “Flanker” rather than an “Ace”, but are the two mutually exclusive? Are all Flankers Aces? Probably not. Are all Aces Flankers? Well that’s where this gets a little muddled and comes down to play style; your expensive Ace isn’t going to last long if they fly up the middle of the board, so it’s probably best to stick to a flank at least early-on.
So who are some of these Flankers who might be Aces but also might not be?
- General Grievous:
Grievous enjoys being in something’s flank, or behind it. Throw on Soulless One, and he even doesn’t mind facing the wrong way when you’re shooting at him. He’s got the dial and action economy to get around behind your force and really start wreaking havoc if you allow him. Initiative 4 doesn’t do him any favours against High-Initiative pilots unless you’re using that mobility to block, but against your average block of ships it’s more than enough to make a mess of things.
- Kullbee Sperado:
One of the unloved T-65 pilots from Saw’s Renegades, Kullbee can really shine if people would give him the time of day. The ability to Focus and then link into a Boost before opening his S-Foils means that he gets the best of both worlds; throw an R4 Astromech on him for another two points and next turn he’s able to turn behind an opponent without losing an action and likely be able get a better shot than he otherwise might have. Again, I4 means he’s less likely to be useful against Higher-Initiative ships in this manner, but against Vulture Droids or a TIE Swarm, this ability could prove pretty useful.
- Karé Kun:
Who doesn’t love Daredevil being built-in to the ship? And without that pesky Stress token as well? Kare functions much in the same way as Kullbee except she never needs to close her S-Foils unless she wants to barrel-roll, which she may do every so often but not on a regular basis. Throw Afterburners onto this pilot and you get to do that hard-turn boost essentially for free twice per game, freeing up her action step to take a Focus or Target Lock as required (or barrel-rolling if that’s your thing). Once again we’re talking I4, it’s like we’re seeing a pattern here…
- Greer Sonnel:
Look at that dial, and that pilot ability! Greer is, probably understandably, my favourite RZ-2 pilot to fly; she can go anywhere, do anything, and will have shots 99% of the time unless I’m flying perpendicular to a target I need to re-engage. The ability to rotate her arc, take a modification, and reposition is huge, but perhaps so is her ability to roll and boost while still rotating her turret. Unlike the others, she cannot benefit from a Talent such as Outmanoeuvre thanks to no front arc (unless you give her Missiles), but unlike the others the Initiative 4 poses less of a problem; she can just zoom and rotate and get the shot regardless where her target ends up.
- I’d talk about Temmin Wexley but everyone just gives him Composure and fails his free Boost, so he no longer counts. Sorry Snap!
The pilots above are by no means the only pilots who can be both Flankers and Aces when the opportunity arises, they’re just the only ones I’ve got experience flying and thus am truly comfortable discussing. A special shout-out to the E-Wing (all pilots) should be mentioned as well; the combination of fast and slow manoeuvres plus that hard-one turn mean that it can get up in people’s business from all angles when required. The same can be said for A-Wings of both varieties, and even the lower-Initiative Jedi make effective flankers and can arc-dodge with the best of them (or better in the case of Jake Farrell and Jedi pilots) when required.
So why does “Ace Play” seem to revolve primarily around Initiative 5 and 6 pilots?
I would assume, perhaps erroneously, that it’s due to the prevalence of other Initiative 5 and 6 pilots out there. For example: Howlrunner is not an Ace, for example, but if you intend to deprive a TIE Swarm of its rerolls before it fires you need an Initative 5 or 6 pilot to kill her; usually both, since she’s squirrelly as hell when she wants to be and when Iden’s in play you need to kill her twice to make sure she stays dead. Guri, on the other hand, is an Ace and will look at where you put your I4 flanker, Advanced Sensors roll or boost to avoid your firing arc, and still hit like a tonne of bricks; sad times for all.
This contributes to something of a “No-Man’s Land” between I3 and I5, which is where these interesting pilots with flanking abilities all seem to fall; they’re useful against low-Initiative swarms, but not so great against the higher-Initiative Aces (they get out-Aced?) With the introduction of the Nantex and its ability that makes effective blocking a thing of the past, we’re probably even less likely to see some of these ships in play; a sad day for us all, unless you play CIS, in which case you’re probably cackling away in your evil lair while the Nantex debate continues to burn the internet to the ground…
Having discussed this with others, and re-reading what I have written, I wonder if the whole concept is subjective; what makes an Ace an Ace for me in my list isn’t the same as someone else’s Ace in their list. I’m back flying Wedge/Corran/Luke, for example; none of them are what I would consider Aces, they can be if used correctly, but as a general rule they’re probably brawlers with Ace-like qualities. A Poe/Nien/Ello (or L’ulo) list on the other hand, has more Ace-like qualities despite being similar in playstyle thanks to the way the T-70 and the pilot abilities work, but again they have to be played as Aces to count. I’m sure the same can be said for Darth Vader, Fenn Rau, Sun Fac (boo hiss!) and others.
What is clear in my mind, however muddy the issue of Aces may or may not be, is that there are a few stand-out pilots who you could not accuse of anything other than being an Ace: Anakin Skywalker, Soontir Fel, Kylo Ren are but a few. Keep them out of your opponent’s firing arcs, they’ll fly around like wrecking balls; let the enemy get a decent shot on them, and they go all glass-cannon on you and shatter into a billion pieces.
That said, I’m intrigued about what people think about the lower-Initiative pilots; they’re out there, they’re waiting to be flown, and I’m interested to see what people have to say on the matter!
Thanks for reading!