Journey to PAX Unplugged – System Open the Second

Back in April, I attended the UK System Open, which I believe remains to this day the largest X-Wing event ever. Things did not start well, having purchased (well, re-purchased) my ticket during a low point in my competitive X-Wing career. I finally settled on a list, a modified version of the “Danger Zone” Resistance list, but my five play-test games had not gone particularly well, leading me to believe I was making something of a mistake. Fortunately the event went reasonably well, going 3-3 in the main event and ending up 299th; a score I hope to better (since I doubt there’ll be 299 players) at the Philadelphia System Open hosted at PAX Unplugged in exactly one month.

Annoyingly, System Opens in the US appear to be connected to larger events, meaning you need a ticket for the event and the tournament, bumping up costs fairly significantly. Fortunately, I live close enough to the event that I won’t be needing a hotel, otherwise we’d be looking at a pretty expensive weekend!

So, tickets bought, what to fly? I’ve got three weeks to practice, since my FLGS has X-Wing nights on Thursdays and the last Thursday it’ll be closed for Thanksgiving (and all that yummy Turkey); it’s not a lot of time to conjure up a new list and get the reps in, so I’ll likely be resorting to an old favourite. But what?

  1. Danger Zone is a competitor; it served me well in the past but that was before the points change, having become more expensive since then. That said, without Trick Shot on L’ulo, it probably still comes in below 190 points to ensure I move second against most things. Nantices and deep-pocketed Imperial Aces/Jedi will probably still outbid me, so I can probably play with whatever points I have left (Autoblasters on Nien, perhaps?). Still, that’s one list I’m reasonably confident with, though my competency with Resistance Aces has never been anywhere near 100% and this room is going to be as tough as the UKSO was, but with tighter margins between below average, average, and above average player skill.
  2. 5x RZ-2s is always a solid choice; they served me well at Highlander Games despite not a whole lot of practice beforehand, and are definitely my backup option should nothing else pan out. Though running without a bid still feels weird, if I can block a Nantex and deny its action, I stand a decent chance of bringing it down with focus-fire if I need to. Crucially, this list is also less susceptible to Torkil Mux shenanigans than many of my other lists.
  3. 4x X-Wings, be they T-65 or T-70 variety. Simple to fly, reasonably manoeuvrable, and tanky to boot. Biggs with some Red Veterans with Selfless or four Black Aces with Heroic are my current ponderings; the latter’s I4 giving me the opportunity to trade simultaneous fire with meta staples like Grievous or Chertek should I need to, while also giving me options to outflank or arc-dodge lower-Initiative pilots should the need arise. Only problem is, I’d need a fourth X-Wing and the required cards/tokens (I left all of my generic bits back in the UK because I was on a Unique pilots-only rampage at the time).
  4. Rebel Aces, whatever that may be. I’ve currently got a few ideas how to run this; all of them involving Wedge and Luke (who should, in my opinion, star in every Rebel list) with one or two friends. I’ve got ideas about Torpedoes and Jake Farrell, upgrade-lite with Jake and Arvel Crynyd, or throwing Thane Kyrell or Corran Horn into the mix and running a three-ship build of some form. Though all of these appeal to me one way or another, the Torpedo-throwing shenanigans of Wedge/Luke/Jake probably appeals to me most. The issue is I am uncertain exactly how to engage with it, so I will probably choose one of the other options simply for simplicity’s sake, and for the sake of my own psyche and/or ego when it comes to playing the game and probably getting it wrong.

Of the above, the only thing I haven’t tried yet is the four X-Wings; mainly because, as I said, I don’t own four. Though I could get a fourth and repaint it in the white/orange scheme we’ve seen in Rise of Skywalker teasers; there’s also rumours of a white and green variant of the same pattern, but that’s based off marketing material for toys, and Hasbro has to make their money somewhere!

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It’s bold, I’ll give it that!

It should, however, prove reasonably simple to fly; so long as I stay in formation and don’t self-bump (which I’ve not done for a while unless I was blocked by someone else). The old “One-Forward to Victory” should work, right? My main concern with this list is the likelihood of getting Initiative-killed by aces (or Torkil’s mates); even a T-70 is likely to die in one round under concentrated fire. The Selfless/Biggs damage-spreading of the Rebel variant means things might survive longer, and I can afford R2 Astromechs on 3 of the 4 ships, but that’s not necessarily a good idea either…

So as you can see, I’m in a dilemma…

I don’t even know what the 2019/20 Season’s prize support will be like, so beyond a 3-3 win/loss ratio, I’m not sure what I’m aiming for! What goodies do you have planned for us, FFG?! I’d quite like to finish my Red Squadron card collection, I need Jek Porkins and Garven Dreis (I foolishly bought a Wedge earlier this year); I also enjoy frosted cards, though knowing my luck they’ll be for ships I don’t own or fly! Anakin, Poe, and Norra need frosted friends!

Speaking of Anakin; I haven’t been enjoying Republic since my move to the US, so I sold them all. It was a rough decision, and I regret it a little bit because I really did have fun with the Fine-Tuned Controls shenanigans, but with so few events locally that are easy to get to without a car, I need to concentrate on lists that will do well rather than ones that’ll just be fun to fly. That may mean moving further away from ace lists and towards more generics, which isn’t the way I want to play X-Wing, but at what point do you start to sacrifice fun for competitiveness?

In other news, with the release of Epic, I’m really excited to try the new Aces High format: a furball situation reminds me of the good old days when I was in an X-Wing vs TIE Fighter/X-Wing Alliance clan/gaming group and we used to have weekly online melee combats either internally or against other groups. Perhaps when PAX is done with, I’ll dive into making some fun Aces High builds for certain points values, see what I can come up with, and whether or not temporary alliances built over the tabletop survive the crucible of battle!

Finally, I purchased, read, and finished the new Star Wars novel (Resistance Reborn) yesterday; which details the gathering of new assets for the Resistance in the immediate wake of The Last Jedi; it was a good read, and brings several older characters back into play (General Rieekan, Wedge Antilles and Norra Wexley to name but three). Makes me hopeful that someday we’ll see Resistance Wedge/Norra, and maybe, just maybe the T-85 will get it’s own official model…

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It’s not the prettiest in the X-Wing line, but it might make a good showing…

Check back next week to see what I decided, and whether or not my first week of testing fills me with confidence or leaves me thinking I’m going to crash and burn like Porkins into the Death Star…

Imposter Syndrome

Warning: This is another of those “touchy-feely” posts in which I address concepts of belonging, wellness, and mental health.

Tomorrow is Thursday, it’s my usual day to play X-Wing and has been since the week before the 2.0 release; first at Warboar Games in Bromley, and now at Top Deck Games in Westmont. It is also the first day of the NOVA Open.

But what is the NOVA Open?

As the premiere East Coast tabletop gaming convention, the NOVA Open is a place where gamers, artists, and enthusiasts of all ages and interests can meet, compete, and experience the best gaming has to offer.

A convention dedicated to all things tabletop! Sounds fun, right? It probably would be, if I were able to go! I won’t bore you with intimate details, suffice to say had a recent house offer not fallen through, meaning I’m still living with the in-laws, I might’ve been able to attend after all. That in itself isn’t important, though I’m 90% sure it’s contributing at least slightly to the X-Wing malaise I’ve sunk back into.

Crucially, I believe I am experiencing a case of what is known in academic circles as “Imposter Syndrome”.

“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
– Harvard Business Review, May 7 2008

I have never, nor do I think I will ever, consider myself a “good” or “competitive” player. At best, I am an “average” player, maybe towards the “above average” end, maybe not. At best, I consider myself “not bad”. I’ve prided myself on flying lists that are fun to fly, or fun to fly against, and I’ve always tried to be a player that other people enjoy playing against. Going fourth and then second at Warboar with two Jedi were proof of that. Except I’m no longer sure any of that is true; following the Top Deck Hyperspace Trial, I’ve struggled, quite hard at times. I put together an “okay” list in Wedge/Luke/Corran, but as my Liberty Squadron colleagues were practicing for NOVA, I threw my “competitive” list into the mix – the good old “Modified Danger Zone” I took to the UK System Open. Post-points change, the list needed some tweaking to still fit below 190pts, but it worked. Except it didn’t, I think I’m 0-4 or something like that. I’ve had some games that were enjoyable, but only after disastrous first or second engagements that left a bitter taste in my mouth and I had to claw my way back from.

So what is causing this? Part of me wondered whether I’d been playing silly lists back home for too long, that the Warboar/Greater London Community was a more healthy environment for the silly lists; except that two-ship lists are apparently in-vogue in the US, especially on the East Coast (Duncan Howard won a Hyperspace Trial with Anakin/Obi-Wan, for example). Another part of me felt that I am still “the new guy” around town, lacking both the geographical location (I live in New Jersey, the majority of my local group live across the river in Philadelphia – the next most local store being an hour away and a $20-25 round trip) and the shared event participation that the others have – aside from the Hyperspace Trial, in which I wallowed in sweat, shame, and self-pity near the bottom of the leaderboard while my colleagues went (for the most part) from success to success with three making the top eight.

If I’m thinking logically about it, it is neither of these things; though I miss my TNX squadmates back home, the change in location and player base isn’t the problem and it never was. I have had success at X-Wing, just not in this country; competitive lists are more prevalent here given that the density and availability of events is nowhere near what it is in the UK, and I’m going to need to accept that if I’m going to keep playing. It’s also not the people: I’ve been welcomed and treated as a friend from day one, something I was very worried about when I first arrived.

So what is the problem? Ultimately, it stems from my anxiety and my wanting to feel like I belong, not wanting to feel left out, etc. Currently, thanks to the slowness of USCIS processing paperwork, weekly games of X-Wing are my social life; when it’s not fun, my social life isn’t fun, leaving me feeling like I’d be better off at home playing video games. I also want to be better at X-Wing, I want to be as good as players like Dale Cromwell (who has the most fun-looking games on stream) or Alex Birt (who is also a very nice chap), Carson Wray or Duncan Howard (neither of whom I have met but seem to be well-respected over here!) Part of me knows I can be, if I fly the right list and put the practice in; but another part of me, the part that usually wins out, just pipes up and says “no way, not happening.”

Currently, that little voice has me feeling like everyone is better at the game than I am, and while there are many who are, there are also players out there who are not as good, or whose skill is on a similar level than I am – I need to remember that.

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So, what is the solution? Well, much as I loathe to say it, it might be to investigate a meta or meta-adjacent list and get practising. I refuse to touch Finn with a barge pole, he’s good on paper but an NPE to face thanks to his cost and the Strain mechanic; I won’t put my opponents through that unless I become very desperate to win an event.

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Five A-Wings, on the other hand… Well, at least they’re fun to fly! I’m currently 1-2 with these, so I’ve got to get much more practice before I’m comfortable with it, and not flying L’ulo really hurts the lists’s offensive output (looking forward to the new RZ-2 pilots in 2020), but I’ll keep at it. Meta it may be, hate flying against it I do, but I think I see where Jake was coming from back before the UKSO; I’m just sad I hadn’t tried it back then!

Of course, part of me rebels at this; I’m doing the thing I swore to myself I’d never do back when 2.0 began, and this may be the wrong choice for alleviating my anxiety, but it’s worth a shot right? The RZ-2s still require an element of skill to fly well, unlike Rebel Beef or the Sinker Swarm that 8/10 times can just reliably joust an opponent, so I can rest assured that any wins I do achieve are only 50-75% the list. Maybe 80%.

This is one hell of a gamble, I’m basically banking my enjoyment of the game on a gimmick, and if it goes badly I’m probably going to be in a rough place. On the other hand, painting them was fun, and I’ll have some custom RZ-2s to sell (since they’re allegedly becoming scarce in North America). Maybe closer to the end of the year, I’ll start to feel better about myself again and the silly/fun lists will re-emerge. Perhaps Anakin in a BTL-B Y-Wing with Torpedoes and Afterburners as a flanker…

Or I’ll just focus on getting people to play Aeronautica Imperialis for a while…

That’s it for this ramble; out of curiosity, has anyone else felt this way before?

Thanks for reading!

Alphabet Squadron: A Brief Review

Bear with me, this is going to be a slightly different article from me:

Last Tuesday, the newest offering of the new Star Wars novel series was released, and since announcement it has caused something of a stir. Mainly due to the title…

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To me, “Alphabet Squadron” sounds more like a reading comprehension exercise than a fully-fledged Star Wars novel…

Upon purchasing the book, I was initially worried that it would be a cheap and nasty imitation of the X-Wing novel series by Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston. I feared the characters would be derivative, that maybe the writing would be substandard, or that the author would fall into the same trap that Stackpole did with X-Wing Novels 1-4 and 8: focus on the Corellians at the expense of ten other characters.

Fortunately, that seems not to be the case. The characters are new and unique, with just a hint of Allston’s Wraith Squadron in the group dynamic. Gathered together to hunt a ruthless Imperial Unit known as Shadow Wing in the aftermath of ‘Operation: Cinder’, the rationale behind the disparate squadron is made clear. I’m a particular fan of the character Chass na Chadic, the squadron’s B-Wing pilot who appears to seek her death at the hands of the Empire, and listens to loud music while doing so! The other characters will grow on me, I’m sure.

The book, so far at least, mostly appears to be world-building and setting the scene, as apparently this is now the first book in a new trilogy. I haven’t read the TIE Fighter tie-in comic, either, so I don’t know exactly where these two link; does one precede the other? Do they run concurrently? I don’t know. I’m looking forward to finding out, though! (When I find the local comic-book store, anyway!)

Overall, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this book so far! I’m now going to go back to reading, and try not to finish the book too quickly; it’ll be a long time until Book 2, and the third Thrawn book won’t be here until Summer.

Though I haven’t yet finished the book, I would definitely recommend it to other fans of Star Wars books, especially fans of the old X-Wing series. At £19.99 RRP for the hardback, it’s a little steep (but what books aren’t, I suppose?), so for those without e-readers like the Kindle I might recommend either waiting for the paperback or borrowing from a friend or local library.

Closing thought: I wonder if Alexander Freed plays Rebel Beef?

Finding Your Niche and Flying What You Love

Tournament Season is upon us! For competitive X-Wing, there is a veritable smörgåsbord of events for players at every level of skill and ability; Quick Build and Narrative events for newer players, Wave Championships, and Hyperspace Trials and System Opens for the more experienced player. It’s certainly an exciting time to be a member of the X-Wing community, though the tournament scene is definitely approaching a level of saturation which could cause attendance levels at events to drop thanks to conflicting dates.

Which brings me to the point of this article; where do players fit in?

I’ve spoken about preferring Hyperspace to Extended, my reasoning being that it is easier for me to learn my own ships and the ships my opponents might take if I’ve only got to deal with four or five per faction. Others prefer Extended because they like the variety. This is fine, people are allowed to prefer one over the other, but it can lead to some confusion and possibly even feelings of apathy or dislike towards one format over another.

I’m now finding I feel slightly apathetic towards Hyperspace. It’s difficult to say exactly why I feel this way, but since the points update in January I am struggling to find a list I can settle with. I used to favour the Rebel Alpha Strike, but recently it has been providing diminishing returns (or in some cases, zero returns) as Torpedoes are less reliable for the points, and X-Wings remain rather squishy when targeted as part of a concentrated attack. Likewise, my Resistance Ace list has been going downhill: I just can’t make it work for me any more. It is for this reason that recently I’ve tried a different tack: brute force tactics:

Four X-Wings, either T-65s or T-70s, flying in a group and bludgeoning my opponent to death with concentrated fire. Great, right? Not really. For whatever reason; be it poor dice, bad lists, or tactical ineptitude, I’m still under-performing.

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My ships have all been doing excellent Biggs Darklighter impressions, recently!

Worse than performing poorly, I am not enjoying myself. I’ve always been a proponent of flying what you love, and until recently the X-Wing (whether T-65 or T-70) was the love of my X-Wing life. Now, I’m not so sure; as a base-line ship from which to ensure the remainder of the game is balanced, the X-Wing feels perfect. As a ship able to batter its way through a TIE Swarm or a fistful of Y-Wings with Ion Cannons and Veteran Turret Gunners, probably not so much. So what can I do? I’m sure there are people out there who will say “fly something different”, but that’s not always possible: I don’t have the hundred or so pounds that I’ll need to throw at a new faction, nor do I have time to practice; the local Hyperspace Trial is this Saturday.

So, I’ve decided that, sod it, I’m not even going to try to be competitive; I’m going to put together for poops and grins, and if I win a few games, I win a few games. If I don’t, well, I’m sure burning my dice will pretend to help…

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We all remember the burning Dark Elves when Age of Sigmar was released…

The above is in jest, of course I’m not going to burn my dice, no matter how much I think they may deserve it at times; dice-shaming devalues the efforts of your opponent(s), dice aren’t exactly cheap, and burning plastic is dangerous! That said, I might rotate my current dice out for the set from the 2.0 core set, they can’t be quite so cursed, can they?

So what’s next? I’ve got two days to pick a list that’s going to be fun to fly on Saturday, ready for 8am Registration at Warboar. What are my options?

I’m considering a Resistance list designed to outmanoeuvre swarms, though I know that’ll struggle with aces. I’ve also got a handful of ace lists up my sleeve, which will probably suffer greatly at the hands of 5+ ship lists. One of which is probably going to lose horrifically regardless what I face, but will at least look cool on the table!

Either way, I’m taking a list that I hope will be fun and will cause the minimum amount of salt when I inevitable get my ass shot off the table! Until then, I’ve got some painting to do…

Six Months Later…

So, six months ago, I promised I’d write more articles. I wasn’t lying so much as I was rather naive about how much free time I would have. My Masters thesis needed writing (which took the bulk of that time), and other events conspired to get in the way.

HOWEVER!

I am now aiming (not promising) to get at least one blog post per week up, on a variety of subjects. The X-Wing 2.0 release (much needed) is next week, so I’ll likely be gushing over that for a while, but more exciting for me, more than Titanicus, new Orks or plastic Sisters of Battle, was last week’s re-release of the Lord of the Rings, under the name of the “Middle-Earth Strategy Battle Game”.

I’m quite pleased this has been redone, as the old LOTR/Hobbit ruleset was perhaps GW’s finest achievement; it was fluid, it was cinematic, and it was fun. Seriously, try playing 40k or Age of Sigmar with the LOTR turn order, it makes fights a lot more interesting!

I’m not going to go into details right now mainly because this is just a quick thing to declare I am still here and that this blog, now seven years old and still written for my own pleasure than public consumption, will not be fading into the background*.

*At the very least, wordpress offers free image hosting for photos of repaints!

Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going

It’s been…four? months since I last updated this blog? Having finished painting my army, I’d gone into the Throne of Skulls weekend feeling quite happy with myself and the state of my hobby; I was stoked for five games under the new edition, and thought the weekend would be a joyous experience and a refreshing change from my previous ventures to Warhammer World for competitive play.

I was wrong.

I had fun, don’t get me wrong, and I did manage to win a game (against Imperial Knights of all things!), but I came back with a sour taste in my mouth and no desire to upload any of the Battle Reports from the weekend. I also haven’t touched my 40k army since. I’ve played four games of Age of Sigmar since starting my all-female Wanderers project (which I’ve only really posted about on Instagram), but that too has gotten old. As for X-Wing, I’ve not played that for about eighteen months since the last tournament I played at Warboar in Bromley when I found myself on top table against one of the best players in the world (who is a great guy and phenomenal player) and the players around me all told me (as a matter of fact) that I had no chance of winning (I promptly lost).

Now, there are lots of reasons why players quit games. I like to tell myself that my reasons are due to my busy schedule what with being a Masters student and a Graduate Assistant at my old university, which prevent me from visiting my formerly-regular club on Tuesday evenings. This is perhaps 50-75% true. My main concerns with wargaming revolve around two things: updates and the community.

Now when you hear “the community” online and it relates to why a player stops playing, it’s usually because the player has had some kind of falling out with the local/online community. This is not the case at all; I like to consider myself friendly to members of the local gaming communities, if not outright friends. The issue is that after a while, playing the same opponent with the same models gets old. This may not be a problem if you don’t work nights or have guaranteed free time, but throw a more restricted schedule into the mix due to studies and work, and suddenly the opportunity to meet new players evaporates. Sad times.

The other issue, I may even argue the main issue, is updates. Games must be updated every now and then to create new opportunities for play, keep the game interesting and up-to-date (see above comment about getting old), and make the company money. I do not dispute that, games need updates in order to survive. What bugs me is how updates tend to be handled: in Age of Sigmar or 40k, new armies are usually more powerful than previous ones to the point where an army may become obsolete/non-competitive within a year of release; with X-Wing it becomes a hole different ballgame, rather than making ships obsolete (though some would argue this does happen), X-Wing has become an arms race where to remain competitive you are virtually required to buy every expansion in every wave to have the upgrade cards that make older ships viable. Of course, the issue here is what happens when they inevitably sell out? Well you’re basically stuffed, unless you want to buy individual upgrades/pilot cards from third party retailers for an inflated price.

Overall, these two factors have contributed to a general hobby malaise that has lasted for an awfully long time. I now see two options here: quit, or try and rekindle my hobby love. But how?

I still quite enjoy painting, and I have a fairly significant backlog: I started redoing my Rogue Squadron X-Wings a while back to generally improve the way they looked, but never finished them, and I still need to finish both my Wanderers and Raven Guard. That’s step one to reclaiming my hobby enjoyment. As for playing, well, I think I just have to seize any opportunities to play that I get! I’m attending the UK South-East Regional at Wayland Games in two weeks, and hopefully won’t suck too hard given my general lack of practice and being at least three waves out of date!

Note to self: clean off desk and start painting X-Wings!

That’s all for now. Thank you to whoever stuck with this until the end! All being well, some kind of regular blog service will now resume.

Throne of Skulls 2017 – An Inauspicious Start

So, 40k 8th Edition is in full swing and the first big tournament of the new edition is on the horizon. Well, it’s actually tomorrow…

The event is a Throne of Skulls, at Warhammer World in Nottingham: five games using the Maelstrom of War-style missions and built to a 100 Power Level limit. Armies are not fixed and may be changed between games. Nice and simple, right?

I decided to attend this event later than perhaps I should, and due to issues arising in my personal life, I was nowhere near as prepared as I should have been. Yesterday, two days before the event, I had only just settled on my Army list… I confess I almost pulled out several times; I couldn’t make a list I liked, the use of Power Level over actual points worried me, amongst other reasons, but I stuck it out and after a nightmare journey up from London, here I am; 9.30pm on the Friday night in my hotel room getting my thoughts onto paper.

…and doing some last minute finishing touches to get these last few models into a gameable, if not ‘finished’ condition…


They’d be more finished if I hadn’t forgotten my Averland Sunset or Mephiston Red to do the shoulder rims on two men and the eyes on all of them, but oh well… It’ll do!

I’m not confident I’ll do well this weekend, but my list looks and feels reasonably fun and balanced:

  • Shrike
  • Captain with Relic Blade
  • Lieutenant
  • 2x Tactical Squad with Combi-Melta, Meltagun, Rocket Launcher
  • 2x Tactical Squad with Combi-Plasma, Plasma Gun, Rocket Launcher
  • 2x Assault Squad with 2x Plasma Pistols
  • Vanguard Vets with Lightning Claws
  • 2x Devastator Squads with Combi-Plasma and 4x Lascannons

78 models, 99 Power Level. It’ll take some clever play to beat purpose-built shooty or assaulty armies, but it is certainly possible. Ultimately I’m here to play five games against new people, the result doesn’t matter as much as the enjoyment of the game.

It’s now 9.45pm, so I’m going to end this entry there. All being well, I’ll get at least a highlight reel of tomorrow’s games up tomorrow evening and Sunday’s games on Sunday. If all goes absolutely perfectly, I may even get the actual battle reports up!