Back to Basics

I’m not going to talk about the UK or Texas System Open, mainly because everyone else already has and I neither attended nor watched the streams of either beyond dipping in and out. Instead, this is going to kind of be one of those touchy-feely entries about mental health, with some X-Wing thrown in.

Let’s start with the X-Wing!

As people in Milton Keynes and Texas descended on (four) hundred-plus events, ten of us arrived at Showcase Comics in Swarthmore for a casual event. I’d been itching to try Zizi competitively, so I put a version of the “Poe’s Angels” list together that included her rather than Zari Bangel.

Please bare with me when it comes to names and lists, I seem to have misplaced my notes…

Game 1 vs FO Swarm

Eight TIE Fighters, with Shields, and Target Locks, and Midnight. I hate flying against swarms in the first place, the mental disconnect is still there despite a year to learn my lesson and beating the last two TIE swarms I faced (I still suck against Droids, though!)

Disengage brain, engage joust-mode.

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What’s wrong with this approach, I wonder?

Suffice to say, this game went poorly. I half-pointed everything except one fighter, in return for getting shot off the board. Two dice primaries aren’t enough against TIEs, even if you concentrate fire and have Advanced Optics. If I’d had five A-Wings rather than three, or four T-70s rather than one, things might have been different; that has been a recurring theme for me over the last few weeks.

Game 2 vs Braylen, Ten, 2x Red Squadron Veterans

This matchup was more my thing; Greer ended up moving before the B-Wings but I moved after everything with the others. Poe nearly got badly hurt early on by landing at range 1 of two X-Wings, but that handy Black One title (that I only decided to add on the way to the event) got him out of trouble. Fortunately by this time I’d remembered how to play the game, had got over my mental disconnect from Game 1, and sought to give this one my all.

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The B-Wings were the priority, once they were down (and Ten took some killing), mopping up the X-Wings was reasonably simple. My opponent did very well, and I really liked his list (his B-Wings had the new S-Foils) despite my loathing of B-Wings since their release in 1.0.

Game 3 vs Andrew – Dengar, Fenn Rau, Nom Lumb

Two I6s, moving after Poe. Wonderful.

This was always going to be rough, and it was. Fortunately Dengar’s Torpedoes bounced off Greer the first time, and didn’t manage to kill her the second. Then Fenn died and the hunt of Nom Lumb began. This. Was. A. Mistake.

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In hindsight, I should’ve tried to kill Dengar first. Nom Lumb took too damn long to kill for a ship of his points, and once I had him on the defensive I should’ve switched it up and let him spend several turns trying to re-engage while I ambushed Dengar. The lesson was learned, however – I don’t think I’ll make that mistake again.

Game 4 vs Marcelo – Fenn Rau, Boba Fett, Nom Lumb

Another Fenn/Nom list, but this time I was moving second.

Boba declined the joust while Fenn and Nom both accidentally wandered into suicide range of three A-Wings (range 2 and 1 respectively) and while Fenn decided discretion was the better part of valour and bravely ran away, Nom suffered for his mistake.

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Hunting Fenn down was relatively simple with Poe moving second, which then left everyone vs Boba. Boba was, as per usual, a pain in the behind to kill and I sacrificed half of Poe stupidly in the last turn by blocking his arc-dodge barrel roll with Zizi. Losing half on Zizi would have hurt my MoV less than half on Poe, something I need to remember next for next time.

2-2 overall, and 7th out of 10 thanks to my rather shocking MoV from the first game. Happy I maintained a neutral win-loss ratio, but disappointed I wasn’t in the 4th-6th bracket I wanted to be in.

Now, onto the touchy-feely bit…

I’ve not had an anxiety attack for a while, which I am thankful for, but X-Wing is still often a source of anxiety for me. After that first game, in which I got comprehensively spanked again by a TIE Swarm, my personal monologue was filled with thoughts such as “why did you bother?” or “you wasted how much money getting here?” Though I wasn’t quite tempted to simply walk away from the event, which I’ve not felt since the Top Deck Games Hyperspace Trial last July, had my second game gone as disastrously wrong, I might have done.

So…why does this happen?

X-Wing is meant to be fun, and 99% of the time it is. The issue with anxiety, however, is that it can ambush you at the worst possible moment. Long-time readers would know I had an anxiety attack on the way to a casual tournament which then made me very nervous about attending the 2019 UKSO, thankfully people (many I’d never met) convinced me and I had a grand old time without any emotional hiccoughs; in hindsight it was £200(ish) well-spent on hotel, travel and ticket.

Except this year I want to try Worlds… The thought of spending probably the equivalent of £200 on ticket and flights to Minnesota without food or accommodation scares me enough, but potentially scrubbing out of the Last-Chance Qualifier and spending the rest of the long weekend feeling miserable while everyone else has fun is frankly, terrifying. That’s a lot of money to believe you’ve “wasted” if things go poorly…

Let’s also not forget that at some point after turning 18, I’ve learned to hate flying. Mainly thanks to the turbulence on the TransAtlantic crossing; you’d think being in a long-distance relationship for nine years would’ve cured me of that, but nooooooo!

Fortunately the Liberty Squadron guys are a supportive bunch, and hopefully I’ll see familiar faces from the 186th and TNX as well (this means you Mr UKSO Top 8 Paul! 😉 ) I don’t doubt I’ll have a wonderful time, regardless of result, with those guys around to keep my spirits lifted and, failing that, keep the spirits flowing at the bar afterwards 😛

So, what to fly? Well, I’ve got eight(ish) months to practice!

I’m thinking 5A or Quad-70s is probably the way forward; they’re solid reliable lists which don’t rely on strategic or tactical genius to do well with at an event. Having identical dials means I don’t have to worry about accidentally bumping ships while trying to maintain a loose formation or letting someone get too far out in front/left behind. The Luke/Thane/2x Red Veterans list from Texas is also intriguing, though I’d need to acquire and repaint a fourth T-65 (which would also probably force my hand on stripping down the Rogues again in favour of screen-accurate T-65s).

Ultimately the key to success is practice, and flying something simple may well be the way forward; if I can learn to fly it well basically with my eyes closed, fatigue shouldn’t factor into any game results. The basic lists might not ever get any screen time on streams, they might not look great on YASB, and they won’t attract any “ooh”s and “aah”s on Discord, but there’s something to be said for keeping things simple.

If only they hadn’t broken Composure on Snap for my PAX list…

I’ve ranted on for over 1200 words now, probably about nothing particularly important, so I’ll close this now. If you’re going to be at Worlds, or thinking about it, let me know: the more people I “know” there, either through real-life, Facebook, or Discord, will probably make my experience be so much better!

Thanks for reading!

Philadelphia System Open: World’s Largest Hyperspace Trial (So Far!)

On December 6 and 7, a little under one hundred people descended on the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the first System Open of the 2020 series. Being the first in the new Hyperspace-form of System Open and given the late announcement (two weeks prior to the event), the low attendance is perhaps understandable; players who had registered for the event prior to the announcement either cancelling their ticket or not attending for a variety of reasons – disappointing for them and for the competitive X-Wing community as a whole, but not necessarily surprising.

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Prize Wall in all its glory

Being Hyperspace, the range of list diversity was going to be smaller than I think anyone would like; and with four T-70s (especially low Initiative T-70s), I’d need to avoid Imperial Aces and Triple Jedi if I was to have any chance of competitive success: the downside of the event being before January’s rebalance.

Game 1 vs Jesse – Vader, Soontir, Duchess

Imperial Aces, great…

I started the game aggressive, using prodigious use of the T-70’s four-forward and native boost to force an engagement on my terms. The first engagement saw both Vader and Duchess halved for half points on Temmin, which was a favourable result for me. I made a crucial mistake the following turn, changing Bastian’s lock from Vader to Duchess before she died, meaning Vader could swing back in without feeling too cautious.

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Bad times for Duchess and Vader.

Temmin was second to fall, followed by Soontir and the Blue Rookie. Bastian and Jess, both on half, vs a 2-hull Vader should be easy, right? No. I couldn’t push the damage through, having changed that lock from Bastian and being unable to really reacquire it.

Result: Loss 130-something – 200

Jesse would later go on to make Top 4, well done sir!

Game 2 vs Marc – Resistance Beef

Early engagements yielded poor or worse results, often netting one hit with a double-modified shot that was then promptly evaded even by a one agility Resistance Transport; being brutally honest with myself, I wasn’t flying at my best, and was on the ropes from the moment my dice first went cold on me.

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Fortunately, the dice swung back in the final turn of the game. Last-minute heroics from Bastian and Temmin managed to cinch me a win by seven measly MoV.

This was a game I don’t think I deserved to win based on my early strategic decisions, but also probably did not deserve to lose based on my absolutely atrocious luck, which would come back to bite me again later on in the day.

Result: 131-124 Win

Game 3 vs Justin – Vennie, Rey, Greer

This game was brutal. The initial engagement saw Rey dropped to one hull before dying to a Console Fire the following turn. Vennie then found herself surrounded and killed while Greer, despite putting up a valiant fight, found herself corralled into a corner before the end came for her.

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Sad times for Greer…

Result: 200-24 Win

Game 4 vs Tom – Grievous, 2x Fethan Autopilots, 2x TF Drones, Baktoid Prototype

Ever have a game where you can’t hit anything? This was that game. Three shots into the Baktoid Prototype, one of which was double-modded, no damage. Tom’s evades were as hot as my attack dice were cold, and his attack dice were as hot as my evades decided they were taking their union-mandated lunch break.

Bastian managed to one-hit-kill a Trade Federation Drone and Temmin finally put the kill hit on the Bomber, but it wasn’t enough to recover from a few disastrous turns of combat.

Struts need to go up to two points, I think, the ability for things to land on rocks or debris without penalty then rotate to their heart’s content while still getting actions means that you’ve got two choices when fighting against Droids – take gas clouds, or hope they screw up. Neither happened in this game.

Result: 58-200 Loss

Game 5 vs Ben – Obi-Wan, Plo, Luminara

Who doesn’t love Regen Jedi? Oh wait, my list. Ben is a lovely guy, and a great player, but no amount of description or analysis of my moves or his moves will change the simple fact of the matter that Jedi were always going to wipe the floor with this list.

And they did.

Game 6 vs James – Sun Fac and Maul

This list was…interesting. James had gone 2-0 early in the event and then dropped to play with the fun people down at the 2-3 level. Maul with Dooku is bad enough, but when you’re also factoring in Sun Fac? I was in trouble.

Enter Blue Rookie, Hero of the Resistance.

Banking across a rock, the Rookie blocked Sun Fac. Sun Fac tried to tractor Bastian onto the same rock, failed because of angles, and promptly missed. Jess did, well, Jess things…and Bastian finished the Nantex off with a range one shot with both Focus and Target Lock.

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Not appearing in this picture: a recently-deceased Sun Fac…

Maul put up a fight; stripping Temmin and Jess of their shields, but he couldn’t quite do enough damage to get anyone off the board. Bastian half-pointed himself on a Proximity Mine which I knew was coming and decided to do the K-Turn anyway (Maul had like three Hull left anyway so the game was mostly in the bag by this point), before James conceded before losing Maul to the Rookie (who more than earned his fancy blue paint scheme).

Result: 200-24 win.

Overall Result: 3-3, 45th/98

Final Thoughts:

3-3 echoes my performance at the UKSO and 45th out of 98 is better than 299th out of 560-something. So I can be pleased I haven’t gotten worse. That said, I’m disappointed I didn’t do better. Still, it was a fun event, and I got to meet the legendary Dion Morales, Dee Yun, Chris Allen, Marcel Manzano and Paul Heaver; all of whom are really nice people with an abundance of enthusiasm for the game; if these people were in charge, X-Wing wouldn’t have any problems at all.

The points rebalance and alleged changes to Hyperspace can’t come soon enough. I wasn’t alone in feeling a little annoyed by the format change so close to the event, especially since the changes will affect every other competitive event of the 2020 season except this one: had this been Extended or post-change Hyperspace, I might have done better. I may also have done worse. The fact that I only faced one Nantex is fortunate, I believe there were four at the event spread across three lists, but I couldn’t avoid running into Jedi – I used to love flying them, but now I’ve sold mine and have to fly against them, I now understand where people were coming from.

I leave you with an obligatory swag pic before I pack away my X-Wing until the New Year’s points are released, crack open my Black-Friday Legion stuff, and start learning how to play a game that, while not a replacement for competitive X-Wing, will probably allow me a chance to breathe and reflect on why I play these games and really, whether or not competitive play is my thing after all.

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Obligatory swag pic!

If I don’t write any further entries beforehand, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, etc and a Happy New Year! May 2020 bring balance to the meta, allow us to see through the lies of the Jedi, and introduce Baby Yoda to the game!

Journey to PAX Unplugged: 1, 2, 3, 4

Time until PAX Unplugged: 17 days

Regular playtesting sessions remaining: 2

This weekend has been busy; eight games over two days, each event involving over an hour of travel in either direction. I am exhausted, how I expect to go six rounds on Saturday at PAX and then another five on Sunday at the main event, I do not know. Healthy food, plenty of water, and a good night’s sleep is probably the best option; snack bars and Coke/Pepsi probably the wrong way to go…

Saturday

I travelled up to East Coast Gamers in Tom’s River, New Jersey, to play in a twenty player/four round “casual tournament”. I considered bringing Wedge/Luke/Corran to get some reps in with that just in case I choose to use it as my backup, but instead took four T-70s to give them a chance to prove themselves competitively. Even though three of the pilots are Unique and have their own abilities, there is something satisfying about the simplicity of grouping your ships together and aiming them at the thing you want to die. This was going to be a challenging weekend, a true test of the list’s (and my) performance under competitive pressure in an Extended environment, and I can honestly say I wasn’t exactly confident!

Game 1 vs Chris – General Grievous, 3x Precise Hunter, Trade Federation Bomber

This list was interesting; the sheer amount of Cluster Missiles and the Hunter’s reroll ability worried me greatly. I started off facing down the enemy force, splitting away and leading him through the obstacles in the middle of the board before swinging around and deleting Grievous in one volley.

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Can’t share Calculates if you can’t Calculate!

Chris’ green dice hated him; admittedly it didn’t help that his ships were all Initiative 3 and I was getting fairly good at using the Blue Rookie and Bastian as blockers to prevent the Droids Calculating. When the last Droid fell, I still had four ships on the board: Jess and Temmin still with two shields apiece, Bastian with one shield, and the Blue Rookie at 3 Hull.

Game 2 vs Darren – Lieutenant Tavson, “Muse”, 2x Epsilon Cadets

I. Hate. Upsilons.

I made a fundamental mistake this game, in that I tried to rid myself of the TIEs before concentrating on Tavson; who had both Advanced Optics and Pattern Analyser, and thus really didn’t care about stopping and was more or less un-blockable.

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What should have been a masterful block turns into a really bad day for the Blue Rookie…

Long story short: everything died. For one and a half TIEs. A terrible way to play the game (though I believe the stop manoeuvre isn’t playing the game), my opponent entirely deserved the win

Game 3 vs Nick – Anakin Skywalker, Ric Olie, 2x Blue Squadron Protectors

Nick and I had played on Thursday, and he had made the mistake of jousting me with a rather fragile list. Suffice to say it ended poorly for him. This time, though he engaged in a much more effective manner, he still suffered the wrath of four T-70s pointed at the same target. The Torrents fell for half-points on the Blue Rookie before Nick forgot R2-A6 on Ric and bumped, quickly getting focused down and killed soon after.

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When you’re flying at low Initiative, getting arc on Aces is a real pain!

Anakin killed Jess with three minutes left on the clock, while Anakin escaped death with one Hull left; a vast improvement over Thursday’s game in which he fell with 45 minutes left on the clock.

Game 4 vs Dan – 4x Inquisitor

Four Inquisitors with Supernatural Reflexes and Passive Sensors; able to reliable token stack Focus/Evade tokens every turn, and also my nemesis chassis. With aces, killing the little buggers off was less of an issue than it is with the lower-Initiative ships.

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Snap deleted one in one shot, giving me early hope for success, but in the end the tables turned against me: two Inquisitors remained against the Blue Rookie as time was called, leaving me 2-2 for the day. 7th out of 20 was a good result given I had zero confidence in my list at the beginning, and the organiser made sure that everyone went home with plenty of prizes in alt-art cards to make the journey worthwhile.

Sunday

Sunday saw me travelling deep into Pennysylvania to Gamer’s Heaven in Phoenixville, a combined video- and tabletop game venue with an attached Ramen cafe. Though I’d gone 2-2 the previous day, I knew most of the people at this event as good players and knew that with PAX around the corner, they’d be bringing their A-Games.

Game 1 vs Matt – Grand Inquisitor, 2x Inquisitor, Colonel Jendon

Matt and I drove up together so being paired in Round 1 was a bit of a pain, especially since it was this exact list that gave my Black Aces such a rough time several weeks ago. Matt had given me some advice on how to deal with his list, however, and that was to get rid of one or more of the Inquisitors before going for the Shuttle.

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So that’s what I did. I traded down, Temmin for an Inquisitor and Jendon’s shields isn’t a good trade, especially when that means I’ve lost my “Ace” and the Grand Inquisitor is still zooming around. Instead of turning in against Jendon, I charge the Grand Inquisitor and make him disengage which frees me up to remove both Jendon and the other Inquisitor in fairly short order.

With seconds left on the clock, the Grand Inquisitor zooms into a kill-box and mistakenly decides to try and kill one of the three remaining ships rather than escaping. This costs him greatly, seeing him removed from the field just as time is called.

Game 2 vs Ted – Hera Syndulla, “Zeb”, Jake Farrell, Biggs Darklighter

VCXs scare me: four dice at range two-to-three, five dice at range one makes for a bad day for anyone unlucky enough to get caught in front of it; this one had an Ion Cannon Turret and Zeb docked, meaning potentially eight attack dice double-tapping out the back; enough to make a T-70 go away if I’m not careful.

The initial engagements went my way thanks to a combination of blocks and rough dice on Ted’s end; Hera lost four shields and two hull in exchange for three shields on Bastian, followed swiftly by Biggs getting executed by converging fire at range one.

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Somehow Temmin managed to get away with his life, I still don’t know how!

Temmin got halved by Hera, who in turn was blown apart by the Rookie (he’s really been earning his pay recently, he needs a new title!) This left four T-70s vs an A-Wing and an Attack Shuttle; neither of whom lasted long, Jess blasted Zeb in one shot while Temmin cornered and killed Jake for the second win of the event – half-points lost on Temmin and Bastian.

2-0 wasn’t where I expected to be at this point, and the other three 2-0 players had lists that frankly scared me quite a bit; I wasn’t looking forward to facing any of them, but I would have to hope that the matchup I drew was more favourable than I feared it would be.

Game 3 vs Eoin – Lothal Rebel, Luke Skywalker, Thane Kyrell

Another VCX, and two T-65 Aces; this had the potential to be rough, I could tell! The Lothal would hit like a tonne of bricks, and both Luke and Thane are decidedly dangerous targets; Luke would have to be eliminated quickly or he’d be a major problem for me late-game, if there was a late game!

Luke over-committed early and collided with the Blue Squadron Rookie thanks to Temmin’s free Boost ability (we actually didn’t think it would initially clear, had it not, Luke would have hit Jess and not taken shots) and was blown away by the combined shooting of Temmin and Jess. The T-70s then turned their ire on Thane, who met a similar fate the following turn.

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And now the VCX becomes the blocker!

Four T-70s vs a Lothal Rebel was going to be an uphill struggle for Eoin, especially as Bastian managed to keep rolling double evades while on one Hull remaining. The Lothal finally fell, having been unable to kill Bastian, and putting me at 3-0 and still in contention for the top spot – something I’d not considered possible at all with this list.

Game 4 vs Rob – Poe Dameron, Tallisan L’intra, Greer Sonnel, Zari Bangel

It was Rob’s birthday, so I was already getting some good-natured ribbing about “letting him win”. We’ve played each other once before and he soundly beat me, and his list had many advantages over mine; speed and time on target in addition to the all-important Initiative. I would have to be careful, especially with the A-Wings, as three of them with Advanced Optics could easily ruin my day.

Rob engaged too cautiously, not wanting to joust with the A-Wings; leaving them exposed from the flank without return fire; Tallie lost her shields and the next turn forced Poe to burn his Black One SLAM early to avoid being caught in four overlapping fire arcs.

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Poe and his Angels flee, but are running out of room.

Tallie was the first to fall – traded for Jess’ shields, followed by both Greer and Zari. It’s now Poe versus the world, something that he might actually be able to manage had more of the ships taken damage to their shields.

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In a last gasp to put more points on the board, Poe dives into the kill-box.

Desperate to finish Jess, Poe pounces and unfortunately fails to take Jess’ last Hull thanks to her re-roll, before being picked off by Temmin for the win.

4-0 for the day and First Place, something I didn’t think this list could ever achieve. Admittedly a significant portion of my success can be attributed to good dice rolls on my part or poor rolls on my opponent’s, but I’m finally comfortable with the list. Confident enough to take it to PAX? For the Hyperspace Qualifier, certainly. Main event? Maybe, we’ll see.

What’s interesting is just how resilient this list can be: I lost one T-70 all day on Sunday, to Matt’s Inquisitors and their Concussion Missiles; T-70s can hang in there when T-65s or E-Wings would be blown apart, which is probably why it’s my favourite of the three. I’m also pleased with how well the list performs as a group: I know I could run Temmin as a pocket-Ace against I3 ships or lower, but I can’t help but wonder if that would make Jess’ reroll less useful if she rolls particularly badly (it happens) – more experimentation is required.

There are two more Thursday test sessions until PAX, with next week being out thanks to Thanksgiving, and I’m still not sure I am 100% prepared: I’ve only got 10 acrylic shield tokens and 3 of the 4 acrylic dial covers I want if I’m taking this to an event (it’s probably a form of OCD I didn’t realise I had). I can only hope that Curled Paw Creatives comes through for me before then!

I may treat myself to a new Resistance Damage Deck as well, if it’s out before the event…

Still no news from FFG about Prize Support, which doesn’t bode well. FFG haven’t even officially announced the event yet, so it’ll be interesting to see what the numbers are like on the day.

That’s it from me for this entry, I need to find my paints and get my fourth T-70 painted; after this weekend it’s earned a paint scheme!

Journey to PAX Unplugged – The T-70s went in Two by Two!

Time until PAX Unplugged: 24 days

Regular playtesting sessions remaining: 3

Last week’s playtesting efforts have been…eventful. I took four T-70s to Top Deck on Thursday (well three T-70s and a T-65 standin) to test the four Black Aces out. The first two games I won fairly comprehensively; once against Republic Beef that had been thrown together at the last minute, and once against a tanky Rebel five-ship list. This made me feel quite good about my choice of list, especially since the legendary Dylan Jones had offered to send me the required pilot cards from Wales for free; I wanted to put that on the blog now in case further playtesting takes me away from T-70s, so THANK YOU DYLAN! (Sidenote, his blog is a pretty good read, people should check it out!)

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At I4, a T-70 can do almost anything. It can joust, it can flank, it can arc-dodge. It’s truly multifunction!

Of course, that’s when things took a turn for the worse. Against a Scum beef list I struggled to put damage through against ships with three agility, and successfully defending against a Fearless Talonbane Cobra at Range 1 is almost impossible. That defeat was swiftly followed by a matchup against one of the current meta staples – Jendon TAPs; again, I failed to push any significant damage through. Though infuriating, this game taught me a valuable lesson about the T-70; it can’t turn for crap when against something as nimble as a TIE or Delta-7.

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Trying to dodge these things is like trying to smell colours… Glitterstim is the only way!

So suddenly I’m 2-2 with the list that I’d had a lot of confidence with that morning. The early successes had been comprehensively stomped on, and I was about ready to call it quits on the Quad-70 idea already. Annoyingly, I’d just purchased my fourth and opened it, so I couldn’t refund it; so I was honour-bound to keep trying, and refine the list if possible.

Enter shenanigans:

  • Blue Squadron Rookie
  • Lieutenant Bastian
  • Jessika Pava
  • Temmin Wexley w/Composure

Comes in at 199pts, and has some fun interactions. The issue is, with Jess in the picture, I want to fly in the block which might not be strategically sound; I also don’t really like I1 and 2 pilots (despite my success with A-Wings) as they’re susceptible to being Initiative-killed. That said, as a jousting block, it’s pretty reliable; Snap should have a focus/lock 9 times out of 10; Jess gets re-rolls, and Bastian should always be able to focus then acquire a lock.

First game with this list, played on Friday, was against Hera w/Saw, Luke w/R2-D2 and Braylen – 100% pure jousting ridiculousness. It was a mess. Luke died early, but then I suffered horrifically at the hands of Hera who wouldn’t stop rolling maximum damage. Quite heavily on-tilt, especially at my evade rolls, this game ended quickly. Perhaps targeting Luke first was a mistake, I should probably have tried to get Hera out of the picture (though with Reinforce that’s easier said than done). The second game was against Poe and 3x RZ-2s, and this game swung in the opposite direction: my opponent couldn’t escape the kill-boxes made by the four T-70s, and lost all three RZ-2s without killing a T-70 before conceding; not believing Poe could fight his way through three healthy T-70s before the timer ended.

So 2-2 with four Black Aces, 1-1 with the Resistance 1234 list. Not exactly heartwarming statistics with such a limited timeframe before the event. On the other hand, I can learn from my mistakes; one consideration is to exchange Heroic with Crack Shot on the Black Aces, use their higher Initiative and (hopefully) line up the bullseye to put the hurt through on those three-agility ships (especially those Inquisitors); obviously this means no defensive re-rolls, so they lose something in terms of tankiness, which I’ll probably need against lists with multiple I5 or 6 ships…

I’m going to keep trying with the T-70s, but I can’t help but think that my dislike of crew carriers like the Resistance Transport has hamstrung my ability to do well with a list like this; Cova Nell with an Ion Cannon might be a good replacement for the fourth T-70, for example. That said, I’m not prepared to sacrifice my gaming enjoyment for performance just yet (though I may regret those words if I don’t enjoy the event!)

I still have backup lists available, both for the main event and the Hyperspace Qualifier on Day 2. All I know is that to progress to the Elimination Rounds, I need to go 5-1 on Day 1. I’ve never gone 5-1 in swiss before: my best was 4-0 with my Headhunter Swarm way back when, and 4-2 at Highlander. Still, it’s doable, I suppose! Still no sign of a Prize Support article from FFG, which isn’t helping, but I can be patient for another week or so; when I know what I’m fighting for, I’ll know whether to keep struggling through with a list I’m not 100% comfortable with or to abandon it for something I’ve had more practice with.

Until then, I’m going to trawl through YouTube for streamed games involving four T-70s to get an idea how to deploy them, how and when to engage with them, and so on. Admittedly most appear to be based around three Red Experts and Jess Pava, which helps for the 1234 list but less for the four Black Aces who don’t necessarily want to joust everything they come across…

In other news, apparently several Corran Horn lists made the Top Cut at the Spanish Grand Championships; maybe my Wedge/Luke/Corran list isn’t as non-competitive as I initially thought it might be! I’ll keep it packed and ready to go, just in case, but for now I’m going to be sticking with the Resistance and hoping I can a) settle on a list and b) learn its foibles and quirks before the 6th.

Wish me luck, folks!

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…

What Makes An Ace?

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:

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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?

  1. General Grievous:
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    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.
  2. Kullbee Sperado:
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    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.
  3. Karé Kun:
    Kare
    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…
  4. Greer Sonnel:
    Greer
    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.
  5. 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!

A Wargamer Abroad: Settling In

I have now resided in the United States for nine days, and life is proving to be different in some ways and remarkably different in others. For example: in New Jersey there are petrol station attendants who fill your car up for you, and the prices on things do not include tax. The weather has proven distinctly England-like, however; blue sky and sunshine one moment, thunderstorm the next…

Weather and petrol-pump trivia, aside, it’s been a busy nine days. I have, however, managed to get myself down to the local gaming store on the last two Thursdays to introduce myself to the locals. I was nervous; though I’d introduced myself through the local gaming area’s Facebook group, these were new people and as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, anxiety around new people is something I suffer from fairly regularly. This wasn’t going to be Warboar, Wayland, or Dark Sphere, these weren’t going to be my friends from TNX or the 186th members I remain in contact with; all I could do was hope for the best.

I needn’t have worried: Top Deck Games in Westmont, New Jersey is a lovely store. The range of items stocked is large and varied (including Sisters of Battle models for those 40k players who wanted something different), the staff are great and the locals are all lovely people. Originally I hadn’t intended to get any games in during my first week, but applying for for phone contracts, debit cards and Social Security Number is long process that involves an awful lot of waiting around; so last Thursday I grabbed my box with whatever was left in it from the last time I played – which turned out to be Anakin and Obi-Wan.

USA Game #1 vs Mike – Soontir, Vader, 3x Academy Pilots

I’ve played against similar lists with Anakin/Obi-Wan and come out on top, but today The Force was most definitely not with me! I believe that focusing on Vader rather than Soontir first meant I lost ground fairly early on in the game, and struggled to claw it back. By the time the game finished, I had only managed to halve Soontir and Vader and damage one of the Academies. Still, it was a great game and Mike was a fun opponent to play against!

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Two on one, and I still came off worse… Photo credit to Lou Caravelli

Now aware that before I start throwing silly lists around, I needed to get the measure of my new opponents, so this week it was time to bring something a little more ‘serious’ to the table. My variation of the “Danger Zone” list has always been good fun to fly, while also being one of the more ‘competitive’ lists I’ve used this year.

USA Game #2 vs Graham – Anakin& Obi-Wan

This was an interesting game; Graham was running a variation of the list I ran last week, but with Afterburners on both Jedi rather than the Shield Upgrade on Anakin.

The first engagement took place in the centre of the board and went my way; Graham’s dice rolling cold from both ships while L’ulo did his thing and stripped Obi-Wan’s shields in one hit. L’ulo would pay for this insult, however, as he was the first to fall.

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Things are looking rough for Obi-Wan, here!

Obi-Wan found himself surrounded and killed by a vengeful Poe/Nien double-team, and from there it was only a matter of time before an aggressive Anakin was finally hunted down. Graham and I discussed this after the game; had Anakin disengaged after losing his shields rather than turning in to finish L’ulo, he might have survived longer; but ultimately I think removing a ship from the board was the right move to make at that time.

USA Game #3 vs Lee – Iden, Gideon, Del, 2x Nu

This list was an odd one; I’ve never seen low-Initiative Gunboats used without Ion Cannons and the Assault Configuration before, so I was wary of what this list might be able to do; especially if I accidentally wandered into Range One of any Advanced Proton Torpedoes…

L’ulo committed to the engagement too early, though was fortunate enough to avoid the worst of the punishment through initial clever range control and then a lucky overlap. Poe and Nien swung in from the flank, chipping away at Iden and Del before shifting their focus to the Gunboats.

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The board becomes more than a little congested at this point!

L’ulo finally found himself shieldless thanks to Homing Missiles, and began the process of trying to disengage in a way that meant he could still engage; he didn’t play any further role in the battle except to bait the TIEs and eventually die to Iden and Gideon. Poe deleted the two Gunboats in quick succession, before linking up with Nien again and going to town on the TIEs. The game concluded with Del Meeko, who had been untouched for the majority of the game, suffered a Fuel Leak from overlapping an Asteroid and then suffered one sole Critical Hit which put him down for good.

USA Game #4 vs Kevin – Boba/Emon

Firesprays and Bombs. I’ve flown against a similar list flown by TNX Squadmate Jake, but at the time I was using Wedge/Luke which meant I had to adopt a bold but cautious style of play. Now I had half again as many ships, only half as many Torpedoes, and zero Force. Kevin had just annihilated a four Fang list through careful bomb placement, so I knew I couldn’t afford to be too bold; I could joust the list and stand a reasonable chance of coming out ahead, but I wasn’t going to if I could avoid it.

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Thanks to a bold play by Kevin, I’m forced to accept the joust.

Kevin didn’t let me avoid it, and as the ships crossed paths, L’ulo had lost his shields and Emon was down to four Hull. The second engagement saw L’ulo fall to Boba, but Emon fell to Nien who had Tallon-Rolled into his blind spot at Range One.

Nien and Poe went to work hunting Boba, but it was difficult work! I managed to get my dials confused at a crucial moment, leaving Nien out of range and Poe at range one of Boba in his front arc, but fortunately the dice gods were with me and Poe didn’t suffer as much as he should have. Boba did finally fall, but it was touch and go for a moment; Poe was on dangerously low health, and though Nien was still mostly healthy, he’d struggle to catch Boba if the Firespray decided to simply run for it.

 

Four games and three wins in my first two weeks in America, I’ll take that! However, in this case it’s not about the winning at all. My fears have been allayed; there is a local store, the X-Wing scene is thriving, and the local players are all friendly. Furthermore, I’ve got a Hyperspace Trial in about six weeks, which I wasn’t expecting! What more could I ask for?

I’m also tempted to check out the Last Chance Qualifier in October, though that one depends entirely on available funds and wife points… I’d better start being more helpful around the house!

Big thanks to Mike, Graham, Lee and Kevin for the games, and to Lou and everyone else at Top Deck Games for making me feel welcome so far!