Opening Moves, Part 1

This Article is written in conjunction with Episode 7 of the Back to Dials Podcast: Asteroid Placement, Deployment, and Opening Moves with Christine Anderson. Our Beginner Strategy series is made possible by the generous contributions of the supporters of our Patreon campaign.

Allow me, if you will, to take you on a journey of whimsy and wonder, of spaceships and starfield playmats. Yes, friends, I would like to take you on a journey as I recap the opening moves of the final game of the 2016 Store Championships at Grand Slam Sports Cards and Comics in Loveland, Colorado. “Sure, Asa,” you say, “But will this just be a tale of self-congratulation, or just another dry battle report?” Man, guys, come on. Certainly you think better of me than that! No, I will not completely recap the finals match. For that, you can take a look at the streamed game on our Twitch channel. I take you to this game because it is the perfect example to illustrate the concepts that we talked about with special guest Christine Anderson in Episode 7 of the podcast: Opening Moves. In this three-part strategy series, I will go through the steps outlined in that episode, with examples provided by the Finals game itself. In this installment, we will talk about how to assess the strengths and weaknesses of an opposing list to begin to formulate our plan of attack.

Assess Your Opponent’s List

As Christine mentioned in Episode 7, the first thing that you must do when sitting down at the table across from your opponent is read their cards thoroughly and not only figure out what their list is, but figure out what it does. My opponent’s list was a variant of the terrifying Imperial Crack Legion:

Six TIEs. Five Crack Shots. All business.

Six TIEs. Five Crack Shots. All business.

Howlrunner

Stealth Device

Crack Shot

Black Squadron Pilot x3

Crack Shot

Omega Squadron Pilot

Crack Shot

“Wampa”

This is a very, very powerful list, and one that has a lot of favorable qualities against popular meta lists – blocking potential, spiky damage output to cut through regeneration and lots of green dice, lots of bodies on the field to deal with fat ships, and pilot skill to “ace” (Kill before they fire) low-skill meta staples like the Academy Pilot, and the ever-popular “Stresshog” Y-Wing (Which is usually a Gold Squadron Pilot with R3-A2, BTL-A4 Y-Wing and either Twin Laser Turret or Ion Cannon Turret). While we can garner a lot of useful information just by looking at your opponent’s list, the real relevant conclusions are drawn when we compare it to our own. Here is my list from the Finals game, “Wampa’s Lair:”

Colonel Vessery

Veteran Instincts

Omega Leader

Juke

Comm Relay

Zeta Leader

Wired

Comm Relay

“Wampa”

Wampa’s Lair has proven itself versatile, and possessing of a high damage output with fairly good maneuverability. But, we have to look at this in the context of comparison with the TIE swarm, and ask ourselves the most important question of the entire pre-setup phase:

Can I out-joust this list?

Jousting is generally considered the act of flying directly at each other, rolling dice, and hopefully coming out ahead. “Jousting” lists are lists that generally excel in this role, and they generally have the following hallmarks:

  • Less maneuverable ships
  • The ability to concentrate firepower

This can take many forms – from the “4BZ” (Four Blue Squadron B-Wings and a Bandit) list to a TIE swarm. They can have a large ship count, or even just have some aspects of a jousting list alongside another “pillar,” such as an arc-dodger. For example, Soontir Fel flying alongside five Academy Pilots. As Christine mentioned, her AXE list has jousting elements in Etahn A’Baht and Tarn Mison. So how does this come back to deployment?

You must ask yourself, “Can I out-joust my opponent’s list?” An answer of “yes” would mean that you would come out on top if you were to joust the opponent and put your faith in the die rolls. For me, the answer to that question was an emphatic no, no no. No. “Wampa’s Lair,” and indeed a great majority of lists, cannot out-joust a TIE swarm, and to top it off, this is a crack TIE swarm, which is one of if not the absolute best jousting lists that exists right now. In order to answer this question, you have to compare different aspects of your and your opponent’s lists.

In the case of the Imperial Crack Swarm Vs. Wampa’s Lair, although my list has higher sustained damage output, it is fragile as, like a lot of Imperial ships, it has a relatively small amount of health for the cost behind some fickle green dice. When I looked over at the Crack Swarm, I noticed that, with five copies of Crack Shot on the table, if all of them go off on the same ship it would surely die – that is five points of damage on the table. The burst damage of a Crack Shot TIE swarm is insanely high, whereas the sustained damage it puts out once Crack Shot is expended and maybe a couple TIEs die is relatively low. Conversely, “Wampa’s Lair” has a high sustained damage output with the consistency of Vessery’s ability and excellent closing capability with Omega Leader. This comparison informs the rest of setup, because it helps me to formulate my plan of engagement, and the deployment of my asteroids and ships:

Applying the Results

I do not, under any circumstances, want to engage that list in a straight-up fight. The analysis provides some other useful insight: With the exception of Wampa, my entire list comes in at PS7 or higher, and it has the damage output to ace a Black Squadron Pilot before it fires. This will be critical, especially if I find myself in a bad position! If I can remove an enemy ship from the board before it can fire (and especially if I destroy it before it has a chance to expend its Crack Shot), then I have gained myself a huge advantage in the opening rounds. Therefore, the analysis has informed my targeting priority as well – while in a lot of cases Howlrunner is the prime target, since I have the opportunity to eliminate a large source of damage before it fires (By killing a Black Squadron Pilot) that is what I am going to target first: The first BSP that comes into solid range that I can off on the first turn. Additionally, it informs my optimal opening engagement: Ideally, I want to be entirely in range of one Black Squadron Pilot (With said BSP in my arc), with only said BSP able to shoot back. Now, that’s ideal, and my opponent is too good to let that happen, so I must devise a fallback, or at the very least avoid my worst engagement: The entire swarm able to fire at Range 1-2 on a single ship. Therefore, at the very least, I want the back rank of his formation at Range 3 or out of range in the opening volley, and my entire list able to shoot a single BSP in the forward rank of his list.

Get a Different Point of View

Let’s now flip some of this analysis around and think of things from our opponent’s point of view. He knows he can out-joust me, and that’s the easy part. Now he has to decide on his targeting priority. From my point of view, Colonel Vessery is likely the prime target to his list. If properly set up, Vessery can continually deal heavy amounts of damage – enough to one-shot TIE fighters – every round. Because of that, the threat of the Colonel must be removed as quickly as possible, followed by Omega Leader. Omega Leader is quite possible the best “closer” in the entire game, as one-on-one his ability, coupled with Juke, will allow him to steadily burn down any opposing ship while taking little damage in return. If Omega Leader is allowed to survive to the endgame, there is little that can take him down. Therefore, he is also a high-priority target. My opponent knows that he can come out on top in a joust, and so that is what he is going to attempt to engineer for the first engagement: All of his ships at Rage 1-2 of a single target, able to fire upon it, and likely able to swat it from existence in one volley.

Initiative

The final, short decision we have to make is the question of initiative. The player with Initiative in a match moves first and shoots first in the case of pilot skill ties, and also places the first obstacle. The general rule for deciding initiative, if you have the choice, is as follows: For low-PS ties, take initiative to move first and block. For high-PS ties, especially if you have re-positioning and arc-dodging capabilities through the Boost, Barrel Roll, and /or SLAM actions, give initiative to your opponent so that you can see where they move and react to it with your actions. In my case, our pilot skill conflicts lie at PS 4 (Wampa and the Black Squadron Pilots) and PS8 (Vessery, Howlrunner and Omega Leader). I wantto take initiative for two reasons: First, at low PS, blocking with Wampa. Second, if Omega Leader fires first, he has the chance to use Juke before he might be forced to spend his Evade token defending against an attack. However, since my opponent’s list comes in at 99 points and mine comes in at 100, I don’t have the option to choose (since the lowest-point-total player gets to decide initiative), so I must play with what I am given by my opponent. Not ideal, but this is a minor problem.

This is, of course, merely an example, but the method of analysis remains sound for all matchups. When facing an opponent’s list, ask yourself:

  1. Can I out-Joust this list? 
  2. What are my strengths relative to my opponent’s? 
  3. What are my weaknesses? 
  4. What is my targeting priority?
  5. Do I want initiative?
  6. How can I mitigate my weaknesses?
  7. How can I control my optimal opening engagement (Range, etc) to accomplish my goal?
  8. What are my opponent’s answers to all of these questions?

For Questions 5 and 6, the answers to those questions often wholly or partially lie in the way the asteroids are deployed, or the way we place our list relative to our opponent’s. In the next installment of this series, we will discuss the concept of “Jousting Lanes,” obstacle deployment, and how to play to your strengths with the board’s terrain!

Check out Part 2!

For further reading, check out three-time World Champion Paul Heaver’s article series: Turn Zero.

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