Opening Moves, Part 2

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.

Welcome back! In Part 1 of the series, we discussed how to analyze your opponent’s list, using the Finals match from my victorious Store Championship as an example. At the end, we asked ourselves two questions:

  • How can I mitigate my weaknesses?
  • How can I control the opening engagement (Range, etc) to accomplish my goal?

It was mentioned that the answer to those two questions lies wholly or partially in ship and obstacle deployment, and in this second installment of the Opening Moves strategy series, we will discuss some of the many ways obstacles can be deployed, how it changes where and how the game plays out on the table, and how you can exploit this knowledge to your advantage. Remember to refer back to Part 1 for any questions you have about the lists that are facing off against each other, and to re-read the analysis portions if necessary to review how we inform our asteroid placement.

When players begin to learn X-Wing, they often (myself included!) find themselves running into asteroids left and right, or at least finding that their optimal movements are blocked by a rock in just the wrong dang spot. Often, this happens because newer players often place asteroids randomly, or with little mind to the effect that they can have on both the initial engagement, and positioning battles many turns in. But first, there is one very important concept that we need to grasp, that shapes almost the entire discussion about asteroid deployment. So, let’s put the Finals game on hold for a moment and talk about Jousting Lanes. 

A jousting lane is, simply put, an area on the map that is relatively open to both sides, allowing a joust to take place. Generally, very apparent jousting lanes occur when obstacles are placed in vertical or horizontal lines, with a sufficient amount of space between them.

Wide, vertical obstacle deployment offers clear jousting options for both sides.

Wide, vertical obstacle deployment offers clear jousting options for both sides.

In the above picture, we see an example of perhaps the most obvious possible jousting lanes. With the obstacles deployed at Range 2 from each neutral edge, and spaced out evenly in vertical lines, not only are there clear paths from one side to the other on the left, right, and center, but there are open paths from either side into the center of the board, and vice versa.

With tightly packed obstacles deployed in no particular pattern, it is more difficult for either player to maneuver a formation through the center of the board.

With tightly packed obstacles deployed in no particular pattern, it is more difficult for either player to maneuver a formation through the center of the board.

Conversely, in the above image, asteroids have been placed off-center of one another in tight triangles in the center of the board. Because it is difficult to draw a vertical line from one side of the board through the other through the center without hitting an asteroid, formations of a few ships (such as a TIE swarm or the aforementioned 4BZ list, flying in formation) will have a tough time going through the center while keeping their formation intact and retaining a good number of maneuvering options. Additionally, formations of ships that begin on either side of the board will have a difficult time turning into the center, for the same reasons. Note that the side jousting lanes can never be fully blocked, but it is very possible to effectively limit a formation’s maneuvering options to those side lanes with the correct obstacle deployment, and you can use this knowledge to your advantage. From now on, when I talk about Jousting Lanes, I will mostly be referring specifically to Central Jousting Lanes, which are the clear routes to and from the center of the board.

Let’s go over a few of the hallmarks of obstacle configurations that offer good jousting lanes, and compare them to those that don’t. Specifically, how can we create an obstacle field that offers us the arrangement we want?

Squares Vs. Triangles

It was mentioned above that obstacles placed in vertical or horizontal alignment will generally create more open jousting lanes than those positioned “off-center” from each other. Simply put, this means that obstacles deployed such that they form all or part of the perpendicular sides of a square will more often offer open jousting lanes than those deployed in a triangular formation.

The majority of these asteroids are placed in a square formation. It is evident that there are a lot of routes a player can take to avoid the asteroids altogether.

The majority of these asteroids are placed in a square formation. It is evident that there are a lot of routes a player can take to avoid the asteroids altogether.

Above, we see the square placement in action. Especially illustrative are the three asteroids in the top left, center, and center-top: they form two of four sides of a square, ans as such, there are a lot of maneuvering options for players that want to keep themselves out of the asteroids’ way.

With no way to safely go straight up the center, this particular arrangement makes for a tense maneuvering experience.

With no way to safely go straight up the center, this particular arrangement makes for a tense maneuvering experience.

In the image above, most of the asteroids are positioned in a central cluster, and no two are really truly aligned. In addition to their tightly-packed nature, this “triangular” arrangement effectively blocks off most jousting capability through the center of the board. Any list that benefits from flying a tight formation is going to find maneuvering through the center to be tricky, and may find themselves fragmented on the other side and engaging piecemeal.

“Funneling” the engagement

Savvy observers will notice that there are still good jousting lanes in the top-left and bottom-right of the map depicted above. Well done! This observation is important because it illustrates the way that engagements can be controlled by where the jousting lanes lie. If one or both of the lists playing on the above map wish to joust in formation, it is likely that their flight pattern will be confined either to one of the two neutral sides, or the diagonal lanes created in the space between the corners of the board and the central cluster. Since the center of the board is not very accessible to a jousting formation, you might (if you were flying ships that don’t want to joust, such as one containing fragile Ace ships like Darth Vader or Jake Farrell) attempt to draw them into one of the corner jousting lanes, and then switch suddenly and go around the center, using the tightly-packed center cluster as a guard for your flank.

Let’s look at another way obstacles can be deployed to funnel the engagement to a certain location on the map.

A diagonal "wall" of asteroids creates hazardous movement in one area of the map while leaving another open for exploitation.

A diagonal “wall” of asteroids creates hazardous movement in one area of the map while leaving another open for exploitation.

It is immediately apparent that the left side of the board offers a far clearer path than the right. A jousting list will want to avoid being drawn to the right as much as possible as maneuvering options are far more constrained. If you have the confidence and the maneuverability to do so, though, you can use that knowledge to lure someone into a bad position by instead pulling them to the right, forcing them to commit to a suboptimal engagement.

Miscellaneous Tips

When you deploy asteroids on your side of the board, you can quickly bypass them and not worry about them for a large part of the match. Often times players will put asteroids on the far side of the board, in their opponent’s corners or along the Range-2 limit parallel to the edge of the board. While this won’t cause immediate maneuvering problems, it can result in a situation a few turns in, especially if your opponent is not immediately aggressive, where you are facing the asteroids you placed there and your opponent is past those rocks and poised to exploit an open center. On the other hand, since you can control your own speed but not your opponent’s, you can blow right past asteroids on your own side and put your opponent into the same pickle.

Placing rocks at Range 3-4 of the edges instead of Range 2 creates problem areas where turning into the center becomes difficult. Especially asteroids placed at approximately Range 4 from your opponent’s edge are more difficult for them to blow past and can become a problem as they try to turn to engage you.

Large asteroids placed in the center of the board can cause problems for a jousting formation. By this, I mean that a list such as the one I am flying in the Finals likes to deploy on one edge of the board and then turn in to the center. If there is an asteroid in that center, it can force that player to one side of it: Deploy it slightly toward your opponent’s side of the center, and it forces them towards your side. Deploy it toward your side, and it forces your opponent back toward his when he has to turn around it.

If you don’t want an asteroid in a certain place, use your own obstacles to block it out. What that means is that the Range-1 bubble around an obstacle can be used to block off places where your opponent might want to place an asteroid that you know from practice will be a problem for you. Deploy your own asteroid such that your opponent can’t put an obstacle in that position, as it will be too close, but you know from experience that the one you place will not be a problem.

Use your opponent’s placement against them by piggybacking off of their obstacles. Especially when trying to break up formations, deploying an asteroid of your own right next to one your opponent places (In the offset angles talked about earlier) makes them have to contend with multiple asteroids that they wouldn’t have wanted to.

Back to the Finals

First, let’s recap the lists, starting with my opponent’s Imperial Crack Swarm:

Howlrunner

Stealth Device

Crack Shot

Black Squadron Pilot x3

Crack Shot

Omega Squadron Pilot

Crack Shot

“Wampa”

Facing off against him, I am flying “Wampa’s Lair:”

Colonel Vessery

Veteran Instincts

Omega Leader

Juke

Comm Relay

Zeta Leader

Wired

Comm Relay

“Wampa”

You can refer back to Part 1 of this series to review the analysis performed on the matchup, that informs our decisions here.

Now that we have talked about what jousting lanes are, and a few of the ways that you can use the asteroids to create a favorable engagement, so let’s put some of that in practice and consider the case of Wampa’s Lair. First we identify what the list “likes” in an opening engagement, and go from there. What about Wampa’s Lair?

  • It is not a straight jousting list, but there are elements of it that are quite efficient in a jousting scenario, provided you control the range correctly.
  • The Segnor’s Loops and short turn/barrel rolls of the TIE/fo lend it well to a protracted knife-edge engagement in the center of the board.
  • Vessery needs some longer K-turn lanes.

What this translates to is a general arrangement of asteroids with a clear lane to turn from the edges into the center. Central asteroids can be mildly sparse, but as long as there are a couple lengthier lanes for Vessery to K-turn or do the 5-straight bug-out, a more clustered arrangement is not crippling. Of course, we also need to consider our matchup, and what you know about how it wishes to fly:

  • From my experience in Round 1, I guessed my opponent would deploy in a 3×2 box formation.
  • Such a formation needs wide, free jousting lanes to engage effectively.

Therefore, my plan of obstacle placement becomes fairly clear: I want to include all of the elements that will benefit my list, if possible (a couple clear lanes to the center from my side only if possible, with a K-turn lane or two. I also want to make sure that wherever my opponent deploys, I can pull him through a cluster of asteroids and hopefully fragment his formation or force him to run over rocks in an effort to retain cohesiveness. After our obstacle deployment, this is what we ended up with:

Looking at this, we can immediately identify some good lanes and engagement paths (I am on the bottom)

Looking at this, we can immediately identify some good lanes and engagement paths (I am on the bottom)

The left side of the board is relatively open to me – there is a great lane to the center and I know I can blow past the rock in the bottom-left. On the left, the “Middle Finger Rock” is a little problematic in that it blocks the optimal engagement lane; however, there are options if I slow-roll and turn in underneath it or shoot past it as fast as I can and hard-turn towards the center. Of course, all of that, and my final plan, hinges on where the Crack Swarm deploys, which brings us to the final aspect of what smarter players have dubbed, “Turn Zero:” Deployment, which will be covered in-depth in the next installment!

Stay Tuned for Part 3!

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

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