X-Wing lists are complex things, and hard to evaluate with any kind of real accuracy. The greatest challenges are iteration, and the broad variability of skill and population density across the community. A single game takes about an hour, and a full day of play testing might only produce 15-20 games total split between a few tables. That’s as true in person as it is on Vassal or TTS. Compared to how many rounds you can churn through in your average collectible card game, and how many players can crowd into a little space, X-Wing players are challenged to get enough play testing on new lists and changes.
Player skill itself is less of a limiting factor than player density. X-Wing is always growing, but we are dwarfed by card games like Magic, or eSports like Hearthstone and its ilk. That means it can be a tough to find highly skilled, highly dedicated, opponents to play regularly in your area. Combine that with the long game time, and it can be a struggle to run your list through its paces and work out its kinks and weaknesses.
Resources and why you’re managing them
So, if we can’t play thirty games a day, and we can’t always find challenging opponents, we as players need to evaluate lists and their pieces outside the board state itself. Efficiency in X-Wing is ratio of point cost to value gained. You have 100 points to spend, and that 100 points has a simple goal: kill more of your opponent’s points in 75 minutes than they destroy of yours. Every point in your list needs to be weighed against how much you lose if your opponent kills it, and each other option for those points.
Your other main resources to spend are time, which you share with your opponent, and total ship health, measured in shields and hull. If you can configure your list to grant you an edge in the point exchange, time becomes your ally. Burn the clock out, kite, play smart and defensive and keep your advantage. If your list is fragile, it probably hits hard, and needs to take ships off the board to win. Time is your enemy, fight fast and hard, close gaps, punish your opponent for running, and stick damage early and often to widen your lead and remove their guns from the field. This is your classic Rebel regen list versus a Tie swarm.
Effective health is split, per ship, by hull and shields. Shields are better than hull for obvious reasons, and FFG generally has you pay for them in points. Every single upgrade you put on a ship has to be weighed against its health. The more points on a low hull ship, the more each of those hull is worth, and the more it has to be protected. This gets slightly more complicated with ships like Biggs Darklighter around. At 25 points minimum, each of his 5 HP ought to be worth 5 points, but instead you use Biggs mostly as 5 extra shields for another ship, a blocker, and potentially three or four more red dice. Compared to Jess Pava, in a better ship, with more HP, why take Biggs? Because he’s a force multiplier. He keeps threats on the board longer, and ultimately does more work than Jess.
Is this the right ship for my list?
Each ship has to be weighed not only on its merits, but against other possible options for its role. Let’s talk about Attanni Mindlink and Guri vs Manaroo. For 26 points, Manaroo is a tanky, fast, primary weapon turret with the ability to give an ally two focus tokens for combat. However, since the nerf to her range, people have been experimenting with other options. I’d argue that none of them stack up to a Jumpmaster 5000 in value. Guri in a Starviper, is an oddly popular choice by my view. Starting 3 points more than Manaroo, Guri has 4 fewer HP, no turret, and no illicit, astromech, or system slot without a 1 point title. For the price of a Guri with Mindlink and Autothrusters, you could have a mindlink Manaroo with 5 extra points to spend. A fully kitted Guri with Virago, sensor jammer, or adv sensors and inertial dampeners, sits at 38 points. That makes each of her 5 HP worth 7.6 points, and despite her action economy, she still has to be range one for a focus. For the same cost, you could give your Manaroo an astromech AND crew AND a blocking system upgrade AND a decent illicit. 38 point Manaroo is 4.2 points a HP, has a better dial, and a primary weapon turret. Now, a jumpmaster can score half points, and you have to keep her just as close, but Manaroo is more flexible than an equally costed Starviper. That build flexibility, combined with her natural survivability, means you can easily shave points off Manaroo to reinforce other parts of your list.
Is this the right ship for this fight?
When building your list, not only do you have to compare ships against other ally options, you have to compare them against what you expect to see on the field. The meta game is always shifting, and you can never counter every list you see at a tournament. But. by building an efficient, flexible squad, you give yourself the greatest odds of success. Norra Wexley, Miranda Doni, and Cassian Andor all come in around 29 points. Both Norra and Miranda have the ability to build for regen and tankiness; this gives them more effective health than their base 9 HP belies. Cassian, though cheaper, has no good synergy with other ships, lacks any regeneration, and doesn’t have the capacity to be a main gun. He’s 27 points that needs at least 5 more points worth of upgrades to even field, and still fails to address any real threats in the meta. Miranda is evasive, carries Sabine assisted bombs behind the K-Wings advanced slam, and has innate regeneration paired usually with a Twin Laser Turret. Norra can take R2-D2, has twin firing arcs, can use her ability on defense or offense, and makes a great centerpiece hitter versus less tanky lists. Both are expensive when fully equipped, but their raw attack power combined with their survivability make their cost worthwhile. The U-Wing meanwhile struggles to find a good place as either a main-gun or as an effective wingman to harder hitters.
What’s it all amount to anyway?
This isn’t meant to be some diatribe about how much we all hate the Starviper and why. It’s not a reason to dump all over the guy that’s flying triple E-Wings at the store tournament. But maybe, you can talk to that guy about other options and ships that would craft a list that flies the way he wants, and can still thrive in a tournament setting. There’s nothing wrong with flying casual, but there’s also nothing wrong with playing to win.