Squad Building 101

A strategy article for the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures game

Special Thanks to the author, David Pontier, who graciously allow us to repost this on gameknight.com

Every week we see posts on this board [The BGG X-Wing Forum] asking for help list building. And every week tons of advice is given to people, many of it conflicting and often very unhelpful. Someone will post a list with Y-Wings and A-Wings, and someone will tell them to fly X-Wings and B-Wings. Yes, you can design very uncompetitive 100 pt lists, but not every list has to win Worlds to be fun to fly.

I had a friend call me on the phone and asked for help with a build for a tournament he was going to fly in that evening. We spent 20 minutes on the phone and transformed his Lando/Biggs/Y-Wing list into a Chewie/Biggs/Jan list. He won the tournament, and later told me how much better the new list was than the old one. I felt I was able to help him because I had flown against the first list (and lost to it) and I understood how he wanted to fly it and what he was comfortable with. The new list had the same features as the first one (Falcon, Biggs, Ion cannon) but it added more offensive punch with Jan, more survivability (Chewie +DTF over Lando) and Jan had squad leader, so it gave more action potential.

I mourn that I can’t (or anyone can’t) give that level of helpful advice to everyone who asks for it. I’ve seen reports where people win tournaments with list I’ve never considered. I’ve seen reports from people struggling to win games with lists I have dominated with. Everyone has a different play style. The same list that works for me, won’t work for you and vice versa. And without having played against you, I won’t know your style and what can work for you.

So I wanted to capture my thoughts on Squad building in this article. I think most squads can be classified by one (or more) types. There might be some debate on what these lists are or what their goal is, but these are my thoughts.

Swarm
This is the easiest. To me this is 6-8 ships. This can be considered death by a thousand cuts. There are many variations on this style that I will get into later, but most (if not all swarms) require the same tactics for them to be effective. Even without Howlrunner, you usually have to stay in formation. Each ship in the swarm lacks the firepower to make a difference by themselves, but together, they can take out just about any ship. To do this they need to attack as a team, so formation flying is required to point all your firing arcs in the same direction. Improvisation is frowned upon. Splitting up the group weakens it. You need to march in a straight line, execute a K-Turn or hard turn toward the enemy and keep blasting away until your opponent cries uncle. Because you have so many ships, your dice have a better chance of evening out over time. One unlucky attack or defense roll doesn’t usually kill you.

Heavy Hitters
This is your standard 4 ship Rebel build. Whether it is BBXX, XXXX, or BBBB, the goal is to have 4 ships that each pack a punch and are not easily 1-shot. With people flying multiple Lambdas, the Imperials have this option as well. 3 Bounty hunters is pretty close, but you want to have as many big guns in the fight and 4 attacks is better than 3. Bombers fully loaded probably also qualify as they can have multiple attacks that do high damage. Its strength is the red dice. You roll a lot of them. If you can work the TL + F combo into the mix, even better. It doesn’t have many weaknesses other than it is more vulnerable to a bad roll or two. With only 4 ships, if you lose one unexpectedly, it can cripple you.

Heavy Hitter + Support
I capitalized the S in Heavy HitterS on purpose to emphasize there is more than one. There are also lists that focus on 1 heavy hitter and then add support ships to him. This would be Han Shoots First, Krassis + HLC + Recon, Wedge, etc. Most people manage to fit Wedge into a 4 ship list, but Wedge is your main gun and you will usually be flying Biggs or DTF or some other method to both keep him alive and make his attacks more powerful. The strength of this list is fairly obvious: it has a big gun that is designed to take down anything. Its weakness is also fairly obvious: once that big gun goes down, the list typically lacks the firepower to get the win.

Action list
This will mostly be a rebel list. Anything with Kyle, Garvin, Lando, Dutch, Squad leader, etc is focused on passing actions between the ships to make their attacks and defenses more powerful. Advanced sensors also fall into this category as they help you insure that you will get your actions regardless of blocking or red maneuvers.

Alpha Strike
This is a list that focusses on an initial attack doing a ton of damage. Whether this is an HLC or a missile or just a powerful ship you expect to lose quickly, but you can pump it up for that first turn so it does as much damage as possible. This is a good counter to the Heavy Hitter list or can take out the lynch pin in an action dependent list. A shuttle with Vader could be considered an Alpha Strike.

Defensive list
This is a list that features DTF, Biggs, Stealth devices, etc. You goal is to outlast your opponent. With so many points spent on defense, you are counting on your opponent flying several 1 defense ships that any attack you throw at them will hit, but their attacks against you will miss. This could also be represented by a high HP list. Prior to wave 3, the most HPs you would usually face was in the high 20’s. Now lists with HPs in the 30s are quite common, and while they usually have horrible defense, they still take a long time to kill.

Control List
Right now this boils down to Ion Cannons. Flying multiple Ion cannons allow you to control where your opponent is going. I assume in the future there will be more upgrades that do this, but for now, it is mostly just the Ion cannon.

Pilot Skill lists
This goes both ways. There is a strategy when flying low pilot skill lists as that is the best way to fit as many ships in your list as possible and you can use them to block your opponent. Flying high pilot skill allows you to shoot first and possibly kill a ship before it gets a chance to fire. Higher PS ships are more expensive, so you will be flying fewer of them and so this often morphs into an Elite list where you are flying fewer ships than typically recommended, but they have dozens of points of upgrades on them to help the weather the storm and do more damage. Also having high PS pilots with a lot of maneuverability allows you to move last and make sure you get into perfect position to maximize your attack and defense. And killing a ship before it fires requires High PS.

I think this is most of the lists out there. However, most competitive lists are usually some combination of 2 or more of these lists. This is what I really want to focus on. I’ve seen lots of really great combos that manage to capture the strengths of multiple of these types without many (if any) weaknesses. I will also talk about lists I faced that I thought did a poor job of combining these types. Now, it is quite possible that I will list something that I think is poor that you love and have flown successfully. Player skill and maneuvering plays a big part in who wins a game. I could probably fly any 100 points list you could conceive of (aside from naked HWKs) against my nephews and beat them. And if you think I’m wrong about a list, and the list I mention is really good, then, please argue with me.

The best combos I am seeing right now are with 4-ship Rebel builds
Red Squad x2, Dagger + Adv Sensors x2 (Bloody Daggers)
This is a beautiful combo of Heavy hitters, Action security, and high pilot skill. I don’t see many weaknesses in this. The one disadvantage it has is that it needs to fly aggressively, and the X-Wings can be killed relative easily at close range. This is the only squad I’ve ever faced that has killed one of my B-Wings before it fired.

Wedge+Swarm, Biggs, Blue x2
This adds a good defensive bonus to the heavy hitters, plus it has even higher pilot skill than the previous list. Here you are firing at 9, 9, 5, 2 which gives you a really good chance of removing a ship before it fires. Its weakness is the same as any list with Biggs. Biggs needs to focus (pun intended) on staying alive, so he probably wants to keep his focus token for defense and his shot in the first round will probably be at range three. So far this is the only list that has beaten my BBBAA list.

Biggs, Rookie, Dagger + Adv Sensors x2 (Biggs Walks the dogs)
This is a hybrid of the two lists above. You have Biggs for defense, and two Daggers with Adv sensors for action security and pilot skill. It shares the same weaknesses that Biggs on the first turn needs to focus on defense. Also, a Biggs list needs to fly in formation which makes it more predictable. But, this list won worlds, so it is obviously quite good.

Now for a couple lists that don’t fare as well in my estimation.
Biggs, Roark + Ion, Blue + Adv Sensors x2
I think this tries to do too much. You have 4 Rebel ships, but I hesitate to call Roark a Heavy Hitter. You have high pilot skill with Roark’s ability, you have a control element with the Ion cannon, you have defense with Biggs, and you have action security with the Adv Sensors. I played against this list last weekend in one of my three tournaments and on the first combat turn he only had 2 ships with quality attacks compared to my 5. Biggs was too concerned with staying alive to put himself into a good attack position and only managed to get in range one of his friendly ships, but had no arc. Roark was going to do at most 1 damage, but because he had to fly in formation (and I knew that) I engaged around an asteroid and had an extra defense dice against the ion cannon and it missed.

The Double Firespray
I’m not talking about lists that include 2 firesprays, I’m talking about lists that ONLY include two firesprays. If you only have at most 2 attacks per round, I don’t care how many upgrades you have, you are not going to take enemy ships off the board fast enough against competitive players. Now, the double Falcon is still pretty competitive because it always has those 2 attacks. The firespray list doesn’t. There will be turns where you don’t get an attack, especially after the first firespray goes down. Having a support ship (or 2) for the firesprays is very important.

Swarm – Combos
I think the most common swarm is some combination of Howlrunner+PTL/Stealth, BSP+DTF, and five other TIEs. I have seen many variations of this and they all work about the same. They all take advantage of defensive options to keep Howlrunner alive and they all take advantage of Skill 1 Academy pilots at the front of the formation. Some include Obsidian pilots for pilot skill firing order. The only real weakness for this list is having to stay range 1 from Howlrunner, which becomes even harder when Howlrunner is removed from the board. Though, your opponent will happily aid you in placing each of your ships in close proximity to Howlrunner out of play. The TIEs blow up easily, but so far, the 2 Attack dice have proven more than capable of taking enemy ships off the board.

Hothie’s World Championship list was Vader +Swarm, Howlrunner+Swarm and 4 other TIEs. This gave his squad a huge pilot skill advantage as he could either have three ships shoot at 9 or 2 at 9 and 2 at 8.

I fly Howlrunner, Backstabber, 3 Alphas, and 1 Academy. This is my heavy hitter version of the swarm as it has an insane amount of attack dice in the initial encounter. I have spent all of my points on offense and in the end game, most of my ships are rolling 3+ attack dice. It also presents the problem of giving your opponent really hard decisions on who to shoot at. At the end of the day, X-Wing is a points game. First one to 100 points wins. So who do you shoot at first? The Alphas are worth 18 points, just like Howlrunner. And while Backstabber is only worth 16, if you try to wait until the end to kill him, he will rip you apart.

Some bad combos:
A swarm without howlrunner. I hate it that 1 ship is so important to a build, but that is the way it is. I’ve flown against a 7-ship swarm without howlrunner and it had no teeth at all. I called a swarm “Death by a thousand cuts.” Without Howlrunner it is “Death by a thousand scratches.” It is much harder to kill someone that way.

This next one is not that bad, but I wanted to point out my list building philosophy. I flew against someone using my split squad listed above (3 TIEs and 3 Interceptors) but they changed out Backstabber for Dark Curse. I applaud people for making something their own, but the way I fly my list is supper aggressive and offensive. Dark Curse is a defensive ship. He does not offer the same offensive punch as Backstabber. He is great ship and I think fits well in a 7-swarm list that is trying to keep ships on the board as often as possible, but his ability runs counter to what my original list is trying to do.

Here are a few other lists where the combos seem to clash
Howl +VI
Mauler +VI
Backstabber
Gundark
Omni Shuttle + Engine + Vader

Now, when I played against this, I lost 1 ship in the processes of winning. However, this player went on to not lose another game in that tournament (including beating the player that beat me) and then brought a very slight variation of this to a 40+ player tournament and made it to the final table and went 5-1. However, I feel that speaks more highly of the player than the list.

You have five ships here, so it is close to a swarm, but not really, and with the shuttle clogging things up, it doesn’t fly in formation well. The shuttle has Vader, so it can be used as an Alpha strike or maybe a heavy hitter, but its low pilot skill means it will often die before it gets to fire a second time, especially since it is the only 3-attack ship on the board and will be the primary target. However, the rest of the ships have very high pilot skill with Howl at a 10 and Mauler at a 9. This insures that they will fire first, but Howl doesn’t roll a big attack, so I didn’t understand the advantage and most ships right now are 4-6, so paying to make a 7 higher didn’t seem like a wise choice for me.

Double Falcon’s with missiles
Again, my good friend Dom was the top seed going into the final 16 at Gencon last year flying this list. As people have gotten better flying against double falcons he has cooled on flying the double Falcon.

The strength of the Double Falcon is that it has a 360 firing arc and can position itself anywhere it wants and will still have a shot. This allows it to fly alongside or around the enemy and shoot them from behind while they do not have a firing arc. But missiles have to be fired out of the forward firing arc. This forces you to fly directly at your opponent for the first round if you want to make sure you get the missiles off. Since the lowest PS of a Falcon used in Double falcons is 5, your opponent will almost always have a lower pilots skill than you that he can use to block you. And even if you don’t get blocked, you are now pointed directly at the enemy and have limited maneuvering options.

Soontir+PTL
Vader+Cluster+Squad Leader
Howlrunner
Academy Pilot

Unlike the 4 lists above which were all made by very good players and flown very well, this list was put together by a very inexperienced player and not flown well, but it is a real list that someone took to a tournament and he won his first game. But this list highlights a lot of different things that saves me the trouble of finding 3 other lists that show each thing individually.

As I said above, a swarm without Howlrunner is weak. By the same token, Howlrunner without 4-5 ships around her isn’t helpful either. I’ve previously classified most of the imperial abilities as selfish, meaning they only help the ship they are on. Howlrunner is very not selfish. She only helps the ships around her. So not surrounding her with ships that need help doesn’t make as much sense.

Vader + Squad Leader is a good ship. Vader + Missiles is a good ship. The Imps have so few ways to hand out free actions, that Running Vader with Squad is a good way to boost imperial ships to allow them to take focus and evade without needing PTL on everyone. Vader with missiles is also good since he can get a TL+F on the same turn, again without stress. He can’t do both, however. Now, it can still be a good combo if you fire the missile on the first turn and then boost fellow ships on the second turn, but you need to have ships that won’t die on that first turn because they didn’t get their free action from Vader.

Also, Vader + Squad is a get out of jail free card for an interceptor with PTL who crashed. The best way to kill an Interceptor with PTL is getting them to crash so they can’t take any actions. But Vader swings by and gives them a free action, which they can use to trigger PTL. Now they can barrel roll and boost out of the way or turtle up for maximum defense. Vader can offer this escape option to every interceptor . . . except Soontir. Since they are of equal pilot skill, squad leader doesn’t work.

So, in closing, think about what kind of list you want to fly. Are you a Timmy, Johnny, or Spike? After you decide what you want, build a list that compliments that idea. Build a list where every ship compliments that idea. You want to fly ships that do tons of damage? Great, fly a BBXX. You did, but you were upset about how quickly one of your ships died. Okay, add some defense with Biggs. Fly 4 rookies with shield upgrades. Try to stay focused on what your list is trying to do and don’t add ships that do the opposite. I fly BBBAA a lot and it is 11-1 for me. There is only one philosophy with that list: I want a lot. I want a lot of ships, hit points, attack dice, and maneuvering options (boost and barrel roll). Subbing an X-Wing+R2 for a B-wing runs counter to what I want. An X-Wing might have a much better dial than a B-Wing, but it has fewer hitpoints and fewer maneuver options.

I hope this wasn’t too long. Congratulations to anyone who made it to the end. Feel free to disagree with me on everything.

One thought on “Squad Building 101

  1. Brilliant advise, I’ve taken a lot from this and as a new player it’s really helped me think more about the way I’m flying my ships and what my plan of attack shouldo be based on how I want to play.

    My only advise would be when you mention an upgrade for the first time put the full name in brackets beside it. e.g PTL (push the limit) there’s a few there I didnt know what they were. Otherwise fantastic

    Thank you

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