Rule 1: Have enough damage output
Killing your opponent's ships is how you win the game. If you don't have enough damage output, you could outfly your opponent and still never scratch their 3-agility ship with focus and evade. Damage output can also be the difference between rolling over to a hard counter ship and taking it out before it cripples you.
I define "enough damage output" as:
- Three ships with 3 attack
- Two ships with 4 attack
- Five ships with 2 attack and Crack Shot
Ordnance is tricky to fit into this framework, but you could replace a 3-attack ship with a ship that has can reliably shoot and get 4 hits with a torpedo/missile. A ship with bombs might also replace a 3-dice attack ship if you can reliably drop them on enemy ships (e.g. K-Wing with Advanced Slam or Deathfire).
This isn't a hard rule since there are successful lists with less offense. There's also some nuance to this since you need enough survivability to go along with the damage output (see pre-buff Scyks) along with dice modification to improve your attack. Still, I think it's a useful heuristic which gives me a good starting point for listbuilding.
Rule 2: Build to a plan
Having a plan is the key to success in most miniatures games, and X-Wing is no exception. Building to a plan lets you avoid some common list-building mistakes. It'll also help you fly the list you built.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when building a list:
- If you were facing your list, which ship would you kill first? Would losing that ship cripple your list? If so, your options include removing/downgrading your lynchpin ship, adding more self-sufficient and efficient ships, adding more threatening ships to draw fire, placing asteroids and deploying to hide the lynchpin ship, or adding a defensive upgrade to that ship (usually not recommended; it's often expensive and doesn't do enough).
- Are there ships which give your list a hard time? Can you reliably kill those ships before it's too late? If you can't reliably deal with them, you might consider adding more offense to kill those ships quickly or adding more redundancy in your list. In severe cases, you might have to swap to ships which are harder to counter.
(An alternative strategy is to hope you won't get matched up against those ships and have a solid plan for other matchups. This is a good idea if you don't expect many people to fly those ships which counter your list.)
- Do you have a plan to deal with efficient jousting lists? You can either joust them back if you're better at it, bait with one ship and flank with your other ships, outmaneuver them and make it difficult for them to shoot you, and/or pull them through asteroids to break up their formation. If you can't reliably do this, you might need to add more efficient or maneuverable ships to your list.
- Do you have a plan to deal with arc-dodging ships? These ships have high Pilot Skill and use boost and/or barrel roll actions to avoid being shot by your ships. If not, you might want to add a control element, a high Pilot Skill ship, or more ships to your list. Keep in mind these ships can often avoid being shot early, so you'll need to deal with them with only part of your list remaining.
- Do you have a plan to deal with evasive ships that can consistently avoid two or more damage a round? You can deal with these ships with control, auto-damage effects, or overwhelming firepower (ships that can consistently get 3 hits, and ideally multiple). These ships are often arc-dodging ships, so you need a way to deal with them with only part of your list remaining.
- Do you have a plan to deal with high-HP ships? This usually isn't a problem, but sometimes a list goes overboard in countering the evasive ships with small amounts of damage which is hard to evade. These lists might not have enough raw damage output to deal with high-HP ships. You might want to add something with a good attack value to offset this, or have maneuverable ships that can avoid being shot long enough to whittle them down.
This becomes even more important if you're preparing for a tournament. You should have a plan for each of the common lists you're likely to face.
In a future post, I'll give some examples of lists I've built in line with these principles. These lists probably aren't strong enough to take to Regionals, but should be capable of doing well in casual play and in local store tournaments.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you follow these principles when you build lists? Do you often have success with low-offense lists? What other situations should we plan for when list-building?
Useful articles on list-building:Blue Five's Alternative Look at Arc-Dodgers and Jousters
Midwest Wargaming's Fly Casual But Also Fly Smart