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Jeff Wilder

The 10(?) Skills of X-Wing

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The 10 Skills of X-Wing

X-Wing is a game of skill and luck.  The proportion between the two will depend upon whom you ask, but in my opinion, speaking for X-Wing Second Edition, early in 2020, I believe the ratio to be something akin to 3:1.  There is another aspect to X-Wing, though, that isn’t generally factored into these discussions, but should be: player expectations; i.e., what is each player seeking from a game of X-Wing?

If one player really enjoys playing seldom-played ships, pilots, and upgrades, and another player really enjoys playing ships that have consistently performed well in large tournaments, these players have different expectations from the game, and those expectations need to take a place alongside both skill and luck when discussing X-Wing.  After all, these two players could be perfectly evenly matched in skill (as discussed in the bulk of this piece), and perfectly evenly matched in luck, and yet one of them will likely have a not-insignificant advantage over the other, should they play each other, and each play according to preference.

I think that “player expectation” is about as significant as luck in the make-up of X-Wing, so the ratio could be expressed as 3:1:1 … or, put into percentages, 60% skill, 20% luck, 20% player expectations.  (BTW, it’s not a coincidence that I consider these aspects of X-Wing make-up roughly equivalent.  In most games of X-Wing, even when player skill is significantly greater for one player, luck has a chance of allowing the less skilled player victory.  But when both player skill and player expectation favor one player, luck has virtually no chance of providing victory to the disadvantaged player.)

This piece is an attempt to talk about the “skill” of X-Wing.  I make an argument that skill in X-Wing is actually 10 sub-skills, separate but often interacting, give some concrete examples of them, and offer methods in which one can improve each of these sub-skills.  I’m far from exhaustive with this. It’s a big job, for one thing, and discussion about it would be great.  In a lot of cases, I’m just not really able to offer anything very helpful; again, discussion will be good.

Finally, I’ll offer a fun (but largely arbitrary) way for you to assess each of your sub-skills, and then your aggregate skill in X-Wing.

Before I get started, I do want to offer a little bit of a C.V., because I’m not a well-known “name” in X-Wing.  Without offering readers some context, I could hardly blame them for just skipping over this piece.  So, here goes, for what little it's worth:

  • I’ve been playing X-Wing since December of 2012, and playing competitively since early 2014.
  • I’ve made Top Eight in Regionals (Hyperspace Trials) in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019.  I’ve always dropped after making cut, for reasons that aren’t exactly secret, but that are too complex to easily convey here.
  • I’ve had multiple seasons each with multiple wins in Store Championships in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2014.
  • I’ve been invited to the NorCal Invitational (16 player field, based on local tournament performance) for all three years that it’s been held.
  • I was an X-Wing playtester for several waves of First Edition.
  • I’m a podcast co-host (but who isn’t, amirite?) on Wide World of Wargaming (X-Wing), well past our 50th episode.
  • I’m an occasional TO for small store tournaments in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Okay, so earlier I asserted that “X-Wing skill” is actually composed of 10 sub-skills.  Here they are, with explanations.  These are not in any particular order of importance or priority, but as I was making notes, I did notice that the first five sub-skills are those I’m pretty good at, and the next five are those in which my own ability is average or below average.  Draw whatever conclusions you’d like from that!

Spatial Visualization and Geometry - Knowing where ships will land after maneuvers; visualizing arc coverage; estimating ranges. Improvement is purely a matter of practice and memorizing some geometry tricks.

  • Lay out every obstacle on a mat, start your ship in one corner, see how many maneuvers you can perform into the interior of the mat without hitting an obstacle.
  • Take an unused ship base, name a maneuver, and place the ship base where you think your maneuver will land.  Test it.
  • Geometry tricks are things like noting that the starting and finishing positions of a turn will lay along the same line, traced diagonally through those positions.  Or noting that the 1-turn for a Large ship very slightly overlaps its own corner.  There’s quite a bit you could memorize, but aside from the easier ones, I think practice serves most people better.

Equanimity and Objectivity - The ability to maintain one’s cool in the face of adversity or bonanza; the ability to judge actions and outcomes based on risk and reward, rather than on results.  Improving this is a matter of education and, to some extent, behavioral hacks.

  • Learn probability.  If you have a good conceptual and intuitive grasp of probability, it’s easy to shrug off one or two rolls that go against you.  (Unfortunately, it actually becomes harder to shrug off extended negative variance.)
  • Similarly, when you get super lucky, it’s very helpful to know that, to avoid relaxing and underestimating your opponent’s ability to recover.
  • Force yourself to breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Force yourself to smile.

Range Control - Knowing what ranges you want for engagements, and how to get them; knowing what ranges your opponent wants, and how to deny them. Again, improvement is practice.

  • Know the Rule of 11.
  • More importantly, know the conceptual underpinnings of the Rule of 11, so that when ships are closing at slightly off angles, you know how to adjust.
  • Know how far your meanuvers -- and your opponents -- will carry them.
  • Know what range your opponent wants … and why.

Basic Probability - Knowledge of the faces of attack and defense dice, and of the make-up of the damage deck; knowing how to do simple probability calculations on the fly (or, in many cases, the ability to memorize the common situations).  Improvements here involve study and memorization.

  • First, internalize that most human beings are legitimately terrible at intuiting probability.  There are lots of reasons for this.  But what it comes down to is recognize it.  Among other things, knowing this will help you maintain Equanimity and Objectivity.
  • You must know the basics of probability.  You must know that the chance of rolling three hits/crits on three red dice is 12.5%, for instance.  You must likewise know that if the attacker has a focus to spend, that 12.5% jumps to slightly over 40%.  There are a number of introductions to probability online; find a good one and use it.

Rules Understanding - Everything from basic knowledge of the phases of the game, all the way to extremely complex timing interactions.

  • Spend a lot of time peeking in at complex rules questions online.
  • Talk a lot with Dee Yun.
  • Read the Rules Reference, for God’s sake.

Spotting “Rules-Breaking” Combinations - Being able to recognize when abilities from ships, pilots, and upgrades combine in ways that fundamentally change the underlying assumptions of the game.  Truthfully, I don’t really know how to improve this, so suggestions are welcome.  I’m terrible at it.

Understanding Target Priority - Evaluating which ship of your opponent’s squadron you would prefer to target and destroy first; knowing which ships to target in a given engagement phase, and in what order you should target them.  Improving this is largely a matter of logic.

  • For example, if one of your ships has only one target, it’s generally better to attack with that ship before a second ship with the same target choice, but others as well.
  • It’s often better to attack with ships at longer range … but not always; strip shields from a VT-49 with a range 1 shot before firing a Proton Torpedo into it, for instance.
  • It’s good to kill a ship before it can shoot.  (See?  Just logic.)

Tracking Scores and Determining Win Condition - Knowing the score at any given point in a game; knowing your best options to gain a lead or to protect a lead from an opponent.  Both FFG and some opponents will make this difficult.  (IMO, every time points are scored, the player giving up the points should have to clearly announce how many points and why: “That’s two shields from Jake, and 21 points for you.”)

  • All you can really do here is frequently ask, if you don’t have everything memorized.
  • Speaking of, it is possible to memorize the point values and thresholds when scanning the list before the game.
  • Once you know point values, the current score, and the remaining time, figuring out your win condition is actually usually fairly trivial.

Patience - The ability to delay engagement to gain an advantage or to delay the use of limited-use effects until they will have the biggest impact on your chances of winning the game.  I’m pretty bad at this, so I would love suggestions for improvement.

Aggression - This is the ability, once you make judgments as to your opponent’s intent, to leverage risk for reward to pressure your opponent into defensive game-play.  Improvement here is a matter of practice.

  • During games in which nothing is at stake, “flip a switch” in your brain, and go hyper-aggressive.  Make every decision as if you want to end the game on that turn.
  • Then, at some point, flip the switch off, and go back to normal play.

A Fun (But Mostly Arbitrary) Assessment of Your Skill in X-Wing

First, in each of the sub-skills discussed, rank your personal ability on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is abysmal and 10 is superlative.  Needless to say, try to be objective.

Second, add together your ratings, for a number from 10 to 100.

Third, compare to this chart:

10 to 30 -- You’re either very new to the game, or just plain really bad at it.  (FWIW, IMO 99% of players who score here are pretty new to the game.)  Evaluate again after 20 games or so, and see where you fall then

31 to 45 -- You are a below average player, and probably don’t play frequently, but you’re not terrible.  Either luck or player expectations discrepancies could let you present a challenge to, or defeat, more skillful players.

46 to 55 -- You’re an average player.  You usually finish middle-of-the-pack in tournaments you attend, but you’ve probably done pretty well in a couple.

56 to 70 -- You’re an above-average player, and probably feel some disappointment in yourself when you don’t do very well in small tournaments and at least moderately well in larger ones.  People don’t feel fortunate to draw you in the first round of a tournament.

71 to 85 -- You’re an extremely good player, and probably the odds-on favorite to win most of your local tournaments.  You routinely make the cut in larger tournaments, and you’ve probably made the cut in at least a couple of very large or national tournaments.

86 to 95 -- There are probably only 30 to 40 players this skilled actively playing X-Wing.  If you listen to X-Wing podcasts, you’ve heard of 90% of them..

96 to 100 -- Nobody’s this good, and if you scored this high, I can guarantee you ranked yourself too high in Equanimity and Objectivity.
 

Edited by Jeff Wilder

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1 hour ago, Jeff Wilder said:

A Fun (But Mostly Arbitrary) Assessment of Your Skill in X-Wing

First, in each of the sub-skills discussed, rank your personal ability on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is abysmal and 10 is superlative.  Needless to say, try to be objective.

Second, add together your ratings, for a number from 10 to 100.

Third, compare to this chart:
 

What happens if you get a negative number?  Asking for a friend.

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I must misjudge some of how good I am at things. Reading the descriptions of the scores I am right around 58-59. In that higher than average camp, but not by much. My sum score was way too high for that. Probably the effect of scoring each in a vacuum rather than comparing them all and assigning rankings that make sense.

 

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7 minutes ago, ScummyRebel said:

I must misjudge some of how good I am at things. Reading the descriptions of the scores I am right around 58-59. In that higher than average camp, but not by much. My sum score was way too high for that. Probably the effect of scoring each in a vacuum rather than comparing them all and assigning rankings that make sense.

For sure.  Some of the skills are much more important than others.  Any "serious" attempt at ranking it would need to weight the scores.

I just offered that for fun, really.

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Interesting read. For me the numbers seem to be fairly accurate based on my self analysis. My total came up to 70. Which puts me at the top end of "above average player". I've won some local tourneys, won a hyperspace, just missed day 2 at two System Opens going 4-1 and losing the play in game. And made day 2 at last years world's going 5-2 on day 1. Fits with how I think about myself as well. I "think" I'm above average but still have a lot a room for improvement.

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Thanks Jeff, that is awesome!

Most people I know are really bad at Equanimity and Ojectivity: just because something worked does not make it the correct choice. I remember distinct situations myself where I intentionally made the bad choice and the dice bailed me out. No clever risk assessment there, just very high risk for high enough reward.

It's interesting to think through these 10 skills. I have a different preference than you, some come more naturally than others, and I trained some more extensively than others. I would group them into three categories, spatial, game knowledge, and transferrable skills:

Spatial awareness: those need practice on the mat.

  • Spatial Visualization and Geometry
    • I put together an entire blog post just because I was really bad at it. I memorized and still use tricks to guesstimate where my maneuver lands and by now I'm ok at it.
  • Range Control
    • Another one I had to put a post together, just to force me to learn it. Goes hand in hand with spatial visualization - I have a friend who's a structural draughtsman (?), and he had the perfect eye for range bands and straight maneuvers like I've rarely seen before.

 

Specific game knowledge: you can learn those by investing time away from the table.

  • Rules Understanding
    • This is a tough one for newer players. There are so many abilities (and exceptions!) that you need to run into the mistakes to learn them. And every time sucks a bit. The only way to improve this is to memorize all the abilities over time, to religiously read through the FAQ, and to spend some time on the rules forum/threads.
  • Spotting “Rules-Breaking” Combinations
    • I want to say I'm not good at this myself, but that isn't entirely true. I spot them in a given list, very easily. But I could never have put that list together myself! The former is more important as skill during the game and just comes naturally to me, the latter is one for list building. I think it goes hand in hand with rules understanding - the better you know the rules, the better you can break them.
  • Tracking Scores and Determining Win Condition
    • Tracking scores has to be the most frustrating way to lose games - and the most outstanding to me, the one I personally remember most. It stings. The realization that you were ahead on points 5min before the end, didn't understand that, and turned in to lose the game and lose your chance to make cut at a system open: there is nothing worse to me. My idea to improve on this is to make a mental note each time the score changes. And EVERY TURN during planning phase. That's particularly important and difficult during later rounds.
    • Win condition is a larger topic, and there is a great article from Travis.
    • Win conditions are difficult because you need a) the right idea and b) the ability to implement that idea. Where did you fail? A little bit of column a, a bit of column b, sometimes both. And sometimes both, but you think neither because your objectivity is off ;)
    • One trick: you can treat the game as winning points increments. Some of those increments come with the added bonus of removing attacks, and as such are a vast improvement of your defense. Because it does not matter one bit how many ships you destroyed, only how many points increments you got. Sometimes they coincide.
  • Understanding Target Priority
    • That's my thing by now, mainly through writing the battle reports and thinking a lot about it. Intimately connected to your win condition and score tracking, as you have to be flexible with target priority. The most important choice to make here: are you able to remove the largest threat in time, or is it more likely to remove the rest and win on time?

 

Transferrable skils: harder to practice, most people I know have an affinity for them, or lack thereof and simply don't care to improve it.

  • Equanimity and Objectivity
    • This is one that comes more naturally to me, and was additionally trained by writing all those battle reports. They give me time and opportunity to reflect on better choices - but don't fall into the trap of seeing their actual maneuver as the only one to expect! Hindsight is very tempting.
  • Basic Probability
    • Another one I constantly include in battle reports, and that helped me get a better, more realistic feeling for probabilities. Plus, I've spent way too much time on the calculator. You can learn how likely you are to get result X, and that helps you with target priority - and leaning into variance!
  • Patience:
    • Watch Oli play, he is a master in patience. Not stalling, mind you, just waiting for the right moment to pounce. I'd argue that people with a background in software design or military have a (trained) advantage here, as they should usually wait for the last responsible moment. You need to identify your opponent's plan, and this is a great part in it. I don't know how to train it other than by exhaustive reflection of your games (battle reports) and maybe playing only to the first two combat turns. Comes more easily to me than many, IF I force myself to do it. I want to jump in, but I can be patient if playing e.g. imperial aces with whisper. Also 5A required me to go patient, so I learned it there a bit, too.
  • Aggression:
    • That's one that I'm bad in because I almost always play aggressively when it should be a deliberate tool.

 

e: I would like to point out that you exclusively consider skills at the table. I consider listbuilding a skill, too, even in the time of meta wing. And most importantly, listbuilding helps a lot on improving all the game specific knowledge skills.

Edited by GreenDragoon

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I'm an average player with an unreasonably high score. I suck so hard at the last 2 categories, if I wasn't so good in all the others, I'd never win a game.

So I like the Wilder scale. It tells me I am an 'extremely good player' but I constantly under-achieve because I'm a casual idiot who cba to master the next level of decision making...

It let's me flatter myself :D

Edited by Cuz05

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2 hours ago, GreenDragoon said:

e: I would like to point out that you exclusively consider skills at the table. I consider listbuilding a skill, too, even in the time of meta wing. And most importantly, listbuilding helps a lot on improving all the game specific knowledge skills.

Same team.

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I might put the "list building" skill under the broad header of "list selection" - it doesn't matter so much whose idea the list was so much as the decision to bring a specific list into a specific environment. If you're building something unexpected/disorienting to play against, or something that is a counter to the expected meta then that is an advantage you can gain at this point, but it could also just be picking the list that best matches your skills/limitations so you are setting yourself up to perform the best you can.

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8 hours ago, GreenDragoon said:

I consider listbuilding a skill, too, even in the time of meta wing. And most importantly, listbuilding helps a lot on improving all the game specific knowledge skills.

 

4 hours ago, Transmogrifier said:

I might put the "list building" skill under the broad header of "list selection" - it doesn't matter so much whose idea the list was so much as the decision to bring a specific list into a specific environment.

Excellent points, guys, and I do agree "List Building or List Selection" belongs on the list.  GreenDragoon is right ... in my head, I was only thinking about playing at the table.

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I would call it in a heartbeat.  And I would ruthlessly shame and mock anybody who did it at any event I attended or judged.  (NOTE: I'm 6'5", well over 300 pounds, and built like a truck.  Ain't nobody going to do anything but meekly accept it from me.  I can't globally recommend it, I guess.)

If you don't wanna @#$%in' play X Wing, don't @#$%in' play X-Wing.  Jesus @#$%'in Christ.

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4 minutes ago, Kieransi said:

I would call it in a heartbeat.  And I would ruthlessly shame and mock anybody who did it at any event I attended or judged.  (NOTE: I'm 6'5", well over 300 pounds, and built like a truck.  Ain't nobody going to do anything but meekly accept it from me.  I can't globally recommend it, I guess.)

If you don't wanna @#$%in' play X Wing, don't @#$%in' play X-Wing.  Jesus @#$%'in Christ.

Could we let that ******* die already...

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For me, Spotting “Rules-Breaking” Combinations, comes from playing different games that have combos in the games. 

If you don't want to branch out, then I suggest the following:

  • Look for the card with a triggered ability on the other side of the board.
  • Try building a list around a triggered ability.

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38 minutes ago, Kieransi said:

I would call it in a heartbeat.  And I would ruthlessly shame and mock anybody who did it at any event I attended or judged.  (NOTE: I'm 6'5", well over 300 pounds, and built like a truck.  Ain't nobody going to do anything but meekly accept it from me.  I can't globally recommend it, I guess.)

If you don't wanna @#$%in' play X Wing, don't @#$%in' play X-Wing.  Jesus @#$%'in Christ.

What? 

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14 minutes ago, LTuser said:

What do you mean by [Know the rule of 11]?

Basically this:

bildschirmfoto-2019-04-11-um-22.01.30.pn

The yellow number tells you how many ship base lengths they moved. You see that they can shoot at each other after a total of 11 (if both started in the front of their zone)

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Just now, Jeff Wilder said:

Don't worry about it.  At this point I just consider it an excellent indication of who to add to the Ignore list.

Understandable though in this case it is sad because of what they contributed back at the start of 2.0.

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