Rules Interaction 101

With introductions out of the way, let’s dive into our first actual content: Rules Interaction 101!

While I’m probably going to spend a lot of time talking about specific rules interactions, that’s not actually my goal here.  The real goal is to help spread understanding of the core rules, so that people can resolve rules questions themselves.  X-wing’s rules follow a structure which was originally popularized for CCGs, but has since expanded into many other styles of game.  These rules are basically broken into two major components: a core rules framework, and a bunch of separate, individual rules unique to each pilot, upgrade, or ability.  This variety of rules is one of the secrets to the longevity of such games, as new and interesting ability can be added quickly and easily.  Unfortunately, they’re also the source of confusion, as individual abilities interact with the rules framework and each other in odd ways.

I’m going to lay out a few core concepts I use in interpreting interactions between rules and abilities.  It’s worth noting at this point that many of the concepts I’m applying here are not explicitly stated as part of the X-wing rules, and may be questioned.  IMHO they’re fundamental to the operation of such a system, though, and so even if they’re only implied I believe they still hold.

1.  Card abilities override core framework rules
I’m not going to be in the habit of just repeating rules from the book here – everyone can read the rules as well as I can – but this one is important enough to deserve a specific callout.  This is why I refer to the rules in the book as a “core framework” – they’re foundational, but the cards can and will stomp all over them.  Whenever the rules say to do X, but a card says Y, the card wins.

2.  Abilities beat rules only when they say they do, and in the most limited way possible
Cards always override rules, but it’s important to appreciate the limitation of that.  When looking at what a card can do, be careful not to draw extra implications from the ability.  One example of this might be Tycho Celchu (“may perform actions even while you have stress tokens.”).  His ability lets you take an action while stressed, but it does not let you declare a red maneuver while stressed, or take an action which would be prevented by the Damaged Sensor Array critical hit card.

3.  Abilities come in two flavors: Ongoing and Triggered
These aren’t terms in the X-wing rules, but understanding them and the difference is important.  Ongoing abilities are something which is always in effect, such as Engine Modification and Biggs Darklighter.  While they are in play these cards change the overall game state.  Triggered abilities are effects such as Push the Limit or Night Beast.  They will include some condition which much be met before the ability can be used, and typically that ability will do something and then be finished.  Triggered abilities can usually be spotted by terms like “When”, “After”, “If”, or even “Before”.  Some abilities will blend these two by using a trigger to create a short-term ongoing effect, such as Wedge Antilles or Backstabber.  In these cases, the ongoing ability is active as long as the condition is met; once the condition goes away, the ability shuts off.

4.  Triggered abilities activate as soon as their trigger is met, and are completed once it is done
Occasional use of the word “Immediately” confuses this issue, so I’m avoiding it here, but when a trigger is met the ability goes off right then.  Wedge’s “When attacking” trigger causes his target the lose agility as soon as he starts the attack, and ends when he’s not attacking any more.  This can and often will interrupt the flow of other resolution.  The Heavy Laser Cannon, for example, says “Immediately after rolling your attack dice…” so it is activated once attack dice are rolled, before moving to the next step of combat resolution.

5.  Resolution is a linear flow
Unless something in the rules specifically say otherwise, everything happens one at a time, and the order matters.  A great many confusing questions can be resolved by paying attention to the steps you take, and following them in order.

6.  When an abilities interrupts the flow, finish that ability before returning to the normal flow
In software, we call this a subroutine.  When a triggered ability activates, you complete the full process for that ability before returning to the normal flow.  An example of this is Soontir Fel’s ability.  When you receive a stress token the trigger is met.  You add the focus token, and then resume the normal flow.

Let’s bring all that together with a pretty complex example: Kath Scarlett fires at Soontir Fel (Range 2, no tokens on either), and rolls {Critical}, {Critical}, {Hit}.  Fel rolls {Evade}, {Evade}, {Eyeball}.  What happens?  Let’s pick it up at Combat Step 6, Compare Results:

  1. Fel’s first {Evade} cancels the {Hit}
  2. Fel’s second {Evade} cancels one of the {Critical} rolls
  3. The trigger for Kath Scarlett’s ability is met – Fel gets a stress token
  4. The trigger for Fel’s ability is met – Fel gets a focus token
  5. Fel’s ability is complete, back to where we were (3)
  6. Kath Scarlett’s ability is complete, back to where we were (2)
  7. Fel gets excited because he has a focus token to change that last {Eyeball} – but unfortunately, we’re past Step 5, which would let him change the {Eyeball} to an {Evade}.  The last {Critical} cannot be canceled, and Fel is hit, taking a critical damage card.

Hopefully this provides a good foundation for analyzing how card abilities interact, especially in regards to timing.  If anyone sees anything I missed, or areas that could be cleaned up or clarified further, please let me know in the comments.