Simultaneous Attacks and the Danger of Vocabulary

An interesting question came up on BGG yesterday, which I thought was worth repeating here for two reasons.  First, it’s based on a commonly tricky rule.  Second, it makes a good case for addressing a broader issue with interpreting rules.  That’s something I’m going to be trying to do a lot with this series.

Starting with the broader issue, pop quiz: When is simultaneous not simultaneous?  When it’s happening in X-wing!  “Simultaneous” attacks (don’t worry, I’m not going to keep air-quoting it) are one of the more often confused rules elements in the game.  I don’t think it’s because the rules themselves are complicated or unclear, but rather it’s because the word chosen for the rule does not really sync with the common definition of that word.  Everyone knows what simultaneous means, and that creates expectations for the resolution of the situation which aren’t necessarily consistent with the rules themselves.  Hence, the “danger of vocabulary.”  This is a common trap in creating rules, and a difficult (if not impossible) one for developers to avoid – they have to use words after all, and the “Method For Resolving Attacks Between Pilots of the Same Pilot Skill Rule” won’t fit on the page as well.  Sadly, it wouldn’t even make a good acronym.  That leaves it on us, as players, to make sure we’re only reading what’s actually there and not reading more from the chosen terminology than is really intended.

So, on to the actual rule and question.  Here’s the scenario:

Two Imperial Squads, both with Howlrunner and a few Academy Pilots.  We’re down to firing for PS 1.  Player 1 (who has initiative) fires with his Academy Pilots, and kills Player 2’s Howlrunner.  When is Howlrunner removed?  When Player 2 gets their opportunity to fire, will he be able to use Howlrunner’s ability to reroll dice?

Looking at this scenario it’s easy to see where our common definition of “simultaneous” drops a proximity mine.  If all the Academy Pilots are firing simultaneously, it should all be resolved simultaneously, and Player 2 should benefit from his Howlrunner.  Unfortunately, that’s not what the rules actually are.

What the Simultaneous Attack rule really does is change when ships are removed after being destroyed under certain conditions.  Here are the relevant rules, all from page 16:

– When the number of Damage cards dealt to a ship is equal to or greater than its hull value, the ship is immediately destroyed… Immediately remove the destroyed ship from the play area.
– …ships with a pilot skill value equal to the active ship’s pilot skill have have the opportunity to attack before being destroyed.  If such a ship would be destroyed, it simply retrains its Damage cards without being removed from the play area…  After this ship has had its opportunity to attack this round, it is immediately destroyed and removed from the play area.

Let’s apply these to the question of Howlrunner above.  When Player 1 hits Howlrunner and deals enough damage to destroy her, she should be immediately removed.  Is there anything stopping that?  Is her pilot skill value equal to the active ship’s pilot skill?  Nope.  So, she goes boom immediately and is removed from play.  Since a ship can’t provide an ability if it’s not in play, Player 2 doesn’t get the benefit.

Here’s an alternate scenario that keys on a different aspect of the rule:

The Rebel player has initiative.  Tycho Celchu fires at Howlrunner, who is near Boba Fett, and destroys her.  When is she removed, and will Boba Fett get to use her reroll ability?

They key to this one is when a destroyed ship is removed under these conditions.  When Howlrunner is destroyed, her PS is the same as the active pilot (all 8s) so she remains in play.  Will Fett get the benefit?  That will actually depend on how smart the Imperial player is.  The Simultaneous Attack rule says that the ship will be removed immediately after it has had its opportunity to attack.  So if the Imperial player attacks with Howlrunner first, she is removed and Fett doesn’t get her ability.  But if Fett fires first, she is still in play and would provide the reroll.  Howlrunner would then attack, and be removed once that attack was complete.

Comments are welcome, as always, and if anyone has other interesting scenarios relating to the Simultaneous Attack rule to try and work out, please leave them in the comments.