Leveraging Faction Balance: Rebels


I’m back in town after attending a conference, and I’m on break for the next few days. Today I want to briefly return to the perspective of my (relatively) recent post on faction balance, this time looking at its implications for Rebel forces.

Recent Events

I played in the second round of the ongoing Vassal tournament early last week. I was busy with classes, and ended up putting together my list immediately before the game. My opponent was much better prepared, and brought a 7-ship TIE swarm.

Rebels (Robert M.) Imperials (Daniel S.)
  • Luke Skywalker (28) + Swarm Tactics (2)
  • Garven Dreis (26)
  • Rookie Pilot (21)
  • Gold Squadron Pilot (18) + Ion Cannon Turret (5)
  • Howlrunner (18) + Determination (1)
  • Mauler Mithel (17)
  • Dark Curse (16)
  • Academy Pilot (12)
  • Academy Pilot (12)
  • Academy Pilot (12)
  • Academy Pilot (12)

My squad was almost frustratingly plain compared to the Wave 2 theatrics I’ve had in mind for the past several months, but I put it together based on my previous thought about building lists that respect the asymmetric balance of X-wing. My go-to Rebel squads throughout Wave 1 were all based around Wedge/Biggs, with whatever support I could muster. I found early on how much more effective Wedge’s offense is than Luke’s, and placed a high priority on that.

But having made the strategic decision to build an explicitly conservative, defensive Rebel squad, a new combination jumped out at me. Luke/Garven is the same cost as Wedge/Biggs, and brings a lot more defense to the table. Luke’s pilot ability is an action-less and permanent defensive Focus, and Garven’s ability means I can either focus (no pun intended) my offense at a key point or improve the defense of a ship that’s likely to take a great deal of fire during the round.

The Y-wing is there for a similar reason: against Wave 1 Imperial lists, the Y-wing is actually a bit more survivable than an X-wing, and the ion cannons would give me the ability to make sure a TIE fighter’s guns ended up pointed the wrong way.

I think it would be hard to build a more defensively focused list with Wave 1 content, but in many ways that makes it unlike any list I’ve run in the past. I was fairly anxious about the outcome.

The Outcome

Like the first round, I’m not sure how much effect the list had versus luck on the dice (which continued to favor me) and factors like my opponent’s deployment, but Luke and Garven led their flight to a win.

I lost the Gold Squadron Pilot near the end of the match, probably as a consequence of a mid-game decision to send it off alone to sit between a pair of asteroids and hold off Howlrunner and a pair of Academy Pilots–which he did like Horatius at the bridge over the Tiber, literally blocking all movement through the gap for two rounds.

Meanwhile, the defensive emphasis paid off substantially, as wave after wave of fire from TIEs failed to make a substantial impact on the X-wings.

Side Effects

It was a long game. Part of that was undoubtedly my opponent’s split deployment and ship choices (Dark Curse is a real pain to nail down), and part of it was that it was a relatively slow game conducted via in-game chat while we both did other things.

But it also clearly had something to do with my force and tactics. Having Garven along led to a handful of X-wing shots with Focus and Target Lock, but that was early on; later in the game, action denial left him struggling to pick up Focus.

Final Thoughts

If you want to call the previous post a hypothesis, it would be this:

  • Rebel ships, and X-wings in particular, are offensively oriented; Imperial ships are defensively oriented.
  • Focusing primarily on improving Imperial defense or Rebel offense leaves your squad with exploitable weaknesses.
  • The opposite approach results in a balanced squad that is well-placed to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses.

On that basis, this feels like a relatively successful test. Unfortunately, I don’t know how generalizable it will be to Wave 2: it’s clear that Imperials are getting better offense, and both Rebel ships are fairly defensive in nature (one is tanky, and the other is dodgy). The new ships do still have a tangible faction identity: TIE Interceptors have improved their attack, but retain the elusive and brittle nature of the TIE Fighter; A-wings have reduced attack, but keep the X-wing’s Target Lock and most of its durability. But since Wave 2 landed on my doorstep on Monday (hurray!) these design principles are suddenly somewhat obsolete.

If I had to guess beyond my limited experience, I’d say the Wave 2 extension of the same principles will fracture more along ship lines than faction lines, with list makeup substituted for faction. A list’s offensive or defensive orientation will depend on the ships you choose: A-wings for dodging damage, and Y-wings for soaking it up; X-wings for efficient offense, and the Falcon for straightforward power.

And I think it’s a good thing for the overall metagame, because it means each faction has an arbitrarily large number of possible “looks”. It won’t be safe to assume that a Rebel list will be offensively oriented, nor that Imperials will be a slog to take down; you won’t know how your opponent’s list is likely to play until you see it on the table.