Sunday, January 12, 2020

Musing about Epic: Flying in wings

This is the first post in an intended series about the Epic game format of Fantasy Flight Games' "X-Wing Miniatures Game". Your feedback will determine what will become of it, so please, chime in and talk about it!

When you try out the new Epic game format for the first time, the biggest change - apart from the new 500 points limit in standard games - is the mechanic of wings. Wings allow you to move several ships while assigning only one dial, therefore cutting down the time needed to play considerably. Apart from making Epic much more playable than in 1.0, however, wings have several repercussions that one needs to be aware of when you're building your lists and flying them.

So, to recap, what are the essential rules for wings?

Every wing has a Wing Leader. The most common upgrade to become one is the Veteran Wing Leader, currently costet at 2 points. Every Veteran Wing Leader can lead a wing of 3-6 identical ships. So, for example, you could make Wedge Antilles a Veteran Wing Leader and let him be accompanied by two Blue Squadron Escorts.

For the Empire and the First Order, there is also the possibility of creating mixed wings. The Empire has access to the Agent of the Empire, which for four points allows you to lead a force of 3-5 TIE/ln, provided you are a TIE Advanced (an obvious application would be Darth Vader and two TIE/ln to recreate the trench run...), while the First Order has the First Order Elite with the much wider application of TIE/fo and TIE/sf. Both are costet four points and are unique. Any of these upgrades creates a wing.

The first important aspect of having a wing is the ability to spread damage around. If the wing leader gets shot at (no matter what upgrade they equipped), they are able to transfer a hit or crit to their wingmates in Range 1 (all of them are in Range 1) and in the arc of the attacker (that's not necessarily the case) up to two times per attack. This allows an ace like Wedge or Vader to stay around A LOT longer than usual.

However, this only applies to attacks. Damage from other sources - bombs, mines, overlapping obstacles, certain crit effects and being overlapped by Huge Ships - do not allow you to make use of this ability, so be careful!

The second important aspect is that only the wing leader gets a dial assigned. Everyone else is just placed back in formation with the wing leader after they finish their activation, using the dial and maneuver of the wing leader - even if it was altered by an upgrade, such as the R4 Astromech. This mechanic has major repercussions we will talk about below.

With these two mechanics, we have the basics out of the way.

When assigning a dial to your wing leader, you have to consider some things that don't play a role in standard play. Since you will usually want to keep your formation together, not only must your wing leader be able to fit whereever you are flying, but their wing mates as well. So, landing close to an obstacle will surely lead to one wing mate suffering its effects. However, this mechanic also allows you to bring your swarm around obstacles much more easily. If you land close to an obstacle, but still behind it, it doesn't matter if your wing mates come to end their movement directly before an asteroid. You yourself might just clear the obstacle with your next movement, flying to its left or right, and your wingmates will be picked up and placed back in formation AFTER the whole activation is complete.

And I'm stressing activation instead of movement here, because this doesn't happen until Actions have been taken, either. So your wing leader can boost or barrel roll to get the whole wing in a favorable position, even if said wing wouldn't be able to perform the action. This applies to a T65 wing leader having the S-Foils closed while the rest of the wing has them open, for example, or Vader with Afterburners equipped. You will be surprised by the range the whole swarm will be able to cover.

For experienced swarm players, this requires some rethinking. Normally, your choice of maneuvers is restricted, so the ships in the swarm don't overlap. You need elaborate formations like Diamond or Pin Wheel formation to make that happen, which don't allow every ship to perform the same maneuver. In wings, this doesn't matter. Every maneuver is open; the wing leader will never bump into their own swarm. For TIE/ln, for example, this opens the option of dialing a 1-Turn, thereby turning the whole wing by 90°, a feat unimaginable without wings.

It's even more mind-warping for K-Turns, Sloops and Tallon Rolls. Since the wing mates get placed BEHIND the wing leader, a wing of six TIE/ln performing a 4-K-Turn will have the 3 TIE/ln in the back row actually perform a 6-K-Turn. That's a maneuver that simply isn't possible AT ALL in a normal game, and if you don't factor this in, it will definitely surprise you.

However, wings that break up are a serious problem. Aside from voluntary break-ups, you will likely lose cohesion in the wing whenever a wingmate (or, worse, the wing leader) can't be placed. This mostly happens when they would bump into an enemy ship. In that case, the wing mates that can't be placed fly the dialed maneuver from their starting point (make sure to mark it down when checking if the ship fits!). Usually, you're still roughly facing the right way; however, the ships that are now split are not part of the wing, and therefore cannot take damage for their wing leader.

The rules have a contingency for this: ship mates can rejoin the wing in the End Phase, provided they're within Range 1 of the leader. This costs them a stress. However, it's my experience that you usually won't be granted the option of doing that. In the round in which your wing split, in most cases, the cause of the split will still be there in the End Phase, preventing you from reforming until you cleared it. This requires you to fly the wing into open ground next ground, while keeping the wingmate close, with all the baggage from a normal maneuvering of swarms we just talkes about. NOW you can rejoin, stressed, and will need to perform a blue maneuver to shed said stress if you don't want to miss out on actions and make the whole swarm unable to choose red maneuvers.

Even worse, the split will make you a big target. It usually leads to being unmodified (bumping and obstacles tend to do that), so concentrating fire on the hapless former wing mate is often a wise move. In the same vein, if the wing only consists of two ships now, shooting the wing leader becomes a much more attractive option since now they can only shed one damage.

And this is an important fact when we come to target selection. In a "healthy" wing, it usually makes little sense to shoot the Wing Leader. They will be able to spread the damage around any way they like in order to get the maximum effect out of it. Shooting at the wing mates is the safer option, since they can't spread the damage around (unless they're Biggs...).

This is not a detriment for the wing, though. It amounts to making a wing leader basically immune to enemy fire for a while, or heavily taxing the enemy for shooting at him (because you need to do three damage for one to get through). This mechanic keeps Aces relevant in a game where they otherwise would wither to concentrated fire by wings that are, unlike swarms, easily training all their guns in the same direction.

What I just talked about are only the absolute basics covered by the rules. A lot of it will change depending on your choice of upgrades (let's say, Homing Missiles...). We will cover all that in a future article. For now, it's good enough to understand the implications of the rules for wings, and what happens when you do. Please correct me in the comments if I made a mistake and tell me where I overlooked something. I also want to encourage you to leave ideas and suggestions for coming articles.

Until next time, have fun!

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  1. Nice article! Wings are my favorite addition to Epic Second Edition. I think it may be worth pointing out that the First Order Elite upgrade differs from Servant of the Empire because the leader can only have 2 or 3 wingmates, not 4 or 5. Looking forward to reading the next article!

    1. The leader is not restricted to a certain ship type, on the flip side. Will make sure to add it to the article!