So a couple of weeks ago Alex Watkins wrote an article about coming into X-Wing events from the perspective of having run them, this week I have another guest writer to introduce.
Andrew Pattison is the man who leads the 186th Squadron, he does a huge amount of work on the worlds biggest X-Wing Facebook group. He’s funny, generous and wise beyond his years. Once upon a time, somewhere in history, he’ll happily remind you that he was once the Winner of the Biggest Ever X-Wing Event. Back then that was Yavin 2016 (the first ever UK System Open). Sure the tournament has been eclipsed a few times since and the current holder of the biggest tournament win ever is Martyn Chivers who won the 2018 UK open, but anyone can appreciate that winning an event with over 350 players takes a fair bit of effort!
He won it with a list that was dubbed the Pattiswarm (by him… I said funny and generous… not modest). Howlrunner, some Crackshot Black Squadron TIEs and a couple of academy TIEs to make up the numbers. It will come as no surprise that he is now quite excited by 2.0 and the world of options that have opened up for the long sidelined swarm archetype. He was working on a tactics article for the TIE Swarm and while we were chatting it sounded like a great thing to share in my blog, especially as I haven’t had any tournaments this weekend to write about. So it is with great pleasure that I hand the rest of this post to my friend, Andrew:
This article is intended to be an introduction to TIE Swarms, looking forward into X-Wing 2.0. Many veterans of 1.0 have flown TIE Swarms at some point, and most of the information in here will not be new to them (Phil – we might have forgotten a lot in the last couple of years though). It is not necessarily a definitive ‘how to’ guide but rather is intended to be a discussion of the things you need to think about when flying a TIE Swarm. Some of it is also purely my own opinion, and there will be other equally valid counterpoints.
In general terms, TIE Swarms have increased in power in 2.0 (Phil – in my last post I take a look at this). The new rules reduce instances of multiple actions and token stacking, and all sorts of passive buffs have been removed. Blocking is back, and it’s easier to kill stuff with two dice attacks. However, TIE Swarms don’t get everything their own way. The introduction of half points scoring for small based ships will hit them hard. Running away with your 1 hull fighters is now literally half as effective, and this has very serious implications for how you approach all aspects of the game.
I’m not going to go into too much depth about list building here, since most of the article deals with universal factors to do with actually playing the list. These factors are unlikely to change, whereas the meta-game will constantly shift and lists will go in and out of favour. However, there are three fundamental questions that anyone building a TIE Swarm will need to consider, and I can’t see either of them changing any time soon.
To Howl or not to Howl?
Howlrunner is the standard building block in most TIE Swarms. Obviously, the re-rolls she grants your ships are worth their weight in gold, but the short range of her ability has a significant effect on how you need to fly your ships. Large blocks of TIEs are very unwieldy and trying to stay in range 1 of Howlrunner can be restrictive. At various points in the lifetime of first edition, many players decided to ditch her in favour of a squadron that was able to set up and manoeuvre more effectively as individuals or small groups.
And then there’s that new lass Iden Versio, gotta take her right?
Iden Versio is new to 2.0, and her ability is going to have far reaching consequences for any game she is involved in. The ability to simply ignore one attack/bomb/asteroid hit etc per game (after dice are rolled) might not seem all that powerful, but the actual implications are huge. It means that during the first engagement, your opponent effectively has to kill Howlrunner twice to stop the sledgehammer of re-rolls. In the context of second edition (far less reliable offensive big-hits), this is incredibly difficult. You will need to have a very good reason not include her in your squadrons when 2.0 rolls out.
Six or Seven (or Eight)?
A TIE Swarm can include a couple of interceptors, bombers, or other such ships, but it must consist of six or seven TIE Fighters of some description. As we will see below, six is generally a lot less of a pain to fly than seven, but it sometimes lacks that ‘critical mass’ of ships. Clearly you can also fit eight TIE Fighters into a list as well, but until now this has been less effective than six or seven.
TIE Swarms are powerful but they are not terribly adaptable once a game has begun. Before you start a game, take a good look at your opponents list and ask yourself what their game plan will be. This will to a large extent inform your own setup and approach. In general, look out for the following:
Are they better or worse than you at jousting? If worse, charge at them. If better (unlikely, but possible) you will have to consider another tactic such as splitting your swarm and approaching from multiple angles. (Phil – One thing to remember that your opponent generally has one correct choice: Kill Howlrunner. You can use that to your advantage.) Whatever happens, range control is the most important thing to think about in this matchup or in fact any game where you end up jousting your opponent. This is discussed later on in more detail.
The traditional enemy of TIE Swarms, high pilot skill aces can dodge your arcs on the approach and then get behind you, causing immense problems. They key is trapping them against a board edge, or between rocks, and tempting to get multiple shots on them each turn. At the start of the game you need to consider whether to rush them and trap them (hard to do) or simply leave yourself space and options to adapt. The final option is not to bother killing them at all. Taking out the rest of the list and winning on points is a perfectly valid tactic if you feel you cannot take them down. This will clearly be much more difficult in 2.0, since even your own fighters will give up half points if they are on 1 hull at the end of the game, but it is still something to think about before a game starts.
Small Ship Count, Large Hull Count
This is a simplistic heading, as this covers a multitude of sins. Small bases require different approaches to large bases for example. However, by and large, this type of list is your prey, and you should simply be knocking it out of the sky with weight of firepower. With so few shots coming back at you, you should be able to control which of your ships is fired at, and therefore which ships are blocking or firing at your opponent, with relative ease. Clearly there are exceptions, and if you get it wrong and a large based turret or other big nasty manages to get behind your swarm, you are in trouble, so don’t be complacent.
For a long time, these were good in theory only. Then, with the rise of first Miranda and then Nym, they hammered one of the larger nails in the coffin of 1.0 TIE Swarms. It remains to be seen how effective they will be in 2.0, but my feeling is that they will cause serious issues for swarm players of any faction. Trajectory Simulators will cause particular agro to blocks of TIE Fighters on the approach, so it may be necessary to split your swarm to cause hard choices for your opponent.
These may seem like good options against low health TIE fighters, but actually, with a simple evade action on the approach, most will find it very difficult to one-shot you. Clearly this has an adverse effect on your own firepower, but if Howlrunner survives, you should still be able to do a significant amount of damage without focus tokens. It is therefore usually best to simply charge these down, and if you can get a good block off to deny target locks, all the better. It is also worth mentioning that Iden Versio is a direct counter to these big hitters. Her ability to simply ignore one entire attack (after you find out if your ship survives) is extremely powerful here.
Obstacle Choice and Setup
Rock placement can quite literally decide the outcome of a game involving a TIE Swarm. As a general rule, it’s not a brilliant idea to fly your entire swarm through a dense asteroid field, but flying them through a single line of obstacles will often be far less challenging, and may surprise your opponent. Of course, against a good opponent you often won’t have any choice in the matter.
In terms of which actual obstacles you pick, there are arguments both ways. Small rocks clearly make it easier to maneuver your unwieldy blocks of ships, but they also make it easier for opponents to get out of your way. It is also easier to block opponents onto larger rocks. Blocking your opponents ships on rocks is often a game-changing moment. For this reason I generally would suggest opting for large rocks (Phil – You land one of your seven ships on a rock to block one of your opponents two or three ships onto a rock and you should be able to take advantage of that situation). TIE Fighters don’t have versatile green maneuvers, and I’ve found debris to be more of a hindrance than a help on many occasions.
The Mythic L
This is the ideal setup for most situations. You set your ships at the end of the L (or reverse L) and this forces your opponent to either engage you in the open, or be trapped behind the rocks. Either way, it’s far from ideal for them. In my personal experience I have rarely, if ever, lost a game from this starting position.
The Dreaded Hourglass
This situation makes it extremely difficult for a block of TIE Fighters to Get a favourable engagement of any kind. The central rocks block your banks and turns in on turns 2-4 and this can be fatal if you end up either trapped against the board edge facing the wrong way, or are forced to either turn in and face a rock, or turn and screw up your formation and pilot skill order. Note that it is impossible for an opponent to guarantee this setup on their own (at least one of your rocks is needed to complete it) so don’t oblige him by putting any rocks in those central spots!
If for some reason this situation does occur, think very seriously about setting up in the middle, since at least you will only have to go through one line of rocks, and may be able to trap an opponent’s ships against the board edge.
The Usual Result – something in the middle (think a lowercase h)
This is fine. One side of the board is probably fairly terrible, and the other is ok. Since it is likely you will be setting up first, always choose the side with less rocks so that you are able to turn or bank inwards around them.
General Pointers for Movement and Setup
Otherwise known as how not to screw up your formation. No matter what exact squadron you are flying, it is essential that you come up with and practice at least one standard setup and opening. It is also essential that you are extremely precise with your templates at all times, while attempting not to take too long doing it (for your opponents sake). You need to know how different combinations of manoeuvres will affect your formation. What happens if all your ships bank or turn three. What happens if only half of them do. Knowledge is key. The only time you should ever be bumping is when you plan it, and the key to this is practice.
Bear in mind that there is a tiny amount of ‘wiggle room’ when fitting a movement template into the guides at the front and back of a ship. Be aware of, and use this wiggle room! That quarter of a millimetre can make all the difference when slotting your ships in next to each other.
Finally, do yourself a favour and get some kind of base inserts to stop your ships slipping. Flying a formation without these is like attempting to run on ice while wearing clogs (I seriously hope Phil can find a gif for this!). Phil – I couldn’t. So, Polar Bears.
As with any squadron, your setup location should be dictated entirely by where the asteroids are, and what your opponent is running. Most of the time, you will be setting your ships up on the side with the most clear space up the edge of of the board. Your formation will depend on how many ships you are using:
Six TIEs Fighters
Setting up a swarm of six is usually quite simple, because Howlrunner and or Iden Versio will already be at range 1 of all the other ships. Set up in a simple 2×3 block and right from the word go, all your ships will be able to perform the same manoeuvres and not get in each other’s way. This is not the only way to set up six TIEs, but it will usually be the most effective and least likely to go wrong.
Seven TIE Fighters
Seven TIEs can be a challenge, because it is hard to maintain range 1 with Howlrunner and/or Iden Versio on all the other ships. It certainly isn’t possible without a set opening involving a variety of manoeuvres and/or barrel rolls. As already stated above, practice is key here. Regular players of TIE Swarms all have their own unique setups and openings and with the changes to how barrel rolls work in 2.0, many of these will need to be re-worked.
Eight TIE Fighters
In most cases, a squadron of eight TIEs is flown in two (not always equal) blocks. They may be close together, but attempting to manoeuvre 8 TIEs through any kind of gap is difficult, and doesn’t play to the strengths of the list. 8 TIEs allows you to play the hammer and anvil game quite effectively, since it will be quite hard for most opponents to take on both blocks at once to any great effect. You should be setting up one group to rush in and block, often in the centre, and the other on one edge, ready to swoop in for the kill. This setup can also be used with swarms of six or seven TIEs, mainly against things you will find hard to joust, or in situations where the obstacles favour your opponent.
The Approach and Engagement
TIE Swarms have a formidable presence on the table. They are traditionally strongest in the opening engagement, where they can easily remove an entire ship (or ships!) from the board immediately. However, a good Swarm player needs to have a plan for the following turns even before the engagement begins. If you charge in and then realise all your K-Turn possibilities are blocked by rocks, you probably won’t last much longer.
The ideal approach leaves you in a position where the following turns of engagement leave most of your swarm a) alive and b) not having to K-Turn in order to re-engage. As a general rule, the key is giving yourself as much space as possible, while denying that space to your opponent. This is why the L shaped rock setup is so powerful.
Blocking and/or the threat of blocking is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. One of your ships performing a five forward or a three bank, followed by a barrel roll, can really screw up your opponents day, leaving at least one of their ships action-less and facing an entire swarm of focussed TIE Fighters.
In order to facilitate this blocking, think about staggering your ships during the approach. This can seem counterintuitive since it is harder to get all your guns on target all the time, but in a lot of cases the rewards are worth the risk. This staggered approach also has the effect of making subsequent turns a lot easier, since your ships will not get in the way of each other anywhere near as much.
In the turns immediately following the first engagement, there is usually a period of the game I like to call The Scrum. This is actually where games with many swarms are won and lost, and there are four key things to think about when it happens.
When thinking about your manoeuvres and then again when actioning them, always make the consideration of movement order the first and last thing you think about. Most of the time you will be moving first, and most of your ships are able to activate in any order. This is a hugely powerful advantage if used correctly because it gives you complete control over where every single one of your ships ends up. It allows you to self block in order to maintain your position. It also allows you to use several ships to continuously block a section of the table.
It’s reasonably easy to block enemy ships, but it’s hard to block them while simultaneously getting enough shots on target to take them down. The question then, is how many of your fighters to devote to attempting to block. This is clearly highly situational, but I’ve found it is generally best to put no more than two of your ships into blocking positions. Often, one will be enough. This is because blocking is usually all about putting a ship where you don’t want your opponent to be, not about blocking all possible locations.
Keeping Guns on Target
At this stage, keeping enough guns on target is more important than making sure everyone has actions all the time. If you have performed a k-turn, don’t necessarily worry about clearing the stress straight away
Knowing When to Run
It is often best to cut and run with a damaged fighter as soon as it finds itself on 1 hull. This is enraging for your opponent because it means that they are having to waste shots on something which isn’t even shooting at them if they want to get kills. They may decide to choose other targets, which can result in a nice spread of damage. This leaves your offensive power intact for later turns, as well as preserving points. This is clearly less effective in 2.0, given that even small ships give away half points, but it is still a valid tactic.
This is applicable to X-Wing in general, but TIE Swarm endgames take two forms, and which you choose will rather depend on your opponent. Your two options are to wipe them out, or run away and play for time.
It is totally obvious when you can simply go in for the kill, but if you have killed the soft half of your opponents list, and it’s just an annoying arc-dodging ace left against your three or four TIEs, then it is unlikely that you will kill your opponent. At this point, it becomes a spoiling game where you simply need to block, bump and run for as long as possible. Getting at least one shot each turn is important, because most low health or low agility aces can’t ignore shots entirely in 2.0.
TIE Swarms are back, and hopefully they are here to stay. I’ve always felt that the game allows you to take up to 8 ships, so 8 ships should be a viable squadron. I hope everyone who got this far, regardless of swarm-flying pedigree, has learned something, or will at least look at an element of the game in a new way. I’d be happy to listen to any thoughts or comments anyone has on anything in the article, or anything I might have missed.
And Back to Phil
I’ve really enjoyed working on this article with Andrew (by working I mean doing some pictures) but it’s important to mention that the swarm archetype is not the domain of the Empire alone. Scum have options with the M3-A, Z-95, even the Quadjumper (and soon the Mining Guild TIE) to make a pretty strong if slightly more janky beast out of.
Rebels have A-Wings and Z-95s as their main options, but don’t neglect the fact that Rebels have an abundance of cheap small ships like the Attack Shuttle, TIE and Sheathipede. There are tricks galore to be had there! You can build combined arms swarms, that mix in various options to give your opponent a target priority headache. The principles Andrew has looked at apply to all of these builds. If you’ve never flown a swarm before then the early days of 2.0 could well be a great time to try one out.
Next Time: 1.0s FINAL GOODBYE
Want to try a Swarm out at or tournament, or see if you’ve got what it takes to beat it? Head over to the 186th Tournament Calendar to see where you might be able to have a go!