Sunday, June 29, 2014

X-Wing: Crying about the Phantom

Seems appropriate.

I don't usually browse the forums, but when I do its to look for one thing:  Discussions centralizing around game imbalance.  Call it a hobby of mine, but I really like reading what others have to say and the arguments they put forth when talking about specific game features.  I find it highly entertaining because most of the time; the arguments are poor, the assumptions are premature and the theorycrafting is astronomical.  For example, there's this article on the official FFG forums talking about the Phantom being the best ship.  You can find the ridiculous 9-pager right here.

One of the first things to keep in mind when reading stuff like this is that most of the time, it's coming from an inexperienced player.  Experienced, tournament-faring players with lots of games in a diversified meta do not outright claim game imbalance when they get beaten.  They first analyze their play, see what went wrong and try to adjust their plan of action for next time.  That's what I did when I played pro (in other games), that's what my colleagues did and that's what every competitive player I ever knew did.  They analyze their mistakes and rectify it first thing.  What do they do next?  Play it again, and again, and again until it's clearly in both players' minds that there's nothing more can be done.

Most of the time, competitive players have played the game a lot.  They played it enough that they know what's in their meta, but also in the national and global meta as well.  If a competitive player starts to present anecdotal evidence through several playtests against equally competitive players who are also pitching in their feedback, and no one agrees that the ship in question is answerable, then there might be an issue.  This is a natural form of check and balances to make sure there's no weak link, and that the argument for the eventual problem is clear, concise and accurate.

This is one of those times where people misunderstand the concepts of game imbalance and things that change the metagame.  Like I said in that thread, this is Wave 4, a major release that throws 4 different ships into the meta with all different kinds of upgrades and options.  Just before that, we got the Rebel Transport that had a good amount of Rogue Squadron upgrades.  Shortly before that, we got Imperial Aces and now in the next couple of weeks, we'll get Rebel Aces.  What this means to the game is that everything will change:  Not just a little, but a lot because of all the different player options coming into the mix together.

When you look at what has been released before this, you'll find a common thread of meta-changers out there.  The Falcon and Han Solo changed how the game was played because of 360 firing arcs, solid damage output as well as fire consistency.  Not to mention the Falcon has a crap ton of health.  Then you look at the Imperial equivalent in the form of the Slave, the release of the TIE Bomber, named Interceptors like Soontir Fel and Turr Phennir, turret-based Rebel ships like the Y-Wing, Ion Cannons, Heavy Laser Cannons, Carnor Jax.. the list goes on and on.  The point is:  Whenever something new is introduced into the fray that people are not comfortable with yet, the most common reaction on the internet is to panic and post shitty threads crying imbalance.  Most of the people who post this shit are inexperienced players who haven't seen enough game time.  Even fewer are players who think they know what they're talking, but end up talking out of their ass because they play in a meta where the competition is weak, thus destroying the check and balances anomaly I talked about earlier.  I think I read in that thread somewhere where some dude proclaims that the Phantom single-handily destroyed 100 points worth of enemy ships.  That just smells like scrub-bashing.

I personally can't wait to get my Phantom and fly it around in a few games.  While I think it's a powerful ship, it's the epitome of a glass cannon and there's a huge number of counters out there.  Specifically, I'll target "Echo" for the purposes of listing out some counters:
  • Higher PS pilots who shoots before him at his 2 defense dice before ACD triggers.
  • Ships who ignore his maneuverability e.g. 360 turrets, Falcons.
  • Player-induced stress tokens e.g. Flechette Torpedoes, R3A2.
  • Ion Cannons are seriously bad news if they hit the ship.
  • Bad luck, because it happens and I've lost Fel with full health off  5 evade dice before.

So the moral of the story is this:  Before you cry imbalance about a near 40 point ship with 4 hull points, at least have the common courtesy to know the difference between changing the meta and a balance concern.  Once you figure that out, at least try to defeat the problem instead of complaining about it on the forums like a giant bitch.  Maybe if you think about the issue long enough, it'll suddenly dawn upon you that there is no spoon [problem] in the first place.


Shadowplayer said...

Well to be fair, I really don't think that thread is as bad as is made out in your blog. First, it asks the question if the Phantom is the new "best ship." There's discussion about that, and how it will change the metagame. There's also a lot of suggestions on how to counter it. I think it's an interesting back and forth and doesn't contain much of the hyperbole that other threads carried (like how awesome Rebel Aces is going to be or how the Transport X-wing cards would kill the interceptor). And, it certainly doesn't contain the tone or tenor that I've seen in other games.

The two players who post the most strongly about the strength of the phantom also seem to have the most experience. One of them finished top 16 at Worlds last year and isn't just posting "first" impressions. Another claims to have about 40 games with it. Neither one used the word overpowered, though I think both clearly are on the side of the fence that would argue it's undercosted. One does say they feel like ACD is over the top on a ship like Echo and "needs to go." Like I said, I think the reaction to the Rebel Aces announcement and the Transport cards were far more hyperbolic than that discussion is.

The only person that uses the word "overpowered" (and he says "overpowered/undercosted") is Major Juggler, who uses his own math calculations to create baseline "jousting values," that don't consider a ship's dial. He compares it to an interceptor, which it is much more cost effective than without even considering the ACD and the much improved mobility. Interceptors are 5th in regional tournament appearance in the top 3rd lists. So, they're a solid ship in their own right.

It will be very interesting to see how regional tournaments continue to shake out with them being legal, and just how much anti-phantom technology will be necessary to be competitive, or if phantoms end up just being too fragile themselves to have as big of an impact as some people think they will have. I'm with you, though, in that I'm excited to see how things shake out and get my own phantom on the table, as well as a couple of anti-phantom lists.

ImmateriumPress said...

The Phantom isn't OP necessarily, it's just that it is a pretty good counter to the existing Rebel meta. Four smalls with low PS value and not a lot of tricks won't often be able to deal with the fully loaded Phantoms. A Falcon, on the other hand, can be a pretty aggressive counter.

Phantom lists should also (in theory) have an edge against many swarmy Imperial opponents, as they can dodge a lot of the incoming fire and punch through the agility 3 defenses to cause pretty reliable damage in return. Anything that reduces the TIE swarm's prevalence is welcome IMO.

The fancier stuff out there, like the big ships with expanded firing arcs and high PS values, will be a good counter as well. Especially if they can deliver ion, stress or other ill effects on the target. Wes Janson with Veteran Instincts can be a good counter for many builds, as he shoots first (before they can recloak) and also strips away the tokens that make the Phantom's agility dice effective. I still maintain that Bounty Hunters will be some of the best Phantom hunters, with their dual fire arcs and ability to take stuff like Gunner/Tactician/Mara Jade/Rebel Captive to ruin a Phantom's day.

I think it's all part of a pretty deliberate attempt to put pressure on the old, swarmy, low PS builds. FFG has used this language several times before, saying how some of the new ships and upgrades are designed to counter ye olde TIE swarm (Predator for example). Take all comers lists will be harder to build, which should keep the meta fluid and interesting. I'm pretty optimistic, as there will be more bad matchups out there but also more good matchups, as people make sacrifices to their overall setup to counter specific builds. In short, there's just a lot more variety on the horizon.

HERO said...

You don't need to use the exact words overpowered to convey the meaning. Saying the ship is over the top, too cost-effective or too good is good enough. I don't see how ACD is over the top on Echo, it would be like saying PTL is crazy on Fel. While these upgrades are clearly beneficial to the pilot/ship, they are still susceptible to counters and being played around. Keep in mind that I didn't use the word "overpowered" once in my article. I actually hate the word because I don't think it accurately depicts balance issues in any game.

On the note of Interceptors; while there might be Interceptors being played, no one was willing to gamble a pure Interceptor list for their 100 points. Flying a mini-swarm in addition a Soontir Fel is not what I would considered Interceptor play, although it does feature a sole Interceptor in the mix. Playing 3-Ints is such a high-risk, high-reward type of list that no one is willing to bet their placement chances on it.

Shadowplayer said...

Re: Interceptors: I'm sorry, I don't think the numbers support that for a couple of reasons. First, they are 5th in non-named usage. When you add in named pilots, they are fourth. So, it's not just Fel, though there's no doubt he is one of the top named pilots being used. As for the other item about three interceptor lists, that's true of any small ship list. 3 small ship lists just don't do well, but there are lists of interceptors that have appeared: a couple 3 elite INTs plus an Academy, 4 Royal Guard. Just take a look at the numbers and list breakdowns and you might be surprised, but if a three ship homogeneous list is your standard, you will probably be disappointed.

Now, I won't argue that INTs are going to keep those numbers, but it's not because of the stress droid, ion missiles, or flechettes, which haven't seen much use at all and haven't altered the meta like many thought. It's going to be because they will be replaced by phantoms.

Of course, this leads back to the point about the thread you reference in your post, which is why I referenced INTs in the first place. I think that (the phantom discussion) is a far better discussion than the doom and gloom people were spouting when the transport cards (which haven't altered the meta really at all and certainly haven't hurt interceptor use because those cards aren't seeing use) and rebel aces were revealed, and it includes people who are excellent players and have experience with it. Heck, I'd argue that less hyperbolic than the proton rocket thread, in which people are actually complaining about a reasonably priced missile.

Of course, I'm willing to understand and admit that the way people view those threads is different, but I just think the phantom thread is not nearly as bad as others, semantics or not.

HERO said...

Are you referring to the FFG Regionals thread? I'm looking at it and it says Interceptors are 4th in usage, yes. They've always been high in usage. What kind of lists are represented though? Looking at this I see a lot of 5/1 (5%), 4/2 (8%), 3/3(3%) mixes. How many Interceptor heavy builds? Significantly smaller (1.64% and under). And out of those Interceptor heavy builds, how many of them placed top 3? Top 8? Almost none.

I don't think Interceptors will be replaced by Phantoms because the named pilots are so good. Interceptors are not vulnerable in the same way as Phantoms and they are cheaper in general. They do not depend on ACD because of their 3 natural evade and potential to stack Evade and Focus on the same ship thanks to PTL (before Hull Upgrade).

What do you think?

Shadowplayer said...

With regard to the tournament lists, yes, there are a lot of mixed lists, but that's the game right now. Very few homogeneous lists, especially three ship lists win. There are two interceptor heavy lists that have won regional tournaments (OH, and Frankfurt). I understand, but again, they are far from doomed, and certainly mixed lists have more success, but again, I think that goes for any ship outside of the TIE swarm (but even there we see a lot of people mixing in Alphas and/or other named INTs).

I do think Phantoms will significantly eat into interceptors. , though not completely (cost is part of it-- as you say), A Phantom may be more expensive, but it is better at everything: more durable, an extra red dice, and more maneuverable (with the cloaking figured in). They are better against any turret, too, since they are likely to be cloaked (unless they are facing Han) and much harder to one-shot. (ACD should pretty much be a given). Overall, even with ACD, I think that the extra points the phantom pays are not all that significant.

I think they'll replace that one INT that people are taking as flankers For example, rather than taking FEL for 30+ points as a flanker, I think you'll see Echo or Whisper with VI instead and those extra 5-7 points cut elsewhere. In multi/heavy interceptor lists, they're going to replace/displace at least one interceptor. Maybe that's expected or normal with a new wave, but I think it's a no-brainer -- just as you've done in your list and I've done with mine.

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