The art of the mini swarm

Hello again folks!

I’d like to give you some tips, tricks, and the basics I’ve come to understand about flying swarms, both mini swarms and full swarms. So with the help of my main man Grish, i will try and bring you some of my wisdom on the subject.

Let’s start with defining what a mini swarm is, and what a full swarm is. To me,  a mini swarm is a squad of around 4 -5 ships total. Typically with several  low PS ships that are cheap to buy, like TIEs or Z-95s, usually combined with one or two more expensive ships. Now that’s a bit of a loose definition, but the idea of a mini swarm is a group of about 4 ships flying in formation next to a more expensive “star” ship, so as long as thats present, i’d call it a mini swarm. A full swarm differs in that its composed almost entirely of the low end ships. So you’d have 4-6 low end ships and then 1-2 midrange ships or one heavy hitter. They function in a similar fashion, but my preferred play style is typically a miniswarm.

In both swarms and mini swarms, formation flying is key. In case you’re not familiar with how to fly in formations well, i strongly recommend checking out the videos below.

Moving formations of any size can be tricky. The biggest problem is losing valuable actions due to bumping and overlaps. I’ve found that in addition to everything mentioned in these videos, an excellent shorthand to gauge the distance between ships in tight formations is to place a space between all your ships at least the width of your maneuver template. Think barrel rolling a big ship and use that template width as a spacer. Usually that will give you enough room doing soft turns until the action gets up close and personal.

Any swarm starts in the design phase. Typically you’ll probably want a bunch of low level pilots being buffed up by a certain pilots ability. There are offensive and defensive buffs. So lets talk pilots and factions to see whats right for you!

Scum have swarm tactics just waiting to be used. I haven’t heard of many placing in the top brackets at tourneys, but they have a very strong defensive ability in Serissu (who is a female Bothan bye the bye).

serissu

Looking at this guy, I just want to surround him in Z-95’s and Scyk interceptors. His ability to allow ships to re-roll defence dice sounds good to one or two ships, but imagine him in a swarm of 6 Binayre Pirates or 4 Heavy Scyks with manglers and i think anyone would have a tough time cracking that nut.  For something a bit more offensive, you can combine him with Prince Xizor, and maybe throw in a cannon or some thing fun.

Prince-xizor

The hits keep popping off Xizor into the swarm ships, who in the end are just flying extra hull points that even throw attack dice 🙂 Follow the link for an example list here.

As for Imperials, well they invented the damn swarm, mini swarm and swarm flying. They are the original, and in the right hands can still be the best of the best. Why you ask? Well, *cough cough* I’m sure you’ve met my old friend HOWLRUNNER, right?

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Howlrunner is a female TIE pilot

The only ship in the game that allows re-rolls of attack dice as an area effect bonus?! Yes please. This little 18 point ship has vexed me as a rebel player for many many moons. Surround her with TIE Fighters (you can get an extra 6) and you have a high AG block of ships that don’t go down easy, and are plinking out almost 2 hits per ship, almost every time. Or at least that’s what it feels like after the 6th TIE is hitting you twice every turn.

Imps do have other swarm buffers too. Captain Jonus for when you have a lot of secondary weapons and ordinance, and Colonel Jendon for target lock passing.  Defensively they have ships like Captain Kagi (biggs light), Captain Yorr (stress sponge),  Vader with squad leader (for passing actions), and finally Jax (included because he just rips away options for the enemy, which ends benefiting you  defensively). To say “they have some options” is a bit of an understatement. You can almost fly any number or type of ships any way you please, and make a viable imperial list out of it.

My buddy Doomfrog (Rick) does a mini swarm very well, check out an old list of his i particularly like by clicking this link here 

Before the Phantom Nerf, Imperials also flew Whisper with a mini swarm of 4 TIEs to great effect as can be seen at the last worlds with Morgan Reid’s list here.

As for Rebels, they have always had the ability to adopt a defensive mini swarm, Biggs being in the starter box and all. Now several releases later and Rebels have defensive action sharing focus everywhere! They are pilot skill buffing monsters! So I’ll start it off with Biggs. There is no better sponge in the game.

Biggs Darklighter X-Wing Promo Card
Biggs Darklighter X-Wing Promo Card

I’ve experimented with ways for him to take more hits, being harder to hit, etc. But Biggs is Biggs, and at the end of the day he is just going to die and keep ships alive so pumping too  many points into him can be a bit of a trap many fall into. The rewards could be interesting as a late game Biggs is very handy, but pumping Biggs up is something I try to avoid.

Going down the defence list we have Garven (focus sharing mid phase), Janson (token stripping), Aireen (action sharing), Katarn (MORE focus sharing), and Lando (MORE action sharing)! That’s quite a powerful list of allies, and that’s just their defence! For offence they have Jan Ors (more attack dice), Roark (PS increase), Dutch (target lock sharing), and my particular favourite E’than A’baht who turns a single hit into a crit against any enemy within his firing arc and in range 3.

I have had some success with a mini swarm involving E’than and a plucky bunch of Z-95’s taking a couple decent placings at some local tournaments. But without going too far into list building tactics, you have the ability as rebels to outlast, and outgun almost anything. All it takes is finding the right combo for you. I call this list Crit Happens, check it out in this link hereAs a bit of a reference point, i just placed third in the Ontario Regionals 2015 with it.

Ontario Regionals 2015
Ontario Regionals 2015

Most swarms/mini swarms are designed around “jousting”. Jousting is where you point all your ships at the same enemy target and unload all your shots hitting as hard as you possibly can. Proper swarm formation flying will give you this salvo. Generally, your ships will do better than your opponents if you outnumber them.

Now lets talk asteroid and ship placement of your ideal swarm/mini swarm. With jousting as your ideal combat scenario all you need to do is line yourself up straight at the enemy formation and make sure you have a pretty clear lane of asteroids to fly through. Obviously, if you want to fly a swarm there are some things to keep in mind with asteroid placement. The perfect asteroid set up a swarm should be going for is this: put the rocks off to the side, and corners of the board as much as possible. Clear lanes help you keep your actions which aid in your attacks. Asteroid cluttering robs actions, deals damage sometimes, and gives your opponents extra defence dice because they WILL hide from your swarm as much as possible and attempt to arc dodge to stay alive.

Of course every board of X-Wing is different, so for set up just try and keep your ships close so that they’re all shooting the same things at the same time, and avoid the asteroids. Make sure you line your ships up appropriately for that big joust. Eventually though, you will have to deal with asteroids so just practice flying when you can.

Now let’s say your asteroids are down and you have a couple good lanes you can attack through. Now you have to place your ships. With swarms you’ll typically have lower PS so you will have to place your ships first, likely dictating where and when the battle will be happening.

Personally, at this point I will take a step back, and think “ok we have our set up, can’t change it. Where do i want to engage and from which direction?  After the first “pass” (once the ships have engaged and moved past each other), where would it be ideal for me to turn around?  Do i even need to turn around?” These are some of the questions I think about before placing my first ship down, and you should too.

It should always be assumed there will be a tangle of ships eventually. If you’re lucky, you can position your ships to block enemy ships on later turns, so think of where and how to do this. (The perfect block would be on an asteroid btw!) Depending on what’s in your swarm/mini swarm, you’ll need a wide open space to engage, and then maybe about 2 turns to turn around to re-engage (1 turn to break formation, 1 turn to k-turn). Or if you’re in a clear lane, you just turn the whole formation around in 1 turn.

My favourite type of swarm does amazing things when together, but is still pretty functional when split up. Z-95s are really good for this, the shields give them some durability and they have a pretty decent dial for keeping themselves in annoying positions, but, interceptors are also even more annoying for this and my favourite A-wings excel in this role. So your lanes wisely, and just watch out for flankers.

Jousting in X-Wing
the joust in action

Speaking of flankers, they are the perfect answer to the swarm, mini swarm, or any ship without a turret or 360 degree fire arc. Since they are your arch nemesis, expect to see them and expect to have to deal with them. A stealth device autothruster Soontir Fel can be an absolute nightmare for a swarm, but he can be dealt with. A Phantom will tear through your ships like they were paper, but they too can be dealt with because at the end of the day, X-Wing is about moving ships around a board.

Guessing where people are going to be, and moving accordingly is the saving grace of low PS ships. Do you know the best way to deal with almost any ship? BLOCK IT and deny it actions. I can’t stress this enough. Swarms likely have the ships that will move first, so use those great, expendable little gnats wisely. Block with them to your advantage and punish your enemy when it works.

There is no text book way to block. Unfortunately good blocking skills come only from experience. Know your enemy ship’s dial and use your swarm to block huge areas of where you think he’ll need to be. Just make sure that when it happens, your firing arcs are pointed in the right direction. When it starts to pay off you might find those 30-40 point ships are going down a lot quicker than you’d expect.

Now another note on blocking that needs to be pointed out is the benefit to your own ships. I don’t mean when enemy ships block you, I mean when you intentionally block your own ships. Its a risky tactic but it can pay off quite well, particularly if there’s a meat grinder situation going on. This would be where a few ships have started bumping, and they keep bumping turn after turn without changing position. In those situations, your little pesky ships can keep an enemy without actions and in your sights at range 1 almost indefinitely. B-Wings are notorious for this, and equipped with Advanced Sensors can really put the hate on the enemy. However, there are other useful situations where you can have your ships bump each other. Bumping to get a fire arc, to prevent an asteroid impact and to generally create an unpredictable scenario that enemy commanders will have trouble predicting are all very useful and need you to “think outside the box” to pull off. Remember, bumping can give you options!

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Overall, I think the time is ripe for the swarm/mini swarm to make some waves. I prefer the mini swarm because there is more potential for shenanigan tactics in a list. At the Ontario Regionals there were…  about a dozen different versions of B-Wing centric lists and twice as many Fat Dash or Chirpy lists. This is an opportunity to show those low agility B-Wings and Decimators what 12-16 attack dice feel like! While you’re at it see if Dash is really that tough to hit!  Well… he is haha, so keep at him and get in his way.  Swarms of all types can be a challenge, but mastering a swarm on the table definitely pays off. Hopefully I’ve helped you pick up some good tips! Good luck with your swarms and keep Flying Casual!

And thanks again to Grish for running such a great site, and helping with this article so much.

4 thoughts on “The art of the mini swarm”

  1. Thanks for the kind words bud, it was fun helping you edit. Just so everyone knows, that solid article up there is all Greenwing. I was just happy to help the messenger 🙂

      1. Nice link Greenwing. I remember reading about his “Evolving Shark” and “Death Blossom”. Was blown away by how the old world champ tackled phantoms with blocking TIEs. Marvelous pushing of the game mechanics! Just finished reading his “drunken shark” and am impressed again. Now with the Phantom nerf, good swarm flying should be even more prominent.

        For those out there complaining about the Super Han lists, a TIE swarm is one of the best counters.

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