Home Miniatures Squad Building in Star Wars Miniatures: Beginning to Advanced, Part 3
Squad Building in Star Wars Miniatures: Beginning to Advanced, Part 3
Written by Michael Fryda   
Thursday, 10 September 2009 07:32
I'm very happy to present the final part in a three part series on squad construction from guest columnist Michael "klecser" Fryda.  If you missed the previous articles, you can catch up on your reading here: Part 1 | Part 2 
- Chuck
This three-article series focuses on squad building concepts for Star Wars Miniatures.  The first article focused on beginning squad building tips.  I used the construction of a squad as an example to illustrate eight key points for starting to build squads.  A summary of those points follows.
  1. Build to score points. 
  2. Build to maximize and concentrate damage dealt and minimize damage taken.
  3. Select a compromise of some heavy hitters and some support.  More damage output than support.
  4. Build with characters that have synergy so your whole squad is better than the sum of its parts.
  5. Play to your squad's strengths.
  6. Have a plan for addressing weaknesses.
  7. The more options you have, the more ways you can achieve victory.
  8. Don't waste points, but be ok with going under the limit if that choice gives you better options.
The second article discussed more specific squad building issues to consider such as activation control, damage concentration, and choices between building ranged, melee, or a combination.  A summary of the second article:
  1. Outactivating your opponent can give you a big advantage.
  2. Specific commander effects and special abilities can help you get the most out of out-activating your opponent.
  3. Spending points to concentrate damage is an important goal of squad building.  In doing so you should understand the odds of doing damage.
  4. Spending build points on a mix of low cost, low damage figures and higher cost high damage figures is often preferential to either extreme.
  5. Avoiding damage overage, or putting heavy damage where it can be most useful, helps you to get the most out of the points that you spend on a figure.
  6. A mix of ranged and melee figures in a squad can help you to respond to a bigger variety of situations that you may face.
Where do we go from here?  The choices you make when you build squads are always focused on getting the best combinations of figures to increase your chances victory.  The specific abilities of characters and how they interact with each other is an important part of building a squad.  Setting yourself up for winning games goes beyond the printed stats.  Consider a military analogy.  Strategy in war goes well beyond what you know about your own capabilities as an army.  Your strategy is also molded based upon what you know the enemy army is capable of doing through intelligence gathering.  The more you know about the enemy resources and who is commanding them influences the decisions that you make.  The more you know, the more likely you are to anticipate the enemy and out-maneuver them.  The same basic idea can be applied to planning in Star Wars Miniatures.  What you know about what your opponent is likely to play is important information for building a squad that can win.
A player of any game that spends any amount of time participating in or observing discussions about a game will frequently hear the term "metagaming" used to refer to aspects of that game.  "Meta" means "outside" and the term "metagaming" was first coined to describe events that usually aren't initially considered to be important for a situation, but that are later argued to be influential.  The terminology has been used extensively in mathematics, politics, the sciences and warfare.  "Metagaming" in the context of games means a discussion of parts of gameplay that are outside the scope of the base rule set and how the game is played but that players know to be important for succeeding at the game.  Examples include "the psychological game" of how your opponent feels and reacts socially to the game itself, the attitude of players at a venue toward competition, the choices they make in squad construction based upon personal skill and preference, and what your own personal strengths are in game play.  I will focus on the last two examples for the rest of the article.
Playing to Your Strengths and Play Style
"Know thyself," the ancient Greek phrase inscribed at the Temple of Delphi is one of the most important considerations for players trying to win games.  One of the most common mistakes players make in preparing for winning games in tournament or casual play is ignoring their own personal strengths when building and selecting squads.  Each individual that plays Star Wars Miniatures is learning the more they practice the game.  Different people have different types of strengths at different degrees as they improve.  Players that consistently win games, irrespective of their actual skill at the game, win more games when they play squads that match their skills and play styles.
A good example would be the difference between aggressive and conservative players.  Aggressive players tend to favor direct engagement of their opponent and do not shy from taking risks in games to achieve victory.  They are usually prepared to get to the deciding move of a game as soon as opportunity arises. They are offensively oriented, but not necessarily so much that they make bad choices. Conservative players are more risk averse.  They generally prefer to play towards the very endgame and take the minimal amount of risk necessary to "pull out" a victory at the end.  Neither play style is necessarily better than the other.  They both have their advantages and disadvantages and both can lead to victory.  However, certain squads lend themselves much better to one style of play over the other.  When an aggressive player plays an aggressive squad, surprise situations do not affect them as much because the execution of their squad naturally flows with their personal style towards engagement.  A squad that is designed to force a major confrontation meshes well with an aggressive play style, allowing the player the opportunity to take advantage of what they know about proper timing of engagement.  On the contrary, conservative players tend to do well with more conservative and defensive styles of squads that match their desire to "hold out until the end".  A squad that creates a defensive net that can also strike back at the right moment to score points will fit a patient player who prefers to set up the best positioning for victory over time.  Neither style is better than the other in principle, but how they are executed matters very much.  A defensive squad played aggressively often results in over-extension and defeat.  An offensive squad that waits too long to engage can find itself in a "too little too late" situation.
Research on the internet and discussions among other players can often result in mismatches between style and execution.  Players frequently will come across a "new hot squad" and play it without any considerations of whether the squad matches their play style.  The squad may be very strong, in the right hands, but a player that is inexperienced and selects a squad that doesn't match their strengths quickly finds themselves overextended, or acting too late.
Self reflection is an important part of meta analysis for experienced players.  They know what they do well and what they don't do well.  They know how they prefer to engage and what they like to avoid.  Being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses is important to turn a squad that makes sense on paper into one that plays well for you in actual game situations.

The Other Player
The next step to increase your chances of victory is to be aware of the play styles and squad choices that your opponent prefers and is likely to play. You need to know your opponent in order to increase your chances of victory.

What do other players at your venue like? What factions do they like to play? What combinations of commander effects and special abilities do they like to rely on? Are they aggressive or conservative players? If you can answer these questions, you can increase your chances of winning by building squads that not only match your strengths, but also directly confront your opponents strength’s and expose their weaknesses. Do your opponent’s prefer force users? Play a Vong squad. Do they always bring initiative control? Bring a squad in which winning initiative won’t benefit them much. Do they play droids? Start packing the Ion Gun special ability. Do players at your venue prefer tempo control? Play tempo control so that you can keep pace with the end of the round action. There are thousands of choices to seek victory in Star Wars Miniatures and there are counters for nearly each one. Since you can’t prepare for every eventuality, metagaming your opponent’s personal likes can help you to build squads that are more likely to deal with the specific strategies they bring.

Where Is The Honor In This?

A common player “objection” to metagaming is that playing squads that are more likely to specifically address another player’s style is somehow “unfair” to that player. Squads are built in secret, so using information about what your opponent is likely to do is outside of the spirit of the game. I’ll address this with two points. People “metagame” constantly in their own lives, every day. They use cost/benefit analysis to try to get the best possible outcome of a situation. Sports teams do it when they scout and watch film of other teams. Politicians use it when they consider the needs of the opposing party and other nations to get the best negotiated deal possible. Texas Hold-Em Poker players do it whenever they learn people’s “tells.” People do it whenever they buy gifts for their family members. It is not an uncommon tactic. Secondly, any game is built with metagaming in mind. This is why certain special abilities that are released are really only effective in certain situations. They are good against certain opposing combinations with the goal being to allow a player the chance to compete against the choices of their opponents. It is what we call “game balance” and without it one combo would always win over others. Metagaming allows a player the opportunity to face their enemy on the best possible footing they can.

“But, I like to play droids and I was winning with them, and now all of sudden my opponents are all bringing super stealth and I can’t win. That isn’t fair!”

Is it unfair? Why should you be allowed to bring an effective combo but your opponents shouldn’t be allowed to play something that can beat it? Metagaming allows your opponent to flex their brain to defeat a challenging situation. They want to win too. Both players have the opportunity to metagame each other, so there is a level playing field in doing so.

Even if you don’t buy into metagaming as a legitimate tool to help you engage your opponent, I am prepared to argue that metagaming helps people build better squads and improve at the game. The reason is that metagaming provides pressure for people to improve. It prevents players from keeping a monopoly on the chance for victory. When you metagame, you increase your chances of victory, but also must more deeply consider what your opponent could bring to face you.

How Do I Do This?

You observe. You start to keep track of what your opponents like to play and start to change your squad choices to increase your chances of victory. You also need to learn “common” combos of figures that work well together and common squads. The more research you do, either at your local store, or online, or both, will increase your understanding of what your opponent will try to do to beat you. If your opponent is interested in winning as well, metagaming can be a very interesting game of “cat and mouse” that you can play with your opponents.

It’s Too Much To Think About!

It is important to keep some perspective of what I have intended with these articles. The title includes “Beginning to Advanced” and the more advanced ways of approaching winning strategies for the game appeal to some players but not others. I’m not trying to tell you how to think or what to think about. The goal here was to show how experienced players use information to increase chances of victory. If winning is one of your goals, metagaming is an important critical thinking skill that you can practice and develop to improve. The goal here is have fun, and for many intense thought is very fun. It isn’t the “right way” to play or think about the game, but it is necessary to be able to do to anticipate opponent’s squads.

Thinking Bigger: From Opponents to Tournaments

One of the challenges of metagaming is that you can frequently think so deeply into the situation that you end up over-thinking your local situation and end up decreasing your chances of victory in a multiple-game tournament. What I mean is that you can think so intensely about combos and counters that you end up just building a “hate” squad. “Hate” squads are squads that are specifically designed to eliminate a specific squad type that an opponent or opponents are fond of playing. You are building a squad that will completely stop a specific combo! The problem is that in doing so, you have greatly decreased your chances of victory against other squads. Your hate squad doesn’t have the tools necessary to deal with the wide variety of abilities that others will be bringing.

Why does this matter? In tournaments with multiple games, you place higher when you win more games. Experienced players know that: 1) building the strongest squad you can that 2) fits your play style and skills, and 3) can deal with a wide variety of different abilities is the best chance for winning the most games. They know what their opponents are good at and prefer. They prepare to deal with those strengths and preferences, but they keep their options open for surprises.

I hope you enjoyed this three article series on squad building in Star Wars Miniatures! Squad building is a fun mental challenge for many players and can be just as rewarding as playing the actual game! I hope that the ideas presented will help you to become more skilled and have more fun in confronting the challenges of the game. I’d like to thank Chuck Chauvin for hosting these articles on Atlanta Star Wars Gamers. If you have questions, come join us on the official Star Wars Miniatures message boards at http://community.wizards.com/starwars to discuss rules, strategy, squad construction, and upcoming sets!
If you have enjoyed this series of articles and would like a PDF of all three articles, suitable for printing, you can download that PDF here.
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