Some thoughts on Slow Play in X-Wing

Recently, the narrative of swarms being the cause of slow play and games not being completed has come up again, and a number of us strongly disagree with this conclusion and we were having a good bitch about it in discord. And this happened:

Yes, I can write my own narrative. So, a few hours later, my first new blog post in 5 months.

What is slow play?

In X-Wing, there are 2 different ways to slow play.

  1. Taking too long to make decisions and/or move pieces etc
  2. Making decisions that cause the game to progress slowly or not at progress at all.

1. Taking too long to make decisions

This form of slow play is addressed in the Fantasy Flight Floor Rules document, and differentiates between unintentional and intentional; unintentional is defined as “slow play” and intentional is defined as “stalling”.

Unintentionally taking too long can and should be easily dealt without confrontation; a player can ask their opponent to speed up a little, or bring it to the judges’ attention and they can tell them, with an official warning only being issued for repeat offences. This will come down to judge’s discretion whether the player is playing too slowly or not and whether the slow play is intentional or not.

Intentionally taking too long (stalling), is a much more serious offence, and falls under the Unsporting Conduct section of the Floor Rules.

That seems pretty cut and dried, don’t intentionally play slowly. It’s cheating and there are a strong penalties.

2. Making decisions to slow the game

This is where things get iffy and a whole lot less clear cut. The only place this type of slow play is addressed is in the tournament regulations (currently v1.0) with the Fortressing section.

This section prohibits a player choosing to have none of their ships move due to overlapping over consecutive turns. It doesn’t really say a whole lot else, definitively. Everything else taken from here utilizes at least some conjecture.

However, the phrase here that is used more liberally and applied to other situations comes at the end of the opening paragraph:

“It is considered a form of stalling, as it seeks to create and exploit a stalemate.”

Stalling, which (as shown above from the Floor Rules) is a serious offence. The primary application of this phrase has been towards “mobile fortressing”, but why stop there? What is the stalemate being created?

Forcing the game to go to Final Salvo is deemed the stalemate, but on what grounds? Following the tournament rules, Final Salvo is simply a method to “determine the winner“, the same as if the game went to time and players’ scores were used to determine the winner. It’s not a tiebreaker, it’s simply a part of the End of Round rules, which leads me to my next point.

Slow play has become normalized

At this point I expect most readers think I’m insane for saying that going to Final Salvo is the same as going to time. But I’m not advocating that Final Salvo is a good outcome, but rather saying that games being resolved by the time limit should not be normal. Let’s head to the rules reference (current v1.1.0)

That’s odd. It says “if all of a player’s ships are removed from the game“, not some fraction of them. It appears the game is designed to go to total destruction of one side, and that winning at time on points is a construct of the tournament setting, the same as Final Salvo. That’s why finals have a longer time limit, to discourage the game from going to time and help it reach its natural conclusion.

I’m not saying that everyone going to time should be penalized, but if going to Final Salvo is a stalemate, so is going to time. So a strategy or decisions that encourage the game to go to time are seeking to create and exploit a stalemate, so should be considered a form of stalling. It’s also exploiting a time limit, which is something mentioned in the stalling Floor Rules.

And this is where slow play is heavily normalized. People play so slowly and ‘cautiously’ that going to time is considered normal. Why is killing half a ship and then running away considered okay, or seeing you’re ahead with 15 minutes to go then deciding to not kill any more ships and try deny your opponent any more points.

Some of this is always going to be unavoidable with a time limit, but where’s the line? If you can do it on the last turn, can you do it with 15 minutes to play, 30 minutes left, or even turn zero with a Final Salvo advantage.

Here’s an example game I pulled from the GSP high level tournament archives. 2 Jedi and Ric against 5 Resistance A-Wings. There’s something wrong if after 62 minutes of play, the only points on the board are half an A-wing. The end result of the game was half a Jedi to half an A-Wing, hardly a satisfying conclusion. But could there have been a conclusion if the players had tried to destroy the opponent’s squad in 75 minutes, rather than focus on not dying and only destroying a fraction of the opposition? It’s not just this game, its countless games. (I just wanted a pretty picture)

This is pretty unenforceable, and far too ingrained and normalized to change, but should probably be taken into account when looking for the cause of games being slow or games not reaching a conclusion, rather than blaming things like ship count.

My Research

Not my research, but it looks nice

The reason for writing this blog was to discount ship count as the cause for games being slow, so I should produce some research and data to back up my claims.

If anyone’s been following my little blog for a while (which amazingly people do, dunno if they still will after this one), they might know I’ve been flying a bunch of swarms since about the middle of last year, and have a bunch of tournament reports written up about those games. 35 games at HST level or higher, all with 6-8 ships, is a decent chunk of data to analyse.

This data is all games played involving myself, and whether that is good or bad I’m not sure. I could be a fixed variable in this data set and the speed and conclusiveness of the games depends on the opponent, or I could be skewing the data one way or another.

Games resolved before time and at time by enemy ship count.

Some observations from the data, all the games that went to time I won (or every game I lost, all of my ships were destroyed before time) and almost none of the games that went to time had a super clear winner, a comeback would have been plausible (not likely, but not impossible).

A quick glance shows the majority of those games that went to time were on the lower end of the ship count spectrum, with only one out of six of the swarm on swarm matches going to time. It’s not a big sample size, but it appears to be pointing towards the swarm, not being the problem.

Here’s a graph to support that initial conclusion.

Plot of Enemy Ship Count against Percentage of Games At Time, with the size of the bubbles being proportionate to the sample size at each point.

The trend-line is not a perfect fit, but is trending downwards, with a higher percentage of games being completed before time for a higher enemy ship count, with the one game at 6 ships being an outlier.

You might also notice the high rate of games being resolved in general, only 28.6% not being finished before time was called, far below the average for all games, which was over 50% last time someone ran some numbers over a large sample size of tournaments (if I recall correctly). That’s probably more of a player thing, than a list thing, but it shows that you can play swarms without slow playing. And anecdotal evidence from fellow swarm players says the same thing. Which brings me to my conclusion.

Conclusion

Slow play is a player problem, not a list problem. It’s ingrained in the playerbase that playing slowly and aiming to win the game on time is okay. A lot of types of lists can do that, ace-style or swarm-style, but again, those same lists can be played to finish the game in 75 minutes. Just make decisions faster, and make decisions to attempt to win and progress the game. Don’t design lists whose objective is run away and not engage.

And stop blaming swarms for slow play, instead look in the mirror and question your own play, then the individual other players themselves.

-Nathan, writing my own narrative

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Slow Play in X-Wing

  1. Swarms aren’t the problem, the win/loss nature of X-Wing is. Bring back Modified wins that grant 1 tournament point for victories under, say, 30 points, and you won’t see players killing a ship and running away for the rest of the game because it’ll do their chances of making cut/winning the event more harm than good.

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