Hello and welcome to the final part of my Regional Recap. I want to spend this post discussing the current Imperial Assault meta, hopefully touching on both praise and criticism, as the game is deserving of both.
Before I get into the actual meta breakdown, I want to start by setting a tone for the discussion – there is no way to perfectly balance a game like Imperial Assault. There will always be units that feel off in some respect: strength, cost, survivability, utility. Of course, we could focus on the cost, health, attack, and abilities of certain cards and define the meta by this metric, and in many ways this is not only useful, but also quite entertaining. However, I think an analysis of the meta needs to be softer than that. Because, ultimately, the question that I am asking as a player is whether the current cards and units that are available provide a fun competitive environment for me to play in. Overcosted and undercosted units can exist in a fun meta as long as the play environment is still varied and entertaining.
A great case study of a bad play environment is the Imperial Assault meta of 2015 (the year the game released). For the first year, through the 2015 Worlds Championship, two archetypes defined the meta: Royal Guard swarm with Imperial Officers (known as the “Four by Four” because it utilized 4 Royal Guards and 4 Imperial Officers) and Rebel Saboteur lists. Essentially, the Royal Guard list was so efficient in terms of movement and survivability that it stood head and shoulders above the competition. However, the list required that the units travel together to get the benefit of the Royal Guards’ Protector Ability. Hence, the Rebel Saboteur lists blossomed as a natural counter due to their ability to do 4 Blast damage. I asked some local players (from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area) about what proportion of players were using the Four by Four or a Rebel Saboteur list at the Worlds Championship in 2015, and the response was that it was virtually everyone. One player informed me that 15 out of 16 of the top 16 players were using one of these two lists. You were either playing one of these lists, or losing to one of these lists.
We’ve come a long way from Worlds 2015. We’ve seen the release of multiple boxed expansions and a number of single figure packs. Yet, the issue remains whether the Imperial Assault meta provides a fun competitive environment now. To Imperial Assault and FFG’s credit, the answer to this question for me is a resounding “yes.”
One of the best part of Imperial Assault at this juncture is that the meta is incredibly wide open when it comes to list building. Here’s a brief list of some of the 2017 Regionals and their winning lists:
- New Jersey: Jedi Luke Skywalker, Elite Alliance Rangers, Elite Echo Base Troopers, Gideon Argus, R2-D2, C-3P0
- Denver: Jedi Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jyn Odan, R2-D2, Gideon Argus, C-3P0, Heroic Effort
- Auckland, NZ: Jedi Luke Skywalker, Elite Alliance Rangers, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Gideon Argus, C-3P0, Alliance Smuggler, Rebel High Command
- Victoria, Australia: Rancor, Shyla Varad, Jabba the Hutt, Onar Koma, Vinto Hreeda, Hired Guns, Beast Tamer
- Hawaii: Jedi Luke Skywalker, Bossk, Jabba the Hutt, Vinto Hreeda, Greedo, C-3P0, Temporary Alliance, Indentured Jester, Devious Scheme
- Ohio: Elite Gamorrean Guards, Elite Echo Base Troopers, Jabba the Hutt, Weequay Pirates, Vinto Hreeda, Greedo, C-3P0, Temporary Alliance, Devious Scheme
- Halifax, Canada: Shyla Varad, 2 Elite Weequay Pirates, Jabba the Hutt, Vinto Hreeda, Gideon Argus, C-3P0, Temporary Alliance
- Minnesota: Rancor, HK Assassin Droids, Elite Weequay Pirates, Vinto Hreeda, C-3P0, Gideon Argus, Temporary Alliance, Beast Tamer
- Tulsa: Rancor, HK Assassin Droids, Bossk, Elite Nexu, Jabba the Hutt, 2 Feeding Frenzy
- Nebraska: Elite Gammorean Guards, 2 Elite Weequay Pirates, Onar Koma, Jabba the Hutt, Vinto Hreeda, Devious Scheme
- Big Orbit Games, UK: Shyla Varad, 2 Elite Gamorrean Guards, Jabba the Hutt, Vinto Hreeda, Hired Guns, Devious Scheme
- San Diego: Shyla Varad, 2 Elite Jet Trooper, Elite Weequay, Elite Probe Droid, Officer, Zillo Technique, Temporary Alliance, 2 Targeting Computer
Note: This is the most complete list I could get on Regional Championships in 2017. I compiled this by searching FFG’s forums, Reddit, and squinting and some live streams. If there are any corrections or additions that you would like made, please let me know (I'm sure there are some cards missing, as not all lists are 40 points). Thanks!
Observing the winning lists, some trends emerge. It’s clear that Rebel and Scum lists are finding a lot of success. Particularly, we see many lists featuring Jedi Luke Skywalker, Jabba the Hutt, the Rancor, and the C-3P0/Gideon support duo. Clearly, support units still provide great value to any list and I think you'll continue seeing Jabba, Gideon, and C-3P0 for quite some time.
Moreover, I think we can infer that Luke and the Rancor were both competitive additions to the game. Both have large health pools and high damage. In particular, they both have potential to damage multiple figures per round (Heroic, Brutality, Cleave). However, and even more importantly, I think these figures are found in winning lists because they severely punish players that do not know how to respond to them. Combine their high damage potential and survivability with some of the more choice command cards, and Jedi Luke and the Rancor can dictate the course of a game if given the opportunity.
The other most obvious trend we see is that there is a distinct lack of Imperial lists in this collection. One interpretation may be that the Imperial faction is weak relative to the Mercenary and Rebel factions. While I would find this explanation convincing in a larger pool of tournaments and players, I think this sample size is too small to confirm the relative strength of the Imperial faction to the winning lists above.
At this time, I have a different explanation that relies on a couple factors. First, I believe the recent scoring update influenced players to shy away from Imperial trooper lists. Being one of the most popular archetypes for the Imperial faction, a belief that this list type has been weakened would naturally reduce the number of players choosing to bring Imperial lists. Second, I believe players shied away from Imperial lists because players want to use the more iconic Star Wars characters: Jabba, the Rancor, and Luke Skywalker. While Captain Terro and Jet Troopers are great, they don't provide as much of a lore thrill as our favorite crime lord and Jedi knight.
I think over time, we will see the gradual return of Imperial lists to the winner’s circle. Not only does the Imperial faction have access to one of the most efficient cards in the game in Zillo Technique, but it was only a few months ago that an Imperial list won the Worlds Championship. We’ll have to wait and see if my thoughts on the Imperial’s competitive viability holds true, but at this stage I am not too concerned and am confident we’ll be seeing Imperial lists as winners in the future.
The final trend I’d like to note, and the one that I believe is the most relevant to my conclusion that Imperial Assault provides an entertaining meta to play in, is that the winning lists are extremely diverse when it comes to their mix of units outside of the common units I listed above. On the Rebel side we see Alliance Ranger, Echo Base Troopers, and R2-D2; and for Scum, we see Vinto, Weequay Pirates, Gammorean Guards, and HK Assassin Droids to name only a few. This shows that the game currently has a lot of flexibility when it comes to list building – which in turn provides a lot of variety for players and their opponents.
Now, I don’t want to give Imperial Assault a free pass when it comes to the game’s meta. While I believe the competitive environment is quite fun to list-build/play in, many figures are so expensive that they are basically unusable in a competitive setting. I don’t believe that every figure needs to be competitively costed. In fact, I think there is some value in giving figures unique abilities at a premium cost, just to add a variety with little risk of breaking the current balance. However, something is amiss in a Star Wars miniatures game when Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Han Solo are unplayable.
To sum this post up, I’d like to revisit how I framed this discussion: whether the Imperial Assault meta provides a fun competitive environment to play in. I believe it does with room for improvement. That said, I’m optimistic about future fixes given what they are planning to do with IG-88 and Focused on the Kill. Again, thanks for reading. Feel free to let me know what your thoughts are on the meta.