Welcome to Four-Player Skirmish

In less than a week, the Imperial Assault World Championship (Worlds) will take place in Minnesota.  In addition to the traditional skirmish tournament that many players will partake in, Fantasy Flight Games is also hosting a side event – a four-player, Free-For-All skirmish tournament.  For all the time I’ve spent practicing and analyzing the traditional two-player variant, I’ve given the four-player skirmish modes very little thought.  Sure, I’ve played this mode occasionally with my friends, but never reflected on how one can best position themselves to win.  Hence, I find this a good time to do some theory-crafting on four-player skirmishes.

As any seasoned competitive player could tell you, two-player competitive games are largely about being able to anticipate your opponent’s maneuvers.  For instance, on Jabba’s Palace, can you send a unit into the pit to claim an objective without your opponent following after you?  Does your opponent need to send one or two units to secure the objective from you?  If he or she does follow you into the pit, are you at an advantage when it comes to the combat between the remaining units?  Creating a decision tree and analyzing the best course of action is the way to engage with these questions.  This, however, becomes hard in four-player skirmish, as it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to play around your opponents’ options, because instead of one threat, you now have three.  Combine this with special maps and objectives – and it turns out that four-player skirmish is an entirely different beast when it comes to strategy in comparison to its two-player brethren.

Therefore, I found this to be the perfect opportunity to share my thoughts on the four-player, free-for-all variant of skirmish.  Enjoy!


The Rules

Ultimately, the rules aren’t radically different from a two-player skirmish game, but there are some notable differences in setup.  First, let’s examine the rules as stated:

There are a few key differences to note.  First of all, the four-player system assumes that the players have been randomly positioned, so to accommodate setup based on their relative positions; e.g., the player with initiative sets up first, then the player to his or her left, and so on.  Note that this relative positioning will change between setup and the actual game – as you’ll choose deployments using relative order, which will establish new relative positioning for the players, and then you’ll take turns in clockwise fashion, with initiative being passed in the same direction.  It sounds more complicated than it actually is in practice.

The win condition is also similar to normal skirmishes, with the player that reaches 40 VPs first winning the game.  In the alternative, if three players are eliminated, the remaining player wins.  This is unlikely since it’s hard to imagine the surviving player not having 40 VPs if all other players have been eliminated, but I mention it because this seems to be the sole victory condition at the Worlds tournament.


The Maps

Hoth Battlefield

 

Mission:

Hoth Mission.jpg

The big thing to note about this map is how close the deployment zones are, particularly the green, blue, and yellow zones.  All three of those zones give players the potential to deploy in a spot with line of sight on an opponent’s deployment zone (of course the doors are shut during the first round, but expect aggression in round two).  Ultimately, I think the blue and red deployment zones are the strongest on this map as they provide decent places to retreat to if you wish to avoid combat.

The mission is a little strange, as it isn’t very likely that you’ll control an opponent’s terminal without having already destroyed his army (in which case, you should be near 40 points).  Outside of some R2-D2 shennanigans, I don’t see you getting many points via controlling opponents’ terminals – therefore you’ll have to focus on combat on this map.

Nal Hutta Borderlands

Mission:

Nal Hutta Mission.jpg

As opposed to Hoth, this mission allows players a lot more freedom to avoid combat, however there will be the constant threat of the turrets dealing damage to your units.  Clearly you'll want to control the turrets closest to your deployment zone, and at least deny your opponents control of the four turrets in the center of the map.  Ultimately, I see the yellow deployment zone as the strongest, but they all are pretty balanced.


Strategy and List Considerations:

This is where things get interesting, because as I noted at the beginning, the two-player strategies have nearly no applicability in four-player, free-for-all.  For instance, in a two-player skirmish, capturing objectives early and taking a 4-to-8 VP lead can often win you the game.  In a four-player match, that’s a sure way to get yourself eliminated first, as your two adjacent opponents certainly won’t look kindly on your grabbing of points early on.  Similarly, in two-player skirmish, engaging a weakened opponent in combat is often the best way to win a game (for instance, if your opponent has split their forces).  In four-player skirmish, while you may get the upper hand on ONE opponent in this situation, your army will still suffer some losses and then it will be you that is considered the weakened opponent.  At which point, one of your other, patient opponents will be happy to eliminate you from the game. Thus, our tactics need to drastically change in four-player skirmish.

To start, you will need to accustom yourself to the world of politics.  Despite the warning regarding combat, Imperial Assault really only empowers players to interact in this way, so you really have no choice.  However, you do have some power over WHEN you engage in that combat.  Preferably, you don’t want to initiate or be initiated on, and you’ll need to think of ways to encourage your opponents to oblige this strategy.  Maybe you don’t move any figures during the first round.  Maybe you choose a list that doesn’t appear very threatening.  Maybe you just try to be as likable as possible.  Do what you need to do to prevent aggression directed at you, because you’d rather battle weakened opponents than opponents at full strength.

However, let’s say you don’t have a choice – one of your opponents has moved aggressively towards your position (very likely on Hoth Battlefield).  It turns out that the plan in this scenario is the same as the first one: avoid aggression.  That said, our tactics have to be a bit different.  At this point, our goal is to remove motivation for the attack.  This may be as easy as retreating your own forces.  However, it could also include removal of a few advancing units – perhaps discouraging your would-be attacker.   To that end, you want to bring offensive, ranged units to deal that blow, such as Elite Weequay Pirates or Alliance Rangers.  Combined with Command cards like Tools for the Job, Assassinate, and Heightened Reflexes, you may be able to remove some of your opponent’s figures before they get to attack.  Moreover, your figures will remain safe from the rest of your opponent’s advancing army.  At that point, hopefully your opponent decides you’re not worth the trouble.

For this reason, I recommend against melee and short-range units, such as Gammorean Guards and Shyla Varad.  These units essentially will force you to commit to a fight because in order to defend yourself, these figures will have to be moved within striking distance of your opponent’s army.  At that point, your opponent has no reason to retreat, as now he or she has something to gain.

Assuming you manage to prevent yourself from becoming the target of direct aggression, you should be in a good place to win the game.  However, you’ll still need to watch for a few things.  If points are a win condition, keep track of the opponent that is closest to victory and intervene where you can to prevent them from gaining more victory points.  I generally see this playing out as removing that player from an objective, but could also mean weakening them and opening them to another opponent’s attacks.  Ultimately, your goal will be to weaken your opponents further and further until you are in a commanding position in terms of offense.

To this end, I recommend the following list:

2 Elite Alliance Ranger – 24 points

Obi-Wan Kenobi – 7 points

Gideon Argus – 3 points

C-3P0 – 2 points

Rebel High Command – 2 points

Balance of the Force – 1 point

On a Diplomatic Mission – 1 point

This list is designed for a few things that track with what I recommended above – deal a lot of damage from a safe distance and deter my opponents from attacking me.  Clearly, the Elite Alliance Rangers are expected to do the heavy lifting in this list.  I would start by focusing them as the game begins, and looking to have four of them focused by the time the first opponent tries to make a move against me (if he or she makes a move against me).  However, hopefully the focused Rangers serve as a deterrent to that. 

Obi-Wan is in this list as a bit of insurance in case an opponent does charge my position.  If that’s the case, I would attempt to use him as a distraction while the Rangers do their work.  If an opponent doesn’t attack me, then I’m comfortable letting Obi-Wan stay in the back until I need him to finish off an opponent or disrupt an opponent’s attempt at an objective.

The rest of the cards essentially serve to further as deterrence.  Gideon and C-3P0 will grant focus tokens to the offensive units.  On a Diplomatic Mission is a nice buff to Gideon, providing some free movement or victory points.  I see these as pretty straightforward upgrades.  It’s the remaining cards that merit some discussion.  As I’ve said, the point of this list and my suggested strategy is to avoid combat at all costs, BUT when I do have to engage in combat, make it a blowout.  Hence, Rebel High Command and Balance of the Force were included to maximize the value of my Command deck.  With the incredibly strong Hunter Command cards, I want to ensure that I’m drawing as many Command cards as possible.  Moreover, I want the cards I do draw to provide a lot of value, thus I included Balance of the Force to let me include an extra 3 points of Command cards, which could allow me to add Take It Down, New Orders, or Covering Fire. 

Conclusion

Four-player, Free-For-All skirmish is completely different than two-player skirmish.  Overextension can easily result in you getting crushed by the combined might of your opponents.  More than ever, patience is key.  Take advantage of your opponents’ losses in the early rounds, and use your offensive superiority to carry yourself to victory.  That's my take on four-player skirmish strategy.  Let me know if you have any advice for four-player skirmishes, as I’m sure a lot of players would be glad to hear it!