One of the first things a lot of players figure out with X-Wing is that the Evade action is stronger for defense, the Target Lock is stronger for offense, and the Focus action has some nice flexibility for when you don’t know what you’ll need either way.
Then they realize the Focus and Target Lock are equally strong in terms of how may hits they produce, and that the Evade is only marginally better than the Focus, so the Focus is just the way stronger action.
And all that’s wrong, …from a certain point of view. To figure out how what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong, let’s break these actions down.
Some simple back of the envelop math shows us that Focus and Target Lock produce the same number of hits.
1 in 4 red dice rolls results in an eyeball, with a Focus token having a 100% chance of converting to a hit, for a value of 0.25 hits per die.
1 in 2 red dice rolls result in a blank or an eye, with a Target Lock having a 50% chance of converting to a hit, for a value of 0.25 hits per die.
So what’s the difference? Three things. The Target Lock can convert into a crit, while Focus only goes towards regular hits. Second, the Target Lock can stay for a later round if it doesn’t get used. And finally, the Focus has defensive power if you need it.
Unless you really need the crit, or are just far from the action, it seems like Focus is the stronger choice, and often it is. But, I’ve noticed people making some sub-optimal choices with their actions occasionally.
The first misstep is choosing to spend a Target Lock when rolling several blanks. Imagine you’ve got the enemy Target Locked and you roll 3 dice. All blanks. Wow, you picked the right action, perfect time to reroll all those dice!
Unless you need the kill right then, it’s probably better to hold on o it. 3 red dice, once you’ve spent the lock, only have an expected 1.5 hits. A lot of ships can easily evade that, making your Target Lock a waste. It’s often better to use the lock when you’re close to a perfect attack. If you’ve got 2 out of 3 hits already, rerolling the 1 miss gives you an expected total damage of 2.5. That’s harder to evade. Saving the lock means giving up a small chance at damage today for a good chance at damage tomorrow.
The second big mistake is closely related, and it’s choosing to Focus against highly defensive ships. If you’re trying to hunt down Vader with Focus+Evade every turn, it’s tempting to keep taking a Focus because it provides defensive flexibility. But, it significantly decreases your odds of punching through his green dice and tokens.
Consider two 3 attack ships, one attacking with a Focus token, the other without (having spent it on defense). The unfocused ship has 1.5 expected damage, and the focused ship has 2.25. Vader laughs at your puny attempts to punch through his defenses! Between the two rolls, he’s expecting 2.25 natural evades, 1.5 eye results, and his extra from the Evade token. The expected outcome is that Vader produces 1 more evade than the attackers get hits.
Now consider they take a Target Lock, save it, and then Focus in the next round. They’ll take some damage, yes, but two 3 attack ships with Target Lock and Focus each have 2.8 expected damage. Very good odds of each landing 3 hits. You will take damage in the process, yes, though if you’re planning on a round where all you want is a Target Lock and no shots, it’s a little easier to escape arc. Odds are you can afford to take a couple damage much more than a high agility arc dodger can, so what really matters is setting up those strong shots. We’ve gone from 3.75 hits vs. 4.75 evades to 5.8 hits vs. 4.75 evades. With Vader’s low HP total, that’s a huge difference.
(And yes, this means that Poe, if not getting shot at, should sometimes, heaven forfend!, take a Target Lock, bank it, and set up a strong attack in a later round.)
The basic math is that each green die has a 1 in 4 chance of rolling an eyeball, and so an Evade and Focus have the same value if you’re rolling 4 dice. Below 4 dice, the Evade has a higher expected value, and above 4 dice the Focus is better. When you have 4 exactly, the Evade is guaranteed 1 and no more, while the Focus has the chance to evade a higher number on a lucky roll, and also the chance to blank out. (One key difference is that the Evade token adds to the die results, while Focus changes it. So, a ship with 3 dice and Evade can possibly evade 4 hits, while 3 dice plus Focus is capped at 3.)
You’re rarely rolling more than 4 evade dice though, especially on a ship that doesn’t have both tokens already. That is, if you only count them in a single roll. What you actually should be looking at is the total number of dice you’ll roll in the round. A TIE Fighter getting shot at twice rolls 6 total dice. Odds are you’ll roll 1.5 eyeballs, so odds of rolling 2 in a single attack aren’t great. But, odds are you’ll get at least one between the two rolls, meaning the Focus token is — most likely — no worse than an Evade, but it has the potential to be better.
On 3 defense dice, the Focus token has an expected value of 0.75 evades, compared to an Evade token’s 1 evade, so it’s a bit weaker. But, the chance to use it on offense if it proves unnecessary (or unusable) on defense tends to make it the stronger option, especially for lower pilot skill ships.
The common rookie mistake I’ve been seeing lately is when multiple ships evade. This will happen with a TIE swarm or with multiple generic A-Wings. Juke notwithstanding, an Evade is only useful on defense and is only marginally stronger than a Focus. Given that the enemy is likely to focus fire on a single ship, if you Evade with more than 1 ship, all but 1 of those Evade tokens will go unused. Not only that, but when you’re getting shot at several times, the Focus ends up being the stronger choice anyways. The point of a swarm is to concentrate firepower. Don’t nerf the attack by giving everyone an Evade. Let someone take the hit, while everyone else maximizes their firepower.
The exception of course is when you’ve sunk 30+ points into a named arc dodger that absolutely must live for your squad to win. By all means, play defensively. Swarms though, no reason anyone should be taking an Evade, except maybe on a ship that’s already taken damage.
Adding a boost option into the mix makes things a lot more complicated, but it’s a real choice now that the T-70 is out there with a Boost, Focus, and Target Lock.
While everything comes with the universal “it depends” caveat, this one is even moreso the case. Still, there’s some basics to be aware of.
Focusing at Range 2 is stronger than Boosting to Range 1. Firing 3 red dice with a Focus produces 2.25 hits. Four red dice without a Focus produces an average of 2.0 hits. I know it feels good to roll more dice, but the Focus is a slightly better option. Boosting from Range 3 to 2 on the other hand is often the smart move, especially if the defender has a Focus token or Autothrusters.
What makes this tough is that Boost affects your range next round as well. Continuing to Focus might let the ship slip to Range 3 or beyond. Boosting from 2 to 1 may reduce your expected damage this round, but keep a higher average over several rounds of shooting.
And then there’s trusting in the heart of the dice. Against a highly defense ship — one that can quite reliably avoid 3 damage — often the only chance you have is to jump into Range 1, roll 4 unmodified dice, and then just pray for the best. If it’s the only realistic chance of punching damage through, or you desperately need the extra chance to roll a crit, then go for Range 1. Otherwise, take the steadier damage.
Final Note on the Persistence of Target Locks
Of course a notable feature of the Target Lock is that it can stick around, while Focus goes away if unused. But, you rarely roll all natural hits, and so the Target Lock also tends to vanish from round to round.
Still, that chance is important, and it’s not truly that rare. On an A-Wing or TIE/fo, there’s a 1 in 4 chance of rolling 2 natural hits and getting to keep the Target Lock. With a small swarm of TIE/fos or Z-95s, odds are someone won’t need to spend it.
Even with 3 dice, there’s still a fair chance. It’s a 1 in 8 chance, but with any luck you’ll get to shoot at least 8 times in a game and certainly more than that in a tournament. Those 1 in 8 chances where you get to keep the Target Lock can add up to a significant difference.