Welcome to The Academy, Cadet! This series will cover the basics you need to mix it up with the Rebel scum/loathsome Resistance/Imperial bucketheads/First Order thugs/spineless bounty hunters/dirty clankers/Jedi filth. Learn your fundamentals well and you just might not end up floating out in the void next to the scorched wreckage of your ship.
So you've just gotten your brand new X-Wing Second Edition Core Set and, after admiring the beautiful pre-painted miniatures and studiously reading the cards and references, you've begun the process of punching out the little pieces of cardboard. The round, green tokens make perfect sense; they match the actions on your pilot cards and the symbols on the dice. Got it. Next you got the info that you need on Stress from the Rules Reference and our last Academy article.
But now you've bought a couple of individual ship expansions or squadron packs and there are new red, diamond-shaped tokens with different funny markings. What's that about?
What is Strain?
Strain tokens are assigned to a ship when it is prompted by card text. A ship that has one or more Strain tokens is considered "Strained." When a ship is Strained it rolls one fewer defense die.
Strain tokens can be removed several different ways. The first is by applying their effect. That's right! If you have a single Strain token, after you roll one less defense die to defend against an attack then the effect has been applied and you remove the token. This brings up an important point: if you have more than one Strain token on a ship that DOES NOT mean that you roll that many fewer defense dice! Strain tokens are applied one at a time and are NOT cumulative, meaning that if you have more than one you'll roll one less green die per attack until all of your Strain tokens have been removed.
The other way to remove Strain is by performing a blue maneuver, just like Stress. The important thing to remember here is that when you perform a blue maneuver you can remove one of each type of non-lock red token (Stress, Strain, and Deplete). Strain differs from Stress as well in that when you are Strained you may still perform red maneuvers and actions.
What is Deplete?
Deplete tokens are assigned to a ship when it is prompted by card text. A ship that has one or more Deplete tokens is considered "Depleted." When a ship is Depleted it rolls one fewer attach die.
The next part is identical to Strain, but bears repeating!
Deplete tokens can be removed several different ways. The first is by applying their effect. That's right! If you have a single Deplete token, after you roll one less attack die then the effect has been applied and you remove the token. This brings up an important point: if you have more than one Deplete token on a ship that DOES NOT mean that you roll that many fewer attack dice! Deplete tokens are applied one at a time and are NOT cumulative, meaning that if you have more than one you'll roll one less red die per attack until all of your Deplete tokens have been removed.
The other way to remove Deplete is by performing a blue maneuver, just like Stress. The important thing to remember here is that when you perform a blue maneuver you can remove one of each type of non-lock red token (Stress, Strain, and Deplete). Deplete differs from Stress as well in that when you are Depleted you may still perform red maneuvers and actions.
What Do They Mean?
Thematically, I think of Strain and Deplete as something happening in the battle that impairs your pilot's ability to defend themself or effectively perform an attack. This could be anything from realizing you're in Major Vonreg's sights and freezing like a deer in the headlights (Strain) to taking so much incoming fire that your shots back are wild and ineffective (deplete). Thinking about it this way helps me differentiate these types of red tokens from Stress and remember that their effects are applied differently and the restrictions are slightly different.
Fun With Strain and Deplete
There are plenty of pilot and upgrade abilities in X-Wing that allow you to manipulate Strain and Deplete to your advantage by either applying their effects to your opponent or by accepting the risk of a temporary impairment to increase your overall effectiveness.
The ISB Jingoist in the TIE/ln Fighter says, "we have ways of making you talk." If you let a Jingoist get to range 0-1 of your ship they will apply their cruel interrogation techniques and ask, "will you remove your green token, or do we have to do this the hard way." If you don't have a green token to remove then the Jingoist gets to decide what cruel punishment (Strain or Deplete) they want to administer before attacking. ISB Jingoists pair well with ships that can carry Darth Vader crew, which has a similar effect and will strip those green tokens away at the start of engagement and Major Vermeil in the TIE Reaper who attacks at the same initiative 4 with an ability that capitalizes on the absence of green tokens after the Jingoists have done their work. This pilot is incredibly flexible and effective.
Mandalorian Crew Remotes
Sure, the Clan Wren Commandos/Death Watch Commandos/Imperial Super Commandos/Mandalorian Super Commandos/Nite Owl Commandos can take pot shots at the enemy, but they don't have to spend a charge to administer a Strain to an enemy ship at range 0, harassing the pilot and distracting them so that your ships can come and finish them off. Super Commandos=super fun.
At the time that I'm writing this Notorious is 2 points and it seems waayyyy too good for 2 points. Right? I'm hoping this take will age well. The requirement to also have an Illicit upgrade equipped is something of a barrier to entry but it's still so good. This is a fun, thematic ability; notionally, your pilot is a known hardcore character, so anyone who dares go face to face with them gets intimidated (Strained), then your pilot smells their fear and gets a reroll to make the Strained attacker pay. Yikes. This is especially good against those Initiative 5 and 6 aces who need their green dice to stay alive and will likely attack you before you shoot back at them. Pay attention to initiative, if you face off against an enemy with Notorious, if they have already engaged then you can shoot at them, take the Strain, and not necessarily have to worry about the retaliatory shot from that ship (though you do have to worry about being Strained for shots from other ships).
In my mind the most artfully simple expression of the Deplete mechanic: you have a gunner who provides suppressive fire, keeping the enemy's head down so that they're less able to fire back. Really good on a ship that can double tap, like the LAAT/i with Ghost Company, where you'll often spend your Focus token on the first attack and can then just spend a focus result to Deplete someone on the second rather than let it go to waste. That's probably why it's on the card art, right?
Well, that wraps up our Academy article on Strain and Deplete! What are your favorite pilots and upgrades that use these mechanics?