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. But what is that scary diamond-shaped token with the red exclamation mark on it? Seems bad, right?
What is Stress?
Stress tokens are assigned to a ship when that ship performs a red maneuver, performs a red action, or otherwise gains one as a result of a pilot, ship, or upgrade ability. A ship is considered "Stressed" if it has one or more stress tokens. When a ship is stressed it cannot perform actions or perform red maneuvers unless an ability or upgrade states otherwise. If you inadvertently attempt to perform a red maneuver while already stressed then you will fail to perform that maneuver and instead perform a "Stress Maneuver" which is a white 2-straight. That's right, white, so you do not remove the stress.
Stress tokens are diamond-shaped and considered red tokens along with Strain, Deplete, and Lock. They are not removed in the End Phase like round tokens are, instead they can only be removed by performing a blue maneuver or as an effect of an ability or upgrade. When you perform a blue maneuver you may remove one stress token.
What Does it Mean?
Stress, thematically, seems to represent your pilot doing something that is particularly taxing for their abilities or pushes the limit of the capabilities of their ship. For example, Focusing after performing a Barrel Roll or wrestling a Y-Wing through a fast, hard turn.
In game, as in life, stress can be either manageable or crippling depending on how you handle it. If your X-Wing pilot has just executed a stressful advanced Koiogran Turn maneuver to turn around or the Grand Inquisitor just Barrel Rolled but needed to work hard to link to Focus, the way to release that stress is by performing a less demanding blue maneuver next turn. The problem with that is that a crafty opponent will be familiar with what blue maneuver options are on your dial and can plan to set a trap for you in those predictable positions. As in life, you can always choose to bottle that stress up and carry it with you to release later by performing a white maneuver instead. You'll remain stressed but be less predictable. Just be aware that the stress will also stop you from performing actions.
Knowing all of that, I'm sure you can imagine that you can use stress to your advantage as well! Aside from abilities that artificially generate or benefit from stress, knowing the limitations of your opponents' ships and pilots and and capitalizing on a stressful situation is an essential tactic. If an enemy's ship is stressed and you're still working to learn the dials of different ships it is generally okay when playing casually to ask to see a dial if it has not yet been set or to ask your opponent, "what blue maneuvers does that ship have?"
Fun With Stress
Now stress is generally unhealthy but there are mechanics, pilots, and upgrades in the game that allow you to mitigate it or even benefit from it. Speaking generally, the "Light Side" factions like Republic, Rebels, and Resistance tend to have more strategies for mitigating and handling stress while the Empire, First Order, and to a lesser extent, Separatists have more options to punish it. Scum and Villainy tends to have fun with stress in many ways and can do a bit of both.
Here's a brief selection of things in the game that relate to the stress mechanic. This is far from an exhaustive list but here are a few that stand out to me as well as some recommendations from the Fly Better Discord chat.
- The Force! Force sensitive pilots are still able to spend Force charges to modify dice while stressed, softening the blow of being unable to perform an action.
- Contraband Cybernetics (Illicit upgrade): What if you made yourself a little cyborg implant from black market parts and could just ignore stress once per game?
- Korr Sella (Crew upgrade, Resistance): The Resistance, constantly on the run from the First Order and fighting with dwindling resources, has a lot of abilities that let you perform additional actions, gain benefits, etc., while stacking additional stress tokens on your ship. Remember that usually you only remove one stress when performing a blue maneuver but Korr, as Leia's faithful assistant, shoulders the entire burden of your accumulated stress.
- Pattern Analyzer (Tech upgrade): Gonna perform a red maneuver but still need an action? Just go right ahead.
- Jek Porkins (T-65 X-Wing): Covered in our T-65 X-Wing article, Jek doesn't have a care in the world. Sure there's a 3/8 chance that he'll take a damage but he isn't stressed about it.
- Lando Calrissian (Customized YT-1300): Lando is a gambler, but every die roll comes with a bit of stress.
- BT-1 (Gunner upgrade, Scum or squad including Darth Vader): Everyone's favorite little murder droid from the Vader comics is coming to make your stress hurt even more.
- Death Troopers (Crew upgrade, Imperial): If you have space for these nasty guys they'll keep the pressure on any enemy foolish enough to try and shed a stress token nearby. Pairs well with other effects that force an enemy to be stressed. Remember that the Check Difficulty Step is performed after the maneuver so if they were stressed and dialed a blue maneuver, if you surprised them by moving your Death Trooper carrier into their path then the maneuver was in vain.
- L'ulo L'ampar (RZ-2 A-Wing): L'ulo has a choice that reflects his willingness to fly aggressively. The RZ-2's ability to perform a red Boost or Rotate action after performing any other action allows you to be pretty selective about triggering his ability.
- Cad Bane (Rogue-Class Starfighter, Scum): Cad can use his repertoire of actions linked to a red Focus to acquire a stress and then pass that stress (red) token to his target after shooting them so they end up stressed and he is not. Seems pretty good.