Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Armada 101: faction breakdown

This is the second post (the first being my post on what I consider to be the core features/selling points of the game) of what I hope over the long run will be a series of posts I like to think of as "the basics" or "Armada 101." Stuff that people considering Armada or very new to Armada can make use of in terms of just grokking the basic elements of the game before they dig into something even more detail-oriented, like a squadron or ship analysis.

This time around, I'd like to answer a question I get from many new players: which faction should I choose? Some players intend to use only one faction (for example, John plays only Rebels) and others would like to focus on one over the other (for example, I'd say I'm about 90% Imperials 10% Rebels). Focusing on one faction can also make Armada more affordable, especially earlier on. I do come across the occasional "splitsies" player who do manages to more-or-less evenly play both sides but in my experience such people are a rarity.

First and foremost, there is no "bad" faction. Both Imperials and Rebels can field competitive fleets and have a great variety of competitive builds. Both can be fun to play as well, so there's no "good, but boring" faction either. The two factions do have tendencies in their designs, though, that differentiate them from one another and can appeal to players of different temperaments. I'd like to discuss at least some of those features with an eye towards helping new players decide which faction seems like it would appeal to them most. I would like to note that all comparisons are made as of the writing of this article, so as of wave 5.

Shields versus hull
Imperial ships in general have more hull and Rebel ships have more shields. On smaller ships they're often pretty equivalent, but once you start getting up there in points, the design difference becomes more apparent. For example, a Victory-class Star Destroyer has 8 hull points and (3+3+3+1) 10 shields for 18 total points of damage standing between it and death, assuming it can make use of all of its shields. An Assault Frigate, the Rebel VSD equivalent (both are medium based ships and in the same points bracket) has 6 hull points and (4+3+3+2) 12 shields, also for 18 total points of resiliency. There are some benefits and detriments to each of these configurations:

Higher shields are useful for keeping the generic crit effect at bay by preventing damage from hitting the hull for a longer period of time. Higher natural shield values can also give some benefits against upgrades like XI7 Turbolasers or Heavy Turbolaser Turrets that can make using redirect tokens less appealing, as you'll have more shields on the targeted hull zone. Conversely, your higher shield values only provide you with additional survivability so long as you make sure to use them all - if an enemy focuses on only one hull zone, your redirect tokens won't by default allow you to take damage on the shields on the opposite hull zone. You will find that ships can and will be eliminated with some shields remaining in certain arcs, at which point your extra shields weren't of great value.

Higher hull is better at taking damage given hull damage taken is the metric by which we determine if ships are still on the table or destroyed and there are no sneaky tricks that let you bypass hull like there are to get around/diminish the value of shields. Higher hull also allows the ship to be used more aggressively in a situation where it will overlap another ship as you can handle the damage straight to the hull better than an equivalent Rebel vessel can. The downside of course being that once your shields are gone, you will find that crit results pile up rapidly as you get many attacks hitting the hull. This can make a bad situation even worse.

Conclusion: it's basically a wash, although the Imperials are overall a little more durable than their Rebel counterparts. Rebels, however, can use some upgrades to make up for this deficiency...

Maneuverability and speed
As of wave 5, both factions have lots of options across the speed and maneuverability spectrum so differentiation here is a bit more difficult. Overall, Rebels still have a bit of an edge when it comes to maximum speed (with two ship types that are speed 4 versus the Imperials' one ship type, the Raider) and overall a bit of an edge when it comes to maneuverability, being just a tad more maneuverable on the whole (more total clicks of yaw) than their Imperial counterparts. I feel it's important to stress that while the Rebels are a bit better in these terms, the difference is not large: a lot of players who get into the game with the core set get the false impression that Imperials are the "slow faction" because the VSD from the core set is the slowest and least maneuverable ship in the game, whereas the Rebel small ships from the core set are some of the most maneuverable (particularly the CR90). Both factions can make slower heavy fleets if they like, but so too can both factions create zippy light fleets.

It should be noted that the location of the clicks of yaw is a bit different for Rebels versus Imperials, though. What do I mean exactly? Allow me to demonstrate:
This is a side-by-side comparison of the Rebel and Imperial flotillas. You'll notice their yaw is identical at speed 1 and the GR-75 is strictly superior at speed 2. At speed 3, you get something that's just different: the GR-75 gets superior total clicks of yaw but its comes later. The Gozanti gets inferior total clicks of yaw but they come earlier: the end effect is the GR-75 has less control of its destination at speed 3 but more control of its final orientation, with the Gozanti having more control over its destination but less over its final orientation. Which is better? The vague answer is "it depends," but generally the Rebel craft is a bit more maneuverable. This type of split between similar ships is common. One more example:

Here's an Imperial Star Destroyer against its closest equivalent, the Liberty-style MC80 (or LMC80 is I prefer for shorthand). You'll note that they're identical at speed 1, the ISD is superior at speed 2, and they're just different at speed 3, with their differing clicks being beneficial in different circumstances but with the LMC80 likely being slightly better overall specifically at speed 3 but generally worse overall with its base maneuverability.

Conclusion: the Rebels are slightly better in terms of speed and maneuverability, but that's not always the case with every direct comparison and the differences are minor enough that there isn't a hands-down "slow" or "fast" faction.

Defensive versus offensive retrofits
Rebels have 8 ship configurations that can use a defensive retrofit. Imperials have just 3, although it should be noted that Imperials have a unique officer (Minister Tua) that can give a ship a defensive retrofit slot, so it's not quite as bad as it sounds. Rebels have the only ship in the game with two defensive retrofit slots (the Assault MC80). Imperials have 12 ship configurations that can use an offensive retrofit and Rebels have 8. Imperials have the only ships in the game with two offensive retrofit slots (the ISD-I and Quasar-I).

Defensive retrofits do what you'd think insomuch as they make your ships more difficult to destroy by removing hull damage, allowing you to temporarily use an accuracy-locked-down defense token, use redirect tokens to move damage to shields anywhere, etc. In general they're not as appealing on cheaper ships (because the relative expense often isn't worth it), but for mid-cost and particularly for expensive ships they can be quite valuable.

Offensive retrofits are more of a grab bag. At the moment, they primarily concern squadrons - either the ability to command more of them or at longer range (Expanded Hangar Bay/Boosted Comms) or provide some extra oomph while attacking them (Point Defense Reroute, Quad Laser Turrets). There's also the Phylon Q7 Tractor Beams that can slow down enemy ship. A new contender, the Disposable Capacitors from wave 6, is of special note as a one-turn range extender for blue dice and is a welcome addition to an otherwise-specialized lineup.

Conclusion: Rebels have more access to defensive retrofits and they generally provide tech that allows for longer-living ships. Imperials have more access to offensive retrofits and they have more specialized uses at the moment, but the Disposable Capacitors and upgrades focused on improving your squadron commands are great in the right fleets.

Support team versus weapon team
Rebels have 10 ship configurations that can use support teams and Imperials have 5. Imperials have 10 ship configurations that can use weapon teams and Rebels have 8. It should specifically be noted that the Imperial weapon teams are found across a wide spectrum of ships and in particular on the Empire's most expensive bruisers, the Victory and Imperial-class Star Destroyers, as well as its dedicated carrier, the Quasar, for Flight Controllers, whereas the Rebel weapon teams are a bit more limited and one of the Rebel heavy ships lacks them altogether (the Home One-style MC80). The Imperials have the only ship that has two weapon team slots (the Quasar-II).

Support team upgrades primarily deal with repairing or avoiding damage (Engineering Team, Medical Team) and maneuverability upgrades while using Navigate commands (Engine Techs, Nav Team). There is also a new support team upgrade, the Fighter Coordination Team, that allows for some extra squadron movement outside of the normal order and thus is useful on carriers.

Weapon team upgrades are concerned about attacking in some form or another and offer a wide variety of benefits that includes being able to use both attacks from one hull zone (Gunnery Team), dice rerolling or modification effects (Ordnance Experts, Veteran Gunners, Sensor Team), or assisting with attacks made by squadrons (Flight Controllers).

Conclusion: Rebels have superior access to support team upgrades and they're often used for durability improvements or for additional slipperiness when it comes time to maneuver. Imperials have superior access to weapon team upgrades and they're often used to manage unruly attack dice, increase the potency of attacks, and/or to make additional attacks from the best arcs.

Long range/red dice versus medium-short range/blue and black dice
Rebels have 12 ship configurations with turbolaser upgrade slots. Imperials have 6. Imperials have 10 ships with ion cannon and/or ordnance upgrades slots to the Rebels' 9. Similarly, Rebels have a lot more red dice available to their ships overall (particularly for the cost) than Imperials and Imperials have a lot more blue and black dice available to their ships overall than Rebels. For example, among the 6 most expensive ship configurations on each side (for Imperials: VSDs, ISDs, Interdictors; for Rebels: Assault Frigates, Home One MC80s, Liberty MC80s), 2 Imperial ships have black dice in their batteries and one of them has an ordnance slot. 5 of them have ion cannon slots and 4 of them have turbolaser slots. Among the Rebel six, not a single one has black dice in its anti-ship batteries or an ordnance upgrade slot, 4 of them have ion cannon slots, and all 6 of them have turbolaser slots.

Long range attacks have definite strong merits: you get to start attacking earlier and you can focus fire more easily. Those traits sound like brief asides but they are quite good and should be treated as such. The downside of long range is red dice are the most unreliable dice in the game - with two blank sides and a low chance of generating an accuracy result (1 side), attacks at long range can sometimes turn out to be disappointing when the dice don't go your way. There is also limited ability to control/reroll those dice - some turbolaser upgrades can help (such as Turbolaser Reroute Circuits or Dual Turbolaser Turrets) with a single dice, but most turbolaser upgrades add 1 red dice to various arcs or make defense token usage more difficult (Heavy Turbolaser Turrets, XI7 Turbolasers, H9 Turbolasers). The defense debuff effects can all be extremely useful, mind you, particularly at closer ranges, but at long range you won't often generate enough damage for defense-token-screwage to really pay off just yet. Also note that Rebels, the faction with more red dice and turbolaser slots, are also the faction with less weapon team slots, which are the easiest way to include a means of asserting more control over unruly dice. Hence the limited control over red dice is just something one must get used to, but it also explains the enduring popularity of Turbolaser Reroute Circuits on lighter Rebel ships like the CR90A.

I would also like to mention as an aside that Rebel ships tend to have more evade tokens than their Imperial counterparts. For example, the Assault Frigate has an evade defense token whereas the Victory-class Star Destroyer does not. Evade tokens are much better when defending at long range, as the total dice pools will be smaller and removing a single dice is much more effective. Additionally, the evade effect is stronger at long range (removing a single dice versus rerolling one). This is an additional small little way in which many Rebel ships are designed to excel at the long-ranged element of the game.

Short range attacks also have their strengths: black dice are the most destructive dice in the game and anti-ship ordnance upgrades all add additional black dice to various arcs or add more damage on a black crit, making them extremely effective at piling on tons of damage. When combined with Ordnance Experts, a weapon team upgrade that allows for rerolling as many black dice as you please once per attack (note that weapon team slots are available on every ship with an ordnance upgrade slot except the Rebel Assault Pelta), you can do unparalleled amounts of damage at short range. The main issue is simply delivering those attacks. Short ranged attackers need to weather volleys of fire from longer-ranged ships to get their targets into range to deliver their attacks and their enemies are doing whatever they can to avoid receiving those attacks. Focusing attacks from short range ships can be difficult for obvious reasons as well.

The Imperial defense token side note is that Imperial ships tend to have more redirect and contain tokens than their Rebel counterparts. Redirect, unlike evade, works just fine at closer ranges and is quite useful against the kind of solid wallops you receive at shorter ranges. Similarly, the "not great but better to have it than not" contain defense token is more useful at shorter ranges/later into the game when the chances of crits getting through to the hull increases.

Conclusion: Rebels have more options for longer-ranged skirmishing and are designed to excel in that regard. Imperials have more options for shorter-ranged knife-fighting and are designed to excel in that regard. Each style of combat has its upsides and downsides and you're going to experience at least some of each in most games of Armada, so you won't always be fighting in your favored element.

I should also note that Rebels can absolutely build knife-fighter fleets (CR90Bs,Torpedo MC30s and Hammerheads, and Assault Peltas to the rescue!) and Imperials can build longer-ranged artillery battery fleets (ISD-IIs, VSD-IIs, and Arquitens light cruisers!), they just don't have as much built-in support/options as the other faction, but they do play differently so it's not just "oh here comes the 'Rebels but worse' Imperial long-ranged fleet." The reason I feel it's important to stress the factional preferences here is if a player has a strong liking to one style of play over the other, there's simply more room to tinker/explore with that as one faction over the other.

Squadrons - mixed-role versus specialized
There's a lot more written about this in the squadron-focused posts but the short version is this: most squadron roles can be broken down into fighter (trying to destroy other squadrons), bomber (trying to destroy ships), or support (offering some special abilities that are useful to other components of your fleet, whether they be squadrons or ships). That's a generalization for sure, but it's helpful as a basic guide.

Rebel squadrons often combine at least two of the roles, usually favoring one over others. For example, X-Wings are primarily fighters due to their respectable 4 blue dice anti-squadron attack, but they also offer a support ability (Escort), and are mediocre bombers (due to a red dice versus ships and the bomber keyword). Their preferred use is as fighters with an eye towards taking hits for their buddies (like Y-Wings) with their support Escort ability, but when the situation requires, they can do all right as bombers too. You see this a lot across Rebel squadrons: Y-Wings are primarily bombers but they're better as fighters than their TIE Bomber counterparts, B-Wings are primarily heavy bombers but their 3 blue dice make them all right as fighters, YT-2400s are the most well-rounded Rogue squadrons in the game, etc. Essentially your Rebel squadrons will usually do one thing well and then at least one other thing "good enough." They also tend to be more expensive, a bit slower, and have higher hull points than their Imperial counterparts.

Rebel aces usually focus more on one of their roles to become a super-version of that type of squadron. To continue the X-Wing example, Luke Skywalker is an X-Wing ace that focuses more the X-Wing's bomber role. Wedge Antilles is an X-Wing ace that focuses more on its fighter role. Biggs Darklighter is an X-Wing ace that focuses more on its support role (by buffing Escort). Most Rebel aces focus on being super awesome versions of regular squadrons and lack abilities that help other squadrons, but there are exceptions and those exceptions can still be quite strong (Jan Ors and Norra Wexley come to mind immediately but there are more). There's a bit of an optional Rebel sub-theme of getting additional mileage out of a single squadron by activating it twice (with the Adar Tallon officer upgrade or the Yavaris Nebulon-B title), so those super-squadrons can really get a lot of work done in the right circumstances.

A well-rounded Rebel squadron investment features a number of different squadrons with tactical preferences that don't mind helping out at secondary tasks when necessary. It's often a little bit slower and more expensive (or less numerous) than the Imperial squadron component but more durable and less prone to getting stuck doing something it can't handle.

Imperial squadrons usually do one thing and they do it well and for a discount price. TIE Fighters are dedicated fighters... and that's it. TIE Bombers are dedicated bombers... and they're horrible at everything else. Imperial support squadrons (like the TIE Advanced and Jumpmaster) are generally worse at being fighters or bombers than their Rebel equivalents but they're cheaper and/or faster, which makes them superior at their support role (by being where they need to be to get use from their special ability). With the more recent releases in wave 5, Imperials have finally received a mixed-role fighter-bomber in the TIE Defender (it is not cheap for a generic squadron but it's got great stats!), so this can to some degree be bypassed should you desire, but most Imperial squadrons follow the "barebones specialists" design philosophy. Imperial squadrons are also usually a bit light on hull, particularly with TIE Fighters and TIE Interceptors, but they're faster than their Rebel counterparts so getting in the first punch is not only possible, it's nearly required if you're going to come out on top. There's a sub-theme of synergy between squadrons that's exemplified by the Swarm special rule where two TIE Fighters ganging up on one enemy will do much better than two separate TIE Fighters attacking separate targets. Did I mention they're cheap? That's important to keep in mind.

Imperial aces frequently provide some kind of an effect that interacts with friendly squadrons (as a buff) or enemy squadrons (as a debuff/damage source). You still get your super-squadrons here and there (many of the Rogues and Villains aces are super-squadrons, Darth Vader's TIE Advanced and Maarek Stele's TIE Defender are super-squadrons), but Imperials have a much stronger "aces are about synergy with other elements of your fleet" theme than Rebels do.

A well-rounded Imperial squadron investment features squadrons with a strong specialization seeking to get their job done while utilizing synergy with other Imperial squadrons to make themselves better at doing their jobs. Poor usage can result in squadrons being stuck trying to do jobs they are utterly unequipped to do. It's often faster, better at its specific job than the same cost of Rebel squadrons, and cheaper than the Rebel squadron component but more fragile and less versatile.

And that concludes our rather lengthy summary!


  1. Excellent analysis. In weighing hull vs shields, I think a very important consideration is the ease with which each can be repaired. An engineering value of 4 can "heal" two points of shields, or even shift four points from a safe side to a side under extreme assault. That same engineering value can only "heal" one point of hull damage.

    1. That is true, although in this case the maximum shield values in my experience are somewhat secondary - once ships come under fire they are usually spending their engineering points to regenerate (and on occasion, move) shields. Hull points are repaired usually only in the case of crits that cause a major problem for the ship in question or if there's a spare 3 engineering points that are not better used on regenerating one shield and moving one shield.

      In engineering circumstances, Rebels will have a slight edge in that they can sometimes regenerate/move shields to a higher MAXIMUM* value in a given arc than an Imperial equivalent ship, though.

      *sorry, wanted to stress the point but underlining/bolding isn't allowed in comments