Friday, February 24, 2017

Imperial Commander Review: Darth Vader

We're looping back around to commanders and taking a look at Darth Vader.
Counterpoint: yes?
My asthma's acting up like crazy, my BDSM space samurai wizard outfit has terrible insulation, and it's blinding white everywhere. Hoth is the worst!
 A few things to note about Tenacious V's ability:
  • It only works on ship versus ship attacks. You cannot use it while attacking squadrons.
  • It's a "while" ability, which means it tells you when it triggers and that you can do it one time during that window. You can't keep spending defense tokens to keep rerolling dice.
  • Spending a defense token works the same way as when you use it defensively - a green (readied) defense token turns to red (exhausted), a red defense token is discarded.
  • Vader's ability works during the spend/modify step, so don't forget to use any effects that add dice (such as Concentrate Fire) prior to using Vader's ability - you can reroll any added dice that turn up blank (as well as your initial volley), which is quite helpful.
Darth Vader is the second-most expensive Imperial commander (behind Tarkin, who is 38 points) and he can be tough to fit into fleets. The usage of his ability can leave ships exposed to problematic situations when they're attacked by enemies later in the turn - if, for example, you really want to redirect an attack but your only available redirect is already exhausted due to Vader, you get to choose between "eat that damage you didn't want to eat" and "pitch a token for defensive purposes, making Vader's future uses even more unpleasant for you now that you have less defense tokens."

That's not to say it's all dark sides (boo! hiss!): Vader's reroll ability is the most generous in the game, allowing you to reroll as many dice as you please regardless of range or type of dice or having to do anything other than be attacking a ship and spending a defense token. The benefits in particular to red dice are quite notable, as red dice are generally unreliable and thus upgrades that allow you to set or replace even one of them (like Turbolaser Reroute Circuits or Dual Turbolaser Turrets) are highly coveted for that reason. Vader lets you reroll all of them if you so choose. Any dice can benefit, of course, and depending on the ship in question Vader can be useful for differing purposes - ships with a lower supply of blue dice can use Vader at least in part to go fishing for otherwise-unreliable accuracy symbols, for example.

It helps if you announce clearly when you're using Vader's ability.
It should be noted that if you're using ships that are heavy into black dice (best example would be Gladiators) then Screed is still a better commander for improving your overall damage and improving critical effects and his cost (both in points and downsides of using his ability) is lower.

As I explained in my Admiral Screed article, I'm not a fan of Admiral Screed with blue crit upgrades. If you're interested in using those, Vader usually manages to run them better because the blue dice rerolls are fairly effective at blue crit-fishing in addition to whatever other purpose you had for the reroll and you're normally not giving up much to do so. The best example would be an Interdictor Suppression Refit with Ion Cannon Batteries - if you can double arc a target with that setup and with Vader helping, your chances of triggering the ICB crit on each attack are pretty high and you keep overall damage output above average due to Vader.

So with all that said, what exactly should one be looking for in a ship that Vader wants to run?
The first thing to look for is expendable defense tokens. By this I mean preferably 4 defense tokens total but at the very least your standard 3 with two of them being the same type. It's even better if you have some defense tokens that are occasionally worthless (for example, contain can be very iffy and evade is of no use against short-ranged attacks).
The second thing to look for is red and blue dice. As mentioned earlier, Screed generally does a better job with black dice ships than Vader does, but in addition to that, all Imperial ships with more than 1 black dice have weapon team slots, which means if you're just rolling a big pile of black dice, Ordnance Experts can give you the rerolls you crave for a very competitive 4 points and no defense token spending downside. Once you add in red and/or blue dice, though, those become more difficult to reroll reliably and Screed doesn't work as well with them. Your best upgrade reroll option with longer-ranged dice is Leading Shots, which requires spending a blue dice and equipping Leading Shots to your ion cannon slot, both of which can be problematic in differing circumstances.

So what kind of ships would meet these criteria? The easiest examples include:
All of those ships have numerous non-black dice, some red dice, and 4 defense tokens. All are easy potential inclusions in a Vader fleet. I should also note that the Hand of Justice title for Arquitens can assist you in refreshing one Vader-exhausted defense token on another friendly ship, which is also another fine reason to bring along an Arquitens.

Second-stringers would be ships like:
As each of those ships features at least a handful of non-black dice and has redundant defense tokens.

Which isn't to say you can't use something like a Gladiator with Vader (Demolisher, of course), merely that it doesn't have as much synergy with him as other ships and you may run into issues trying to maximize Vader's ability without compromising the survivability of the ship(s) in question. The Gladiator in particular can struggle because of its easy access to Ordnance Experts (doing most of Vader's work for him) and having a variety pack of 3 different defense tokens. I run into enough trouble with accuracy results locking down the best Gladiator defense token for the situation, I don't need my commander bringing it even closer to death.

It should be stressed once again that Vader is expensive and his ability only works on ship versus ship attacks. This means that if you're going to run Vader and get a lot of mileage out of him, you'll want to spend as many points as you can manage on combat vessels to "spread his cost" most effectively across your fleet. For that reason, Vader is a terrible commander for a bomber-focused fleet as your larger investment in squadron support vessels (like Gozantis) and a hefty investment in squadrons don't really benefit at all from Vader. Therefore, I recommend including a cost-effective fighter presence to keep bombers off of you but otherwise leave your squadrons at that.

I've found the Raider-I a particularly helpful addition to Vader fleets (despite being a "second-stringer") due to all these fleet-building pressures - Vader wants a lot of combat ships and not much in the way of squadrons or flotillas (that don't really benefit much from him) but you can feel pressure from both a low number of activations (few if any Gozantis) and from heavy bomber enemy fleets. A cheap flak-heavy ship like the Raider-I can help address both of those shortcomings when used well. My main advice there is to make sure to equip Ordnance Experts on them - normally with Vader it's not worth doubling up on reroll upgrades, but the Ordnance Experts on Raider-Is allow you to do two things that help:
1) Get rerolls on your flak (remember Vader doesn't help there!)
2) Get a double-reroll on black dice and a single reroll on blue (between Vader and the Ordnance Experts). With a Concentrate Fire thrown in for an extra die, you can one-shot enemy corvettes and flotillas by pairing an accuracy from the blue dice with fishing for hit+crit black dice. On your first reroll, reroll all black dice not showing a hit+crit and then reroll all blank black dice for the second reroll (and all blue dice if you haven't landed an accuracy result yet).

Speaking of upgrades, there are some interesting choices to be made with Vader. Do you load up your ships with additional dice for Vader to reroll using modifications (like Enhanced Armament or Spinal Turbolasers)? Do you go for upgrades that make your buffed attacks more punishing like XI7 Turbolasers or Intel Officers? Do you just go cheapo because Vader already costs a ton and the rerolls up your whole fleet's damage output already? It's largely meta-dependent but my advice is be consistent: if you're going cheapo, go cheapo across your whole fleet. If you're going for defense-token screwage, make your whole fleet good at it, etc.

Big Heavy
You can run a more reliable Big Heavy Imperial fleet with primarily ISDs and VSDs with perhaps an Interdictor and leverage Vader's ability (often with Gunnery Teams) to get consistent damage sprayed across a variety of targets. You won't be very maneuverable, so  It can help to include some support ships like Raiders or Arquitens to mind your flanks and to try to get as many navigate commands in for your heavier ships as possible.

Weirdo small ships
Always wanted to run a bunch of cheapo Raiders and Arquitens together without committing towards a Gladiator? You can do that with Vader, where Screed and, to a lesser extent, Ozzel are not terribly keen on it. Of course you can always sneak a Demolisher Gladiator in there too should you wish. The rerolls from Vader's ability are particularly swell on Arquitens who are cheaper red-dice specialists with easy broadsiding capability and the fun in spamming a few of them comes with the question of "well what do I do for some burst damage and anti-squadron coverage while maintaining an abundance of activations?" and the answer is Raiders.

Combat ship mix
You can go for a "bit of everything, provided it has GUNS" approach with Vader as he'll happily run just about anything but Gozantis without complaint (and even then, Gozantis can pad your activations but they don't do much of anything with Vader specifically).

How do I beat Vader?
Defense tokens are Vaders' bread and butter, so anything that overheats them gives Vader trouble. Lots of little attacks (swarms of smaller ships, bomber waves) and effects that can discard defense tokens (like Intel Officer) put a lot of pressure on Vader's ability. In a roundabout way, accuracy generation effects can cause issues by locking down readied (green) defense tokens and leaving the exhausted versions free to be discarded if Vader wants to make that sacrifice. Even if none of those tricks are available to you, try to prioritize concentrating attacks on Vader's ships even moreso than usual to tax his already-taxed defense tokens to the limit. Vader's ability to get your ships closer to death comes at a smaller cost of making his own ships more vulnerable as well.

Defensively, be aware that your odds of surviving due to poor attack rolls are much diminished against Vader. Expect above-average damage to be hitting you whenever the attack is important and prepare accordingly. Red dice range is much scarier overall and even evade-equipped ships and flotillas can get nibbled to death by Vader fishing for accuracy results paired with damage on big beefy volleys. You'll need to prioritize repair commands to fix damage already done and/or navigation to avoid the worst arcs.


  1. And again several thoughts ;)
    I would disagree with your assesment about Vader dice pools and state it differently:
    Vader loves red dice, likes black dice and can work with blue dice.
    So lets look what ships provide the cheapest red dice for imperials:
    1. Arquittens - 18 pts/die (or 16 with EA)
    2. VSD1 - 25 pts/die (or 20 with Spinals)
    3. Combat Gozanti - 28 pts/die (However if it does a CF command, the cost drops to 14 pts/die(!))
    4. ISD2 - 30 pts/die (or 26 with Spinals)

    In my experience the best ship to use with Vader is VSD1. Arquittens are nice with him however i would not recommend mass Arquittens strategy due to their fragility. ISDs are nice but are expensive and Combat Interdictor becomes a good ship (especially with Advanced Gunnery)
    One of the hidden gems in a Vader fleet is a Combat Gozanti as with Vader it can punch way above its weight while providing useful services to the rest of the fleet.

    1. While I think it's helpful to break down cost per red dice, I think the defense token suite makes an important contribution to the overall effectiveness with Vader, which is why I'm not as keen on Combat Gozantis with him as they're very dependent on using their defense tokens to survive serious attacks (I realize with Vader you'd be spending the evade and keeping the scatter fresh, but any attacks coming your way that lock down the scatter get ugly quickly). If you can keep them away from any half-decent return fire they do fine, but that's not always a guarantee.

      And for what it's worth my favorite Vader ships are ISDs and Arquitens ;).

      I generally agree on the dice breakdown, but I rate blue dice more highly because they're quite reroll-amenable for hunting for specific results (often crits or accuracies) but worst case they always do something. Basically I usually use Vader to get damage out of blank dice on red and black dice and hunt for specific icons with blue dice.

  2. Oh. Its worth noting a good synergy between Vader and Hand of Justice

    1. I also enjoy that combination, but was planning on covering it in more detail when I write the Arquitens article. I suppose it can't hurt to mention it here, though so I'll modify that...

  3. so much hate on Admiral Screed with blue crits, why bring it up in every article?

    1. Only this one and the Screed one, really (out of two dozen or so I've written so far). And Screed's issues with blue crits are pretty well spelled out in the Screed article. The reason it gets mentioned in the Vader article is that Vader and Screed are more directly comparable than other Imperial commanders because they both offer attack dice control and average damage improvement, but they do better with different types of ships and attacks. I clearly stated that Screed is superior with black dice, for example. Vader is better with blue crits. That's just how their abilities work.

      On a side note, I see a lot of newer Imperial players with a bit of a rebellious streak vanish down the Screed blue crits rabbit hole for some time. They stay in, playing lots of games and generally not doing great but feeling that as they improve, they'll be able to improve their performance to top tier. They don't do well in the long run because it's not a top tier archetype and it's not easily adaptable to other play styles. It's usually been very frustrating for them in the end. I'd rather newer players explore more broad-based and/or competitive archetypes so they can improve more quickly and not get frustrated. That's all.

  4. Im a bit of a newb but I am having success with Vader in a CC campaign. Starting with an ISD and 2 Arquitens with extra red dice tossed in there Vader's re-rolls for accuracy have made the difference in punching damage into hulls.

    Not sure of how this works in tournament play but for CC especially early where shenanigans due to card combo's are lacking, I am finding good old fashioned firepower to be solid.