Thursday, February 9, 2017

Imperial commander review: Grand Moff Tarkin

Oh man look out here comes Peter Cushing Grand Moff Tarkin!

I just ordered a planet and its inhabitants destroyed and I'm still in my comfy slippers.
It's time for your Imperially-mandated education about a commander ability, bullet-points style!
  • Grand Moff Tarkin's ability triggers at the start of the Ship phase. This is after you've already assigned your command dials but before any ships are activated. If there are any other abilities that trigger at the same time (such as Han Solo's "shoots first" ability) remember that they are resolved in player order.
  • Remember that ships cannot have more command tokens than their Command value and that you cannot have duplicates of the same token. When you temporarily have more tokens than a ship can hold, you need to immediately choose which token(s) get discarded to make room. 
So let's get to the big problems with Grand Moff Tarkin immediately: first of all, he's crazy expensive. 38 points makes him tied for the game's most expensive commander with Ackbar and he's nearly twice the cost of the cheapest Imperial Admiral (Ozzel, who is 20 points). Just because a commander is expensive doesn't mean he's worthless, but it means you need to be able to get some very strong use from his ability or else you overpaid for him when a cheaper commander plus some other ship upgrades for the same total cost would've gone further.

Secondly, his ability is a bit tricky to use. Think of it this way: there's a rainstorm and you're trying to collect as much drinking water as possible. Is it better to use a few deep buckets or numerous shallow buckets? Maybe a mix of each? The correct answer depends a lot on how frequently those buckets can be emptied. Moving back to Armada and away from bucket-land, you run a real risk with Tarkin of providing tokens to ships that have no use for them or are already full up on tokens. Given how expensive Tarkin is, this is obviously a Bad Thing. Furthermore, your fleet needs to generally want the kinds of tokens Tarkin is dispensing all on the same turn - they can either keep them to use later (if they're a higher-Command ship) or use them immediately. Giving out useless concentrate fire tokens to Raiders at long range from the enemy is not a great use of Tarkin's ability, for example.

Third, if you're planning to use Tarkin to simply spam a specific type of command throughout the game, you generally have better options for commander that specialize in that kind of thing much more cheaply:
Spamming navigate? Why not use Ozzel or Jerrjerrod for their superior speed/maneuverability abilities?
Spamming engineering? Why not use Motti or Tagge for their increased durability/defense token returning?
Spamming concentrate fire? Why not use Vader or Screed for their improvements to attack dice/damage?
Spamming squadrons? Unless you're going for a Sloane fighters fleet, that's not a bad idea, depending!

So to really get use from Tarkin, you need a fleet where his token creation is consistently useful and rarely wasted but where you are doing something a more focused commander can't. There's a few ways to do this and I'd generally recommend trying to get as many of these features into a Tarkin fleet as possible:
  • Command-efficient ships. Ships that are cheap for their Command value are appealing. Good examples would be Gozantis (23 points minimum for Command 1, a "shallow bucket") and Victory-class Star Destroyers (73 points minimum for Command 3, a cost-effective "deep bucket").
  • Ships that are capable of meaningfully spending just about any kind of command token. For example, ships with red dice can usually spend concentrate fire tokens while attacking from long-range, even if it's just a throwaway attack. Including upgrades like Boosted Comms or Relay squadrons can allow ships with squadron tokens to spend those during their activation even if commanding squadrons isn't their usual use.
  • Make sure your Command 1 ships in particular are capable of utilizing the same token on the same turn, as otherwise they'll need to decide between keeping a previous turn's token and accepting the new one next turn. A bit of this will happen from time to time but when it's the norm, it's a big drain on Tarkin's efficacy.
  • Liaisons on heavier ships with open officer slots. Weapons and Defense Liaisons allow your higher-Command ships to pitch their extraneous tokens to switch their top command dial to a favored command and can provide some effective command dial control (and Slicer Tools resistance) for a cheap cost.
  • Upgrades that trigger upon using commands. Upgrades like Engineering Teams, Projection Experts, Engine Techs, and Nav Teams all trigger whenever a command of their type is used and you can (and should!) try to abuse their abilities by "cheating" out these command types by using Tarkin-provided tokens.
Carrier fleet
There's no direct competition for Tarkin when it comes to simply allowing ships to command more squadrons. Tarkin can act as a persistent fake Expanded Hangar Bay for every ship in your fleet on turns when he provides squadron tokens, and it can be channeled through Boosted Comms at the same time, a feat normally only available to the ISD-I or Quasar-I. It can, of course, also be used in addition to Expanded Hangar Bay for effectively Squadrons+2 on the commanding ship in question, which can really provide a lot of mileage for upgrades that apply to all commanded squadrons, such as Admiral Chiraneau, the Corrupter title, the Vector title, or Flight Controllers. As mentioned above, being able to actually use those squadron tokens through Relay squadrons or using Boosted Comms is strongly recommended. In general, these types of fleets are running VSDs and/or Gozantis and/or Quasars as their cost-effective carriers.

Tarkin is good for newer players who are never quite sure what kind of tokens they might need and like the ability to fix bad command stack decisions with a Liaison officer. He also works well enough with a variety of ships and so can be slotted in to just about any fleet if for some reason you'd prefer to use him over Motti. I don't find this archetype particularly competitive at higher levels, mind you, but it's decent enough for newer players to learn the ropes.

A bit of everything
Otherwise, Tarkin works well in various fleets that satisfy at least a few of the recommendations above as to what types of fleets he'd like to be included in. The trick is making sure he's doing more for your fleet than a cheaper more focused commander and that's often a bit difficult to accomplish, but not impossible by any means.

How do I beat Grand Moff Tarkin?
The answer to this question given how generally-odd Tarkin is relies a lot on how exactly the fleet intends to leverage Tarkin. A Tarkin carrier fleet is going to operate much differently from other specializations or a jack-of-all-trades-style fleet. Therefore the biggest concern is to identify the archetype and generally take steps to counter that with Tarkin himself being of secondary importance. That said, anything that makes Tarkin's tokens less valuable helps a lot. For example, Tarkin spamming repair tokens doesn't do a lot of good if you're focusing on only one or two ships at a time; Tarkin spamming squadrons tokens won't help if his squadrons are only within command range of a few of his ships because you lured them off to a flank. Similarly, putting pressure from different sources on Tarkin's fleet on one crucial turn can result in some tough decisions for the Tarkin player - if ship A wants a navigate token to change its speed to avoid problems, ship B wants an engineering token to repair crippling damage, and ship C wants a squadron token because it's trying to leverage its squadron command upgrades to the utmost, only one of those ships gets its wish granted.