Monday, February 13, 2017

Imperial ship review: Victory-class Star Destroyer

Let's begin the Imperial ship reviews at the beginning with the first Imperial ship most of us ever pushed around a table, the OG angry triangle, the Victory-class Star Destroyer (VSD)!

The Victory-I knows how to take a more flattering profile picture. Take note, Victory-II.
Both variants of the Victory class have a lot in common, and we'll get to the specific VSD-I versus VSD-II discussion in a while.

For starters, the first and most defining thing about VSDs is their poor speed chart. The speed maximum of 2 isn't inherently awful (many ships with a higher maximum speed will still spend much of the game around speed 2, such as ISDs), but it can be troublesome when you need to chase something down or reposition and you just cannot step on the gas to make that happen. The VSD has other speed 2 companions in the Imperial Interdictor, Rebel HMC80, and Pelta frigate, but it should be noted that every one of those other speed 2 ships has a support crew slot that can be filled with Engine Techs should you wish, which is a way to "cheat" up to speed 3. The VSD has no such cheat option. Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, VSDs are unmaneuverable. They get a single click of yaw at both their speed settings and it comes at the finale segment of the maneuver tool. A support crew slot would have also been helpful for remedying this problem (with Engine Techs or Nav Team) but sadly no such support crew slot is available. The final complaint one can make about the VSD is the single blue flak dice is pretty unimpressive at clearing out enemy bombers and thus VSDs will be dependent on fighter squadrons to keep bombers from picking them to pieces.

Okay, well that sounds pretty bad, right? Well... I mean yes, it can be. But let's talk about what the VSD has going for it before dismissing it out of hand:
  • 8 hull and 10 total shields fairly even distributed across the arcs taking most attacks (the front and sides) make it a pretty durable chunk of ship for its points cost, particularly with the cheaper VSD-I.
  • Dice. Just lots and lots of dice for its cost. 6 in the front arc, 3 out the sides, and 2 (red!) from the rear. Compared to its counterpart, the Rebel Assault Frigate, you're getting 50% more dice from your best arc (6 front vs. 4 side) and 50% more dice from your second-best (3 side vs. 2 front/rear - the Assault Frigate MkIIA does have 3 as well but it's a pretty rare sight). Small ships that end in the VSD's front arc can occasionally be swatted down in a single salvo, which is very satisfying.
  • Speaking of the front arc, it's a big juicy wide arc that covers a fair amount of real estate.
  • 3 Squadron and 4 Engineering make it quite capable of executing any non-Concentrate Fire command competently (more on this later). 4 Engineering in particular can be quite helpful for simply tanking damage when necessary and regenerating 2 shields per turn. It's not enough to brag about the VSD being able to live forever, but it can add an extra turn or two of life to the modest investment of the VSD.
One brace and two redirect tokens is a fairly context-dependent defense token suite that can be great or poor, depending. If you're taking a lot of fire from medium and short range it can be quite useful for keeping damage manageable and shifting it to shields. The two redirect tokens are good against bomber attacks, too. At long range, you're operating at a disadvantage against anything with evade tokens, as the damage will "stick" to the VSD better than your return fire will stick to your evading foes. Similarly, you can get into big trouble in meta where accuracy generation is popular (such as from the Home One title on an HMC80 or H9 Turbolasers or the like) and can lock down your brace token reliably. XI7 Turbolasers are still not uncommon sights and those can make your double redirect tokens less effective as well.

Basic usage recommendations
Deployment weights heavily on how useful a VSD is going to be before it even activates. Good deployment is important for every ship, but the worse a ship's speed and maneuverability, the more important deployment is because you have less capability to "fix" a deployment mistake. Given the VSD has the worst speed and maneuverability in the game, your deployment decisions with it are extremely important. With that said, VSDs like to be deployed near the edges of the board where getting around them is more difficult - going around the "far side" that takes you closer to the edge of the board requires some additional effort from the initial deployment and will usually keep the flanker in the VSD's front arc for a turn or two while doing so. Going around the "near side" will usually mean running right into the guns of whichever ship you have deployed further in, perhaps another VSD! Speaking of which...

VSDs love friends. VSDs do not do well unsupported because getting around them is generally easy to do and with their poor yaw they do not get an opportunity to turn their better arcs to bear on targets that slip past. Anyone who has played the core set learner game knows this already (and been frustrated by this and maybe even sworn off VSDs already by the time they get to full-sized games). By operating near other ships, their flanks are guarded and slipping past them becomes much more hazardous. You can use other VSDs for this purpose but also less expensive utility ships like Raiders and Arquitens do just fine. VSDs themselves work great at flank guarding for faster ships like ISDs - slipping around an ISD's front arc only to be met by the ISD's side arc and a VSD's front arc is an unpleasant prospect.

Navigate constantly unless you have something better to do. Remember those speed chart problems I mentioned earlier? Maneuverability in particular is a huge problem for VSDs and by using Navigate commands to increase your yaw (and change speed when necessary) you are doubling your yaw. The significance of doubling your yaw cannot be overstated and it helps the VSD keep its front arc on targets and to some extent avoid trouble. I encourage you to think of it this way: if you use a Navigate command to keep a target in your front arc when you otherwise would not have been able to do so, you just used a better Concentrate Fire command - at full dice range, you get twice the dice from a front arc attack vs. a side arc attack and even at red dice range you get 1 more dice overall, the same as Concentrate Fire but much more likely to be in a situation where enemy attacks are directed at the front hull zone where you can redirect more effectively (to either of your 3 shield sides).

Consider speed 1. This isn't to say don't ever go speed 2, merely consider speed 1 at all times. VSDs have a tendency to overshoot targets heading towards them when they go speed 2 because they simply can't reposition well enough with their limited yaw. Once the enemy is past them, it's nearly impossible to get the front arc on target again. When going speed 1 (particularly with the extra yaw from a nav dial), you get more time with enemies in your front arc. There's a time and place for speed 2, but at all times consider speed 1 for this reason. It also combines very well with Quad Battery Turrets (more on those later).

Don't concentrate fire. I'm sure there are always those 1% instances where concentrate fire is the correct command choice, but in general I strongly recommend avoiding it. Adding a single die to an attack when you generally are relying on timing it correctly with a sluggish Command 3 ship is rather tricky. You are nearly always better served using navigate (as mentioned above) as your default command, with engineering and/or squadrons sprinkled in as necessary. Keeping your VSD relevant through navigate commands pays off much better throughout the game than a single extra dice can.

With Squadrons 3, even your gunship VSDs can pitch in for help with squadron commanding on a crucial turn or two. There's nothing wrong with leaving the primary commanding work to flotillas, Quasars, or other dedicated carriers, but a VSD can definitely pitch in on commanding squadrons when necessary - I find it's most often useful doing this on turn 2 or 3 when dogfighting begins.

Lead your targets. It's fairly common to see newer players direct their VSDs directly at the ships they wish to attack next turn. The problem with this approach is that unless the VSD activates before the intended target, the target can usually zip out of the VSD's front arc before the VSD gets to shoot. For that reason, I encourage you to turn the VSD so that the target is on the edge of your front arc with its future movement path taking it into the remainder of your big front arc. This makes front arc attacks much easier to line up and makes your VSD attacks less order-of-activation dependent. This is overall good advice for any front arc attack ship, but for something less maneuverable like a VSD, it's more important still.

For example, something like this!
Officer upgrades can give you a leg up in metas hostile to a default VSD and for a pretty reasonable cost. If you're in a meta where you're experiencing problems with long-ranged attackers harassing you, I'd give some consideration to Captain Needa so you can swap out a redirect for an evade defense token. Similarly, if you're in a meta where getting your brace locked down consistently vexes you, Minister Tua can provide you with a defensive retrofit slot so you can equip some life-saving Electronic Countermeasures; Tua is particularly handy on flagship VSDs for this reason. At the very least, a Skilled First Officer is a 1 point upgrade that can make the 3-deep command stack of a VSD easier to handle and I'd consider them the default officer if the chair is otherwise empty.

Quad Battery Turrets are custom-made for most VSD builds. A 5 point turbolaser upgrade that adds a blue die against any ship that's set to a higher speed than you is extremely valuable on a VSD: it's cheap, you'll frequently be a lower speed than most enemy ships (to repeat myself from earlier, speed 1 is a fine speed for a VSD), and adding a blue die to all your attacks at any range helps improve the damage and chance for accuracy from your front arc and makes your side and rear arcs once an enemy sneaks past you more respectable when you need to settle for second best. You'll notice I recommend the Quad Battery Turrets on all my VSD builds below and for good reason. The only exception to that might be when the VSDs are fielded with Moff Jerjerrod, who frequently likes using them at speed 2 for the extra yaw from his ability. In those cases, I'd consider replacing them with a Spinal Armament.

I can't really recommend any of the VSD titles and they'll be conspicuous in their absence below. Dominator and Warlord are simply far too expensive for the Victory to get points-effective use out of (they were helpful back in wave one when you wanted to go heavy on a VSD, but with the arrival of the ISD they're a very hard sell) and both generally work better with combo pieces to make them more reliable (some means of regenerating more shields with Dominator and some means of guaranteeing red accuracy results with Warlord) that further increase their cost. Corrupter is the best of the three and even then, TIE Bombers don't frequently need it and you can get better boosts elsewhere (particularly the Squall title on a Quasar). It's a bit iffy synergy with speed 3 Firesprays given they're Rogue and so generally you want them activating during the squadron phase, you may wish to activate them by ships here and there but it's not strong synergy and could be done much more cheaply with the Gozanti Vector title + Expanded Hangar Bays. TIE Defenders, the lone remaining bombers, are already speed 5. The original intention was to combine with Admiral Chiraneau for speed 2+1=3 bombers that could leave engagement, but with Intel such a readily-available feature nowadays that combo is pretty antiquated and quite expensive.

Here comes Bubba!
The VSD-I has the substantial benefit of being fantastically cheap for all its raw stats (hull, shields, dice) at 73 points. I encourage you to think of the black dice as a deterrent (oh, so you want to get close, huh?) moreso than an active source of damage - the VSD's speed/maneuverability problems make it pretty unreliable at delivering black dice to targets more proactively like you can do with an ISD-I, Raider, or Gladiator. External Racks are a good upgrade for the ordnance slot to make your rare black dice salvo more fearsome, but anything more expensive is likely wasted points.

It should be noted that VSD-Is can struggle to generate accuracy results due to only having 3 red dice around that can manage the feat and even then they're not good at it (at only 1/8 chance each of getting an accuracy). For that reason it can be worth running them alongside Captain Jonus to reliably generate accuracy results for hunting down flotillas or locking down brace defense tokens. Intel Officers are also 7 points well spent provided you have the officer slot and the points to spare, as you can force some annoying defense token decisions and make your damage stick better.

The following will be some builds I get use from on occasion. You can certainly add to them (with the officers I mentioned earlier in particular), but try to keep them as inexpensive as possible - VSD-Is' greatest advantage is they're a lot of stats for the cost and the more fluff you pile on, the more you decrease that advantage while still retaining the downside of the poor speed/maneuverability.

Basic VSD-I
Quad Battery Turrets + External Racks
Given your VSD will in most cases be going speed 1 and sometimes speed 2, the Quad Battery Turrets will frequently be adding a blue die to your attacks, which can help with your accuracy generation problems and is a fantastic turbolaser upgrade for only 5 points. The External Racks will see use in most games, and the ability to add 2 black dice in the "usually happens once, maybe twice, a game" close range shot for only 3 points can produce a huge dice pool when you get it working - they're negotiable, though, if you need those points elsewhere. This entire package comes in at a very affordable 81 points, although I'd definitely try to fill the officer slot with your own choice of officer. Worst case, a 1 point Skilled First Officer can be quite handy.

Gunship VSD-I
Quad Battery Turrets+Gunnery Team
By adding an extra blue die against most targets with the Quad Battery Turrets, you upgrade your front arc to 3 red dice and a blue die at long range, making  Gunnery Teams on VSD-Is more appealing. For a very affordable 85 points you get a VSD that can lay out a pair of 4 dice attacks from its front arc or, once it has overshot its prey, a pair of 3-red dice attacks from its rear as it putters away from the fight (and keeps its points intact). For the same cost as a base VSD-II, it's a serviceable spray-and-pray gunship that can cause more problems for its point cost than you might at first expect and has a black dice surprise waiting for any cheeky ships that get too close.

See also "biggest improvement in usability due to waves 4 and 5"
The VSD-II replaces the VSD-I's black dice in the front and side arcs with blue dice and replaces the VSD-I's ordnance slot with an ion cannon slot. That seems better but then you see the price tag of +12 points (a 17% increase!) with no other improvements and sticker shock can set in quickly.

It can be said in the VSD-IIs' favor that the blue dice certainly are longer ranged than black dice. One should carefully examine the range ruler, however, to note that blue dice do not reach twice the distance of black dice. Because medium range is about 50% of the length of the short range segment, it's not as much of a clear improvement as one would think. Still, the extra range does on occasion help. Whereas a VSD-I gets to use its black dice I'd say about once a game, a base VSD-II usually gets to use its blue dice about 2 times per game. In particular, with flotillas becoming more and more of a thing, blue dice are made more valuable if nothing else because they're much more likely to roll accuracy results than any other dice type in the game and you will find your VSD-IIs can pop flotillas with front arc attacks without too much additional trouble.

Due to Disposable Capacitors, the VSD-II has a new lease on life as the most dangerous (Imperial) ship in the game at long range once per game. This has significantly reinvigorated interest in a ship that was once largely ignored. Because the Disposable Capacitors allow you to once per game discard the 3 point offensive upgrade to allow you to fire your blue dice at long range for the rest of the round, it allows a VSD-II to attack long-range targets with 6 (or more) dice, usually on turn 2. It's enough to put a serious dent into even sneakier faster ships like flotillas and corvettes just simply due to sheer weight of dice and on a good roll can even one-shot a sneaky flotilla provided you produce 2 accuracy icons and 4 total damage! With all that said, the best way to build VSD-IIs right now is to maximize the value you get from the Disposable Capacitors and that looks like...

Big Bertha
Disposable Capacitors + Gunnery Team + Quad Battery Turrets + Leading Shots
Big Bertha isn't cheap at 104 points base (prior to officer or other upgrades), but she's capable of tossing some serious pain downfield at long range on her Disposable Capacitors super-turn. It's mean. Just be very careful to get your attacks lined up and get maximum value from your Disposable Capacitors on their turn. Another thing to remember with this build is that the Quad Battery Turrets' extra blue die is added at any range, so non-Capacitors long ranged shots can still benefit from the extra blue die you can feed to Leading Shots for a reroll if your red dice turn out poorly.

With a commander like Vader I'd consider replacing the Leading Shots with a critical ion cannon upgrade like Ion Cannon Batteries as Vader can handle the reroll for you due to his commander ability. Again, as I said with the VSD-I, I'd consider Spinal Armament with Jerjerrod over the Quad Battery Turrets, but that's your call.

There are a few commanders that synergize with VSDs and are more prone to wanting to run them. This can change up some of the upgrade builds a little bit and if so, I'll mention how with the commander.

Admiral Motti
Motti simply adds 2 hull points to each VSD, but that's a tremendous amount of hull for the cost provided you kept them cheap. A 10 HP VSD is not trivially destroyed by any means and will usually require an additional attack past a regular 8 HP VSD. Minister Tua is a bit more appealing here on one of your VSDs so you can bring a defensive retrofit to further protect your extra durability.

Grand Moff Tarkin
Tarkin likes VSDs for the fact that they can hold 3 command tokens at a cheap cost, making them ideal "deep buckets" for his ability. The VSDs themselves are quite content to use Weapons or Defense Liaisons, officers that are poor under most other commanders, in order to have some on-command command dial manipulation. In general if you use a Liaison, you need to decide how you plan to leverage them. My preference is for a Weapons Liaison used on a VSD that will generally be defaulting to navigate commands and the occasional engineering command. The Weapons Liaison can help throw out an on-demand squadron command when necessary or the odd concentrate fire when you've got a good shot lined up and there's nothing better to do. I've heard of others focusing on concentrate fire and using Defense Liaisons to navigate and engineering when necessary but I'm not sold on the idea given how important navigating is for VSDs - it seems like it would eat up a lot of tokens and the VSD gunline would mostly be useful against newer players who aren't maneuvering out of your better arcs.

Darth Vader
Vader doesn't have as strong of synergy with VSDs as he does for some of his more favored ships, but particularly on Big Bertha VSDs he can achieve a strong alpha strike due to his reroll and not need to rely on spending a blue die for Leading Shots.

Admiral Konstantine
VSDs are the cheapest Imperial ships that can trigger Konstantine's ability and they can be equipped with Tractor Beams for further speed alteration shenanigans. The main issue I run into with Konstantine is his ability and the "mess with enemy speed" fleet builds he prefers are very inconsistent - against some fleets, you can absolutely punish enemies who are trying to skirt away from you by just keeping them from escaping and destroying them. Against others, they really don't mind being speed 1 right next to you. You can get into frustrating circumstances where it's tough to get a pair of your speed 2 VSDs within distance 5 of a single enemy ship to trigger Konstantine as well.

Moff Jerjerrod
Oh I have saved the best for last. Throughout this article, the awful yaw of the VSD has been mentioned consistently as something that needs to be considered and worked against (often with nav commands). Moff Jerjerrod allows your speed 2 VSDs to get a total of 3 clicks (2 at the first joint, 1 at the second) with no commands required, tripling the base yaw of a VSD. They play like completely different ships under Moff Jerry and it's quite refreshing.

The notched VSD is a normal speed 2 move, the un-notched one is the same starting point with the extra 2 clicks at the first yaw joint due to Moff Jerry. The difference is quite substantial.
You can also do some fun shimmying around by adding clicks to both joints without nav commands to move over a bit and keep targets in your front arc:
This is the closest to an inside turn a VSD can do, haha.
So basically Moff Jerry loves VSDs. He doesn't fix the speed 2 problem, but the maneuverability problem is absolutely removed and that's often been the core frustration I have with them. It also frees them up to do other commands - this means a carrier VSD doesn't need to decide between issuing the squadron commands it wants to be a carrier versus issuing the navigate commands it wants to be a gunship - it can get the extra clicks to keep its front arc pointed towards the enemy while commanding squadrons!

It should be noted that Moff Jerry does demand his pound of flesh. Whenever you use Jerry, he deals you a point of damage. You get to choose the hull zone, so choose a shielded hull zone and plink your shields. This does mean that I find I'm engineering more frequently with Jerjerrod to fix the damage he's done to my shields, but considering one engineering command regenerates two shields and those two shields each added 2 clicks of yaw to my first joint, I'm quite happy to use those engineering commands as a delayed double-super-navigate.

And this concludes one very long article, and I'm sure I didn't cover literally everything about the VSD, an often unfairly-disliked Imperial ship (just you wait until my Raider article for more "Eric likes ships people seem to hate" walls of text!). Provided you play to its strengths it's quite effective.