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 VSD 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 ISD-IIs), 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 off of them.

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 it's 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 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" the VSD better than your return fire will stick to their evading foes. Similarly, you can get into big trouble in meta where accuracy generation is popular (such as from Home One) 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, deployment is the most important for it. 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).

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 or other committed carrier ships but having your VSD pitch in on the crucial turn when dogfighting begins - usually turn 2, sometimes turn 3.

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.

We'll get to upgrade suites and such very shortly but in general I recommend keeping your VSDs as cheap as possible. Their main benefit is you get a lot of ship for the points but the more you upgrade it the less "ship" you get and the more "fluff" you add. That's definitely oversimplifying things, but it comes down to the VSD has issues with speed and maneuverability, so a heavily upgraded VSD is in danger of simply being avoided. The same points put into a faster heavier ISD would get more consistent and efficient use. So don't go crazy with upgrades on your VSDs, keep them lean and mean!

On a related note, 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, the extra speed for activated bombers is not generally necessary for TIE Bombers given they're speed 4 and have Rhymer nearby. 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
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. Therefore I also do not recommend actually filling its ordnance slot with anything - those ordnance upgrades are much better used elsewhere (all pipe dreams of Expanded Launcher VSDs rolling 8 dice out the front aside) where they'll get more use. Still, it can be the kind of thing that makes shorter-ranged ships hesitate to make an attack run on you for fear of coming off worse for wear in the exchange. In general, it's a reliable chassis for holding turf as a cheap "pocket ISD" and can be made into a respectable carrier.

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 the TIE Bomber ace 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. They're presented as rough suggestions and this list is not intended to be exhaustive, merely explanatory:

Carrier VSD-I
Flight Controllers+Expanded Hangar Bay or Boosted Comms
Provided you wish to use the VSD as more of a cheap capital ship, upgrading it to push fighters here and there doesn't ask it to sacrifice much: you're not rolling enough long-ranged dice to really want Gunnery Teams in your weapon team slot nor are you getting your black dice in reliably enough to want Ordnance Experts. Therefore Flight Controllers can comfortably sit there to give all the squadrons you activate +1 blue dice on their anti-squadron attacks. Combine this with Howlrunner and you're giving your Swarm fighters +2 blue dice and can rapidly upgun even basic TIE Fighters to death-dealing monsters. For this particular kind of build I prefer Expanded Hangar Bay for the extra squadron activation -  typically with fighter squadrons you'll want them closer to your ships, so giving up the Boosted Comms isn't a big sacrifice. If you intend to whip your fighters far away (perhaps with Phantoms, Defenders, or Interceptors?) then Boosted Comms gets more appealing. You can feel free to upgun this by using a squadron-favoring officer or Wulff Yularen (to keep regurgitating squadron tokens for an extra +1 squadron activated), but it can bring the costs up a bit more than I like.

Gunship VSD-I
Spinal Armament+Gunnery Team
By upgrading your front battery to 4 red dice and your rear to 3, Gunnery Teams on VSD-Is become a lot more appealing. For a very affordable 89 points you get a VSD that can lay out a pair of 4-red 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 only 4 more points than a base VSD-II, it's a serviceable red spray-and-pray gunship that can cause more problems for its point cost than you might at first expect.

Naked
You can, in fact, run VSD-Is with literally no upgrades at all or at the very least close to it. An Intel Officer isn't a bad add here and neither are Dual Turbolaser Turrets, but a naked VSD-I does just fine for 73 points, especially with commanders that help it (we're getting there!). You'll definitely need some kind of solution for flotillas somewhere in your fleet, though.

See also "biggest improvement in usability due to waves 4 and 5"
The VSD-II
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 anywhere else and the sticker shock sets in rapidly.

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 VSD-II usually gets to use its blue dice about 1-2 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.

The ion cannon slot is a bit problematic on the VSD-II. The main problem is that many of the blue crit ion cannon upgrades are rather niche and unreliable, so equipping those goes against the "keep this ship as cheap as possible" plan I outlined above, which is even more important with VSD-IIs because they're only 25 points base from being an ISD-I - too much overspending on a VSD-II and you rapidly approach "why did I take this rather than a lightly upgraded ISD-I?" territory, which is very unfavorable terrain for the VSD-II. The remaining ion cannon upgrades either add 1 more blue dice to the side arcs (the High Capacity Ion Turbines) for 8 points or allows you to remove a blue dice to reroll any number of other dice in the pool for 4 points (Leading Shots). HCITs are a bit too pricey for their effect on a VSD-II from my experience and the Leading Shots are only worth considering most of the time for front arc shots where your dice pool is large enough to absorb the loss of a guaranteed-to-do-something blue dice as well as large enough to occasionally roll 2+ blank red dice that would really like a reroll. It's use in the side arcs is dubious. So with all that said, I frequently leave my VSD-II ion slot empty as well.

I'm largely of the opinion that VSD-Is are more cost-effective inclusions at doing what the basic VSD chassis does better than the VSD-II, but VSD-IIs have one particular build that can find a welcome home in Imperial fleets nowadays:

Flotilla killer
Gunnery Team+H9 Turbolasers
This configuration is exactly 100 points, but it does something a 110 point naked ISD-I cannot, and that's reliably pop flotillas that get too close. Due to the blue dice always generating an accuracy, hit, or crit, the H9 Turbolasers have a guaranteed accuracy result on all of their medium ranged attacks, and, if necessary, have a good shot of flipping a red dice to an accuracy when they attack at long range. The only other Imperial ship that can boast of the same is an ISD-II, but that will usually be in the 140-ish points bracket which not every fleet can afford.

It should also be noted that the flotilla killer build does just fine against regular ships as well. It won't be an overwhelming amount of damage, but a reliable 4-5 damage with an inconvenient accuracy thrown in there to lock down relied-upon defense tokens is not to be overlooked.

Commanders
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.

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.

6 comments:

  1. Love this blog. Love the article. Going to quibble with you about the titles, though.

    Jerjerrod and Captain Jonus gave Warlord a new lease on life. Just give it Quad Turbolaser Turrets, and for 91 or 103 pts (still less than an isd1) you have a guaranteed accuracy and a guaranteed double hit, with 2 more red dice to play with. Jonus is just good on his own, so you're not sinking points into a VSD to get the combo off. A little observed point about warlord is that it turns that single blue AS dice into a reliable source of damage.

    Corruptor/Chiraneau can be useful too, but I'll agree that it's a very specialized use of points that in many cases can be done better with an Intel squadron.

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    1. HOW DARE YOU DISAGREE WITH ME ON MY OWN BLOG? THE NERVE!

      Haha, just kidding. I like the opportunity for dialogue, although I will say I'm not a big fan of Warlord even with some of the newer additions as of wave 5.

      The Quad Turbolaser Cannons + Warlord combination is, as you stated 91 (VSD-I) or 103 (VSD-II) points minimum prior to considering Jonus. I agree that Jonus would be useful for more than just the Warlord, but it does bear mentioning that you do need to consider those 16 points invested towards making the combination work. Additionally, Jonus himself is a separate entity and is crucial to the combination so he can be destroyed or pinned down elsewhere (unless you're also spending more points on giving him additional support with Intel and Escort and the like, but that does bring up the total cost to make everything work). I've found the combination is expensive and like anything that relies on two different elements combining together, it's prone to malfunction when one element or the other is impaired.

      Which isn't to say I don't like Jonus. I do. He's the man. I just like him more as something that's brought along and when it helps, it's great, but when it doesn't, your fleet can still pick up the slack. When I start relying on him, it gets iffy, and the Warlord+QTCs combination is relying on him very strongly for its effectiveness.

      To add a bit more nuance, I do think that there are worse ways to spend points on a VSD than to add the Warlord title. I'm just extremely focused on keeping them bargain bin levels of cheap and an 8 point title that wants an 8 point (H9 Turbolasers) or 10 point (QTCs) upgrade in addition is asking a bit much for me.

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  2. First up, thank you both for an excellent series of articles. I only took up the game last December and I'm finding these are a great way to catch up on everything I missed in waves I to IV.

    On the VSD, I'm entering a small tournament this weekend with three of them using a lot of the advice from here. If I can leverage Jerry's ability I think I'm in with a chance of winning a game or two.

    I'm curious why you think the Gunnery Team is an important part of the flotilla killer build rather than points bloat. Is catching two flotillas in your front arc common enough to go against the keep 'em lean maxim?

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    1. I'm glad you've been enjoying them! It's a lot of information to process (both for readers as well as the authors, haha) but we try to make it as presentable as possible.

      I like VSDs with Jerry quite a bit and you can always use Minister Tua + a defensive retrofit (I default to Electronic Countermeasures, but there are good arguments to be made for Reinforced Blast Doors or Advanced Projectors depending on your meta)on your flagship to keep Jerry safer - once he's gone, your fleet reverts to its former sluggish self, so keeping him alive can be extremely important.

      The reason I have the Gunnery Team on the VSD-II build is simply due to maximizing the value. Once you hit about 4+ long ranged and/or 6+ medium range dice from an arc, Gunnery Teams become a lot more appealing as a way to ensure you can frequently get two meaningful attacks a turn. When you're hoping to pop some flotillas in particular, you ideally don't want to have to give up a decent attack on a "real" ship from your front arc in order to put down an 18-point GR75, for example. In that way I'd consider you to think of it as the VSD-II "gunship" build that happens to be great at swatting down flotillas (which your VSD-Is are fairly awful at) rather than a specialized build that only wants to be doing so, for example. You could add Leading Shots to the build for some more reliability on your dice, but I don't consider it nearly so tempting on a VSD-II as I do on an ISD-II.

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  3. Why isn't H8 / warlord considerable over GT / Spinal? Doesn't it give some more reliability?

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    1. H9s+Warlord is a lot of points and the combination effectively improves your damage output by 1 (by converting a hit or crit into an accuracy and then into the double-hit), and is often pointless against ships with an evade token (who then just evade the double-hit you worked so hard for).

      I agree that Spinals + Gunnery Team can be very hot and cold without some method of rerolling available (like with Targeting Beacons or Vader), but they're more all-purpose in my experience.

      I don't mind Warlord if you can find some means of producing that accuracy without requiring the H9s. Captain Jonus can be good for that, as he'll let you flip a blank to an accuracy to a double hit which is pretty sweet.

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