Friday, February 17, 2017

Imperial squadron review: Jumpmaster 5000

It's time for a wave 2 Imperial squadron review! Given the importance of Intel, the Jumpmaster seemed to be the clear place to start. So wear your pants backwards, put on some fantastically dated hip-hop and get ready to jump jump!

I mean if it's on a sticker, it has to be priceless, right?
If you think this looks silly, you should've seen the previous 4999 Jumpmasters!
The Jumpmaster is a fairly straightforward Intel squadron. It's Imperial-flavored compared to its HWK-290 counterpart: it's faster (speed 4 > speed 3), and its non-Intel keyword works better when it's making attacks (rather than when being attacked, like the HWK-290's Counter 2). It's also horrible at any task that doesn't involve providing Intel: with one blue dice against ships, it's just as bad as a TIE Fighter at attacking ships but at 50% higher cost. Even with Swarm, 2 blue dice averages out to 1.38 damage (1 without Swarm), which is helpful for adding a bit of damage to enemy squadrons here and there but absolutely inferior to what dedicated fighters can do.

The truth is, though, that you're not bringing Jumpmasters along for any of that. You're bringing them along for Intel, an extremely strong (perhaps even the strongest) squadron keyword. Intel's uses are numerous, but the most straightforward reason to bring along an Intel squadron is to get your bombers consistently to your targets. In fact, John and I are in 100% agreement on the following statement he made for the HWK-290:
If you're bringing Bombers to hit enemy ships, you NEED at least 1 Intel squadron.

If you've been reading my articles so far, I hope I come across as someone who appreciates nuance. Some things are good in some circumstances, some are good in others. There are many variables. I'm not usually keen on making big blanket statements like you NEED something(barring upgrade suites for Gladiators 😀), but Intel does so much for bomber squadrons you really do NEED it if you want your bombers to consistently perform. The only exception I can think of would be heavy squadron approaches that focus on mixed-role fighters like YT-2400s or TIE Defenders that intend to wipe away enemy squadrons and then harass ships during their victory laps in later turns. I wouldn't define those squadrons as bombers (as their primary purpose is dominating the squadron mini-game), but attacking enemy ships is certainly an important element of their intended usage.

To further explore why I feel so strongly about dedicated bombers and Intel squadrons, allow me to explain why fleets with very few squadrons were common back in wave one before Intel: if your opponent showed up with a sufficiently large bomber presence, you could simply drop in a TIE Fighter or A-Wing at an inopportune moment. By engaging all those bombers and hopefully with few enemy fighters yet to activate, your sacrificial squadron would tie up the bomber group for most of a turn until it was destroyed. On subsequent turns you could continue to feed your individual fighters to the squadron blob to keep it occupied while your ships continued hammering the enemy ships and getting away from the enemy squadrons. Once your fighters ran out, the bombers had been tied up during the most important turns of ship-on-ship violence and many were now too far away from decent targets to really make an impact. Intel changed all of that by making such tactics impossible (there are some who would argue it's gone too far the other way, actually): piecemeal enemy fighter squadrons will get turned Heavy by your Intel squadron and ignored as the bombers continue making their way to ruin the lives of enemy capital ships. No longer can piecemeal fighters stop bombers in their tracks - you now usually need to have a plan for destroying enemy squadrons (at least until you can drop the Intel squadron[s]) if you want to stop bombers.

So with all that said, things go back to wave one "bomber sadness" land the moment your Intel squadrons are destroyed. Therefore, your Jumpmasters are quite anxious about all the enemies gunning for them and love some Escort protection. I'd recommend a minimum of one Escort squadron for that reason - a basic TIE Advanced is the same cost as a Jumpmaster but has one more hull point and doesn't mind staying behind to get in the way if necessary. Going past two Jumpmasters is also not recommended - one is usually sufficient, but building in some additional Intel coverage and redundancy with two can be useful provided you've got the points to spare.

In terms of actual usage, Jumpmasters need to thread the needle between maximizing the usefulness of Intel versus staying safe, as any enemy squadron they're at distance 1 of is made heavy but can attack them (hence the recommendation of using at least one Escort squadron). Enemies will be doing their best to strain your ability to cover all of them with Intel, and you may need to leave some squadrons behind temporarily as you prioritize getting most of your bombers to their target. Remember at all times that a single Jumpmaster will create two different Intel bubbles during one turn: the one that they start the turn with and the one they create once they've moved. If possible, you should prioritize activating your friendly squadrons that benefit from the early-turn Intel bubble first (moving them away from enemy fighters made Heavy by Intel, attacking ships while engaged by Heavy enemy fighters) and then look to maximize your use of the later-turn second Intel bubble after moving your Jumpmaster. The ability to move the bubble can prove very frustrating for your opponent as fighters that were caught in an earlier Intel bubble are generally stuck there fighting Escort squadrons and the like but enemy fighters that move in later will then be turned Heavy by Intel after the Jumpmaster's move and your bombers will continue to ignore the newcomers as well.

While determining how to spend your squadron points when using Intel squadrons and bombers, you'll need to also balance three competing drives:
  1. The desire to spend a lot of your squadron points on improving the reliability and/or protection of your Jumpmasters (by including two of them, by purchasing more and/or better Escort squadrons, by upgrading your Jumpmaster to Dengar). The more reliable your Intel, the more reliably you can deliver bombers to enemy ships, especially in the early through mid game.
  2. The desire to spend a lot of your squadron points bringing lots of bombers. If you're putting down the points for Intel, you really should maximize its benefit by spending lots of points on the things Intel helps the most, right?
  3. The desire to spend a lot of your squadron points bringing lots of fighters. Bombers and Intel squadrons are a great combination, but you really can't completely escape the basic need to destroy enemy fighters if you want to keep your whole bomber wave ticking (dead enemy fighters can't attack your Escort or Intel squadrons, for example).
You'll need to compromise on at least one of those desires because your squadron points aren't limitless and you still need the rest of a fleet in there too!

Other than bombers, the Jumpmaster (whether generic or Dengar) has some already-mentioned synergy with Mauler Mithel, who likes being free to do his "hop and pop" ability due to his engaged enemies being Heavy. To a lesser extent, fighter squadrons that are regularly getting squadron commands and Rogue squadrons enjoy getting a "full" activation when they activate, as enemy fighters turned Heavy by Intel allow your fighters to make their attack and then reposition to a better location rather than being stuck engaged with enemy squadrons after attacking.

Dengar recommends Charmin for all your accessorizing needs!
For +8 points a (67% increase) over a generic Jumpmaster, Dengar gains:
  • +1 blue dice against squadrons.
  • Anti-ship attack upgraded to a black dice, improving his average damage from 0.5 to 0.75.
  • His unique "the Oprah of Counter 1" ability, where he's just giving it away like crazy.
  • A scatter and brace defense token. This combination on hull 4 aces is generally more potent than on hull 3 aces as it's harder to surprise wallop them down to 1 hull point (through, say, 3 hits and an accuracy for the scatter, which is braced to 2), where they become extremely vulnerable to even a modest 1-damage attack paired with an accuracy.
 As usual, let's cover some of the specifics of his unique ability:
  • Dengar does not give himself Counter 1. Note that his ability affects "another friendly squadron." This means people like to prioritize killing Dengar even more than regular Jumpmasters, as he can't Counter for himself.
  • Remember that Counter attacks are attacks and so benefit from anything that triggers while making an attack; if for example, Dengar gives a TIE Fighter Counter 1, that TIE Fighter will get to reroll it with Swarm if the target is engaged by another friendly squadron and the TIE Fighter would also gain a bonus blue die from Howlrunner.
  • Note that Dengar's Counter-bonus ability works up to distance 2, although his Intel is still limited to distance 1.
I'll be up-front and admit that I have a hard time squeezing Dengar into a generic (non-Sloane)maxed-out squadron fleet. He benefits from some definite durability improvements due to his defense tokens and his unique ability is nice, but when I'm going Intel bomber swarm I'm usually going as close to 134 points as I can manage and Dengar's +8 points is tough to come up with when it could have been used towards another squadron, particularly a second Jumpmaster.

Dengar seems better-utilized when using a moderate to slightly heavy, rather than super heavy, squadron presence: you're less likely to want/need two Jumpmasters to get adequate Intel coverage, and you're more likely to want to run a decent presence of Swarm fighters, which gain more from Dengar's "Oprah of Counter 1" ability due to being able to reroll from Swarm (generic TIE Fighters) and/or by adding to their already-considerable Counter 2 (TIE Interceptors). For example, you could run Dengar, Mauler Mithel, Zertik Strom (for Escort), Captain Jonus, and  2 TIE Interceptors for 88 points. Intel frees up Mauler Mithel and Captain Jonus to get to where they want to cause trouble, Zertik runs interference for the group, and everyone benefits from +1 Counter.

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