Friday, February 3, 2017

Imperial squadron review: TIE Bomber

Time for us to focus on the TIE Bomber, the cheapest bomber squadron in the game:

Haven't I seen this airbrushed on the side of a van somewhere?
So let's start with the bad news: the TIE Bomber is the uncontested worst squadron in the game at dogfighting (keep that single black dice handy, you roll it against literally everything the TIE Bomber attacks) and it requires support from other squadrons to get its job done. TIE Bombers left all on their lonesome will get absolutely wrecked by enemy squadrons and will have little to show for themselves other than providing you a deep sense of regret at your poor life choices.

With all those negatives out of the way, let's look on the brighter side: much like its dogfighting cousin the TIE Fighter, the TIE Bomber is an extremely good deal for its points provided it's doing what it's supposed to be doing; in this case, turning enemy ships into space debris. For a mere 9 points, you get the benefits of speed 4, a solid hull of 5, and a black bomber dice. Compared to its Rebel equivalent, the Y-Wing, the TIE Bomber differs in the following ways:
  • 1 less point (9 vs. 10)
  • 1 black anti-squadron dice instead of 2 blue anti-squadron dice
  • 1 less hull point (5 vs. 6)
  • 1 more speed (4 vs. 3)
The end result is a vessel where everything that could be channeled into bombing excellence was focused on to the exclusion of any other possible role. In particular the additional point of speed is quite relevant for bomber squadrons, as it improves your threat range against enemy ships, nearly ensures you can start bombing by turn 2 if you set everything up correctly, increases your chances of being able to go from one target to another later on in the game without wasting turns attacking nothing, and to some extent can give you a small edge at avoiding slower fighter squadrons like X-Wings that are looking to stop you.

Continuing in its similarities to its TIE Fighter cousin, the TIE Bomber is also quite hungry for squadron commands to ensure it is regularly getting its attacks in instead of simply moving. Moving in the squadron phase into bombing range of an enemy ship only for the ship to move away before you get to attack during the next squadron phase is a very poor utilization of TIE Bombers, but had the TIE Bomber in the example been given squadron commands in both of those turns, that would have been two total attacks on that ship rather than none.

A quick side note regarding Heavy: squadrons with Heavy still engage enemy squadrons, they simply remove the standard penalties for being engaged (i.e. normally engaged squadrons cannot attack ships and cannot move away but Heavy notes that those penalties are removed). It's important to note this because your Swarm fighters are quite happy to trigger their Swarm reroll from an enemy engaged with a TIE Bomber.

TIE Bombers are right at home in fleets built to accommodate a bomber wing. All bomber wings love friendly Intel squadrons to free them up to continue bombing ships, but TIE Bombers love them even more than others, as TIE Bombers are miserable at anti-squadron so every turn stuck dogfighting is a huge waste of their potential rather than simply being underutilized, as is the case with B-Wings. Past that, they enjoy the company of Major Rhymer and they're often reliant on a reasonable fighter presence to free them up. Intel squadrons cannot last forever and some means of actually destroying enemy fighter squadrons will often allow the TIE Bombers to continue doing their job into the late game rather than just being tied up for the rest of the game come turn 3 or 4ish once their Escort+Intel squadrons have been shot down. As mentioned earlier, TIE Bombers love squadron commands and so a fleet with some means of commanding them consistently is a must - for that reason you will often see them hanging out with Gozanti Cruisers for both the points-effective Squadrons 2 of the Gozanti as well as the amazing reroll from Bomber Command Center, which makes their bombing much more reliable and improves their average anti-ship damage from 1 to 1.25.

For when you absolutely need to turn some trees bright blue, accept nothing but the finest.
Gamma Squadron is a slight upgrade on a normal TIE Bomber, which for +1 point over a regular TIE Bomber gains two benefits in losing Heavy and gaining Grit. It's not much, but for +1 point, two minor benefits are not bad.

Losing Heavy is useful in some niche circumstances - in particular it can be useful when your Intel-aided bomber blob is passing by/through an enemy Intel-aided bomber blob: the more non-Heavy squadrons you have on the table, the more you tax Intel squadrons trying to keep their entire group moving together without having to leave some engaged stragglers behind. It can also serve a role in tying up enemy fighters looking to get to juicier prey (in most circumstances with TIE Bombers, that would be your Intel squadron(s) and/or Rhymer). In some weirder squadron builds you can have Gamma Squadron accompanied by a Heavy fighter squadron (like the YV-666 or Decimator) so the bomber squadron can pin enemies down for the fighter squadrons in a weird reversal of roles.

Gaining Grit is the more useful of the two additions. Grit allows for two different types of play for Gamma Squadron that are unavailable to a regular TIE Bomber:
  1. As an additional problem as part of an Intel-aided bomber cloud: traditionally the way to cause problems for an Intel-aided bomber cloud is to post up fighter squadrons on opposing ends of the cloud. The Intel squadron cannot usually cover every engager between its starting and ending positions and thus some stragglers may get left behind in the fighter net and picked apart. Grit squadrons seem to have poor synergy with Intel at first glance (I'm paying points twice over for different tech that lets me get around fighters? boo!), but in practical application, the synergy becomes more apparent. Effectively if Gamma Squadron (or any Grit squadron) is on the outside of a bomber cloud with a source of Intel, it puts your opponent in a rough spot - he can engage Gamma Squadron with a single fighter but then Grit allows you to make a clean getaway with no help required. Alternatively, if your opponent engages Gamma Squadron with 2+ fighters, it concentrates his fighters in a smaller space, making them much easier to cover with an Intel bubble. It's a damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don't setup
  2. Without the usual bomber support apparatus: an issue you can run into with Imperial list-building is that TIE Bombers do much better when there are more of them. It makes Rhymer's effect stronger (and therefore more cost-effective), it makes Intel squadrons more cost-effective as they cover more squadrons, and it makes other upgrades like Bomber Command Center stronger (and, once again, more cost-effective). In for a penny in for a pound with regular TIE Bombers; you can sometimes feel that the points run away from you and before you know it you've dumped 80+ points into just the bombers and support before you feel confident buying anything else. Anyways, getting back to the point: a Grit squadron is more slippery than a regular squadron provided you're bringing adequate fighter coverage. As an addition to a more conventional fighter-squadron-heavy approach, a regular TIE Bomber would still experience some issues getting to its targets, but something like Gamma Squadron can pretty confidently wait for friendly fighter squadrons to pick off any engagers down to the last one and then continue on its way, adding small chunks of damage here and there - annoying enough to merit a response but likely not on top of the priority list for your opponent.
So when should you use Gamma Squadron instead of a regular TIE Bomber? Basically whenever one of those two Grit uses above seems like the kind of thing you'd like to add to your fleet.

My name is Jonus, I'm carrying the wheel...
For +7 points over a normal TIE Bomber, Captain Jonus gains 2 brace tokens, Grit, and a fantastic ability when leveraged correctly. You can apply the section about Grit I covered with Gamma Squadron above to Captain Jonus, but in particular the secondary use is where Jonus excels - basically Jonus wants to get up in enemy ships' business only secondarily because he is a bomber but primarily because of his special ability. Therefore, he wants to be included in fleets where you have a heavier investment in ships, particularly ships that would really like to have a guaranteed accuracy result. There's an awful lot of ships that qualify for this, but some examples would be:
  • Gladiator-IIs. Normally Gladiator-IIs aren't quite as compelling a choice as Gladiator-Is, but being able to have a double-arc attack with a guaranteed accuracy result each time is just obscene. This makes Gladiator-IIs particularly effective at killing flotillas, a task Gladiator-Is are miserable at.
  • Raiders hunting flotillas (noticing a theme yet?). Raiders can easily do enough damage to pop flotillas in one go, provided they can hit that accuracy result on their blue dice. The dice gods aren't always very charitable there, however, and being able to guarantee the accuracy makes Raiders superlative flotilla-hunters.
  • Warlord Victory-class Star Destroyers. The Warlord title allows you to turn any dice with an accuracy result into a dice side with a hit icon. You are encouraged to use this on red dice, as you can flip the dice to the side with two hits. The problem there is finding that low-probability red accuracy result (a 1 in 8 chance). Jonus helps here significantly.
  • Ships using Quad Turbolaser Cannons. If you're in a meta where 2 guaranteed accuracy symbols are needed, the QTCs can get the job done with some help from Jonus.
There are many more examples, but those are the easy ones. Jonus in particular is a good addition to ships rolling lots of red dice, often in addition to black dice (such as the Victory-class Star Destroyer), where your damage total will often be high, but your ability to lock down scatter or brace defense tokens is often quite unreliable due to the low odds of getting that result naturally. Red dice are also infamously fickle, so it's fairly common to roll a blank red dice when your dice pool features enough of them, and they're far more useful as accuracy results than as nothing.

You will notice, however, that Jonus's ability is all about ships. When you're dropping a huge chunk of points into squadrons and squadron-support ships like in a conventional bomber blob fleet, Jonus' ability is rather lackluster. It doesn't help squadrons. It doesn't help Gozanti Cruisers. It wants big beefy ships and that means that paradoxically, Jonus wants to be used in fleets with light to moderate squadron investments so you can use those leftover points on the mean ships that punch hard. Hence why my recommendation is to consider including him more in fleets without the usual bomber support apparatus. If you want to really rely on getting him to targets all the time, a source of Intel can help, but it would need to assist your regular fighter squadrons as well. So with that in mind, an Intel squadron, preferably Dengar, along with Mauler Mithel (who also loves Intel squadrons so he can keep hopping around) and Captain Jonus is a great start. From there on add additional fighter squadrons until you're confident in the end result.

This is DJ Rhymer dropping some funky fresh beats from the Corellian Sector!
Note: FFG errated Major Rhymer so that friendly squadrons at distance 1 of him can attack enemy ships at close range rather than at close-medium range. The corrected card is shown above.

For +7 points over a regular TIE Bomber, Major Rhymer gains two brace tokens, a blue dice against squadrons, and an impressive special rule. There's a few things to note about this special rule:
  • It affects all friendly squadrons at distance 1, meaning so long as any portion of their base is within distance 1 of the edge of Rhymer's base, it works. You'll note that this is a substantial amount of real estate. If Rhymer is tightly packed, you can get two squadrons in each direction of him all benefiting from his ability. Squadrons packed around a centrally-located Rhymer to maximize his buff thus create a "Rhymerball," which is a common bit of Armada slang.
  • The extended range is only useful against ships using the anti-ship armament of the buffed squadrons. Ships with superior anti-ship attacks obviously benefit the most, but even lowly TIE Fighters can fling blue dice at close range against ships if they're out of enemy squadrons to attack.
Rhymer is still useful despite his nerf in that he can extend your bomber's threat range (up from distance 1 to close range, which is about a 50% improvement). This can allow you to concentrate fire from your bombers more easily on one hull zone of an enemy ship and the extended threat range can allow your bombers to get in attacks when normally they'd be out of range. It's not as strong as back when Rhymer worked out to medium range, but the range extension can allow your bombers some degree of comfort by allowing them to stay outside of enemy squadron engagement range (be very careful about your measurements there) while still bombing.

So when should you use Major Rhymer? Basically whenever you're planning on making bombers a big part of your fleet build, Major Rhymer deserves some consideration. Even if he "only" gives one extra turn of getting bomber attacks against enemy ships, that's 7 extra points well spent over a regular TIE Bomber. He then merits the inclusion of an Intel squadron (to keep his bombers free), an Escort squadron (to keep him and the Intel squadron safe), and as many other bombers as you can reasonably fit at his side (I'd recommend at least 3 more beyond just him).

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