Sunday, February 5, 2017

Imperial squadron review: TIE Interceptor

Last but not least of the wave one Imperial squadrons, we have the extremely zippy TIE Interceptor!

It's like a regular TIE Fighter, only with more triangles.

The TIE Interceptor is a TIE Fighter on steroids. You take the regular benefits and focus of a TIE Fighter (anti-squadron) and you make them more extreme, but none of the weaknesses of the TIE Fighter are meaningfully addressed. That's Imperial squadron design philosophy for you, basically. So let's take a look at what you get for +3 points (a 37.5% increase) over a regular TIE Fighter:
  • +1 speed
  • +1 blue dice against squadrons
  • Counter 2
To get to the downsides rather quickly, it's notable that the Interceptor is still just as fragile as the cheaper TIE Fighter. It's also just as bad against ships. Given the increase in cost, this makes it points-wise even worse against ships and at taking damage than regular TIE Fighters. It bears repeating that the Interceptor is very fragile for its cost: the basic TIE Fighter is a bit fragile, but at least it is cheap. The Interceptor cannot make the "for its cost" excuse - there are Rebel fighters in a similar points bracket that are far more durable. I strongly recommend reviewing the TIE Commandments section of my TIE Fighter article for basic usage recommendations on trying to make use of these guys for as long as possible as their basic weaknesses remain nearly identical.

On the upsides, the Interceptor is packing more anti-squadron might than the generic TIE Fighter and at the highest possible speed. Interceptors can regularly get the jump on nearly anything (with the exception of other speed 5 squadrons or speed 4 squadrons with Snipe), which is helpful against squadrons that can trouble regular TIE Fighters, such as YT-2400s. Be careful, though, as it can make jumping into enemy squadrons near enemy flak seem even more appealing and you will wind up just as dead as regular TIE Fighters attempting the same.

With 4 blue anti-squadron dice and Swarm, TIE Interceptors do an average of 2.47 damage on the attack (2 without Swarm) and on a Counter 2 attack with Swarm, they do an average of 1.38 (1 without Swarm). This is a considerable amount of damage considering that TIE Fighters do about 1.94 average damage with Swarm - an Interceptor that makes one regular and one Counter attack with Swarm applied to both will do just slightly under twice the damage done by a regular TIE Fighter.

The big problem that one must surmount when using Interceptors is that for the +3 points over a regular TIE Fighter they aren't worth it for only +1 blue dice against squadrons and +1 speed. The real benefit comes from adding Counter (preferably buffed by Swarm) into the mix. The issue with that is your Interceptors only get to Counter attack when they're getting attacked; at 3 hull points each, your Interceptors don't like being attacked by enemies who are good at their job. So what's to do? There's basically two ways to handle this conundrum and they directly relate to the circumstances under which I'd recommend considering Interceptors in your fleet:

  1. Pile buffs on them like crazy: if you use Interceptors with Dengar (who gives them +1 Counter) and Howlrunner (who adds +1 blue dice to all of their attacks, including Counter attacks) your Interceptors will attack for 5 blue dice (6 if you activate them with Flight Controllers because you're committed to buffing them as much as possible) and Counter for 4, all with Swarm rerolls. These super-buffed Interceptors will do on average 3.49 damage on the attack (with 6 blue dice and Swarm) and 2.47 damage while Countering (with 4 blue dice and Swarm), which is the kind of damage output even ace squadrons dream of. This solution intends to use the Interceptors as more potent mainline fighters (replacing TIE Fighters or the like) and relies on them just hitting so hard that they do a good amount of damage before their short lives are over. The main downside to this approach is expense: Howlrunner+Dengar alone is 36 points and then it's 11 points for each Interceptor past that - with 4 Interceptors you're at 80 points invested in fighters who are absolutely miserable at doing anything but punching other squadrons.
  2. Include a small contingent to trouble bombers: you know what type of squadrons aren't much good at fighting back? Bomber squadrons. With speed 5, your Interceptors do a great job of getting to the fragile far end of a bomber cloud to attack bombers and give trouble to Intel squadrons that would like to keep the group moving forward. Engaged bomber squadrons that can't sneak away are in big trouble: Interceptors will pick them apart and attempts by the bomber squadron to help remedy this fact by attacking the Interceptors are punished by Counter. For example, Y-Wings attacking Interceptors receive a Counter attack just as potent as their regular anti-squadron attack "for free" and that Counter attack may even be superior to the Y-Wing's regular attack when the Swarm reroll is available.  It's not uncommon for enemy bombers to simply activate and do nothing when stuck engaged by Interceptors because of their legitimate concern that the Counter attack will help the Interceptors more than it will help them. When used in this fashion, even just 2 generic Interceptors as part of a regular fighter component can be quite useful and they present a specialized threat that regular TIE Fighters do not. 

Hey, let's name ourselves after a sword that hasn't had a practical use in our universe for millennia!
Saber Squadron for +1 point over a generic TIE Interceptor loses Counter 2 and gains Snipe 4. A few things to note about Snipe and Saber Squadron in particular:
  • Saber Squadron is as of wave 5 the only Imperial squadron with Snipe.
  • Snipe benefits from the Swarm reroll - your target needs only to be engaged with another squadron, even though it obviously is not engaged with you.
  • Snipe benefits from Howlrunner. Saber Squadron itself has Swarm and so long as it is within distance 1 of Howlrunner when attacking a squadron (with Snipe!), it adds the additional blue dice on its attack as it meets all the qualifiers.
  • Snipe benefits from Flight Controllers (as Snipe uses a new anti-squadron armament, but it is still an anti-squadron armament), although I would not be completely surprised if an FAQ reversed this at some point, as it is not 100% clear and there's some room to dispute it.
  • A speed 5 move plus a distance 2 attack is the longest natural threat range on any squadron in the game. The only way to get further than that is through additional-movement abilities like Fighter Coordination Teams or Cloak.
Because it has buffable Snipe 4 plus Swarm, Saber Squadron is the most offensively potent Snipe squadron in the game, despite being the only Snipe squadron available to Imperials. With the reroll factored in, you're doing the same 2.47 average damage on the attack as a regular Interceptor but from a safer distance. Snipe is often touted as a means to get at the juicy squadrons hiding behind Escort shields, and having a good shot at doing 3 damage means you can usually get 2 damage to stick to a squadron like Jan Ors even after her Brace token is spent. Replacing Counter with Snipe also removes the conundrum the regular Interceptors face of "they get their points' worth from trying to leverage Counter amongst their other benefits, but their 3 hull points hate getting attacked." Saber Squadron knows what it wants to do: it wants to pour attacks into priority squadron targets and it wants to do so while kiting around and avoiding attacks back as best as possible.

Saber Squadron merits its squadron points when used as part of an "assassination strategy" where a sub-theme of your fighter wing is an attempt to eliminate enemy Intel or ace squadrons as quickly as possible. When paired with Mauler Mithel (for the automatic damage) and/or IG-88 (who ignores Counter and Escort), you can pretty reliably threaten Jan Ors or, with a bit of luck, Dengar in a single turn alpha strike. Saber Squadron is also happy to be included in fleets with Intel and/or Escort squadrons as it enjoys the ability to reposition itself to keep kiting its prey and it, unlike its generic Interceptor buddies, doesn't have mixed feelings about other squadrons taking hits that were meant for it. Worst case it's a reasonably priced damage-dealer that can operate on the periphery of a dogfight for a reasonable cost.

Is this what Imperial shampoo advertisements look like?
 Ciena Ree is the first Interceptor ace I'll be discussing. For +6 points, she gains the "TIE Fighter ace" defense token suite of scatter+brace, and her special ability which causes he to be treated as obstructed against all attacks. As usual, I like to note some things about special abilities:
  • The attack is treated as obstructed, but the attacker is not. This means you still subtract the 1 dice from all attacks but it does not stop attackers from engaging you normally.
  • This applies to all attacks. That means flak is at -1 dice as well as fighter attacks. Against flak, this can be a very strong benefit.
  • To further stress an earlier point, Counter is an attack so she also is obstructed against Counter attacks. This makes her quite good at popping A-Wings who will be rolling a pitiful 2 dice against her on their attacks and only 1 dice against her on the Counter.
  • Obstruction does not stack. If you're behind a ship and in a debris field and in a Jamming Field and you are Ciena Ree, you're obstructed just once. It's binary that way: you're either obstructed or you are not.
Ciena Ree's defense tokens and special ability have strong synergy. The less dice being thrown at you the better, but in particular it helps you a lot with enemy squadrons attacks being less likely to generate accuracy results to lock down your scatter and/or diminishes overall damage so you can hopefully keep damage at 2 or less so your brace can reduce it to 1, which is manageable, rather than 2, which is "I'm about to die."

You can use her in one of two roles - either as a "dodge tank" where her ability and tokens keep her ticking for longer than you'd expect (she likes hanging out with Valen Rudor for this kind of thing but can also be used as a speed bump for an enemy squadron group, kind of like how Tycho/Shara Bey can be used for the Rebels) or as an excellent periphery harasser. In this latter assignment I'd recommend using her very much like a generic Interceptor trying to pick off bombers on the edge of an Intel group but perhaps a bit more aggressively as the "Counter math" turns in her favor even more strongly against bombers - TIE Bombers roll zero dice against her, Y-Wings roll only one, B-Wings merely two, etc. She will quite frequently be dealing out a much harsher attack to bombers than they can mount against her (and don't forget she also has those defense tokens!), and so the bombers often choose to not even risk it.

He thinks he's the Red Baron of Star Wars, but not the pizza kind.
For +7 points over a regular TIE Interceptor, Soontir Fel gains the TIE Fighter ace defense token suite as well as his own special ability. As usual, let's go over some of the finer points of how that ability works:
  • Fel needs to be engaged with the enemy squadron, not merely at distance 1. It won't work on obscured squadrons (most typically, those dwelling inside obstructions).
  • The enemy squadron needs to make a non-Counter attack that does not target Fel. It should be noted that if Fel is made Heavy (by Intel) and an enemy squadron he is engaging attacks a ship, Fel still deals that squadron 1 damage. Similarly, if an enemy squadron is engaged with Fel and is forced to attack an Escort squadron, Fel will still deal that squadron 1 damage.
  • The damage dealt by Fel's ability is not an attack, so scatter tokens and other abilities that trigger on attacks cannot prevent it.
 Fel is primarily valued for his special ability and there are two basic ways to make use of it which inform your decision as to whether or not he'd be a worthwhile addition to your squadrons:
  1. As a way to punish squadrons who cannot or will not attack him: Soontir Fel enjoys being paired with an Escort or two and then engaging as many squadrons as possible. Intel can cause problems with this approach as enemy squadrons can simply ignore you, but otherwise this is a tried-and-true method for tying up enemy squadrons and whittling them down. It works even better alongside other means of mass-damage such as flak or Mauler Mithel - anything that does a little damage over a wide area can further twist the knife. Should Intel squadrons be a problem, Soontir Fel is also quite content to linger with his Escort squadron(s) near friendly capital ships - the Intel squadron may make him Heavy, but enemy bomber squadrons that attack the ship while engaged with him will still take damage and Soontir and his Escort buddies will be attacking normally to add more damage to the bomber group. Used in this way, Fel is worth adding to a fleet that already wants to use an Escort or two.
  2. As a source of "soft Escort." In some particular cases, Escort squadrons don't really jive with a particular ace but you'd still like a bit of protection if possible. The example that readily comes to mind is Howlrunner - she has a tendency to get ganged up on, but a TIE Advanced is a weird fit for her because she does nothing to help it (given it lacks Swarm); one often feels those 12 points could have been better invested into 1.5 TIE Fighters instead. With Soontir Fel riding shotgun, Howlrunner can still be attacked but Soontir provides a soft disincentive by damaging the attackers; Howlrunner in turn provides additional buffs to Soontir because he has Swarm. Foes attacking the combined group will need to decide if it's wiser to focus on Howlrunner and take damage from Fel in the process or to attack Fel, suffer his buffed Counter attacks, and let Howlrunner live a bit longer - not a great situation either way, really. Used in this way, Fel is worth adding to a more conventional Swarm fighter group that often includes Howlrunner.
That concludes our Imperial squadron review so far as the wave 1 squadrons (and their wave 5 additions) are concerned. Thanks for sticking with me so far, I'll be taking a break from squadrons for a little while but will definitely be filling out the waves 2 and 5 additions (which thankfully will be much shorter due to only one generic+one ace) later.

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