Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ordnance upgrades review, or "how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb"

As promised in my Gladiator-class Star Destroyer review, it's past time to talk about the different ordnance upgrades and which you should consider for your ships.
Slim Pickens is a man after Screed's own heart!
The original version of this article had upgrades sorted into brackets of similar types. That was workable earlier, but there are just too many ordnance upgrades right now that do very different things for that to really work without the brackets becoming very loosely defined. For that reason, I've completely reworked the article from the ground up and sorted the upgrades into alphabetical order like I have done in my other upgrade articles.

Before we get any further, though, I would like to briefly cover why the original article had brackets, and that was because there's often a lot of questions about whether to use ordnance upgrades that grant extra black dice or use the black critical-dependent upgrades. The short version is that the +dice upgrades are generally superior for ships with less inherent black dice (as they have less odds of hitting the crit) and/or ships that have means of reliably messing with brace tokens (like a ship with an Intel Officer onboard and/or H9 Turbolasers) so that the extra damage doesn't get reduced as easily and/or ships generally only attacking from one arc or the buffed arc(s). Black critical upgrades are more effective on ships with more inherent black dice (as the chances of triggering the crit improve) and ships that are agile enough to consistently line up two arcs on a target, to hopefully trigger that critical effect twice in one activation. There are more types of ordnance upgrades nowadays than just those two main types, but that's one of the biggest divisions. Without further ado, let's cover ordnance upgrades!

I hope you didn't like having shields!
Assault Concussion Missiles
Assault Concussion Missiles are our first black crit upgrade, which means now is when I'll stress when critical effects work: namely, after the defender has spent their defense tokens but right before the damage pool is applied to the defender. So you can't use your critical effect if all your crits have been removed from the pool (or at least you can't use Assault Concussion Missiles if all your black crits have been removed from the pool). This has some interesting ramifications, which we'll cover for each specific black crit upgrade.
  • Because the damage from ACMs is dealt prior to the damage pool being resolved, this can have ramifications on how the defender's redirect defense token is resolved by removing some shields.
  • ACMs are otherwise just regular damage and so anything that hits the hull will be facedown.
Assault Concussion Missiles are frequently compared to the next entry on this list, Assault Proton Torpedoes. Assault Concussion Missiles have some advantages in that comparison:
  • For +2 points, ACMs deal twice the damage of APTs, although the damage is dealt to neighboring hull zones and is facedown.
  • ACMs also combine well with fleets using Heavy Ion Emplacements, as they'll hit hull zones that are shield-light or even shield-empty (due to earlier HIE attacks), dumping damage into the hull very quickly.
  • ACMs are strong against ships that have redirect tokens, especially those that have enough hull points to survive a blitz with APTs. Generally with those kind of ships, you're going to need to chew through the shields in the neighboring hull zones before killing that ship anyways, and ACMs accelerate that process.
Who put the Gladiator in the microwave too long?
 Assault Proton Torpedoes
  • Assault Proton Torpedoes are a black crit effect, which we covered earlier.
  • Because the APT effect happens right before the regular damage pool is resolved, it can have some unpredictable effects on damage resolution.
    • For example, if the APT crit applies a Projector Misaligned card faceup against the defending ship, you could completely remove all the shields from a hull zone the defender was planning to transfer damage to with a redirect token they spent earlier.
  • APTs don't care about shields, they just do that extra damage card faceup to the hull, regardless of shields.
Assault Proton Torpedoes are often compared to their cousin, the Assault Concussion Missiles (from before). They have some elements working in their favor, too:
  • APTs are the cheapest black crit upgrade that adds damage to the defending ship.
  • APTs are stronger against ships that lack redirect tokens, because they just straight-up add damage regardless. ACMs will make a difference once they chew through the shields, but APTs make a difference immediately.
    • They also work well when combined with upgrades like XI7 Turbolasers that make redirect tokens less effective.
  • APTs love being used with other effects that interact with faceup damage cards like General Dodonna and Precision Strike.
In general, most people lean towards Assault Proton Torpedoes because they're cheaper, but in metas with more large ships (or other elements that interact well with Assault Concussion Missiles), ACMs definitely have a place. I want to specifically stress that overall you should not mix these two upgrade types in your fleet: ACMs want to wipe shields from several hull zones to get lots of damage in and APTs want to cheat some extra hull damage in early by ignoring shields, so they work at cross-purposes. Several instances of one is better than one or two of each, basically.

You gotta admit, Missile Revolver would be a pretty sweet band name.
Expanded Launchers
  • Remember you can only have one Modification upgrade per ship.
  • Because Expanded Launchers adds 2 black dice to your front hull's battery, they're effectively added to the cardboard in the front hull zone, will be added to the initial attack dice roll, and help for objectives like Fire Lanes, unlike add effect upgrades like External Racks.
Expanded Launchers is a pretty straightforward upgrade: it can be extremely destructive but it is exorbitantly expensive. If all you want is a few more black dice on a ship that's likely getting in one or two serious attacks and then jetting away (like a Raider-I or MC30), External Racks is often the superior option. Ships with larger inherent black dice batteries are usually better served with black crit upgrades, and all of the alternatives I've mentioned so far are far cheaper.

Where Expanded Launchers have a place is on ships that have some means of getting multiple attacks from their front arcs in a typical game and have some means of guaranteeing accuracy results and/or removing or preventing the defensive use of brace tokens (such as Intel Officer, the Avenger title, Boarding Troopers, Sloane, etc.). Getting multiple front-arc attacks at short range over a game is usually the more difficult task, which is why you'll usually see Expanded Launchers mostly on heavily-upgraded Demolisher Gladiators and the occasional large ordnance ship (as they can block in their targets with their large bases and keep them stuck in the front arc) or ultra-maneuverable Madine MC30.

I feel like FFG stole this from some Tau art back when they were shacking up with Games Workshop...
External Racks
  • External Racks is an add effect and is used during the "resolve attack effects" step.
  • External Racks can be used on any attack made at close range.
    • Yes, that includes against one squadron.
  • Remember that discarded upgrade cards are turned facedown and still count for points if their ship is destroyed.
External Racks doesn't need an awful lot said about it: it's just amazing. I encourage you to consider this the default bare-bones ordnance upgrade because it's extremely cheap and versatile, even if it is only one-use. It's generally best on ships that only expect to get one or two serious attacks in a game, either because they're too fragile to stay in close range for multiple turns (like Raider-Is or Torpedo Hammerheads) or because they're too slow to get into close range proactively but will usually get a close range shot or two in the course of a game (like a VSD-I or Assault Pelta). That said, don't neglect to consider meatier upgrades for your more elite ordnance ships.

I mentioned it above in the rules bullet points, but don't forget External Racks can be used against squadrons. It's often better to use it against ships, but sometimes one specific squadron really needs to die and the External Racks often come as an unpleasant surprise to that squadron, which thought it was safe.
I went to art school to create a generic orange explosion in space? *sigh* Dad was right.
Flechette Torpedoes
  • It's important to note that Flechette Torpedoes are used during the "resolve attack effects" step of attacking, prior to the defender being able to spend defense tokens. This means that it can't be dodged by scatter aces.
  • Because you spend the black die, it is removed from the pool and won't contribute any damage (as the black crit sides also have hits on them, you're always giving up a possible point of damage to use Flechette Torpedoes).
  • Per FAQ, toggling a squadron's slider mid-attack (say if you used Quad Laser Turrets and Agent Kallus to get a black die Counter that you could then spend with Flechette Torpedoes) effectively does nothing. That squadron will still complete its activation.
Flechette Torpedoes is a neat upgrade that's very meta-specific and generally only worth considering on very few ships. For Flechette Torpedoes to be worth taking, you need to answer "yes" to all of the following questions:
  1. Does my fleet need some extra oomph against squadrons, particularly squadrons that are difficult to destroy quickly, like high-hull squadrons and/or ace squadrons?
  2. Do I have a ship with an ordnance slot?
  3. Does that ship have at least one black flak die, and preferably two?
    • Some means of getting up to two, like Agent Kallus, can be acceptable as well.
    • A source of rerolls (Ordnance Experts and/or Leading Shots, for example, depending) is also quite helpful.
  4. Am I really sure that's the best use of my ordnance slot?
It's a bit of a high bar to clear. Back in the wave 5 days before External Racks, Raider-Is loved Flechette Torpedoes but it's difficult to give up a flexible ordnance upgrade in favor of a specialized anti-squadron upgrade that in some games does little to nothing. This unfortunately is a common problem with silver-bullet style cards, and why I sadly don't recommend Flechettes unless your meta is very squadron-heavy. Don't get me wrong, in the games where Flechettes are great, they're really great - sending problematic squadrons to the time-out corner where they get to do nothing all turn is great. It's just that giving up a more consistent upgrade for a counter-archetype upgrade is often a hard sell.
...and nine months later, a baby squadron is born!
Ordnance Pods
  • Medium or large ships only (yes, I realize it says so right there, but people ask about putting this on Raiders or Peltas way more frequently than I would've thought).
  • Your extra black anti-squadron flak attack is in all respects a regular ol' black die flak attack, which means it can target every enemy squadron in that hull zone and only attacks at close range.
  • Ordnance Pods exhausts to use, so if it's preemptively exhausted, it can't be used.
I really wish I could recommend Ordnance Pods, but it's difficult. The first problem is that similar to Flechette Torpedoes, Ordnance Pods is an anti-squadron upgrade that can be useful in the right situations, but otherwise won't do anything. Unlike Flechette Torpedoes, Ordnance Pods can only go on medium or large ships, which are a large investment and even more risk-averse than smaller, cheaper ships to using upgrades that may or may not be very effective, depending on the matchup. In most cases, even ships that aren't likely to be aggressively using black dice or don't have great black dice coverage (like the Armored MC75) are still better off using External Racks for the same cost but with much more flexibility.

If Ordnance Pods didn't have the size limitation, I could see using them on Raider-Is or Torpedo Hammerheads, but unfortunately they are tough to justify as-is.

Quick, we need some really generic space torpedoes!
Rapid Reload
  • Remember you can only have one Modification upgrade per ship.
  • Just like Expanded Launchers, Rapid Reload extra dice to the battery armaments of the specified hull zones. 
I wish I had a nice way to say this, but Rapid Reload is awful. In most cases you're only adding one black die total between both attacks in a given round and for 8 points. If you can manage to get attacks out of both side arcs in a single activation, it becomes a lot more appealing, but it's nearly impossible to do that against the same target, and so you're splitting your fire. Most of the ships that are packing good black dice side arcs (Gladiators and MC30s come to mind immediately) are better off using a black crit upgrade or worst case External Racks for less points. You can make an argument for Rapid Reload as the second ordnance upgrade on an Ordnance MC75, but I'd much rather keep it cheap with External Racks.

"In light of recent events, vaping is no longer allowed on Imperial naval vessels."
Wide-Area Barrage
  • Wide-Area Barrage is a black crit effect, which we covered earlier.
  • The ship or squadron chosen must be at close range of the defender, which means the extra damage can be applied to something quite far from the attacker in the right circumstances.
  • It's important to note that the WAB damage is half of the black die hit icons in the pool, not half the black dice damage total
    • Because all black crit icons are accompanied by a hit, that means all non-blank black dice count towards this.
  • The damage dealt by WAB is not an attack in and of itself and doesn't specify a hull zone. This has a few ramifications:
    • Defense tokens can't be used against this damage.
    • When a ship takes the damage, its owner chooses which hull zone the damage goes to and then resolves the damage, with shields absorbing damage first like usual.
    • No critical effect can be applied to non-attack damage sources, so any cards that hit the hull will be facedown.
  • WAB does not specify an enemy target, so you could use it against your own ship or squadrons if for some reason you wanted to.
The main requirement of getting Wide-Area Barrage to really work for you is being able to throw a lot of black dice at a problem, preferably from two arcs. Something like a Torpedo Hammerhead is under normal circumstances going to at best do two instances of 1 damage: that's fine for plinking at a scatter ace, but it's not worth giving up something like External Racks to do. Larger damage amounts are also much better at destroying ships: if you can produce 4 damage in one go, you can destroy a flotilla (1 to a shield and then 3 to the hull and dead). If you get 4 packets of 1 damage each, you can wipe all of a flotilla's shields (1 to each different hull zone): the difference is pretty substantial.

In most cases, WAB just won't produce quite enough value to merit giving up more direct and effective black critical upgrades to use it instead, but there's one major exception and his name is Commander Sato. Commander Sato can use his ability to get an awful lot of black dice in a pool, which can create large bursts of WAB damage, especially on a big ordnance ship like an Ordnance MC75. Because opponents are clearly not keen on Sato's ability triggering easily, it means there will usually be squadron dogfighting going on near their ships, which means the WABs will usually at the very least have squadron targets if you don't have ship targets. It all comes together very nicely.

Final Thoughts
Hopefully the leaner alphabetical restructuring didn't throw anyone off too badly, but as the game continues to grow and the list of ordnance upgrades gets longer, it felt inevitable. Ordnance upgrades used to be "point at ship, it blows up" but they're becoming more tricky and nuanced, which has resulted in some interesting builds and considerations for them, even if they still primarily excel when pointed at ships, which then blow up 😉.


  1. Another thing: ACM(s) is a decent counter to Advanced Projectors. They can't get the extra redirect if there is nothing to redirect to. Obviously XI7 is better, but Demo with ACM is a good choice over APTs if APs are common in your meta.

    1. It can be, as it deals more total damage than APTs. APTs do have the slight possibility of hitting one of the anti-shield criticals (best being Projector Misalinged) and by getting enough hull damage on a ship like an MC30 or (less frequently) Assault Frigate, you can just ram it to death, shields or no. ACMs are definitely better against something big and hefty like an MC80 where hull damage and ramming just won't be sufficient.