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!

I've grouped this into brackets:

The weird upgrades bracket
Also known as the "what is this ordnance upgrade that doesn't attack ships doing with these other guys?" category!

Flechette Torpedoes is the only contender in the weird upgrades bracket!

Things to note about Flechette Torpedoes:
  • They cannot do anything at all unless their equipped ship has (or can produce) black anti-squadron (flak) dice. This means there are many ordnance slot ships that just cannot make any use of them (like Gladiators and MC30s).
  • The effect is not a critical effect, but a spend effect. That means you choose to spend (remove from the pool) the black die with a critical icon on it to use its effect, and this happens during the spend/modify stage of attacking. That stage is prior to the defender spending defense tokens stage, so you can activate ("make sleepy") enemy squadrons prior to them getting a say in what happens to the attack. This allows you to toggle enemy aces with scatter defense tokens, for example.
  • Every critical icon side of a black dice also has a hit icon on it, so you're giving up one potential damage to use Flechette Torpedoes.
Flechette Torpedoes are the only upgrade (yet) on this list that doesn't improve attacks against ships and there's only a single ship in the game I'd recommend equipping them to: the Raider-I. I would never outright rely on them (although you can always use Screed to make it a sure thing against one squadron), but for 3 points the ability to completely shut down a squadron's activation can be extremely helpful for pinning Intel squadrons in place (so they can't move their Intel bubble that turn) and making problem squadrons (aces, Rogues, heavy bombers) stop in their tracks doing nothing while you find a way to deal with them.

Why would you choose Flechette Torpedoes over other options?
They're worth considering on a Raider that isn't planning on going nuts with its cost (which, with Raiders, is generally wise) but wants some extra oomph for its flak. Raiders when used reactively generally can't rely on double-arcing most of the time and their odds of triggering black crit upgrades consistently with their smaller dice pool aren't great (exception: Screed), so Flechettes can be handy and the ordnance slot won't always have that much competition.

How I like to imagine Flechettes work, just being sweet.
The black critical upgrades bracket

Who left the Gladiator in the microwave too long?
A few things to note about Assault Proton Torpedoes:
  • A critical effect is chosen by the attacking player after the spend defense tokens step, so if your opponent removes all black critical icons from the pool during that step (say, by using the Admonition title or Lando or by spending a scatter defense token), you cannot trigger Assault Proton Torpedoes.
  • The Assault Proton Torpedo critical effect deals an immediate face-up damage card to the defender prior to resolving damage from the dice in your pool and the defender's spent defense tokens. With some luck, this can result in a much more potent attack as a lucky crit may drop shields from a shield zones involved in the attack (the attacked zone and/or the zone(s) the opponent would like to redirect to).
  • The Assault Proton Torpedo critical effect is similar to the generic crit effect in that it involves a face-up damage card, but the APTs go through shields and their damage card is dealt before and separately from the regular damage in the pool (rather than causing the first damage from the pool that hits the hull to be flipped face up). You cannot choose more than one critical effect, so if any damage gets through to the enemy hull, the generic crit effect will not trigger. You already got in your face up damage card through shields and for free, so enjoy it 😈!
I hope you didn't like having shields!
A few things to note about Assault Concussion Missiles:
  • All the comments about critical effect timing and implementation from the Assault Proton Torpedoes above applies to ACMs just the same.
  • The crit effect, just like APTs, is chosen after defense tokens are used but before damage from the pool is resolved. This means a redirect token is spent prior to you choosing the ACM crit but the ACM effect triggers prior to the redirect being used to allocate damage (from the pool) to an adjacent hull zone.
When are Assault Proton Torpedoes better than Assault Concussion Missiles?
  • When you are light on points available and need to add some extra attacking power to your black-dice ships. APTs are the cheapest black crit ordnance upgrades available.
  • If you are using Dodonna as your commander. APTs have a lot of synergy with his "pick the worst of 4 possible face-up damage cards" ability.
  • When your ship and/or fleet prefers a more direct "chisel through one hull zone as hard as possible" strategy and uses upgrades like XI7 Turbolasers to make redirect defense tokens worse and/or uses a lot of long-ranged ships that can converge fire on one hull zone.
  • When you're hunting smaller ships and/or ships without redirect tokens, such as flotillas or Raiders and trying to destroy them in a single activation. Doing extra damage to adjacent hull zones that don't matter for the immediate survival (due to no redirects) of the ship doesn't help a lot. It can also have some synergy with Engine Techs for applying hull damage to smaller ships so they can be rammed to death if necessary.
  • When you want some extra points from the Precision Strike objective. Every use of APTs also gains you a 15-point objective token!
 When are Assault Concussion Missiles better than Assault Proton Torpedoes?
  • When you want to inflict as much damage as possible. Assault Concussion Missiles do twice the damage of Assault Proton Torpedoes, even if it's not done to the hull or face-up. +100% damage for +40% of the cost is a pretty good deal. Once the ACMs start hitting unshielded side arcs, it gets extremely ugly extremely quickly.
  • When your ship and/or fleet prefers to just pump raw damage into targets from whichever angles it can get. Ships with no shields rapidly become dead ships with no special tricks required.
  • When you're hunting ships with redirect defense tokens and/or larger ships. ACMs make the use of redirect tokens particularly hazardous because the adjacent hull zone shields will be depleting rapidly and once they're gone the ACM damage piles up quickly. Medium or larger ships all come with at least one redirect token and they've got enough hull to not be too worried about the occasional card that gets through the hull from APTs (and they've got the Engineering values to more easily fix them).
  • In combination with H9 Turbolasers or other accuracy-generation (Captain Jonus, Home One) or defense-token destruction (Intel Officer) effects. There are a lot of ships with only a single brace but very few with two. Being able to reliably lock down the brace token leaves ships at short range relying on their redirects, which is exactly the kind of thing ACMs punish.
Should I ever mix the two together in a fleet?
I don't recommend it, no. APTs work by ignoring shields and focusing on one arc. ACMs work by overloading shields and getting in large amounts of damage. They're both effective, but they both work in different ways that do not combine together very well.

Or to give an example: assume you have a Gladiator closing on a ship already attacked by another Gladiator. If an ACM-equipped Gladiator goes after a target already softened up by APTs, it will find there are still plenty of shields for its ACMs to chew through. Conversely, if an APT-equipped Gladiator is going after something already softened up by ACMs, it will find the enemy ship hasn't taken much hull damage yet but its shields are absolutely wrecked. Its APTs will do an extra damage when they trigger, but if it had ACMs, they'd be reliably doing at least one, and more likely two, hull damage per trigger.

In short, your ACMs like the assurance that they're working alongside other ACMs that get enemy ships to "shield screwed" state soon so they can start shredding crazy amounts of hull. Your APTs like the assurance that they're working alongside other APTs that get enemy hull perilously close to dead despite the ship still maybe having shields. Depending on which you choose for your fleet to specialize in, you'll do a little better or worse against different enemy ships but they're both good so you'll do just fine 😉.

When are black crit upgrades overall better than modifications that add extra dice?
  • Black crit upgrades are generally more desirable on ships that stand a good chance of getting two attacks (usually by double-arcing a target) and have enough black dice in their batteries to trigger the crit effect at least once and hopefully twice. You're ideally looking for two neighboring arcs with 3 or more black dice each (feel free to include an extra "fake black dice" to one of them with an assumed Concentrate Fire). MC30s and Gladiators are good examples.
    •  For example, an MC30 double-arcing a target that triggers Assault Concussion Missiles on both attacks will generate an additional 4 damage from doing so, which is more damage than it would gain by simply adding black dice with + black dice upgrades.
    • Two attacks also improve your odds of triggering the crit at all, much less triggering it twice. The crit-dependent upgrades are quite cost-effective provided you can get those crits to trigger with any regularity.
    • Why the 3 dice recommendation? 3 black dice naturally have a 58% chance of producing at least 1 hit+crit result, and if you're willing to reroll every single dice if you don't generate a hit+crit, the total odds go up to 82% (total for the roll + reroll, the reroll as a specific event doesn't improve past 58%). With 2 dice, you're looking at only a 44% chance on the initial roll and a total of 69% chance, which is getting much iffier.
      • In case you're curious, 4 black dice have a natural 68% chance of producing 1+ hit+crit result and with the reroll plan it goes up to 90%.
  • The ability to reroll black dice with Ordnance Experts is always helpful for finding ways to generate hit+crit results more reliably to trigger black crit upgrades.
  • Admiral Screed loves black crit upgrades and can nearly guarantee one of them triggers per ship per turn, which allows you, when getting two attacks, to attack first with your arc most likely to trigger a crit. If everything goes well, you'll get that crit naturally and can use Screed on the less-likely arc. If everything doesn't go well, you can use Screed to salvage the first attack and hope to get lucky on the second less-likely arc. This also makes black crit upgrades more appealing on ships like Raiders when Screed is around as they can reliably trigger crits even when they're naturally not very reliable.
  • If you simply want to get some extra average damage in on your ordnance-slot ship but don't want to pay much for it, the black crit upgrades are the cheapest ways to fill that slot. Just don't expect them to come through for you reliably if you're not working for it.
In short, the point of black crit ordnance upgrades is to set up your opponent the bomb. So much so, in fact, that they have no chance to survive make their time. Yes I know this meme is so old it has an AARP card; I feel no shame!
The extra black dice modifications bracket
The great thing about modifications is there's really nothing that needs clarifying. More black dice in your battery armament in different hull zones work exactly the way it says it does on the card and there's really nothing about their interaction with game rules that is unclear.
Quick, we need some really generic space torpedoes!
Making front arcs more horrifying since wave one!
When is Rapid Reload better than Expanded Launchers?
Only three situations come to mind:
  1. You want to equip an ordnance modification for extra dice but you're on a tight budget.
  2. You're confident that you can get short-ranged attacks off from both of your side hull zones on the same turn, which means you're adding the same total number of dice as Expanded Launchers but at a lower cost. I'm not as confident as you are, but hey, give it a shot!
  3. You think you've got pretty good odds of double-arcing a target with a front+side attack but you want to give a bit of a buff to the side arc attack so it's more equivalent to the front arc, which makes defense token spending less of an easy choice. This could be the case on a Raider or Assault Pelta, for example.
Otherwise, I have a hard time recommending Rapid Reload as it's tough to get a lot of mileage out of what in most turns is one extra black die for a hefty 8 points.

When are Expanded Launchers better than Rapid Reload?
Most of the rest of the time, basically. Expanded Launchers are certainly expensive, but 2 black dice is 2 black dice, and due to the short range of black dice you're most likely to get your front hull zone in on attacks (as it's pointing the direction your ship is moving, which is towards enemies).

It should be noted that a black die's average damage is 1, and this improves to 1.25 when Ordnance Experts are factored into the equation. This can produce some extremely damaging front arc attacks without relying on a critical effect by adding on average 2 damage (non-Ordnance Experts) to 2.5 average damage (with Ordnance Experts).

When are modifications that add extra black dice overall better than black crit upgrades?
Let's be honest, here: we're mostly talking about Expanded Launchers.
  • When you aren't using Ordnance Experts. Perhaps this is because you'd rather use a ship's weapon team slot on something else (I can't say I encourage this course of action) or perhaps it's because the ship doesn't have a weapon team slot (like the Assault Pelta). Simply adding black dice produces more reliable results without the reroll than hoping for a natural hit+crit with no emergency reroll does.
  • When you don't like relying on luck to produce hit+crit results through a reroll. This happened to me once with a Gladiator: I rolled 3 hits and one blank. None of these were a hit+crit to trigger my Assault Concussion Missiles, so I rerolled the entire set of dice with Ordnance Experts. New result: 3 blanks and 1 hit. Oof. These types of results are rare but not unheard of and it can be extremely frustrating to reroll while hunting for a hit+crit only to find that not only did you not produce the sought-after crit icon, but your overall damage got worse as well. Simply adding more black dice and being content with anything that's not a blank is less stressful, and for some players that's much better than stats about critical probabilities.
  • When you're only getting one attack most of the time, especially with Intel Officer. An upgrade like Expanded Launchers adds an average of 2.5 damage (including rerolls) to an attack, which is more than Assault Proton Torpedoes or Assault Concussion Missiles can add if they're only getting applied to a single attack. You can make this damage "stick" better through Intel Officers targeting brace tokens or other forms of defense-token interference (like accuracy generation). This kind of approach is most relevant for Demolisher Gladiators (which would get the one big attack from the front arc most turns after moving) and Raiders (which generally try to "catch" their prey with their front arc attack and sometimes but not always can get their side arcs in).
  • When you need to bring a specific arc up to doing a set amount of average damage. This is a vague description, but what I have in mind specifically is the Rebel MC30 Torpedo Frigate with H9 Turbolasers. This ship configuration does an amazing job of attacking flotillas from its side arcs: with 2 blue and 3 black dice, it gets a guaranteed accuracy and will do on average (3.75+0.75) 4.5 damage, plenty enough to lock down the scatter of a flotilla and then destroy it in a single shot (1 shield+3 hull). It's not stuck desperately trying to roll a hit+crit to make this happen, it just gets the job done. The main downside is with a front arc of 1 blue + 2 black dice, it usually can struggle to seal the deal as it will generate one accuracy + 2.5 average damage, which is hoping for the more generous 3 damage and then ramming the flotilla to death. Concentrate fire helps, but it's still not a comfortable guarantee. Additionally, sometimes your MC30 really doesn't want to remain stuck in place ramming a flotilla for the final point and would rather scoot along to cause havoc elsewhere/escape retribution. For these sorts of situations, Expanded Launchers in the front arc produces a satisfying guaranteed accuracy + 5 average damage, which is plenty for popping flotillas and makes it very difficult for enemy flotillas to find a "safe" hiding place around an MC30 making an attack run.
    • It should also be noted that such an MC30 deals red-hot death when double-arcing larger prey as well. An attack dealing 5 average damage followed up by one doing an average of 4.5 with an accuracy in there locking down brace (or whatever) tokens during each attack will put a hurting on most ships so while this build tends to be prefaced around equal-opportunity flotilla kill sprees, it handles itself quite well against even heavier prey.
In short, ordnance modification upgrades figure the problem with your kinetic projectiles is you're simply not throwing ENOUGH of them. MOAR!
A new challenger approaches! 
I feel like FFG stole this from some Tau art back when they were shacking up with Games Workshop...
I've grouped External Racks in spirit with the other upgrades that add black dice, although it is not a Modification and in some ways works fairly differently. Let's discuss how it works briefly:
  • You can use the External Racks in any close range attack from any arc against any target.
    • This means you can use it on a flak attack against one squadron should that one squadron really need to die.
  • You must discard the External Racks to get its benefit, which means its a one-use upgrade.
    • On a side note, discarded upgrade cards still count for points on destroyed ships. It basically means "flip this card upside down so you know you can't use it again" rather than truly discarded.
When are External Racks better than other black dice Modifications?
  • External Racks are better on cheaper more fragile ships like Raiders and Hammerhead Corvettes that don't want to substantially increase their cost by equipping expensive upgrades like Expanded Launchers.
  • They're also better on slower more reactive ships like Victory-class Star Destroyers and Assault Peltas that are usually only going to get into close range about once a game and don't want to run the risk of equipping a more expensive upgrade that may not see use at all, much less multiple times.
When are External Racks better than black crit upgrades?
  • External Racks are better for ships that don't get as many black dice and aren't as likely to trigger the black crit upgrade.
  • Because 2 extra black dice from any arc is an extra 2 damage (or 2.5 with Ordnance Experts), it will take in most cases three Assault Proton Torpedo crits or two Assault Concussion Missiles crits to do more damage than External Racks (braces change this math, mind you, and what crits the APTs pull can change this too depending on how useful they are). So with that said, ships that aren't expecting to get in more than one black dice crit a game are hands-down better with External Racks.
In short, External Racks are pretty amazing and I'd recommend them whole-heartedly on cheaper ships and slower ships with ordnance upgrades for the reasons given above. More dedicated torpedo boats like Gladiators and MC30s are usually better off with a Modification or black crit upgrade that they can get consistent use from, although if you're looking to run them leaner, the External Racks can save you a few points there too.

Final thoughts
And with all of that, the ordnance upgrades review has come to a close. There's a lot to consider when picking your ordnance slot upgrades, but you've got a number of good choices and I hope I've provided some guidance to what can be a tough decision.


  1. You say:

    A critical effect is chosen by the attacking player after the spend defense tokens step, so if your opponent removes all black critical icons from the pool during that step (say, by using the Admonition title or Lando or by spending a scatter defense token), you cannot trigger Assault Proton Torpedoes.
    The Assault Proton Torpedo critical effect deals an immediate face-up damage card to the defender prior to resolving damage from the dice in your pool and the defender's spent defense tokens. With some luck, this can result in a much more potent attack as a lucky crit may drop shields from a shield zones involved in the attack (the attacked zone and/or the zone(s) the opponent would like to redirect to).

    In the 2nd paragraph you say prior and in the first you say after the defender's spent defense tokens. Right?

    1. Incorrect. The defender SPENDS his defense tokens prior to choosing (and resolving) the critical effect, but allocating damage from the regular attack happens after the critical effect is chosen. So if you spend a redirect and a brace (which affect damage allocation), they wait around until after the critical is resolved and then they get to work handling the regular damage.

      The rules reference guide section on the steps of making an attack is pretty helpful for clearing up how this works.

    2. I'd also like to add that some of the defense tokens have an immediate effect (such as evade and scatter), contain has an immediate effect only insomuch as it prevents the other player from choosing to resolve the generic critical in the upcoming choose crits step. Brace and redirect are the two that are spent but don't kick in until later.

    3. No problem, hopefully that cleared it up! The steps of resolving attacks in Armada, particularly the delayed-effect defense tokens (brace and redirect) can get a little confusing.

  2. 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.