Monday, February 13, 2017

Squadron keywords/mailbox #2

Our second request comes to us from Mark. He writes:

Hi guys,
Just started my Armada habit. I can quit whenever I like, right? Would it be possible for you to offer advice about [squadron] keywords and their tactical applications? I think I understand the rules themselves, but it'd be nice to get an experienced take on this side of the game.
Cheers from Blighty,
Mark


That I can do while John works on a "how all this mess becomes a bomber wing" style update! I will note as an aside that if you want more in-depth discussion of combining keywords with other statistics and fleet dynamics, I'd strongly recommend reading up on our individual squadron review articles, where we go into more details; a quick summary all in one place is definitely a useful resource however, and I'll try to cover the high points.

It's time to bullseye some womp rats, I guess?



Bomber
The Bomber keyword allows the squadron to count its critical icons as a damage point when attacking ships only (not other squadrons) and can also resolve the generic critical effect (the first damage card, if any, is dealt face up) when attacking a ship.

The obvious ramification of having this keyword is the squadron is better at attacking ships. Many Bomber squadrons are dedicated bombers (for example, Y-Wings, H6 Scurrgs, TIE Bombers, Firesprays) insomuch as that's clearly what they're supposed to be doing as much as possible. Dedicated bombers typically are poor at attacking squadrons for their points cost. There are other mixed-role fighter-bombers such as X-Wings and TIE Defenders that have the Bomber keyword but it's not their primary function. X-Wings and TIE Defenders get more mileage from operating as fighters but they can switch over to bombing when the situation calls for it, typically when getting in some extra damage on a ship is very important or when they've cleared out all enemy squadrons and would like something to do in the late game.

The Bomber keyword also makes the squadron eligible for rerolls from the Bomber Command Center fleet support upgrade that can be equipped to flotillas. Being able to reroll a single die when attacking ships can be extremely useful for creating a more even flow of damage and avoiding the dreaded blank side on black dice.

Otherwise, Bomber squadrons should be used similarly to other anti-ship attacks: try to focus on unshielded or lightly shielded hull zones and pour as much fire into that point as possible. Squadrons attacking ships en masse benefit from delivering their damage in several small packets that are problematic to use defense tokens against, and squadrons with the Bomber keyword do even better.

Cloak
Cloak is very straightforward. The only real thing to note is it triggers at the end of the Squadron Phase and you get that distance 1 move whether you're engaged or not. Nothing (yet) is stopping it, not even shenanigans like the Instigator Raider title.

Only TIE Phantoms currently have Cloak and it's a new wave 5 keyword so there's not a lot of consensus on exactly how best to utilize it and whether it's "good" (for whatever that exactly means). I've played with the TIE Phantom ace, Whisper, here and there and I intend to try to crack the TIE Phantom code soon (definitely before I write an entire article about them at some point in the intermediate future). Here's what I can tell you from limited experience and some analysis, though:
  • Cloak allows you to extend your threat range more than you'd think. Distance 1 is a very long distance segment so a speed 1 move follow by a speed 4 move is a longer threat range than a simple speed 5 move.
  • Being able to reposition at the end of the squadron phase can be helpful for getting out of concentrations of enemy fighters while creating your own concentrations on the periphery.
  • Being able to reposition with Cloak is also helpful for giving Intel squadrons trouble by simply spreading out to make Intel less effective at making multiple squadrons Heavy.
  • Being able to reposition with Cloak can allow you to keep at distance 1 of enemies (whether ships or squadrons) that would rather prefer to be left alone and can save you some squadron commands you would have otherwise had to spend moving+attacking with the squadron.
  • You can use Cloak near the station to heal for 1 hull point (as the Cloak move is still a move, which triggers the station's healing).

Counter
Counter triggers on any non-Counter squadron attack targeting the Counter squadron (it's important to note that provision because otherwise Counter squadrons would continue attacking one another until one of them was destroyed). Counter also uses its own anti-squadron battery which is always blue dice; you can get squadrons that use non-blue anti-squadron attacks (like the Decimator) that will still roll blue dice for their Counter attacks. Counter attacks are anti-squadron attacks in every way, differing from regular attacks only in under what circumstances they happen: they will benefit from rerolls from Swarm, bonus dice from Howlrunner, defense tokens can be used against the Counter attack and the Counter attack can be reduced by obstruction.

The use of Counter varies strongly by the other statistics of the squadron. I covered this a bit in my TIE Interceptor article that because TIE Interceptors have such low hull value (3!), they don't really like being attacked by competent fighter squadrons, but they love using their Counter 2 to attack/engage weaker bomber squadrons and then punish those bombers for making feeble anti-squadron attacks back later on (or make the bombers make no attacks at all due to the threat of the Counter). Conversely, the YT-1300 is a 7 hull meat shield of a squadron with Counter 1 and Escort and therefore it loves tanking damage for other Rebel squadrons for as long as possible and so it's happy to dive right into trouble. Therefore, Counter in general is a feature of squadrons that are seeking to engage in dogfighting as their primary purpose, as it anticipates attacks back at the Counter squadron, but beyond that its usage varies greatly.

Escort
There are a few components of Escort and the ability triggers only if all of the following are true:
  • The Escort squadron is engaging an enemy squadron. It's not enough to simply be at distance 1, you need to be unobstructed and thus engaging them.
  • The enemy squadron wishes to make an anti-squadron attack. If you're engaging an enemy squadron but you're Heavy and thus the enemy squadron wishes to make an anti-ship attack, Escort does nothing.
  • The attack in question is not a Counter attack (as otherwise, you'd try to Counter squadron A but Escort squadron B would prevent you from doing so, as Counter attacks are optional and obey the rules for anti-squadron attacks).
Another thing to keep in mind is if an enemy squadron is engaged by multiple Escort squadrons, they get to choose among them as to which they'd prefer to attack. 

Finally, keep in mind that enemy squadrons engaged by Escort squadrons cannot make any attacks against non-Escort squadrons, so if your Escort squadron is engaging a Snipe squadron, the Snipe squadron cannot use Snipe against distance 2 squadrons that aren't also Escort squadrons.

In terms of actual usage, Escort squadrons are your bodyguards. They want to get in the way of enemy fighters who would really rather kill some other important friendly squadrons as quickly as possible. For that reason, Escort squadrons are often found hanging out with Intel squadrons (which are the lynchpin of bomber fleets), buff aces (like Major Rhymer), and bomber squadrons (like how X-Wings are clearly designed to protect Y-Wings, among other squadrons). Exactly how much to bite off in terms of engaging enemy squadrons is largely a matter of the board state, but be aware that Escort squadrons will not last forever and they enjoy some fighter backup to destroy those enemy fighters right back.

So fun fact: did you know there are no squadrons with Grit as their only keyword?
Grit
Grit is a frequently-misunderstood keyword. Many players incorrectly believe Grit says "ignore one enemy squadron" and this can cause arguments. Grit has two major components that are important to remember:
  1. Grit allows you to move when its conditions are met and has no effect on your ability to attack. Moving away from an enemy squadron due to Grit and then landing in engagement with a new one means you're still engaged and cannot attack ships.
  2. Grit only works when you are engaged by only one squadron. Once you are engaged by two or more enemy squadrons, Grit "turns off." So for example, if you are engaged by a Heavy squadron and a non-Heavy squadron, Grit no longer does anything and you cannot move away. If you are engaged by two Heavy squadrons, Grit turns off, but you can still move away because those two squadrons are Heavy.
Grit by itself rarely defines a squadron like some of the stronger keywords do. It primarily makes your squadrons more slippery and thus less prone to be stuck engaged by a single enemy squadron. For that reason you see it more frequently on Bomber squadrons, which would rather be bombing ships than stuck on one fighter.

Grit and Intel actually have more synergy than you may at first think. The reason for this is shutting down Grit requires being engaged by 2+ squadrons, but throwing a monkey wrench into Intel (we're getting to it soon!) often involves spreading fighter coverage at many points around the outskirts of a bomber group so the Intel bubble can't cover all of them. By bunching fighters up to counter Grit, they're much easier targets for Intel. By spreading fighters out to counter Intel, your Grit bombers can just do a leave.
Now with 100% more internet memes!


Heavy
Heavy is the only keyword that's bad for you. A very important thing to keep in mind about Heavy is that you still engage enemy squadrons normally, it's just that the act of engaging them doesn't prevent them from attacking ships or moving (which are the normal benefits of engagement). That means that Heavy squadrons will still allow you to trigger Swarm or use other benefits dependent upon engagement.

The main thing to keep in mind with using Heavy squadrons is they're terrible at pinning enemy squadrons in place or stopping them from bombing your ships. If you're using a Heavy fighter (such as a YV-666 or Decimator) squadron, you should consider bringing along some non-Heavy friends while you're at it.


Intel
Intel is probably the single strongest keyword introduced since the original wave one. Being able to make enemy fighters Heavy in a mobile distance 1 bubble is extremely strong when it comes to delivering bombers to their targets, as those Heavy fighters won't stop you from moving along nor will they stop you from bombing their ships. John wrote about how important it is for bomber groups earlier today right here.

With good order of activation efficiency, you can activate friendly squadrons out of the current Intel bubble and then move your Intel squadron into a new area, making different enemy fighters Heavy and allowing your Bomber squadrons to continue ruining lives.

Given how good Intel is, enemy fighters are gunning for your Intel squadrons first, which is why they're frequently run with Escorts and/or sometimes in duplicate (two generic Intel squadrons, usually, in that case).


Relay
Relay allows your ships to channel up to X "points" of their squadron command through each Relay squadron. It should be noted that the squadron commanding ship does not need to be within a certain range to use Relay - the ship and Relay squadron can be at completely opposite ends of the table and that works just fine. The only restriction is the Relay can only be used on squadrons within distance 1-3 of the Relay squadron (which includes the Relay squadron itself). If you're using a Relay 2 squadron, you can even command the Relay squadron itself for the first squadron activation to get it into range of another squadron for the second activation through the Relay! Please note that the Relay restriction is per ship, so you could hypothetically channel an entire fleet's squadron commands through one Lambda-class Shuttle if you were only commanding squadrons with Squadrons 2 Gozantis, for example.

Relay's primary benefit is it allows your squadron-commanding ships to command squadrons with less inconvenience and at a greater distance. Flotillas in particular are quite happy to give commands to squadrons near enemy ships (bombers in particular) while they themselves are a safe distance away. Be aware that a savvy enemy will do his best to knock out a Relay squadron you're relying too much on, though.

One day you will face a swarm of 8 of these angry frisbees. Don't say I never warned you.

Rogue
Rogue (not rouge!) is a neat little keyword that allows its squadrons to move and attack (in either order!) during the regular Squadron Phase, rather than having to choose whether they attack or move like all other squadrons that weren't already activated during the Ship Phase by squadron commands.

Rogue squadrons are more expensive than their non-Rogue counterparts of similar stats (by roughly 2-3 points) and it presents something of a conundrum: generally, squadrons activated during the Ship Phase have an advantage over Rogue squadrons because those squadrons will get to activate first and get in the first punches. You can activate your Rogues with squadron commands just like regular squadrons to help them out, of course, but you're getting less mileage out of the Rogue keyword you spent points on when you do so. Or to put it in a shorter form:
Regular squadrons activated by squadron commands > Rogue squadrons > Unactivated regular squadrons

Rogue squadrons are a particularly good addition to a fleet that wants more squadron presence but doesn't want to dedicate any more resources on ships to command them. At the moment given how popular flotillas are for commanding squadrons and padding activations at a discount price, Rogue squadrons have become much less prevalent than they were in wave two (where alarmists were predicting the extinction of every squadron without Rogue), but that's not to say they're not still potent when used well. Being unchained from the need for squadron commands means you can't hinder their effectiveness by simply killing their carrier ship(s) and by getting a full activation in the Squadron Phase, a group of Rogues can coordinate attacks on single targets that are largely left watching the carnage and hoping for the best.


Snipe
Snipe, quite simply, allows you to make an alternate attack at distance 2 against other squadrons. Note this means exactly distance 2 - not "up to distance 2." This means a squadron at distance 1 cannot be Sniped.. Much like Counter, Snipe is still an attack against a squadron and anything that affects attacks affects Snipe - Howlrunner can buff it, Swarm will still trigger, obstruction removes a dice from the attack, etc.

Snipe is primarily useful for extending your threat range, being able to attack enemy squadrons that can't attack you back the same turn without a move+attack squadron command (or being a Rogue squadron), and getting around Escort to attack juicy support squadrons your enemy would really prefer you didn't attack (hello, naughty Intel squadrons!). Please keep in mind, however, that getting an angle on an enemy squadron protected by an Escort squadron can be tricky - if the Escort squadron is engaging you, you need to attack an Escort squadron if you're attacking squadrons. So you'll need to find a way to attack the desired target from the sides and avoid attacking "over" the Escort squadron, which means you're close enough to be engaged.


Strategic
Strategic allows you to move objective tokens around, which are entirely at the mercy of which objective you are playing. A list of objectives that use objective tokens that are placed in the playing area is:
  • Dangerous Territory
  • Fire Lanes
  • Hyperspace Assault (which is kind of funny, actually, moving the landing zone)
  • Intel Sweep
  • Jamming Field (you can change the angle/length of the jamming field line)
  • Minefields ("and what you fail to realize is my ship is dragging mines!")
  • Planetary Ion Cannon (push those kill zones to where you want them)
  • Salvage Run (safely get those tokens out of the center of the table obstacle death trap)
  • Sensor Net
  • Targeting Beacons (change where the reroll zones are)
So 10 of the 24 possible objectives, and let me tell you that Strategic can make a huge difference in any of those 10. Please note that with Strategic the keyword triggers when you end your movement at distance 1 (meaning any part of the objective token is at least touching distance 1 measured from the edge of the Strategic squadron), at which point you remove the token from the table temporarily and then place it at distance 1 of the Strategic squadron, regardless of its original position. This allows you to move tokens to just about distance 3 of where they had been if you grab them at the furthest extent from the Strategic squadron and then drop them at the furthest extent of that squadron on the opposite side. Suffice it to say, this can make a huge difference as either first or second player. As first player, you can make objectives that are normally a big problem for you (such as Intel Sweep or Hyperspace Assault) much less potent or even beneficial for you (when you're grabbing easy Intel Sweep tokens and your opponent is finding his tokens aren't where he was counting on them being; or when the Hyperspace Assault ship is stranded in deep space far away from your fleet). As second player they can make beneficial objectives even better as you continue to rack up points beyond when you'd normally be able to (such as from Fire Lanes), grab more points from your enemy (such as from Dangerous Territory), or just keep the negative effects of the objective more consistently trained on your enemy (Minefields, Planetary Ion Cannon, Targeting Beacons, etc.).

If you're running a Strategic squadron you really owe it to yourself to stock your objectives with at least 2 of the 10 above scenarios, if not fill in all 3 of your possible objectives with them.

Currently both Strategic squadrons are also Relay squadrons and they make great support squadrons overall provided you can afford to slot them in.



Swarm
If you want to read my love letter to TIE Fighters and Swarm, I'd start right here. The short version is Swarm strongly incentivizes ganging up on enemy squadrons to kill them as fast as possible, and is just slightly worse average-damage-wise to adding another die (as you're quite likely to roll at least one die that you'd like to reroll), which can be tremendously valuable. Swarm is thus far a standard feature on 3 hull point fighter squadrons (TIE Fighters, TIE Interceptors, and Z-95 Headhunters) as well as included on Dagger Squadron, the unique B-Wing squadron. With the exception of Dagger Squadron, you'll notice that all of those other squadrons are extremely good at dying and thus Swarm is something that they love to take advantage of to simply kill enemy squadrons faster than they can be killed in return, preferably by destroying enemy squadrons before they get a chance to punch back.

Swarm is yet another keyword you'll find on squadrons that focus on being fighters, but in this case it's a feature much more often on "glass cannon" fighters and should be used aggressively with positioning in mind.