Monday, February 27, 2017

Squadrons Encyclopedia 2: Small Fighter Coverage

Let's begin with one of the easier ones to define and use: Small Fighter Coverage.

It helps when you make the Pew Pew Pew noises, the dice roll better.
The Small Fighter Coverage (SFC) group exists to provide you with A fighter coverage group.  They're here for several roles:

1) Deployment help
2) Keeping the other guy honest
3) Fighting off enemy squadrons and squadron blobs for as long as possible.
4) As a Rebel, supportive damage into ships.

Let's analyze each of these roles individually.

1) Deployment Help

I don't like Superior Positions or Solar Corona.  Let me rephrase that; I don't like CHOOSING them.  Armada is one of the few games I know where I can honestly say that I've lost games at set-up from how I deployed my ships.  All you can do with these two objectives is try to undo the deployment advantage you gave your opponent.  Let's talk about this with a picture or two.

Pretend there's asteroids and stuff in there too; this is designed to show a point.
So the Imperial player has deployed his ISD in the middle of his VSDs.  However, when the Rebel player deploys....

That's an LMC80 and an MC30 aimed right at the VSD on the right side there.  The 2 CR90s are also going to be sweeping up and hitting the VSD on the side.  The ISD can try to turn and hit the oncoming other ships, but A) that leaves the VSD on our left out and B) Possibly bumps that same VSD.  Deploying in other forms just gives the Rebel player opportunities to counter deploy to best take advantage of that.  See my examples below.

The ISD was placed inn the middle in an effort to protect the VSDs from deployment on the right.  But the Rebel player has dropped everything on the left, which will be attacking the ISD en masse.  The VSDs cant turn fast enough to get into the battle and help the ISD to counter the attacks it'll be taking.

This might be the best, but its still iffy.  The Rebel player is still going to sweep the flank of the VSDs, but the ISD might be able to get in there fast enough and help.  I say might, because I don't know the Imp side and I haven't played it out in a few times.

So what does this all have to do with squadrons? Well, I think we can all agree at this point that winning the number of deployments is a good leg up on winning the battle. The above examples are all taken to extremes, but let's say the Imperial player had only those 3 ships, but the Rebels had 4 A-wings too.  In that case, IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY MATTER WHAT OBJECTIVE YOU CHOOSE, IT'S JUST LIKE SUPERIOR POSITIONS.

The Imperial player places a ship, the Rebel player places his 1st ship.  The Imperial player places his 2nd ship, and the Rebel deploys his first set of squadrons.  The last Star Destroyer gets placed, and then here comes the other Rebel squadrons.  Even IF the Rebels were first player, its similar.  Rebel ship-Imp1-squadrons1-Imp2-Squadrons2-Imp3 - REST OF THE REBEL FLEET, which is an easy way to get jumped and attacked by multiple ships at once.

To quote Eric's TIE commandments article,
With a single ship deployed as your first deployment and....squadrons for your subsequent deployments until they run out, you buy time to see the early outline of your opponent's formation. You can then deploy your remaining ships at a reasonable distance from your original "scout" deployment in response to your opponent.
The ability to see your opponent's fleet before you deploy is well worth the costs required to bring some squadrons.  Given that you're running cheaper on squadrons, the rest of your fleet will be warships and flotillas.  Not dropping a flotilla in front of an ISD seems like a great choice to me!  You're going to want to make your squadrons as deployments 2-(out of squadrons), so bring some and see how your opponent's fleet is showing up.  THEN you counter deploy him!

2) Keeping the Other Guy Honest
This is going to tie into 3, but by having SOME squadron presence, you force the other guy to attack your squadrons before they start hitting your ship.  Assuming movement only happens on turn 1 (I have destroyed a Raider turn 1 once, with B-wings), that's 5 more turns of combat for starfighters.  Every turn they spend hitting other starfighters is a turn they don't spend hitting your ships.  And as we discussed literally last paragraph, your fleet of warships and flotillas would rather not be taking added damage from bombers and enemy fighters.  Even if all you do is throw in Tycho and Shara, that's still 2 aces they have to both fight and engage or let them run roughshod over their squadron list.  I state again, that the goal of SFC is not to win the squadron war, but to delay the enemy as long as possible.  Every turn they're shooting Tycho or one of your X-wings is a turn they're not bombing your ships, no matter what their armament.  Even if all your opponent brought was 6 Z95 Headhunters, do you want a potential 12 damage coming in to your ships because you didnt send an A-wing to engage them all? No.

3) Fighting off enemy squadrons and squadron blobs for as long as possible
As I said, this ties into 2.  You're not trying to win the battle.  You are trying to engage the opponent's squadrons and keep them from hitting your ships.  If it costs you your 50-60 points of squadrons to do it, but prevents most of their squadrons from hitting you, great! You won that battle.  As you'll see when we get to the LFC, its not just the squadrons you're fighting against, it's also a good amount of the ships/upgrades they have.  You're not going to prevent the LFC from hitting your ships, but if you can prevent them from hitting you all the same turn, your defense tokens won't get overwhelmed and your ships (hopefully) won't die.  This will require some work on your part, and it won't be easy.  But we'll get to that!

4) As a Rebel, supportive damage into ships
The benefit of Rebel squadrons is that you pay a little more for them in order to get valid anti-ship armaments on them.  If/when you beat the enemy squadrons, you'll be able to launch your squadrons at the enemy ships and then provide some of your own damage at them.  X-wings don't have the BEST bomber support system (3/8 sides being effectively meaningless), but every damage you add is helpful.  This ties back into 2, because if your opponent didn't bring any squadrons to support his ships, then you get to go right into hitting his ships! Teach him the lesson that you learned about bringing squadrons!

So your small fighter coverage has some point to it.  Let's talk about what you want to look for in your fighters here, and then discuss some groups you COULD use as your SFC.  In a later lesson we'll talk about using these all.

What You Want
I said where'd you get your information from huh?
Your SFC group should be fighters primarily.  You want fast, hard hitting, and health.  Any times you can get counter (that's actually worth it!) are a bonus, as is any other abilities your aces provide.  For fast, you want speed 3+.  B-wings and YT-1300s at speed 2 are not fast enough to engage enemy fighters before they start hitting you.  They make appearances next writing (Ch4) in the Large Fighter Coverage.  We'll get there.  For hard hitting, you want a MINIMUM of 3 blue dice.  Y-wings are great, but they do not do enough damage to stop enemy squadrons before they can hit you and yours.  And health.  Luckily, as a Rebel player, your minimum health is better than expected, but this also means that you can't just take 4-6 Z95s and call it good enough (in my opinion).

Groups to NOT use
This will be a quick set of groups that I don't think should be used any more, but I'll outline them and some thoughts.

1) 4 A-Wings (44 points)
This seems like a good plan! You've got even squadrons so you can "waste" 2 deployments, and you've got decent dice (3 blue per A-Wing).  You can engage a fair amount of the squadron bubble at this point!  The problem I have with this is that for 11 points more you can get a SIGNIFICANTLY better option for survivability (We'll get there in a minute).  There's not enough (in my mind) ability to hit squadrons and stay engaging them.  One Yavaris use of Wedge Antilles will have a very good chance of killing 1-2 of these A-Wings, dropping their efficacy IMMENSELY.  4 A-Wings is a good start, but in this time of Flight Controllers, Colonel Jendon/Relay, Shara Bey, etc, you need a little something more.

2) 4/6 Z95 Headhunters (28/42 points)
This runs into a similar problem as the 4 A-Wings: there's JUST not enough survivability.  I've seen 6 TIE fighters work (Eric has beaten me with them several times), but they need SOLID flak added in (Raiders, for instance) to ensure that you can wipe a squadron fleet.  The benefit of the TIE fighters is that they can get the first punch in, but Z95s aren't fast enough to get in a first strike on anything except other Rebel squadrons, and even then if they're fighting something with substantial health (YT-1300s...) you're depending a LOT on rolling well.

3) B-wings and YT-1300s in any form
They're just too slow.  Listen, I love Ten Numb, and he's great, but for a fast, engaging fighter force, he's not your guy.  Check him out next lesson in Chapter 4, where i'll talk more about him there.

So what do you want to use?

Groups to Use
1) Jan Ors and 3 X-wings (58 points)
This is the old stand-by.  Jan Ors, as previously mentioned, will let your X-wings use her brace tokens, keeping your squadrons alive for longer.  With the Escort on X-wings, enemy squadrons have to attack the X-wings first before they can hit Jan Ors, leading to a great symbiosis that keeps you alive and lets you attack for longer.

1A) Jan Ors, Biggs Darklighter, 2 X-wings (64 points)
This is the same group from above, only now it has the benefit of keeping your X-wings alive even longer.  The enemy will have to put significant damage into one X-wing over and over, but with Jan bracing the damage to half and Biggs shunting one of those to a different X-wing, you're able to keep your squadrons alive for a much longer time.

2) 4 YT-2400s (64 points)
This is the OTHER Rebel stand-by.  It's got 4 ships, all with 6 health, all with speed 4 and Rogue, all rolling 4 blue dice.  With Rogue, it won't necessarily be starting fights, but it finishes them against enemy squadrons quite well with very little investment on your part.  You don't HAVE to do squadron commands, but they help if you've got a spare moment turn 2-ish.

3) 2 A-wings, Tycho, and Shara (55 points)
THIS is what I was talking about a few paragraphs ago.  For 11 points more, you get SUBSTANTIALLY better occupying power than an additional A-wing.  Because both Tycho and Shara have Scatter defense tokens, that's an entire attack they can each take and effectively ignore (assuming no accuracies get rolled).  With Shara's ability to count crits as hits during counter attacks, TIE fighters have to actually sit and consider if they want to attack her, with the fact that 6/8 sides can do a damage that COULD kill the TIE.  It locks down enemy squadron blobs super well, and Tycho's ability to keep traveling away and engaging new enemies is an even bigger pain in the butt, as it prevents those new bombers from leaving/firing on ships.

3A) Tycho and Shara (33 points)
I've toyed with this, there was a guy who placed highly in a Regionals with this.  I don't emphatically recommend it, as any significant punch from a squadron list can take care of a lot of issues with just these two.  One fighter going to engage Shara (without actually attacking her!) can stop her for several turns.  If I just activate my fighter and dont attack her, she doesnt get to counter.  And her bonus is predicated on her getting counter.  True, im not moving away either, but if i have to give up a 13 point X-wing to stop you from engaging my bombers for 2-3 turns? Sure, i'll make that trade.  As for Tycho, he can move all over Creation anytime he wants.  Doesnt mean that 1 intel ship doesn't just make him not as useful as he could be.  If you can support this with good flak, sure, go ahead.  This just isn't for me.

4) 2 A-wings, Shara Bey, and Corran Horn (61 points)
I tried this a few weeks ago, and it's solid.  In a list that doesn't have many squadron commands to spare (we'll get to this below), throwing the A-wings forward while letting Corran go during the squadron phase is a similar plan to the above.  With the scatter from Shara just throwing her into the blob, she can lock down several squadrons.  Corran can snipe what needs to be sniped, and hit the important squadrons (Hi Intel!) before they can free up the Bomber cloud.

The below are not fully tested, but they should work, in theory.  I plan on testing some of these out in the next few weeks and seeing if these work as well as I want them to.  If they do NOT, I'll let you know.
It's a test pattern because they need testing, get it? I'm writing this at 1 AM, please laugh at my joke.

4A) 2 E-wings and 4 A-wings (74 points)
I haven't played fully with this combination, and it will likely show up in the MFC soon enough (74 points is high, in my mind, but based on my previous statements its right on the edge), but if one E-wing works well with A-wings, why not 4 A-wings and 2 E-wings for a good threat that can hit a squadron blob hard and kill what needs to be killed? The A-wings can hit what they need to, and the E-wings can provide a backup to finish off whatever is left after the A-wings hit it in the first pass.  This is speculative, but I wanted to add this in here in case people really want me to write about E-wings and their use.  There's a case to be made for 3 and 3, but then you're getting more points expensive there.

5) 2 A-wings, 2 VCX-100s (52 points)
This is the new hotness that several people have been using at Regionals.  The Relay from the VCXs allows you to activate both A-wings if needed, if they're close.  It can also activate a VCX and an A wing as needed, if you need to go engage 2 different groups at the same time.  The beauty of Relay is that you can use the flotilla(s) you've got in the back to activate your squadrons.  As we all learned last time,

Squadrons activated by squadron commands > Rogue squadrons > Unactivated regular squadrons

So if you can activate the A wings earlier in the turn, that's less squadrons coming at them to kill them.  I'm not ecstatic about the Heavy from the VCX-100s, but I'm definitely intrigued by this squadron formation.  The major benefit of this SFC is that with the 2 Strategic squadrons, you can pull Objective tokens back towards you and your ships, preventing your opponent from getting points out of them.  Moving the Relay squadrons 1 at a time lets you move the objective tokens effectively almost distance 5, if needed, from one side of a relay squadron to another.  It's not always needed, but when it is, it's crucial.  My one worry with this grouping is that you're in danger if your opponent sends in several squadrons to lock you down and prevent you from moving away.  Consider bringing in a HWK-290 and some escorts (YT-1300s or X-wings) if you can fit it in somewhere.  IF you're entirely dependant on your VCXs being used for Strategic shenanigans, that's the one instance where I'd consider YT-1300s in this formation: protecting your Intel squadron.

6) 2 X-wings, Lieutenant Blount, 3 Z95s (61 points)
This is untested, as well, but if you send in with a 4 squadron activation ship 1 X-wing (for the swarm bonus), Blount, and 2 Z95s, you can put a stronger hit into a squadron blob then seems possible.  With 2 swarm rerolls on the Z95s, you've got a good chance at rolling actual good damage.  This is a doable plan, but this also requires you not getting jumped by enemy squadrons.  The last Z95 and X-wing stay back to hit the other side of the squadron bubble, or another enemy blob that tried going a different way.  The Z95s want the X-wing to provide both swarm friendship and Escort, keeping them alive.  You want to send the X-wing(s) in first to set up swarm, as otherwise you're dependant on your Z95s to roll well with red dice (3/8 chance of damage) with no reroll on the swarm.

Why not just 5 Z95s and Blount? Because unlike TIEs, you don't have speed 4, so you need to find a way to ensure that you can actually stay alive long enough to do damage instead of getting hit by the enemy's squadrons.  There's the possibility of putting up a 17 point bid for first (I've only seen Eric max out at 16, so I'll be fine!) but what happens if you go to a tournament and someone has put up 18, and then their squadrons get the jump on you?  Dead Z95s, that's what. Put in 2 X-wings, let them take a lot of the incoming fire so your Z95s can do some work as well.  If you're willing to throw in a Fighter Coordination Team on one of your ships, you could theoretically work this with 2 YT-1300s in place of the X-wings, but that is a very handwavey plan that may or may not work, which needs significant testing.  I haven't written it off, but it's nowhere near worth a full recommendation on my part yet.

There's plenty of other examples you can make/find (I didn't even mention Rogue Squadron!), but the basic combination is around 4 or 6 fighters with faster speed and decent/good health, that last Z95 one withstanding.

Edit: there's also a list of Imperial small fighter coverage groups here in an addendum article.

I may have used this one already, but it's always fun to see.

The LAST thing I'll say about all the squadron choices is that whichever one you pick, you want to be able to trigger all your squadron activations on the same turn if necessary.  Don't take one of the 6 squadron ones if your ships max out at squadrons 1-2, as that's not a great use of their abilities.  Having to use a CR90 turn 2 to push that 6th A-wing so it can do something this turn isn't an amazing use of either one's abilities.  Don't NECESSARILY take 4 Rogues if you're bringing a 4 squadron ship in your fleet, as turn 2 that could be 4 A-wings flung forwards as well (it can also be 4 Rogues, but then we circle back to the Squadron Commanded Rogue argument again).  We'll get into this a lot more in sessions 5-7 and fighting other squadron blobs.