Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bidding for initiative/Mailbox #3

We got a question from smashthedean in the comments of the Sunday Adepticon wrapup post. He asked:
"Speaking of point bids, this might be a better question for a future mailbag post, but... how much is too much??"

That's a fine question and a subject on which even experienced players can differ. I'll do my best to give my take on bids and what I would recommend:

All in on black! I've got Ordnance Experts if it comes up blank! What do you mean "you're not making any sense"?
Wait, what exactly is a bid?
A bid is the number of points you "underspent" to get to your fleet value. Standard Armada games are 400 points, so if I built a 396 point fleet for a 400 point game, then I would have a 4 point bid.

What is the benefit of bidding? Why not just build to the maximum points value?
Whichever player has the highest bid has control of initiative. That player gets to choose whether they want to be first or second player. If there's a tie, you flip for it. In short, it's better to have initiative than to not have initiative and that's particularly true if your fleet can really leverage having choice for first or second player.

Okay, well why doesn't everyone have a bid then?
Because not every fleet really cares that much whether it's the first player or second player. Heck, I'd be willing to state that a majority of fleets don't really care that much and can play well one way or the other and those fleets will gain more from points invested in more "stuff" than points invested towards a bid.

The reason other fleets incorporate a bid is for one of three reasons:
1) The fleet really wants to go first
2) The fleet really wants to go second
3) The fleet would like to have some flexibility in choosing its player order against maxed-point fleets.

Let's go over those three reasons to make a bid before I start talking about size of bids and such:

1) The fleet really wants to go first
This is usually the case with fleets that have a single very powerful activation, such as an Imperial fleet with a decked-out ISD or Demolisher Gladiator or a Rebel fleet with a tricked-out Liberty MC80 or Torpedo MC30. The idea is that by going first, the heavy hitter can be sure that whatever attacks it has lined up on turn X can go off without any trouble on turn X+1, as it gets to attack before the enemy can activate any ships. This technique can be especially effective when you go first and have more activations than the other player so you can "last+first" your key piece. This is most potent with Demolisher - you can move in during the final activation of a turn to double arc your prey on turn X while getting off one salvo and then at the start of turn X+1 you get in both your front and side arc attacks, which against all but the best-defended ships will usually result in a kill.

2) The fleet really wants to go second
This is the case with fleets that have a trio of extremely good objectives. For example, a carrier fleet that is confident it can deliver its bombers due to having a strong large fighter coverage group and squadron support combined with the "unholy trinity" of squadron objectives (Superior Positions, Fighter Ambush, and Precision Strike) might want to bid for second player to ensure they play one of their favorable objectives, which should net them more bonus victory points than spending a few extra fleet points towards squadrons/ships/upgrades. Similarly, fleets with Strategic squadrons can often benefit greatly from objectives like Fire Lanes and Intel Sweep, easily getting lots of bonus victory points paid back when the first player is stuck choosing one of those objectives.

3) The fleet would like to have some flexibility in choosing its player order against maxed-point fleets
These types of fleets are effectively the same kind that would normally build to maximum points and don't mind going first or second, but can gain a benefit from a small bid, as it allows them to see the enemy fleet and then decide if they would rather go first or second. This isn't usually the same size of a bid as the earlier two examples, but it's effectively trying to gain a small benefit over the maxed-point fleets at a very small points expenditure.

One thing I should note so long as I'm on the subject about choosing to go first or second is to keep in mind that you do not get to see your opponent's objective cards until you choose to be first player. You can certainly eye up your opponent's fleet in an attempt to guess at their objective selection but you won't know for sure until you choose to be first player and are then handed the cards. I just want to be sure everyone is aware of that, as it can make a difference when you get to choose initiative but you don't have a strong preference for first or second player.

All right, so how much of a bid should I have?
Here comes the part that's likely to be the most contentious, so let me preface it with two important provisions:
  1. The amount you need (or should) bid can be very dependent upon your local community/meta. The goal of a bid is to bid just enough to get what you want most of the time without spending a point more, so it can vary (up or down) depending upon your meta.
  2. Once you get to a point where you're giving up enough points to be an extra squadron deployment (14-16) or especially another ship deployment+activation (18-23) you are probably bidding too much. You gain in-game benefits from additional deployments or activations that can be more valuable than a bid and you also get more stuff on the table to boot. I'd say the "hard cap" for most bids should be equal to or less than an extra deployment and should certainly never reach the points value of an entire extra ship activation.
As usual, your mileage may vary. On to the rough bid breakdown! These are the rough "tiers" of bidding and when I'd recommend them:

0 points: This is your "default fleet" that doesn't particularly care if it is first or second and thus wants to fill itself up with as many goodies as it can. It doesn't bid at all.
1-3 points: This is the level I would recommend for the 3rd type of bidding fleet. This is effectively a slightly trimmed down "default fleet" with the option to position itself advantageously on a case-by-case basis in terms of player order against other 0 point bid fleets but admits it will likely lose the bid war against more dedicated bidders.
3-5 points: There's a slight bit of overlap with the previous level, but this is the bid level for "would like to get to choose but won't be heartbroken if it don't" fleets. This is where I see most of the second-player bids end up, as in most cases players with a stronger bid are bidding for first player. That may at some point change, mind you, but that's been my experience so far.
6-10 points: This is the bid level for "I very much would like to get to choose" and is much more frequently seen in fleets that want to bid for first player due to the factors that preference that (listed above already).
11-16 points (or more?!?): This is the bid level for "I am strongly depending on getting my choice and I'm perhaps a little crazy." I've never seen a second player fleet bid this high, but it is not unheard-of for a first player fleet that strongly wants to be first to bid this high in an effort to take the first player from other first player bidders (who at this point are in a race to the bottom to see who can hurt themselves the most points-wise but still win). Be careful with this high of a bid, as you're getting to the point where it requires a serious sacrifice in terms of fleet points to sustain it.

Final thoughts
Bidding is an important element of fleet-building and something you should consider when you're puzzling out how you intend for your fleet to work. There's absolutely nothing wrong with bidding zero points (most fleets bid 0 or 1 point), but it's important to be aware that it's a choice made during fleet construction. If your fleet can derive a strong benefit from going first or second, a bid is worth considering in order to get what you want.

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