Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Squadrons Encyclopedia 2 Imperial addendum

First off, the pace of my articles is going to slow down just a bit for the immediate to intermediate future due to life events. I'll still be looking to produce 1-2 articles per week minimum, but the frenzied pace from earlier (4+ articles a week) won't be possible for at least a few weeks.

This is a small Imperial-focused addendum to John's earlier article focusing on small fighter coverage groups (70ish points or less). Given that John's specialty is Rebels, it seemed best to offer a quick Imperial aside. Our intention for future additions to John's squadron encyclopedia series is to combine our efforts - John will be doing the heavy lifting on those but I'll add my own Imperial-perspective comments to them before they're published, likely using some kind of different-colored text header to make it clear Eric is assuming direct control for a little while before passing you back to John).

So far as it goes for Imperials, I agree with John's basic conclusions as to the purposes of a small squadron investment: you should be focusing on fighters only and you should consider bringing along a small fighter coverage group for the first 3 of the 4 reasons John mentioned:

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

#4 is basically a lie so far as Imperials are concerned.
Insert overused meme and cut to the rest of the page!
The reason being that almost all Imperial squadrons are much more focused on their specific role than Rebel fighters are - TIE Fighters are some of the best 8 points you can spend on just killing other squadrons, but they're absolutely miserable at everything else. A Rebel fighter-focused squadron can drop enemy squadrons and then later on move over to throwing some mediocre bombs at ships (for example, see the Rebel X-Wings and A-Wings for what I mean). Busted-up TIE Fighters with their worst-in-the-game anti-ship attacks are going to mostly just get gunned down if they try that and for little benefit.

Okay, so that sounds not so great, right? I mean the Rebels can do something the Imperials can't in the same points bracket and that's the worst, right? Well... no, actually. What the Imperials have access to, particularly in the small fighter coverage bracket, that is lacking with Rebels is specialization. By buying only fighter squadrons designed solely as fighter squadrons, you can spend less points for equivalent anti-squadron muscle compared to Rebels, or you can spend equivalent to Rebels for superior anti-squadron muscle. The main downside there being... well, that's all your squadrons are really competent at. But when it comes to a smaller squadron investment, that's exactly what your squadrons' primary role is anyways, so don't let it bother you!

So what types of squadrons qualify for the role of specialized fighters? I'd point you to the relatively short list of:
It should be noted that you can include some support squadrons provided those squadrons can enable more efficiency from your specialized fighters (we'll get to that as I provide examples below), so you're still doing fine provided you wanted to include a TIE Advanced for Escort, for example. I don't really recommend the Rogue generic squadrons much in general but particularly at this points bracket simply because they're not able to pump out enough damage and/or be in enough places (as they're slower and more expensive than TIEs) to put dents into heavier enemy squadron groups. 4 Aggressor Assault Fighters at 64 points, for example, aren't usually going to be sufficient to impair a serious Intel+Escort+Norra or Rhymer bomber cloud of doom. Similarly, TIE Defenders aren't really a great investment at this points bracket (but we'll see them later).

Okay on to the part that's going to generate the most nitpickery: basic groups I'd recommend bringing for roughly 70 points or less.

1) 6 TIE Fighters
48 points
This is my default fighter screen group. It's dirt cheap, it's 3 deployments, and it's less than 50 points. It's not flashy and it requires a solid grasp on how to use TIE Fighters, particularly in tandem with Raiders (where I find this approach is the most successful), but it's seen me to top 25% finishes in two different Regionals so far this year so it's obviously got something going for it, haha.

You can upgrade two TIEs to Interceptors for a mere +6 points if you're looking to cause a bit more trouble for bomber blobs.


2) 4 TIE Fighters, Valen Rudor, and Howlrunner
61 points
This is effectively an upgunned "cheapo" group from above. Valen hits like a ton of bricks and Howlrunner buffs all the nearby TIE Fighters and Valen. If you're up against enemies typically running a bunch of Heavy squadrons, you can sub out Valen or a generic TIE Fighter for Mauler Mithel, who loves jumping into groups of Heavy squadrons only to keep jumping around in the future. Otherwise you need some kind of Intel apparatus to keep him hopping (see the 4th build for how I would recommend doing this).

3) 6 TIE Fighters and 2 TIE Interceptors
70 points
Right at the edge of what qualifies, this is effectively an alternatively upgunned cheapo group that seeks to maintain sheer numbers of squadrons but adds 2 TIE Interceptors to give bomber groups fits by engaging the far ends of the cloud more easily. The main issue here is finding the squadron-command muscle to command 8 separate squadrons on crucial turns - the total number will decrease as casualties mount but you'll want to be able to throw all 8 on the crucial turn the dogfight begins (usually turn 2, sometimes turn 3).

4) Mauler Mithel, Jumpmaster 5000, Zertik Strom, and Soontir Fel
60 points
This is a modest 4-squadron ace-heavy group built around getting maximum mileage out of Mauler Mithel's and Soontir Fel's abilities by abusing Intel and Escort. You could absolutely get two TIE Advanced in by dropping Strom (it would cost you 69 points to do so and you'd have an odd number of squadrons, but it would improve your total Escort coverage, which is important). You can use this group as the centerpiece of a heavier squadron build (in later articles) but for just making enemy squadrons miserable (especially with flak support), this can more manageable for fleets less able to command big piles of squadrons like my earlier builds but be careful to keep your Jumpmaster well-protected or else Mauler Mithel is going to get stranded.

5) Whisper, Ciena Ree, Valen Rudor, Bossk
73 points
Yeah, I broke my 70 points guideline. Sorry. The idea with this odd combination is specialized but straightforward - you've got a small number of decently hard-hitting aces that are all extremely annoying to attack. If your preferred prey is bomber groups, they'll often have a small handful of actual fighters (in my experience, 1-4) who have problems attacking everyone in this group:
  • Whisper will happily use her teleport ability to either leave engagement after getting attacked or sneak further in if there aren't any more credible attackers, causing problems.
  • Ciena Ree has Counter 2 and is permanently obstructed with a scatter and brace token so she's not fun to attack and you need several squadrons piling on her to deal with her in most cases.
  • Valen Rudor is hiding behind his friends and is often impossible to actually attack or at best you can get one attack on him and he's got that good ol' scatter+brace combo the first two aces have to shrug off the worst of it usually.
  • Bossk is just not the kind of squadron you go after unless you're planning to go after him hard. 7 hull, a brace token, and an ability that triggers upon being damaged. Oof.
In short it's a low-command-load squadron build that exploits weaknesses present in bomber-heavy builds in that it requires a lot of enemy fighters going after individual squadrons to give it trouble and most bomber-heavy fleets can't really provide that.

6) Mauler Mithel, IG-88, Saber Squadron, Colonel Jendon
68 points
This is another specialized build, this one designed to scalpel out Intel squadrons from behind their Escort bodyguards, depriving bomber groups of their linchpin squadron(s). Every squadron here contributes:
  • Mauler Mithel does 1 instant damage to all squadrons engaged with him, pretty reliably putting 1 damage on the Intel squadron(s) without recourse to Escort or defense tokens.
  • IG-88 can be activated to punch an Intel squadron behind an Escort (and ignores the HWK-290/Jan's Counter 2 as well), reliably doing about 2 damage to a generic Intel squadron and 1 to an ace.
  • Saber Squadron can Snipe around an Escort squadron to put a bit less than 2.5 damage into a generic Intel squadron or 1-2 into an ace.
  • Colonel Jendon then moves in and allows IG or Saber Squadron another attack if necessary.
With one activation of this group (preferably all at once) you can reliably nuke a single ace Intel squadron or two generic Intel squadrons. That should be sufficient for 99% of your  Intel problems (as Intel is frequently provided by one ace or up to two generic squadrons, but not often by ace+generic or more than two generics) and then the remaining enemy squadrons are stuck engaged with you. The main problem you will experience here is a heavy squadron bomber group will likely be able to slowly chew through our brave anti-Intel suicide squad, but the 2-3 turns of engaging the bombers with your non-Jendon (he's Heavy) squads and casualties you inflict should be sufficient to substantially neutralize the bomber threat, in many cases without having to take any actual bomber attacks beforehand.

7) Howlrunner + 5 TIE Interceptors
71 points
There I go, breaking the points limit again 😞. Quite simply, this build tries to leverage  Howlrunner's buff on both attack and defense by giving a bonus die to the Interceptors' regular and Counter  attacks, bringing them ideally up to effectively 5 blue + Swarm on the attack and 3 blue + Swarm  on the defense. The main concern here is Howlrunner herself getting preemptively assassinated, as your opponent is likely quite interested in avoiding those bonus blue dice from Interceptors as soon as possible. Be careful with Howlrunner and if necessary keep her out of engagement - the most important element is keeping her at distance 1 of the Interceptors whenever possible.

You can tweak this build a bit by replacing an Interceptor with a source of Escort to keep Howlrunner alive or by dropping some Interceptors in favor of Interceptor aces (Soontir can act as a "soft" source of Escort for Howlrunner and Ciena is just a persistent problem). Dengar can be added at higher points brackets if you get obsessive about maximizing this concept (as he adds Intel and +1 Counter, freeing up the Interceptors to keep moving and buffing them with Howlrunner to effectively Counter 4) but the points cost for adding him (+20!) is quite high for a group solely devoted to anti-squadron duties.

I guarantee you there are plenty of fighter-centric 70 points(...ish) or less builds that are out there for Imperials that I didn't touch on, so please don't view this list as all-inclusive so much as a starting point.

The important thing to note is different groups are good in different circumstances and for different points investments. If your fleet build and meta can handle enemy squadrons just fine with the cheapo 6 TIE Fighter build, then good for you! You don't need to invest in some of the heavier smaller squadron groups that get up to 70 points or so to get your job done and can spend the savings on other ships and upgrades.

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