Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Black dice: blowing up enemy ships for fun and profit!

Using black dice ships is one of the more difficult skill sets for newer Armada players to come to grips with (along with "how to squadron", but John's got you covered and then some on that topic). John and I have covered some of the elements on "how to black dice" in ship-review articles such as the Raider, Gladiator, and MC30 articles. We figured it would be useful to combine some of the all-purpose black-dice help into one article and given my love affair with black dice (its kind of my thing, just like squadrons are kind of John's thing) I volunteered as tribute.

In the grim darkness of the alternative future there is only children killing each other for entertainment and a socio-economic system that doesn't really make much sense when you sit down and think about it!

Okay, so why try to use black dice (and their ships) in the first place? They're the shortest available range and getting enemy ships in short range can be a little tricky. There are a few very straightforward answers to that question:
  1. Black dice do the highest average damage of every color of dice (1 average per die, versus 0.75 for red and blue). With an easily-available reroll from Ordnance Experts, the average improves to an exceptional 1.25 and makes black critical effects much more reliable.
  2. Black dice have 2 high-damage sides with a hit+crit available for the possibility of some mean burst damage.
  3. Short range attacks offer the largest possible starting dice pool (as all your attacks are in range) and enemy evade defense tokens are worthless at that range.
In short, black dice make enemy ships explode.
"This CR90 is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late corvette. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If it wasn't debris in space, it would be pushing up daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-CR90."
The thing with black dice ships is that like all other approaches to using assets in Armada, you need a fleet that will support them. It's just more obvious with black dice when it's not working because due to their short range they're prone to not working whatsoever in the worst case (meaning no short ranged attacks at all) rather than just working less efficiently (like a longer-ranged ship that has to settle with using its weaker arcs). So strategically (i.e. when building a fleet), we need to set up a fleet properly for our black dice ships to perform their best.

Therefore, if you're looking to get the most use from black dice ships, it helps to include as many of the following in your fleet as possible:
  1. A bid to go first.
    • Being first player allows one of your ships to activate first, allowing it to move to short range during the preceding turn and then launch a salvo first thing on the next turn.
    • The bid doesn't need to be huge but it should at least be present.
  2. At least 5 activations.
    • Most fleets nowadays run 4-5 ships/activations. You want enough activations to at least match the number you'll find in most cases. The reason for this is twofold:
      1. Being able to "catch" enemy ships that need to move into short range. This is the specialty of more reactive ships like the Raider and occasionally even a VSD-I can pull off this trick. The problem is the enemy ship clearly would rather not have to eat a full-dice salvo from your ship and so a waiting game develops where each ship encourages the other to activate first. Having equivalent or greater activations gives you more capacity to wait out the enemy ship so it must activate first and then sail into short range so you can then activate and unload on it.
      2. One of the easiest ways to get mileage out of black dice ships is the "last+first" trick where you activate it last on turn X (after all other ships have activated) to get into range of its prey and then activate it first on turn X+1 to attack. This is the safest attack run flimsier ships like Raiders and (against large ships' best arcs) Gladiators can make on heavier enemy ships, as you can often jet away after your hit and run attack, avoiding serious retribution.
  3. Upgrades to increase damage.
    • This comes in a few different flavors but overall anything that makes your black dice more consistent (like Ordnance Experts) and/or damaging (like ordnance upgrades) is a welcome addition to your black dice ships.
    • It's important to distinguish here that black dice ships exist along a kind of spectrum and so what's worth piling upgrades into on one end may not be as useful at the other end. Effectively, you have the two different types of black dice ships:
      1. Proactive: proactive black dice ships are usually faster and more maneuverable so they can be delivered more reliably to enemy ships. Ships like Gladiators and MC30s are good examples. Proactive black dice ships will usually be getting more total black dice attacks over the course of a game and thus upgrades that buff black dice go farther on them.
      2. Reactive: reactive black dice ships are usually slower and/or less maneuverable (like VSD-Is and Assault Peltas without Engine Techs). These ships have black dice but they can have difficulty aggressively delivering them but can still be successful with the "catching" trick. Thus their black dice operate as something of a deterrent to enemy ships telling them not to get too close unless they're serious about getting into a slugging match. Reactive black dice ships can still be upgraded to improve their black dice performance but in general these upgrades are not as important as they are on the proactive ships and should be kept cheap.
    • Because your black dice ships have such a narrow window for dealing maximum damage, it's important to upgrade them to get the most cost-effective mileage from those opportunities.
  4. Upgrades to improve speed control/maneuverability
    • Very similar to the damage upgrades insomuch as your ability to send black dice into enemy ships is highly dependent upon being able to get at range of them, preferably in a position where you can double-arc them and they can't seriously hurt you back.
    • This includes both individual ship upgrades (particularly Engine Techs) as well as commander effects (like Ozzel, Jerjerrod, and Madine).
    • This can work the other way around as well - upgrades that slow enemies down (like Tractor Beams or the G8 Experimental Projectors on an Interdictor) can keep them from escaping black dice range as well. This tends to work better with the more reactive black dice ships that would like their foes to stay "caught" at short range for another round of beatings.
Okay, so we're past the strategic part and on to the tactical part! What kind of fun tricks can we do with our black dice ships in a game?

1) Last+first
I mentioned this earlier, but the last+first maneuver is a solid bread and butter tactic for fleets leaning heavily on black dice ships.

2) Catching prey
Again, this one was mentioned above (we include strategic elements in order to provide tactical opportunities, effectively) and I provided an example of doing this in the Raider article:
That Assault Frigate is going to have a bad time.
Again, the idea is to set your ship up to "catch" enemy ships that must approach it and enter short range while doing so. You can do this capably even with more proactive black dice ships by setting up the gold standard "catching double arc"
Rebel Ships About To Have Bad Times, Volume 2.
"Catching" requires not only the activation advantage to wait out the victim but also a solid grasp of order of activation priority for both players. Keep an eye on what you can and cannot wait to activate or else you may be too clever by half and blunder a ship into a trap of your opponent's while waiting to spring on one him yourself!

3) Double-arc
Because your black dice ships generally get only a few shots at doing large amounts of burst damage, you want to bring as much pain as you can against your intended target. Double-arcing is a solid tactic to use in Armada overall but it's particularly strong when used with black dice ships as it will rapidly overheat defense tokens and can produce an activation that's more than twice as damaging as getting in a single attack. Gladiators and MC30s are the masters of the double-arc and I illustrated an example of a Gladiator cruising in with Engine Techs to set up a double arc in the Gladiator article:
Add Demolisher for extra fun (offer not applicable for your opponent)!
4) Navigate constantly
Navigate commands are for my money the strongest default command in Armada and this is especially true with very maneuver-sensitive black dice ships. Success or failure can hinge upon whether your black dice ship can get into just the right position and manage its speed tempo to arrive on time (not a turn too early or late). In general, if you're not assigning navigate commands to black dice ships (especially the more aggressive proactive black dice ships) at least 3 out of every 6 turns of a game (and sometimes more!), I'd reconsider your approach.

Extra clicks of yaw from navigating help set up double arcs. Speed changes help you set up or avoid traps. Navigate triggers Engine Techs on Gladiators and Assault Peltas. A quick boost of speed (especially with a navigate dial+token) can help you jump past enemy ships hoping to punish you for beating down their friends. Navigating all the time makes your end positioning very difficult to predict, which is also important when your range is so short and your opponent's ships often don't have the same problem. In short, navigate commands are great and particularly so with black dice ships.

5) Ramming ships is awesome
You ever been to a demolition derby? If not, you should.
Always remember that overlapping ("ramming") enemy ships is an option, as is leaving your ships in the flight path of enemy ships so they're forced to ram you and stay stuck in place. Overlapping can get that crucial extra hull damage into an enemy ship, but it can also allow your ship to "hit the brakes" and stay in a relatively harmless arc (like an Assault Frigate front arc or a VSD side arc or the like) for next turn. If you've got a durable reactive black dice ship (like a VSD), it can be great to keep an enemy ship pinned in place in front of you as it can't muster the speed to jump you and will be subjected to turn after turn of 3 red+3 black dice. ISD-Is are particularly adept at this "trapping" maneuver due to their size and decent (for their size) maneuverability, as I demonstrated in their article:
That Assault Frigate is well and truly stuck.
Don't forget that overlapping can be done intentionally (I've met some players that believe it's only possible to do so when there's no way out of it and that's incorrect), so you can intentionally ram other ships for any of the possible situational benefits I outlined below. The ISD in the example above sure could (especially with a navigate dial) try to shimmy around that Assault Frigate in a future turn, but it's much better intentionally ramming it and keeping itself in position.

Ramming can also be done to perform otherwise-illegal maneuvers, as you are allowed to overlap the maneuver tool if and only if your final destination results in a ship overlap and you need to move backwards along the maneuver tool. To be clear, your "original" destination still needs to be plotted following the usual rules, it's just that when there's a ship there you keep moving backwards along the maneuver tool until you find a place to land without a ship and at that point the rules don't care if you're overlapping the maneuver tool any more (just in case you doubt me on this one, go check out the rules reference guide, page 8, under "overlapping" and check the third bullet point). Anyways, this can set up some neat situations, for example:


The Raider could move at speed 2 straight ahead to ram the GR75, but instead it Tokyo Drifts. It still overlaps at the final destination and so it moves back to the speed 1 joint and lands on the maneuver tool. This sets up a double arc for next turn:

If the Raider had simply moved straight ahead and not abused utilized the options available to it through overlapping, it only would have only lined up a single arc on the GR75 next turn, it now has a double arc and is blocking off a lot of landing space for the GR75. Much better!

Final thoughts
With all the black dice thoughts largely in one place, hopefully this is a helpful resource for players looking to get some extra mileage out of their black dice ships. If you have any questions, as usual please let us know!

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