Thursday, April 27, 2017

Imperial commander review: Admiral Konstantine

Let's finish off wave 4 by discussing the commander that comes bundled with the Interdictor, Admiral Konstantine.

Or "Pouty-lips Frown-stache" as he may be known (he's not).
"I hate getting the window seat!"
Quickly, to the bullet points!
  • Konstantine's ability triggers at the start of each Status Phase, which is the final phase of each turn after the Ship and Squadron Phases (it is basically the "ready exhausted things and get ready for next turn" phase).
    • This also means that enemy Command 1 ships will be able to assign a navigate command dial next turn after seeing their new speed if they don't like it.
  • The ability checks every enemy ship to see if its at distance 5 or closer of 2+ of your medium or large ships. So hypothetically if you had the entire enemy fleet close to 2 medium or large ships, then you'd get to mess around with the speed of every single enemy ship.
    • Konstantine doesn't care whatsoever about friendly small ships, only medium or larger ships.
  • You can't make a ship go higher than its maximum speed. You can't make it go to speed 0 with Konstantine either.
So let me get straight to what might be a bit of a turn-off for some readers: I really can't recommend using Admiral Konstantine competitively(especially at 400 points), and I endeavor to not come to that conclusion with just about everything. I warned you about this in the Tagge article, so don't act surprised! 😉 That doesn't mean I won't try to make a case for him here and how he can be used in more casual play (which is a thing, there's no shame in playing just for fun!) but don't be surprised to find there's always some kind of problem, because while playing Konstantine that's what I found... there's always some kind of problem cropping up.

Okay so first things first, Konstantine would like a fleet with a generous helping of heavier ships. You'll need at least 2 and I'd recommend at least 3 (which means usually 3 at 400 points). Why 3? Because it not only gives his ability greater coverage across the table, but it also prevents his card from turning completely blank once one of your two heavier ships is destroyed. At the moment, that means you have 3 options and they all have upsides and downsides:

1) Imperial-class Star Destroyers
Pros: Fastest option, hits hardest, lives longest
Cons: Very expensive, which means you'll need to use it with other cheaper options and might price yourself out of some helpful fleet support at 400 points. Can outrun VSDs and Interdictors if you're reckless with it.

2) Victory-class Star Destroyers
Pros: Cheapest combat option. Has lots of hull and dice for its cost so it's a reasonable combat ship if you want to spam it.
Cons: Slowest and least maneuverable ship in the game. Other than Minister Tua, lacks a defensive retrofit slot and so certain fleets are going to be able to shoot one out from under you when you need it the most.

3) Interdictor Cruiser
Pros: Experimental Retrofits allow for further speed-manipulation and objective-oriented shenanigans that synergize well with Konstantine's ability. Cheaper than an ISD and makes for a better Konstantine flagship than a VSD when configured defensively.
Cons: Slow and rather expensive for its combat profile. You'll need your other ships to do the heavy lifting in combat most of the time.

4) Quasar Fire Cruiser-Carrier

Pros: Cheapest medium ship for the Empire, so it gives Konstantine a "node" for the cheapest price. Can command squadrons so your combat options can focus on other commands most of the time.
Cons: Fragile for its cost. Not a combat ship. Trying to use it to snare multiple ships for Konstantine's ability is likely signing its death sentence. Konstantine's ability doesn't have strong synergy with heavy-squadron fleets, so you'll need to use the Quasar in moderation.

Anyways, now that we're familiar with what we'll be spending a large chunk of points on, there are two other main decisions that need to be made about the fleet:

A) Gozantis?
A fleet going so heavy on heavier ships finds itself running out of points fast and at few activations. Gozantis offer you cheap activations and support for your heavier ships at a low points cost. They can also equip Slicer Tools, which allow you to more reliably mess with enemy ships with Konstantine's ability and have them stuck at that speed without the ability to navigate command their way out of trouble.

The downside is Gozantis do nothing directly for Konstantine's ability as they are small ships.

B) Tractor Beams?
All of the ships that can form the backbone of your Konstantine fleet have Offensive Retrofit slots, so they can all equip Phylon Q7 Tractor Beams. The tractor beams allow you to more consistently mess with enemy speed, and with some clever Konstantine + tractor beams team-ups you can bring many enemy ships down to speed 1 or at the very least zap off the navigate tokens the ships were hoping to use to get around Konstantine messing with their speed.

The downside is the tractor beams are even more points invested into a speed control theme that doesn't directly do anything to actually destroy enemy ships. They only modify speed down so if you were planning on using Konstantine to speed up some enemy ships  then all the tractor beams are doing there is potentially removing the nav tokens from said ships.

So basically when it comes to putting together a 400 point fleet for Konstantine, you will need to select from the following options. You generally only get to pick 3 of these but you'll feel the loss of the other 2 at all times:
  1. 3 medium or large ships
  2. More than one expensive ship (Interdictor, ISD, or tricked-out VSD-II)
  3. Upgrades beyond the nearly-naked dirt-cheap options for your heavier ships (this includes tractor beams)
  4. Flotilla support
  5. A meaningful squadron presence to stop a heavy bomber force from ruining your fleet
The fleet-building process can be rather frustrating. I'm sure it's less so at 500 points, but at 400 points it's a perpetual struggle to just bring adequate tools to handle common situations.

In terms of actual tactics and fleet usage, Konstantine is fairly fluid. Speed up some ships (it's fun to make small ships accelerate right into an attack), slow down others. When used well you can break up an orderly battle line and leave enemy fleets flying all over the place disorganized. You can encounter difficulties in making these possibilities into realities, though, similar to Tagge's problems. The fastest most agile enemy ships (like Raiders, CR90s, and MC30s) and on-the-outskirts support ships (flotillas) are the ones you want to speed-mess-with the most (usually by slowing them down, sometimes by speeding them up) but they're also the ones most able to avoid being in zap range of two of your ships. Slower heavier enemy ships (like opposing medium and heavy ships) generally don't mind going speed 1 or 2 when they're near enemy targets, so with their speed value doesn't really accomplish a lot in most circumstances.

There's also the argument to be made that if your opponent is actually concerned about Konstantine's speed-screwage, then you're effectively controlling their command dials by forcing them to use the navigate command fairly regularly instead of what they actually wanted to do. That's a reasonable argument and it does carry some weight, but the navigate command, all other things being equal, is the best command in the game so it's like trying to demoralize someone by making them eat pizza more often. Sure, it's a little annoying after a while, but pizza is delicious so it's not that big of a problem all things considered.

In short, Konstantine's shtick is hard to use well against targets it would be good against and easy to use well against targets that don't normally care that much. It can produce a kind of "underpants gnomes" effect when the speed control element is focused on, because turning that speed control consistently into something that meaningfully helps you win is usually iffy at best.

Phase 1, mess with enemy speed!
Phase 2, ?
Phase 3, win!
Given that all the above is going over different ways to build a Konstantine fleet and the problems inherent with different elements of that process, the "archetypes" section has effectively written itself already. Similarly, the problems with making Konstantine function are effectively the "how to defeat Konstantine" portion (navigate when necessary, keep ships that actually care about speed doing their normal thing of not diving into the middle of the enemy fleet).

Final thoughts
I don't like saying that a certain option is bad. I'm sure someone out there is having fun playing Konstantine and power to you for doing so. He wasn't the commander of a single one of the top 50% of Imperial fleets during the wave 5 Regionals, so I don't feel as though my "this guy is probably not that good right now" opinion is without evidence backing it up. He may see some improvement with future releases that would provide a good answer for "why Konstantine instead of another Imperial commander?" (for example, Motti or Jerjerrod run similar ships to Konstantine just... better right now). In the future, having access to cheaper and/or more maneuverable medium or larger ships would be great for Konstantine. So would a tractor beam style upgrade that allowed adjusting speed up or down for more flexibility with Konstantine's ability. Like Tagge, I hope to one day re-write this article with a more optimistic outlook, but for now I can't recommend Konstantine in competitive events.

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