Saturday, May 13, 2017

Imperial squadron review: Lambda-class Shuttle

We're finally here at the wave 5 Imperial squadron reviews!

Before I go any further, I want to talk briefly about how John and I intend to handle Cannot Get Your Ship Out going into the future. Basically our long-term plan for the blog is for it to be half-blog half-wiki and thus we intend to update our review articles as the game releases new options that add some new facets to previously-released ships and upgrades. We also will be updating articles as our opinions change and we gain greater depth of experience. If it's more than just fixing typos or adding small asides, we will be noting when old articles get updated. This is relevant for two reasons at this moment:
1) Wave 6 should be released in about a month and it's sure to shake things up at least a little bit (and hopefully a lot, new stuff is always fun!).
2) There was a lot of stuff released in wave 5:
  • 4 new squadrons for each faction and their associated aces
  • a new ship and commander for each faction
  • 4 new objectives for each color
  • new "generic unique" and ace squadrons for all the wave one squadrons (which we've covered already)
This means that while John and I certainly have a decent amount of experience with the wave 5 stuff over the past half a year, there are elements that we're not 100% confident about just yet. As we gain more experience, we'll come back and polish some of those articles up. I'd rather discuss some things I have a few games with than wait for half a year or more before I feel like I've gotten enough experience to speak with more authority. In short, the perfect is the enemy of the good and I'd rather be good (helpful) now than wait to be perfect at some constantly-receding future date.

So with all that said, let's talk about the Lambda-class Shuttle!
"It's just a model" (or in this case, an illustration, but it's still nice)

I'll see you later, totally-not-exploded Death Star II!
The Lambda-class Shuttle (hereafter: Lambda, typing that all out is getting obnoxious) is a squadron committed to a support role. Its stats are pretty poor for 15 points:
  • A slow (for Imperials) speed of 3.
  • 6 hull is slightly high for 15 points, so not too shabby there.
  • 2 black dice anti-squadron. That's 1.5 average damage but is very weak to obstruction (going down to just one black die for 0.75 damage) and cannot roll accuracy icons against aces (which is a particular problem against scatter aces).
  • 1 blue die anti-ship. This is just as bad as a TIE Fighter but at nearly twice the cost. 50% of the time the Lambda will deal 1 damage to a ship.
  • Heavy is never a good thing to have.
In short, your Lambda is getting its mileage mostly from Relay and Strategic and not from its otherwise-underwhelming statline. The good news is Relay 2 and Strategic are great.You can read up more on them in the linked article about squadron keywords, but I'll give you the very short version:

Relay 2 works from infinitely across the table (the Relay squadron does not care one bit where it is relative to the ship issuing the command) and it can be used with every single squadron command individually. So a hypothetically infinite number of Squadrons 2 ships could issue all of their squadron commands through the Lambda's Relay 2, one after the other. A fun trick that the Lambda can do in a single squadron command that its Rebel VCX counterpart (at Relay 1) cannot is it can Relay a squadron command to itself for the first "point" of Relay, move (and attack perhaps), and then once it's done activating it can then channel the second "point" of Relay on a different squadron which is now in range due to the Lambda's earlier activation. Because each squadron that's commanded by a squadron command is chosen and completely activated one at a time, this can catch some folks by surprise when suddenly a squadron that seemed outside of any kind of command range is able to get its kicks in.

Strategic is extremely strong with the right objective suite. Remember that it works when you end a movement at distance 1 of a token and then you pick up that token and drop it at distance 1 of the squadron, so you can move that token quite a ways by picking it up on one side of your Lambda and then dropping it at maximum distance on the other side. Moving objective tokens around can make objectives like Fire Lanes and Intel Sweep (as well as numerous others) nearly unwinnable for your opponent and at the very least it makes choosing objectives like Hyperspace Assault and Targeting Beacons safer for you as you can move your opponent's tokens away from you. If your 15-point squadron allows you to earn 75 points on Intel Sweep with minimal hassle (you can start picking up tokens turn 1 with Strategic! That's nuts!) then that squadron was a 60-point net profit to you, regardless of what else it did during the game. That's pretty impressive.

The main constraint is finding a fleet build where your Lambda can work to its fullest. It is 15 points of your squadron allowance and it can't fight its way out of a wet paper bag, so it usually needs a fair amount of other squadrons around both to keep it safe and so your fleet can get mileage from Relay. Speaking of Relay, it's in a weird kind of middle ground so far as usefulness goes - if you don't use Relay whatsoever, then it's wasted potential. Conversely, if you rely on Relay a lot (often by having your Gozantis flee to the edges of the table while issuing squadron commands through the Lambda like despicable cowards!) then it's a weak link in your squadron command chain - enemy squadrons will be gunning for your Lambda so they can snap the connection between your middle-of-nowhere Gozantis and your squadrons. This can be remedied to some extent through bringing enough Escort squadrons, but there comes a point where one needs to seriously ask oneself "is all this trouble honestly worth it instead of just using Boosted Comms and spending the saved points on more effective squadrons?" You can also get into trouble by being too clever by half - you may think a bunch of cowardly Gozantis issuing squadron commands to a Rhymerball through your Lambda is pretty swell but then who will be around to give them the benefit of a Bomber Command Center?

To that end, I find Relay is most consistently useful when it's a tool in your squadron-commanding arsenal that helps "even out" the instances in which a ship would normally have trouble making full use of a squadron command rather than as your primary means of commanding squadrons (which makes the Lambda a top priority kill, which makes your games very feast-or-famine). I do in particular like the synergy between Gozantis and the Lambda insomuch as I find in the later game my Gozantis sometimes need to choose between "stick around commanding squadrons but maybe get squished" versus "I did my part, time to GTFO." With Relay 2 around they can book it and still get some squadron commanding in later on.

Strategic requires less elaboration. In short, if you're bringing a Lambda, bring objectives (preferably at least 2 of your 3) that use objective tokens and profit from it. If you feel confident about doing so, maybe even make a small bid to choose to be second player to really turn the screws on your opponent with a finely-tuned objective suite. When you're going after objective tokens, it's important to keep commanding your Lambda during important turns to keep moving those tokens around, preferably before your opponent can interact with them (it's plain cruel to pull something like a Capture the VIP or Intel Sweep token out from underneath an enemy ship). Just make sure to get your order of activations down pat so your Lambda can do its job before your objective ship, if any (like in Intel Sweep). Just like its Rebel VCX counterpart, the Lambda's Relay comes in handy here because your ships can use Relay to command the Lambda itself, making it never out of range of squadron commands and thus always able to use that squadron command to grab the early move and mess with tokens using Strategic. For extra annoyance value, pair it with an Intel squadron to free it up to keep messing with objective tokens despite possible enemy fighter interference.

Paradoxically, I've found the basic Lambda is a bit of a weird fit with a standard Rhymerball heavy squadron build. Beyond the issues with leaning too hard on Relay (which I covered earlier), you run into other problems. First and foremost, your standard "unholy trinity" of bomber objectives (Precision Strike, Fighter Ambush, Superior Positions) don't use any objective tokens. You can try switching over to objective-token-based objectives instead, but they're not as strong for the Rhymerball build overall as the unholy trinity The 15 points is also eating into 11% of your available squadron points for one more support squadron (past the Escort and Intel squadrons that are commonly accompanying a bomber group) that doesn't really perform the bomber or fighter roles very well, which can create a pillow-fisted squadron group if you go too hard on support and bombers.

The Lambda is a more comfortable fit in my experience with a medium fighter coverage group that's leaning a bit heavy. You've got most of your bases covered and you can afford the extra 15 points for some ease-of-use and tech benefits from Strategic and Relay and the other squadrons are enough trouble to give the Lambda some breathing room to do its thing. You'll also generally be able to get more mileage from the objective token objectives than a heavier squadron fleet would due to having more points for ships.

Colonel Jendon can't be killed because he's already dead inside.
Colonel Jendon is similar to a regular Lambda but with more durability (due to two braces), a neat special ability, but no Strategic. The core difference to me is that trading out Strategic for Jendon's ability effectively has two repercussions:

1) You no longer care that much about objective token objectives (yours or your opponent's). This can hurt a little bit as Strategic can be very powerful when used well.
2) You have a strong incentive to bring some individually-powerful squadrons so that Jendon's ability gets maximum benefit. Unique super-squadrons like Bossk, Darth Vader, Morna Kee, IG-88, Saber Squadron, Boba Fett, Maarek Stele, etc. all love hanging around with Jendon. So long as Jendon has a big mean friend around he can tap in to fight for him, he's much less of a "waste of points on support" as he's indirectly attacking using a stronger squadron's statline. If you're getting some Relay utility in addition to having your 21+ point super-squadron attack once again, it's almost like Jendon is saving you points (...but not really, but kind of?).

Because of this, Jendon works better with a heavier squadron investment/Rhymerball because he doesn't have Strategic that would like to be doing something with objectives those squadrons don't really care about and he also loves to tell some big expensive squadron like Boba Fett or Morna Kee to attack ships one more time at medium range using Rhymer's buff. So with that said, I can definitely recommend him provided he has at least two big mean friends he can hang out with. He won't really get a lot of mileage hanging out with swarms of generic squadrons and if he only has one strong buddy, a smart opponent will focus attacks to destroy that super-squadron quickly and then suddenly Jendon is left without a good recipient for his ability (either no other squadrons or a generic squadron that's better than Jendon but not amazingly so). With two or more super-friends, "shutting off" Jendon's ability gets much more difficult. I do find it helpful to make sure at least one of Jendon's friends is good against squadrons and one is good against ships; that way Jendon's ability is always being used on the best recipient at the moment. Super-squadrons that are good against both ships and squadrons (Maarek Stele comes to mind immediately and to a lesser extent Morna Kee, Vader, Bossk, and Boba Fett) are ideal for this.

Jendon came in really handy when the Imperials needed to talk to the Mon Calamari. Or was that Aquaman?

Jendon can be used more reliably as a Relay node for shy (cowardly!) Gozantis due to his two brace tokens, but he still wants at least one Escort squadron for that to be something dependable, and preferably two. I still prefer to keep my Gozantis within loose formation of the rest of my fleet so they can contribute flak and very light anti-ship fire when necessary, but Jendon's Relay 2 can help them still get those squadron commands in without having to chase your squadrons into no-man's land, which helps.

A quick reminder regarding Jendon's ability: because Jendon can tap his buddy into the ring lucha-style instead of attacking, when Jendon is given a squadron command he can attack (and tap his buddy in) and then move or move and then attack. While hanging out unengaged near the rear it's not uncommon for you to be able to do a tap-in attack and then move to reposition afterwards. You can wait to activate him in the Squadron Phase, just be careful to keep him at distance 1-2 of some decent recipients of his ability and to issue him the occasional squadron command so he can keep up with your other squadrons when they're on the move. You ideally never want to have to choose between using Jendon's ability or leaving him stranded in a future turn.

Final thoughts
Lambdas offer a few interesting new support tools for Imperial fleets and they follow pretty standard Imperial squadron design philosophy (this thing is built for support and that's basically all it does but it does it well!). In order to succeed with a Lambda or Jendon, you need to tailor your fleet to ensure it has a place and all of its abilities are getting use. You can't really just drop one into a fleet without consideration, but when used well they can prove decisive.

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