Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Imperial squadron review: TIE Defender

Continuing our wave 5 Imperial squadron reviews, we have reached the TIE Defender.

Okay so hear me out, what if TIE Fighters had an extra wing and also its wings were each two triangles and those triangles had lasers?
Back in the EU, TIE Defenders were basically the King Tiger tank of the Empire: just about the best at everything they did, but substantially over-engineered and ridiculously expensive. One-on-one you certainly didn't want to tangle with one, but strategically, the Empire would've been better off devoting the same resources into far more conventional fighters rather than a starfighter vanity project.

Thankfully, in Armada they're quite useful but the expense (in terms of points) can be problematic, which is thematically fitting. Let's move right along...
Beware the flying billiards ball!
TIE Defenders are packing some top-notch stats for a generic squadron. In particular, the blazing-fast speed of 5 attached to a high hull value of 6 and a strong anti-squadron attack are otherwise unknown in Armada - normally, your speed 5 squadrons are lighter craft designed primarily as anti-squadron interceptors (like TIE Interceptors or A-Wings), but the TIE Defender is more of a heavy anti-squadron asset with some backup bombing utility. In that regard, it's like an Imperial X-Wing on steroids, although it's not a team player (no Escort).

The TIE Defender was initially received with much rejoicing by the subset of Imperial players who hate TIE Fighters. The TIE Defender "solves" a lot of the TIE Fighter problems by being much more durable (twice the hull!), its attack dice aren't as dependent on exploiting Swarm, and adds some flexibility in being able to attack ships due to Bomber. To some extent the TIE Defender is still made for these particular players, as it largely ignores a lot of the Imperial squadron design philosophy by presenting a squadron that's great to okay at everything. So why not just take tons of Defenders in every list?

The answer is "Defenders are really expensive." Every TIE Fighter ace is the same cost or cheaper than a generic TIE Defender squadron. If you're looking to handle your anti-squadron needs, a pair of TIE Fighters will produce an average of just under 4 damage (assuming both are using Swarm, reduce the average by 0.5 for each one that's not using Swarm), whereas a single TIE Defender will produce an average of 2.5 damage against squadrons. The TIE Defender's black dice against squadrons are something of a mixed bag - they're much better at producing damage than blue dice (75% of the time versus 50% of the time) but they can't produce accuracy icons, which can be problematic against ace squadrons with a scatter token. Even the same two TIE Fighters will produce 1 average damage against a ship whereas the Defender averages out to 0.75 damage against ships.

Of course this isn't to say it's all downsides. The 6 hull of a Defender allows it to keep attacking at full efficiency when one of our example TIE Fighters has already been destroyed and also gives the Defender a lot less trouble against enemy flak. The 5 speed can let it get in the first punch against other fast squadrons like YT-2400s, opposing TIE Fighters, and E-Wings. By concentrating the offensive resources into fewer squadrons, squadron commands are spent more efficiently on TIE Defenders and those squadron command resolutions as a group will be more powerful (an ISD sending 4 TIE Defenders against enemy squadrons in one activation will do more damage than if it had sent 4 TIE FIghters, for example). I simply wanted to make it clear early on that TIE Defenders have their merits, but dreams of never using TIE Fighters or TIE Bombers again because of the clear superiority of TIE Defenders often meet cold hard reality fairly quickly. Effectively with TIE Defenders you're trading off raw damage potential and more deployments with your cheaper more specialized squadrons for more individually powerful and flexible squadron activations with higher speed squadrons.

So in what circumstances should you consider using TIE Defenders over other options? There's two basic methods that come to mind:
  • You can use TIE Defenders as the core element of a Rebel-style flexible medium or large fighter coverage group. In this manner, TIE Defenders are expected to blow out the opposing squadrons in most match-ups and then the survivors will function as bombers in the late game. TIE Defenders aren't great bombers, mind you, but at worst this particular build is "points not spent as efficiently as they could have been but still okay" rather than "oops, all these points spent on (insert specialist Imperial squadron) were effectively wasted due to the matchup."
  • You can add a small number of TIE Defenders to other squadron groups (I'd recommend 2 as a basic starting point). They can fulfill numerous functions depending on what you're using as the main core of your squadron group:
    • Defenders can function as more durable self-sufficient TIE Interceptors provided you want to engage on opposite ends of an enemy squadron group unsupported. A pair of Interceptors teaming up (to get use from Swarm) against weak squadrons will get more damage (particularly with Counter 2 and the Swarm reroll) for their cost than Defenders but their utility decreases without a buddy to team up with. TIE Defenders don't care so much about that.
    • Defenders can function as replacement TIE Advanced provided you mainly wanted to use TIE Advanced as a durable Swarm node you can toss into the middle of an enemy squadron group so your less durable TIE Fighters can come in afterwards and have all of them benefit from Swarm.
    • Defenders can also offer a modest amount of late-game anti-ship capacity once you've (hypothetically) won the squadron mini-game. Your regular TIE Fighters can peel away and your Defenders can continue to hang out with any remaining TIE Bombers or Firesprays.
One final thing I would like to mention about TIE Defenders operating as bombers is that TIE Defenders will do one damage 75% of the time under normal circumstances. When you have a Bomber Command Center around,  that improves to a 93.8% of the time. If you're bringing enough Defenders and at least one Gozanti, it's worth considering a Bomber Command Center to make your Defenders (and hopefully other bombers too) more reliable. If you're not bringing too many, though, it's likely best to just leave it alone and save your points.

Autographs are 10 credits, kid. I better not see this on space eBay!
For 5 points over a regular Defender, Maarek Stele gains:
  • A neat special ability
  • Grit
  • 2 brace tokens
  • an extra blue anti-ship dice
Which is to say quite a lot, actually.

Maarek's special ability is quite potent as it allows him to "fix" blue accuracy dice rolled against a ship to a critical icon and can improve his black anti-squadron dice when they roll blank(by flipping to the hit+crit side). This improves his average damage against ships to 1.94 average damage, which is a huge increase over the 0.75 of a regular Defender and better even than TIE Bomber aces and unbuffed Firesprays and the like. It also improves his average damage against squadrons to 2.94, which is a mild improvement over the default Defender's 2.5. It helps, though, as it means you're regularly one-shotting TIE Fighters and able to reliably take out X-Wings and the like in two attacks. It should also be noted that Maarek's special ability works whenever he attacks, so if he's given an extra attack by his BFF, Colonel Jendon, his ability applies to both attacks!

Grit is also not to be overlooked, as it can allow you to reposition and attack or to chase after ships more easily once the enemy squadron presence has been thinned out a bit. It comes in handy here and there and people forget about it.

In short, I'd recommend Maarek pretty solidly if you've got the extra 5 points. He's not cheap, but for a reasonable cost over a regular Defender he makes the basic chassis far more effective against ships (making it a very potent anti-everything squadron) and the two brace tokens make those 6 hull points go even further.

Final thoughts
Hopefully I haven't come across as too negative about TIE Defenders. I'm honestly rather fond of them when used with the right kind of fleet and Maarek Stele in particular is a boss. It's just that I've seen players go nuts over them, thinking they're some kind of replacement for nearly every other Imperial squadron and then get disappointed when that's not the case. Use them to their strengths and you won't be disappointed - there's no individual generic squadron Rebels can bring that matches the raw stat pile of a TIE Defender, but you're absolutely paying top dollar for it, as it should be.


  1. Great review, as always on this site. I really enjoy reading these.

    In a sea of idiotic and information-poor youtube videos, reading someone's article about the game is really refreshing. Keep up the good work.

  2. hi!
    what are your thoughts on sloan and defenders?

    1. It's okay, but not amazing. The main benefit is anything that the Defender rolls when attacking a ship does something, but it means you're spending points on the crit reroll Sloane ability and generally not using it much. Defenders are also expensive and the TIE Fighter aces are as expensive or cheaper, and they're often better with Sloane. Only 2 blue dice against squadrons means you're not as likely to mess with ace defense tokens either.