Thursday, May 18, 2017

Imperial squadron review: VT-49 Decimator

We're trucking right along through the Imperial wave 5 squadrons, which brings us to what is effectively a well-armed Imperial space truck, the VT-49 Decimator!

The segue was as bad as this picture is sweet!

It's an alternate reality evil Millennium Falcon because of course it is.
The base VT-49 Decimator is bringing a lot of stuff to the party and it's a little difficult to keep it all straight without your eyes crossing a little bit. So to break it down piece by piece, we get to my one true love, bullet points:
  • Speed 3. The Decimator is on the slow side for an Imperial squadron but not drastically so (speed 3 is much easier to make use of than sluggish speed 2, especially for Imperials).
  • 8 hull. This is an astounding amount of hull and is the highest amount of hull available to any squadron, period. It's not invincible by any means but it's not casually destroyed like the 3-hull TIE Fighter and TIE Interceptors can be against lucky rolls.
  • 3 black anti-squadron dice. This will produce an average of 2.25 damage when attacking squadrons and cannot ever produce accuracy icons. As an individual attack it's decent but it can struggle against scatter aces (who will just scatter and ignore it) and for the 22-point cost it's not nearly as effective as your more dedicated anti-squadron TIE variants.
  • 3 blue anti-ship dice. This will produce an average of 1.5 damage when attacking ships, which is pretty decent. It produces the same average damage against ships as a Firespray for 4 more points. Because it's not a Bomber, you'll never be counting crit icons for damage or resolving critical effects, but with 3 blue dice you handle obstruction very well (only losing 1/3 of your dice instead of losing 1/2 like a Firespray or your entire attack like a TIE Bomber or TIE Defender).
  • Counter 1. It should be noted that Counter dice are always blue (I've seen people claim it's black due to the anti-squadron attack being 3 black, but that's wrong). This means when attacked by another squadron, the Decimator has a 50% chance of dealing the attacker 1 damage. That's not amazing by any means but it certainly helps a little bit.
  • Heavy is never a positive trait to have. Decimators engage enemy squadrons but that engagement doesn't stop them from attacking ships or leaving. We'll talk about this a little bit more later.
  • Rogue. Rogue is always handy to have and it makes the Decimator less of a burden to squadron command. Given its high hull, the Decimator is usually fine activating in the squadron phase, but don't be shy about giving it a squadron command when necessary.
  • 22 points. Oof. When your generic squadron is more expensive than nearly all other ace squadrons, you can't just throw this thing in for the fun of it.
When you smoosh all these attributes together you get an expensive but durable and self-sufficient squadron that can perform a variety of roles but prefers to attack enemy ships over squadrons. The Heavy keyword and the Decimator's anti-squadron armament make the Decimator a mediocre asset against squadrons, particularly for its cost.

In particular, I find the Decimator is best compared to the Firespray, as they're somewhat similar. Effectively for +4 points over a Firespray, the Decimator is:
  • The same speed (3)
  • +2 hull
  • Upgrades 3 blue anti-squadron to black (1.5 damage versus 2.25, but cannot generate accuracy icons)
  • Same average damage against ships (1.5), although the Firespray does this through being a 2-blue-dice Bomber and the Decimator just does it through 3 blue dice without Bomber.
  • Both are Rogues
  • Decimator is Heavy and has Counter 1
So when to choose one over the other? My general recommendation is that Firesprays are superior when you're more committed to bombing and willing to invest in bombing support: they benefit from a Bomber Command Center nearby (their average damage against ships improves to 1.92) and they're more cost-effective as bombers. Decimators are better as more all-around squadrons that can be added easily to light fighter coverage groups or medium fighter coverage groups in small doses (which then raises the points value to a "medium fighter coverage group plus 2 Decimators," or some such). The Decimators want more conventional squadrons around to handle enemy squadrons (as they themselves are Heavy and can struggle against scatter aces) but don't mind contributing their 3 black dice to the party until they're available later to go after ships. They're also great Swarm nodes as they can tank a fair number of attacks and engage a few enemy squadrons without too much trouble and generally make unappealing targets (8 hull and Counter 1? Oof).. Finally, the high cost on the Decimator itself makes bringing along bomber support squadrons (like Rhymer and/or Intel) much less appealing overall as your squadron points run out very fast.

I've heard of people running Decimator spam to some limited success but the presence of Heavy causes me concern. Your own Decimators can be locked down by enemy squadrons but the same is not true in reverse. A committed enemy bomber group will be able to cause problems for you that do not apply the other way around. Even if you bring 1-2 non-Heavy squadrons, it's very easy for Intel to cover those. Enemy fighters (especially scatter aces) even if outclassed can still be fed into the Decimator grinder for 2ish turns just to buy time for enemy ships to largely escape harassment. Hence why my general recommendation is "good for adding spice, not great as something to spam."

"I got this, bro."
/Chariots of Fire begins playing in the background/
So for 5 more points, Morna Kee gains three main benefits over a generic Decimator:
  1. Loses Heavy. This can be a big deal at 8 hull and with Counter 1.
  2. Gains one brace token. This can be unreliable against sufficient numbers of blue dice (as there's just the one), but it's definitely better to have than not. Especially with 8 hull.
  3. Gains the usual ace special ability which I'll discuss below.
Morna Kee's special ability is rather neat and it comes with two components. First of all, when she's attacking she may spend a defense token to reroll any number of dice in her attack pool. This applies to any attack she makes, so it can work on her anti-squadron attack, anti-ship attack, or even a Counter 1 attack if necessary. This improves her average damage as noted below:
  • Anti-squadron improves from 2.25 to 2.81 (25% improvement)
  • Anti-ship improves from 1.5 to 2.25 (50% improvement!)
  • Counter 1 improves from 0.5 to 0.75 (50% improvement, but... come on, really?)
In short you'll note that the damage boost is most significant against ships. 2.25 damage from one low-maintenance squadron turn after turn adds up.

The second component of Morna Kee's special ability is whenever she activates, she regenerates her discarded brace token (if it's been discarded). This can allow for more aggressive usage of the reroll function of her special ability but it needs to be noted that this only triggers when she activates. Depending on what your opponent's squadrons are up to (and what kind of dice they throw at you) and how you want to use the possible reroll and when you expect her to activate, this ability is potentially quite powerful but can result in some bad choices by you as the player. If you overuse this ability, you'll find her defense token vanishes on turn X and then it won't come back until the squadrons phase of turn X+1 (as you wait to use her Rogue keyword); in the meantime, enemy squadrons can beat down Morna Kee as though she was a regular Decimator. That's bad. Conversely, if you underuse her ability, you're leaving a lot of potentially nasty rerolls on the table for fear of exposing her to too much danger. The best method to thread this needle is to keep a squadron token handy. If it looks like Morna is in for some bad times, you can activate her (and just her) early if necessary to bring that token back.

In general, I consider Morna a great 5 point upgrade to a Decimator. She removes the problem with Heavy, her reroll ability is fantastic, and a brace token on an 8 hull squadron is pretty swell (even if it's a bit unreliable). The main issue is 27 points on a single squadron is more than I'm usually spending on a Gozanti, so she can't be casually added to a fleet.

Final thoughts
Decimators are the most expensive squadron in the game and they suitably function like very small ships. They're very durable, they're flexible (although they prefer attacking ships), and they're extremely low maintenance due to Rogue and a statline that is forgiving of mistakes. A fleet that can accommodate their high costs and support them with other squadrons will benefit.

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