Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ion cannon upgrades: she blinded me with science!

Time to finish off our weapon upgrade reviews with the ion cannons!

Now you too can make little "blep blep" noises.

In the ordnance upgrades article I sorted the upgrade cards into brackets of similar effects for a more direct comparison. Ion cannon upgrades aren't in as much direct competition with one another as ordnance upgrades are (as most ordnance upgrades are "stuff involving black dice: enemy ships blow up") so I'll be sorting them alphabetically. Don't like alphabetical order? Blame the Phoenicians.

The individual reviews will also require less hair-splitting to go over the intricacies of why you might want to use Assault Concussion Missiles over Assault Proton Torpedoes (for example), so they'll be shorter too (yay)! I will add that a number of ion cannon upgrades trigger on a blue critical and so understanding the attack sequence and when criticals happen will be very helpful.

They all laughed at my plans for a giant battle WALL-E, but I'll show them!
High Capacity Ion Turbines

  • You add dice to your battery, so these dice are factored in during your initial attack and work for Fire Lanes unlike upgrades that add a die during an attack (like Slaved Turrets).
  • It's a Modification so you can't have more than one total Modification equipped.
Why would you want to use High Capacity Ion Turbines?
Extra blue dice out the sides never hurt. The main problem is it eats up your Modification slot, it's expensive, and smaller ships often would prefer SW-7 Ion Batteries and larger ships would prefer Leading Shots or a blue crit upgrade (usually Ion Cannon Batteries) instead. There is one specific case that comes to mind, and that is the ISD-I. In the case of the ISD-I, it has an ion cannon slot but only has blue dice in the front and the rear. By equipping High Capacity Ion Turbines, it gains blue dice in the side arcs which allows it to more capably swat down fleeing smaller ships that can escape from its deadly front arc and it then means that H9 Turbolasers are able to guarantee an accuracy in every arc as well as blue dice will either roll an accuracy naturally or (more likely) roll a hit or crit, which the H9s can convert over for you.

Ever since we bought those sweet purple lasers from the Decepticons, we can't hit anything!
Ion Cannon Batteries
  • The effect only resolves if you have a blue critical icon showing when the time comes to choose your critical effect.
  • The effect first looks to discard a command token (of your choice!) from the defender. If that is impossible, then the defending hull zone loses one shield instead (if it has one).
    • If you can't trigger either of these effects meaningfully, I would recommend choosing to resolve the standard generic critical effect instead.
    • The shield is removed as soon as the crit resolves, which happens prior to resolving damage like usual.
Why would you want to use Ion Cannon Batteries?
Ion Cannon Batteries are pretty helpful when you have a ship that already throws a decent number of blue dice (I'd say 3+) and isn't very interested in other ion cannon upgrades. In general it's most comfortable on the Suppressor Interdictor which loves double-arcing enemies and has 3 blue dice in the front and side hull zones. Ion Cannon Batteries are also helpful compared to other blue critical upgrades in that they can add damage (by removing shields) rather than mess around with enemy ships in more indirect ways. If you can get access to another source of rerolls (notably Darth Vader) then large ships can use this instead of Leading Shots.
I said across her nose, not up it!
Leading Shots
  • Leading Shots can be used on any attack and that includes against squadrons. If you have Leading Shots equipped on a ship with two flak dice and at least one of them is blue, then you can reroll an attack against a squadron by spending the blue die if none of your original dice were behaving themselves.
  • Leading Shots doesn't care what range you are at, it just wants a blue die to eat. If you can add a blue die at long range (through Opening Salvo or Commander Sato or the Defiance title, etc.) then you can use Leading Shots.
  • This is a "while" effect, which means it tells you when it triggers but also that you can do it once. No pitching one blue die after another to keep triggering Leading Shots!
  • You can choose the order in which your "resolve attack effects" effects resolve, so I'd recommend waiting until you've added all the dice you want to add before using Leading Shots.
Why would you want to use Leading Shots?
Leading Shots provides a lot of control over your dice pool for a very cheap cost. Its most straightforward use is to spend a blue die to reroll blank red and black dice. More nuanced uses of Leading Shots allow you to tinker with your dice pool by rerolling excess accuracy icons you don't want, rerolling blue (and in desperate circumstances, red!) dice with other icons to go fishing for accuracy icons you desperately need (like when you're shooting at flotillas), and rerolling dice while desperately fishing for a critical symbol.

The main problem with Leading Shots is it consumes a blue die for this benefit and blue dice never roll blanks so you're giving up a sure thing for that flexible reroll. For smaller dice pools it's really not worth it as you're giving up a larger percentage of your dice. Once you get to about 6 dice, though, I'd give it serious consideration. For that reason I consider it fairly standard equipment on ISD-IIs, VSD-IIs, HMC80s, and LMC80s, and particularly so the more expensive the ship becomes. You can't afford to have your large investments flubbing their dice rolls and they've got large enough dice pools to afford to give up a die to fuel the effect. You won't always need Leading Shots (if you roll well enough initially, then you won't need it) but when you do need it, you really need it.

Leading Shots can seem appealing on ISD-Is but it's a bit of a trap. The ISD-I has no blue dice at all in its side arcs and so Leading Shots is only helpful for front arc and rear attacks, and the rear lacks the quantity of dice you'd prefer. It's certainly better than nothing, but I can't say I'd recommend it over the High Capacity Ion Turbines there.

MOAR purple beams!
MS-1 Ion Cannons
  • It's another blue critical upgrade, so the usual critical timing provisions apply here too.
  • Exhausting an upgrade card only has a meaningful effect if the card exhausts to do something (meaning you exhaust it before it can exhaust to do its thing), like Intel Officer, Engine Techs, or Electronic Countermeasures. Otherwise, if it has a persistent effect (like most other upgrade cards), being exhausted doesn't have any negative effect.
Why would you want to use MS-1 Ion Cannons?
Short version: you probably shouldn't.

Long version: MS-1 Ion Cannons have the benefit of being quite cheap but their effect is very unreliable and because it triggers on a crit, anything that would affect a defensive upgrade like Targeting Scrambler or Electronic Countermeasures is usually too late (as those upgrade cards were already used by the time the "pick a crit" step comes around). It's fun to think about tapping exhausting important enemy upgrades that exhaust to use before they can be used but it's just not very reliable. I suppose if your meta is drowning in Intel Officers you might be able to get some use from this but it's still very iffy and I'd recommend looking elsewhere.

TIE Fighter not included, but could've been if you hadn't wasted 10 points on this.
NK-7 Ion Cannons
  • It's another blue critical upgrade, so the usual critical timing provisions apply here too.
  • This is the first (and so far only) critical upgrade that also exhausts the card to use, so you can only use it at most once per activation.
  • The defender is the chooser, so he'll likely pick whichever defense token is least inconvenient to lose, likely one of the ones he exhausted during the attack.
Why would you want to use NK-7 Ion Cannons?
In general, this is another "not actually that useful" ion cannon upgrade, unfortunately. The problem is that it's expensive, it relies on a blue crit, it can only be used on one attack a turn, and it only zaps the least effective defense token from whatever ship you're using it on. If it could have been used without exhausting or on the attacker's choice of defense token, I'd feel differently.

The main problem is that the NK-7 isn't that useful when used in small doses because it will just snipe the least-helpful defense token, which in most cases isn't a big benefit to you (and certainly not 10 points worth of benefit). You can't really use it in large doses well (when used on several ships like the CR90B or Raider-II) because while being able to deliver numerous NK-7 attacks can chisel away even good defense tokens, small ships like CR90Bs and Raiders generally are successful by delivering numerous smaller attacks and don't really themselves care much about enemy defense tokens; you'd need to be relying on a larger follow-up ship and that's a ton of points to spend on helping your larger hammer ship when it could've just used an Intel Officer and/or other defense-token-screwage upgrades (like H9 or XI7 Turbolasers) for a similar end effect that's relying a lot less on a combo engine.

In short, it's not that useful unless spammed and it's not a great benefit to the ships that are actually capable of spamming it.

Okay, are ion beams blue or purple? I'm getting very confused.
Overload Pulse
  • It's another blue critical upgrade, so the usual critical timing provisions apply here too.
  • It's really important to understand that critical effects are applied after defense tokens are used, so your opponent's ship gets to use all its defense tokens before the Overload Pulse triggers and turns all the remaining green defense tokens red.
Why would you want to use Overload Pulse?
If you want a really janky combo fleet, Overload Pulse always seems like it can deliver on a combo in theory (particularly with the Avenger ISD) but it can really struggle there in practice. I outlined why I'm not a big fan in the Admiral Screed article, but here it is again:

Overload Pulse+ Avenger: In a perfect world, the ship with Overload Pulse exhausts all of a target's defense tokens and then an Avenger ISD wallops them and they can't do anything about it. Awesome! In reality, it's not an easy combination to get working consistently. In order for this combination to work, you need to achieve every single one of the following:
  • Have the Overload Pulse delivery ship in range of the target (and not dead, haha).
  • Execute an attack on the target where the blue critical remains in the pool to trigger the Overload Pulse.
  • The target must not move away from the Avenger after this activation.
  • The Avenger must now activate later than the delivery ship (if it had pressing things to do earlier and had to activate before, you're already too late).
  • The Avenger must be in range of the target, which may have had an opportunity to leave its effective range.
  • The Avenger must make an attack of sufficient strength that the inability to use defense tokens is a significant benefit or else the combo was a bunch of ponderous setup for nothing, meaning the target must often be at medium or close range and you need to not roll poorly on the attack.
That's an awful lot to go right. This combo has a very inflexible order of activation and its intention is clear from the get-go so it's easy to see coming and avoid. On the rare occasion I see this combination work against players, it's because the player using it is better than his opponent. You don't need help beating people worse than you, you need help beating people equivalent to or better than you.
Good job explaining that, past me!

Overload Pulse runs into similar problems as the NK-7s: it is best used on smaller attacks that don't hurt that much to set up larger attacks later but the small ships that are ideally delivering it don't really benefit from it and are mostly trying to set something up for heavier attacks later and therefore a lot can go wrong. Given that larger ships can for a reasonable cost and with much less activation awkwardness configure themselves to mess with enemy defense tokens independently, the set-up is often not really worth it even on the rare occasion it does work.

If you do want to make Overload Pulse a thing despite my pessimism, I'd try to get some use out of it on larger ships with a double-arc attack starting with your smaller-dice non-primary arc attack to exhaust defense tokens and then follow up with your big primary arc as your second attack once their defense tokens are exhausted. Your big ships generally want Leading Shots a lot more, though. It can do all right with the LMC80 Mon Karren title (where your opponent can spend only one defense token before the Overload Pulse hits) but it's still janky in execution and likely not worth giving up your ion cannon slot for (or spending 8 points on, which is a lot for an upgrade). Once Admiral Sloane comes out in wave 6 there may be some synergy with her squadrons spending tokens but I'm still skeptical given there's combo elements remaining (the squadrons would ideally like to activate earlier but they can't go before the Overload Pulse - you could use a Flight Commander to remedy that I suppose). It has more potential there than elsewhere but it's always an awkward upgrade to really get ideal use out of in my experience.

Purple battle ball battery!
SW-7 Ion Batteries
  • This effect only works while attacking a ship.
  • The effect only works on unspent blue accuracy icons, meaning you did not spend them to lock down a defense token.
    • A fun side effect of this is that reroll effects used on your blue dice can at best turn a regular crit into a hit instead, as rerolling into an accuracy will produce an unspent blue accuracy icon. This can get mean against small ships!
Why would you want to use SW-7 Ion Batteries?
Because they are awesome on moderate to small attacks rich in blue dice (yes, the pessimistic ion cannon upgrade reviews are finally over!). Basically, accuracy icons aren't great when you're not rolling a lot of dice. Say you throw three blue dice and you get one of each icon (accuracy, hit, crit). In most circumstances, that accuracy isn't doing much of value without more damage in the pool and simply having an extra damage would be preferable. SW-7s give that to you but still let you spend accuracy icons in the rare situations where that's preferable (again, with smaller dice pools this is often the case; this is not the case with larger dice pools), like against flotillas.
Take, for example, a double-arcing CR90B equipped with SW-7s and using a concentrate fire dial (I see these things all the time as one of our skilled locals loves running these with Rieekan, his favorite commander). The front arc throws 3 blue dice at you and that becomes 3 damage. Then the side arc throws 3 total blue dice at you (2 base + 1 from concentrate fire) and that again is 3 damage. That's pretty darn respectable given that your brace token only reduces damage by 1, your evade defense tokens do nearly nothing (the best they can do, as mentioned above, is reroll a crit into a not-crit but the damage point remains), and your redirects run out of nearby shields quickly against 6 damage from such a small ship. Interdictors and to a lesser extent Raider-IIs can pull off a very similar trick to just pile damage in and shrug at the limited effectiveness of defense tokens, which get quickly overheated against double-arcs used in such a way.

There are some circumstances in which SW-7s are decent on larger ships as well. The Mon Karren LMC80 can sometimes benefit from simply having more raw damage and not worrying much about defense tokens, relying on the Mon Karren debuff to get enough damage through and using the odd accuracy icon in circumstances where that's preferable.

Final thoughts
Ion cannon upgrades at the moment are on the whole more niche than their ordnance and turbolaser cousins, especially most of those relying on blue crits. The good news is that there are still a handful of strong contenders for the ion cannon slot on many ships despite that fact.

1 comment:

  1. Another great article. I ran NK-7s on a CR90b back in one of my first games against a friend. Our fleets were fairly spaced out and my CR90 just danced around a victory the whole game plinking away defence tokens. I don't think it ever finished it off, but it was funny.