Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Weapon team upgrades: the best defense is a good offense

Let's talk weapon teams! One quick note, the boarding teams (weapon team+offensive retrofit) upgrades are elsewhere, but otherwise all the weapon team upgrades are here.

"So... we're just kind of hoping they'll fly right in front of our window and otherwise we do nothing?"
"Man, these Imperial union jobs are great!"
"Seriously, Caitken, clear your browser history before sharing this thing. I've seen things that can't be unseen."
Caitken and Shollan, also known as "the twins" or as I prefer to call them, "the Mon Calbinos," or as John prefers to call them, "Statler and Waldorf"...

Oh come on, if John's involved, you know Muppets are happening soon!
Anyways, they are the only weapon team added in wave 7 and also the first faction-specific weapon team, being limited to Rebels only. Their rules require nearly no clarifying except to make a special note that they exhaust upon use. I've seen some people think they can be used on both attacks, and that's incorrect. Sorry.

The main issue for Caitken and Shollan is finding a ship that wants them more than other weapon team upgrades - shorter-ranged ordnance ships like MC30s generally prefer Ordnance Experts, because they work on both attacks (and you're trying to line up a double arc) and are cheaper. Longer-ranged ships like LMC80s usually prefer Gunnery Teams, as they're hoping to get extra use from their best arc at long range. Carriers obviously prefer Flight Controllers. So where exactly do these fish friends go?

The general answer is Caitken and Shollan should be considered on ships designed to funnel a single strong attack into an enemy ship with extreme prejudice, often from range and featuring a decent number of red dice. The reason for that is blue dice are not as frequently in need of rerolls (as all faces have something on them and any ship with a decent number of blue dice can usually use Leading Shots if it wants the reroll option) and black dice can get rerolled by Caitken and Shollan's competition, Ordnance Experts. Red dice, however, are the most fickle color of dice in Armada and greatly benefit from rerolls, and rerolls on red dice are not something Rebels normally have easy access to.

Okay, let's get back to the "single strong attack" qualifier to explain that, too: if you're taking Caitken and Shollan, they work once per activation due to exhausting to use. Their primary competition on combat ships, as mentioned earlier, is generally Gunnery Team (which wants to make two attacks out of the best arc usually) and Ordnance Experts (which wants to make two attacks from different hull zones on the same target), and Caitken and Shollan will generally come out poorly when used as straight-up substitutes for those two weapon team upgrades because they can only work the once. The solution is simple: use them as a critical component of a ship that is designed to get one serious wallop in against heavier targets.

For example, let's take an Ackbar Assault Frigate. It's common to give these Gunnery Team so they can spray-and-pray with 5 red dice at two targets out the side arc. With Caitken and Shollan, you can configure one differently with Slaved Turrets (one of the few times I'd recommend their use) and an Intel Officer for a rerollable 6 red dice broadside (7 with a concentrate fire dial, potentially more if the unfortunate victim is the Most Wanted target) with the Intel Officer giving the stink eye to the heavy target's brace. That will add up quickly. You can do something similar with an LMC80 Battle Cruiser using Spinal Armament and XI7 Turbolasers with an Intel Officer too. Ships outfitted in this fashion will get serious damage to stick to heavier targets even at range and can gobble up small ships quickly and should almost never fail to one-shot corvettes and the like at medium range, similar to full-on premium large ships like ISDs but at a lower cost (and admittedly a narrower focus).

Phil, wake up! Phil! They're taking our group picture and... damnit, too late.
Fire-Control Team allows you to exhaust the card to resolve one more critical effect during the usual critical effect window.

At the moment, it's not terribly useful. The problem is that the generic critical effect is the easiest secondary critical effect to add to an upgrade critical effect and it's not always very reliable. The FAQ also ruled that Assault Proton Torpedoes do not stack with the generic critical effect (as the APTs deal a face-up damage card prior to the regular damage, meaning the first damage card has already been dealt face-up, so the generic crit does nothing). This situation is made worse by the fact that the best critical effects in the game are on black-crit cards, where Ordnance Experts helps tremendously in triggering them; unfortunately the Fire-Control Team wants to sit in the Ordnance Experts' chairs and the Ordnance Experts are having none of it.

In short, given the Fire-Control Team uses up your weapon team slot, it's a bit of a hard sell for now. The one exception I can think of may be the upcoming Kuat Refit ISD, which has both an ion cannon and ordnance upgrade slot (as those two upgrade types have the best critical effects), which could with some help from Vader or Screed allow you to conceivably trigger both a blue and black crit. It's still a bit of a long shot, but maybe?

This guy is the most intense telemarketer I have ever seen.
Flight Controllers are pretty straightforward - every squadron their ship activates gets one more blue die against squadrons they attack that activation (but only for that squadron activation, it doesn't help Counter and it won't buff the attack given by Colonel Jendon). This includes Snipe attacks as well (as the Snipe keyword simply replaces the normal anti-squadron armament with a temporary new one during the attack).

Flight Controllers can be extremely effective at boosting your fighter squadrons' capacity to beat down enemy squadrons, adding 0.5 average damage to each anti-squadron attack and also improving your odds of generating an accuracy against aces. They can be useful for adding more blue dice to squadrons that don't get many or any of them naturally, such as with Valen Rudor or TIE Defenders and they're also good for improving multi-role squadrons that are poor to mediocre against squadrons, such as Y-Wings or B-Wings, up to being more capable, allowing you to get by with less dedicated fighters overall as your mixed-role mostly-bomber squadrons can mostly handle themselves (...mostly).

The main issue with Flight Controllers is finding a good home for it. You'll want a ship with a good Squadrons value to maximize their usefulness but that ship will also obviously need a weapon team slot that isn't being used for something else. Many Flight Controllers-capable ships have a lot of competition for the weapon team slot, often from Gunnery Team, and sometimes from Ordnance Experts. The big exception here is the Imperial Quasar Fire Cruiser-Carrier, which frequently has an empty weapon team slot that seems custom-designed for the Flight Controllers.

You know you're working hard when it's making sparks.
Gunnery Team allows its equipped ship to make two attacks from the same hull zone provided those two attacks don't target the same ship or squadron. So no double-flakking squadrons or double-shooting the same ship like you can with Advanced Gunnery!

Gunnery Team is an oldie-but-goodie back from wave one and it's still a great upgrade on medium or large ships with a specific arc that's superior to the others and that arc should offer a strong compliment of longer-ranged dice. Specifically, you'll see this on ISDs, VSDs, Liberty MC80s, and Assault Frigates most frequently as they check all of those boxes. The main problem with Gunnery Team is it's expensive and you'll only get best use from it when you've got multiple targets in a desirable arc. The expense reason keeps it from seeing much use on cheaper ships, most of which don't offer enough arc differentiation or long-ranged dice to want it anyways.

The reason you'll want a strong longer-ranged arc is the longer you can reach out, the better your odds of being able to meaningfully tag two targets from the same arc. An ISD-II with Gunnery Teams can unload its full salvo of 4 red and 4 blue dice at some unfortunate ship at medium range and then lob 4 red dice at another target at long range without too much trouble, for example, and this is superior to the same situation where its second attack is a 2-red-dice side arc attack. This varies from ship to ship, but in general I like to use Gunnery Teams on ships that will have either 4+ dice at long range (like a VSD-I with Quad Battery Turrets) or 6+ red+blue dice at medium range (like an LMC80) to maximize the odds of getting efficient use from the Gunnery Team. The Assault Frigate is an exception (although you can always put Enhanced Armament on it for 4 red dice or use Ackbar for 5) due to the fact that it's much easier to consistently use Gunnery Teams on it because of its wide and easy-to-use side arc, even if its dice aren't particularly strong.

Anyways, the main counter-argument I'll see to Gunnery Teams is that you won't always get to use them to their utmost from your best arc, particularly against more maneuverable enemy fleets that are endeavoring to stay out of there. That can certainly be the case. I'd counter that Gunnery Teams improve your chances of your most expensive ships getting to make both of their allowed attacks in a given turn and can improve the quality of your second attack as well. Sometimes the Gunnery Team itself helps with this, other times it does not. When you're spending a lot of points on a single ship, you need to give it the best chances of being effective and when it's stuck making only one attack a turn, it's not being very effective.

Even if you're not using Gunnery Team to shoot two different ships in one activation, being able to attack a ship and flak from the same arc is quite handy. Smart bomber commanders like to put their bombers in arcs of enemy ships that would preferably like to target ships so as to avoid an easy decision to flak them instead. Gunnery Teams allow you to shoot from that arc and still flak regardless.That can add up pretty substantially against a heavy bomber wing.

Joe refuses to weld, the only thing he will do is stare longingly into the innards of Imperial-branded torpedoes.
Ordnance Experts allows the equipped ship to reroll any number of black dice once during each attack. Yes, that means your Raider-Is can reroll both of their black flak dice against each squadron they attack.

Ordnance Experts are swell on ships with decent black dice batteries and which can expect to get regular use from their black dice. For example, Raiders, Gladiator-class Star Destroyers, and MC30c Frigates (doubly so for Torpedo Frigates) should all give serious consideration to using Ordnance Experts and I consider them nearly-mandatory on those ships (especially Raiders). Slower ships that expect to use their black dice reactively (like VSDs) generally should ignore them in favor of something they'll get more regular use out of. If this sounds familiar, I touched on this in my how-to guide for using black dice.

The Ordnance Experts themselves even when used conservatively (rerolling only blank black dice) will improve each black die's average damage against ships from 1 to 1.25 (a 25% increase) and increase an individual die's total odds of rolling a hit+crit from 25% to 31.25%, which helps you more consistently roll hit+crits for your black crit ordnance upgrades. When used more aggressively (rerolling everything but hit+crits), you still get the same damage improvement (1.25 average damage) and your odds of rolling a hit+crit go up to 43.75% but those averages don't get to the main problem with the aggro reroll policy - your end odds of having a blank die at the end with the conservative reroll method are only 6.25% and are a much-higher 18.75% with the aggressive reroll method, which makes the aggressive reroll method much swingier than the conservative method.

In general, I recommend going nuts on your reroll if you're counting on getting a hit+crit for a black crit ordnance upgrade (which makes the extra risk worth it for the chance of doing extra damage) but otherwise rerolling conservatively. If you have an extra method for fixing dice that you don't mind using (a concentrate fire token, Vader, or Screed), then you can "save" a bad luck aggressive reroll by using other reroll or dice modification effects after seeing how that turns out.

When it comes to rerolls against squadrons, Ordnance Experts improves each black die's average damage from 0.75 to a very-impressive 0.9375. This makes using them on Raider-Is very impressive as you are consistently (87.9% of the time) dealing 2 damage to each squadron you flak.

"Sir, those X-Wings are getting really close!"
"Don't interrupt me when I'm working on my arms-folded-behind-my-back Tagge Power Pose!"
Ruthless Strategists seems fairly straightforward but there are some provisions about its use that aren't always immediately apparent to everyone:
  • The effect triggers after attacking the squadron in question. So you get to see how that shakes out first. It can still trigger even if the attack did nothing (if you rolled no damage or the enemy squadron used a scatter defense token, for example). You do need to successfully make an attack, however, so if you've got one flak die and shoot an obstructed squadron, that attack is canceled (as you would have zero dice at that point) and thus cannot proceed and you couldn't use Ruthless Strategists as the attack never happened, effectively.
  • You may only deal 1 damage to an engaged friendly squadron. If the enemy squadron in question is at distance 1 of your squadrons but not engaged due to obstruction, you couldn't use Ruthless Strategists (as obstruction blocks engagement).
  • The 1 damage being dealt is not an attack. Therefore neither your friendly squadron nor the enemy squadron can use defense tokens (specifically, scatter) to reduce the damage nor may they use any damage-modification effects that trigger during an attack (such as Biggs Darklighter).
 Ruthless Strategists need two important things to be effective in your fleet:
  1. A ship that wants to take them. For this you generally want a ship that has longer-ranged flak (at least one blue die) so it can hit more enemy squadrons. The ship in question also should be comfortable taking Ruthless Strategists instead of some other weapon team upgrade. This tends to disqualify most ships from consideration given that Ruthless Strategists is a bit niche (given it cares only about squadrons and isn't as easily applicable as something like Gunnery Team or Ordnance Experts).
  2. A squadron wing that can make use of them. In general, you'll want a lot of hull points for cheap so that when you're trading hull for hull, your hull was purchased at a discount and your opponent's hull came more expensive. The best example would be using Ruthless Strategists to ping your 10-point 6-hull Y-Wings in return for putting damage on a sneaky expensive scatter ace like Dengar.
So with all that said, Ruthless Strategists can be very effective but they're something of a rare sight at the moment given that they require both of the above to be true to get brought to a game. In general when I do see them they are on Raider-IIs and/or Quasar-IIs. Rebels occasionally flirt with the idea on an Assault Frigate or Hammerhead Scout, but I've yet to see the experiment stick around in practice after the original attempt.

I am accurately staring at this glowing orange canister, what else do you want from me?
Sensor Team is pretty straightforward: Exhaust the upgrade while attacking and spend a die to change another die to a face with an accuracy icon.

Sensor Team is a pretty dumped-on upgrade card overall and it's not hard to see why: there's a lot of competition for the weapon team slot on many ships and the Sensor Team can only work on one of its ships attacks and requires you to "smoosh" two dice together to get a single accuracy icon, which you will note does nothing to assist the amount of damage in the pool and in many cases will decrease it.
One guaranteed accuracy you need to effectively dedicate two dice towards isn't frequently useful: you need a situation where the extra accuracy is helpful (so it won't do much against a pair of identical fresh defense tokens, for example) and there's enough damage left in the pool for that accuracy to be meaningful and for that to be a superior use of 5 points and your weapon team slot compared to other options. That doesn't happen frequently, but in some cases it can be helpful. If Sensor Team's effect didn't require spending a die to trigger, I'd be less negative about it.

Overall, I find Sensor Team a hard sell but it can have its place. Specialized flotilla-hunter ships can benefit from the guaranteed accuracy and there's some fun (if not super-competitive) combinations possible with accuracy-dependent upgrades like Quad Turbolaser Cannons and the VSD Warlord title and the like. In general, ships rolling lots of red and/or black dice (provided at least one red or blue die is in there) can benefit from Sensor Team providing a much more reliable accuracy; it also helps that red and/or black dice have blank sides that are easy give-ups for the "spend" portion of the Sensor Team requirement. Ships with 3+ blue dice won't have too much trouble rolling accuracy pretty reliably so they're not as interested in what the Sensor Team offers.

Our handmade black "pointing at dudes to shoot" gloves put the 'fashion' in fascism!
There's one very important thing I need to point out about Veteran Gunners and that is you exhaust the card to reroll all dice in your attack pool. This card is frequently misread as "whichever dice you want to reroll" and that is incorrect. You exhaust it to reroll all of them, whether you like it or not.

Also a quick reminder:because the Veteran Gunners are used during the "resolve attack effects" step, you can use other effects before or after them. For example, you could spend accuracy icon dice to lock down defense tokens before rerolling the remaining dice.

With all that said, Veteran Gunners has not been a terribly popular upgrade. It has its uses, particularly on ships with large numbers of red dice (as they have a tendency to be fickle, so rerolling the whole pool can be worth it on occasion), but points invested into more on-target dice-fixing technology (like Turbolaser Reroute Circuits or Dual Turbolaser Turrets) can be more consistently useful as it's easy to decide to reroll or change the facing on a single blank die, but choosing whether or not to reroll an entire dice pool is tricky in situations where the dice turn out to be unimpressive but not outright awful: is it worth trying again? What happens if it turns out worse? It's tough to say, but it's often tempting to stick with a sure thing even if it's not quite amazing.

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