Thursday, June 1, 2017

Red (assault) objectives, wave 5

Let's get to those wave 5 objectives!

Oh boy, here I go objective-article writing again!

Blockade Run

Thanks to the Star Wars Armada Wiki for the above image!
  • The setup area is as above, in case there was any confusion.
    • A really important thing to note is that with the battle now effectively taking place in a wide hallway, there's a lot less room to maneuver around the sides of things.
  • Because the second player places all obstacles, it behooves them to create a "lane" or two of obstacles to allow their own ships to make a run for the end zone while getting obstruction and potentially causing opponent ships to take damage if they try to cross over into the "lane" to chase them down.
    • To be more specific, a "lane" can be created by setting up 2-3 obstacles close to one another and oriented in a roughly horizontal line (to the diagram above, it will appear vertical from the perspective of the deployment zones).
What kind of fleets should consider using Blockade Run?
Fleets with numerous faster combat ships (like CR90s, MC30s, Raiders, and Gladiators) generally benefit the most from Blockade Run, as the hoped-for result is getting in 1-2 rounds of serious attacks as you pass by the enemy fleet and then booking it for their deployment zone rather than turning around. Flotillas can also be good for Blockade Run, fittingly, as your opponent will generally only have a limited window to attack them before they're running away to the end zone at speed 3 and that scatter defense token can cause problems there. The main issue there being if you're using at least one disposable flotilla in your fleet, perhaps you should be using Most Wanted instead?

There's an argument to be made that durable front arc ships like ISDs, VSDs, Nebulon-Bs (for their cost), and LMC80s are also good assets for Blockade Run as it's much harder for enemy ships to escape their front arc while fighting in a 3 foot wide hallway instead of a 6 foot wide normal board.

It should be noted that Blockade Run is similar to Minefields in that it can create non-games: there's a lot of room in the different deployment zones and if both players deploy and then maneuver too defensively, it can take a while before combat actually happens (and in the most extreme example, it won't happen at all!). The important take-away from this is that it puts pressure on the first player to actually make the game a game. If the first player is camping his deployment zone too strongly and not really coming out, the second player can simply wait until the 6th turn to make a run for the deployment zone and win just through victory tokens. That is not a very exciting game but it is a game the second player can win fairly easily.

What kind of enemy fleets are disadvantaged by playing Blockade Run?
Enemy fleets that can't muster decent burst damage can have a hard time swatting down enough enemy ships during the crucial turn or two they get to make decent attacks against the second player's ships running for the objective zone. This is particularly true if those ships aren't very maneuverable and/or are front-arc specialist ships (side-arc ships like Assault Frigates are more forgiving with this). Unmaneuverable ships also run into trouble getting stuck in the wrong "lane" if the second player sets up the obstacles into lanes as I described earlier.

Squadron-heavy fleets can be troubled if/when their carriers drift too far into the central area and away from their bombers in the later game (which want to focus on the second-player ships in the end zone). If the carrier fleet has Relay or Boosted Comms or an abundance of Rogues or the like, however, the agility of squadrons can cause problems for the second player as the squadrons aren't troubled by facing or needing to turn around like regular ships are and can keep pursuing second player ships throughout the game.

Be aware that due to the skinnier "hallway," ships with Gunnery Team will generally have a more target-rich environment for the turns they can get their good arc pointed at you, so don't underestimate them.

Close-Range Intel Scan
  • Remember to add the two dust fields to your 6 regular obstacles!
    • As a reminder, dust fields completely prevent ship attacks that trace line of sight through them and obstruct squadron attacks like a regular obstacle.
  • The spent accuracy icons don't do anything but score points - they don't function like a normal spent accuracy icon die.
What kind of fleets should consider using Close-Range Intel Scan?
The short and sweet answer is "fleets with accuracy-generating tech available on most of its ships" such as from Captain Jonus, the Home One HMC80 title, or H9 Turbolasers taken in sufficient quantity or the like. That's it. This makes Close-Range Intel Scan a rather narrowly-applicable objective, but that doesn't make it bad. Consider that with accuracy-generating tech, you will on occasion have (or can easily create) accuracy icons that aren't conventionally useful. Perhaps the enemy's brace has already been discarded or locked down by an earlier accuracy icon, or you can generate one accuracy but the opponent has a pair of the same defense token you want to go after (like the LMC80's double-braces or the MC30's double-evades double-redirects), or the attack is doing a small enough packet of damage that your opponent won't want to spend defense tokens anyways. In those types of circumstances, you can generate victory tokens pretty painlessly by spending your excess accuracy icon die. Your opponent, conversely, has a very hard time generating victory tokens for this objective at all - naturally generating 2 accuracy icons is much less common than generating 1, especially without accuracy tech, and far less likely to be in a situation where it's easy to spend both of them just for points rather than wanting to spend at least one for the regular accuracy effect.

Thus Close-Range Intel Scan is basically a source of extra points almost entirely for player two. The total number of extra points at the end of the game is unlikely to be over 100, but it's largely a one-way street: objectives like Contested Outpost still see a lot of play even though I rarely see a game end where Contested Outpost gave the second player more than a 60 point lead by the end of the game, and Close-Range Intel Scan in a very specific kind of fleet can easily do at least that without tying you to a specific obstacle or on-board objective token zone that your opponent can go after.

What kind of enemy fleets are disadvantaged by playing Close-Range Intel Scan?
Anything that can't generate lots of accuracy icons isn't going to be keen on playing against Close-Range Intel Scan, although the "meh" reputation of the objective may see it getting picked with some frequency before opponents begin to realize it is a one-way points street for a fleet designed with accuracy-generation reliability in mind.

Station Assault

  • Much like Contested Outpost, the first player will only get to place two obstacles when playing this objective (because when the first player should be placing their third obstacle, the obstacles have run out and then the second player gets to place the station[s]).
  • The stations are deployed following the normal rules for obstacles, I'm not entirely sure why they felt the need to spell it out all over again.
  • Remember that the stations no longer help heal the first player's stuff! They're the second player's stations now!
  • The unarmed stations have the stats below:
  • It's important to note that the stations cannot suffer critical effects, period. So not only will the generic critical effect not work on them but neither will any critical effect.
I'd like to write a bit more at length about the points-scoring element of Station Assault. Namely, it has two basic outcomes: either one station is destroyed and the players tie on Station Assault points or one player gets his way on both stations (intact or destroyed) and that player gets a hefty +80 point leg up on the game. Given the first player needs to get 10 points of damage into each station to destroy it, the first player needs to direct a lot more effort (and likely "wasted" attacks) into getting it his way than the second player. It behooves the second player to make it difficult for the first player to choose to attack a station for this reason; 10 points of damage isn't a huge number, especially when the station lacks defense tokens, but neither is it the sort of thing you can casually find lying around. 

What kind of fleets should consider using Station Assault?
Station Assault is recommended to basically all the same kinds of fleets that like to use Contested Outpost. Specifically, more defensive fleets that like to hang out together near an area they can protect. In particular, you get extra mileage from an Interdictor's Grav Shift Reroute by using it to pull both stations closer to your table edge and further away from the enemy fleet. Just be sure to keep your speed down to force your opponent to come to you while you're still in range to defend the stations! If you get too far away from them then your opponent doesn't need to decide between attacking your ships/squadrons or your stations, he'll attack your fleet earlier and then overshoot to attack your stations later in the game.

The "default" method of Station Assault seems to be keeping the two stations close together so your whole fleet can get between them and the enemy fleet and dare the other guy to come into the bear trap. There's also something to be said for setting up the stations on opposite sides of the table and deploying to defend the one the first player sets up near: if the first player wants to deploy a ship or two on the other side of the table away from the main battle to knock over a 10 hull space station, that's not a bad trade-off at all.

What kind of enemy fleets are disadvantaged by playing Station Assault?
Similarly (again) to Contested Outpost, slower fleets don't like being put into the position of getting to point X and doing something about it. Fleets that are damage-poor are also in a bad place when it comes time to look for some spare damage sources to throw into a station.

Targeting Beacons

  • The first player has no incentive at all to place the objective tokens anywhere but in the corners of the setup area (a full ranger ruler in from the short ends on the sides, no distance in from the long ends).
    • For this reason I encourage you to consider Targeting Beacons as effectively pertaining to the two tokens placed by the second player with only the slimmest possibility that the tokens placed by the first player will be relevant during the game.
  • The reroll ability happens during the "resolve attack effects" step and so can be used before or after other add/modify/reroll/spend effects.
What kind of fleets should consider using Targeting Beacons?
Fleets utilizing both 1) one or more Strategic squadrons as well as 2) several combat ships with red dice in their anti-ship batteries can benefit from Targeting Beacons. That's a fairly narrow niche, similar to Close-Range Intel Scan in that the vast majority of fleets are going to look at this and give it a hard pass.

The good news is that a distance 1-2 radius of a Targeting Beacon token is a fairly wide footprint when Strategic squadrons can move it around a considerable distance. So long as your red dice ships can gang up on anything that wanders into the mobile kill zone, the 2 dice (or less) reroll effect can help alleviate the problems you get with fickle red dice rolling blanks when you need them the most and at closer ranges can be used for other fun reroll shenanigans like fishing for accuracy icons with blue dice or sometimes even rerolling black dice as well.

The biggest issue with Targeting Beacons is that many fleets that love red dice are keen on using wave one red objectives: Most Wanted or Advanced Gunnery (on an HMC80) are pretty common and generally effective, with the occasional Opening Salvo showing up here and there. The main argument against those objectives and for Targeting Beacons largely comes down to "well I already made this investment towards Strategic squadrons to lock down the objective tokens on my yellow and blue objectives and I want to be able to use them with a red objective too," given that Targeting Beacons is the only red objective with on-table objective tokens that Strategic squadrons can mess with. This isn't an altogether bad reason but it does mean you'll likely be playing a lot of Targeting Beacons as it generally has a weaker benefit and thus weaker synergy with Strategic than the big points payouts you can get from controlling objective tokens in the right yellow and/or blue objectives; thus your opponents are (generally correctly) going to see Targeting Beacons as the lesser of the three evils and choose it.

One final conciliatory note in defense of Targeting Beacons: although Most Wanted, Advanced Gunnery, and Opening Salvo all have more generally-powerful effects that are more straightforward to use, they also provide benefits to the first player (although generally reduced or at the choice of the second player) that can sometimes be exploited back against you. Targeting Beacons only helps the second player. I'm still generally iffy on it in most cases, but you'll never be cursing it for betraying you by helping your opponent more than you; you'll only be cursing it for perhaps not helping you enough.

What kind of enemy fleets are disadvantaged by playing Targeting Beacons?
Targeting Beacons can cause some trouble for enemy fleets without sufficient fighter coverage to stop the Strategic squadron(s) from passing the objective tokens around to keep the rerolls going for most of the game. Anything that improves red dice reliability can overwhelm smaller ships that were largely counting on using evade tokens against the better dice coming their way and ignoring the occasional blanks only to find that there are not, in fact, occasional blanks happening much any more.

Final thoughts
Most of the wave 5 red objectives could be described as "niche" or "weird" and that's fine. The wave one red objectives were pretty straightforward and generally strong, so it's understandable that their wave 5 counterparts would be a little more specialized and unusual. They definitely opened up some new opportunities, however, with two fairly niche objectives that work well with the right fleet builds (Close-Range Intel Scan and Targeting Beacons), the first defensive red objective (Station Assault), the first objective-tokens-on-the-board red objective (Targeting Beacons again), and finally an objective that for my money offers the most substantial tweaks to the basic game and requires you to really wrap your head around not only a different board geometry but also different deployment, maneuver, and end-game plans (Blockade Run).