Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Obstacle deployment: asteroids do not concern me, admiral!

I've been putting this one off for a while, but let's get to some deployment articles! First and foremost, let's talk about the first deployment step, the obstacle deployment step. I've found it's not uncommon for newer players to not really appreciate how much of an effect obstacle placement can have on the game and I'd like to remedy that. In short, asteroids may not concern Darth Vader, but they concern the rest of us.

Turns out Sith Lords are not good bosses
Before we proceed any further, let's focus on the basics as we often do. There are a few important things to note about deploying obstacles:
  1. Obstacle deployment begins with the second player and then alternates back and forth until all obstacles are placed.
  2. Obstacles must be deployed beyond distance 3 of the player edges and beyond distance 5 of the short edges (which are the borders of the "setup area").
  3. Obstacles must be deployed beyond distance 1 of other obstacles.
  4. The standard obstacles are 3 asteroid fields, 2 debris fields, and 1 space station.
  5. There are some objectives that modify these parameters.
Because obstacle deployment begins with the second player, the second player has a lot of control over where the obstacle deployment begins and which obstacle to deny the first player. This can allow the second player, for example, to deploy the space station wherever they please and thus deny the first player any control over where it goes. It also sets the tone for where obstacles will be and identifies where the second player is roughly expecting the fight to take place, but we'll cover that a bit more later.

Okay let's talk a little bit about obstacles in general:
  • All obstacles cause obstruction if line of sight is drawn through them (to/from the dot on a ship's hull zone, to/from the closest point on a squadron base).
    • Note that because line of sight is drawn from cardboard to cardboard, two squadrons attacking one another completely in the same obstacle will nearly always be obstructed because the squadron bases flare out from the cardboard, meaning some of the line will be drawn through the cardboard obstacle.
      • This is not necessarily the case for ships attacking from a hull zone poking out of the obstacle itself, but it depends on the circumstances.
  • All the regular obstacles affect ships at the conclusion of their maneuver where they end overlapping the obstacle. Only the space station affects squadrons when they end their movement overlapping it.
    • Overlapping only requires a tiny amount of the ship or squadron to overlap the obstacle to count.
    • Remember that ship's shield dials count for overlapping for everything (except for flying off the table), which includes overlapping obstacles and other ships. You can end up accidentally clipping an asteroid field with your shield dial, which is an unwelcome surprise.
    • Even a ship going speed 0 counts as ending its maneuver overlapping an obstacle, so don't get stuck on top of something nasty!
  • If a ship overlaps several obstacles at the end of its maneuver, its owner chooses what order to resolve them in.
On to the specific obstacles themselves and what they're good for!
Even this cardboard token looks like it's seen better days...

Space Station

Rules reminders
  • Any ship that ends its maneuver overlapping the space station will remove one damage card of its owner's choice, which can include face-up damage cards.
    • You choose the order your effects resolve, so if you have Damaged Controls, the critical that deals you extra damage when you overlap an obstacle or other ship, just resolve the station first and then remove Damaged Controls before it triggers.
    • You remove the damage card for each maneuver that ends on the station, so if you're using something like Engine Techs or Quantum Storm you can heal twice in one activation if each maneuver ends on the station.
    • Remember that you suffer one damage for overlapping a ship once you complete finding a place to finish your maneuver and obstacles trigger upon completing your maneuver completely, so if you're at your final hull point, you'll explode prior to potentially landing on the station if you overlapped a ship.
      • Otherwise, it's fun to ram enemy ships and then land on the station to heal that damage. Fun for you anyways.
  • Any squadron that ends its maneuver overlapping the space station heals one damage (if possible).
    • Again, this can trigger multiple times in one turn if your squadron is capable of moving multiple times in one turn (for example, Whisper with a TIE Phantom Cloak move and her own reactive movement can heal multiple times in a turn fairly easily).
      • This includes movement from sources like Fighter Coordination Team that are external to the squadron.
    • The squadron needs to end a movement on the station so simply activating during the Squadron Phase and attacking while on the station is insufficient. It needs to move and end its movement overlapping the station, even if it just does donuts in space and ends its movement in the same location.
  • In some objectives (such as Station Assault) the space station(s) are able to be attacked and destroyed. Remember that a destroyed space station is left on the table and will obstruct attacks like a normal obstacle but otherwise does nothing (doesn't heal, can't attack if it was an Armed Station, etc.)
Why should I consider placing this instead of other obstacles?
The station is the largest obstacle in the game. You can fit 3 squadrons inside of it that are obstructed to every possible attack if you do it right (set them up in a triangular pattern, basically), which is a great launching point for your squadrons against the enemy fleet. It's also a great place for your squadrons to retreat to if you're bringing an Intel squadron or some other means of moving engaged squadrons so your damaged squadrons can retreat and heal up to launch another attack while benefiting from obstruction. The station also obstructs attacks as all obstacles do but doesn't damage your ships when they overlap it, so it's "friendly" cover when deployed well. Finally, if you're running a fleet that's comfortable with ramming, particularly with Engine Techs, deploying the station in the right position can allow you to double-ram an enemy ship while healing after each maneuver.

Seriously though, once you see Lincoln's head you can't unsee it.
 Asteroid fields
Rules reminders
  •  Ships that overlap an asteroid field take one face-up damage card straight to their hull.
    • Dodonna will trigger prior to this happening to enemy ships, which is very sad times.
    • The face-up damage card is not due to an attack, so effects like the contain defense token don't do anything to stop it.
  • Asteroid fields do nothing to squadrons, mercifully.
Why should I consider placing this instead of other obstacles?
Asteroid fields are similar to the debris fields in that they're good for throwing hurdles in your opponent's way. Asteroid fields mainly benefit over debris fields in that they deal the one damage straight to the hull, which is often superior to 2 damage to one hull zone (although not always). This can be beneficial against enemy fleets using lighter ships with lower hull values, although the face-up nature of the card can make it unappealing even for larger ships that don't want to play Russian Roulette with the truly nasty critical effects (like Projector Misaligned) when it comes to asteroid fields. The balancing act compared to debris fields is that they don't take up as much space on the table, making them much better overall for messing with opponent ship approach vectors than for hiding squadrons in (yours or your opponent's).

In general, the bean bag chair asteroids are an earlier placement because they're the largest asteroid token. The thumb and Lincoln's head are often chosen later because they are smaller.

How did all this debris get here before the fight even happened? Is the space station sloppy with its waste disposal?
Debris fields
Rules reminders
  • Ships that overlap a debris field take two damage to a hull zone of their owner's choosing. If any damage gets through to the hull, it's a regular ol' face-down damage card.
    • It is not an attack, so brace and redirect tokens and the like do nothing.
    • Remember all the damage goes to one hull zone, so if all your hull zones have one shield remaining, you can't split it across two of them.
  • Again, squadrons don't care. Everything's fine here (for them) in the debris field.
Why should I consider placing this instead of other obstacles?
Debris fields take up more table space than their asteroid field cousins, which makes them both more likely to be navigational trouble for your opponent as well as a larger field of cover to hide behind and a larger area to hide your squadrons in. The goomba in particular is almost as good as the space station at hiding your squadrons (one in the front, completely obstructed and two obstructed to most everything except directly behind them). The giant comma is wider and blocks more line of sight/causes more navigational problems. Either can work just fine, depending on what you'd like to do with them.

Put them together to make a weird space mustache!
Dust fields
Rules reminders
  • You don't normally use these unless you've been told to do so by your objective. It's fairly rare.
  • Any ship drawing line of sight into/through a dust cloud cannot make an attack against that intended target at all. Period. Effectively a dust field "super obstructs" ship attacks and stops them from functioning altogether.
  • Squadrons treat it as a normal obstacle (it causes obstruction).
  • It deals no damage to anything that overlaps it.
Why should I consider placing this instead of other obstacles?
Shutting down ship attacks altogether in a big long line can be extremely good against the right fleets and allows for you to hide a considerable amount of stuff when used well. It's particularly fun parking a ship at speed 0 behind a dust cloud because it's so often unexpected; setting ships to speed 0 deliberately is rare and playing a game with dust clouds is also rare and so most opponents don't quite know what to make of it. In such circumstances, the ship effectively ignores all the downsides of being speed 0 because enemy ships can't attack it at all until they loop around and your ship can just wait up for the rest of your fleet or command squadrons in peace for a turn or two. Just don't be too clever by half and try this against a squadron-heavy fleet or keep it going for too long against a more maneuverable fleet or you'll regret it.

We're done with the specific obstacles now, yay! On to actual deployment advice!
I just want to make it clear that this article has more Muppets references than John's last article and that is astounding.
Okay, so how exactly am I supposed to choose and deploy obstacles, then?
Well... it depends (boo, I know, sorry!). There are a lot of variables involved and I spelled out some of the selling points for choosing different obstacles over others above but a lot of it has to do with both your own fleet as well as your opponent's fleet and if you want to use obstacles against your opponent, for yourself, deny them to your opponent, or base them around the objective. I'll cover those four basic methods below: 

1) Using obstacles against your opponent
By putting the damaging obstacles in inconvenient places, you can exert some control over your opponent's deployment options and hopefully funnel his ships into less-inconvenient places. Two examples come to mind and I'll start with the anti-broadsides basic obstacle deployment example:
To make the examples easier to digest visually, I'm only showing the three example obstacles I would deploy and not the hypothetical three opponent obstacles. It should also be noted that any examples are going to be extremely simplified and the reality of the setup will vary immensely depending on opponent fleet composition and their obstacle deployment choices too. Also the pictures are only the allowed area for obstacles, so they don't include the ship deployment areas or the distance 5 areas on the left and right.

Okay, so anyways that would be my example for how to cause some formation issues for a broadsides fleet that will typically like to conga line one behind the other pointing their side arcs at you as they move perpendicularly to your fleet. Fleets like these are usually using lots of Assault Frigates and/or HMC80s and/or Scout MC30s on the Rebel side or Arquitens for Imperials. The conga line ideally doesn't want to come too close to your fleet and so will start off pointed towards your fleet at a 45 degree angle and then groove into their perpendicular orientation by the end of turn 2 or so. By putting damaging obstacles at about distance 5 from the opponent's side of the table in a rough "hurdles" setup, the conga line will have a hard time forming and moving perpendicularly, disrupting the easiest formation for that kind of fleet. Your opponent can respond to this by jetting past the obstacles coming closer to you than they would like, trying to squeeze around the sides, or forming the conga line further back, but all of those options come with difficulties that wouldn't otherwise be present in the "standard" conga line usage. If the conga line tries to operate as normal, it runs the risk of disrupting its coordination and/or eating some damage from the obstacles. Regardless, the obstacle deployment helps you deal with that fleet type better than just randomly scattering obstacles around.

The second example would be against fleets that want to camp in a corner. The standard fleet for something like this is an Imperial fleet using VSDs, which don't like to be deployed centrally for fear of being flanked and thus like to deploy on the edges, but any fleet with slower/less maneuverable ships that have better forward arcs will generally prefer setting up on a flank for this reason.
Because VSDs don't really have the navigating chops (unless Jerjerrod) to juke around those obstacles, the VSDs will generally be deployed further in so they don't smash into asteroids and debris fields, likely trying to camp out just to the inside of the bean bag chair asteroid on our left and the opponent's right (because it's less far in than the unappealing two-obstacle setup on our right). This can make flanking them substantially easier once they venture out a little bit.

There are far more options than these two, but these are the two easiest examples because they're useful against fleets with a very clear play preference. You can use the same principles to clutter up the flanks further up if you're worried about corvettes zipping around you, etc., but it's important to anticipate exactly how far enemy ships can maneuver so as to not make your hurdles easily surmountable. It's also important to consider where faster enemy ships generally want to mount attacks from - this kind of strategy is generally easier against slower/less maneuverable ships but with enough experience it can be somewhat useful against speedier fleets too. It takes some practice, but it can be very useful when done well!

2) Using obstacles for yourself
This is the opposite of using obstacles as hurdles for your opponent by setting them up for yourself. I should note that this usage is (with the exception of the station) a bit riskier overall because you run the risk of accidentally messing with your own maneuver options or crashing into something nasty, so be careful. When done well, however, it can be quite useful, though! I'll once again provide two examples to give you a simplified version of what I'm getting at.

The above example is a good method of using obstacle deployment for a squadron-heavy fleet. You've positioned the larger obstacles towards the center line of the board but pushed a bit towards your side. All of your squadrons (barring perhaps some unaided speed 2 ones) can get to these obstacles at the end of turn 1 to set themselves into obstruction and wait to pounce on available targets sometime turn 2. With the station centrally positioned, it's available for regrouping your squadrons when they get an opportunity to heal up and mount an attack again next turn. Because the space station doesn't damage your ships, you only need to worry about maneuvering around the two debris fields and that's not too troublesome. If your opponent tries cluttering up your side of the table, he may inadvertently be giving your squadrons more places to hide.

This obstacle deployment looks similar, but it's pushed a bit closer to the enemy's side of the table. The goal for this kind of setup is to try to maximize the benefits of obstruction. This is a decent way to cordon off an area in the middle of the table for a more agile fleet that would like to decrease incoming long-range fire by putting obstacles in the way that it can either move through without trouble (the space station) or hop over fairly easily (the other two) while still presenting a line of cover to hide behind on the way.

You can use a similar setup with the goomba debris field replacing the thumb asteroids above (but closer in) to hide from squadrons on crucial turns. It sucks landing your ship in a debris field deliberately, but buying obstruction from a cloud of bombers for a turn can easily be worth the 2 damage to a hull zone of your choice. On the space station, you don't even take the damage, which is nice!

When dust fields are in the game, they can do a tremendous job of screening elements of your fleet from enemy bruiser ships but it's important to remember that the dust fields work against you as well!

Again, there's a lot more to cover when it comes to this kind of obstacle deployment, but it's highly dependent on the matchup.

3) Denying obstacles to your opponent
Simply put, sometimes obstacles are more trouble than they're worth for your fleet. This is most frequently the case when you're using a long-ranged fleet that would prefer to be fighting in a bowling alley with no obstacles to clutter things up or if you're up against a squadron-heavy fleet and you're trying to minimize the number of places the squadrons can hide and you're not interested in taking cover in debris fields like I mentioned above. Effectively, the goal with this approach is to tuck obstacles into the corners so they don't have much of an effect on the game. In general, I prefer to try using obstacle deployment more proactively (using them against your opponent or for you), but in some rare cases the best choice is to make them effectively meaningless.

4) Using obstacles for the objective
Sort of how "denying obstacles to your opponent" is the "sometimes this is the best way to use obstacles against your opponent or use them for yourself" option, setting up your obstacles with an eye towards the objective is effectively applying the first or second method of obstacle placement towards a different kind of goal.

Given objective tokens are placed on the board after obstacle deployment, you need to deploy your obstacles with some consideration as to where you expect objective tokens or an obstacle scoring point (like in Contested Outpost) to be so you can benefit later. Beyond that, obstacle deployment can make a large difference in all kinds of objectives. There's a lot of examples for this:
  • Blockade Run: as I mentioned in the objective review, setting up "aisles" for ships to go down can be beneficial for you as the second player trying to minimize how much the first player can mess with your ships.
  •  Station Assault/Contested Outpost: as the second player, you're hoping to clog up the approach lanes to where you intend to deploy your points-scoring stations. As the first player, you're trying to inconvenience the second player by placing your own obstacles where the second player was hoping to place his station(s) at the end of obstacle deployment, forcing him to deploy them in some second-best location.
  • Dangerous Territory: as second player, you're trying to get as many of the obstacles as close to your fleet as possible so you can grab those tokens quickly (and don't forget to start with the station first, as I mentioned in the review). As first player, you need to determine if you're willing to eat the damage from running into asteroids and debris fields to contest the second player on points for this one. If yes, then deploy them close to you so the second player can't steal any objectives out from under you. If no, then deploy them in the corner (see "denying obstacles to your opponent," above) so the second player has a harder time picking up tokens past the first 3.
  • "Token nest" objectives (like Intel Sweep, Salvage Run, Sensor Net, Fire Lanes,Capture the VIP, etc.): with any objective where starting tokens are placed on the board (whether they move or not), the second player wants to have a sense as to where they're placing their tokens and then put obstacles in the way to those to prevent sniping by the first player and cause problems with the first player maneuvering to and/or attacking the "token nest." The first player should keep an eye out for the formation of a token nest (usually has a decent idea by his second obstacle placement and a for sure idea by his third) and should do his best to cause complications by throwing damaging obstacles into the nest if possible.
  • Minefields: the second player is trying to determine the best layout to ensure good mine coverage and to improve his odds of causing damage to the first player's fleet. It depends a lot on the first player's fleet as to how to best do this.
  • Navigational Hazards: simply put, everyone is trying to ensure their opponent has the highest risk of hitting asteroids and debris fields, so this is effectively "using obstacles against your opponent" not only from the beginning of the game but all throughout the game, so master your obstacle shenanigans if you hope to come out ahead on this one!
  • Fleet Ambush: The second player should be focusing on placing obstacles in the ambush zone to limit the first player's options, usually by placing obstacles towards the rear (to the first player) part of the ambush zone to force the first player's ships to deploy closer to the second player's fleet. The first player should nearly never put obstacles in the ambush zone at all, as this helps the second player. If it won't cause problems, the first player should be trying to put obstacles between the ambush zone and the second player's deployment zone so as to increase the odds of the second player's attacks being obstructed.
  • Fighter Ambush: It's generally not wise for the second player to throw their squadrons too far out, but because larger obstacles provide more squadron deployment opportunities, it's generally best for the second player to choose those early and place them in convenient locations for their squadron deployment benefit. Conversely, the first player should be looking to deploy obstacles away from his fleet if at all possible and preferably in some very inconvenient location where squadrons won't want to waste their time deploying nearby.
  • Jamming Barrier: The second player in a perfect world is looking to get the two dust fields set up distance 5 away from each other and to put the Jamming Barrier in between them for a huge debuff to longer-ranged attacks. The goal of the first player is thus to get at least one of the dust fields tucked into a corner (unless his fleet is really happy to be playing Jamming Barrier, I guess) so as to not allow this to happen.
  • Planetary Ion Cannon: The second player wants to do his best to funnel the first player's fleet towards a more compact space (usually the center of the board) where his ion cannon tokens can hopefully all get used. This is usually accomplished by putting some hurdles on the flanks. The first player should try to counter this by placing obstacles that make it more difficult for the second player's fleet to get to the killing ground, so as to reduce the chances of the ion cannon shots and a serious bombardment combining together on some poor ship.
And I'm sure I missed something in there, too, haha.

Final thoughts
There's a lot to think about with obstacle deployment and good obstacle deployment will have differing elements of the 4 basic deployment strategies I outlined above. It's highly dependent on how you expect your fleet to interact with your opponent's fleet as well as how you expect both of you to interact with the objective the first player chose. Successful obstacle deployment can have a large impact on the subsequent fleet deployment step and hence a large impact on the game itself (it's also one of those reasons I love Grav Shift Reroute on an Interdictor when I finally get the tubby thing back to the table, haha). Hopefully this has been helpful, and as always let me know if you have any questions or comments!

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