Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Imperial commander review: Grand Moff Tarkin

Oh man look out here comes Peter Cushing Grand Moff Tarkin!

I just ordered a planet and its inhabitants destroyed and I'm still in my comfy slippers.

It's time for your Imperially-mandated education about a commander ability, bullet-points style!
  • Grand Moff Tarkin's ability triggers at the start of the Ship Phase. This is after you've already assigned your command dials but before any ships are activated. If there are any other abilities that trigger at the same time (such as Han Solo's "shoots first" ability) remember that they are resolved in player order.
  • Remember that ships can't have more command tokens than their Command value and that you can't have duplicates of the same token. When you temporarily have more tokens than a ship can hold, you need to immediately choose which token(s) get discarded to make room. 
  • Every ship in your fleet gets the same token. Sorry.
    • There are Sovereign ways around this, but by default it's everybody gets the same token.
With a long-overdue points cut in 1.5, Grand Moff Tarkin is a very affordable 28 points and definitely deserves a second look from Imperial players who had long sidelined him due to being 38 points in 1.0. You do need to make some considerations about getting optimal use from his ability, though. Think of it this way: there's a rainstorm and you're trying to collect as much drinking water as possible. Is it better to use a few deep buckets or numerous shallow buckets? Maybe a mix of each? The correct answer depends a lot on how frequently those buckets can be emptied. Moving back to Armada and away from bucket-land, you run a real risk with Tarkin of providing tokens to ships that have no use for them or are already full up on tokens. Furthermore, your fleet needs to generally want the kinds of tokens Tarkin is dispensing all on the same turn - they can either keep them to use later (if they're a higher-Command ship) or use them immediately. Giving out useless concentrate fire tokens to Raiders at long range from the enemy is not a great use of Tarkin's ability, for example.

The final consideration is opportunity cost: why Tarkin over a different commander? If you're planning to use Tarkin to simply spam a specific type of command throughout the game, you generally have better options for commander that specialize in that kind of thing much more cheaply:
  • Spamming navigate? Why not use Ozzel or Jerrjerrod for their superior speed/maneuverability abilities?
  • Spamming repair? Why not use Motti or Tagge for their increased durability/defense token returning?
  • Spamming concentrate fire? Why not use Vader or Screed for their improvements to attack dice/damage?
  • Spamming squadrons? Have you considered Thrawn instead?
So to really get use from Tarkin, you need a fleet where his token creation is consistently useful and rarely wasted but where you are doing something a more focused commander can't. There's a few ways to do this and I'd generally recommend trying to get as many of these features into a Tarkin fleet as possible:
  • Fleet command upgrades. Fleet command upgrades are very command-token hungry and Tarkin can feed them without the usual hassle of bringing along a Comms Net Gozanti and/or a command token officer. It also provides another universal buff to your fleet alongside Tarkin's, which can get rather strong.
  • Ships that are capable of meaningfully spending just about any kind of command token. For example, ships with red dice can usually spend concentrate fire tokens while attacking from long-range, even if it's just a throwaway attack. Including upgrades like Boosted Comms or Relay squadrons can allow ships with squadron tokens to spend those during their activation even if commanding squadrons isn't their usual use.
    • Make sure your Command 1 ships in particular are capable of utilizing the same token on the same turn, as otherwise they'll need to decide between keeping a previous turn's token and accepting the new one next turn. A bit of this will happen from time to time but when it's the norm, it's a big drain on Tarkin's efficacy.
  • Upgrades that trigger upon using commands. Upgrades like Engineering Teams, Projection Experts, Engine Techs, and Nav Teams all trigger whenever a command of their type is used and you can (and should!) try to abuse their abilities by "cheating" out these command types by using Tarkin-provided tokens.
    • This is particularly true of Gunnery Team in 1.5, which now works only after resolving a concentrate fire command, which Tarkin can trigger very easily with concentrate fire tokens. 
  • Upgrades that consume tokens to ready, like Electronic Countermeasures or Slicer Tools.
With a decreased cost for Tarkin amid a wave of slightly-nerfed bread-and-butter upgrades like Gunnery Team and Electronic Countermeasures requiring commands to use or command tokens to ready, Tarkin can really get some work done in a well-designed fleet, minimizing support bloat to keep your mainstay ships and their upgrades firing on all cylinders.

The Sovereign title helps but I shy away from saying it's mandatory. It's very close, though, as it makes Tarkin's benefit much more flexible for your whole fleet. It comes attached to an expensive large ship, but if you were going to be bringing an ISD anyways, why not?

Much like Grand Admiral Thrawn, it's tough to provide a list here as it really depends on what you want your fleet to do, exactly. Tarkin is flexible enough to run just about any type of fleet and so a ship that would be a solid inclusion in one type of Tarkin fleet could be a total dud in another. Just make sure your whole fleet has a plan for what Tarkin is giving out and/or you've got that Sovereign backup to improve your token flexibility.

Fleet building
To repeat myself, Tarkin's flexibility makes just about any kind of archetype workable provided he brings something a different commander wouldn't. A few examples would be:

With squadron tokens for the extra squadron-command oomph (even a lowly Gozanti can equip Expanded Hangar Bays to command 4 squadrons normally or Boosted Comms for 3 at long range provided Tarkin's passing out tokens they stack with their dials), Tarkin can help your fleet push an awful lot of squadrons around. This is probably the best way to command a big pile of generic squadrons, as opposed to Thrawn, who wants to help his fleet command squadrons while also doing something else so he hits a wall for total squadrons right around 6-8 total squads.

Sovereign Intensify Firepower party
A Sovereign Cymoon with Intensify Firepower is a great offensive fleet buff with Tarkin and due to Sovereign itself, Tarkin can help your other ships out with the tokens they need to power upgrades like Engine Techs while they focus on other command dials.

You can make similar fleets based around maxing out fleet commands and I generally find the best case for using Tarkin over another commander is with that type of fleet. Entrapment Formation plus a nav token for the whole fleet, for example, allows Ozzel-like speed changes but keeps the option open for other tokens when necessary.

Tarkin is good for newer players who are never quite sure what kind of tokens they might need and like the ability to fix bad command stack decisions with a Liaison officer. He also works well enough with a variety of ships and so can be slotted in to just about any fleet if for some reason you'd prefer to use him over Motti.


  1. I think that we'll start to see another Tarkin archetype soon:
    ET-heavy fleets as he gives them the ability to ET every round so has unique advantage over other Admirals. I found that he synergizes well with Arquittens as the ability to rotate up to 90 degrees every round makes them significantly more dangerous.

    1. I've played Tarkin with a very similar idea and in the end I was not impressed. The additional consistent Engine Techs usage is nice but with Tarkin costing 38 points and each Engine Techs costing 8 apiece, it's very expensive for a whole fleet and I felt like I would have preferred a cheaper mobility commander like Ozzel or Jerrjerrod. Ozzel in particular has a lot of synergy with Engine Techs for allowing ships to get to all kinds of places.

  2. I’ve been running Tarkin on Chimera lately, and it is a blast. Even during command phase I can figure out which Fleet Support I need for the upcoming round, and guaranteed have the token ready to power it with Tarkin.

    And because you resolve them in the order you need if I wanted StM but already had a Repair, I can spend the Repair token, power STM, and get it right back with Tarkin, for example.

    He is really well rounded with the right fleet to face all different kinds of threats.