Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Imperial ship review: Gladiator-class Star Destroyer

It's time to cover one of the most-feared ships in the game: the Gladiator-class Star Destroyer (abbreviation: GSD)!

So are you more of a red lighting or yellow lighting kind of guy?
The Gladiator is a marvel of black-dice aggro that's been converting healthy ships into space debris and spinning crewman corpses since wave one and continues its reign of terror to this day.

GSDs feature a reasonable amount of hull for a small ship (5) and a total of 8 shields, with more shields pushed to the front. With a brace, evade, and redirect token, they have an excellent variety of defense tokens that will stand them in good stead against a variety of attacks but without any duplicate defense tokens they're vulnerable to accuracy results locking down the best defense token in any given circumstance. Engineering 3 isn't stupendous, but it does allow for repair tokens to regenerate one shield or a full dial to heal a bad face-up damage card. Please note that overall the Gladiator can take more of a pounding than a lighter corvette (like a Raider or CR90) could, but it cannot usually survive more than 2 strong attacks.

At Squadron 2, Gladiators are mediocre at commanding squadrons. They don't have any offensive retrofit slots for Expanded Hangar Bays or Boosted Comms and they're also specialized towards short-ranged knife fighting and so their upgrade slots are nearly always better spent towards improving their ability to destroy ships rather than to paper over their mediocre ability to command squadrons. You can certainly use them to pitch in on squadron commanding when you need to get as many squadrons activated in one turn as possible, but being a carrier is not the GSD's strong suit.

In terms of the speed chart, GSDs do just fine. The maximum speed of 3 is good and 2 total clicks of yaw are present at all speeds - it's a fairly nimble ship up until it gets a bit unwieldy at speed 3. It won't be out-maneuvering corvettes, mind you, but it's otherwise superior to most other ships in the game and it can be improved with the some strongly-recommended upgrades (we're getting there!).

Basic usage recommendations
Fairly straightforward, really: you'll notice a large number of black dice in the battery armaments of both Gladiator variants and your job is to deliver short-ranged pain as quickly as possible without dying pointlessly first. No pressure, right?

I recommend upgrading Gladiators extensively, which goes against my usual policy of "keep everything as cheap as possible" because upgrades help Gladiators consistently get their jobs done and survive (sometimes!) to tell the tale. This is because of two observations:

1) Your opportunity to do damage is very brief
Because you're getting your serious work done at black dice range, you need to punch as hard as possible while you're there to make those attacks count. You don't get the luxury of just tossing some dice here and there consistently over all 5 combat turns of a game (first turn is usually just positioning) and having them add up. You get just a few turns (often 2ish) of being able to meaningfully attack something and those need to matter. For that reason, I recommend always equipping an ordnance upgrade to your Gladiators for the extra damage potential and always using Ordnance Experts in the weapon team slot on your Gladiators to reroll your black dice. The Ordnance Experts not only help you get more consistent damage from your black dice by rerolling those vexing blank sides, they can also increase your odds of getting a hit+crit result for triggering any crit-dependent upgrades.

2) Maneuvering is extremely important for a short-ranged ship
Because you only get to make a meaningful attack at short range and most enemy ships can do at least some damage to you back at longer ranges, you will live and die by your maneuvering. Maneuver poorly and you will not get into attack range and enemy ships will light you up. Maneuver well and you will get to lay down some serious pain and you can dodge out of the worst enemy attacks that would come your way. With that said I strongly recommend equipping Engine Techs to your Gladiators. You'll want to use the navigate command frequently (I would conservatively say I navigate about 3-4 turns of a 6 turn game with my Gladiators usually, and sometimes more) and Engine Techs give you enormous amounts of control as to exactly where you end your movement due to the option of adding a speed one 2-click maneuver to the end of your regular movement, which also lets you "cheat" out a speed 4 move when necessary. The speed 4 option allows you to traverse the entire length of a range ruler in one turn, taking you from "outside of anything's attack range" to "within short range next turn."

The extra 2-click move is also great for setting up a double-arc attack for next turn, where you have two of your attack arcs concentrated on a single enemy arc, which is a great way to pour phenomenal amounts of damage into an enemy ship. For example:

Note that with a navigate command for the extra click on the first joint and the Engine Techs' additional speed 1 move (above represented as a fourth movement joint, but in a real game must be done separately, but the end position would be the same) the Gladiator has moved from the Assault Frigate's side arc (where it wants you to be) to its front arc (where it doesn't want you to be) and the Gladiator has both its front and right arcs able to attack the Assault Frigate's front hull zone next turn. Set up in this way, even if the Assault Frigate activates before your Gladiator, it won't be able to move past you and will overlap the Gladiator, keeping it stuck in place for a double-arc attack.

Beyond that, in no particular order are my remaining general Gladiator tips:
  • Your first Gladiator should always be the Demolisher. Always and forever. We're getting to it, but Demolisher is an amazing title.
  • Gladiators like being in fleets that go first because it lets them set up a double-arc attack (like I demonstrated above) on turn X, and then execute that attack on turn X+1 before your opponent's ship can respond. For that reason I'd recommend at least a small bid in your fleet when using Gladiators by not building up to your full 400 available points, as this gives you a better shot at choosing initiative for yourself.
  • Gladiators like being in fleets that have more activations than the other player because it allows them to set up aforementioned attacks after all enemy ships have activated, allowing them to safely cruise into attack range for next turn. Therefore they enjoy the presence of other cheap ships like Gozanti Cruisers and Raiders.
  • Savvy opponents know what to expect from Gladiators, particularly the Demolisher, and therefore would like to deploy away from them, minimizing their impact. For that reason, you should generally be looking to deploy your Gladiators last if possible once you know where the enemy ships are.
  • Try to set up your Gladiators so they can begin turning back in towards the enemy fleet after attacking. A Gladiator that runs straight at an enemy fleet's ship line will get to attack one ship, overshoot that ship when it's done, and then generally have a very hard time turning around in time to do anything for the rest of the game. If you come in from the sides, you can start to roll the flank or nip the rear ("phrasing!") of the enemy line and stay relevant.
  • Be careful of biting off more than you can chew by throwing your Gladiators in before the rest of your fleet has caught up. Such overextended Gladiators are often picked apart, particularly by bomber squadrons.
  • Don't be afraid to start off a bit slower and use navigate commands/tokens + Engine Techs to pounce on your targets - starting off too fast can result in you getting overextended or telegraphs your intentions too early. Similarly, don't be afraid to slow down to improve your turning radius once it's time to circle back on other enemy ships.
Titles
Okay with all that out of the way, let's get to the two Gladiator titles, starting with arguably the best title in the game, Demolisher:

Listen up 5s, a 10 is speaking!
First things first, be aware that Demolisher has been errataed by FFG so it can only trigger after its first maneuver. You can't use it after Engine Techs any more! The picture above is using the errataed text of the card. It's still a really good title.

Some important things to clarify about the Demolisher title:
  • Demolisher only allows you to make one of your two allowed attacks after maneuvering so be on the lookout for a way to make one attack prior to moving in the earlier game (often the 2 red dice out the front arc).
    • Demolisher is optional, so if you're happy making your two attacks without it, please do!
    • Similarly, you don't need to decide to use Demolisher right away. Perhaps you have an enemy double-arced and you get lucky and destroy it with only one attack when you thought it may have required two. Go on ahead and move and attack someone else!
  • You still need to follow the other rules of making attacks, so you cannot attack twice from the same hull zone in one activation even if one came before and one after your maneuver.
  • The attack doesn't need to be against ships. You can always flak after moving if you like.
The Demolisher title is straight gravy for a Gladiator. Being able to attack with black dice after moving makes using them substantially easier and can allow for a horrific amount of punishment going into enemy ships by making one attack after moving and then double-arcing it for two more attacks next turn. This particular feat is popularly known as "the Demolisher triple-tap," and it's capable of wiping all but the best-defended ships off the table. The title also makes using the Demolisher as second player substantially easier. It's just straight-up better and I cannot recommend using it enough (and I already have, above!).

Winner of the "I'm also here, I guess" award!
The Insidious effect is pretty straightforward and the only clarification I can think to add is to remember that when making an attack from a given range, defense tokens care only about the range of the attack and not the color of the dice in the attack. So if you're throwing black dice at medium range, evade defense tokens can still be used on them to force a reroll, for example.

Insidious is a title that is occasionally but not consistently useful. Given it's only 3 points, that seems reasonable. The main mistake I see people make when trying to leverage Insidious is to try to sneak it around behind the enemy fleet. Given medium range isn't much longer than close range, this approach usually results in disappointment as enemy ships don't have a tough time getting to long range (or out of any range whatsoever) while Insidious ineffectually tries to catch up to them, only to be disappointed most of the time.

Where Insidious sees more use is on a second follow-up Gladiator to the Demolisher or other ships, such as Raiders, that may get in a solid hit or two but leave the target weakened but not destroyed. The follow-up Gladiator likes to position itself to get in its attacks (preferably by double-arcing) the turn AFTER the target took its earlier punches and/or as a legitimate threat to a ship seeking to escape the kill zone by moving forward. Crippled enemy ships are often quite anxious to get out of there are fast as possible and that's where Insidious can come in useful. For example:


In the setup above, Demolisher has landed a solid punch on the Admonition MC30 but it's still ticking, if worse for wear. The follow-up Insidious Gladiator is very interested in seeing where the MC30 wishes to move so it can hopefully finish the job. The MC30 is left with bad options - it can stay stuck on Demolisher by moving at a lower speed, it can move at speed 4, which due to lower clicks, means it would be heading directly into Insidious, or it can try to make a speed 3 getaway where it's most maneuverable by adding another click to its first joint with a navigate command. Against any Gladiator other than Insidious, the speed 3 move would lead to safety, at least temporarily. Against the Insidious, none of those options are good options - if it doesn't turn as sharply, it's front and side arcs will still be at short range and if it turns more sharply, its rear is exposed at medium range.

Insidious can also be useful for getting in an extra attack you normally couldn't have on the turn after attacking a ship while the Gladiator is turning around to keep chasing after enemy ships. As I said earlier, it won't be the kind of thing you consistently get use from but if you're using a second Gladiator it's worth giving some consideration to.


Gladiator-I
I encourage you to consider the Gladiator-I the default Gladiator. The Gladiator-I already does great at what the Gladiator chassis wants to do - it wants to run in and make ships miserable and it hasn't spent any points trying to do anything but that. Assuming you've followed my advice and you've filled your support crew slot with Engine Techs, your weapon team slot with Ordnance Experts, and your ordnance slot with an ordnance upgrade, I'll be focusing a bit on some of the officer slots for recommended builds, as well as providing one specific Demolisher build:

The Dreaded Clonisher
Demolisher+Expanded Launchers + Intel Officer
Named for the first internet handle that made this famous (clontroper5 on the FFG forums), the Clonisher wants to zip in last on turn X to unload its front payload of 4 rerollable black dice and 2 red dice and then target a ship's brace with Intel Officer. It will activate first next turn and target the brace again with Intel Officer if it hasn't pitched it already and then double-arc for horrific amounts of damage. Even Imperial Star Destroyers and Home One MC80s can be destroyed with a fierce enough triple-tap from the Clonisher.

The Clonisher's main downsides are
1) It is very expensive at 98 points.
2) It's not as effective against flotillas or ships with two brace tokens (such as Nebulon-Bs or moreso Libery MC80s). There are also some effects that return hull points between turns (such as Reinforced Blast Doors) or defense tokens between turns (such as General Tagge) that make this tactic less effective.
In general I find the Clonisher is still effective but not nearly so much as it was back in wave 2.

Considerations for Demolisher officers
In general, Intel Officer is never a bad choice, as it synergizes with Demolisher's one attack it's likely to get most turns and sets up the triple-tap pretty effectively. Past that, I'd consider Admiral Montferrat as he gives Demolisher obstruction when it's going speed 3 (which it often is when it's making an attack run) or Minister Tua if you wanted to equip a defensive retrofit (I'd recommend Electronic Countermeasures or Reinforced Blast Doors).


Skilled First Officer
In general, Skilled First Officer is a great cheap pick for any Command 2 ship, and Gladiators (Demolisher or no) are no exception. For a single point, you get a lot of control over your command dials when you need it the most.

Gladiator-II
The Gladiator-II trades out one of its side black dice for a red dice and upgrades its anti-squadron flak to two blue dice for +6 points over a regular Gladiator-I. In general I view the red dice on the side arcs as a downgrade as they do less average damage than black dice (0.75 versus 1) and cannot be rerolled by Ordnance Experts like black dice can (rerollable black dice have an average damage of 1.25) and can't trigger black crits. Their only upside is they have a 1/8 chance of rolling an accuracy result, but that's not the kind of thing that's normally that reliable.

If your fleet brings along Captain Jonus, however, you can combine your Gladiator-II with Jonus to get guaranteed accuracy results on your red dice, which makes the Gladiator-II particularly deadly against ships with single brace tokens and against flotillas in particular, which are not at all the Gladiator-I's desired targets (being too much work to destroy due to their scatter defense tokens). Just keep in mind like with any plan involving two separate elements working together you should do your best to get your combination working but you need to be prepared for what happens if it doesn't.

Other than "basically set up like a Gladiator-I but with Captain Jonus along", there's one other fun little build that looks to leverage the Gladiator-II's benefits over the Gladiator-I (please remember that for all Gladiator builds the support team, ordnance, and weapon team slots are already filled by default 😉):

The Fantastic Flying Flak Factory
Demolisher+Agent Kallus
With 2 blue flak dice, a Gladiator-II Demolisher can spend its free time producing a sizable quantity of directed flak by attacking squadrons out of one of its arcs and then moving and attacking the same squadrons again from a new arc. Agent Kallus adds an extra die of any color when attacking unique squadrons, so he can be triggered more than once pretty reliably and he's happy to add black dice to your flak attacks that can be rerolled by your Ordnance Experts. For example:


In this example, Demolisher activates and uses its first attack to shoot flak at the 3 X-Wings and Jan Ors in its front arc. It rolls 2 blue dice against each X-Wing and 2 blue + 1 rerollable black dice against Jan. It then maneuvers at speed 3, hops the group, and uses its Demolisher attack to flak the squadrons currently behind it once more. Getting all of a group twice like this is rather tricky and so don't expect miracles - at medium range, being able to get even a few squadrons more than once in one activation can add up.

The Fantastic Flying Flak Factory benefits from the inclusion of Captain Jonus so you can "free up" the officer slot that Demolisher usually wants to use on someone else for Agent Kallus to give your Gladiator more flexibility against both squadrons and ships.

Commanders
We can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

One thing I'd like to note about the Demolisher in particular is it can do just fine in just about any fleet and some Imperial players feel some kind of need to use it in just about every fleet. While that's certainly well and good given how effective it can be and how generally easy it is to use, there are some commanders that just do more with it:

Admiral Screed
Screed makes the black crit upgrades on Gladiators more reliable, which makes triggering a black critical effect on both attacks of a double-arc very reliable and incredibly destructive (that's 4 extra damage dealt by Assault Concussion Missiles, for example). He also generally is helpful for adding an extra damage here and there when with black dice ships you want to ensure you're hitting as hard as possible.

Screed is also a great "safety measure" for aggressively rerolling your black dice by rerolling everything that's not a hit+crit. If your reroll doesn't turn up great, Screed can help fix that by using his ability.

Admiral Ozzel
You know all that navigating Gladiators like to do with Engine Techs? Well what if I told you there's a commander out there who will happily let your Gladiators accelerate from speed 1 to speed 3 with an Engine Tech move from spending just a single nav token? This man is Admiral Ozzel and he loves him some Gladiators. With Ozzel, your Gladiators are quite happy to wait enemies out to pounce on them and once they've struck, are masters of going from speed 3 to a speed 1 + Engine Techs speed 1 super turn to get back in the fight rapidly. It can be extraordinarily difficult to predict exactly where an Ozzel-led Gladiator is going to strike and the flexibility of maneuvering is absolutely great.

Moff Jerjerrod
Moff Jerry is generally a fan of Gladiators going speed 3, as he can use his ability to add 2 clicks to their first movement joint. With a navigate dial and Engine Techs, this can result in a speed 3+1 Gladiator getting seven total clicks of turning, where the only decision is "does the second or third joint get only one click?"

The main concern is Gladiators generally do not have a lot of time to use engineering commands (they're often too busy navigating and concentrating fire) and overuse of Jerry can make them more vulnerable than they'd like. So be a little careful here.

General Tagge
Gladiators have a combo platter of three different defense tokens. It's not uncommon for Gladiators to find themselves in a bad spot where you need to decide if it's worth discarding an already-exhausted defense token to get its effect one last time or if it's better to just eat more damage for this turn. General Tagge can help you with this by bringing back one defense token on turn 3 and turn 5, which can help extend a Gladiator's life for one more turn or perhaps even two. I'd generally recommend just a single Gladiator (Demolisher, of course) with Tagge, however, with Minister Tua as its officer  so you can equip it with Electronic Countermeasures - this gives you much more reliability in spending those tokens when necessary and in being able to abuse Tagge's ability.

4 comments:

  1. Great article! Thank you, best blog! :-)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I'm glad to hear you liked it!

      These ship review articles are always huge projects just due to all the moving pieces, so I'm happy that others are finding them useful!

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  2. Very good review! Thank you so much.

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