Sunday, December 13, 2020

Imperial squadron review: Firespray-31

Wrapping up the Imperial wave two squadron reviews (the wave five squadron reviews are still a ways off, I don't like talking about something I haven't played a few games with first and I'm still working through those...), we have the Firespray-31, which includes both Boba Fett's (and later, Hondo's) Slave I and his innumerable generic cosplayers.

It's the recumbent bicycle of bounty-hunting ships: dorky, yet comfortable!

Everything is cooler with explosions. Everything.

The Firespray-31 is a squadron whose function sometimes confuses players that haven't used it much. By that I mean they see it's a Rogue with 3 anti-squadron blue dice but is also a capable bomber and they think "wow, I can use this as a low-maintenance jack-of-all-trades squadron!" They're wrong, unfortunately. The important thing to keep in mind about the Firespray is it is 18 points and for its cost is as good against squadrons as a TIE Bomber. The 3 blue dice do 1.5 average damage; please note that a generic TIE Fighter with Swarm does superior average damage and is less than half the cost. Two TIE Bombers (exactly 18 points, the same as a Firespray) will each do on average 0.75 damage with their single black dice, so 1.5 total. Nobody looks at TIE Bombers and sees capable dogfighters, but those 3 blue pips on the Firespray can create a false sense of competency when it comes to anti-squadron attacks.

With that out of the way, the Firespray is a capable Rogue Bomber with a substantial amount of hull. When it comes to the Rogue keyword, it seems particularly potent on Bomber squadrons given they can "wait out" all enemy ship movement and then concentrate their attacks in the Squadron Phase, but it can sometimes come to bite them if they're too passive and a target escapes their striking range.

Given that a Firespray is exactly the same cost as two TIE Bombers and is functionally operating in a similar role to them (focusing on attacking ships), a comparison between one Firespray and two TIE Bomber squadrons is inevitable. There are advantages on both sides:

Firespray pros:
  • Superior individual hull value, which makes it slightly more resilient against flak.
  • The Rogue keyword makes them much less squadron-command intensive than TIE Bombers, which can get very hungry for squadron commands, and as mentioned above, the Rogue keyword on anti-ship squadrons can be quite effective.
  • Bomber firepower concentrated into fewer squadrons so covering them with Escort and/or Intel squadrons is much easier to do.
  • If you're only able to get in very limited attacks on enemy ships, sometimes being able to roll an accuracy result on the blue dice can be helpful for locking down a redirect or scatter.
  • If an enemy ship is obstructed, Firesprays will still roll one blue die whereas TIE Bombers will get none at all.
  • Not Heavy.
TIE Bomber pros:
  • Superior total hull value (10 vs. 6), which makes them much more resilient against directed damage from fighter squadrons and better for abusing Ruthless Strategists.
  • Superior average anti-ship damage (two increments of 1 average damage =2 compared to one increment of 1.5 average damage).
    • With a Bomber Command Center reroll factored in, TIE Bombers improve to 2*1.25 damage = 2.5 and the Firespray improves to 1.88 average damage.
    •  Two small packets of damage are better against ship defense tokens than one moderate packet of damage.
  • Superior speed (4 versus 3).
  • Twice as good at adding deployments. 2 TIE Bombers is one deployment, 1 Firespray is half a deployment.
In terms of attacks versus squadrons, it's generally a wash. I give a slight edge to TIE Bombers as they can usually wear down ace defense tokens through sheer quantity of attacks (you can nickel and dime a scatter+brace ace to death with single black dice, for example, as the brace does nothing against one damage and the scatter gets two uses in one turn and then it's gone forever), but the Firespray gets more oomph per activation and occasionally the blue dice can help lock down a defense token if you weren't going to be able to bury them in piddly attacks anyways.

So which is better?
Time for everyone's least favorite answer: "it depends". Everyone give a round of applause for that classic letdown! I'm sure we'll see it again soon.

In short, Firesprays are better when you don't want to invest a lot of points and effort towards their success in the form of additional support squadrons and carrier/bomber support ships. They need a lot less squadron-command hand-holding than TIE Bombers as well. They're easy to add on as a "side thing" your fleet does as a central piece of a heavier squadron commitment (don't forget to add real fighters!) but it's not on the same scale as a "serious" bomber approach, which is more expensive, more committed to "bombers are a big thing this fleet does" and more destructive.

TIE Bombers are better when you're willing to make the commitment towards being a "bomber fleet": at least one Gozanti with a Bomber Command Center, a serious carrier ship, etc. TIE Bombers are faster, they can for their cost weather enemy fighter attacks better, and they do more damage for their cost against ships - they just need more of a fleshed-out support apparatus to get them working consistently.

Oh and just in case there was any confusion: yes, I finally covered a generic Imperial Rogue squadron I don't flat-out say "eh, probably not" to! Hooray!

"What the Hell is a Grogu?"

Boba Fett
takes the basic Firespray and for +8 points gives it some additional upgrades:
  • +1 blue dice against squadrons, improving his anti-squadron average damage from 1.5 to 2.
  • Converts a blue dic to a black die against ships, improving his anti-ship average damage from 1.5 to 1.75.
    • He is also the only Imperial Bomber squadron that rolls the blue+black dice combination B-Wings and Scurrgs take for granted.
  • Gains two brace defense tokens.
  • Gains the unique Boba Fett ability we'll go over below.
Boba Fett's special ability is pretty equal-opportunity - he likes activating at distance 1 of enemies and pinging them for 1 damage. There are some things to consider about this ability:
  • The ability is not an attack, so the victim cannot spend defense tokens to affect it in any way.
  • The only requirement is activating and choosing a target at distance 1, which has two elements:
    • Distance 1: it doesn't matter if you're engaged with a squadron at distance 1 or if it is obstructed. So long as any part of a ship (including the base) is at distance 1, it's a possible target too.
    • Activate: the ability triggers when you activate Boba Fett, so if he activates with no targets nearby and then you move him in and then attack a squadron at distance 1, the window to use his ability has already passed.
  • When a ship will suffer a damage but the damage doesn't come with instructions as to which hull zone the damage goes to, the owner of that ship chooses the hull zone. This means if Boba Fett uses his ability at distance 1 of a ship's 0-shields-remaining left hull zone, the owner can choose to suffer the 1 damage on the plenty-of-shields right hull zone, removing one shield and making Boba Fett just a bit sad.
Boba Fett thus is the multi-role-but-prefers-bombing squadron the generic Firespray is often mistaken for but he is also extraordinarily expensive at 26 points (you can buy a cheaper ship in the Gozanti, as a reminder). If you can afford the squadron commands, you'll get more total mileage out of 2 TIE Bombers and one TIE Fighter for the same cost. If you can't, though, Boba Fett can get some work done, particularly as a bomber. As a fighter, he's sub-par compared to similar ace Rogues like IG-88 or Bossk who do similar to better damage but with a lower cost - if necessary, though, 1 auto-damage + 4 blue dice can get some work done.

In general, I'd recommend considering Boba Fett when you answer yes to the following two questions:
  1. Does your fleet really want something that can assist you in destroying crippled enemy ships?
  2. Does your fleet not have the free squadron command muscle to support other non-Rogue squadrons instead?
Because of Rogue and his ability, Boba Fett is pretty good at chasing down wounded ships and making their lives miserable, especially if their shields are gone (in which case he's dealing his 1 guaranteed + 1.75 average Bomber damage each turn). This can be very valuable for fleets that sometimes struggle to finish off wounded ships. In particular, fleets with an abundance of shorter-ranged ships come to mind immediately - it's not uncommon to see an enemy ship limp away from a fly-by extremely close to death, but your own ships are simply incapable of turning around to finish the job. Boba Fett can help there and he works fine as a one-man band doing so with no great need for extra support. Just make sure to clear some room for him.

Friend to all! But mostly the Empire. Hondo's gotta stack that paper, yo.

For +6 points (a 33% increase) over a normal Firespray, Hondo gains:
  • 1 more blue die on his anti-squad attacks.
  • 2 brace tokens.
  • Grit, which is particularly handy as a Bomber and with his special ability.
  • His special ability.
  • The inability to take Hondo as an officer as well as the inability to bring Boba Fett - Hondo can't be in two places at once and neither can Slave I.
Let's talk a bit about his special ability. It's actually pretty flexible and has some caveats:
  • This ability only works during Hondo's activation. You can't sneak in an extra use through Jendon, for example.
  • This ability works on any squadron, including your own. You probably don't want to toggle your own squadrons, but you might want to use Hondo's ability to move them if they've already activated.
  • Speaking of that ability, going after already-activated squadrons lets you pick them up and drop them at distance 1 of Hondo like a quasi-Strategic effect for squadrons. This kind of repositioning has a lot of uses on both friends and foes. Save your buddies that are getting ganged up on or push enemy squads out of position, whatever makes you happy.
    • It should be noted that neither of Hondo's "instead of attacking" ability uses are actually attacks, so Counter and Escort and the like don't do anything to stop him.
    • When you're simply approaching enemy targets or repositioning later in the game, being able to pick up a friend that moved in the Squadron Phase and place them at distance 1 can allow Hondo to speed up other speed 3 squadrons like Decimators or other Firesprays, improving their threat range for next round.
In short, Hondo's a pretty good. He's got that standard Armada "ace upgrades to squadrons are probably stupid undercosted" thing going on plus a neat ability. The ability is particularly annoying against squad groups built on multiple activations of key ace squadrons, like a lot of fleets trying to abuse Jendon with Maarek and/or Morna or Wedge and Dutch. Simply get Hondo in there early (with a squadron command, you don't have the time to wait for the Squadron Phase) and make the offending ace sleepy. Bonus points if you can do Hondo's special ability "attack" first and then move away (due to Grit or nearby Intel), leaving the tabbed squadron sitting there in the middle of nowhere.

Worst case you hit no-squads and he's a Firespray with two brace tokens that can help shuffle your other squadrons around while chasing after ships. Not bad at all.


  1. I think you're misreading the main application of Boba Fett's special ability: it's great in finishing off crippled squadrons that are attacking your bomber-ball (you did bring fighter escorts, right? right?) It also makes a life of 3HP scatter ace miserable.
    As a side note I found that Boba Fett is great paired up with Jendon (as the only blue-black bomber Imperial Navy has and he also allows both of them to be activated in Squadron phase to get the attacks out)

    1. Re: using the Boba Fett ping on enemy squadrons
      As part of a ball, yes - you can ping enemy squadrons and use provided Intel to go on to direct your more potent attack against ships. The main issue for me is as part of a dedicated bomber group, Boba Fett's 26 points are tough to swallow when you're also scraping up whatever points you can to spend on the usual support apparatus (Rhymer, Intel, Escort), so the instances where he's part of a bomber cloud are relatively rare from my experience - I'd rather invest his points towards a generic Firespray (or two TIE Bombers) and 8 points of fighters or support if I'm going full bomber.

      Against scatter aces the 1 damage is definitely helpful, but it's not sufficient cause to bring him along specifically for that when you have Mauler Mithel and Bossk along who are quite adept at making scatter aces miserable.

      Re: pairing him with Jendon
      I can see the appeal, but I think Maarek Steele is superior there due to his ability to flip a dice to a crit on any attack with his two blue bomber dice. The average damage comes out to being very similar, but Maarek's ability keeps it very consistent. Plus he's better against squadrons. It's a decent pairing, though, just a bit expensive.

    2. Well, for Jendon ball I would take bith Boba and Maarek (or Vader). And Boba ball for me is usually an ace ball that tends to not have any Intel but relies on killing every squadron in it's path instead and his ability then becomes golden as it allows one to not waste powerful attacks on almost dead squads

  2. Is Hondo plus Mauler Mithel a thing?

    1. He doesn't trigger Mithel (place vs move), so not really. You could place Mithel outside of engagement to hop back in later, but Intel is cheaper and easier to use.