Monday, May 22, 2017

Imperial squadron review: TIE Phantom

Wow, we're at the final wave 5 Imperial squadron much sooner than I anticipated! It's time to cover the TIE Phantom.

We've made all kinds of improvements, like changing the billiards ball to a soda can!
So why are they shooting at us if they're not supposed to know we're here?
The TIE Phantom is one weird squadron. You're looking at:
  • Speed 4, the same as a regular TIE Fighter or TIE Bomber.
  • 4 hull, which is a bit more generous than your usual TIE Fighter or TIE Interceptor, but still a bit on the fragile side - it's not going to live any longer than an A-Wing, and those aren't terribly difficult to destroy when faced with serious fighter opposition.
  • 4 blue dice anti-squadron: equivalent to an Interceptor but without Swarm, or slightly better than a regular TIE Fighter utilizing the Swarm reroll. You'll do on average 2 damage against enemy squadrons and you've got a 68.4% chance of producing 1+ accuracy results, which is fairly effective against enemy aces.
  • 2 red dice anti-ship (but not a Bomber). This is one of the most interesting elements of the TIE Phantom: it will on average do 1 damage when attacking a ship, but it's extremely swingy: on average 39% of the time, it won't do any damage at all when attacking; conversely, 28% of the time it will deal 2 damage. You've even got a 1.6% chance of doing 4 damage, but don't count on it!
  • The Cloak keyword, which has some interesting applications.
  • 14 points. Here's where people typically lose interest. This is not a cheap squadron and is only 2 points shy of the raw-stats-superior TIE Defender.
So why, exactly should you consider using a TIE Phantom? Well, I'm not going to deny this is a bit of a tough question to answer. Effectively, you need to consider what exactly the TIE Phantom does better than a TIE Defender and whether it's worth making the switch-up to save 2 points.

First of all, let's discuss some of the fun times you can have with Cloak. The easiest demonstration of its use is the extension of threat ranges. Because the distance 1 portion of the distance ruler is the longest section, a speed 1 move followed by a speed 4 move later on is superior to a speed 5 move:
Behold my amazing MS Paint skills!
This means that the TIE Phantom is effectively the fastest overall squadron available to the Empire, even though it initially doesn't appear to be due to its base speed of 4. The improvement over speed 5 is not particularly large, but it is notable.

The good news is Cloak is useful for a lot more applications than simply extending your straight line movement. For example:
  • Cloak allows you to move onto the station at the end of the squadron phase, which heals your TIE Phantom for 1 additional point of damage.
  • Cloak can allow you to disengage from an enemy squadron so your Phantom is able to pounce on a different more high-value enemy squadron next turn. This is particularly helpful when trying to leapfrog over meat shield squadrons like X-Wings that want to stop you from punching out crucial support squadrons like Jan Ors.
  • Cloak can conversely allow you to push your offensive deeper in when you're looking to sneak up on a support squadron buried a bit deeper but no longer defended by Escort, or for when your TIE Phantoms have destroyed their previous targets and would like to keep going after targets a bit further in they weren't previously engaged with.
  • If you're using TIE Phantoms to augment a Rhymerball or to keep sneaking after ships, the Cloak move can allow you to keep on track to bomb without necessarily needing to use a squadron command.
In actual practical use, Cloak can be extremely useful and it's moreso with careful use of nearby obstacles (to get obstruction when necessary) and particularly the space station for healing. When used against enemy squadrons, it's important to follow some of the basic principles I laid down in the TIE Fighter article (linked earlier) about not biting off more than your Phantoms can chew. Try to engage only one enemy squadron at a time and you can use Cloak to pull back when enemies try to gang up on you or push forward as earlier targets are destroyed. Effectively, your Phantoms' main benefit over other squadrons is Cloak and their primary weakness is their low hull for their cost (even worse than TIE Fighters!), so you need to use your positioning and Cloak to make up for your hull-weakness.

Speaking of hull-weakness, I find TIE Phantoms appreciate being escorted into a fight by TIE Advanced. The Advanced has a pretty effective amount of hull for its cost when paired with Escort, which allows it to tank some attacks for your Phantoms while you work on thinning out the enemy fighter squadrons so your Phantoms have less fear of being ganged up on. If you can escort your Phantoms into the end game, they're effective at mopping up enemy squadrons or enemy ships. If you can't, they tend to get ganged up on and dispatched, so be careful! Besides the meat shield duties, TIE Advanced are also good accompaniments to TIE Phantoms because both squadrons are fairly flexible (especially for Imperial squadrons), being capable of doing at least "all right" against both ships and squadrons. The end combination is a faster, less support-hungry, but slightly frailer Imperial variant on a Rebel multi-role squadron combination. I'd even recommend up to one Advanced per Phantom: that's a much larger number of them than usual but the synergy there helps both of them do their thing.

Finally, the Phantom's anti-ship attack is a total crapshoot, as mentioned above in the bullet points. On average you're dealing 1 damage (the same as an unaided TIE Bomber) but it's extremely unpredictable how the attack will turn out. This is an obvious hindrance in that they don't produce a steady reliable stream of damage like TIE Bombers with a Bomber Command Center can, but the sneaky silver lining is your opponent is also in the dark as to what's going to happen. It can be difficult to prepare for, especially when multiple TIE Phantoms are attacking a ship. Suppose your flotilla is under attack from a TIE Phantom that rolled 2 damage. Is it worth scattering, knowing that a follow-up Phantom might roll 3 damage but also maybe 0 damage? It's a bit of a head game.

In short, I feel like TIE Phantoms have a place as part of a mixed squadron group, particularly in combination with TIE Advanced. You can field more total squadrons this way than just by spamming TIE Defenders. If you simply want one flexible squadron to spam, Defenders are likely superior - you're gaining more raw stats but trading away some tech benefits from Cloak, some utility against scatter aces, and a bit of damage against ships. Nothing really wrong with either approach.

"...pull my finger"
"Seriously, I can barely hear you because you whisper all the time and I'm not pulling your finger again!"
Okay so for 6 points over a regular TIE Phantom, Whisper gains:
  • The TIE Fighter ace token suite (scatter+brace).
  • Her special ability
...that's it. Here's the thing, though: that's awesome. The TIE Fighter ace defense token suite on a 4 hull squadron is much better than on a 3 hull squadron (it still helps there, no doubt, it's just way better with 4 hull so your brace token stays relevant longer). When paired with Whisper's special ability, Whisper is extremely difficult to pin down and is extremely annoying. Whenever Whisper spends a defense token against an attack, she gets her Cloak move immediately. She can keep on bamfing out of trouble provided she spends a defense token while defending against an attack. A few things to note about this:
  • This works against any attack, which includes enemy ships flakking her.
  • This includes attacks that deal zero damage so long as you spent a defense token. Your opponent flubbed his dice roll and did 0 damage? Spend a brace token (0 halved rounded up is still 0) and then bamf away.
It's funny how frequently moving speed 1 can get you out of problems. You can back away from the second (or third?) squadron your opponent was gunning to send after you but suddenly Whisper is no longer in attack range. You can jump away from a Rebel squadron after it uses the first of its two Yavaris attacks against you and is stuck sitting there with nobody else to attack. Jump from enemy flak straight into an enemy Intel or Relay squadron. It's hilarious. For extra fun times, combine with the space station. Nothing quite like bracing a 3-damage attack down to 2 and then bamfing to the station to heal a damage. Then you scatter a second attack and jump to the station to heal again. You'll be laughing but your opponent likely won't feel so mirthfully inclined.

Don't forget to also use the Cloak move at the end of the squadron phase. Sometimes I forget to Cloak move Whisper because I've already moved her several times in a turn and I figure I'm done. Nope!

In short, I have a very hard time telling anyone not to put in the extra 6 points to upgrade their first TIE Phantom to Whisper. She's spectacularly flexible and annoying to destroy and her defense tokens make her substantially more durable than a standard TIE Phantom.

Final thoughts
TIE Phantoms are tricky to use and have a bit of a glass jaw, but they can find a use in a mixed-squadron group. I typically find they're useful when I'm rolling a medium fighter coverage group because at that points investment I want something that's a bit more flexible in its ability to attack different targets and it also allows me to afford the TIE Advanced they want to use as bodyguards earlier on.

5 comments:

  1. Worth also noting that Whisper can spend Defense tokens (like the Brace), *even when the enemy has done no damage*... Enemy ship fired at you with one blue and rolled an ACC? Brace, Move, Repair on Station...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, I covered it in the article ;). No worries, though, I'm honored Dras reads the blog!

      Delete
  2. hi!
    what are your thoughts on sloan and phantoms?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a promising if somewhat unreliable combination. You'd still want some Escorts to run interference for them, and TIE Advanced don't really jive great with Sloane (she doesn't help them at all against ships, for example). I haven't gotten around to testing it out for myself just yet, but I've heard tentatively optimistic murmuring here and there about it. I'd give it a try if you were interested!

      Delete
  3. 1.) Thank you for your answer.
    2.) It would be very interesting for me to here about your experiences with a Sloan Phantom combo.

    ReplyDelete