Friday, April 30, 2021

Ion cannon upgrades: she blinded me with science!

Time to finish off our weapon upgrade reviews with the ion cannons!

Now you too can make little "blep blep" noises.
I'll review each ion cannon upgrade in alphabetical order (regardless of when they were released). Don't like alphabetical order? Blame the Phoenicians. I will add that a number of ion cannon upgrades trigger on a blue critical and so understanding the attack sequence and when criticals happen will be very helpful. Let's get to it!

Remember, kids: recreational taser play while piloting a starfighter is bad news.
 Heavy Ion Emplacements
  • The effect only resolves if you have a blue critical icon showing when the time comes to choose your critical effect.
  • Heavy Ion Emplacements exhausts upon use, which means it can only be used once per activation (as it will be exhausted when used the first time) and can't be used at all if it has been exhausted preemptively by something like MS-1 Ion Cannons.
  • You must apply as much of the card as possible, so if an eligible hull zone is missing shields, then HIEs won't affect that particular hull zone.
    • Don't forget you always have the option of using the default critical effect if you get a blue crit but your target has few to no shields remaining.
    • Because of the timing order, HIEs trigger before damage in the pool is applied, which can have consequences for redirect tokens and how much hull damage gets through the suddenly-reduced shields.
Why would you want to use Heavy Ion Emplacements?
Because it's a critical effect that adds three damage. There aren't even any black critical effects that directly add three damage to whatever they are targeting, and Heavy Ion Emplacements can even trigger from long range when used with effects that add blue dice at long range (like Quad Battery Turrets) or when your blue dice range gets extended from Disposable Capacitors. HIEs can add a lot of extra damage over time, but it's important to realize that you'll really only want one or two in a fleet because the more effective they are at removing shields, the less effective they are in future attacks against targets with depleted shields: they're effectively an upgrade that shines brightest in the early-to-mid-game, but there's nothing wrong with being good at softening up targets for easier destruction.

Heavy Ion Emplacements have competition from other ion cannon upgrades, particularly the "standard" SW-7 Ion Batteries and Leading Shots, which are generally better for smaller double-arcing ships (SW-7s) and larger mixed-dice battery ships (Leading Shots). Heavy Ion Emplacements can act as a replacement for SW-7s on ships like CR90Bs or Interdictors, provided the player is comfortable with gambling a bit on the effect triggering or has a commander that can assist with rerolls or guarantee critical results, like Commander Leia (concentrate fire to add a die and reroll), Commander Vader, and Admiral Screed. On larger ships, they can replace Leading Shots when used with similar commanders, provided you feel comfortable giving up the "bad dice insurance" of Leading Shots in favor of something that produces more raw damage when you get the critical.

Heavy Ion Emplacements are particularly appealing on small and medium ships with offensive retrofit slots that are already keen on using Disposable Capacitors, such as Raider-IIs, Interdictors, and VSD-IIs (usually if that VSD has some kind of dice-control commander). Disposable Capacitors and HIEs synergize very well in that they will often let the expensive HIEs start triggering one round earlier, helping to subsidize the high expense of the upgrade, but also because long-ranged attacks are often made against targets that are still pretty healthy, increasing the chances of the HIEs triggering for full effect.

The last thing I'll add to this review is to understand the importance of target selection with your Heavy Ion Emplacements: the upgrade is stronger against ships with redirects (as it not only depletes a shield in the arc you're targeting, but also in both arcs the damage can get redirected to) and weaker against ships with evades (as if you can't lock down the evades or produce more than one blue critical result, the blue crit die will likely be rerolled into a non-crit or removed from the pool altogether). This means that in general, you should be looking to go after bigger ships with HIEs.

They all laughed at my plans for a giant battle WALL-E, but I'll show them!
High Capacity Ion Turbines
  • You add dice to your battery, so these dice are factored in during your initial attack and work for Fire Lanes.
  • It's a Modification so you can't have another Modification equipped.
Why would you want to use High Capacity Ion Turbines?
Extra blue dice out the sides never hurt. The main problem is it eats up your Modification slot, it's expensive, and smaller ships often would prefer SW-7 Ion Batteries and larger ships would prefer Leading Shots or perhaps a blue crit upgrade instead. Unfortunately, it doesn't really have much of a place, with the possible exception of on ships with two ion cannon slots to add some extra dice. Even then, Leading Shots + a blue crit upgrade is usually more appealing.

Ever since we bought these sweet purple lasers from the Decepticons, we can't hit anything!
Ion Cannon Batteries
  • The effect only resolves if you have a blue critical icon showing when the time comes to choose your critical effect.
  • The effect first looks to discard a command token (of your choice!) from the defender. If that is impossible, then the defending hull zone loses one shield instead (if it has one).
    • If you can't trigger either of these effects meaningfully, you should choose to resolve the generic critical effect instead.
    • The shield is removed as soon as the crit resolves, which happens prior to resolving damage like usual.
Why would you want to use Ion Cannon Batteries?
Ion Cannon Batteries are pretty helpful when you have a ship that already throws a decent number of blue dice (I'd say 3+) and isn't very interested in other ion cannon upgrades. The main competition for Ion Cannon Batteries is the Heavy Ion Emplacements, and the main arguments in favor of the ICBs are:
  1. They are cheaper.
  2. They can be used on every attack attacks, so are good for double-arcing.
  3. They can remove command tokens.
It should be noted that in Armada 1.5, removing command tokens is stronger than in 1.0, as it can remove tokens ships needed to ready clutch upgrades, like Electronic Countermeasures, or zap off command tokens intended to cheaply use command-triggered upgrades like Gunnery Team. Ion Cannon Batteries are also handy in fleets with a token control or speed control sub-theme (say, due to using raid tokens or Phylon Q7 Tractor Beams) to remove essential tokens that would help counter your shenanigans.

Whether you take HIEs or ICBs largely comes down to fleet build and the strengths of the ship in question, but the two of them are the "premier" blue crit upgrades and either can get work done if you want a blue crit effect.

I said across her nose, not up it!
Leading Shots
  • Leading Shots can be used on any attack and that includes against squadrons. If you have Leading Shots equipped on a ship with two flak dice and at least one of them is blue, then you can reroll an attack against a squadron by spending a blue die if none of your original dice were behaving themselves.
    • It can also be used on salvo attacks. Again, any attack.
  • Leading Shots doesn't care what range you are at, it just wants a blue die to eat. If you can add a blue die at long range (through Opening Salvo or Commander Sato or the Defiance title, etc.) then you can use Leading Shots.
  • This is a "while" effect, which means it tells you when it triggers but also that you can do it once. No pitching one blue die after another to keep triggering Leading Shots!
  • You can choose the order in which your "Resolve Attack Effects" triggers resolve, so I'd recommend waiting until you've added all the dice you want to add before using Leading Shots.
Why would you want to use Leading Shots?
Leading Shots provides a lot of control over your dice pool for a moderate cost. Its most straightforward use is to spend a blue die to reroll blank red and black dice. More nuanced uses of Leading Shots allow you to tinker with your dice pool by rerolling excess accuracy icons you don't want, rerolling blue (and in desperate circumstances, red!) dice with other icons to go fishing for accuracy icons you desperately need (like when you're shooting at flotillas), and rerolling dice while fishing for a critical symbol.

The main problem with Leading Shots is it consumes a blue die for this benefit and blue dice never roll blanks, so you're giving up a sure thing for that flexible reroll. For smaller dice pools it's really not worth it as you're giving up a larger percentage of your attack pool. Once you get to about 6 dice, though, I'd give it serious consideration. For that reason it's fairly standard equipment on heavier ships with blue dice in every arc and an ion cannon slot. You can't afford to have your large investments flubbing their dice rolls and they've got large enough dice pools to afford to give up a die to fuel the effect. You won't always need Leading Shots (if you roll well enough initially, then you won't need it) but when you do need it, you really need it.

MOAR purple beams!
MS-1 Ion Cannons
  • It's another blue critical upgrade, so the usual critical timing provisions apply here too.
  • Exhausting an upgrade card only has a meaningful effect if the card exhausts to do something (meaning you exhaust it before it can exhaust to do its thing), like Intel Officer, Engine Techs, or Electronic Countermeasures. Otherwise, if it has a persistent effect (like most other upgrade cards), being exhausted doesn't have any negative effect.
    • Hammerhead Task Force titles debuff their ships when exhausted, so exhausting them preemptively to debuff that ship and prevent its friends from using the title with the MS-1s is funny.
Why would you want to use MS-1 Ion Cannons?
Short version: you probably shouldn't.

Long version: MS-1 Ion Cannons have the benefit of being quite cheap but their effect is very unreliable and because it triggers on a crit, anything that would affect a defensive upgrade like Targeting Scrambler or Electronic Countermeasures is usually too late (as those upgrade cards were already used by the time the "pick a crit" step comes around). You can try using MS-1 Ion Cannons on weaker attacks where your opponent wouldn't necessarily want to use their exhaust-to-trigger defense cards in order to force the exhaust one way or the other before you come in with your actual threats, but setting it all up is a mess and those types of ships generally want other types of upgrades anyways.

It can be fun exhausting upgrade cards that don't ready normally and need to eat command tokens (like Electronic Countermeasures) but MS-1s are just too unreliable to make them a priority. If you've got 2 points spare and nothing else going into that slot, then sure. But that's pretty rare.

TIE Fighter not included, but could've been if you hadn't wasted 10 points on this.
NK-7 Ion Cannons
  • It's another blue critical upgrade, so the usual critical timing provisions apply here too.
  • It exhausts when used, so if it's prematurely exhausted or used already, you're not getting any more uses until it refreshes in the Status Phase.
  • The defender chooses the token, so he'll likely pick whichever defense token is least inconvenient to lose, likely one of the ones he exhausted during the attack.
Why would you want to use NK-7 Ion Cannons?
Please don't. NK-7 Ion Cannons is one of the worst upgrades in the game. The problem is that it's expensive, it relies on a blue crit, it can only be used on one attack a turn, and it only zaps the least effective defense token from whatever ship you're using it on. If it could have been used without exhausting or on the attacker's choice of defense token, I'd feel differently.

The main problem is that the NK-7 isn't that useful when used in small doses because it will just snipe the least-helpful defense token, which in most cases isn't a big benefit to you (and certainly not 10 points worth of benefit). You can't really use it in large doses well (when used on several ships like the CR90B or Raider-II) because while being able to deliver numerous NK-7 attacks can chisel away even good defense tokens, small ships like CR90Bs and Raiders generally are successful by delivering numerous smaller attacks and don't really themselves care much about enemy defense tokens; you'd need to be relying on a larger follow-up ship and that's a ton of points to spend on helping your larger hammer ship when it could've just used an Intel Officer and/or other defense-screwage upgrades (like H9 or XI7 Turbolasers) for a similar end effect that's relying a lot less on a combo engine.

In short, it's not that useful unless spammed and it's not a great benefit to the ships that are actually capable of spamming it.

Okay, are ion beams blue or purple? Maybe compromise with indigo?
Overload Pulse
  • It's another blue critical upgrade, so the usual critical timing provisions apply here too.
  • It's really important to understand that critical effects are applied after defense tokens are used, so your opponent's ship gets to use all its defense tokens before the Overload Pulse triggers and turns all the remaining green defense tokens red.

Why would you want to use Overload Pulse?
Overload Pulse is infamous in the Armada community for new players not understanding exactly how it works in some regard (usually when it triggers, AFTER your opponent spends defense tokens). Having to explain that Overload Pulse doesn't actually work in whatever way a newer player thinks is something more experienced players have done numerous times. It's such an Armada meme that we now have an actual meme for it (thanks, Nerf_Herder2187).

You tell him, Han.

Overload Pulse runs into similar problems as the NK-7s: it is best used on smaller attacks that don't hurt that much to set up larger attacks later but the small ships that are ideally delivering it don't really benefit from it and are mostly trying to set something up for heavier attacks later and therefore a lot can go wrong. Given that larger ships can for a reasonable cost and with much less activation awkwardness configure themselves to mess with enemy defense tokens independently, the set-up is often not really worth it even on the rare occasion it does work.

If you do want to make Overload Pulse a thing despite my pessimism, I'd try to get some use out of it on larger ships with a double-arc attack starting with your smaller-dice non-primary arc attack to exhaust defense tokens and then follow up with your big primary arc as your second attack once their defense tokens are exhausted. Your big ships generally want Leading Shots a lot more, though. It can do all right with the LMC80 Mon Karren title (where your opponent can spend only one defense token before the Overload Pulse hits) but it's still janky in execution and likely not worth giving up your ion cannon slot for (or spending 8 points on, which is a lot for an upgrade).

"What if we shot our ion cannons at fighters too?"

Point Defense Ion Cannons (hereafter PDICs) don't need a lot of rules clarification: they work at close range (I hate the "or distance 1" text, distance 1 is within close range and it's entirely unnecessary but whatever) and you can force the attacker to reroll 1 die when they attack you at that range.

PDICs are primarily useful against squadrons, as the name would imply, but can also be handy against close-ranged attackers. They're especially helpful against black-crit ordnance upgrades, allowing you to potentially turn 1 black crit result into 0 black crit results and sparing you a lot of hassle. For only 4 points they're a circumstantial and sometimes-useless defensive upgrade but they're not priced like a deluxe defensive upgrade. Their main limitation is they prefer to be on ships that aren't otherwise doing anything with their ion cannon slot and expect to get into close range against enemy ships and/or eat a number of squad attacks.

It's a bit tough to hit all those qualifications: heavier ships tend to want Leading Shots for easy reroll access and lighter ships usually want SW7 Ion Batteries. The pressure to take those upgrades decreases if you can get fleetwide dice-fixing from something like Intensify Firepower or commander Darth Vader. Any ship with enough blue dice might take a blue crit ion cannon instead regardless. PDICs become a higher priority in no-squadron fleets where the need to slow down bombers melting your ships is much stronger, but they won't produce miracles - rerolling Bomber attack dice is still pretty likely (75% of the time with black and blue, 62.5% of the time with red dice) to result in 1 or more damage. You really need to combine PDICs with other means of damaging/inconveniencing squadrons if you're using it as part of a no-squads anti-squadron toolkit. It just isn't enough on its own.

Purple battle ball battery!
SW-7 Ion Batteries
  • This effect only works while attacking a ship.
  • The effect only works on unspent blue accuracy icons, meaning you did not spend them to lock down a defense token.
    • A fun side effect of this is that reroll effects used on your blue dice can at best turn a regular crit into a hit instead, as rerolling into an accuracy will produce an unspent blue accuracy icon. This can get mean against ships relying on evades or Lando!
Why would you want to use SW-7 Ion Batteries?
Because they are awesome on moderate to small attacks rich in blue dice. Basically, accuracy icons aren't great when you're not rolling a lot of dice. Say you throw three blue dice and you get one of each icon (accuracy, hit, crit). In most circumstances, that accuracy isn't doing much of value without more damage in the pool and simply having an extra damage would be preferable. SW-7s give that to you but still let you spend accuracy icons in the rare situations where that's preferable, like against flotillas.
Take, for example, a double-arcing CR90B equipped with SW-7s and using a concentrate fire dial: the front arc throws 3 blue dice at you and that becomes 3 damage. Then the side arc throws 3 total blue dice at you (2 base + 1 from concentrate fire) and that again is 3 damage. That's pretty darn respectable given that your brace token only reduces damage by 1, your evade defense tokens do basically nothing, and your redirects run out of nearby shields quickly against 6 damage from such a small ship. Interdictors and to a lesser extent Raider-IIs can pull off a very similar trick to just pile damage in and shrug at the limited effectiveness of defense tokens, which get quickly overheated against double-arcs used in such a way.

There are some circumstances in which SW-7s are decent on larger ships as well. If your ship wants to preference raw damage because it has some kind of accuracy guaranteeing or defense-debuffing effect available to it already, it makes your blue dice a lot more reliable for pure damage without having to rely on blue critical results. The overall damage output will be on average lower than a blue crit in those circumstances but much more reliable.


  1. Another great article. I ran NK-7s on a CR90b back in one of my first games against a friend. Our fleets were fairly spaced out and my CR90 just danced around a victory the whole game plinking away defence tokens. I don't think it ever finished it off, but it was funny.

  2. Was recently in a small format tournament and this article helped me win the day. Only Rebel fleet among all the Imperialists in the tourney. Thanks SW-7s on my CR-90Bs.

    1. You're welcome! SW-7 CR90Bs are angry little knife fighters, aren't they?

    2. They most certainly are. Scenario had close proximity starts (same edge). Demolisher came in to try to swat us down. 2 CR90Bs and 2 YT-2400s removed Demolisher on turn 1, then laying waste to an Arquitens and a couple of Decimators.

  3. I want to thank you for writing this article.This is great Article for me. It also more very informative & awesome.

  4. I'm thinking of having overload pulse on a VSD II with Disposable Capacitors, along side another VSD II without OLP, but with DCaps too. Obviously the OLP ship fires first. Is this worth having in this scenario? (I would run a GSD and a Raider with a few fighters as support).

    1. It's certainly more viable now than it has been in the past, so the short version is it's worth trying out at the very least.

      I still get skeptical about Overload Pulse just because setting up the combo is tricky due to all the other conditional elements that need to fall into place, even if the Disposable Capacitors help you with the range. In particular, be careful of relying on that blue crit at long range - evade-capable enemies will just dodge the blue crit (you can, of course, get more than one blue crit at long range but it's never something I'd rely on).

    2. I had some success with a VSD II, OLP, and DCaps, with Sloane and Flight Commander. Teamed with Maarek/Jendon and two other blue dice squadrons you get a good chance at stripping defense tokens from larger ships in round 2-3.

  5. I am thinking Overload Pulse will see renewed play in an SSD meta.

    1. It's certainly a case for it, I won't dispute that.

      The main issue is it's still mediocre to poor against other types of fleets, and that's a difficult call for an 8 point upgrade. It will depend on how common SSDs are in your meta, likely.

  6. I think even with Commandakin in the game, NK-7s are still not worth it. There's no guarantee you'll see a double-salvo Venator, and Contain would be the first token to go. If it is a double-salvo ship, you might actually see the Redirect get ditched before Salvo. Instead of NK-7s, consider Intel Officer which gives the attacker direct choice of defense token, for fewer points.