Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Skilled First Officer: a love letter

It's time for a special feature article about one of my favorite upgrades that I can only hope FFG will be releasing as a tournament kit upgrade card so more people can get use from him, the Skilled First Officer! I love this guy and I've gushed about him in multiple ship articles, so I figure maybe I should have an article just about him instead of hijacking and then making John's generic officers article longer. It also means I can just link right here to save people from reading the same advice multiple times 😉.

"Yelling hat man hate command dial!"
The Skilled First Officer is an incredibly flexible and affordable officer upgrade that will happily sit in the officer chair on any of your Command 2 or 3 ships (he's useless on Command 1). Sometimes your ships find themselves in a bad situation where even a mighty Intel Officer or faction officer just won't help you get out of the pickle you're in. If only you had access to that command dial one further down, but the game didn't quite go as expected and now you're screwed.

Fear not, the Skilled First Officer is here!

Believe in the me that believes in you (having the right command dial).
There are a surprising number of uses for the Skilled First Officer and it's rare that I regret bringing one when I have the spare point and open officer slot. Let's cover some!

Command screwage insurance
This is the most reactive and meta-dependent use for a Skilled First Officer, as a kind of Slicer Tools countermeasure (discard the altered top command dial to use the one you want to  use below it). All by itself, it's not worth including a Skilled First Officer just because of maybe Slicer Tools (we're getting to other tricks), but it can be helpful when you're up against them.

In general, if you're relying on executing a specific command (usually navigate or squadrons) and a Slicer Tools flotilla is lingering about nearby, it's time to start doubling up on the command your ship needs to do so when your Quasar (or Nebulon or whatever) is told it actually wanted to concentrate fire, you can activate and discard that dial to get to the squadrons dial you had underneath instead.

As Slicer Tools insurance the Skilled First Officer is a lot more flexible than the Support Officer (who is also more expensive), as he's used at the beginning of your activation rather than at the start of the Command Phase.

The Skilled First Officer can also help against Cham insomuch as you burn through the "corrupted" command dials faster by discarding one of them and it gives you more options if your opponent didn't just spam the same command all the way down (which of these two non-optimal command dials do I want to use this activation?). It won't do you much good initially but it does help you get off the pain train one round earlier.

Command 2 ships command on a dime
This is the most straightforward way to use your Skilled First Officer and why he's a common sight on Command 2 ships (or effectively Command 2 ships, like a Relentless ISD), especially those that are more prone to needing an emergency command to get out of trouble, like Gladiators, Arquitens, and MC30s. Sometimes you find your Command 2 ship is in a situation it expected to happen a round earlier or later and that's where the Skilled First Officer is so important. For example, let say we have a Gladiator that during the Command Phase of round 1 set its two dials as:
  1. Navigate
  2. Navigate
With the intention of taking a navigate token during its first activation and then navigating "for real" during its second to set itself up for an attack at the top of round 3. The enemy, however, was very reckless and charged in a corvette too fast and you'd really like to be able to punch it right in the face with maximum firepower. The Skilled First Officer can help with that! If necessary, use your navigate command to close with the enemy and add a concentrate fire dial on the bottom, so it looks like this:
  1. Navigate
  2. Concentrate Fire
When you activate that Gladiator, simply discard that navigate dial and instead keep the concentrate fire dial:
  1. Navigate
  2. Concentrate Fire 😈
Once the Gladiator has finished its activation and you're on to the Command Phase of round 3, your command dial stack will look like this:
By which I mean "you get to assign both dials right now," which effectively means your Skilled First Officer just bought you two rounds of commanding your Command 2 ship like it was a Command 1 ship (while still being able to hold onto two command tokens!) for just one point.

That's not to say his only use is aggressive. He's also great for emergency navigate and repair commands when your ship gets rushed earlier than you expected or took more damage than expected or perhaps suffered a really bad crit that you cannot wait two rounds to get around to fixing.

Contingency plans
A sneakier use for the Skilled First Officer is for contingency plans. What exactly do I mean by "contingency plans?" Time for another example:

The fleet I brought to Adepticon earlier this year (and won the Friday event with) had 6 TIE Fighters, 2 Gozantis, 2 Gladiators, and 2 Raiders. You may note that in terms of "ships that are okay with commanding squadrons with some regularity," that is only 2 Gozantis for 4 total squadrons pushed. What do you do when you are in a situation where you need all 6 of them commanded in one round?

Well here's what I did, anyways: my "finisher" Gladiator flagship had a Skilled First Officer and in general that Gladiator started meaningfully contributing to combat around round 4 or so. It didn't mind chipping in on one crucial round with a squadrons command if it was the kind of game where getting in all the TIEs I could when necessary would be meaningful. What I did was usually at the end of round 2's Command Phase, Ozzel's Gladiator's command stack would look like:
  1. (whatever, usually a navigate or repair intended as a token)
  2. Squadrons
Because squadron-on-squadron combat usually begins on round 2 or 3, this set me up pretty well to throw squadrons about if it was necessary. Suppose enemy squadrons presented themselves as a target on round 2. The Skilled First Officer resolves like:
  1. (whatever, usually a navigate or repair intended as a token)
  2. Squadrons
and I command squadrons early.

Suppose squadron-on-squadron combat begins round 3. I simply leave the command dial stack alone.

Suppose the squadron command isn't needed (either things turned out better than I expected on that front or some of my TIEs got wiped early and so the Gozantis can handle it on their own without any extra help). When the time comes on round 3, the Skilled First Officer can axe the squadron dial and I'll do something else. It looks like:
  1. Squadrons
  2. Actually something else! What a twist!
 Effectively, using the Skilled First Officer for a contingency plan gives you 3 options when setting up a command dial that is only effective when timed well:
  1. Use the command dial on the round you wanted it if everything works out fine and save the Skilled First Officer for some other use.
  2. Use the command a round earlier than slotted.
  3. Ignore the command altogether if it didn't go as planned.
This use of his is particularly good on Command 3 ships. Speaking of which...

Command 3 ships
I wasn't a big believer in the Skilled First Officer on Command 3 ships initially, but after some play experience, I've changed my mind. He's particularly welcome on heavier medium ships like Assault Frigates and VSDs that generally want to be kept cheap and efficient and don't merit the full "Christmas Tree of upgrades" treatment that's more warranted on larger ships.

Because it can be difficult to predict the game 3 rounds out, the Skilled First Officer primarily finds a use on Command 3 ships for contingency plans. Given Assault Frigates and VSDs are mixed-role combat ship/carriers, I find they like to issue the occasional squadron command but they can't really afford to focus on doing so in most cases. By setting up a contingency squadron command (usually for round 3, as I discussed with the Gladiator earlier), you get a lot more versatility in what command you're issuing and when.

This is not to say you can't contingency plan with other commands. Say for example you're running a VSD-II with the full Disposable Capacitors "blow em up real good from downtown" suite. In general, you should be able to rely on attacking enemies on round 3 out of your front arc and so it may be worth slotting in a concentrate fire dial for round 3 (to improve the odds of getting that one extra point of damage or accuracy you need to really mess up a flotilla or corvette or the like). The problem is what happens if the enemy gets into range too soon or if they're sneaky and get around your front arc? If so, that concentrate fire dial is misplaced and you really would've been better off just focusing on navigating when in doubt, as you're generally always going to get some value from that. For a situation like that, the Skilled First Officer is perfect. Imagine you're planning your gunship VSD's first four command dials with the help of a Skilled First Officer. I'd set them like this:
  1. Repair (for a token)
  2. Navigate (for a token or to course correct)
  3. Concentrate fire (for when you expect to drop the bomb on someone)
  4. Navigate (for keeping on target/this is your backup plan)
This setup gives us a lot of versatility. For example:
  • Targets pull off some unexpected maneuvers round 1, potentially causing trouble: use the SFO to remove the repair and go straight to navigate to stay on target.
  • Targets get into range of your front arc earlier than expected, setting up round 2 shots: use the SFO to remove the navigate command and concentrate fire round 2.
  • Targets slip out of your front arc round 2, leaving you poorly suited to use concentrate fire round 3: use the SFO to ditch your concentrate fire dial to hit your emergency navigate early.
Worst case the Skilled First Officer helps hasten the approach of a command dial you slotted in for 3 rounds in the future to next round, should that be necessary. You can then either choose to ditch your current command dial or wait to ditch next round's, depending on your circumstances.

Closing thoughts
This ends my love letter to the Skilled First Officer. He's a surprisingly versatile and helpful upgrade for a very competitive price and I hope I've inspired some of you to try him out for yourselves in ways you may not have considered before!

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