Sunday, January 7, 2018

Fighting Fleets: Annulling Avenger Boarding Troopers


There's a bit of a boogeyman haunting certain communities nowadays and it takes the form of an Avenger Boarding Troopers ISD (hereafter referred to by its much-shortened online initialization, ABT). Let's have a short talk about that and what you can do about it.

Obvious combo is obvious, but also pretty mean.
 How does an Avenger Boarding Troopers fleet work?
 The Avenger ISD (usually an ISD-I) is the star of the fleet and it generally works like this:
  • ABT activates late in the round (preferably last) and comes zooming in at its preferred target at close range, preferably setting up a double-arc attack on it.
  • ABT activates early in the next round (preferably first), spends a squadron token to use Boarding Troopers, taps out all its prey's defense tokens, and lets rip with both arcs (preferably with a concentrate fire).
    • With the new errata where Avenger exhausts to use, the Avenger attack will be used on the big front arc blast, with the side arc either going first (with a Kuat, likely) to tempt you into spending more defense tokens early or afterwards to hopefully drill an extra damage or two into the hull (with an ISD-I, usually).
  • In most cases its prey is then dead. Without any special tricks to save them, this will destroy most ships, but heavier ships (like HMC80s, front arcs of LMC80s, and particularly other ISDs, sometimes even a VSD) can survive if they were healthy before the attack run and/or if the dice weren't too hot. If the prey is brought down to 1 hull, a timely ram will finish it off.
    • The ABT then decides if it wants to come around and start harassing other ships or if it's satisfied with a large meal and wishes to step on the gas to get away before the remaining enemy fleet can destroy it in turn.
The rest of the fleet does its own thing but everything works to enable the ABT. Typically this will mean many/all of the following:
  • A very large bid. The ABT really wants to go first so it can smash its prey first thing and avoid retribution or having squirmier quarry flee before they're caught. So far this year there have been some ABT fleets at Regionals with bids in the mid-twenties, which I personally find to be near-insane. However, when two ABT fleets go up against one another, all other things being equal, the one with the higher bid is likeliest to win (due to their ABT jumping and destroying the other ABT).
  • Numerous activations. Usually 5-6, but sometimes as low as 4. The fleet wants to have ABT go last if it can, so you can't wait it out with its preferred prey.
    • Other ships present will typically be less-expensive combat and support vessels, like Raiders, Arquitens, or Gozantis. Gozantis in particular are usually fielded at least twice, as they're the cheapest activation padding Imperials can buy. 
      • You may also see one Demolisher Gladiator in fleets that are comfortable going with only 4 or 5 activations. This approach sacrifices activation quantity in favor of having another immediate threat in the form of a usually fairly barebones Demolisher that still presents a credible threat to lighter craft and can help finish off a heavier ship the ABT didn't quite destroy earlier.
    • Sometimes this is done away with in favor of using Governor Pryce for the last+first, but this strategy can backfire if Pryce is used on the wrong round or if the ABT fleet is outbid.
  • Light squadrons. Sometimes no squadrons. The squadron game is not the ABT fleet's strong suit because it's playing the activation and ship combat elements of the game so hard; those points need to come from somewhere.
Suffice it to say this fleet type ruffles some feathers because it's capable of erasing ships from the board without so much as a strongly worded letter being received in response. So what can be done about it?

Strategic tools against ABT

Specifically, any objective that forces your opponent to deploy before you, meaning Superior Positions or Solar Corona, is a no-go for a lot of ABT fleets, because it allows you to see where ABT is and set its ideal prey up far away from it. ABT really wants to find an ideal target to pound on or else it's not very cost-effective and this kind of deployment advantage can really hinder it from achieving that.

Most Wanted is helpful against ABT in that it increases the odds of the rest of your fleet being able to destroy it, which produces a huge windfall of points that more than makes up for whatever it destroyed earlier.

Beware defensive objectives like Contested Outpost that telegraph where your biggest beefiest ships intend to be for most of the game, as it gives ABT a much easier time figuring out where its next meal is likely to be.

Flotillas of your own offer two things that help against ABT: they increase your own activation count and they are ideal speed bumps to throw between ABT and where it wants to go. We'll talk about that a bit more later.

Lots of small ships
If you are running a more conventional swarm fleet, ABT doesn't really have any ideal targets - almost anything it would have gotten a close-range double-arc on anyways would be dead regardless of the ABT combo, and it's difficult for the ABT to have a single big-points turn when there aren't easily-caught juicy targets available for it. These types of fleets are also likely to equal or exceed the activation count available to the ABT fleet.

Heavy bombers
Provided your fleet is designed to bring serious bomber damage against enemy ships and has some means of ignoring/destroying the ABT fleet's light fighter screen, you can get a lot of damage in on the ABT so long as you can keep your clutch carrier(s) safe from being deleted. Yavaris in particular can double-tap B-Wings to get in a considerable amount of pain in a single activation.

Dice control/mitigation
ABT's crucial attack run is looking to set up as much raw damage it can, frequently through dice modification and/or reroll effects (most often Leading Shots, but sometimes other things as well). Against heavier ships, it's often a very close thing as to whether ABT can produce enough damage to come away clean. This leaves it very susceptible to effects that remove or reroll dice after the attack has arranged his attack pool just so. Rebels generally have access to more of these kinds of shenanigans through upgrades like Admonition, Mon Mothma, and Lando (especially Lando - Rebels in ABT-rich metas have no real excuse against using Lando on their biggest ship; he's already a great officer, but he really puts the screws to ABT and can go on any ship), but Imperials can see how the other half lives with the Interdictor's Targeting Scrambler and/or Captain Brunson. Regardless, the goal is to find the highest damage dice (double-hit reds, hit+crit blacks) and remove or reroll them however possible to swing the damage from "sucker punch KO" to "back alley brawl," where ABT finds itself on much less comfortable ground.

Hull/shield buffing
Specifically Admiral Motti and the Aspiration title on MC75s (which put more shields between you and ABT doom). Anything that adds more points between you and death will put you in good stead against ABT. Tricks with defense tokens won't hold up (sorry, Electronic Countermeasures and Advanced Projectors), but straight-up hull or shield buffs will, and I'm sure over time we'll see more of those types of upgrades even if for now it's just Motti.

Revenge of the living dead
Just like any tactic that counts on destroying an enemy before they can do anything, (even post-nerf) Rieekan throws a big ol' monkey wrench into everything. ABT does not want to get stuck on a zombie ship when it would've rather been comfortably sailing away through space debris.

Activation control
Governor Pryce for Imperials and Bail Organa for Rebels both allow a medium or large ship (ABT's preferred targets) to break the rules on a specific round when activating (either getting guaranteed last or first, respectively). If you can accurately guess when ABT would prefer to make its attack run, Pryce or Bail can give you an out by either activating last after ABT (Pryce) so you can attack and then run for it or by activating first in the next round (Bail) so you can attack... and then run for it (noticing a trend?). Be careful of ABT messing with your plans by speeding up or slowing down to catch you off-round, but at the very least Pryce and Bail throw a monkey wrench into activation assumptions ABT is relying on, which can buy you some breathing room even if they don't work as a more direct counter.

Tactical considerations against ABT
With adequate strategic tools, you don't necessarily need to do anything substantively different against ABT than you would against any other large ship that's out for blood. Regardless, there are a few tricks to keep in mind.

Deployment considerations
If you out-deploy the ABT fleet, that's good news. ABT will be waiting to deploy last so it can deploy across from its preferred target and you can keep that target safely off the board until ABT is committed to its deployment position.

If you don't out-deploy the ABT fleet, then you need a plan for what its ideal target is going to do, knowing ABT is waiting it out. What the "right" thing to do is will be very context-dependent, but in general, the wrong thing to do is start that ship at the deployment line facing forward at maximum speed. That's effectively racing into a blender. Ideally, your target ship should be deployed so as to give some flexibility to its destination later in the game (often at something of an angle) so ABT has a hard time predicting exactly where to intercept it and may require another turn of jostling for position to finally reach it. It can also help to deploy it behind intervening smaller ships which will later act as speed bumps (next point below).

Speed bumps
Setting ABT back by one round can often be enough to stop it from reaching its prey altogether, provided the prey was able to run away from it or jump past it in the meantime. This not infrequently requires sacrifice, and the easiest sacrifice is a flotilla. Let's provide an example:
Here the Rebel player has ended his activations near ABT, with his GR-75 running interference for the HMC80. ABT lobs some ineffective red dice at the flotilla and would then love to set up a double-arc on the HMC80:

...but there simply isn't room. The ISD overlaps the GR-75 and withdraws...

leaving the HMC80 in a much safer position, and reasonably capable of escaping death altogether, especially with some good use of Engine Techs next round to sneak around the side and give ABT the slip altogether. The poor GR-75 is doomed, but that's a much better trade than the alternative of a thoroughly dead HMC80.

The slippery fish nobly flops away!
I'll add that it would be smarter for the ABT, realizing it won't get its attack run in by going to our left to position itself to our right to try to catch the HMC80 in its front arc at the bottom of the next turn. That would likely succeed, but the HMC80 would be able to position itself to only be in one arc and the ABT would be unable to subsequently set up a double arc. The end result would be a front arc at  the bottom of the next turn (likely at medium range) followed by another front arc likely at the top of the following turn, only one of which benefits from Avenger and Boarding Troopers (likely the second attack at close range). That's intimidating, but not likely to destroy the HMC80, which can then make a getaway into/past the side arcs of the ABT.

ABT attack order
Because Avenger only works on one attack per round nowadays, keep that in mind when spending your defense tokens. If ABT is attacking first with its side arc and saving Avenger for the front arc, don't spend ready (green) defense tokens as that will hurt you when the hammer falls in the second "real" attack. Conversely, if Avenger already fired with the front arc, then you need to do everything you can to keep your ship alive through the second attack, and if that means burning your exhausted defense tokens for good, then so be it.

Final thoughts
As always with our fighting fleets articles, hopefully this has provided some food for thought and helps someone in a meta that is feeling the heat from what we've discussed. If you have any questions, let me know!


  1. Great insights - this hasn't hit our meta yet, but I am at least prepared to understand the tactics.

  2. I lost to exactly this tonight! I will read and prepare for next time..

  3. What about Bail on your big Avenger target and simply fly away first in the turn? Of course this relies on knowing what turn to go first on.

    1. It's a great trick if the ABT player is relying on Governor Pryce (which is not uncommon nowadays) to get a guaranteed last activation + first activation on the next turn to blow you to pieces. Because first player's effects must be decided on first, it means Pryce would need to call round X, at which point you (as second player) could call round X+1 with Bail, which takes the wind out of the Pryce-aided ABT player's sails by activating first that round, attacking, and making a run for it. I think it's important to note that using Bail this way should probably be paired with a navigate dial for the chosen round, as the ABT player may still try to box you in. The ability to change speed and get the extra click of yaw should assist a broadsides ship (like the HMC80) in getting into only one arc of the ABT and it should hopefully increase the odds of a front-arc ship (like the LMC80) being able to jump over the block attempt unless it is set up just right.