Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Fleet building 201: Heavy Squadron

Time for the second installment of the fleet archetype building series: Heavy Squadron. Just like the previous installment on Big Heavy, I feel the need to mention that for purposes of this article there will be a lot of generalizations that will not hold up in 100% of situations, especially with fleets made or used by experienced players who know when and how to bend or break some of the guidelines.

Just the first deployed ace squadron of many, courtesy of Admiral Sloane.
Heavy Squadron
John has discussed particulars of running squadrons in various configurations a lot in his various Squadrons Encyclopedia articles, which I recommend you read if you haven't yet, but the short version is  the Heavy Squadron archetype is looking to use its dominance of the squadron mini-game to win the real game. There are some strong advantages to squadron dominance, which largely come down to the fact that anti-ship squadrons are some of the best long-term points investments in the game. Because squadrons themselves are extremely maneuverable (not needing to worry about facing like regular ships do), they gang up on enemy ships easily and unless those squadrons can be stopped or outrun, they'll keep attacking enemy ships round after round. This can produce a lot of damage over the length of a full game. Ideally, the Heavy Squadron skew fleet will destroy and/or subvert squadron defenses early and then grind down the enemy fleet as it fails to meaningfully dent the hordes of enemy squadrons that keep nibbling away at its decreasing number of ships.

Elements to consider when building a Heavy Squadron fleet:
  • Carrier considerations. 
    • Relying on squadrons to do your heavy lifting without being able to command all those squadrons is a recipe for disaster. Good carrier candidates are ships with a good Squadrons value relative to their points. Flotillas as well as more dedicated carrier ships like Quasars or Command Peltas are the easiest examples of this.
      • You also need to consider how frequently you want your ships to be issuing squadron commands, as "my whole fleet will do nothing but squadron commands starting on round X" is generally not going to be a feasible plan. Not all of your squadrons are going to necessarily need constant commanding, but it's good to have the capacity to activate all of them in a single round at least once and preferably more than that if necessary.
    • Carrier upgrades. Specifically, don't skimp on crucial upgrades like Boosted Comms, Bomber Command Center, carrier title upgrades like Yavaris or Squall, etc. The nature of which upgrades you need and which are superfluous is a bit difficult to generalize, but it will depend a lot on your squadron composition and how you intend to use the specific carrier. In general, Boosted Comms are nearly never a bad call for carriers with offensive retrofit slots, though.
  • Squadron composition.
    • John wrote about this earlier, but the short version is it's very important to consider exactly how you expect to get a cost-effective return on your squadron investment. Specifically, destroying enemy squadrons is great and all but you get the big points and can threaten to table them by destroying their ships. Therefore, you will need to experiment until you get the right mixture of fighter squadrons (to clear away enemy squadrons getting in your way), support squadrons (to help all your squadrons do their job), and anti-ship squadrons (to actually blow those ships up). 
      • Multi-role squadrons (like Rebels have and Imperials generally not so much) help a lot with this, but there's nothing wrong with a team of specialists provided you've got the right kind of support to get them to do their job and enough multi-role squads added in to shift your focus when necessary.
    • There's also the issue of Rogue squadrons versus non-Rogue squadrons, which will depend on your carrier capacity and how much you value more points-efficient squadrons that need carrier hand-holding versus their less-efficient but more independent Rogue counterparts. All-Rogue squadron fleets are possible and in some cases competitive, but in general a "pure" Heavy Squadron fleet will be using mostly non-Rogue squadrons to better leverage all the points invested into carriers and the force multiplier upgrades equipped to those carriers.
      • As the main archetype is watered down a bit to incorporate elements of other archetypes (see later), one of the options for keeping a lot of squadrons on the table while investing less in carriers to replace some or even all of your non-Rogue squadrons with Rogues. Just be aware that because your total investment in squadrons and their support (carriers and buffs delivered through carriers) decreases, your overall potency with squadrons will diminish as well. This will be particularly noticeable against other fleets that go harder into squadrons and carriers. There's nothing wrong with that (more points spent on something should be better than less points spent on that thing), but it can still "feel" like the same investment because you still spent 130+ points on squadrons but didn't consider the additional investment past that in carriers.
  •  Bandage up your glass jaw.
    • Because you lose at the end of a round where you have no non-flotilla ships on the table and because your Heavy Squadrons fleet invests about a third of its points in squadrons (which you may note are not ships), Squadron Heavy fleets tend to have a glass jaw. If you have two "real" ships and two flotillas, an opponent who rushes your two actual ships and blows them up quickly can deliver you a knockout punch as early as round two or three. Given that squadrons tend to work best when they have time to grind down an enemy fleet, you need to try to avoid this fate as best as you can.
      • You can try to work around (but never truly eliminate) this weakness by adding elements of the Big Heavy or Swarm/MSU archetypes, which I'll discuss in more detail below. Effectively, you're either improving the quality/durability of your carriers (Big Heavy) or improving the quantity of your "real" ships (Swarm/MSU).
    • Most "pure" Squadron Heavy fleets will max out at 3 dedicated carrier ships and 2 flotillas due to the points requirements of all their squadrons, and even that can be a bit tricky to pull off unless you go very light on your ship upgrades. It's fairly common to see a 2+2 (2 "real" ships and 2 flotillas) or a 3+1 kind of setup for "pure" Squadron Heavy fleets if they can't quite make the points work for 3+2.
Basic usage considerations:
  • Deployment advantage. 
    • In short, a Heavy Squadron fleet will often have a moderate to large number of deployments, and many of its deployments will be squadrons, which are not nearly as predictable in their movements as ships or as prone to getting screwed by a bad deployment. It's easy to buy time with a flotilla and then squadron deployments while waiting to see how your opponent's deployments bear out and then deploying your ships in safer positions later.
      • The slower your squadrons, the less true this is. B-Wings and the like will need to be deployed more carefully than TIE Defenders, for example.
      • You will also need to consider the range of squadron buffs like Bomber Command Center, of course.
  • Gang up on ships in their weakest hull zones and work to minimize the effectiveness of their defense tokens.
  • Otherwise, I feel like John pretty much covered this already.
Mixing it up with Heavy Squadron
Adding Big Heavy or MSU elements to Heavy Squadron will diminish your monomaniacal focus on squadrons but often add additional combat activations or beef up your carrier ships to diversify your damage sources and hopefully give your fleet a bit more of a spine. Either option will also give you a better answer to the question of "well what happens if you don't meaningfully win the squadron mini-game?", which can be an issue when facing other squad-heavy fleets.

One of the biggest considerations about whether and how much one should sacrifice points diluting "pure" Squadron Heavy by adding elements of the other two archetypes is how many squadrons you need to be able to command - if you have an awful lot of squadrons, then you're generally going to have less points to play with for adding light combat ships or upgrading your carriers to heavier combat ships and will stick closer to the "pure" version of Squad Heavy.

As a reminder, categories from the the earlier article:

Weak would mean no more than 1/6 of your available points. It's featuring that element in a support role at best, usually to cover weaknesses. This leaves enough room to add a dash of the other archetype if you like or to really strongly focus on the base archetype.

Moderate would mean no more than 1/3 of your available points. The element in question is at this point the junior partner in the fleet and starts to more strongly add elements of its archetype to the fleet as an active contributor moreso than a defensive or support element. A Moderate investment still leaves open the possibility of a Light investment in the remaining third archetype, but you run the risk of diluting your core archetype if you're not careful.

Strong would mean up to 1/2 of your available points. The element in question becomes a co-partner, usually to the complete exclusion of the third archetype.

Big Heavy
I should note that you won't be outright adding big ships at most of these levels, you'll be investing points into upgrading your more basic carriers into heavier combat carriers, like a jump from a Quasar to an ISD-II, for example.

Weak Big Heavy is usually enough points to upgrade one basic carrier into a large ship or two basic carriers into medium ships. Usually at this level of investment, the upgrades available on the ships in question will be minimal past the basic carrier upgrades. This will usually limit the fleet to 2 or 3 (if the 3rd ship is very cheap) non-flotilla ships.

Moderate Big Heavy will have enough points to either add combat upgrades to the same ships mentioned in the preceding paragraph or will be able to upgrade one more basic carrier to a heavier ship while keeping the upgrades light or some mixture inbetween.

Another option is to go down to one dedicated carrier and include a heavier combat-focused ship that won't be helping with squadron commands much, like a Kuat ISD, Interdictor, or Ordnance MC75. You need to be careful to keep your carrier alive, but otherwise the combat ship can be a much safer flagship for your commander than the high-priority carrier(s) would be.

Strong Big Heavy is much more extreme and will usually be two large ships backed up by lots of squadrons (for example, two ISD-IIs with maximum squads), potentially with a flotilla if points allow. This kind of fleet is looking to maximize some extremely potent individual activations (from a battle carrier attacking with a big squadron activation on top of that) to blow through immediate opposition and prevent the opposing fleet from being able to marshal the force necessary to bring enough muscle to bear against an individual ship before it can make a getaway. When the plan works, it's very strong. When the plan does not work, it can fall apart very quickly.

Unlike adding Big Heavy elements to your fleet where you're primarily looking into upgrading your 2-3 carrier-focused ships into beefier combat ships that also command squadrons, MSU is looking to sneak in an actual corvette or two alongside your carriers and squadrons. This can produce some synergy when it comes to damage sources because none of your individual attacks (squadrons or ships) will be extremely powerful, making defense tokens less effective against your entire fleet. Unfortunately, if the enemy fleet is able to quickly dispatch weaker ships, your glass jaw problem will remain.

Weak Swarm usually means adding in a single upgraded corvette of some kind of the squadrons party. It can be a good flagship if you're using something a bit flightier like Jaina's Light and you're (justifiably) worried about your opponent going after your carriers ASAP and don't want your commander there when one of them inevitably bites it.

Moderate Swarm can take a few forms, either by using a pair (or if you're going cheap with Hammerheads, even a trio) of corvettes or adding a heavier torpedo destroyer like a Gladiator or MC30 to add some burst damage strength to your otherwise slower-but-steadier damage fleet. By this level of investment, points are getting tight enough that sacrifices will need to be made when it comes to your carrier element. A single dedicated carrier and 2 flotillas alongside a Moderate Swarm investment will usually be sufficient for 8 or so squadrons, but you won't have a lot of squadron command redundancy built in if your carrier is sniped early, so try to use your combat ships to take pressure off your carrier.

Strong Swarm will usually be looking to leverage the activation advantages of several corvettes and potentially a torpedo destroyer with 2 flotillas and a mob of squadrons. By this level of investment, you may have run out of points for dedicated carriers altogether and are instead relying on flotillas and Rogue squadrons to get your squadron needs met and will therefore lack the stronger squadron buffs available through a dedicated carrier. The upside is you can frequently get up to 5-6 activations in addition to a large squadron wing, which produces a lot of possible damage sources, activation advantage (or at least parity) against most fleets, and a ton of deployments.

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