Thursday, December 31, 2020

Imperial commander review: Grand Admiral Thrawn

Let's finish up the big upgrades of wave 7 by covering the Blue Man Group Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Thrawn performing "It's Gonna Be Me" back in his boy band days
Thrawn later in his solo career performing "Suit & Tie"
  • Thrawn's dial stacking triggers after deploying fleets. That means that if he is for some reason not on the table at that point (perhaps he's on a ship that's set aside for Hyperspace Assault?) then he does literally nothing all game. So try not to do that.
    • The decision on which command dials you put in the stack cannot be changed later.
  • Handing out those dials afterwards triggers at the start of the Ship Phase and requires revealing and discarding the dial you want to use, reducing the size of the stack by one.
    • Once you have no dials left, Thrawn no longer does anything.
    • If Thrawn's ship is destroyed later in the round, he still keeps handing out the dial of the round to all his ships from beyond the grave.
      • This is because even though Thrawn himself is gone, the ability he used to provide dials triggered earlier in the round and no longer cares if Thrawn is alive or not.
  • Because Thrawn dials aren't part of a ship's regular dial stack, they can't be messed with by Slicer Tools or any other effect that interacts with a command stack. 
  • The Thrawn dials are a secret, so your opponent can certainly guess what you're up to but they won't know for sure until all the dials are revealed.
  • Unlike a regular command stack, the three Thrawn dials can be used in whatever order you like.
  • Ships receive the bonus Thrawn dial when they activate
  • Per the Rules Reference Guide, ships that receive the dials may choose to take the dials as a token.
  • Per the FAQ, you can't discard Thrawn dials to wipe raid tokens. Only the dial that was actually assigned to and revealed by the ship can be used for that.
Given Thrawn's ability is based on command dials, it's important to be familiar with how command resolutions work in Armada. Specifically, a very common mistake newer players make with Thrawn is assuming two command dials of the same type can be spent together for a super command. They can't. Sorry. That said, you can certainly spend or use command dials or tokens provided by Thrawn for non-command purposes, like feeding a boarding team a squadron dial/token, for example.

To get straight to it: with Thrawn, you ideally want to be handing out command dials to all your ships that none of those ships chose for themselves that round. By setting it up that way, your ships can gain the benefit of executing two dial-powered commands during their activation rather than being forced to turn one of the dials into a token (or waste one altogether if they already had that kind of token). Because of that, it's usually preferable to have Thrawn focus on a specific kind of command that you'll usually be expecting to execute starting around round 2 or 3 and using until Thrawn runs out of dials (or meets his premature end when The Smurfs gets canceled). Because you know what type of dials Thrawn will be giving out and when, it's easy to set your ships to do any other commands except the Thrawn commands for those rounds.

You can anticipate the need for a bit of subtlety, though - for example, suppose you're using Thrawn to help you with your squadron commands (which is probably the strongest use of Thrawn, we're getting there!). You're likely going to lose some squadrons during the 3 rounds you're counting on Thrawn against most enemy fleets, so having your entire fleet issuing Thrawn's squad commands is likely to result in some waste by the 3rd squadron dial. You can set Thrawn to 2 squadron dials and a navigate dial in that case and if you're expecting to start throwing out Thrawn dials come round 2, you make it a point to not give squadron commands to any of your ships for rounds 2 and 3 and then try to anticipate how many squadrons you'll need to command round 4. Assign squadron dials to enough ships (that you expect to be alive) for round 4 and non-navigate dials to the remaining ship(s). Navigate is a good all-purpose command, so your ships should be able to do something with it when the time arrives.

Just giving Thrawn a grab bag of "sure, this could be useful" commands (say... navigate, repair, concentrate fire) and using them when necessary for your fleet creates some serious problems with having some ships executing that type of command normally because it's harder to anticipate exactly when you'd need the Thrawn dial when the time comes and therefore Thrawn's dial is reduced to a mere token (or lost altogether) on some of your ships. "Emergency" Thrawn used this way compares poorly to Tarkin, who is a lot more flexible in terms of what he can provide to your ships as well as cheaper.

The issue then becomes that if Thrawn is going to focus on a type of command that's easier to plan around to get the full value from his effect, he's got some stiff competition. Navigate-focused Thrawn needs a good reason to be used over the much cheaper Ozzel or Jerjerrod, for example. Concentrate-fire-focused Thrawn is competing with Screed and Vader. Repair-focused Thrawn is competing with Motti. Squadrons-focused Thrawn is indirectly competing with Sloane, although conventional Imperial squadron groups versus Sloane groups tend to vary a great deal, it is still a matter of deciding which type you feel would work better. Assuming you do find a good answer for "why Thrawn instead of X or Y," you then have the final question of "why not Tarkin?" Thrawn can be useful for triggering command-specific upgrades, but Tarkin does that too but every round, for less points, and more flexibly.

Therefore, Thrawn is often best utilized as a means to command squadrons at full dial strength while allowing your ships to do other things. A good number of Imperial ships have a Squadrons value of 2 or more but have a hard time commanding squadrons consistently because they're mixed-role battleship-carriers like an Imperial- or Victory-class Star Destroyer (or some kind of combat ship with a secondary "kind of okay" carrier functionality like a Gladiator). Thrawn allows them to get consistent use out of their higher Squadrons value while still taking the commands they want to act as a full-fledged battleship (navigate, repair, sometimes concentrate fire), allowing them to not need to compromise on commands for up to 3 rounds a game. He's also good Slicer Tools insurance, which can be extremely valuable for a squadron-based fleet.

Any ship, when you get right down to it. Doing more than one dial-strength command per activation is great. Whether or not a ship goes well with Thrawn is going to depend a lot more on what you want your fleet to do (if you want your ships commanding squads on the side, Raiders aren't really a great call, for example, but they're happy to navigate and concentrate fire dial together if that's the type of fleet you're building). It's going to come down to fleet building and whether Thrawn is a better choice than a different commander.

Fleet building

I pretty much covered this one already above, but for the most part, you're looking to build a fleet that maximizes the command you intend to have Thrawn focus on while doing other commands for full effectiveness. I personally feel that squadrons is probably the strongest Thrawn command, but you can make a case for the others too. When it comes to ships to include, you obviously want the Thrawn command focus to matter for them, but also for them to do something useful with their regular command. If they're not profitably doing two different full dials, then you generally would've been better with a different commander (obviously it's okay for one ship to be an exception if it smooths out your fleet build, but if this happens regularly with several ships, it's going to be a problem).

That said, Thrawn is flexible enough that he can really command just about any archetype provided he fits. He fits particularly well into hybrid archetypes trying to do two things at once for obvious reasons.


  1. Slicer tools and similar command interference tools can have a functional effect against Thrawn by forcing his fleets to either take his same command or take a command the fleet cannot make good use of. For example, if Thrawn is activating squadrons he frequently would rather be using a different command on his ships to maximize his efficiency. Slicing or using Cham Syndulla to force the target ship into a squadron activation will reduce the value of Thrawn's bonus dial by forcing usage as a token instead of a bonus ability.

  2. Just checking something:
    If Thrawn's ship is destroyed later in the round, he still keeps handing out the dial of the round to all his ships from beyond the grave.
    This is because even though Thrawn himself is gone, the ability he used to provide dials triggered earlier in the round and no longer cares if Thrawn is alive or not.

    Does this apply only to this round's dial. If Thrawn's ship is gone but there are still dials for subsequent rounds on his card, are they lost for future turns?

    1. Once Thrawn's ship is destroyed, he's not there in future rounds to hand out dials, even if there are still unrevealed dials left on his card.