Thursday, December 10, 2020

Squadrons Encyclopedia 6: Fighting (Squadron Heavy) Fleets and Running Squadronless

So, the flip side of the previous article in the Squadrons Encyclopedia is our Fighting Fleets article: taking out a squadron-heavy fleet.
"There's too many of them!" Better not be referring to the number of articles in my squadron series
I've spent this series telling you how to move your squadrons, how to kill your opponent's squadrons, how to use Intel to get bombers where they need to be, who to shoot, what to shoot, when to shoot, etc etc etc.  If you'll notice in those articles, I never actually address what your SHIPS should be doing (to fight squadrons).  I gloss over it occasionally and mention ships in those chapters, but it's not a significant portion of those.

However, as we all know, a squadron heavy fleet isn't just 134 points of squadrons.  A squadron heavy fleet has multiple upgrades in its fleet that are designed around getting those squadrons where they need to be and killing what they need to kill.  Those upgrades often come at the cost of other upgrades that would keep the ship itself alive and hitting as hard as it could with its own dice (Your Assault Frigate can equip either Gunnery Team or Flight Controllers, but not both).  The Yavaris has its standard build(s), and they're great, but none of those usual builds keep the Yavaris alive or shooting its own anti-ship batteries better.  So most of the time, your non-squadron fleet is going to be putting out more damage from its ships that won't be as easily prevented by your opponent.

How do we fight Fighters? Well, let's look at some tips below this completely not-forced in joke!
Never trust Bill Cypher.  NEVER.
1) Don't go on tilt when squadrons seem to blow your stuff up.
Yes, your ships are likely going to be putting out more damage than your opponent's ships.  HOWEVER, their squadrons are likely going to blow SOMETHING up, barring terrible rolls or bad movement/squadron use on their part.  Don't get mad when you lose a ship to squadrons.  There was a time when I would take a squadron fleet to a game and my opponent would immediately rage-quit when my squadrons blew up a ship or two of his.  As I've said before, no one gets rage-quitty when an ISD kills two of your ships in one turn.  Why are you so mad when my B-wings do it? If it makes you sad that my 14 points blew up your 51 points of Raider, well it wasn't JUST my 14 points.  It was 2 B-wings (so 28) plus a Yavaris (62 for just the title) for a total of 90 points.  I spent almost twice as many points on my end to kill your ship, what's your anger coming from?

The best advice is to reread Eric's tilting article, linked to again HERE.

2) Realize that you need a plan to fight squadron fleets.  Expecting them to NOT show up is a dumb plan that will result in you getting screwed over right when you didn't need to.
Heck, this one nearly bit ME in the butt at our local Store Tournament.  I had a note in my "Fleet Build" article that I was like "No one will bring squadrons, I'll be fine."  What's my second opponent? Squadron heavy.
For some reason, this seems like an appropriate picture of my "brilliance."

Eric's point about asking someone in your meta to play as something you don't normally have/practice against is good.  I plan on asking several friends to try some squadron fleets out against me and my eventual Regionals plans.  You NEED to get some practice against squadron heavy fleets so you can see what to do, how to fight them, and how to counter them, so you don't end up learning about "new" cards the day of the tournament.  I've brought Yavaris the last two times I've played my buddy Nick, and he now knows what its capable of.  If you don't know what it can do, you might just ignore it to concentrate on the MC30 nearby instead, and that can doom you.  You wouldn't want to face a Super Star Destroyer for the first time at a Regionals, would you? Treat squadron fleets similarly.

Someone WILL show up to your tournament with a squadron fleet, either coming from out of town or from a different meta or across the country, whatever.  Failing to have a plan is planning to fail.
"Until you learn to master your rage-" "My rage will be my master? Is that what you were going to say?"

3) Plan A: Flak.  Flak hard.  Flak everyone.
Gary Oldman understands
Squadron lists are based around doing substantial damage to you from their squadrons.  Option one is to kill those squadrons, and how do you kill squadrons?
Sarcasm is always helpful
So weird, all ships have this image printed on their card in various colors! Use it. I've seen players NOT flak the opponent's fighters/not flak them substantially enough such that the fighters just stomp the opponent's ships and then you have a big sad.  It may not seem like much, given that you might only do one damage to a Y-wing, but when you combine it with your own squadrons and multiple ships flakking, you CAN take them out.

Your ships all have flak values, USE THEM. You need to combine this flak with your own squadrons shooting theirs, but it CAN get work done (especially if you can use Linked Turbolaser Towers to start hitting their linchpin squadrons.  Flak the important guys first!).  A large majority of squadron battles of similar point strength are won by one side being able to flak the other guy.  It's no longer 64 vs 134, it's 64+ship flakking versus 134.  That may not be ENOUGH to take out their entire force, but it can definitely put a hurt into them and their squadron muscle.  Repeated damage into their squadrons adds up, especially if you combine the flak with your anti squadron attacks to go hit ~60 points of their squadrons at a time instead of the full 134.  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Eric here briefly!
It's important to consider the flak option as part of an overall plan involving how you intend for your ships to interact with enemy squadrons, especially in a no-squads fleet. The flak option is workable, but you need your ships to be built for it or else it will fail you. Basically, your standard squads fleet is relying on carriers pushing squadrons - most of the time, it's easier to take down the carriers (see below). The flak approach seeks to take out the squadrons, or at least credibly threaten to do so, to break the chain at the other end.

Flak is problematic when it comes to taking out squadrons. Normally, fighter squadrons of your own are superior for the points investment when it comes to taking out enemy squadrons compared to flak upgrades, which are generally unimpressive. That said, it can be done. Specifically, you want ships with strong flak values for their cost and it helps if the flak is longer-ranged on a number of the ships. Upgrades like Toryn Farr or Ordnance Experts (dice-dependent) help tremendously, as they help keep your flak more reliable. You want to create overlapping flak fields so squadrons that attack any of your important ships need to worry about eating attacks from 2+ ships - multiple flak sources are important because scatter aces will usually ignore attacks from just one ship and more conventional bomber squadrons have enough hull that you want them to fear death from 2 rounds of solid flakking. If it's going to take 3-4 rounds of flak to drop a bomber, then flak just isn't a realistic option for removing bombers before they remove you.

That said, the anti-squadron upgrades I normally disparage can have a place in the right fleet if you're giving up a slot that's not otherwise a high priority, especially in combination with other anti-squadron upgrades. Quad Laser Turrets is normally pretty awful, but in a no-squads fleet with the right support (Toryn or Agent Kallus, for example) it can be a worthwhile investment on your big centerpiece ship(s) because when those ships are supported by other nearby ships it effectively adds another small plink of anti-squadron attacks to the calculus of squadrons tempted to dive into the blender - going straight at the big target in the center would mean running the gauntlet of numerous flak attacks, going after the support ships on the flanks is safer but wastes time the big ships are using to kill the carriers.

On a side note, this kind of approach works better with multi-purpose defensive upgrades that help keep ships around a bit longer against anything doing numerous attacks, such as Early Warning System, Reinforced Blast Doors, or Advanced Projectors. Keeping your ships ticking just a bit longer increases your chances of getting in just a bit more flak. On to the final point!

The final point is so simple as to be kind of offensive: you need to actually flak. In short, if you want to dismantle an enemy squadron fleet's squadrons, it can result in some attack choices that might feel a bit weird. You've got a shot lined up on an enemy ship but it's of poor to moderate quality? You probably should flak instead. Every flak shot counts and helps burn down generic squadrons' hull points and overheat aces' defense tokens. With luck you can kill enemy squads, but getting them down to 1-2 hull so they peel off and leave you alone is nearly as good. Once the squadron threat is defanged, the wimpy enemy ships should be pretty easy prey.

And back to John.

Flakking your opponents squadrons to lower their health where they want to leave is a smart plan, otherwise it's 5 turns of them just shooting your ship with no consequences for them.  Would you let a 60-130 point ship shoot your flagship for 5 turns? No, you wouldn't.  Think of the squads as that weird amorphous blob of a ship and let that guide your plan for dealing with them.

4) Plan B: Go for the carriers.
The other option, if you're fast enough, is to have your ships trying to kill their carriers FAST before they can get more than one or two significant turns of squadron pushing off.  This option usually involves several speed 4+ (waves in Engine Techs) ships moving across the board to make those attacks count sooner.  You may lose a ship or two, but if you can trade one of your ships for 2-3 of theirs, then it's a matter of mopping up quickly after that.  IF YOU PLAN ON RUNNING SQUADRONLESS, THIS IS THE PLAN FOR YOU.  PLEASE READ ON FOR HELPFUL TIPS.

Killing the carriers is an "easier" solution, as you can focus on having your entire fleet "ignoring" ~130 squadron points of theirs (you're NOT ignoring them so much as mitigating what they can do to you).  It gives you a leg up on the points race, but you have to realize a few things about this plan.  First, remember point 1 above? Barring skill disparity, you are DEFINITELY going to lose some ships to squadrons.  You're not caring about what's there to attack you so long as you complete the mission of "Blow their stuff the heck up."  If you lose 2 CR90s but table his fleet, that's potentially a near 300 point win.  You're going to need to learn what to potentially sacrifice when in order to get the ships you need killed.  Second, you NEED to kill his carriers and ships fast.  You need to get in fast, you need to get out fast, and you need to KILL fast.  The longer you leave them in range of his carriers and squadrons, the better chance you have of his squadrons coming in and shooting you to death.
This might as well be called the Truthiness plan.
To get this plan going, you're going to need to decide if you're dealing damage at range to these carriers (red dice and the various ways of mitigating their output) or if you're getting in closer (which usually means HIE or black dice ships).  A combination of both is better than just one or the other.  Combine some fast heavy firepower (Ex: MC30s, Gladiators, Libertys) with some good sustainable long range plink damage (Ex: CR90s, Arquitens) they have to try to mitigate and you've got the start of a good plan.

Related to attacking the carriers, using Slicer Tools to change the carriers AWAY from squadrons helps in that you're taking away their ability to do the job they were brought to do.  If this comes at the cost of you landing your flotilla in the midst of a blob of squadrons that's going to kill it, but they aren't leaving, then MAKE THAT SACRIFICE COUNT and kill the carrier that turn (or the start of the next).  The Slicers are usually the first wave in, usually sacrificing themselves for a round or two as your other ships set up for the kill and run on their carriers.  Flotillas don't count for tabling, but if you don't kill it, I'll just keep slicing you.  However, don't just throw your flotilla forwards without a plan, else you're wasting time and letting me eat YOUR fleet piecemeal.

Ideally, the best way to get the carriers dead is to divide your fleet into 2 types of ship.  Those that are activating BEFORE their carrier and those AFTER it goes.  If your ship is depending on the carrier moving into dice range of you before you can shoot it, and it can withstand a few attacks, it obviously wants to go AFTER the carrier.  If you're in range now and want to fire your dice to injure/kill it before it can command squads and shoot you, well, that's a BEFORE.  These are going to morph as the game goes on (Demolisher last-first moves it from an AFTER to a BEFORE, obviously), but having ships that can work in either circumstance helps you and your list significantly. As you divide these ships on your turn, assume the carrier IS doing squadrons and IS pushing them at whatever ship it can.  This will help you figure out both where to be when you navigate this turn and what ship is actually an AFTER and BEFORE for the next carrier.  If my first 2 flotillas have thrown 2-3 bombers at your flagship each, and my main carrier is waiting to go, you may want to evaluate if you CAN take a third bomber strike before deciding to activate a ship or not.

You either need to be able to move your BEFORE ships quick enough (this means speed 3-4, generally, with a strong emphasis towards 4 or even 4+1 with Engine Techs) to not get pecked to death by fighters and get into range of their carriers or you need to be able to tag them from range as you zoom around them (waves at TRCR90s).  Ideally, you have ships that can land in a spot that makes them a BEFORE for ship A of your opponents and an AFTER for ship B.  This takes practice, of course.

This strategy is NOT A GOOD PLAN for speed 2 ships.  Even with Engine Techs, as the squadrons get placed after each Engine Tech movement.  Unless you're amazing at maneuvering, you're going to run over their squadron twice and they'll use the first movement to land in front and get landed on again, ending up exactly where they want to for their actual activation.  Your HMC80 or Harrow Victory hasn't left the squadrons behind, it's just helped your opponent move them.  You can include a speed 2 ship in your list, of course, but the rest of your fleet is going to need to focus on ending whatever carrier threat is coming in FAST.  And you may want to repair more with your speed 2 ship than you think, squad damage adds up quickly.

I can't tell you what the right answer is, for how fast to move each ship and where to get to and all.  Evaluate your ships and their speed capabilities to determine whether you should be flakking my squadrons or shooting my carriers with your ships (potentially one this turn, one the next?).  Have a plan for what you're going to do.  The thing to note with regards to many squadron lists is that if you can table the non-flotillas, that's 400 points for you.  I'm not saying "ignore the flotillas" but realize that if you can kill the more important ships, their list loses everything.  Make smart choices.

5) Bring a squadron presence of your own
If you bring a squadron presence of your own, I can point you towards several other articles (Chapter 2-3, for instance) I have written in order to detail HOW to handle heavy squadron groups.  When crafting your SFC/MFC group, add in parts to it that will handle enemy squadrons more than those that do damage to ships; Mauler Mithel is better than Rhymer, Shara is better than Norra, you know what I mean?  The longer answer for how to create and use those squadron groups is in those linked articles.  When looking at your list and what your answer to squadrons is going to be, bring along a presence that complements your list/goal for this matchup.

If you're bringing a mass of CR90s and plan to go shoot the carriers as fast as possible, YT-1300s aren't the smartest helpers for that list, but YT2400s might be.  If you're planning on eating all their squadrons with as much flak and Ruthless Strategists and Advanced Transponder Net all together, A-wings are fine but Y-wings might be BETTER there.  Think of your list as a whole.

6) Recognize the threat(s).
Does Yavaris  have 3 B-wings, Luke, Nym, and Jan Ors nearby? Try not to wander your ship anywhere within range 1 of that, because Yavaris will try to break your back.  Is the threat multiple Y-wings or TIE bombers getting pushed from a Expanded Hangar Bays Pelta/Quasar? Figure out how you're going to destroy that before it can start significantly killing your ships.  At the beginning of Plan B (point 4), I mentioned "mitigating the squadrons."  This is THAT section.

Squadrons have the benefit that they can go any direction they want when they're activated, but you can measure their range of movement at any time (and their range of what can command them!).  You can see WHERE that blob of B-wings is going to end up, and try to plan for them in a turn or two (or next turn, if you need to).  Squadrons will ruin your life if you let themYavaris activated B-wings WILL end your main ship if you focus on other things and ignore them to let them attack your ship.  You can be a Motti ISD with Reinforced Blast Doors, but 17 health will still drop with enough proton torpedoes into it.
Hit/Crit for Structural, Hit/Crit for Structural, why didn't you use your Contain token again?
The key is the "if you let them" part.  When your opponent breaks out their list, take a look at the squadrons they have and what upgrades they or the ships have.  If Norra is in there, expect to be taking shield damage quickly (and repair it back if you can).  If it's Boosted Comms, those ships will be staying back/away from the fight as much as they can.  If it's Expanded Hangar Bay, many friends are coming to play with you. Your opponent built his or her list with a PLAN for that upgrade and what he intends to do.  If there's 3 Fighter Coordination Teams in the list.... watch out for the speed shenanigans!  Figure out WHY that upgrade is there and you'll have a good idea of what's about to happen and how you can counteract it.  "Well I'll just kill him faster" isn't a counter, it's a wing and a prayer and not a plan.  That's just a loss waiting to happen.

7) How do I know if my fleet CAN go squadronless?
The short answer for this section is that you need to test it.  Repeatedly.  And you need to test this against Rieekan Aces and Sloane Aces.  "I ran squadless and beat my buddy who brought 6 Decimators" isn't a real test.  That's a game you played.  You NEED to test in the fire.  You need Yavaris activating Ten Numb, Gold, and a Scurrg into your ISD to see if you can handle the attacks.  Then play against it again.  Then again.  You need GAMES, plural, in order to be sure you can go squadless.  And you need several of those answers.  I know a lot of people have just started adding in a Slicer Tools flotilla (what up!), but that isn't the ONLY answer you bring.  You need multiple answers to be able to contribute and ensure that the fact that your fleet APPEARS weak against squadrons has an answer for them.  You're removing the points you normally spend on squadrons as interceptors/fighters for more killing power in your ships.  Make sure your ships can apply the damage to theirs before the fighters can get to you.

As you're navigating one of those BEFORE ships, try to navigate it somewhere that you can both do damage to the carrier next turn if you need to and also be able to get out of dodge if the carrier devotes all his forces to killing you and that specific ship.  You need to know what the average damage of each squad that could come at you is, what the max damage is, and their threat range.  If you can place your ship such that you end up forcing your opponent to overextend to try to kill you, that's the ideal situation, as their carrier won't be able to command them next turn.  Running squadronless is basically an "advanced technique" as you need to understand a LOT of where squadrons can go and what they can do before I suggest doing it.  Way back in Chapter 2 I told you that you need to run squadrons until you can understand what they can do.  And that's why I've spent a LOT of time updating this all.  You can patch over some of the navigational issues and knowing the threat ranges and average damages of your opponent's squadrons if you have your own carrier ready to send in some bodyguards for your ship next activation. 

I hesitate to recommend "squadronless" to anyone just starting out at playing the game, as it involves knowing what squadrons can do.  Yes, it sucks when Sloane's squadrons evaporate the tiny force you brought, but understanding what happens AFTER they evaporate is almost MORE important to understanding how to run squadronless.  Knowing WHAT your opponent can do with squadrons is key.  That may sound weird, that you have to know squadrons before you can stop using them, but the better you understand that part of the game, the better you can be at countering opponents who run it.  Think of it like a martial art; the better you KNOW Mantis or Crane or Tiger style, the better you can be at countering it.
There's no charge for awesomeness... or my advice!

In Armada 1.5, where SFC and MFC are actually relevant again and things like Hyena bombers and Hyperspace Ring'ed ARCs can plop in front of your ships, I very much hesitate again to recommend squadronless to you and would really recommend even a basic SFC group Eric and I recommend.  It's not just a matter of "kill their carriers fast, I don't need squadrons."  If your 4 YT-2400s die every game but they allow you to tie up the entire Sloane squadron ball as you kill the carrier over 2 turns, that's a win for you (and a reason TO bring squadrons).  No matter what you run, you need to be able to know how to put the carrier DOWN fast with your ships.  Practice, practice, practice.

8) Know when to RUN
So you've killed a few of your opponent's ships, and you've lost some yourself.  Luckily, you've got the upper hand on points right now.  It's at this point that you need to look at what you have left and what your opponent has left.  Can you LEGITIMATELY kill it before the game ends on turn 6? If not, get out, run, go long, speed up, RUN AWAY.  Nothing wrong with admitting you've won and blasting off to take your win and go.  You may not get the MOST tournament points, but you also won't LOSE much more.

This isn't me saying "Kill one thing and run" so much as me saying "Unless you can kill all his ships, your opponent will get points for keeping his living squadrons alive." Tournaments are usually around 3-4 rounds, and if you can get some good scores in your other rounds, you don't necessarily need a 10-1 against your squadron opponent.  You just want a win, which means killing more of his stuff than he can kill of yours.  If that requires you to run some of your stuff away after it killed a ship or two, well a win is a win.  IF you can kill all of his non-flotilla ships by sacrificing a CR90 of your own, well then sorry little buddy, time to take one for the team.  Be sure you're going to be able to get the tabling, of course.

Other than that, I can't really tell you specifics.  If you brought an MC30 or Gladiator, get in close like black dice ships like to do.  If you have red dice and Ackbar, long range bombs.  You should by now know how to use your list and what you can do with it against other ships.  As I said above, your opponent's squadron list will often focus on the squadron damage it can do to you.  The Quasar or Yavaris's strength is in its fighter coverage, not its own dice.  Respect it, and what it can do (Red dice DO have double hits on them!) but don't fear THAT aspect of it as much as the Salvation or an ISD, for example.
Oh, full art Neb, you must be mine.  I needs you so badly...
9) Good objective choice
Oftentimes, it's hard for fighter lists to have a substantial bid.  I COULD have a 7 point bid with my fleet, but why not upgrade an X-wing into Luke Skywalker or a B-wing into Nym or add in a Z95? You may see a list with a 4-point bid if it's the Good Ol' Rieekan Ace Hole list, but they likely may have nothing.  Which might mean you go first! Select a good objective that you CAN play, which is the nice way of saying "Don't pick Fighter Ambush if you have Shara and Tycho only" as you'll have one heck of a bad time.  Don't choose Precision Strike if you've built your black dice crits around ACMs, for example.  Bring good objectives of your own that might make things difficult for your opponent slash realize that squadron lists might see your objective choices and find the easy out that you didn't expect (take that into consideration when choosing them BTW).  You can't always expect to go first, so think things through, you'll be alright.

And with that, we conclude this installment.  If there's anything you have questions on, as always, please let me know.

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