Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tips and tricks: running away

Unlike many miniature games, your success in a game of Armada isn't defined purely by win-loss but by the severity of that win or loss. It's not uncommon in casual games for players to concede when it's clear who will win or lose but they're robbing themselves of valuable practice in the fine art of running away. That's what we're going to talk about now with another entry in the smaller-article "tips and tricks" format.

With your shield or on it, you cowards!

Trouble is on the way
Now clearly your default response to combat in Armada shouldn't be "run away from it." Everyone's here to roll dice at one another and watch plastic spaceships get removed from the table. That said, it's not uncommon to find that some of your fleet is in a position where if left to continue on in its present state, it will be destroyed for minimal gains, whether that be mid-combat or prior to combat. If you are on the way to destruction, you should endeavor to change that. If it's a choice between saving your ship and destroying enemy resources, it will depend on the situation, but I've definitely seen players focus more on destroying enemy ships than they probably should have when saving their own ships would've been better for their points differential.

Make your time. Think of a new plan, I guess.
It should be noted that this a different matter than setting up a piece trade, where you sacrifice some of your fleet in return for some of your opponent's fleet. Piece trades are generally favorable to you in terms of points swapped or favorable to you in terms of board state but can also be a matter of simply trying to get maximum value out of models that are otherwise doomed before they go. There's a good case to be made for piece trading in the right circumstances (which may get its own tips and tricks article eventually), but we're here to talk about running away.

Estimating your chances of success
This is effectively the first step in the running-away process if you want to enable the possibility of fleeing later. You need to examine the situation and estimate your models' chances against whatever your opponent has in their neighborhood. There is no easy calculation for this - the variables are so numerous that it's going to differ on a case-by-case basis and be informed largely from experience and some quick mental math. The earlier this consideration is made seriously, the better your chances of avoiding a mistake. There's also something to be said for hedging your bets if the situation is still fluid - outright booking it away from everything if your opponent decided not to commit much to that part of the game is a big waste of your combat potential. For an easy example, let's use a big bruiser ship with a "point front towards enemy" design philosophy - an ISD. Depending on the situation, maybe the ISD wants to be...

Confident. Here we see an ISD setting up to go head-on with the opposing enemy ships. It has good shots lined up on them and will present difficulties for either of them escaping due to possibly ramming. That said, it will have its own problems if things get hairy when it comes to running away.

Uncertain. Here we see the same ISD set up more conservatively. It can get an attack on both ships, but the Assault Frigate will be fairly capable of getting away. The ISD itself can choose to attack and then zoom away to the left if it needs to. This kind of setup leaves your options open but if things go better than you were expecting, the enemy will have openings to escape you as well.

Fleeing. Here we see the ISD setting up to run away from trouble. Its good arc isn't on target to anything, but nothing in its vicinity can stop it from getting away.

Run away like you just got to a news article's comments section!
Candidates for cowardice
There are a few things that recommend ships that have a chance to successfully run away from trouble. Higher speed is an obvious necessity, with a minimum of 3 (or fake 3, with 2 plus Engine Techs) being recommended. Speed 2 ships can slowly dodge the occasional ship-on-ship fight, but you'll want 3 and preferably 4 to book it away from angry squadrons.

Broadsides ships have an edge in the advancing-away-from-the-enemy-bravely game given that even while maneuvering for combat, they want to keep enemy units out of their front arc and to rotate around the fight rather than heading right in. If and when it comes time to disengage, it's a matter of turning away from the enemy rather than turning inwards and then letting inertia take care of the rest. Assault Frigates and Arquitens are particularly good at this in my experience, as are cowardly carriers with Boosted Comms who weren't planning on contributing much to combat anyways.

Otherwise, nav dials help substantially. Being able to step on the gas while also improving your yaw can allow you to get to a crucial location you otherwise couldn't have even with a nav token. Obviously lower-Command ships are best able to time these commands correctly, and lower-Command ships also tend to be higher-speed with better maneuverability, so running away is a small ship's game. Don't discount large ships, though - even though it may be a bit more difficult to get running with something like an MC75, the increased durability can make it tough to put down a large ship that beat feet early enough to retain a modest number of shields and remaining hull.

General circumstances in which to run away
Now I mentioned earlier that each individual situation will vary significantly but in my mind there are three basic reasons to run away and they all require slightly different considerations:

You're about to die
This is the classic GTFO situation: your beat-up ship is trying to conserve its points and not get pushed over the edge into destroyed. In this situation, you want to focus on running directly away from anything that can kill you. Bonus points for hiding behind obstacles or other ships to get obstruction and hiding in bad arcs of enemy ships and/or out of each of enemy squadrons. Also please consider your ending position (especially if you're resolving a repair command at the start of your activation!) so far as what hull zones will be exposed to fire - flipping around so your no-shields arc is wide open for punishment isn't doing yourself any favors.

The goal is to hit necessary (usually maximum) speed and keep sailing away from trouble. Queue up at least one repair dial to dissuade cheeky Hail Mary attempts to kill a wounded ship later in the game; be mindful in particular of hull zones with no shields (which squadrons and long-ranged skirmishers will seek to exploit) and being one or two hull damage from death (which ramming ships will try to exploit). Also be careful of accidentally sailing off the board - this typically won't be a problem for ships traversing the width of the board, but if your best option is jumping past enemy ships towards your opponent's side of the board, you can run into space issues fairly quickly if you're reckless.

Typically your first round of attempting to disengage is the most dangerous one as the enemy may still be close enough to dedicate decent resources to destroying you. If you can't get obstruction or out of range like I recommended earlier, your best bet is to disincentivize attacking your wounded ship however you can. Typically this means identifying the serious threats to your life and parking yourself somewhere so they'd rather be doing something else - if your opponent's combat ship needs to decide between using his good arc to take down your crippled ship or going after one of your bigger more important ships, he can't do both (...unless Gunnery Teams). An example against bomber squadrons would be sending your ship away from the rest of your fleet - the bombers can chase it down and destroy it, but they may not be able to get back into bombing range of the rest of your fleet next round. Is that worth it? Maybe, maybe not.

Good thing AT-ATs can't take Gunnery Teams or it would've been more than that one dude.
You're avoiding trouble before it starts
This one is a bit more straightforward but if you expect proceeding as normal will result in your destruction for little to no gain... don't. This sounds very silly and a little insulting but it's honestly one of those things I see even intermediate-level players fail to do because they assume in a plastic spaceships game the point is to get the ships throwing the most dice at each other, so they may as well consent to being blown up. Don't do this.

I'll give an example of what I mean from John and my recent team game at the end of Worlds, where I even took a picture:
This picture is taken fairly early into the round 2. I deployed my mob of small ships just a bit to the left of that central debris field with John's forces on the right. The opposing Hammerhead swarm deployed solidly in the middle. If my CR90s had continued straight on ahead, they would have gotten chewed to pieces by those Hammerheads for little gain. So as you can see, they all booked it for the left. This leaves the enemy team with the decision of whether and how much to pursue them. If the central Hammerheads pursue, they run the risk of being left behind without much to do fairly quickly. If they don't and head off to my right (chasing after John's ships), the remaining elements on the left flank will be outgunned once the CR90s form up. The opposing team chose the latter option (probably the right call), I was able to chew through a few ships on the left side rounds 3 and 4 and the CR90s whipped around to ride in and cause trouble in the middle by round 6.

When you're running to avoid trouble, it's important to keep your options open. Just because you're avoiding combat right now doesn't mean you can't still make contributions later on if the opportunity presents itself. Therefore it's important to not flee any harder than necessary for fear of effectively leaving the game altogether. The goal is to make your opponent commit to chasing you out of the game, which will likely require their own ship(s) to sail off to Nowheresville to force you to do the same, which is a net win over "my ship sails into the meat grinder and dies for no reason." If your opponent is hesitant about committing the kind of resources required to make your feigned retreat stick and directs his resources towards other parts of your fleet, you can turn back in to contribute later on, hopefully putting some pressure on the flanks or the rear and at least temporarily pulling your opponent's ship(s) out of formation just as yours was.

It's extremely important to focus on navigate dials when you're fleeing to preemptively avoid trouble due to how fluid the situation is. You may need to whole-heartedly commit to the retreat, in which case you'll need to step on the gas much like when you're running away because you're at risk of destruction. You may need to find the quickest way to bring your ship back into game relevance if your opponent gives up the chase, which will value the extra yaw as well. Either way, I recommend spamming the nav dials as much as you can in this kind of situation.

You've done your job and it's time to leave
This is somewhere in between the two circumstances I already brought up, but in short: your ship did everything it reasonably could expect to do this game and now it's best to get out of the game before you accidentally end up doing something stupid. I think we've all seen a game where a ship wasn't really in range to do much after other enemy ships nearby got destroyed or ran away but "felt" like it needed to keep contributing and so wandered over towards other enemy models and late game they had nothing better to do so picked up the easy kill. Don't do that.

Deciding when it's time to just bug out after a job well done takes some experience and a sense for where the game will go in the next few rounds. If you're too eager to leave, you might have squandered a resource that could've been useful at corralling enemy models later on. If you're too eager to keep chasing after the enemy, you present an opportunity for your opponent to pick up easy points if you're reckless. It's a judgment call. Make an honest assessment of your chances of meaningfully contributing, how much more damage your ship can take versus what you expect might get thrown at it, and what the rest of your fleet is up to and then react accordingly. There's nothing wrong with destroying enemy models and then comfortably zooming away to a sparsely-inhabited corner of the board to enjoy some much-needed R&R time while preserving your points and providing a puff activation if necessary.

Strategic-scale running away
I want to briefly touch on "everybody started running away round 1" as a strategy. Sometimes you hit a matchup that is terrible for you and committing your fleet at all is probably a bad idea. In these types of situations, especially at a tournament, it behooves you to "stay alive and take the 5," meaning just book it and hope for a tie or minimal loss, take your 5 tournament points, and hope to do better next round.

This is a somewhat controversial topic as generally people don't show up to play a game of Armada only to have their opponent commit to not playing a game of Armada. I generally consider it's rude to do in a casual game, and playing that bad matchup more directly can help you learn what to do to minimize the worst parts of it. That said, in tournament practice or an actual tournament, it's fair game - a good fleet should be able to bring the fight to the enemy even if the enemy doesn't want to fight, and if it can't do that then that's on that player for hoping his opponents would be dumb enough to sail into the meat grinder.

If you're determined to run away starting round one, it's important to deploy like it; it helps to be second player so you can deploy away from the first player's first deployment and so if the game is a tie you will get 6 tournament points. In short, deploy generally parallel to and towards the back edge, fly away from your opponent, and try to get far away from their fleet as early as you can and then slow down if/when you put enough distance between you so you don't have to start looping back towards your opponent when you get close to a table edge. It's important to control the retreat as best as you can; if your opponent's faster ships and squadrons catch you, you want them to hit the united resistance of your whole fleet rather than being able to pick off stragglers going too slow or fast ships that raced out ahead without support.

I realize this can be an unsatisfactory and anti-climactic way to play Armada (and as I said, I consider it rude in a casual game) but narratively, imagine the retreating fleet is being pursued by a superior enemy force and the commander is doing his best to save his men's lives until their hyperdrives are charged up to jump away. I find that helps. If your own fleet doesn't know what to do against an opponent that doesn't want to fight it, I'd consider rethinking your fleet.

Final thoughts
Given many miniature and computer wargames emphasize winning or losing without regard to the scale of that win or loss I've noticed a lot of newer players in particular have a tendency to just throw everything that can at the enemy - if they're winning, they want to win more; if they're losing, they're hoping for one big desperate last stand to turn the tide. In Armada, practicing the fine art of running away can pay off handsomely and allows you to use more of the big map a game of Armada takes place on.

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