Saturday, January 2, 2021

Imperial commander review: Emperor Palpatine

In today's civics lesson, we're going to cover The Senate.

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen...

"You must smell like feet wrapped in leathery burnt bacon"
  • 1 defense token of each type means even future defense tokens that don't exist yet (salvo, as a recent example) get roped in when they're released. 
  • Because this happens after deploying fleets, if Palpatine isn't on the table just yet he does nothing at all. So don't put him on your Hyperspace Assault ship, please.
  • Start of the Ship Phase has a few things going on there (like fleet commands, for example, but also Han Solo and some objectives) but the important part is it's sandwiched between the end of the Command Phase (where you set dials) and before you start activating ships.
  • So long as Palpatine survives to the start of the Ship Phase to do his thing, the token he calls a hit out on will be debuffed for the entire round, even if his flagship is destroyed or he is discarded shortly afterwards.
  • Palpatine's called shot works on every token of that type spent during the Spend Defense Tokens step and only that step.
    • This means that if he's going after brace tokens, other squadrons spending Jan Ors' braces will still discard those braces.
      • Yes, Palpatine works against ace squadrons too.
    • This has no effect on tokens spent during other timing windows. For example, if Palpatine is going after evade this round, ships spending evade tokens while attacking to use Turbolaser Reroute Circuits get away scot-free. Similarly, Commander Vader spending defense tokens while attacking won't trigger Palpatine's effect either.
    • Remember this is any Spend Defense Tokens step after the start of the Ship Phase, though, so even attacks that happen outside of the usual sequence, like salvo attacks happening after "regular" attacks, or Counter attacks will still count.
Commander Palpatine's effect is potentially quite powerful but he's extremely expensive for a commander, coming in at a staggering 35 points. Very few commanders in any faction are more pricey than that. The fundamental question you should always be asking when considering Palpatine is "am I getting my money's worth over using a different commander?"

When building a Palpatine fleet, the big goal should be trying to maximize his effect. Getting a free Intel Officer(...ish) on all your attacks is circumstantially pretty amazing. This requires fairly consistent pressure to grind down those defense tokens or else the threat is meaningless. Allow me to elaborate: if Palpatine has a hit out on brace tokens in a given round and you're running a bunch of short-ranged brawlers all up in your opponent's face (Demolisher, maybe a Kuat, some Raider-Is, whatever), it's not hard to get them to spend their brace - that will be the round a whole bunch of damage is coming their way and they'd be dumb not to. Afterwards, most of your ships will be delivering mediocre to poor attacks in as what's left of the enemy fleet makes a getaway, which makes the discarded brace tokens from the round before an inconvenience but maybe not a meaningful one. Ideally, your opponent is discarding defense tokens (or choosing not to and taking more damage now) and suffering due to that next round or at least next attack(s).

Therefore Palpatine requires careful fleet-building. You're looking to be able to consistently deliver attacks to ships as well as gang up on ships: either those ships have to blow through the targeted defense token(s) early, which you can exploit, or else they zealously refuse to touch them, which you can also exploit. Generally this means your fleet is looking for longer-ranged ships and/or beefier squadrons. You may note that the Empire as a faction isn't really renowned for having plentiful choices for either and we'll continue that discussion shortly in the fleet building and archetypes section.

Because Palpatine is counting on his sources of damage hitting hard enough to force difficult token decisions, reliability is key. He does nothing to directly aid his ships. Palpatine isn't a buff to your ships like Motti or Jerry or Vader are, and he's not a buff to your squadrons like Sloane is. Palpatine is a buff to your dice pool. So ensure you dice behave and get dice-fixing in your fleet however you can.

I'd argue the core of a good Palpatine fleet is at least 1-2 Arquitens Cruisers. Arquitens can provide the long-ranged pressure Palpatine desires and with the right upgrades can regularly produce 4-6 damage on average even at long range, putting some pressure on those defense tokens.

Imperial-class Star Destroyers are a solid and dependable ship for just about any commander. Palpatine in particular tends to prefer the longer-ranged ISD variants but when leveraged well you can also do fine with an explosive activation or two from a Kuat or ISD-I. Just keep your attack consistency high when you can, which means dice-fixing upgrades are absolutely essential, especially on the Cymoon.

A properly-configured Victory-class Star Destroyer (especially with Warlord for extra dice control or Harrow shenanigans) can act as a bargain-bin ISD in a fashion if you're hurting for points and want to get another big triangle in your fleet. Generally I feel like putting down the extra points for an ISD is a good idea when your commander doesn't do much to "fix" the VSD in any way, but I can see the argument for including a Victory.

Gladiators, specifically everyone's favorite, Demolisher, get the upside of large damage output from black dice and being able to deliver those dice from far out, so you can keep applying pressure until it's time to leave or Demolisher becomes space debris.

Onagers offer a way to crank up the pressure, especially early in the game and at very generous ranges. Just try to balance what's the best token call for your Onager versus the rest of your fleet. Your Onager might want to go after one target's brace this round but the rest of your fleet might prefer if you waited until the next, for example. It's even more important than usual with an Onager to get dice fixing however you can to really twist the knife with Palpatine's ability.

Fleet building
There are two main builds I've identified so far and they each have their issues:

Arquitens and a mob of Rogues: This is what duck_bird brought to NOVA in 2019 and it did fine. She didn't make it into the finals, but as I recall she still ended in the top third or so. I've also played against Ian Cross using a similar build. The core is 3 Arquitens and a mob of Rogues (in Duck's case Decimators). The Arquitens do their standard Arquitens thing (kiting and skirmishing) and the Rogue blob gangs up on ships when it can get through. If not, Decimators throw just barely enough dice against squads to make aces flinch at the prospect of not bracing or scattering and that Counter 1 is annoying for scatter aces on "Scatter bad" round. The aces approach tends to get better damage consistency and offers a host of shenanigans but you get a few less of them. They're overall a bit worse against ships but definitely better against squads (especially if you bring the IG-88 twins) so its your call.

The issue I have with this fleet is you've only got the 3 Arquitens holding you on the table. Arqs can kite and with a deft touch can be tough to run down, but the right fleets can do it. The squad component does well in a squad-light meta (like NOVA tends to be) but in my experience Decimator spam isn't going to stand up to heavier squad builds. Rogue aces handles other squad builds better but can run into issues against ace-hunter configurations, like Sloane fleets or Kallus flak monster ships.

LMSU: This gives up squads entirely and includes some flavor of ISD (as a safe-ish flagship) or Onager (more fragile than an ISD but with more better long-ranged pressure), a handful of Arquitens, and options to include Demolisher, perhaps a Raider, and a support Gozanti. My final build was an ISD-II, 2 Arquitens, and Demolisher for an extremely beefy fleet with no support elements. Demolisher with an Intel Officer and Palpatine is pretty dang mean, and overall this build did fine. Not great, but fine. It had its moments but generally I found that I would've preferred a Vader LMSU fleet using Intel Officers on the Arquitens instead for a similar end result but better dice control.

When it comes to upgrades, I found it was difficult to estimate the benefit of additional defense token debuffs like XI7 Turbolasers or Intel Officer with Palpatine. On one hand, there's additional pressure on whatever tokens Palpatine isn't targeting that round to try to make up for not wanting to spend your [whatever], so being able to further degrade those non-targeted tokens can make for some very difficult decisions for your opponent (easiest example: if Palpatine is going after braces this round and a mean attack with the XI7s debuff comes at your heavy ship, what exactly do you do about that?). On the other hand, Palpatine himself is already expensive and layering additional expenses on top of that cost can be tough to swallow, especially when you hit the point of diminishing returns when the tokens are gone and you might have wanted those points to go into a damage buff upgrade or towards another combat ship. So it largely comes down to your own gut feeling on the matter.

Final thoughts 
I really struggle to come to a strong end conclusion about Palpatine despite running him for quite a while before writing this article. He has potential. He really does. But he's very expensive and the fleets best positioned to get mileage from him have some weaknesses that make me feel as though he's just not a flexible enough choice right now. He feels like a piece or two is missing to really make it all come together. With luck, just like his disciple Vader, we'll be getting those pieces sooner or later.

That said, I think he would be a blast in large games. His high cost is less of a problem there, it's easier to gang up on enemy ships (as more of the table is full of both players' ships), and the higher volume of heavier ships make braces and redirects even stronger round calls for Palpatine when it's time to turn the screws.


  1. I was thinking:
    SSD Command
    Palpatine - 35
    Vanto 7
    DCO 5
    LS - 4

    Arq-with Vader Officer
    Arq-with Needa

    Probably not good enough against squads i guess.

    1. The Arqs feel undergunned and the SSD is fairly bare bones is my issue with it. I've tried Command SSD with double Arqs before and even with cheaper commanders (Jerry) it still feels like I'm not getting quite enough upgrades out there to make my dice behave or my attacks really stick.

  2. Hey Eric!

    I was just re-reading this for reference as I wrote up some content for It's A Trap, and I noticed you mention that Palpatine works for Planetary Ion Cannon in the bullet points. Just wanted to confirm this was the case, as my understanding was that the Ion Cannons fired at the end of the Command Phase rather than at the start of the Ship Phase. Thanks in advance for the consideration, and thanks for all CGYSO contributes to the Armada community!

    1. You're correct! I'll go fix that right away. PIC triggers right before Palp triggers. Palp sure is... a commander, all right. Haha.

    2. Lol, thank you for the clarification, sir.