Thursday, January 23, 2020

Fleet Building 301: Damage synergy

I've made passing reference to this idea in a few of the fleet building 201 articles when discussing hybridizing archetypes as well as a bit in the XI7 Turbolasers article, but I figure the time has come to actually give it the space it needs to really stretch out and run around a little bit: let's talk about damage synergy.

The Nautilian getting acquainted with long heavy burst damage.
Specifically, what I mean by damage synergy when it comes to fleet building is:
Configuring your sources of damage to work well with one another and when they don't inherently have synergy, using upgrades or support effects to overcome that interference.
Let's walk it back a few steps. I think everyone can agree that it's good when your opponent's ships are destroyed. The more efficient your fleet is at that task, the better, right? So it makes sense to give consideration to how those sources of damage interact with one another and how you intend to use them. An example I gave in the XI7 Turbolasers article and will repeat below will hopefully make it more clear:
Say you've got an ISD-II in an otherwise-heavy squadron fleet with undergunned carriers and a mix of squadrons and you're trying to decide on what turbolaser upgrade to give it (if anything). Should you give it XI7s? My answer would be "maybe, but probably not." Why? Because generally XI7s are best against heavier targets and in most instances, your ISD all on its own will not be sufficient against a heavy target, so you'll need some help from your squadrons. Even if the XI7s make redirecting less effective, your squadrons will be having their attacks redirected at full power until the shields or redirect tokens run out, making it pretty unlikely that your XI7s will meaningfully do a lot when considered as part of your overall approach to destroying the type of ships XI7s are supposed to help you with.
So in a vacuum, the XI7s seem helpful on the example ISD-II but when considered as a part of that ISD-II's fleet, they don't really accomplish much and have no real synergy with the other damage-dealers (anti-ship squadrons, primarily) in the fleet. It would've been better to choose an upgrade with more synergy with the fleet than what might otherwise be considered a good call all on its own.

In short, your fleet should ask itself: what approaches do I use to kill enemy ships? Do they have synergy with one another? If not, how can I use or upgrade them differently to have more synergy with one another?

First of all, it's important to have a basic framework we can use to figure out how to categorize different damage approaches. All damage platforms have three different traits:
  1. Amount of damage. This will vary at different ranges and in different arcs, of course, but you're looking at your ship/squadrons when used ideally. The basic elements are light, moderate, and heavy. I put them at light: 1-3 damage, moderate 4-5, and heavy 6+. I'll cover why, exactly, I have these groupings when we talk about this in more detail later.
  2. Threat range. Again, this depends on different arcs and various factors but for the most part, how far out can your damage platform threaten enemy ships with its strongest attacks? Although a Gladiator has red dice in its battery armament, it's still more of a close ranged threat, although the Demolisher title upgrades it to a long range threat. A Raider-II or CR90B would be a medium range threat.
  3. Damage consistency. This requires a bit more explanation:
    • Burst damage is damage that happens in one quick go but can't be sustained. This is typically the case for close-ranged ship attacks and attacks that benefit from disposable upgrades like External Racks or Boarding Troopers that can't be used again. Burst damage dealers typically don't get a lot of good attacks in during a game but the damage they do for their cost tends to be high.
      • Burst damage platforms can also have issues keeping their best attacks in the fight for more than 2 rounds or so due to their arcs (short-ranged front arc ships, for example) and/or because they're fragile (like Torpedo Hammerheads or Raider-Is) and so will tend to die or need to run within a round or two of serious combat.
    • Sustained damage is typically longer-ranged when on ships and capable of keeping a bead on a target more easily. This is often the case with longer-ranged broadside ships like Assault Frigates or Arquitens, but also true of most anti-ship squadrons as well (as they can just keep on chasing after it). Attrition damage is often not very high for its cost but can be applied consistently, unlike burst damage.
    • It's best to think of this category as a spectrum that ships exist on and this facet can change the most in-game depending on how you play and what sort of upgrades you choose to use and how. It also incorporates multiple elements of how a ship operates. For example, a Cymoon ISD and an Assault HMC80 can throw similar amounts of dice at long range and I'd describe both as sustained damage dealers, but the HMC80's broadside focus makes it even better for sustained use than the front-arc Cymoon, which wants to move towards its targets and can more easily be flown around. The Cymoon has its own advantages, of course, but purely on this metric the HMC80 is more "sustained."
    So we get certain combinations. For example, a CR90A as a damage platform is light/long/sustained damage whereas a Kuat ISD would generally be heavy/close/burst. Ships outfitted flexibly, like an MC30 Scout with Turbolaser Reroute Circuits and External Racks can be used as both light/long/sustained as well as moderate/close/burst and knowing when and how to transition from one mode to the other will be important to maximizing its value.

    We're primarily considering our damage approaches against enemy ships for this exercise, so something like a B-Wing would be light/medium/sustained. A speedier TIE Bomber would be light/long/sustained. It can be worth further parsing the differences between fighter squadrons that are unable to do much damage to ships and actual heavy bombers, which would all fall within the "light" damage category, but when it comes to synergizing with the rest of your fleet I recommend considering only your anti-ship squadrons here.

    It bears mentioning that this system is an abstraction. The reality of damage platforms is much more nuanced and we'll be talking more about that below. But this is a starting point to conceptualize how your fleet gets damage into enemy ships in order to understand how to further improve on it.

    Poking around under the hood

    Before you judge, remember that modern cars are literally technology from the future in Star Wars.
    Let's go into more details on the three attributes.

    Damage consistency: sustained and burst
    If your fleet has a lot of burst damage platforms, they can potentially do a lot of damage working together in the same round against the same target(s). Is this something you can reliably do? Do you have enough activations to line that up considering their range (which is usually short)? Can they get away or clear the field around them reliably after their burst activation?

    A sustained-heavy approach needs to ask itself similar types of questions. How do you drag out the fight to get your long-term damage approach to really add up? How do you keep your damage assets on target? How do you keep enemy burst ships from wrecking you quickly?

    In short, if you're going heavy on one approach or the other here the question you need to ask yourself comes down to "how do I get my focus on damage consistency to work, and what sorts of options do I have available to address common counter-plays to that type of damage consistency?"

    Fleets with more of a mix tend to have a bit of an easier time with this type of question, as you can use the strengths of one type of damage consistency to cover for the weaknesses of others. That said, if used improperly your fleet can be a bit scatter-brained and can have a difficult time getting the right type of approach to the right type of in-game problem.

    Simply put, identify where your problems could be and either make changes in how you build and/or fly your fleet to try to address them.

    Threat range
    Unlike sustained vs. burst, where you can make an argument for one approach over the other, clearly longer threat ranges are better. That said, longer threat ranges often come with additional costs (the ship itself or squadron support or whatnot is more expensive) and/or tend to do less damage than similarly-costed ships in exchange for being better at range (a good example being the Assault Frigate). It's pretty common to find that short-ranged ships are also burst damage ships and long-ranged ships are also sustained, but this isn't always the case. That's not even touching on medium-threat-range ships, which can vary substantially between sustained and burst approaches.

    Regardless, you'll have an easier time combining longer threat range assets together against individual targets and a harder time teaming up with short threat ranges. The difficulty with short threat ranges can be ameliorated with careful fleet building, an eye to activation count, and careful flying, but it will still be more difficult to reliably team up short-ranged assets together.

    On a side note, short-ranged ships often want to be activating last (to get into position for next round) or first (to activate quickly while at range of a target before it can get away and/or to attack and then run away before it gets too hot). For this reason, I generally recommend no more than 1-2 such ships in a given fleet as they'll otherwise be competing with one another for activation order. There are always exceptions to these types of generalized rules, of course, like a fleet with a lot of activations and cheap short-ranged ships that don't mind "catching" enemies (like Raider-Is) but it still requires careful fleet-building and deft flying to really work.

    Amount of damage
    As I mentioned much earlier, I consider "light" to be around 1-3 damage, "medium" to be in the 4-5 range, and "heavy" in the 6+ range, although I could see an argument for subdividing it further if you wished to. You're looking primarily at average "all the dice" damage while factoring in rerolls and other effects. In-game this value will vary depending on range and what, exactly, you can bring to bear on enemy models (in terms of both your arcs as well as whether you're using burst damage upgrades on a given attack or not).

    You may note that light, medium, and heavy damage directly correspond to how much damage spending a brace token can save you (1 at most, 2, and 3+, respectively). That's not a coincidence and directly ties into our next topic.

    Defense tokens: the cardboard stuff protecting your opponent's plastic stuff
    Okay, so we understand the basic traits the sources of damage in our fleet fall have. Now we need to figure out how they interact with bread and butter enemy defense tokens, by which I mean brace, redirect, and evade. There are other defense tokens, of course, but they tend to be even more context-dependent and/or uncommon (you're only finding scatter tokens on flotillas when it comes to ships, for example). I'll be covering elements that tend to "stress" certain types of defense tokens. What I mean by "stress" is "those tokens provide a lot of value in those circumstances, so spending them when possible is very valuable." For example, bracing is high-priority against large amounts of damage, but you're not going to see anyone discarding an exhausted brace to prevent a single damage unless they're desperate. If a defense token is already exhausted and a "stressful" attack is coming its way, the temptation to spend it again and lose it for good is high, leaving the ship vulnerable to future attacks. If less stressful attacks are coming a ship's way now but it's clear a more stressful attack is lined up for later, the ship may choose to save that defense token (or those defense tokens) for later, allowing you to get some extra damage in. Basically, stressing tokens is a good thing, and the more of it you do, the better.

    Brace tokens are put under stress by higher-damage attacks, unsurprisingly. You'll also find that they're a high-priority spend on rounds where burst damage ships are trying to get their punches in because they're preventing the most damage on that activation compared to subsequent activations. Medium and especially heavy damage attacks draw out the brace spend where light damage frequently won't unless there aren't any more pressing threats.

    Redirect is generally stressed most by quantity of attacks, as there's always some pressure to use it unless the attacker is lined up against an inconsequential hull zone, but knowing more attacks are coming at a given hull zone in the future makes the spend a higher priority. Obviously, this urgency increases as the amount of damage increases (to keep damage from hitting hull), but quantity of attacks generally matters more than quality here.

    Evade is stressed by range of attacks, given it's more effective against longer-ranged shots. You're unlikely to really put much pressure on evade at short range, but you're largely sidestepping it at that point so it's overall a positive (and we'll talk more about that soon). Evade also works best against light damage attacks where it removes a higher percentage of the incoming damage. Of course you'll want every defense token you can get against a mean haymaker headed your way, but it's not uncommon to see evades prioritized against smaller attacks so the other defense tokens can be available when something nastier comes around.

    Let's put this together

    Or at the very least carry it around as a backpack until later.
    So we've identified the traits of our damage platforms and we've also gotten a general sense as to what types of defense tokens our fleet is good at putting stress on. So how does this all go together as we make final adjustments to our fleet?

    Under pressure
    If you have several sources of damage that put moderate to high pressure on a particular type of defense token, good. You don't really need much more in terms of fleet building to get damage through against that kind of token. Just make sure to use your fleet on the table accordingly.

    If you don't put much pressure on a particular type of defense token, but still exert some (either not enough sources of the type that troubles it or nothing really hits the "heavy stress" threshold individually), you need to do something about that. This can involve something as drastic as rebuilding your fleet entirely but I'd advise you relax: it's usually fine so long as you choose upgrades intelligently or make other little tweaks (we're getting there next). How you use those assets on the table can also overcome this problem but you run the risk of hitting a fleet with an awful lot of those types of defense tokens (if you don't handle evade well and hit MSU, well... you're gonna have a bad time).

    If you have no sources of damage that put significant stress on a particular defense token, good. This is paradoxical I'm aware, but bear with me: a short-ranged fleet has 99 problems but dealing with evade tokens ain't one. Similarly, a fleet with numerous low-damage attacks (usually squad-heavy) is dealing damage in small enough packets that brace tokens rarely stop more than one damage, making them pretty low-impact. Any fleet that's actually intending to kill enemy ships (see: all of them besides the unworkable objectives jank) will put at least some pressure on redirect tokens, but if you're stuck at "kind of but not strongly" then that will need fixing. Speaking of which...

    Taking life advice from Muppets is clearly a great plan.
    We want to get to a situation where we're either putting heavy stress on the bread and butter defense tokens or we're simply not letting them do much work in the first place by not having damage platforms that are hampered much by that type of token. The in-between stage where you have some damage platforms that exert pressure but not many is where we run the real risk of having our attacks not connect as strongly as we would like because those defense tokens are available and not under enough stress to overheat them. Accuracy icons are only a kind-of solution: you can't always depend on getting them and even if you do, Electronic Countermeasures is an ever-present upgrade on larger ships. The solution to this problem can be found in a bit of tweaking but it comes in two basic flavors:

    Take it up a notch
    Identify the token(s) you want to put more stress on and use upgrades that help you with that goal. Intel Officer is a good example of a flexible way to put more pressure on defense tokens in general, but it helps with specific types of tokens if you identify a weakness you need to shore up. Otherwise, more damage on attacks (typically with cheap burst damage upgrades) can help boost the amount of damage up a notch to put more pressure on brace. Getting more attacks total helps with redirect. More long-ranged attacks helps overheat evade tokens, etc. There's also options to exhaust defense tokens more quickly, like Boarding Troopers, the Suppressor title, Admiral Sloane or Overload Pulse, but be careful about these solutions: they tend to be janky and not 100% reliable. Having a backup plan helps.

    Go around the problem
    Simply put, "going around the problem" means making that defense token less useful. If you can't get more long-ranged attackers in your fleet to better overheat evade tokens, then give them more dice: evade becomes less impactful the more dice are in the pool. Redirect is easy to give examples for: if you don't have a lot of attacks across your fleet, giving all/most of your attackers XI7 Turbolasers makes redirects less useful. On the other end of the spectrum, upgrades like Heavy Ion Emplacements and Assault Concussion Missiles deplete neighboring shields pretty rapidly so the redirect token won't do anything. Anti-brace technology is a bit more rare: if you're brave (or foolish?), there's always Heavy Turbolaser Turrets, or effects that add extra damage past the brace, like Assault Proton Torpedoes or ramming if needs be.

    Final thoughts
    That concludes a fairly abstract article, but hopefully thinking about the damage sources in your fleet and how they combine (or don't) can assist with upgrade choices and fine-tuning different fleet builds without any sub-optimal choices.


    1. I'm revealing a "Concentrate Nitpick" command to inform you that the cruiser being destroyed by the Death Star is an HMC80 rather than a Liberty.

      1. That's fair, I assumed it was a different angle (as the Liberty was the first ship blowed up by the Death Star II). Updated the name to the correct ship.

    2. No problem. The rear shields on all Calamari cruisers are pretty lousy against 800 red dice.

      But seriously, this was a fascinating read. I'd encourage more theory and big-brain tactics from you guys in the near-future but I know we're (finally) on the cusp of Wave 8 and there will be much more important things to write about.