Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Spend Defense Tokens Step and the Fine Art of Not Dying

This is something of a companion article to the attack sequence article I've linked to countless times already, but its focus is flipped: we're looking specifically at things that keep your ships and squadrons alive when you're attacked. For the sake of brevity I passed over the minutiae of the Spend Defense Tokens step in that article, but we're going in deep this time around.

You gotta keep your angry red death balls all nice and cozy-like, you know?
Let's start with the basic defense tokens. I'll be quickly reprising what they do and adding some notes for interactions that aren't immediately obvious. As a reminder, you can do whatever order of operations you want in the Spend Defense Tokens step, so for effects that produce an uncertain result (like rerolling dice) it's usually better to do those first and then make further decisions from there. You can dig into these in more detail in the Rules Reference Guide section under Defense Tokens, but I'm proving the cliffs notes version.

Defense Tokens

Scatter is the most straightforward and powerful defense token: it cancels all the dice in the attack pool. Canceled dice are removed. With no dice left in the attack pool, nothing else happens and the attack is over.

Evade got a bit stronger but more complicated in 1.5 but the basics are still pretty simple. Relevant sections from the RRG:
  • Evade: At long range, the defender cancels one attack die of its choice. At medium and close range, the defender chooses one attack die to be rerolled.
    • While defending at extreme range (beyond the length of the range ruler), the defender resolves the long range effect and cancels one additional attack die.
    • While defending at distance 1–2, the defender resolves the close range effect.
  • When a ship spends an [evade] token while defending against a ship of a larger size class, it may cancel or reroll one additional attack die, as appropriate for the attack's range. if it does, discard the spent token, whether it is readied or exhausted.


  • If you're at medium or close range, it makes sense to use evade to reroll a die first to see how it turns out before committing to other defense tokens.
  • Don't forget dice probability when it comes to rerolls. Rerolling a single hit into a double hit or hit+crit really sucks. So don't reroll a die "just because" because worst case you might be making the attack worse or at the very least stressing your evade tokens for no benefit.
    • For example, if the attack pool has 6 damage in it and you know you're going to brace anyways, rerolling any single hit dice is pointless. Even if you blank the die in question, reducing the damage total to 5, you're still bracing it down to 3.
      • Exceptions here for trying to remove a clutch crit icon from the pool, as a counter-example. But you get the idea - don't evade just because you can. Evade when the situation calls for it.
  • Super-spending an evade token against a larger ship affects an additional die and additive effects stack. So if Foresight super-spent an evade token at extreme range against a ship that was medium-sized or larger, it would cancel (1 for evade + 1 for Foresight + 1 for extreme range + 1 for super-spending against a larger ship) 4 attack dice.
  • There's absolutely no downside for super-spending an evade that's already exhausted/red. It was going to get discarded, anyways. Might as well affect an extra die on the way out.
    • This can create weird incentives for accuracy icons for the attacker. Against a defender that has an exhausted and a readied evade token, it might be better to use accuracy on the exhausted token so the defender has to toss a perfectly healthy evade to get the super-spend effect. Maybe.
Brace is a little weird in that it's spent during the Spend Defense Tokens step but it doesn't do anything until the Resolve Damage step, where it halves the amount of damage taken (rounding the damage total up).

  • The shortest way to explain Brace's effect is that "it only affects the math." Newer players sometimes think it removes specific dice to halve the damage and it doesn't. You can't remove critical icons from the pool using brace.
  • Speaking of critical effects, Brace only affects the damage dealt by totaling up the hit (and, when relevant, crits) icons. It doesn't do anything to damage dealt by critical effects.
Redirect is probably timing-wise the weirdest defense token. It triggers in two different windows when spent:
  1. Upon spending your redirect, nominate a neighboring hull zone. This will matter shortly.
  2. When the ship suffers damage during the Resolve Damage step, you can suffer damage on the shields of the neighboring hull zone you nominated earlier.
  • In practice, nominating the neighboring hull zone upon spending the redirect token usually isn't necessary and most Armada players just assume you'll suffer it on whatever neighboring hull zone you like, as redirect is usually the last-spent defense token once the defender knows what's going on with the damage pool and there aren't many more surprises coming up.
  • That said, it can be an important decision and when it matters, you really should follow the steps the way you're supposed to.
    • Typically this will happen when you're expecting to take some damage prior to redirecting to those shields. The easy example is Assault Proton Torpedoes, which can apply a face-up damage card that affects shields (like Projector Misaligned) prior to the redirect being able to do anything. In that example, the hull zone you were planning to redirect damage to suddenly lost some (or all!) of its shields and you may be in for a bad time.
Contain is oft-misunderstood by newer players in terms of exactly how it works: you spend the contain token during the usual Spend Defense Tokens step and it prevents the attacker from resolving the default standard critical effect. Effectively it removes that critical option from your opponent in the step immediately after.

  • Contain doesn't do anything to prevent the non-standard critical effects from being chosen (unless you're using Damage Control Officer).
    • Non-standard critical effects are typically from upgrade cards but in some cases from objectives, such as Ion Storm.
  • Contain is frequently misunderstood by newer players as "the defense token that flips down face-up damage cards" and I just want to reiterate: NO.
    • It doesn't do anything to stop either face-up card from XX-9 Turbolasers, even though the critical effect is similar to the standard critical effect.
    • It doesn't make asteroid or Minefields damage hit the ship facedown (and those aren't attacks, either).
    • It doesn't make Assault Proton Torpedo damage card hit the ship facedown.
Salvo is the new kid in town and a big part of why I'm writing this article. Salvo works somewhat similarly to the Counter keyword for squadrons, with a lot of provisions:
  • Salvo is spent during the Spend Defense Tokens step just like every defense token.
  • Salvo resolves after the attack it was spent against completely resolves.
  • Salvo doesn't do anything if used against a Counter, Ignition, or salvo attack.
  • If the original attacker was a ship, the salvo ship attacks using its printed rear battery armament. If the original attacker was a squadron, the salvo ship attacks using its anti-squadron (flak) armament.
    • Printed rear battery armament means the dice on the rear hull zone on the ship card/cardboard base, end of discussion. Modifications like Spinal Armament do nothing.
  • Attack range and line of sight are treated as the same as the original attacker's. 
    • So if you were attacked at medium range and the attack was obstructed, you will attack back at medium range and it's obstructed.
  • Dice can't be added to a salvo attack. 
  • The only critical effect allowed during a salvo attack is the standard critical effect.
  • If the salvo ship is destroyed, it still gets its salvo attack before it dies.
  • A salvo attack is an attack in every way with the above-noted restrictions.
    • It does not get around effects that restrict the number of times you can attack, like Slaved Turrets or the Coolant Discharge crit effect. So if you've already attacked earlier that round, you can't attack with salvo. If you haven't attacked yet, salvo uses up your one allowed attack so you can't attack during your activation. Obviously, that's not a great feeling.
      • Friends don't let friends equip Slaved Turrets on their salvo ships, basically.
    • A salvo attack will also trigger Opening Salvo (assuming you have an Opening Salvo token) and then add zero dice because of its restriction on not adding dice, so try not to throw away your Opening Salvo tokens in vain.
    • Even though salvo is an attack in every way it does not count against your 2 allowed attacks during your activation. It just can have weird interactions with other effects that limit the number of attacks you can make in a round, as I covered above, or trigger effects that work if you've attacked that target earlier (like Paragon).
  • The printed statistics of a ship are what you see on its cardboard base/its ship card. Completely unmodified by anything. So no, Spinal Armament does not add a red die to your salvo because although it adds a red die to your rear hull zone battery your battery and printed values are not the same thing.
      • If you think you've found the exception to this rule, you're wrong.
  • Because salvo resolves after its ship finishes being attacked, it's possible for certain crits to cause you problems. For example, if you're salvoing back at an obstructed attacker and you get dealt the Disengaged Fire Control crit (where you can't attack obstructed targets), then you won't be able to attack even though you spent the salvo.
  • It's important to note that salvo doesn't work against any Ignition attacks, even at point blank range.
  • Just because you can't add dice in any way to a salvo attack doesn't mean you can't modify dice in other ways. You can reroll your salvo attack using Leading Shots, for example, or set a die to a face using Intensify Firepower.
    • You can also swap the dice color with Sato, on a fun side note. 
I got the memes covered.
Other effects in the Spend Defense Tokens step

 We've got a number of different types of defensive effects we get to talk about, so get comfy!

Dice removal is effectively the same as the effect of an evade at long range: pick a die (sometimes more?), tell it to get lost.

Try to keep an eye out for opportunities to remove critical icons from the pool if it can stop a fancy crit from triggering against you or to remove double-hits or hit+crit results to remove 2 damage. If you're going to brace the attack anyways, make sure the die removal makes a difference in the end damage total or does something else valuable. Generally you remove more total damage bracing and removing a die (or dice) from separate attacks if you expect to get attacked multiple times.

Defense token alternative effects allow you to use a defense token in a different way than usual. It's important to note that even if the token has a different effect than usual, you're still limited to spending that type of defense token only once per attack. It also counts as spending that type of defense token for any effects that trigger when you spend that kind of token, such as combining Commander Obi-Wan Kenobi with the above-depicted Expert Shield Tech.

Defense token buff effects make spending a defense token better. They're usually pretty straightforward, but they merit mentioning here. Anything that buffs a defense token stacks unless the text indicates otherwise. Defense token alternative effects are usually an either/or, so they don't tend to play nice with defense token buff effects, but again - read closely. Anything that debuffs a buffed defense token can create some weird interactions (for example, Advanced Projectors vs. XI7 Turbolasers), so try to read out the interaction carefully in those circumstances.

Damage reduction effects subtract damage prior to suffering damage from an attack. These happen after halving the damage from brace (because brace works when you're totaling up the damage and damage reduction effects kick in right before you suffer the damage, slightly later). It's generally best to use these types of effects as soon as possible, but can be worth saving them to help relieve pressure on your redirects if an opponent has an attack lined up on a shields-weak hull zone.

Damage-reduction effects combine better with brace tokens than dice-removal effects and can reduce damage pretty drastically. Bracing a 4 damage attack to 2 and then subtracting 1 more damage from that to bring it to 1 total makes a big difference.

Dice reroll effects are pretty much the reroll function of evade tokens, only usually without the same restrictions and often capable of affecting more dice. As mentioned earlier, rerolling should typically be done before making other defensive decisions. It's important to keep in mind what the different colors of dice tend to produce for results before rerolling them. My general thoughts are:
  • Red dice: It's always an easy choice to reroll double-hits. Rerolling regular hits and crits is a bit riskier: you have a 3/8 chance of getting a blank or accuracy (that does nothing because you're past the Resolve Attack Effects step where it can be spent), which is good. You have a 4/8 chance of getting a single hit or crit, which is keeping you where you already were. That 1/8 chance of rerolling into a double is scary, but you've got a 7/8 chance it stays the same or improves for you. Depending on how crippling the double coming up would be for you, you should either risk it or don't.
  • Blue dice: I'm always keen to reroll blue dice unless I'm trying to avoid a critical symbol. 2/8 of the time it comes up an accuracy and the remaining 6/8 of the time the amount of damage remains the same. It's paranoia-free red dice, basically, although you can never get as big a swing as reducing 2 damage to nothing.
  • Black dice: Similar to red dice, it depends how desperate the situation is. Obviously hit+crits should always be rerolled: they simply can't get any worse. Given that black dice average 1 damage against ships, rerolling hit icons is a gamble that I tend to avoid unless I'm desperate.
Dice reroll effects enjoy being paired with dice removal effects so any troublesome results you have post-reroll can be removed. It also allows for a bit riskier rerolling with the knowledge that should you get too reckless and reroll a single damage into a double-damage result you can always remove that.

MOAR Lando!
Modification-prevention effects bear mentioning because they mess with a few of the options we've already discussed (and can be annoying for an attacker too, but that's outside the scope of this article). To be clear, modifying a die is:
  • Rerolling
  • Adding
  • Changing to a facing
  • Spending
  • Canceling(/removing)
So if an opponent's Lando squadron is attacking our flotilla and uses his ability to set a red die to the double-hit side, we can't reroll it, cancel it, or change it to any other facing. That means if we scatter the attack, the blue die will be removed but the red die won't and the flotilla will take 2 damage. Annoying.

On a side note, it also means if Lando uses that ability to set a die to an accuracy facing, he can't spend it to lock down a defense token. Too clever by half, Lando.


  1. Soooo..... you cant akbar and salvo then? if the LOS and arc is treated as the same as the attack then you might stop yourself from useing akbar or you may not be able to salvo if you have already akbared?

    1. That is correct by my current reading of it (and some of the rules gurus too). You can salvo pre-Ackbar (probably) but only out of your side arcs post-Ackbar, because Ackbar's restriction kicks in before making one of your regular attacks during your activation and then sticks around for the entire round.

      I'm hoping it gets FAQed away because it makes some things more complex than they need to be. I don't entirely understand why cards like Ackbar and Slaved Turrets and Coolant Discharge apply for the entire round - if they applied only during your activation, we wouldn't have this weird interaction with salvo and there would be less book-keeping, but here we are.

    2. > I don't entirely understand why cards like Ackbar and Slaved Turrets and Coolant Discharge apply for the entire round

      Early cards often cause this kind of problem, because developers don't necessarily anticipate all the new features of their game. We had quite a few of those with X-Wing first edition.
      This kind of things has a decent chance to be fixed in a FAQ. From what I can tell, Armada was always very clean in resolving this kind of things, even if the slow development cycle means it takes a while...

    3. Future-proofing is important, I agree. It's just been a big headache for salvo to have such restrictive and book-keeping-intensive language and it grates on me a bit, but here we are.

  2. Would Officer Palp trigger of a salvo token? I assume that the salvo attack follows the standard attack sequence with includes "declaring a defender" which is where Palpy triggers. So the defender would have to spend two tokens to salvo an attacker with Officer Palp. The initial salvo token to be able to attack, then one more to actually attack.

    1. Yep, Palpatine would trigger on that. Seems a tiny bit silly, given we already know who the target is and what hull zone is being attacked with salvo, but that's the order of operations.

  3. If you take dmg outside an attack: boba, debris, volatile cargo, etc. You CANNOT use defense tokens but CAN take it to multiple hull zones, correct?

    1. You CANNOT use defense tokens (correct) and it all must go to ONE HULL ZONE (so you were incorrect on that count). So if a CR90 going speed 4 overlaps a purrgil and has to take 4 damage, the best case scenario is it's wiping 2 of its shields from a healthy hull zone and the remaining 2 damage hits the hull.

    2. Thanks for the clarification. Guess we did it right by accident! Flew a couple squadrons and GSD too close to volatile cargo ship!