Friday, April 30, 2021

Separatist-specific upgrades

We're trying something new with the release of Clone Wars and that is separating out all the non-officer upgrades that are only available for a specific faction into a separate article. Previously, we left those options in the relevant article (so the Darth Vader boarding team is in the boarding teams article, for example), but with 4 factions now available, our concern is that upgrades that can only be taken by one or two factions will eventually come to clog up the articles covering upgrades available to everyone and should have their own separate repositories. We've already done this with officers, now we're expanding it to an article for (faction) officers and (faction) other upgrades.

If there's an upgrade available to multiple, but not all, factions then we'll cover that upgrade separately in different articles. For example, Swivel-Mount Batteries is available only to Clone Wars factions so we'll have a writeup for it in the Separatist article (right here) and the Republic article, perhaps with differing opinions given both difference in author opinion as well as difference in how a specific faction can make use of that upgrade.

I guess what I'm trying to say is "welcome to Robot Land!"

"Stupid clones making fun of me for skipping leg day! Vengeance will be mine!"

B2 Rocket Troopers rules refresher!

  • A quick hyperlink to the raid rules breakdown is in order (here). 
    • The big one to remember is you can't have more than one raid token of a given type at a time so there comes a point where pouring raid tokens on gets diminishing returns.
  • The Rocket Troopers come with two different modes, each of which requires exhausting:
    • Adding a raid token against a ship you're non-salvo attacking at close to medium range.
    • Adding a die of any color already in your pool to the pool when attacking a squadron at any range.
  • Adding a die against squads can trigger on a Counter attack (from Quad Laser Turrets, for example, on a ship with two offensive retrofit slots) but remember you can't add dice to salvo attacks under any circumstances ever.

Typing out B2 Rocket Troopers constantly is going to get annoying so let's shorten it to B2RT.

No, my droids are also named BORT.
Okay fine, BORT it is.

Anyways, BORT is a potentially strong offensive retrofit but it's pricey. 7 points is a deluxe cost for most upgrades which means it really needs to do something important to be worth fielding. This is especially true with Separatists, who tend to like running their ships with minimal upgrades. What you are looking for on a potential BORT recipient is as many of the following as possible:

  • Wants to be at close to medium range of enemy ships.
  • Interacts with raid tokens in some fashion. Typically this will be because you're using Dooku or TF-1726.
    • It's not strictly required with Dooku, but putting extra raid token pressure on can cause a lot of dial discards instead of token discards, and when done at a crucial moment can be very good.
    • TF-1726 doesn't do anything unless his ships are attacking enemy ships with raid tokens on them, so it very much is mandatory with him. 
      • Maybe not on every ship but let's be honest: probably on every ship.
    • There's an argument to be made with Kraken given your spotter ship(s) will want to be at medium range of enemy ships regardless.

The anti-squadron ability is pretty handy in the right circumstances but you can't rely on triggering it consistently or getting 7 points of value out of it even if you do. It's a nice consolation prize when you're not able to add raid tokens to enemy ships, though. Why the droids can fly out to long range to bother squads but only close-medium to hassle ships I don't rightly know.

To summarize, though: I like BORT. It can be a handy upgrade and a consistent source of raid tokens can make a difference when applied thoughtfully. It's a pricey upgrade in a competitive slot for Separatists (worst case some Reserve Hangar Decks to bring back your Swarm fighters ain't bad for only 3 points) so you need a good plan with it and it gets stronger when enabled by a commander that likes adding those raid tokens.

Kirkland brand deluxe package of robot people.

Battle Droid Reserves (hereafter BDR) rules bullet points:

  • BDR is one of the first ship-keyword-linked cards, being limited to both Separatist only and ships with the Droid keyword only.
    • So far that's all Separatist ships but future ships may lack the Droid keyword.
  • BDR may be triggered when you resolve a repair command. You then exhaust it and resolve the two bullet points in order, first flipping over any faceup damage cards with the Crew trait and then BDR gives you a discount on removing facedown damage cards, bringing the cost down to 2 repair points each.
  • BDR doesn't ready normally and must consume a repair token to do so.

I like BDR in theory. It's a cool effect. The problem is you're competing with other support teams for the slot and BDR in reality doesn't really do a lot. Of the 52 card damage deck, 16 damage cards have the Crew trait. Of those, 12 remain faceup (the other 4 are Injured Crew, where you discard a defense token then flip the card facedown). So the first effect will only apply to 23% of the faceup damage cards you receive. The bottom effect is certainly helpful for repairing damage cards more cheaply, bringing removing damage cards up to the same efficiency as regenerating shields, but without something supercharging your repair commands (like Wat Tambor) you're unlikely to really see the discount apply more than one or two effective repair points of effectiveness in most cases, in which case even the lowly Engineering Team would've been sufficient over the course of the game. There's also the matter of if you're going to want to use the effect more than once you'll need to feed BDR a repair token, which really cuts into the repair-efficiency of the card.

If you want to keep your ship healthy, you've got other better options like Auxiliary Shield Team, Engineering Team (which again, isn't exactly amazing), and Projection Experts (who also combine excellently with Wat Tambor). If you want to deal with Crew damage cards, you've got Medical Team for 1 point and Medical Team has the noted benefit of stopping the damage card altogether before it even hits the ship and even preventing Injured Crew. The compromise option of BDR doesn't really do either of those jobs well enough to outcompete any of the better options. Sorry, droid bros.

It's great for morale having a picture of my troops getting absolutely wrecked on an upgrade that does literally nothing.

Hot Landing is an absolutely terrible card with Separatists because it works on none of their squadrons. It's already a poor card for the Republic but it's literally useless with Separatists. Maybe one day we'll get some Adept squadrons and then it will merely be bad. Maybe.

"The swirly drill doodles make the signal go further because of fighting spirit. Duh."

Hyperwave Signal Boost (hereafter HSB) is written a little weird, it's going to cause some arguments, and I welcome the inevitable FAQ hopefully as soon as possible. I'm confident I've got a good explanation for how it works so please bear with me while we wait on the FAQ. Let's go over what the card says.

"During the Squadron Phase, when it is your fleet's turn to activate squadrons, you may exhaust this card to choose a number of unactivated, friendly squadrons at close-long range up to your squadron value. This turn, activate each of those squadrons."

If you dig around the rules reference guide you will find the following instructions for the Squadron Phase: During this phase, the first player activates two of his squadrons. Then the second player activates two of his own squadrons. Players continue taking turns in this manner until all squadrons have been activated. Therefore a "turn" for purposes of the Squadron Phase is your normal activation of 2 squadrons, one after the other, either attacking or moving (not both). Because HSB tells you that this turn you instead do what it instructs you to do, you may only use one HSB per Squadron Phase "turn" because the entire card must resolve before you do anything else and it also discludes you from activating squadrons normally as the HSB card instructs you what to do for your "turn" instead, superceding the regular rules. So to sum up: if you use HSB, it replaces your normal Squadron Phase turn of activating two squadrons with activating X squadrons and then your Squadron Phase turn is over until it comes back to you. So far so good.

"While attacking, each of those squadrons with AI are treated as if activated by a [squadron] command."

Please note that HSB does not activate squadrons any differently than how they normally activate during the Squadron Phase except for the number activated (we covered that earlier) and this provision. This provision kicks in only when attacking so it does not mean that the activated squadrons get a "full" activation of move+attack because it lasts only as long as the squad is attacking, which means if the squadron chose to move it never gets to the attack step and if the squadron chose to attack the "as if activated by a squadron command" wears off immediately after it's done attacking, meaning it can't move. What it does mean is your AI squadrons will get the benefit of their extra die from the AI keyword when attacking so long as that's what they choose to do with their move or attack choice when activated during the Squadron Phase. So with all that out of the way we can actually talk about this card now. Finally.

HSB is a bit of an odd duck. In ideal circumstances, your ship can command X squadrons normally during its regular activation and then "fake command" X more at the start of the Squadron Phase that were already in a good position and at distance 1 of enemy targets, letting you get the jump on opponents early and getting your AI bonuses too. Activating twice (or 2X+1 if you used a token too) of your squadron value in one round is pretty great. There are a few issues with this plan:

  • The opportunity cost of using your offensive retrofit slot on HSB instead of some other squadron-booster offensive retrofit like Boosted Comms, Expanded Hangar Bay, or Reserve Hangar Deck.
    • Boosted Comms sure is appealing on long-ranged ships like Munificents that want to keep their foes at arms' reach while still comfortably commanding squadrons.
    • Expanded Hangar Bay is appealing for just more raw squadron muscle, especially when combined with other effects that trigger on squadron commands or reference your squadron value, like Fighter Coordination Team or Flight Controllers
    • Reserve Hangar Deck bringing a Vulture Droid or Tri-Fighter squadron back from the dead is pretty swell for retaining your points value and letting your glass cannon squads get another round of punches in.
  • Getting regular value from HSB requires feeding it a steady diet of repair or squadron tokens. The token infrastructure required can get a little burdensome.
  • To really get maximum value from HSB, you need those squadrons at distance 1 of enemy models at the start of the Squadron Phase. Enemies that move away will cause trouble and enemies that activate like normal with squadron commands earlier during the Ship Phase to kill you while you wait to get activated by HSB will cause even more trouble than that.

In short (too late), I can't really recommend HSB without some reservations. The idea of being able to get AI attacks going on double your squadron value in droid squadrons is pretty great, but waiting around until the Squadron Phase with your fragile droid squads to do it makes me uncomfortable, as does giving up lower-maintenance bread-and-butter squadron-buff offensive retrofits to do so. If you do choose to use HSB I recommend doing so in addition to some other ships using more conventional squadron support upgrades and to have some means of providing tokens to keep HSB operational.

Grievous about to go rock-em-sock-em on Eeth Koth.
Jedi Hostage has one really big important rule to get out of the way immediately: Jedi Hostage does not refresh once it has been exhausted. You see that red arrow in the middle right? That's what it means. Normally these types of cards have a method for readying, but not Jedi Hostage. The Jedi is either held hostage (readied Jedi Hostage) or he's been freed and is running through your ship causing trouble (exhausted Jedi Hostage).

Even more rules quibbling coming up:

  • The raid token is added once the Hostage ship is declared as a target but before attack dice are gathered. This can potentially cause issues with the attacker resolving a concentrate fire or navigate command later that activation.
  • Remember that you can't have duplicate raid tokens. Even though the attacker gets to choose which raid token is added, they can't choose a token type they already have. This can add up on double-arc attacks and/or if they've already got raid tokens.
  • Unlike boarding team upgrades, which can be powered by discarding a squadron token or dial, sending a team in to free the Jedi Hostage accepts only a squadron dial. Make that clear to your opponent early if they're unfamiliar with the card.
    • Speaking of raid tokens, remember that discarding a dial isn't resolving a squadron command. So even if your opponent is raided for squadrons, they can still discard a dial to free that Jedi.
  • Once the hostage is free, the ship Jedi Hostage is equipped to can only spend 1 defense token while defending. Period. Note this is slightly different from "cannot spend more than 1 defense token during the Spend Defense Tokens Step." Effects like Thermal Shields that spend defense tokens prior to that step are still resolved while defending and would prevent you from spending another defense token later.
    • Also note that "you" (the ship) cannot spend more than one defense token while defending. Defense tokens spent by your opponent while you are defending (like Sloane's effect) don't count against you.

So what type of fleets should run Jedi Hostage? Mainly fleets commanded by TF-1726, who can turn raid tokens into black dice for your fleet. While Jedi Hostage doesn't require a diet of command tokens to operate unlike most other fleet command upgrades, it's still eating up a valuable slot that could be doing a lot for your fleet. TF-1726 is the big exception as he can turn those raid tokens into extra damage for your fleet. Jedi Hostage, like all the wave 10 fleet commands, also goes with Flag Bridge pretty well because the "can't spend a command token" restriction doesn't matter when it doesn't want command tokens in the first place. Just remember that Flag Bridge's restriction applies to all fleet command upgrades on the ship, so you can't get cute and put Jedi Hostage on the Flag Bridge and then token-feed a second "regular" fleet command you've equipped to an inherent fleet command slot.

For the most part I'm not too keen on Jedi Hostage outside of the cases I gave above. I much prefer regular fleet commands (especially Intensify Firepower, which is great with Separatists) and would rather spend my upgrade slot on those instead. The downside can also be really punishing on the kind of hefty ship that would invite attacks and thus trigger Jedi Hostage - a zippy speed 4 ship getting in there and freeing the hostage can drastically lower your life expectancy against big attacks where you want to spend multiple defense tokens. It's very frustrating when the big attack coming at your flagship can only be braced or redirected and it's due to your own upgrade.

Swivel-Mount Batteries (hereafter SMB) are terrible and you shouldn't take them. There we go, end of that entry. No? Okay, fine, make me do my job. But they are terrible and you shouldn't take them. Let's go over the rules first:

  • They're a Modification. I know it says it right there on the card but people (including me sometimes) tend to forget about the Modification keyword causing trouble with some builds.
  • They're Clones and Droids only. Sorry, Screed and Sato that could actually make them good.
  • The window to use your SMBs is upon revealing your command dial, so make sure not to accidentally pass over it. 
    • When in doubt, put the card on top your command stack so you have to interact with it to get to the dials. I do this with cards with the same timing window like Phylon Q7 Tractor Beams and it works well.
  • You only get to add the die against a ship, not against squadrons.
  • The die can be any color from an adjacent hull zone, regardless of range.
    • Yes, this means you can fire a black die at long range.
  • You subtract 1 die when attacking anything from adjacent hull zones.
    • Yes, this specifically means it debuffs both anti-ship and anti-squad attacks.
  • If and when you choose to untap the SMBs (using a con fire token in the Status Phase), the focus token disappears, as do the buffs and debuffs that come with it.
    • You're free to use the SMBs during your next activation to choose a new focus zone.

Here's the big issue with SMBs: they're expensive, they're a Modification, and for a faction that wants to double-arc constantly you're usually breaking even on using them (+1 die in one arc, -1 out of the neighboring one). Plus they're terrible for your flak, and most of the Separatist ships have otherwise-good flak, even if it's just due to long range. Oh, and it removes a die from salvo attacks if they come from a debuffed hull zone. That's not worth it just to move a die color around when Separatists don't really have much access to the kind of combos that can make triggering fancy color-specific crits worth it.

If you really want to add dice to an arc, other turbolasers like Enhanced Armaments, Spinal Armaments, and Quad Battery Turrets can do that for you. If you want to keep your rolls more consistent, Separatist MVP Linked Turbolaser Towers also does an excellent job. Please look elsewhere.

When rules get argued hard enough the area turns green. The whole ship is turning green. That's bad.

Thermal Shields (often shortened to "Thermals") is a rules disaster masquerading as a little piece of cardboard for a plastic spaceships game. Here comes way too many rules bullet points discussing the finer points of this thing:

  • The timing window is very narrow - right after the attacker gathers dice but before rolling them.
    • It's very important that the attacker only gathers their initial attack dice and does not yet use any add effects, which should happen later in the Resolve Attack Effects step. They shouldn't be doing this yet anyways but on occasion players forget or they simplify the dice pool by just adding everything possible in because they were going to do it regardless (like with a con fire dial and only one color of dice and their only attack of that activation, for example).
    • By using Thermals, the defender chooses and removes half of those dice (whichever colors you like) before the remaining dice are then rolled in.
    • This is a very unusual timing window and so it's really easy for the either player to accidentally forget about it and only realize after the fact that the defender could've used Thermals.
      • In these circumstances, I'd generally allow the defender to use Thermals but the entire attack has to be re-done from the start.
      • Normally I'm on team "it's not your opponent's job to remind you to use your stuff." The problem here is Thermals has a super weird narrow timing window that interrupts the attacker's attack flow and it's entirely possible for the attacker to absent-mindedly (or deliberately, if they're a jerk) rush through the timing window and just throw dice, at which point it's too late to use Thermals. Be kind, (and let your opponent) rewind.
        • I'm expecting at least one person to wear an "ASK ME ABOUT MY THERMALS" shirt to an Armada tournament at some point to hopefully preempt this. And to joke about this terrible timing window.
  • Because the brace token is spent prior to the Spend Defense Tokens step, Thermals produces many questions about defense token spending that you need to dig into the rules reference guide to answer:
    • The defender can only spend each type of defense token once per attack. So by spending the brace to use Thermals, the defender cannot brace again for its normal effect during the Spend Defense Tokens step.
    • Each individual defense token can only be spent once per attack, period. So if the defender spends a brace to use Thermals, the attacker can't spend that specific brace token again during that attack using an effect like Sloane.
      • For example, if a TIE Phantom is attacking a ship and the defender uses Thermal Shields to remove one of the two red dice and the remaining red die turns up accuracy, Sloane can't spend the brace token that was used to trigger Thermals. It has already been spent during that attack. She can spend a different defense token, though.
    • Intel Officer doesn't do anything if it targets the brace spent for Thermals. John goes into it in more detail here but the short version is almost nothing in Armada looks into the past for their effect, either doing something immediately or doing something on a future trigger within a specified (usually short-term) window. By the time Intel Officer is used the brace has already been spent and is not going to be spent again during that attack and Intel Officer only looks ahead, not behind.
  • Alluded to earlier, but: Thermals only removes half the dice (rounded down) during the initial attack. It has no effect at all on dice added afterwards. Just making that abundantly clear.

Are we safe? Are the bullet points finally behind us? Good. So let's talk about actually using these things. Thermal Shields is a circumstantially great upgrade that draws immediate comparison to Electronic Countermeasures. For 2 points less, no need to exhaust, and no need to ready by pitching a repair token, Thermal Shields looks pretty good in the comparison. And it can be! Both allow you to use your brace token (let's be honest, that's the usual recipient of ECMs) despite your opponent's wishes. But Thermal shields offers a few tricks unavailable to Electronic Countermeasures, such as:

  1. Removing dice colors needed to trigger special critical effects, like Assault Concussion Missiles.
  2. Removing dice colors needed for other effects (such as removing blue dice so the attacker can't use Leading Shots).
  3. Using your brace token prior to Intel Officer getting a chance to call a shot on it.

Those can all be pretty handy things to do, no doubt. Generally you should be looking for opportunities to snipe dice colors your opponent is relying on for various effects or, failing that, higher-damage dice colors like black dice (especially if the attacker has access to reroll effects to make them behave). Given Onagers typically throw a lot of dice up front and are not-uncommonly using Intel Officer, Thermal Shields is particularly handy against them.

It's not all upsides, though. Dice add effects in particular largely sidestep Thermal Shields. A Giga Drill style Ackbar Assault Frigate with Slaved Turrets, con fire dial, and Ackbar will lose one red die (out of three) to Thermal Shields and then add four red dice after that for an end total of six red dice. You would've been much better off using ECMs to halve that damage after the fact or even not using Thermals and hoping your opponent doesn't roll an accuracy. In general, the more dice-adding and dice-fixing (with effects like Intensify Firepower and Turbolaser Reroute Circuits and the like) your opponent has, the better Electronic Countermeasures compares to Thermal Shields. There are also some matchups where Thermals won't really do you a lot of good but it's hard to say the same for ECMs - even if your brace isn't getting a ton of high-value use, you can still use ECMs on your other defense tokens when the situation calls for it whereas Thermal Shields only cares about your brace token.

It's a complex comparison and the choice between the two for I-really-need-this-brace-to-do-something defensive retrofits is also going to depend on your meta and other elements of your fleet. Thermal Shields can be used multiple times in a round (usually burning out your brace, but still) and is less resource-intensive to use than Electronic Countermeasures. Electronic Countermeasures is much more flexible and doesn't suffer nearly so badly against dice-adding and dice-fixing upgrades as Thermal Shields does. Electronic Countermeasures is, for my money, still the deluxe "juice my brace token" defensive retrofit but Thermal Shields offers a cheaper alternative that can shine in the right situations.


  1. Does really Thermal shields break my fully loaded LMC into a measily 4 dice ship without me being able to prevent it in any way? (Intel officer, heavy turbolaser turrets etc.) Doesnt seem balanced to me. You can tell "F off" with your brace to any ship except CW era factions. Powercreep in my eyes for sure :/

    1. Yep, it's particularly good against single large attacks where all the dice are in the pool from the beginning. If you're going after a Thermal Shields ship, you need more than just one big ship or else you're likely going to have a bad time.

      I honestly don't think it's that bad, but a lot of people seem to play fleets where their only meaningful combat ship is a loaded-up large ship and Thermal Shields absolutely makes that approach sad.

  2. What about using Slicer Tools on a Hardcell transport to prevent your opponent from exhausting your Jedy Hostage?

    1. It's fine and we discussed it on the most recent episode of the Un-Named Armada podcast. My only hesitation is the Hardcell also needs to play an active role in your fleet beyond just an insurance policy, where it's just too expensive. Threading that needle can prove difficult of keeping the Hardcell close enough to stop squadron dials (and in some cases it's impossible, like on Command 1 ships that activate before the Hardcell can slice them) but not so tethered to the ship with Jedi Hostage that it can't really contribute much otherwise.

  3. Just wanted to add a clarification re: Thermal Shields that wasn't obvious and may be worth mentioning here. Obstruction removes a die after Thermal Shields removes dice from the attack pool. Never enough bullet points for this particular upgrade card...

  4. Should special mention go to the interaction between BORTs and the nigh ubiquitous LTT on separatist ships? The ability to throw a full 4 (or 5 with base 2 flak) dice can REALLY take an unwary ace by surprise, especially since flak ignores escort.

    Pulling a flight-controller-interceptor level attack out of nowhere is a very handy threat to have.

    1. This comment will probably have to do. It doesn't hurt to note but generally I prefer raid tokens with the BORT droids and the extra die is the consolation prize. Similar with LTTs for flak - sometimes it's a good idea to hyper-focus that one squadron but it's very context dependent. If those two usages overlap, great! I'm just not sure I feel like it comes up a lot outside of maybe TF-1726 lists.

    2. Fair enough I just find it to be a nice secondary threat generation when paired with the commonplace LTT.

      I feel like it gives a nice ability to fork the enemy between either moving a ship out of BORT range with their first activation or moving an expensive lynchpin fighter out of threat range with their first activation. (Assuming the ship in question is not also the carrier pushing the ace obviously). And since LTTs are almost always the first choice upgrade for CIS fleets it's not a "tax" or opportunity cost on many of their ships.