Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Pass tokens: a how-to for those who wish to not-do

With 1.5 now out in the wild for a while and me finally caught up on both Clone Wars Separatist articles and revisions to literally dozens of other articles where 1.5 changes made a difference, it's time for an article about an altogether new 1.5 mechanic: pass tokens.

Only the finest old memes in MS Paint for our lovely readers.

First of all, let's copy-paste the Rules Reference Guide section about pass tokens. Here we go:

A player receives one or more pass tokens at the beginning of the game if their opponent has more ships than they do. When it is a player’s turn to activate during the Ship Phase, that player may spend a pass token to pass their turn instead of activating, and it becomes their opponent’s turn to activate a ship. When a pass token is spent, it is discarded.

Note: These rules replace the pass token rules previously published in the Super Star Destroyer expansion. A huge ship no longer receives an additional pass token as described in those rules.

  • Before the “Deploy Ships” step of setup, if one player has fewer total ships in their fleet, that player gains a number of pass tokens equal to the difference between their total ships and their opponent’s total ships.
  • If the first player has fewer ships, that player gains one fewer pass token.

But wait, there's more! Specifically in the Ship Phase section. Relevant portions only:

  • When it is a player’s turn to activate, if that player has any unactivated ships, they can pass their turn by spending a pass token. When a pass token is spent, it is discarded.
  • A player with unactivated ships remaining can pass their turn under the following conditions:
    • The first player may pass their turn if they have activated at least one ship and they have fewer unactivated ships than the second player.
    • The second player may pass their turn if they do not have more unactivated ships than the first player.
    • A player cannot spend a pass token on consecutive turns during the same Ship Phase.

If you're thinking "hey wait, some of that stuff in the Ship Phase section is really important and should've been included in the Pass Tokens section so as to not confuse people who only read the Pass Tokens bit," then congratulations! You're better at putting together a Rules Reference Guide than Fantasy Flight Games is. Please feel free to think about that when someone incorrectly tells you they can, in fact, spend pass tokens back-to-back because it doesn't say they can't in the Pass Tokens section. Ugh. Anyways, some specific highlights:

  • You check the number of ships on each side before fleet deployment, so it doesn't matter if any ships will start off the table (like with Raddus or Hyperspace Assault) - they still get counted.
    • Remember that the first player gets one fewer pass token if they would be the one receiving pass tokens. Being first player is pretty great, so you get less pass tokens as compensation.
      • This can result in neither player getting pass tokens in games with an unequal number of ships if the first player has one fewer ship than the second player.
  • Otherwise, you spend pass tokens instead of activating a ship and the pass token leaves the game for good when spent.
  • It should be noted that you can never spend a pass token when you spent a pass token for your previous activation. Basically, you need a real ship activation in-between pass token activations.
  • First player cannot use a pass token as their first activation.
    • Second player can.
  • First player must have less activations remaining compared to second player to spend a pass token.
    • Second player must have equal or less activations remaining compared to first player to spend a pass token.
  • Because you're eligible to spend a pass token based on the activation situation at the exact moment when you wish to spend the pass token, if the board state changes due to ships showing up out of hyperspace or more likely getting destroyed, it's entirely possible to be in a situation where you have a pass token but can't spend it, at least until one or more of your ships is destroyed.

Okay, so with the basics out of the way let's talk about actually using these things.

You'll get the most benefit from spending your pass tokens during rounds where activation quantity has the most benefit; that means typically round 2, sometimes round 3. Basically, the round before serious attacks are made is arguably the most crucial round of the game as it sets the stage for future rounds and activation priority within those subsequent rounds. The more your opponent has to reveal how they are committing their resources, the better-informed you are about where and how to commit your own. That does typically mean you'll blow through all or most of your pass tokens in a single round, which is fine. If it allows you to avoid some traps or forks or whatnot, then they were (free) resources well-spent.

You won't always be able to spend all your pass tokens in a single round, however. If your opponent has more than double your number of ships, then you'll get more pass tokens than you can spend in a single round  even as second player (due to ships needing to activate between pass token spending). I gave the following example in the anti-MSU article about a fleet with 3 ships against a fleet with 7:

  1. MSU activation 1
  2. Your pass token 1
  3. MSU activation 2
  4. Your activation 1
  5. MSU activation 3
  6. Your pass token 2
  7. MSU activation 4
  8. Your activation 2
  9. MSU activation 5
  10. Your pass token 3
  11. MSU activation 6
  12. Your activation 3
  13. MSU activation 7

Even though the 3-ship fleet has in its possession 4 pass tokens, it can only spend 3 of them in one round and that will be insufficient to stop the MSU fleet from getting both first and last activation. That's not the end of the world and those 3 delayed activations help an awful lot compared to the same situation in 1.0 where it would just be "well I guess the other guy gets 4 uncontested activations at the end of each round until ships start dying," but it's important to underline that just because pass tokens exist now doesn't mean activation count doesn't matter. It still matters and it's something you should consider when building your fleets, but it doesn't matter as much as it once did.

Your opponent, of course, will have some say in how desirable it is for you to spend pass tokens. Say we use the example above but we assume the more-activations fleet has 6 ships to their opponent's 3. This will allow the out-activated opponent to equal activations on a crucial round, giving them the final activation. The out-activated player will need to spend a pass token first thing or else they won't be able to equal activations that round. Once the more-activations player realizes that the less-activations player is committing to equalizing activations that round, they have the choice to either continue with their plan or to slam on the brakes and try to restart the same process next round when they'll have activation advantage (usually by slowing down their ships and otherwise being cagey with their earlier activations). The problem is the out-activated player can't necessarily tell if the more-activations fleet is committing to a fleet-wide slowdown or only buying time until later so in most circumstances they need to commit to spending pass tokens as often as possible once they begin or else the last activation or two will suddenly find a crucial enemy ship up in their business.

The best thing the out-activated fleet can do in a situation like that in most cases is stay the course by spending pass tokens when they can and be aggressive where possible. If your opponent's ships are slowing down, speed yours up when they activate and try to threaten already-activated enemy ships so they will be in trouble next round, allowing you to pressure your opponent's activation order and potentially bagging a few ships that don't quite make the cut for early activations. Of course you should fork whenever you can to help you achieve this. If your opponent slows down and you don't put any pressure on them next round, you'll be in exactly the same predicament but without any pass tokens to help pad your activations. So get in there!

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