Sunday, April 11, 2021

Fighting Fleets: Obliterating Onagers!

I've been playing on Vassal a fair amount more than Eric, so I stepped up to write this one. The recent Italian TTS tournament had a swath of Onagers, dual and triples in fleets everywhere. Let it be known that I'm giving you a look. It is not a happy one. Let's talk about fighting wave 8's flattest boogeyman, the Onager!

There's a description for people who like running double onager fleets...

So before we get the meat of this article out of the way, I believe it's my turn to address a few points. Eric covered a lot of them in his 1.5.1 article for ship points changes, but it's my turn and the article is going to bog down if I don't vent now at the start.

1) The Onager seems intended to exist in a world where "delay fleets" are common.
For the purposes of this discussion, a delay fleet is one that is waiting for you to come into me so I can then hit you with a bunch of attacks that you just have to sit there and take. Creating a counter to it is a fine enough reason for it to exist, kicking over Fish Farm and other fleets that try to wait until you come into me and I attack you.  There were a lot of bad Ackbar fleets in the day that tried to do this, and it got insufferable.  Two people playing "no you come over here" is the lamest game of plastic spaceships, so forcing those fleets to move helps the game along.  If I'm being hit from downrange, I can't just mine the Fire Lanes points, I have to come at you in order to not get my ship blown up.

2) In PRACTICE it's all about shooting your opponent before they can respond, hopefully giving you the upper hand before it gets into range.
One thing Eric and I are in agreement on not liking in miniatures games is doing something that your opponent has no ability to respond to other than die.  It's not fun for us to watch you Squall 6 squadrons into range and blow up everything I have because you win when I don't have stuff anymore.  It's even less fun watching my ship get shot when I know it's going to be about 2 turns before I can even throw any dice at you to START.  The Onager has turned Armada into a game of "I'm going to shoot you from far away without the ability for you to do anything about it." I'm not happy that you can't Salvo an ignition shot, even IF I was in range. I'm fully in agreement with Eric that the ship is too cheap and too good for what it does, which is "fling dice at you before you can adequately prepare or respond." Attacking someone turn 1 shouldn't be a defining part of the game in my opinion, but hey look at that, Cataclysm-Hondo exists! I'm sure there's other titles for the Onager, but that's what we're really dealing with here, the fact that you're going to be shot on deployment and you can't fire back or outbid the early shot. I like writing articles for the blog (I wouldn't be here if I didn't), but I hate having to write these articles. THESE articles are along the lines of "This build is too good, and it's really kicking the butts of a lot of people. We should address the fact that this seems unbeatable and not fun if you're not used to it."  And now I'm writing that about a specific ship. Great.

3) It's too cheap for the dice it can throw and the correction it can get, and the special firing arc is too wide. Look at the Neb, how is this fair, etc etc.
Sure don't disagree with that. But at the moment, I can't make your opponent sink more points into it or take a marker to the arc lines. I don't care for the ship, nor lists that use 2 of them because "why should my opponent get to play a game when I can just throw dice at him until I win?" For those of you who would like to educate me on how YOUR dual onager fleet is different and it's totally OK, and the ship is actually fair in all aspects, please write in the comment section. I'm SURE that Eric and I will both read it and not mock you when we DEFINITELY publish it.

As much as I hate the onager and the fact that it has basically shoved every non-Agate equipped speed 2 ship into an early grave, we have to deal with the fact that the ship exists. So, to the actual article and not just me complaining for several paragraphs!
They're making an Age of Empires IV? Huh.....

The Onager is relatively squishy for a large based ship, such that if you can get a good thunk into its front arc, that turns it into a Quasar with a Salvo token and 3 more hull.  That's not hard to kill, just requires sustained damage against it.  So the issue with the Onager isn't necessarily the damage into it, it's the getting there to put the damage in.  There's a few decent ways to counter the Onager that I've found.  The Onager, for semi-military parlance, is a tank destroyer.  It exists to fire a big ol' gun at your heavy tank and penetrate its armor, blowing it to heck and back.

1) So don't have a tank
If you either run MSU or some sort of ship(s) with Evade tokens, you're generally either fast enough to dodge the special firing arc or can use the Evade to cancel 2 dice from extreme, 3 if you discard it and are lucky enough to be a smaller base size than it (sorry Amity and the Recusant, just 2 for you).  With the discarded dice, it's going to take the Onager a second shot to kill your small base.  And that's 2 shots from the ~120 point super mega laser to kill your.... 50 point ship. MMMMM GREAT USE.  The other benefit to MSU is that the Onager's tokens are not built to take multiple attacks. It can brace and redirect once, sure! But what about second shot? And third through seventh? The small rabbit punch attacks of MSU are not great for the Onager and mitigating them.

I realize me saying "just run MSU" is the equivalent of "just learn to juggle flaming axes." MSU isn't easy to learn and you can end up losing ships a lot as you learn and you may have some tough as heck games, and it may not even be something you want to DO.  But speed 4 ships that consistently keep hitting the Onager are often able to dodge the special firing arc and able to lay the damage on it that it needs to crack it. I've consistently had success throwing an MC30 and a CR90 into it, with the red range dice of the CR90 allowing for both consistent TRC damage and a good way of avoiding significant Salvo damage from the Onager.

Running up close with speed 4 ships means you're navving round 1 either up to 4 or out of the arc or what have you, and you may not get your "standard round 1 nav token that everyone takes." Time to toughen up and start going faster.  I'll say this for the Onager, it definitely means that you've got to get going fast; throw your pants on and button your shirt in the car, it's go time.

2) Don't get spotted
The counter to having fast ships is having objectives that prevent you from being seen or shot.  Which means Dust Fields.
Onagers been giving us hard times, Daddy

Preventing the ability to be shot entirely, the dust cloud objectives have seen a large increase in use. Just being able to turn OFF the Onager's ability to shoot from downstream is mighty helpful.  These then tend to focus your fleet towards those objectives and specific archetypes, but if they go first against you, they can really help.  I really love Abandoned Mining Facility, Rift Ambush, Salvage Run, and Volatile Deposits, but there's an interesting something to be said about Fleet in Being (especially with the new Clone and CIS fleets that don't have multiple defense tokens and would certainly love to be able to untap them!) As for the Assault (Red) objectives, I WANT to like Close Range Intel Scan, but Surprise Attack covers a lot of the ground for me (obviously, watch out for your opponent having a different flagship than the Onager!).  I'm still exploring Marked for Destruction, but it seems serviceable (and again, looks interesting for my Clone fleets!).  The new Clone Wars waves, even with wave 10 on the horizon, don't have as easy of an option as the Rebels/Imperials, so I'd lean heavily on objectives with them.

3) The most regrettable option: tank your way through it
So what happens when they force you to go first and none of their objectives have obstacles you can hide behind? Well, it's time to face the music, and it's a very bad song.  But if you do it right, you know who's going to be forced to listen to it.
Take a look at the number of deployments your opponent has and how many you have.  If you're lucky and outdeploy him, you can save the ships you desperately don't want getting shot turn 1 until after he's deployed his Onager.  If you're unlucky, you can try to force a choice. You're going to have to play a few times against it to see what the range/turning radii of the Onager can be and if sideways dodging is actually doable for you, or if you're going to have to be going straight ahead at 'em full steam.  It doesn't feel good knowing and seeing that you're about to be shot, but that's why you line up repair dials earlier than you'd think (turn 2).  It's not a dial I see people commonly using, but it gets work done, especially when your large base has been hit once or twice already.  It also feels bad when the Intel Officer driving the ship targets your brace, but getting about 3 damage saved now is 3 damage that isn't enough to kill you next turn.  Drive right towards them, and be sure you're keeping them lined up to where you can hit that ship as soon as possible.  You're going to need to be going speed 3 (or 2 with Engine Techs), which is doable for most of the large bases in this game (though it does necessitate Engine Techs in your listbuilding). But if you're spending your time avoiding the Onager because you don't want to get shot, you're going to end up dead and unable to contribute with your large based ship.  That looks worse than a bloody and wounded ship coming in hot, I'll say that.
Run, run, run as fast as you can, you're still in black range of my MC30

Speaking of coming in hot, it's important to end up in a spot where you're attacking it but the Onager can't jump to speed 3 because unless you're playing Opening Salvo, a half dead ship is worth the same as an undamaged one.  It's a little frightening getting into its face like that, but you can approach from the almost side WITH THE UNDERSTANDING that if it does accelerate you find a way to make it die tired.  See the above image for an example of a good approach, and I made sure not to be in its special arc with the MC30.  The obvious Lando quote of "Fly closer to those Star Destroyers" sure seems apt here.

The "good" approach still lets you attack with a side attack even if the Onager tries to run; you still get some solid damage into it, allowing for your followup shots to finish it off (because you obviously were smart and have ships waiting for its landing spot, right? Or have your CR90 coming around to finish it and keep plugging at it?).  The other benefit to the MC30 location there is that the Onager really can't turn to its left (picture right) or else he's just closer to the MC30 and CR90 there.  Turning to its right (picture left) was its only potential means of escape, and now it's taking an MC30 side arc in the back of its head. I'm sure we all feel bad for it.

The "bad" approach (below) is again one that's trying to avoid all damage on the way in and try to finish it off.  The Hammerhead in the full side arc is not actually stopping the Onager from running and a decent Onager player will have seen this and prepared, prepping to run as the Hammerhead had approached (or before it got to activate!) A slightly smarter plan would have been to have the Hammerhead ready to follow it and continue firing on it in the back and forcing it to be the first to activate every turn, preventing your opponent from setting up deadly shots that you were forced to come into.  You CAN approach the Onager entirely in the side, just make sure you're able to get that good damage.
Sad hammerbro

There's a different discussion to be had about whether forcing the Onager to run or not instead of firing on you is worth something in the end, but for the purpose of this discussion, assume you're trying to kill the Onager instead of let it get away.  Given perfect information, here's how I might have adjusted the Hammerheads' (we're using plural now!) approach.

The one approaching from the side (like before!) can still follow up and keep firing at its back, while the one in the front (but not the special arc again!) is still in black range even after the move.  Both of these are helpful and doable, and if you could find a way to get both Hammerheads in there, that's an Onager in for one heck of a bad time. This is so sad. Alexa, play Despacito (timely jokes!)

The most important thing in my opinion for fighting against the Onager is getting in practice and seeing what it CAN do slash what it averages out to, damage wise, along with being willing to change your tactics to account for what it can do. Once you start experiencing it and what it will likely do to you, you're going to be getting good practice against it.  So get up there and take your lumps, and get into range and start blasting.


  1. This might be a silly idea, but speaking of Opening Salvo, would it be worth reconsidering Opening Salvo as an objective? Take some RBD on those CR90s and MC30s, probably Cracken as commander so you're less likely to get one-shot (also as a counter to your opponent's potential Opening Salvo Gozantis, don't want that). That first shot from the Onager is gonna hurt, but the idea is that you may be able to shrug it off by discarding an evade and then use Reinforced Blast Doors next turn.

    1. If you can be sure you're going to survive the initial shots from your opponent and you're going to get better mileage (at least 5 combat ships) than your opponent, I personally don't hate it, but I'm also marching to the beat of my own drum and all. Test it a few times against some non-onager fleets and be sure that you're winning it and all, but good luck!

  2. I own two Onagers, and have plaid them in duo a few time. To me, the main issue is letting anyone flicking 3+ black dices at long (or half of long range, same difference). I hate carriers lists, as the answer usual means going carrier yourself, and the Onager provided a nice solution. Problem is: the double long range is so potent, fast MSU seems to be the only option (stress on seems. We only played thrice cause it wasnt fun for the rebel players).

    Ignition should be kept to a short range, with limited black dices.
    I'm curious seeing how the Republic ignition is going to perform...

    1. i wish i knew how to fix ignition, but i think that's why Eric had recommended just increasing the points on it to both make it more expensive to take and worth more when you do kill it.

    2. Well. Yes it's possibly too cheap. My list consisted of 2 barebones onagers (OBPC + Ordnance Experts), and 120 points VSD 2 with almost all the bells and whistles (harrow + ET, Tua + ECM, QBT and D.Caps) and my friend couldn't believe I had enough pts left for Jonathan & Jannifer Hart (That's how I see Ciena and Valen).
      But the main issue was breaking one of the core ideas of the game. And I think Onagers super weapon will be revised, as they did with every card breaking some fundamental concept (Raddus, Demolisher and, to an extent, Riekkan)

  3. Curious your thoughts on Thermal Shields.I flew a heavy thermal list yesterday vs triple Onager's.... it is a completely different world.

  4. What if neither of the super weapons augmented range; ie. were limited to 'Ignition: Close'? Would that fix the issues? I might try this with a friend.

  5. It fixes the issue in terms of reducing the power of the Onager but it also removes the whole point of having a ship that is a giant floating gun. A big points increase to the Test Bed would really help.

  6. As someone who has never faced an onager but wants to be as tournament ready as I can given the situation. Do you think a thermal shields Providence and 2 hardcell + 1 gozanti have a reasonable chance of facing an onager or two?

    I know none of the CIS ships can go speed 4, but is evades on all the smalls and a thermal shield on the 5S front arc of the Providence enough to give me a fighting chance when I'm forced to take first turn?

    1. One Onager, maybe. Two Onagers, probably not. It's pretty common for an Onager to get an accuracy result and use Intel Officer to go after another defense token. The Providence can handle one Onager but by the second it's going to have some serious trouble.

    2. I was afraid you were going to say that. Does it matter at all if I am able to beast-of-burden refresh the brace on the Providence so it can thermal-shield two shots per turn?

      Or should I start thinking of major changes to the list structure to keep it viable against competitive Onagers?

    3. Honestly I try to not get too deep into list-building as metas are different and circumstances can change. Generally the best plan against Onagers is to get out of their ignition shot arc as quickly as you can. Reusable Thermal shields can help but the Intel Officers are still going to be going after your redirects and wearing you down unless you have something that can go after them quickly. In the case of Adepticon anyways, that seems to have been Recusants, which do better at speed 3.

    4. Alright, thanks for the advice! It's just a bit tricky to gauge a threat without anyone to play test against as none of my local buds have onagers. But I'm trying real hard to improve my game and make lists that are less hammy and more rounded. I've got an awful habit of making cripplingly over-specialized lists and neglecting tactical flexibility. Lol