Monday, 13 November 2017

"Use your harpoons and tow cables!" - Introducing 'Triple-10s' the Rebel Alpha Strike

Guns For Hire is with us and along with the changes from the recent FAQ I'm not alone in noticing  the rise of the Scum alpha strike lists.  Former UK champion Jesper Hills took a break from terrorising us with Ion Brobots to trial Captain Nym and a couple of Deadeye Black Sun Aces,and Phil GC demonstrated the potency of his triple Kihraxz PS9 alpha strike in his recent blog.

It got me thinking a little bit about how I would respond to and counter such a squad, and that initially led me to think of the likes of Wes Janson and Poe Dameron's Black One title to try and throw off those target locks and dodge the dreaded Harpoon Missiles.  That initial first draft was looking pretty anaemic on offense though, and rapidly took on it's own alpha strike potential when I realised I could drop Poe to draft in Airen Cracken and Captain Nym alongside Wes Janson.



RAPID RESPONSE FORCE

Phil posted his blog on the Saturday, and by the Monday my alpha striking plans starting to form.

By Wednesday I'd realised that I could save a point by switching Wes Janson for Wedge Antilles and still throw my lasers around at PS10, and that this would make a big difference to Nym's loadout by letting him use Bomblet Generator.

Two days later, and on Friday the forum member Gilarius had joined in to say he'd played the same thing, and I should drop Extra Munitions from Nym for an Autoblaster Turret.  To my mind this was the missing piece of the jigsaw and this list started niggling away at me that it was probably quite good.  I had planned to play my Sabine Ghost alongside Miranda Doni but now this thing was trying to grab my attention.

My big worry was that if I wanted to play PS10 Rebel missiles... wasn't I better off just playing the PS11 Imperial missiles (Quickdraw, Vader, Inquisitor). I tried a bit of a head to head comparison:

  • Inquisitor vs Airen Cracken - Inquisitor is better
  • Darth Vader vs Wedge Antilles - Vader is better
  • Quickdraw vs Captain Nym - Nym is probably better, but he's got a lot of work to do to make up for his weaker wingmen.

Did I really believe that Nym offered enough to mean that the Rebels could win games the Imperials might lose?  I'd played Rebel Nym for UK Nationals and really enjoyed it.  I understood Bomblet Generator and I knew his ability could be really good.  I definitely wasn't sure he was good enough to make up for flying him alongside a T-65 and a Z-95... but I started to believe it might be interesting enough to find out.


Saturday evening I hastily repainted one of my Z-95 Headhunters to match the blue and yellow colour scheme of Captain Nym, and Sunday morning I rocked up at Element Games in Stockport for their latest Taking The Sith tournament, ready to play my first ever game with this squad!
'Triple-10s'
  • Airen Cracken - Veteran Instincts, Harpoon Missile, Guidance Chips (24)
  • Wedge Antilles - Adaptability, BB-8, Plasma Torpedoes, Guidance Chips (34)
  • Captain Nym - Veteran Instincts, Autoblaster Turret, Rey, Harpoon Missile, Bomblet Generator, Guidance Chips (42)



Round One: Adam Tudor - Rey & Lowhhrick

Rey and her furry compadre seem to be becoming quite a fixture in the post-FAQ meta and almost a third of the room was flying Falcons!  Adam had tweaked his build specifically to fend off a Harpoon Missile by adding C-3PO and the classic Evade title.  With 3PO, an Evade token and some help from Lowhhrick Rey only needed a bit of luck from her green dice to completely avoid a Harpoon shot.


It almost worked for Adam.  On the first Harpoon, at least.  The second Harpoon slammed him hard, though, then Wedge's torpedo followed up with another hammer blow.  Rey was wounded and died next turn to a range 1 volley of laser fire, then my ships dropped in behind Lowhhrick and quickly chased him down.

I bagged the win despite somehow managing to bump Wedge into his teammates three times in 5 turns!  A bit more carewas needed in flying the formation, it seemed.

100-0
Ordnance Used: 3 out of 3


Round Two: Glenn Coulthard - 4x Glitter/Harpoon Binayre Pirates & Contracted Scout (Tac Jammer, Rigged Cargo Chute)

This was a matchup I was very interested in.  My theory (boldly proclaimed off no actual play experience) was that Harpoon Missiles were so potent that firing a few of them early with high PS was better than having a lot of them at low PS.  Time to test the theory!

In actual fact I didn't fire a single torpedo or Missile all game.  The wildcard was the disruption his Scout could be as it tried to screen for his pirates so I set about destroying that with primary weapons to save my Harpoon splash damage for his Z-95 formation.  

By the time the Scout was dead it had all turned into a close-range furball, though, so Missiles weren't happening.  It turned into the first of many games where my raw primary weapon fire and dice mods would remove threats before they could fire and I just picked Glenns Zs off one by one.


100-34
Ordnance Used: 0 out of 3


Round Three: James Alexander - Rey & Miranda

From where we deployed I corralled James's ship to run across their back line and out the far corner, but then was waiting for them in the middle of the board when they finally emerged.

James had a big dilemma with Mirandas action, who had found herself out in front.  He could either focus with Recon Specialist and try to ride out my missiles strike or SLAM forward and hope to bump something.  He picked the SLAM but unfortunately it just left Miranda at range 1 of all my ships with no tokens and she melted in one round.

That was about the last thing James did wrong, though, and he really worked me with his excellent Rey piloting.  Wedge died and Airen lived only by a roll of double natural Evades!  

Fortunately Captain Nym kept chipping away with both main guns and turret, kept leaving bombs where Rey couldn't avoid them, and I finally sealed the win that had seemed like it should have been much more comfortable.

100-34
Ordnance Used: 1 out of 3

Poor Wedge had a bad day!

Round Four: Dean Richards - Dash & Miranda

I want to focus on two turns of this game because they highlight just how much this squad has tricks to play, and how much it's not just going all-in on landing the big alpha strike to win.

At first engagement Airen and Wedge found themselves just in range 3 of Dash but Nym was a hair's width out of range.  He had Countermeasures on Dash but I was able to sidestep that by taking Focus with Airen and Wedge, then giving Wedge his target lock in the combat phase thanks to the action Airen gave him.  Dash lost 4 shields, taking 2 shields off Wedge in return.

The next turn I looked at Dash's options - if he turned back away from me I could follow and hunt him down so I expected him to 3 bank and barrel roll, trying to get past on the flank and move behind me.  I dialled a 1 straight for Airen to keep his options open, a 1 bank on Wedge that I could flexibly use with BB8 to pressure either direction, and a 2 straight with Nym that I could barrel roll either way to track whichever side he went.

Dash did neither!  Instead he threw a 4 forward and barrel rolled to half a ship's base length in front of my firing line, looking to bump both Wedge and Nym.


It would have been a great play but I had shenanigans.  Airen's 1 forward gave him a range 1 shot at the back of Dash's base, Wedge used BB8 to bump into the back of Nym not into Dash, then Nym bumped Dash.  When Airen fired he passed an action to Nym, who barrel rolled off Dash.  Instead of bumping two ships the poor YT-2400 took range 1 shots from my whole team and exploded!


As her teammate vanished Miranda couldn't turn round and run away fast enough and Nym tagged her with a lethal Harpoon shot soon after.

100-0
Ordnance Used: 2 out of 3

 INTERMISSION
I keep coming back to that match because it shows just how much value there is in Airen Cracken's ability.  That combat phase action nullified Dash's Countermeasures one turn then unbumped Captain Nym the next. 
Little Airen Cracken probably added 5-6 damage to Dash with his seemingly-innocuous pilot ability!
BTW, do you know who Airen Cracken is?  I looked him up - he's only a bleedin' General!  
Although this is from the time of the Battle of Endor when they were clearly throwing around General titles for free in a box of cereal.  So anyway it turns out that General Cracken was the dude sitting behind General Calrissian in the Falcon's cockpit (which General Calrissian had borrowed from General Solo) as the fleet jumps to hyperspace. 
Cracken's not in the cockpit later in the actual battle because there's deleted footage of him and Lieutenant Blount running to man the Falcon's turrets. 
He's even got his own LEGO minifigure!
So now you know.  Let's get back to the action...

Round Five: Dan Slobodanian - Ketsu & Asajj

Dan and I were the only unbeaten 4-0 players and as such our place in the Top-4 cut was all but guaranteed.
Me: "I think I can just joust you"

Dan: "Everyone who tries to joust me just dies"

Me: "..."

Dan: "They die really quickly"

Me: "I really think I can joust you"

Dan: "Ok.  Either way it'll be a quick game!"

*** ten minutes later ****

Me: "I shouldn't have jousted you"

Ketsu bounced Wedge onto a rock and he died without hurling a single red dice.  In return I'd started to put the hurting on Ketsu, though, and it turned out that in hurling himself forwards to close range with Ketsu and avoid my missiles he he given his Shadowcasters little choice but to carry on around the corner right into Nym's bombs.  I knew that was what he had to do too, and Airen and Nym dropped in right behind.

Some hot red dice removed Ketsu on the next turn and dug me out of the hole I'd jumped into with my decision to joust, then Nym just sat behind Asajj and chipped away.  Dan had the classic Asajj problem of having to pick his arc while I could barrel roll into either one, then the sheer speed of the Shadowcaster meant he inevitably had to accelerate away to Harpoon Missile range and that ultimately ended the game.

100-58
Ordnance Used: 2 out of 3


Semi-Final: Mike Guina - Intensity Poe, Snap Shot Nien Nunb, M9-G8 Jess

The number of X-Wings on the table was making me very uncomfortable and it didn't look very much like an X-Wing game at all as there wasn't a single Jumpmaster in the top 4 cut!

I felt a bit sorry for Mike as this match was probably the most straight-forward of the day and my higher PS firepower just ripped his ships apart.  On the first round of firing Poe took a Harpoon Missile from Airen and a range 1 volley from Wedge and died, then on the next turn my ships all rounded on Nien Nunb and he exploded as Wedge bagged yet another kill.

And as for Jess... poor, poor Jess.  She survived for one more turn with a single hull remaining before finding herself with all three of my ships pointing at her, Nym's harpoon locked and loaded, and to make matters worse she was in range 1 of two of my bomblets when they detonated!  

The first bomblet did the job.  

100-0
Ordnance Used: 1 out of 3


Final: Dan Slobodanian - Ketsu & Assaj

I looked at Dan.  Dan looked at me.  We both looked at the clock.

"Split the prizes and go home?"

"Fine by me!"

With nobody else affected by the result we final salvoed for the official champion's title (my 8 red dice beat his 6 red dice) and then we both headed off into the night.  

I'd won our meeting in the Swiss but I'm not sure either of us knew what would happen in a rematch.  I was the only person who had beaten Dan that dayand I'm sure Dan would have fancied his chances if my red dice hadn't run as hot as they did in the Swiss.  But on the other hand I'd now learned not to mindlessly joust him heads-up so wouldn't just throw Wedge away this time.

Who would have won the rematch?  Who knows.  Maybe we'll save it for another time.


BOOM!

I don't think I've ever had anything quite like the experience I just had in playing this list for the day.  Bear in mind that I started out having never played this squad before and I managed to go unbeaten with it from a completely standing start.  Every round I was just falling more and more in love with the list, from self-bumping my formation all over the place against Adam at the start of the day to the clinical dismantling of Mike's X-Wings in my final game.

I thought it was going to be a one-dimensional alpha strike list with a bit of Captain Nym goodness tacked on, but I learned that it was so much more.  After beating Glenn and James with barely firing a missile I had learned that the list wasn't reliant on using the missiles as a crutch but it could dogfight and win games without them.  Then the next game when Airen Cracken used his tricks to avoid Dash's defenses and wipe the dreaded YT-2400 out I was convinced that I was playing something that was actually very good indeed.

I punted the engagement on purpose against Dan in the fifth round, throwing Wedge away. And won anwyay.  And then the way that the squad just dissected the X-Wings 100-0 in my semi-final... 

It's not just an alpha strike.  In fact the only round where I really got to deliver a classic multi-ordnance alpha strike was my first game against Rey.  The threat was always there, and responding to that threat always meant the opponent leaving himselves vulnerable in other ways, but it was a real eye-opener to me just how dogged and versatile this squad proved, and I won games in a variety of different ways.  

Over the time I've been playing I'd like to think I've developed a bit of a nose for when something is 'competitive enough to have fun playing it' or 'competitive enough to be seriously good'. 

I think this squad is good.  I think this squad is very good.  


I opened up with that comparison to PS11 Imperial alpha strike lists are trying to work out if this would be able to win games that would lose.  I'm now sure that the answer is an unequivocal 'yes!'...
  • Inquisitor vs Airen Cracken - Inquisitor is better but it's closer than I thought
  • Darth Vader vs Wedge Antilles - BB-8 Wedge is bettet
  • Quickdraw vs Captain Nym - Nym is definitely better, and it's not even particularly close
That said, I'm pretty sure that if this ever did run into PS11 Imperials it would be a very tough match!  The Rebels hold the advantage against the wider field, but they'll have a tough time keeping Airen & Wedge on the table if the Imperials are firing their missiles first.

One thing I want to make clear, by the way.  I can't claim this squad as my own because although I arrived at the design myself there''s clearly a bunch of players who had already been there or thereabouts long before I ever started thinking of it (as I said up the top, it was Gilarius' existing experience with the squad that convinced me to give it a try).  I just have the advantage of having a blog and a big mouth to get the word out about it's awesomeness.

Z-95s and X-Wings that aren't Biggs.  Who knew???

Well, a few people already knew, clearly.  Now go out there and pew pew!


Monday, 6 November 2017

"Didn't we just leave this party?" - Is There Life After Nerf?

In an oddly perverse way the nerfs to several major cards in FAQ 4.40 have actually led to me using those cards a lot more since the FAQ came out.  I guess I must just like batting for the underdog team, or be a sucker for punishment or something.  Anyway, because so many people are bemoaning the loss of their favourite ships or upgrades or squads I wanted to take a minute to share some of the squads I've been pootling around with.


I'm sure that in most cases (maybe not for "Genius") there is life after nerf!


Guritanni

The Punishing One expansion pack took a double-whammy of a nerf in the recent FAQ, with both Attani Mindlink and the Jumpmaster 5000 itself catching a swing of the nerf bat.  When I came to update my scum buying guide I was still quite positive about both the ship and the Mindlink, though, and this squad is a good example of why that is...


When Attani Mindlink got reduced to only being on two ships in the your squad it took a big hit in efficiency - just one 'bonus' Focus token instead of two.  However there's still some good reasons to take Mindlink, I think.
  • When you can get the Focus token without taking an action (eg. Guri or Palob)
  • When you want a ship to have two Focus tokens (one from Mindlink, one from a Focus action)
  • When you know you have a ship that wants to do other actions than just Focus
  • When you want a ship to be resistant to being bumped

Those are advantages that are still quite unique to Mindlink, although you also need to keep on eye on the ships you're Mindlinking because if one of them is a weak link it could be destroyed quickly and you lose the benefit of the link. In this squad I'm putting almost all of those benefits in one place when I pair Guri with the Contracted Scout.

Guri can get me a focus without taking an action.  Guri would also like to have two Focus tokens as she lives on her green dice.  Both Guri and the Scout have other actions they'd like to do - with Mindlink, her ability and Fire Control System it means Guri is free to maximise the benefit of the new StarViper MkII barrel rolls, and the Contracted Scout wants to be dropping his Proximity Mines or barrel-rolling to block opponents.  And finally Guri is already resistant to being bumped thanks to her ability, but Mindlink doubles down on that and helps protect the Scout too!

As well as Attani Mindlink the squad also showcases that the Jumpmaster 5000 has a life away from torpedoes and astromechs.  I'm using the unique white s-loop of the Scout to threaten large areas of the table with Proximity Mines, looking for bumps on enemy ships, and providing a solid body and turret for low cost.

Jumpmasters and Attani Mindlink both took serious nerfs, but they're both still good enough to deserve time on the table!


Paratanni Rides Again

Sideways to the above squad, there was a brief discussion on the FFG forums about whether a classic Paratanni squad could survives the nerfs too!  At first glance this seems very ambitious as Paratanni was really the high point for showcasing the outrageous benefits of Mindlinking three ships, so how could it work with only two Mindlinks?


And yet when you think about it there's definitely reasons to think that it could.  The Jumpmaster in Paratanni always ran lean so losing the Torpedo and Astromech slots doesn't really hurt it, and both Fenn Rau and Asajj Ventress are in ships with great green maneuevers on their dial that can easily switch to Push The Limit.  The only real question is who you leave out of the Mindlink because there's pros/cons for all of them.
  • Fenn Rau works perfectly well with Push The Limit in Dengar squads so that's a proven Good Thing.  But on the other hand he really likes having two Focus tokens, and gets very vulnerable when bumped so Mindlink helps there.
  • Asajj Ventress has run with Push The Limit in a lot of other squads as well, and can use her extra actions flexibly for Evades, or Target Locks or to move her arc.  But on the other hand restricting her to green moves does make her quite a bit more predictable, the flexibility of doing white moves and keeping action economy is good.
  • The cheap Jumpmaster was always the little token stacker for the team, moving early in the activation phase its got the least problem with being bumped and losing their action.  But on the other hand it's doing the least good with that Focus token of all the ships.

There's probably not a wrong answer and within a ten minute window we managed to talk ourselves in and out of each one.  We ended up in the position of adding Manaroo back into the squad while Mindlinking Fenn & Asajj to each other.  


The advantage of Manaroo is that that she can use her pilot ability to kick-start the Mindlink even if she's not Mindlinked herself, so in the worst-case scenario or both your other ships being unable to Focus then Manaroo might be able to ride to the rescue of her teammates anyway!

It's definitely not as powerful as the original Paratanni - the reason it's such a hard choice who to leave out of the Mindlink is because the correct answer is 'all three, thanks!' - but it still seems playable, and once again demonstrates that you can make the nerfed ships work if you really want to.


Experimental SLAMterface

You may remember my recent efforts to jump onto playing fat turrets and bombs, which ultimately led me to playing a Lothal Rebel with Sabine Wren on board at Nationals.  

I've continued to really enjoy flying this ship and have just been searching for the best wingman to pair Sabine with.  At nationals I flew Captain Nym, but flew him very badly and got badly burned so I've been a bit reluctant to return to Nym.  I went out and bought a second VCX-100 and paired Sabine with Kanan Jarrus for a while... it worked pretty well and I won more games than I lost, but I really felt like two VCX-100 just limited my maneuvering a bit too much.

The nerf to Advanced SLAM came just at the point that I was about to give Miranda Doni a try, but undeterred I put on my best Experimental Interface face and decided to plough on regardless.


I've only played a couple of games but it immediately felt like Miranda was the perfect foil for the big VCX-100 (which I guess is why she was in the original Kel Special!).  

With C-3PO crew Miranda's late game threat is hugely potent and that gives my opponents a choice they've never had to make from my other wingmen options.  It's always been clear that you can batter the Sabine Ghost down quickly and it's just a question of how much she takes out while you do, but with Miranda as wingman it's now so much harder to win the lategame after you've had a bruising run-in with my Ghost.  But if my opponent decides to prioritise Miranda in the early game then Sabine can run wild and do a lot of damage.

So, how is Experimental Interface as a replacement for Advanced SLAM?  Well on early indication it's done fine.  When I spoke to people regularly playing Miranda they often fed back that they rarely used Advanced SLAM anyway because opponents didn't put themselves where you could SLAM-bomb them.  Experimental Interface may give me a stress to use it, but if it's having an effect on my opponent's positioning simply by sitting in my squad then the stress doesn't make a difference.


So far I've used Experimental Interface only twice, but both times it was well worth the stress, including one time that it won me the game.  The big question I need to answer is whether it's doing enough to justify taking it over a Missile and Guidance Chips or Long Range Scanners.  I'll be trying both versions out, though frustratingly it may mean having to lose C-3PO to fit the powerful Harpoon Missiles in, and it's also a very different way of flying Miranda to be looking for those Harpoon shots.  

C-3PO and Exp Interface, or Rey and Harpoon Missile?  Defense or Offense?  That's the choice I have to make.


"No Disintegrations"


The last squad I'm going to share has nothing whatsoever to do with nerfed cards, but I really like it's janky awesomeness, so just sit there and read about it anyway.  I can take very little credit for this - a friend passed it my way because he knows I like anything with Boba Fett in, and I just tweaked a couple of cards around to suit my playstyle a bit more.


The short form of this is kind of 'Ketsu/Bossk but different', but when you get under the skin this list is setting up an alpha strike that is much more brutal than anything Bossk could manage!  

Get your approach right and you can deal an incredible amount of damage.  What you're trying to tee up is Boba Fett unleashing his Cluster Missiles at Range 1, meaning he benefits from his reroll on the attack dice and also from a free Hit result thanks to Fearlessness... on both of his Cluster Missile attacks!  Mathing it out, your Range 1 strike with Boba deals an average of 7.8 hits.  7.8!

But why would your opponent ever give you that head-on joust at range 1 to use your missiles?  Well the obvious answer is 'they won't if they know what's good for them' but that's where Asajj Ventress and her Shadow Caster title come into it.  Running alongside Boba, Asajj's job is firstly to corral the opponent into Boba's arc, and then to give them a Tractor Beam token and barrel roll them into Range 1 of the dangerous Mandalorian (having taken an agility off them to boot!).  That ability to line up a killer one-two strike can deal massive damage.  My first opponent foolishly tried to joust Boba Fett with Rey only to take 12 damage and explode in a fireball!

Rey took 12 damage while Boba lost 1 shield.  The Blinded Pilot crit on Rey was especially cruel... oops!
Everything else in the list is really about giving you the action economy to both deliver that big alpha strike, and also to not just cripple over if it doesn't work out.  K4 Security Droid in particular lets you bump into the opponent and get a target lock, then have Asajj tractor beam the opponent off you for a big Cluster strike!  That you can deliver your strike when bumped, or by tractoring the opponent into range 1, really adds to just how potent the combo is and how often you'll make it happen.

It's a Firespray.  It doesn't turn very well.  You're probably going to have to k-turn more often than you want.  But when it works (and it's really not that hard to make it work) then your opponent is going to just melt away.  

Or should that be... they're going to be disintegrated?

Yes, I like that.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Buying Guides Updated for FAQ 4.40

Just a quick note to say that I've updated all my buying guides for the latest expansions and to include any changes based on the recent FAQ 4.40. 




The buying guides are by far my most viewed blogs, with even the Scum guide getting more than double the traffic of my biggest non-guide blog.  They're entirely aimed at helping out new players who aren't sure where to start in a faction or what to buy next, with some no-nonsense recommendations on which expansions are good or bad (and why).


If that sounds like the sort of thing you're interested it, or that somebody you know might be needing, then you might want to check them out!  

As well as the expansion-by-expansion reviews I've added a new summary guide this time for which are the best value expansions...






I hope you find them useful, and I'll continue to try and keep on top of them when new expansions come out or there are major changes to the game (like FAQ/errata).

Thursday, 26 October 2017

"It's True. All Of It." - FAQ 4.40



The new and long-rumoured FAQ is here (I've been holding off updating my Scum Buying Guide since June, because I was sure it was imminent at any point).  You can read the full FAQ here..


In among the usual batch of rules clarifications there are five major pieces of errata that seek to rein in some of the most dominant pilots and squads in the metagame.  So let's have a look at what those are and how they might impact things going forward.


Bombs

Advanced SLAM


The major impact of this nerf is that you can't use your post-SLAM action to drop a bomb, and that hits K-Wings pretty hard.  Warden Squadron lists had gone anyway but this means they won't be back, but Miranda has been a major part of the metagame all year.  Missile-toting Miranda is fine.  Bomblet Generator Miranda is fine.  Clusters/Conners Miranda may be able to work with Experimental Interface to still bomb post-SLAM at the cost of a stress token.

Firstly, Miranda doesn't like to be stressed - her dial doesn't have much green on it and she's a bit of a sitting duck while she destressrs.

Secondly, though, I have to believe that the benefits of the perfect Cluster Bomb run are worth that stress token.  For me the single biggest question after this FAQ is how much it actually takes Miranda's precision bombing out of the game.  I think she can ride it out with a loadout like this...
  • Miranda Doni - Twin Laser Turret, Cluster Mines, Extra Munitions, Bomblet Generator, Sabine Wren, Experimental Interface (49pts)

Still a TLT, still regen, still bomblet Generator, still Sabine damage, still Cluster Mines and even still Cluster Mines after a SLAM if you need to.  Just the threat that you COULD slam-bomb is something the enemy has to deal with.

Plenty of other people seem to think that Miranda is dead, so maybe I'm wrong.  We'll see, though, and it seems to me like she retains 90% of her existing functionality.  Historically several strong lists and pilots have found ways to shake off a lot of nerfs that don't utterly nail them.


Genius

Speaking of nerfs that utterly nail them... wowsers.  The Genius nerf comes in two parts: you can't bomb token if you bumped, and you have to discard the bomb upgrade to do so.  


But you have to discard a bomb upgrade anyway, right?  What's the big deal?

You didn't have to discard Bomblet Generator to use Genius.  Now you do.  That's a huge crimp on the existing Nym builds, especially the Scum one which loved to just bash into opponents and drop bombs anyway then ignore the damage.  Captain Nym is resourceful and will return in new ways I'm sure, but the Genius/Bomblet combo was sickening and it's been very heavily nerfed.  Hurrah!


Scum

Attani Mindlink


Restricting Attani Mindlink to just two ships is a ~50% power reduction in most cases.  A three-ship list would get 2 bonus focus tokens, now it only gets 1 bonus focus token.  It's a big hit, even if it is flavourful (in the lore a Mindlink is a unique two-person bond).

We've come a long way from my first 'is Mindlink the next big thing?' blog to it getting a massive nerf and of all the nerfs on the list this is the one that makes me sad.  I'm so glad that the competitive applications of Mindlink are gone, because without a doubt it was too good, but I'm sad that it won't be available to help otherwise interesting but ineffective Scum builds get onto the table.  

I'll be fine with house-ruling this errata away in non-tournament games if my opponent wants to bring some janky Mindlink scum to the table.

Is Mindlink completely unplayable in competition now?  No, I don't think so and especially on ships like Guri and Palob who can get their focus token without using an action.  I can still see lists where you Mindlink two of the three ships, but you'll usually want those to be tough ships so the Mindlink benefit isn't broken as soon as your weakest ship goes down.

You can even almost still run Palobtanni with Palob and Asajj Mindlinked and PTL on Fenn (it's 101 pts with TLT on Palob).  I think we'll find that there is still a place for getting a free focus token for just a 1pt EPT, but no doubt we'll see it a lot less often.

Finally... if you're a scum player and down in the dumps about the Mindlink nerf then allow me try to shine a ray of sunshine on your day.  One thing Mindlink definitely did do was limit Scum squadbuilding options.  The benefits of Mindlink were so strong that it locked you into playing three Scum ships with EPT slots and decent dials, and that meant that a load of Scum pilots and ships were left sitting permanently on the shelf.  Because you were Mindlinking your whole squad there wasn't even room for them to sneak in as your third ship for a bit of variation, they just basically ceased to exist as options.  

Restricting Mindlink to two ships gives you back the license to play whatever you want as the third ship, and just in time for Thweek to arrive in Guns For Hire!


Jumpmasters

No Torpedoes.  No Astromechs.  Wow.


FFG have never ripped icons off the upgrade bar of a ship before, but never has it been more deserved.  After 18 months of squatting over the game in one form or other it's time to give people a break from Jumpmasters for a bit.

Are they basically dead in all forms?  Manaroo and Tel Trevura are done, I think.  Dengars pilot ability is still very good, though, and with Punishing one and the like Expertise and K4 Security Droid he can still deal damage.  I think Dengar really feels the loss of the astromech slot more than the other pilots do, as throughout his career Dengar has always leaned on his trusty droids to help him out, but it R5-P11, Unhinged Astromech, or Overlocked R4.  Rumour was that the Punishing One title would be errated to give him that astromech back and if that happens in the future then I think Dengar can be a real force, but until then he actually feels (whisper it) a bit overcosted.


Clearly NOT overcosted, though, is the Contracted Scout.  The Scout has lost the torpedo threat and it's lost the Attani Mindlink and R4 Agromech action economy, but you still undeniably get a lot for your 25pts when you buy a Contracted Scout.  With Intel Agent aboard it's still the premiere blocker in the game, and with Rigged Cargo Chute and Cad Bane it has the unique ability to 'sloop & poop' bombs and garbage out onto unsuspecting opponents.  Look out for crafty Scum players bringing a Contracted Scout as their third ship.


Biggs Darklighter

DING DONG, THE BIGGS IS DEAD, THE WICKED BIGGS OF THE REBS IS DEAD!


It felt like this could be coming.  When Lowhhrick arrived with Selflessness he felt to me like a Biggs replacement rather than a Biggs complement.  If I had to stick $100 down on a theory I'd suggest the playtesters had said you couldn't have Lowhhrick and Biggs in the game at the same time but the developers said 'we'll wait and see what happens'.  If that's the case then it's not really any coincidence that Paul Heaver jumped on the list at the first opportunity and made sure the Biggs/Lowhhrick combination was jammed down FFG's throat in a way they couldn't ignore.

Biggs goes from being a permanent shield over his team to having effectively a one-time 'Super-Selflessness' effect that protects his team for the duration of a combat phase.

There's three things to say about this change, I think.  Firstly this is a MASSIVE downgrade in what Biggs does.  Squads that previously spent the whole game trying to keep Biggs alive and hide behind his green dice (like Kanan Biggs) just don't function any more.  Biggs is going to take a massive hit in how much he gets played.

Secondly, he's still actually not that bad for 25pts.  A one-shot super-Selflessness is still a very good ability, especially in a squad that also has other damage redirection effects like Draw Their Fire, Lowhhrick, Rex, or actual Selflessness.  In short... I think a squad like Fair Ship Rebels is still actually pretty decent, and may even get slightly better in the metagame if the bombers are dropping out a bit.  Don't go ceremoniously shredding your Biggs Darklighter pilot cards just yet.

Thirdly, for the first time it really matters that Biggs is in a T-65 X-Wing.  His ability isn't going to carry him through the game s he just hugs his teammates close - he's going to have to sweat that dial and make his X-Wing deal some damage.  That also means this nerf might finally have opened up the chance for a proper X-Wing buff.  There's a missing SKU that we don't know about in the production run... we've had Force Awakens Han and Chewie to refresh the Millenium Falcon, maybe a release of The Last Jedi version of Luke Skywalker will refresh the T-65?  It's a hope.  

A New Hope.


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

"So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause" - A first look at the Empire's new Gunboat

I've spent a long time resisting talking about previews and spoilers for upcoming expansions, just because I always fear that once you start down that path forever will it dominate your blog.  There's so much new content coming down the pipe that trying to blog about it all just winds up turning you into 'the new content review guy'.


The new Alpha Class Star-Wing expansion (hereafter referred to as 'the Gunboat') is going to be an exception because as the most hyped and long-awaited ship released since the Millenium Falcon in Wave 2, I know that a lot of eyes are on it.  It's come at an important time for the Empire as well, with Imperial fleets struggling in the current metagame.

So is the Gunboat the saviour of the Galactic Empire?


PILOTS 

There's something I want to show you right away about these pilots...


The way that the costs ramp up on these things is one of the steepest curves of any ship, certainly of anything the Imperials have been given recently.  At +8 cost on the base Nu Squadron Pilot, Major Vynder is one of the few pilots to be costed more than +6 on base and that puts him in illustrious territory with the likes of Darth Vader, Soontir Fel and The Inquisitor.  Even outside of the top Imperial pilots Vynder finds himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Fenn Rau, Dengar, and the PS9 Poe Dameron.

And Major Rhymer in his TIE Bomber, who has the dubious privilege of being the only pilot in the game to be costed at +10 on his base generic (if you ignore the unique case of the Outer Rim Smuggler).

I'm confident that Major Vynder's pilot ability is not on a par with the likes of Fenn Rau or Darth Vader's ability, and so I'm pretty sure Major Vynder is more like Major Rhymer and significantly overcosted.  You're paying a very heavy tax for the ability to SLAM at PS9 (with Veteran Instincts) and I think in most metagame environments that tax isn't going to be worth paying.  

I think Vynder's actually going to be a lot like Whisper's TIE Phantom, in that he's looking out for points in the fluctuating metagame when he's going to be the last person moving and thus able to leverage his SLAM into arc-dodging and extra damage.

It's a similar story as you go down the list: +6 pts on base price for Karsabi is the same you have to pay for Quickdraw, Captain Nym or Miranda Doni.  Is Karsabi's ability as good as theirs?  No, although the gap is maybe a bit closer.  The Rho Squadron pilot is at least priced in line with a lot of other 'Generic with an EPT' pilots, but then it's also worth pointing out that pretty much all of those type of pilots have been rotten.


What this pricing structure is telling us to do is to focus on the Nu Squadron Pilot.  Either it's the only one of the pilots costed appropriately and the others are overcosted, or (if you flip the argument the other way) the other pilots are costed appropriately and the Nu Squadron is undercosted at 8pts less than it's top pilot.  

Whichever version you like the sound of, it's the Nu Squadron that seems most immediately attractive to me.


MANEUVER DIAL 
I'm flat out very disappointed in the Gunboat's dial.  

I understood all along that the fact it had SLAM would be a limiting factor on how maneuverable it was, but I hoped that two years on from the K-Wing we might get something more adventurous.  I expected to see some powerful red moves on the dial, like a 3 K-Turn or Tallon Roll, or even a hard 1 turn (if the Upsilon Shuttle can do it, this can!).  

I wanted to see the developers playing with how red moves and SLAM interacted with each other, but no, we got it played very safe and just a small incremental improvement on the K-Wing.  Without the K-Wing's turret the Gunboat really needs ways of swinging its firing arc about and it's just missing the option to stress itself to get where it needs to be.

I think it's also possible that players are overvaluing the potential of being able to SLAM through 180 degrees and still fire.  In theory that's a bit like how a TIE Defender is able to pull a white k-turn and swing around it's guns, but in practice those SLAM turns throw your firing arc way off to the side and they do it in a very predictable way.  SLAM is going to be most valuable for rapid engage/disengage attacks and for enabling differing attack vectors for the opponent to worry about.  

Are you going to turn in tight to engage his front, or try to SLAM around the outside of an asteroid to hit him in the flank?

All told there's nothing wrong with the Gunboat's dial.  It's fine, I guess.  It's just... it's a bit boring.  Imperial players don't like boring dials.  The TIE Striker got to play around with s-loops on top of it's ailerons movement and it's fun, the Gunboat just gets the Wave 1 T-65 X-Wing dial.


TITLES & PLAYSTYLES

The Gunboat's style of play is probably going to be heavily influenced by the two titles available to it, a lot like how TIE Defenders are driven by either /x7 or /D titles.

The OS-1 loadout emphasises more missiles, and it also allows you to fire them after a SLAM action has given you a Weapons Disabled token.  How good is that?  Well, I think the answer is probably 'not as good as you'd immediately think'.
  • Firstly if we're prioritising the lower PS Nu Squadron Pilot then you're faced with the age-old problem of how to move into target lock range without the opponent then either moving either into range 1 or out of your arc.
  • Secondly the OS-1 restriction on only firing on things you have a target lock on rules out some of the better options you could equip to sidestep that problem of target locking the right target.  Unguided Rockets, Proton Rockets, Deadeye and even Targeting Synchroniser are all things that won't help you out.  You'll have to do it the hard way.
  • Thirdly OS-1 naturally creates an expensive ship as you have to buy the title, and then the missiles.  If you're not using the cheaper pilots (in order to avoid all the problems already noted) then you're doubling down on the problem that Major Vynder is already overcosted before you even start loading him up with missiles!  You can make a threatening Major Vynder at PS9, but you're paying a lot to do so.

  • Finally, although the OS-1 title lets you fire a missile after a SLAM you're struggling to actually mod those dice and make them all hits.  The SLAM was your action so you can't target lock, but if you had Long-Range Scanners you could target lock the turn before then SLAM in and fire, though you wouldn't have focus.  If you have Advanced SLAM then you could focus, but you'd need to have target locked the target already without the help of Long-Range Scanners, and the same is true of Guidance Chips.  It feels like you need two mod slots to really make OS-1 count, and without them you're paying through the nose for missiles that you can't even use to their potential.

I don't like the OS-1 title very much, but I do like the XG-1 title quite a bit more.  Like the OS-1 title it lets you fire after you've SLAMed, but this time it gives you cannon slots to equip.  The only big problem is you're limited to firing with cannons that cost 2pts or less, but I imagine that's because having a swarm of these things whizzing about with Ion Cannons would have been deeply unpleasant to play against.
  • XG-1 is cheaper than OS-1, and the cannons you can fire when you've SLAMed are cheaper than missiles.  The XG-1 title naturally keeps your cost down while the OS-1 title naturally pushes it up.
  • The XG-1 title doesn't require a target lock to fire, so all those problems of range and picking the right target that will still be in your arc, which OS-1 suffers from, go away.
  • The big downside for the XG-1 title is that it just doesn't deal very much damage!  Instead of smashing people down with missile strikes you're tickling them with a Flechette Cannon or annoying them with a Jamming Beam.  Given that the Gunboat only has 2 primary red dice it really needs some added firepower and if you're planning on SLAMing then the XG-1 title doesn't give you that.  

There is an interesting 'third way' for the Gunboat, which is to use XG-1 but not worry about the SLAM-firing trick and just equipping a more expensive cannon, like a Mangler or Heavy Laser Cannon.  This concept buffs the Gunboat's red dice output, and with the HLC attached it's shipping damage much like if it had missiles.  The downside with this version is that you're not really making much use of the Gunboat's 'unique selling points' of the Reload and SLAM action, but it's certainly an effective-looking option.


POSSIBLE GUNBOAT BUILDS

I'm going to leave you with an example build for each of the Gunboat pilots which each address how I'm trying to solve the ship's problems (and I think the ship really does have problems).

Nu Squadron Pilot is a really efficient little points package, but I think it's problems are that it only has two red dice and whether you fit missiles or cannons it struggles to really take advantage of it's two unique actions: Reload and SLAM.

Missiles or Cannons.  Missiles or Cannons.  Missiles or Cannons.  Which to choose?

  • Nu Squadron Pilot - Harpoon Missile, XG-1 Assault Configuration, Flechette Cannon, Long-Range Scanners (25pts)

To my mind this is the best of both worlds.  Bringing a Harpoon Missile with Long-Range Scanners gives your Gunboat the opportunity to deal damage while pairing with a Flechette Cannon and the XG-1 loadout gives the option to both control with stress and stay on target with SLAM while still firing.  And because you're not trying to OS-1 SLAM & fire your missile you'll always be launching it with a Focus token for the dice mods.  The combo of missiles and cannons means your opponent will always be trying to guess whether you're trying to disengage with SLAM to reload more missiles or SLAM around to harass them with the Flechette Cannon.  

At 25pts each you've got the option to bring a squad of four of these (or subtle variations on this loadout) and that sounds like quite a powerful squad.

The Rho Squadron Veteran doesn't really let you fit four into a squad but it's nicely priced for running three.  I think the Rho's low PS means it suffers from most of the same problems as the Nu Squadron when it comes to running OS-1, but it can be a good spot to explore the Heavy Laser Cannon build.
  • Rho Squadron Veteran - Crack Shot, XG-1 Assault Configuration, Heavy Laser Cannon, Linked Battery, Long-Range Scanners (32pts)


This build likely flies quite a lot like the HLC Brobots do, sweeping in and out with SLAM setting up long range Heavy Laser Cannon shots rather than trying to stay on top of the target turn after turn.  With 12 heavily-modified red dice a squad of three of these has got some hard-hitting jousting potential, although I think it will struggle against opponents who can successfully manage their range, especially if they can stop the Gunboats from properly disengaging to bring their big cannons back around for another pass.

The three extra points you pay for Lieutenant Karsabi really only gets you one thing, and that's the option to avoid the post-SLAM firing restrictions of either XG-1 or OS-1 by taking a stress instead.  So the first thing we can say is that we're taking Karsabi because we expect to SLAM a lot, and the second thing we can say is that we're taking Karsabi because we're going to use weapons that don't really work with XG-1 or OS-1.  If you're not fulfilling both those requirements then take a Rho Squadron Veteran instead and save 3pts.
  • Lieutenant Karsabi - A Score To Settle, XG-1 Assault Configuration, Ion Cannon, Linked Batteries, Long-Range Scanners (30pts)


My big issue in building for Karsabi is that his abilities kind of drives me into loading up expensive weaponry (either Cannons >2pts, or expensive missiles) and yet I'm paying a premium for him already, which is why I've tried here to keep the rest of his cost down and use him as a frustrating control ship.  You're paying just 30pts for a frustrating Ion Cannon carrier who 'man marks' a more valuable opposing player out of the game.  You could use Mangler cannon or Heavy Laser Cannon for more damage, add Advanced SLAM for more dice mods, but the costs start to spiral quite rapidly.  A cheeky Cruise Missile might even be a nice addition if you've got the points, just to give him some teeth.

Finally, Major Vynder.  As I explained at the top of this blog I think you're paying a high premium for Major Vynder being able to SLAM reposition at PS9, so it makes sense to have a build that will leverage that strength.
  • Major Vynder - Veteran Instincts, Harpoon Missile, Extra Munitions, OS-1 Ordnance Configuration, Advanced SLAM (37pts)


High PS means you can SLAM and target lock something and be confident it's there to fire at so it's really supporting you going the missile route, but it also means you'll need Advanced SLAM to be able to take that target lock action.  I've included Extra Munitions just so that Vynder can double-tap his missile strikes back-to-back without having to run away and Reload half the time.  

37pts is expensive, and in a metagame of PS10 pilots and turrets the value of a PS9 SLAM is uncertain, both offensively and defensively, but if you're looking for the type of build that really maximises what Vynder brings to the table then I think this is it.


SUMMARY

I wasn't one of the players who has been frothing at the mouth for the Gunboat to be added to the game, which means I'm hopefully able to avoid looking at it through rose-tinted spectacles.

My initial response was that it just wasn't good enough especially in a metagame dominated by high-PS bombs and turrets.  I don't think that's a particularly controversial statement to make because, to be honest, there's not many non-turreted ships that are good enough right now.

On further reflection I still think that most of the Gunboat builds have more weaknesses than strengths, but I have come to have a bit of respect for just how much you can cram onto a Nu Squadron Pilot for their cost.
  • Low-PS generic pilots aren't doing well right now.
  • Ships jousting with their primary firing arcs aren't doing well right now
  • Firing ordnance at low PS is awkward
  • Ships with just 2 primary red dice aren't doing well right now

But despite all those points against them maybe, just maybe, I can see them working.  That 25pt Nu Squadron Pilot build I made with the hybrid Harpoons & Flechettes... I actually wouldn't mind throwing four of those onto the table and seeing if they could go.  They're quick, they're pretty tough, and they throw stress tokens out to annoy aces.  The big question is whether they can reliably get their Harpoon Missiles off and actually kill things or just buzz around and annoy them.

I just wish the Gunboat had a more challenging maneuver dial, because I feel like even if they're good they're not ever going to be particularly exciting.   And that's a shame.