Wednesday, 7 October 2020

DO I WANT... a HMP Droid Gunship expansion pack?

I've already looked at the Xi Shuttle and LAAT Gunship from Wave 7 and now it's the turn of the HMP Gunship that's joining the Separatist arsenal.

It's not a ship that I know very well but that seems to be 100% because I haven't watched the Clone Wars cartoon series yet, and a lot of players have been looking forward to adding the iconic HMP to their squads.

But is the HMP any good?  Do you want to buy one?


PILOTS

When I looked at the Xi Shuttle and the LAAT Gunship expansions I started by trying to benchmark the basic cost of the chassis against some existing ships.  For the HMP gunship that approach is a bit less useful than it usually is because the ship is so unusual it doesn't have anything else that's a particularly great comparison.

Let's have a look at what it does compare to, but I don't want to spend too much time on it.

The HMP's 2/1/5/3 statline is identical to a Resistance Transport (32pts for a Logistics Division Pilot) and it's also very similar to the Y-Wing's 2/1/6/2 statline (30pts for a Gray Squadron Bomber or Crymorah Goon).  At 34pts for a basic Baktoid Drone the HMP Gunship is a little bit more than the obvious comparison ships, plus it's not like people were flying around with swarms of naked Logistic Pilots anyway so the HMP Gunship seems more expensive than stuff players already don't like.

However, the HMP Gunship has lots of built in advantages like a 180 degree firing arc and a ship ability in Networked Aim that's almost like bringing your own Fire Control System.  So we could take a basic Y-Wing and spend 2pts for a Dorsal Turret to get a 180 degree firing arc, and spend another 2pts on a Fire Control System (if we pretend there's a System slot on the Y-Wing) and you come out at the 34pts of the Baktoid Drone.

Hol up

So the basic 34pts kind of makes sense.  It feels like a lot but, similar to with the LAAT's expensive reroll ability, there's built-in advantages that you're having to pay for which justify it.

But you're never going to fly a HMP naked so it's all basically irrelevant.  You're pretty much guaranteed to add the Repulsorlift Stabilisers to every single HMP Gunship you play with and that's where the magic happens.  For +3pts the Repulsorlift Stabilisers add incredible value in changing how the HMP moves around the table and make the HMP Gunship a much harder ship to pursue and predict how it's going to move (there's more on this in the Upgrades section below).  But you're still only flinging 2 red dice, and the Separatists can buy a Vulture Droid for 20pts so you're almost certainly going to want to buff the HMP Gunships offense with some secondary weapons.

The Hyena Bomber set a standard for every pilot having different upgrade slots and while the HMP Gunship doesn't go to that extreme there is one pilot that is different to the others which is worth pulling out separately.  Most of the HMP pilots bring a Crew slot and a Device slot but the Geonosian Prototype eschews that slots in favour of two Cannon slots.  Now this might be a cynical exercise on FFG's part in justifying putting a cannon upgrade into the pack so players will have to buy it but it's also made the Geonosian Prototype probably the best of the HMP Gunship pilots.

A Geonosian Prototype (35pts) with those Repulsorlift Stabilisers and the new Synced Laser Cannons comes in at a smooth 44pts and now we can compare that to a different group of ships.

You're now in B-Wing with Fire Control System (44pts) territory but with the HMP Gunship being able strafe unpredictably and having a 180 degree firing arc (even if it's only 2 red dice outside of the main front arc it's more than a B-Wing gets).  Or alternatively you're in Auzituck Gunship (42pts) space with that 180 degree arc, but with the benefits of the Networked Aim and Repulsorlist movement to offset that the Auzituck is 3 red dice on all it's 180 degrees.  Neither of the comparisons are perfect - you don't get a 4th red dice at Range 1 with Synced Laser Cannons, but you are better at Range 3 if they don't get to roll an extra green dice - but I think you can see that the Geonosian Prototype sits pretty comfortably in that type of company even before you start to factor in the extra value of your unique strafing ability.  It's probably a good job that they're a ship you're only allowed 2 copies of because I can imagine a squad of 4 of these things would work really well - toss in some Shield Upgrades and bombs and you'd be good to go.

So I like the Geonosian Prototype a lot but that's because it gets a cannon.  None of the other HMP Gunships get a cannon slot so are they any good?  Well I think it immediately becomes more problematic because if you're using missiles instead of cannons then you're straying right into 'why I don't just play a Hyena Bomber and save 12pts' territory.  Networked Aim is less useful than the Hyena's and Vulture's Networked Calculations for borrowing in focus modification on weapons when you need a target lock to fire them.  The other HMP Gunships can use the new Multi-Missile Pods but currently they're way overcosted - compared to adding Synced Laser Cannons to a Geonosian Prototype you're paying more points to gain a lot less (no Range 3 attacks, draining two charges to roll 3 red dice in front arc).

Most of the HMP Gunship pilots don't actually make for good gunships, unfortunately.  That goes for the Baktoid Drone, the Separatist Predator, the Onderon Oppressor, DGS-047 and DGS-286 - there's a fundamental problem because you're squeezed between the high cost of Multi-Missile Pods and the sheer bargain efficiency the Hyena Bomber for doing much of the same thing if you're bringing missiles instead.  Thinking longer term I'd say the Baktoid Drone and DGS-047 are a nice and cheap basic chassis so down the line I think they'll do fine at some point.  I like the Onderon Oppressor's ability as it really opens up WAY more lateral movement and it could well be worth it, though +6pts on a Baktoid Drone seems a massive hike.  DGS-286 is +8pts on the Baktoid Drone and I can't see it justifying that expense when it's basically a reverse of DFS-311 which only costs a few points more than a basic Vulture.

But if the HMP Gunship isn't actually a great gunship I think it does have another role it CAN play very well.  The Repulsorlifts are good at keeping it out of trouble in a fight and it has a Tactical Relay slot and a Crew slot, so  I think the cheaper Gunship pilots make a good platform for a support ship and it's probably one of the cheapest ways to get a Tactical Relay onto the table (and keep it there) or be a shuttle for somebody like Count Dooku, Chancellor Palpatine or the new crew options coming in Jango Fett's Firespray.


UPGRADES

I touched briefly on how important I think Repulsorlift Stabilisers are for the HMP Gunship but didn't really go into much detail for why that is, so let's visit it again.  I've been on a bit of a journey in understanding why this upgrade is so good: at first I thought it was 'yeah it's ok I guess?' but then as I thought about it more I realised that actually banked strafing with the Repulsorlift wasn't actually very much different to using a turreted ship with the gun locked to the side - you orbit around the target facing your gun inwards with a HMP Gunship just like you might do with a Y-Wing's turret, for instance.  Repulsorlifts seemed like a bit of a gimmicky way of just operating like a turreted ship to keep people on target.

Then I realised what I was missing.  When a Y-Wing has it's turret to the side and wants to remain engaged it has to fly forwards and the range of options where it's going to end up is pretty small - a straight, a turn, a bank... they all put you in more or less the same place and the enemy can track towards you reliably.

The benefit of Repulsorlift Stabilisers is the much higher range of end positions you could be in.  Yes you could strafe to the right like a Y-Wing would bank but you can ALSO strafe to left, as though the Y-Wing had suddenly slammed itself into reverse.  And you can also still just move forwards (up to a 5 straight!) which could easily create bumps or see you scream clear of trouble.

It's much more challenging for enemy ships to predict where you are going to be while still staying engaged so the value of Repulsorlift Stabilisers is mostly defensive, I think - it makes the HMP Gunship a harder target to pin down and kill than something like a Y-Wing or B-Wing would be that has to keep moving forwards.

I've mentioned Synced Laser Cannons already but even with the requirement of two cannon slots there are a couple of other ships which can take it: B-Wings and IG-2000 Aggressors.  Both those ships have potential to 'double tap' and attack twice and the Synced Laser Cannons are the choice that is most like just firing your main gun again so it's an obvious choice.  I don't personally think the double-tapping stuff is really good right now but a lot of players like it and if you're one of those guys then you probably want to get your hands on these guns.

By crikey here's something that will make a lot of non-CIS players look at buying the HMP Gunship expansion, though: Concussion Bombs.  More charges than Proton Bombs, cheaper than Proton Bombs, deal crits through Shields unlike Proton Bombs... they're a serious step up for the dedicated bomb player and I think you'll see a lot of them about.  Concussion Bombs nay even be enough to hurl some new/old archetypes to the fore, like quad K-Wings, Y-Wing spam, TIE Strikers with bombs etc.  The restriction of having to drop them every turn is really flavourful and you can get around the biggest problems with it using Delayed Fuses.  All in all I really like Concussion Bombs and (currently) they're only in the HMP Gunship expansion.

We've touched on Multi-Missile Pods a little already so I won't linger: 8pts is too much for a R1-2 restricted weapon that burns through charges like they're going out of fashion.  At some point they'll get cheaper and be good, but I can't see them making much impact yet and outside of the obvious Droid carriers the Calculate/Target Lock restriction is really limiting.

The new Droid tactical relay is Kalani and it's... ok I guess?  My main problem with it is the competition from DRK-1 Probe Droids as another way of getting your Target Locks set up which doesn't depend on your opponents landing in your bullseye arcs.  This is where I get really hazy though as I'm not a natural Droid player and I'm probably not the best at evaluating a relay's usefulness.  One thing I'm sure about is that if you're not a Separatists player already Kalani isn't an incentive to buy this expansion!


CONCLUSION

At the start of the article I asked two questions: is the HMP Gunship good?  Do you want to buy one?

I think the HMP Gunship is actually pretty good despite it's steep starting cost but let's cut the chase: the HMP Gunships biggest problem is that the existing Droid options are so great that even if it's good the HMP struggles to compete and that colours a lot of the discussion around it.  If you're focused on winning games with Droids in the near future then the HMP Gunship is probably not good enough to shift Hyenas and Vultures (or Nantex) out of your squad.  

In isolation, though, I think the Geonosian Prototype build I talked about is a really solid and interesting pilot that you'll have a lot of fun playing around with and it may well fit very nicely with Tri-Fighters or Jango Fett once they land in the next month or two.  The dependency on cannons for the ship hurts all the other pilots but I can see them finding an unexpected home as a lone support ship for some powerful crew or tactical relays.

Do you want to buy this expansion pack?  If you're already a Droid player I think that answer depends on how experimental you want to be vs just trying to win at all costs.  Personally I've been really happy to grab two HMP Gunships to run the pair of Geonosian Prototypes and explore how they work.  I don't think they're top tier right now and I'd probably drop them for something else if a big tournament came around (which in Covid-19 times it never will) but they're good enough to justify playing and I'm looking forward to pairing them with dodgy Tri-Fighters and Jango Fett.  

If you're NOT a Droid player then I'd also say you could want this expansion for the Concussion Bombs, if you're that way inclined, and if that's true then the HMP Gunship could well be your foot in the door of starting a whole new faction.  Separatists squads are often quite 'swarmy' and that puts a lot of players off both for money reasons and simply having so many ships on the table at once.  The HMP Gunship, along with Tri-Fighter and Jango's Firespray, could mark the point where players start to make a more 'normal' squad in the faction and I think players who like B-Wings in particular could find themselves a big fan of the Geonosian Prototype's playstyle.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

DO I WANT... a LAAT/i Gunship expansion pack?

In the last blog I looked at whether the Xi Shuttle expansion pack made for an attractive purchase, mainly for First Order players but also for players of other factions who might be looking for some of the new neutral upgrade cards.  Today it's the turn of the fat boi LAAT/i Gunship.


For fans of the prequel trilogy of movies and the Clone Wars cartoon series the Low Altitude Assault Transport (or LAAT to it's friends) is an iconic ship and one that a lot of players have been looking forward to adding to their collection ever since the Republic faction was announced last year.  Let's find out if those guys are going to be pleased or disappointed.

Is the LAAT good?  Do you want to buy one?


PILOTS

There are four different pilots for the LAAT Gunship and your entry level pilot is the generic 212th Battalion Pilot for a pretty hefty 51pts.  That makes the LAAT the most expensive basic ship in the Republic fleet but is there another similar ship in the game that we can benchmark that cost against to decide if we think it's too much?

Warden Squadron Pilot - 2/1/6/3 - 38pts 

The basic K-Wing has a pretty similar stat profile to the LAAT with just one less health point over all, and not only that it has the same 'bowtie' turret arc and is also on a medium base.  It makes the Warden Squadron Pilot the best comparison ship for the LAAT but it's 13pts cheaper!  Well unlike the K-Wing the LAAT comes with a powerful ship ability that allows friendly ships to reroll their attack dice and along with the extra health point (only 3pts for Hull Upgrade on a 1 agility ship) that reroll ability is  the main thing that you're paying for with those extra 13pts over a Warden Squadron Pilot.

Is that good, though?  I think there's two questions to ask there: if we say the hull point is 3pts then is +10pts about right for that ability?  And do you actually want this ability?

  1. We can compare the 13pts against other similar rerolls effects.  The closest neighbour is Sinker's ARC-170 which is even in the same faction, and Sinker is 12pts more than a basic ARC pilot.  Drea Renthal is 19pts more than a basic scum Y-Wing for a reroll ability, Howlrunner is whopping 24pts more than an Academy TIE and Captain Jonus is 18pts more than a basic TIE Bomber.  Those 13pts we're paying for on the LAAT don't seem too bad compared to those guys, although it's worth noting that the LAAT's ability is charge based while the others work for any number of attacking ships.  Which leads us on to...

  2. Do I want the LAAT's reroll ability?  The fact that the LAAT's ability is so similar to Sinker in the ARC-170 really helps showcase that the two ships have different purposes.  Sinker rerolls 1 dice for any number of attackers while the LAAT rerolls 2 dice but you're limited by the number of charges you have on the LAAT.  This means Sinker is perfect for supporting large numbers of ships with 2 red dice while the LAAT is an expert at supporting a smaller number of ships (as it's charge based) with bigger guns (imore dice = more chance you need to reroll multiple dice).

So, is 51pts good value for the 212th Battalion Pilot?  Yes, the +13pts over a Warden Squadron Pilot is reasonable for a health and reroll ability IF you're playing the right type of squad to really showcase the LAAT's rerolls.  If you want a more classic 'force multiplier' effect on lots of attacks you probably want Sinker instead as the two have very similar costs.

But what the baked-in cost of those rerolls does mean is that the LAAT can't just be a cheap support ship or crew carrier because its always got that unavoidable cost of the rerolls thrown on top.  It's great that the LAAT has lots of slots for crew and gunner upgrades but when it starts at 51pts you need to be extremely careful about how much extra cost you load onto a ship that ultimately only has 1 green dice if the opponent decides they want to kill it.

So far I've talked a lot about the generic 212th Battalion Pilot but there are also three named Clone pilots for the LAAT which bring extra abilities to play.  These pilots are only a few points more than the generic LAAT so you don't need much from their abilities to make them worth bringing, but do they add much?

Hound is almost certainly the weakest of the named pilots.  His ability allows you to pull Deplete and Strain off friendly ships but the Republic isn't a faction that has a lot of effects that will Strain or Deplete your ships.  I think Hound likely sits on a shelf until a point where the metagame sees your opponents bringing lots of Strain effects, then comes in as a spoiler against that strategy.

Warthog is probably the most obviously good upgrade on the 212th Battalion Pilot and for just +3pts you gain some protection against being 'Initiative killed' - that is, being destroyed in the engagement step before you get to fire.  If Warthog's ability means you get even one good extra shot off in a game it could easily be worth those +3pts so if you're bringing a lot of low Initiative pilots you should be thinking seriously about taking the upgrade to Warthog.

I think Hawk is the trickiest LAAT pilot to get value out of but also probably the pilot that can add the most value if you work out how to unlock it.  Repositions are usually a high value ability and being able to move into a new position ahead of for your next turn can be used to upset opponents plans - maybe barrel roll onto the spot where your opponent wanted to K-Turn into, or boost forward so you don't get blocked yourself, even just use it to turn that arc around another 90 degress.  Strain is a small price to pay for that, especially when you can follow it with a blue maneuver immediately.  The Range 1 restriction is a problem but it's worth noting that Hawk can always use it on himself even if no friendly ships are nearby (and that means he's the only LAAT who can reposition at all).  Hawk's going to take a while for players to work out but there's massive potential in this ability - just ask Guri players how good Virago can be and Virago stresses you instead of just a strain!


UPGRADES

As well as the LAAT itself the expansion pack comes with LOADS of brand new upgrade cards that may be a good reason to buy it.  So let's look at those guys too...

Hey everyone, it's the moment we've all been waiting for... freaking YODA is in the game now!  

Oh, he's a bit rubbish?  Really?  Oh dear.  

This implementation of one of the biggest badass iconic Star Wars character seems to have been a bit bungled in my opintion.  Yoda is the first crew we've seen to add 2 Force points to a ship, which is great, but everything else about him is underwhelming.  He brings a Purple coordinate action which is pretty mediocre (we've had that for over a year on Chancellor Palpatine and it's not really done much).  Once the ETA Actis Interceptor arrives he'll be a bit more useful helping with their purple maneuvers but that's not great either - you're effectively moving force points around to where there's greatest need and that's quite similar to Emperor Palpatine, but Yoda is both more expensive than Palpatine and moving force in anticipation of need is worse than Palp's ability to use it from afar.  I think Yoda needs to drop a few points in price to really make sense, but even then he's going to be disappointingly dull.

It kind of cements how naff Yoda's design is to see Aayla Secura get a similar purple Coordinate action but as a linked action after a Focus.  The trouble with a purple Coordinate is that you're effectively losing action economy (it costs you your action and a Force point to add +1 action to another ship, so you're down a Force point) so making it a linked action really helps make it a playable option.  All the card text about bullseye arcs can be mostly ignored, I think, and that linked Focus-Coordinate is what Aayla is for.  I still have a fundamental issue with whether the Republic faction actually needs extra coordinate action support vs other forms of action economy, but at least Aayla is trying to be helpful unlike Yoda.


Kit Fisto and Plo Koon are two Jedi masters with very similar profiles - both have similar cost for one Force point, with similar purple defensive abilities (Plo Reinforces, Kit Evades) and similarly wordy but mostly rubbish character abilities.  They're both cheap enough to be worth playing for the Force point alone if you can spare the points, Plo Koon is better at defending the ship he's on and making opponents fire at something else, Kit Fisto is better at protecting nearby ships and making people fire at the ship he's on... that's the main difference.  Unfortunately they also both share the same basic problem - why would you pay so much for a Jedi when you could buy two great Clone crew cards for the same cost?

Wolfpack is the card you should probably be playing instead of a Jedi and it's my pick for best card in Wave 7 (Automated Target Priority is good but it's no Wolfpack).  Strain tokens are a small price to pay for getting target locks to fuel your revenge attacks with, and the sheer amount of action economy this card turns out can be phenomenal.  Wolfpack is Range 0-3 so covers most of your ships and there's no limit on the number of times you can do it per turn.  Why spend 16pts on Aayla Secura to get action economy when Wolfpack can offer more action economy for a quarter of the cost?  A lot of the time the answer is going to be: "I didn't, I played Wolfpack instead".  The one thing I'd caution is that Wolfpack definitely works best with Warthog on the table as Wolfpack really incentivises the enemy to focus down and kill a ship in one turn, especially if they kill it thanks to the Strain token you took and before you get to attack and benefit from that target lock. 

Ghost Company's points cost is baffling.  It has an identical ability text to the Rebel's Bistan gunner and also gives your ship a linked Rotate-Focus action... for 5pts while Bistan costs 10pts.  Pow.  Er.  Creep.  Ghost Company is a great upgrade and again shows how you can get much more bang for your upgrades buck by spending it on Clones than you can on Jedi.  On the plus side Ghost Company also combos really nicely with other Clone crew like Clone Commander Cody or "Fives", but on the downside I think playing Ghost Company means carefully balancing the threat levels in your squad.  The more you load your LAAT up to power Ghost Company the more likely you are to make it the enemy's first target... which means you're probably going to start taking Reinforce actions not Focus which then turns off Ghost Company's bonus attacks.  There's a balance to strike there.

"Fives" is like a walking, talking version of the Automated Target Priority upgrade that comes in the Xi Shuttle.  I like ATP a lot and I like "Fives" too, though not as much for two main reasons: firstly if you put it on an ARC-170 you're rolling 3 red dice not 2, so you're less likely to miss a shot, and secondly a focus token is better than a Calculate token but it's not 3x better but "Fives" costs 3x more than ATP.  I like "Fives" because he's pretty cheap to include and let his upside trigger now and then to get value but I totally have him down as a luxury upgrade and I think I'll wind up cutting him from squads quite often.

We've had three really good Clone crew cards in a row so now it's time for a bad one - Clone Captain Rex seems to be a really niche upgrade card.  He needs to sit on a support ship that's supporting some acey ships that are good at getting bullseye shots (like Jedi, for instance) but which also really benefit from free Focus actions and don't mind getting Strain (so... not like Jedi after all, then), oh and he needs to be firing at the target before his friends do in order to trigger his ability.  So ideally he wants to support ships with lower Initiative than him but who are good at getting bullseyes.  That's a Venn diagram with not much overlap in the middle and it leaves Rex in an awkward spot.

The new Suppressive Gunner is a neutral upgrade that any faction can take and it's actually pretty interesting.  With a built-in effect for a focus result on your attack it provides a 'hands free' benefit that allows you to spend your actions on something else and still make your attacks more painful and that's valuable.  Your opponent gets to choose what happens - damage or Deplete - so it's a small effect but it could be worth paying for.  Because the opponent is often likely to take a Deplete there's a couple of things to think about when looking to use Suppressive Gunner or not - it's best on a ship with high Initiative that can Deplete the enemy before they fire, and it's best against opponents with low ship counts as you're Depleting a greater % of their damage output each turn.  It's far from a slam dunk upgrade to put on every ship but I think it could find its spot in a few places, like Scum Han in his Millenium Falcon.

The new Multi-Missile Pods (MMP) come in both the LAAT and HMP Gunship expansion packs and it's basically an alternative to Barrage Rockets for most purposes.  The main upside is that you gain a 180 degree firing arc, but it's worth remembering that MMP are best with ships that can Calculate rather than Focus.  Most ships won't want MMP for that reason so it's not an obvious upgrade outside of using it on Droid ships, but it is a brand new upgrade card in this pack.

The last new upgrade is Deadeye Shot and like Multi-Missile Pods it's got a very similar rival upgrade already in the card pool: Marksmanship.

Pros vs Marksmanship: effect ignores green dice

Cons vs Marksmanship: requires opponent to already have a facedown damage card, requires you to have a hit result to spend,  Marksmanship could have been a damage AND a crit not a damage OR a crit.

I think MOST of the time Marksmanship is better.  Deadeye shot is good if you've only got 2 red dice and would struggle to deal damage past 3 green dice anyway, but in most normal situations I'd take Marksmanship instead.  And TBH most of the time I'd actually take half as many Crack Shots over either card.


CONCLUSION

So at the top of the article I asked two questions: is the LAAT Gunship good?  Do you want to buy one?

The LAAT is an expensive ship at 51pts but with that powerful reroll ability you get a lot of ship for your points investment and it can certainly be a powerful addition to your squad.  I think you need to be very aware of not loading too many points into upgrades on your LAAT though - there may be a host of slots that all look inviting to add Jedi and clones and missiles etc into but you have to be mindful of keeping the LAAT cheap enough that it kind of blends into the background - you're not far off paying Upsilon Shuttle points for this thing and First Order players can attest to just how fast they can go down when the opponent decides to make it happen!

Do you want to buy one?  Moreso than with the Xi Shuttle for First Order I can give the LAAT sa hearty thumbs up recommendation.  It supports a wider range of the common Republic ships than the Xi does, and it comes with a bunch of great clone crew and gunner upgrades that will buff your existing ARC and Y-Wing ships.  The Jedi may grab headlines and look flashy with all their force points, but I think it's the raw efficiency of the clones that you'll fall back on time and again.

Do you want to buy two?  Hell no.  They're too expensive in points to want to field two, there's diminishing returns on the reroll ability and, ironically for a bunch of clones, all the best upgrade crew are unique.  Unless you're a painting fiend intent on remaking all the Clone Wars paint schemes you almost certainly don't want two but you definitely want one.

If you're not a Republic player there's a few bits and pieces in here - Suppressive Gunner, Deadeye Shot and Multi-Missile Pods but I think they're all pretty niche use and aren't really demanding you come and pick them up.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

DO I WANT... a Xi Class Shuttle expansion pack?

Right, before we do anything else let's get the first thing out of the way - just how the hell are we supposed to say Xi?  Is it the Spanish Xi?  The Chinese Xi?  The Greek Xi?

Well Star Wars precedent is set that this name has been drawn from the Greek alphabet (along with other names like Upsilon, Sigma, Omega, Omicron etc) so I believe it should be pronounced almost like 'Ky' and a quick trip to a .edu website that looks like it was last updated when it migrated of Geocities tells me this...

Xi (χ): This is the same sound as "ch" in "Bach", which does not sound like "ch" in "chair". The same sound occurs in the Scottish "Loch", as in "Loch Lomond", or the German "ach!" 

So it's a Khy Class Shuttle.  Sorted.

Next up: is the Xi (Khy) Shuttle actually good?  Do you want to buy this expansion pack?


PILOTS

There are four Xi Shuttle pilots and the First Order Courier is your generic entry point to the Xi Shuttle at 38pts.  That's 20pts less than an Upsilon Shuttle but the ships are very different so comparson within the faction is really difficult.  Is there maybe something with a similar statline that we can benchmark that 2/2/5/2 chassis against to see if it's offering us good value?


Alpha-Class Starwing - 2/2/4/3 - 32pts

(you can also get a TIE Bomber with one less Hull for 27pts, or a TIE/sf with one less hull and a rear arc for 32pts)

Ok, so immediately the Courier at 38pts seems pretty expensive and not great value.  The dial's not great and the coordinate is a red action so there's no redeeming features there and it's pretty unattractive all round.  I'd personally expected the Xi to land about 32-34pts so to find it up at 38pts means I don't think you'll be seeing Couriers in play very often.

At face value Agent Terex is even worse value than the First Order Courier.  He's 42pts and the only difference for those 4pts is he's Initiative 3 not Initiative 2.  What Agent Terex DOES do, though, is allow you to then invest further points in buying Illicit upgrades to give to your squad, which is actually kind of neat and fun.  But I think it's only janky fun, unfortunately, and not actually good.

  1. Terex forces you to pay points for the opportunity to pay more points, and those points are on top of the base cost of a Courier that we've already seen is overcosted to begin with.  If you want to give your TIE Fighters some cool Illicit upgrades you're being taxed for them THREE times!

  2. A lot of the cool stuff you might want to do with illicits... you can't do.  You can't give illicits to anybody but TIE/fo and TIE/sf pilots so that means there's no Cloaking Device for Major Vonreg and no Contraband Cybernetics for Kylo Ren.  You also can't pass Illicits onto somebody who doesn't meet the requirements, so you can't hand out Rigged Cargo Chutes to your TIEs as they're not Medium Base ships, for instance.  In fact the list of stuff you can do that you really care much about is very limited... Deadman Switch on TN-3465 is funny, and some people are unreasonably excited about Inertial Dampeners on Quickdraw too.

It's a shame because Terex could be a starting point for some interesting and unusual squadbuilding options to diversify the First Order faction but he's been crippled by the combination of unreasonable cost and restrictive ability.  The First Order Courier should probably cost 32pts and Terex should probably cost 34pts which would then give you 8pts back to actually then buy Illicits with.  It's a shame but one that's easily fixable with future points updates.

But now we get to the meat of the Xi pilots range - Gideon Hask and Commander Malarus.  These pilots have a lot in common so it makes sense to compare and contrast them against each other.

Both pilots have similar 'force multiplier' abilities.  They're both Range 0-2 bubbles, they both buff the offense of ships around them and they both cost a Strain token for doing so.  The difference is that Commander Malarus means you reroll a blank red dice while Gideon Hask adds a whole extra red dice to the attack!  So which one is better?

  • Epsilon Squadron Cadet with Focus = 1.5 hits
  • Epsilon w/focus & 3rd red dice (HASK) = 2.25 hits
  • Epsilon w/focus & reroll blank (MALARUS) = 1.8 hits

So there you have it: Hask adds +0.7 hits while Malarus only adds +0.3 hits. Hask is over twice as good as Malarus, and he even costs less points!

Actually, Gideon Hask is pretty rubbish and I'm firmly in the camp that Malarus is going to be better in your squad 9 times out 10.  

Why?

Well, This is because Malarus' reroll is always active while Hask's extra red dice only triggers once you've already damaged the opponent and it turns out that when you're swarming lots of ships with 2 red dice it can take quite a lot to get that first damage card down.

I need an example to demonstrate this, so let's imagine we're playing a really basic force multiplier squad - we're running 6 Epsilon Squadron Cadets (150pts) and a Xi shuttle as a support ship.  And let's say we're firing at a basic 'Average Joe' T-65 X-Wing.  First of all let's model what Commander Malarus adds to our attack

  • 7x 2 dice primary attacks at range 2, vs a T-65 X-Wing with Focus = 4.9 damage
  • 7x 2 dice primary attacks at range 2 plus reroll, vs a T-65 X-Wing with Focus (MALARUS) = 6.7 damage  

So we're getting a pretty hefty damage output bonus from bringing Malarus, and in fact it's the difference between only having a 37% chance of killing a T-65 without Malarus and being a 73% odds-on favourite to kill a ship.  That's a big deal.

Modelling what Gideon Hask adds to your offense is much more complicated and variable as a lot depends on if your first couple of attacks got lucky or not, but we can kind of get a rough sense of what's most likely to happen.  

For instance, would you expect that it takes 5 focused 2 dice attacks before you have >50% of actually dealing a damage card to that T-65 X-Wing?  Now yes, there's some games where the T-65 is going to blank out their first two defence rolls and you've got them damaged in time for your 3rd attack but those games are going to be very rare, and indeed there's going to be games where you'll spend your whole attack shooting that that T-65 without damaging it.  But let's use that 5 attacks as the example as it's a pretty average scenario.

  • 5x 2 dice primary, 2x 3 dice primary at range 2, vs a T-65 X-Wing with Focus (HASK) = 6.3 damage

So Hask comes out worse than Malarus in a typical situation - not a lot worse, but worse.  But actually we've also been quite kind to Hask in that scenario planning - we assumed we had all 7 ships left to fire with and none got killed earlier in the Engagement Phase, and we also assumed we still had Focus tokens on all those ships to modify dice with.  Once the real world starts eating into that assumed firepower those extra red dice that Hask promises will get pushed further and further down the tracks.

And we still haven't even got into the fact that Hask never adds an extra red dice at all when you're shooting at Range 1 while Malarus is still giving your rerolls on that extra red dice (and in fact gets better at R1 as more dice = more chance you roll a blank to reroll).

9 times out of 10 Hask is a trap.  Yes his ability is CLEARLY worth +2pts on the First Order Courier but the First Order Courier is overcosted to begin with so you weren't actually going to be playing it - those 2pts are a misleading 'bargain' for Hask's ability.  And it's also CLEARLY at least 3pts worse than Commander Malarus' ability is.  Yes, you can definitely make lists that will try to leverage Hask better by hitting harder at high initiative to force the damage through and those are the 1 out of 10 times when he's better than Malarus.  The other 9 times I think you should take the rerolls.

So of all the four Xi pilots the one you're most likely to want to play is Commander Malarus.  But do you even want to play her at 43pts?  

Well, if we start from an expected chassis cost of ~32pts for the Xi Shuttle then it's +11pts for Malarus, for which you get higher Initiative for coordinate actions and those juicy offensive rerolls.  It's a lot of points but it's ballpark what you pay for that type of reroll ability where we've seen it on cards like Drea Renthal or Sinker.  And it's also true that a lot of the strength of the First Order faction is in some very efficient generics who just lack offensive dice modification (Epislon Cadets, Zeta Survivors, Seinar-Jaemus Engineers) so Commander Malarus fills a gap in the faction perfectly.

The one word I've not used all yet is an important one, though: Strain.  With Malarus that reroll is a compulsory effect and it hands out a Strain token with it.  Firstly, it worth noting that although players panic about this a lot it turns out that a Strain token isn't actually that bad (it equates to roughly 1/3rd of a health point on average) as anybody who has flown First Order Provocateurs will know.  

Secondly, though, it does mean you're going to have to be a bit more careful about including Malarus alongside expensive aces like Vonreg or Kylo Ren where you're leveraging a lot of value onto that 1/3rd of a health point.  On an Epsilon Cadet a Strain token is worth roughly 2pts (25pts divided by 4 hull multiplied by 1/3rd) but on Vonreg or Kylo it's worth more like 4-5pts on average each time you give those pilots a Strain token.


UPGRADES

The delightful Commander Malarus may be the best Xi Shuttle pilot card and it's a good job because her Crew version is diabolical.  Her starting side is similar to her Xi Shuttle pilot ability and grants rerolls to nearby ships, but it's a much more restrictive Range 1 bubble that only allows non-Limited pilots to reroll dice.  Then as soon as any of her friends miss a shot Malarus flips to her EVEN WORSE side that is inspired from her TIE/fo pilot ability only now you're expected to be nailing bullseyes with your shuttle to make it happen.  It's an utter dogshit card that somehow costs more equipped to a First Order Courier than her similar-but-better pilot version does.

Captain Pyre is not bad for 5pts, just so completely unreliable that he might make any difference at all to a game that you can't ever really burn 5pts on him.  Pyre has two effects - defensive rerolls and Setup stress - but it's almost impossible for your to reliably leverage either of them to your advantage.  First Order isn't rife with ways to force Stress onto enemy ships and it's rubbish timing that Phasma throws stress out after they've already attacked so using the defensive reroll is entirely dependent on the opponent stressing themselves.  The stress on Setup sounds nasty but it's very easy for the opponent to plan around it and clear that stress with blue maneuvers long before you get close enough to really take advantage.

Agent Terex's Crew incarnation is a very good card, almost certainly the best crew in First Order and at just 6pts he's very keenly priced.  Being able to donate Calculate tokens at the start of combat is pretty close to Emperor Palpatine's ability to use the Force (both force and calculate convert one eyeball result) - it's worse as you have to donate the token in advance of needing to spend it but it's close.  The Cyborg side of Terex is also pretty good, giving you a free Calculate token or a Jam token which you can then throw around the table at the cost of an action, and that's pretty good too.

There's a couple of things that make me a little cooler than most on Agent Terex right at this minute and it really comes down to how limited the options for Crew carriers are in First Order.  It means either bringing a Xi Shuttle (which we've seen are mostly underwhelming) or paying through the nose for a huge Upsilon Shuttle and then sinking more points into it by adding Terex.  While efficient swarms like Nantex are all the rage I think any Upsilon that's not Lt Tavson are easy meat for the opponent and loading Terex points on top of Tavson's 64pts is tough as the Upsilon is already so expensive.

I think Agent Terex is a fantastic card at a fantastic price point, but I also think opportunities to actually put that card onto the table are a lot more limited than I'd really like and it's almost Commander Malarus or bust.

Sensor Buoy Suite... right, by show of hands who originally assumed you could get target locks with your whole squad like you can with DRK-1 Probe Droids?  Yeah, lots of us.  Then by show of hands how many of us didn't immediately realise that the opponent would almost always have a free turn shooting at the Sensor Buoys to destroy them before they actually got close enough for the Buoys to do anything?  Ok, not as many I'm guessing but it's depressingly true.  I think the Buoys are a fun thing to put onto the table but the upside is so small and the risk they do nothing at all is so large that I can't imagine spending 4pts on it when bringing a Xi or Upsilon already leaves me so tight on points.

Automated Target Priority.  This thing is serious and at just 1pt may well be my pick for best card in Wave 7.  A lot of the best ships in First Order are just rolling 2 red dice and 2 red dice attacks miss quite a lot, especially at range 3 and especially in a metagame where a lot of 3 Agility ships are undercosted and being widely played.  You're going to see ATP trigger to store Calculate tokens quite a lot and then the ability to store those Calculate tokens until you're ready to use them - stressed or bumped or whatever - is really powerful.  The downside to Automated Target Priority is losing some of your choice for target priority and having to shoot at what the computer tells you.  I'm not TOO worried about that, but it's worth talking about a bit.

  1. I actually like it - it's thematic!  My First Order thugs are idiots that just shoot at whatever is in front of them so it's 'fluffy' and that alone makes me feel a lot better about the times when they're going to be shooting at the wrong thing.  They're just grunts and I'm not paying them minimum wage to make management level decisions like that.


  2. Beware the 'zombie kill' if you bring lots of ATP ships.  Ships aren't removed from the table until the end of the Initiative step in combat so if you've got lots of Initiative 1 ships and only one enemy ship at Range 1 you will be forced to pour all your fire into it even if that target got destroyed on the first attack you made.  Clever opponents will try to engineer this situation.

  3. You'll be able to mitigate some of the 'zombie kill' problems by thinking carefully about your firing order, and it may also make sense to deliberately stagger your Initiatives in squadbuilding more than you otherwise would so there's chances to remove zombie ships before another Initiative level starts firing.


  4. ATP makes most sense on TIE/fo and TIE/sf (2 red dice ships miss most often, their base chassis is defensively efficient enough to bear adding +1pt to it) but I think it's a gimme for Quadjumpers too (2 red dice, often spend actions on other things so miss more often, can control range bands with tractor).  I doubt it pushes Advanced Optics off RZ2 A-Wings but if the MG-100 Starfortress becomes a thing due to all the recent price cuts I wouldn't be surprised to see it there.  The Resistance Bomber itself is cheaper, Concussion Bombs are cheap, Veteran Turret Gunner is cheap, Automated Target Priority is cheap... that ship keeps getting better and better and will soon be hitting tables, I suspect.


CONCLUSION

So at the top of the article I asked two questions: is the Xi Shuttle good?  Do you want to buy one?

Well for the first question the answer is 'mostly no'.  As a useful support ship running around with Coordinate actions, some interesting Crew equipped or having fun with Illicit using Agent Terex the Xi Shuttle has been costed almost entirely out of the picture.  Commander Malarus is a powerful force multiplier effect to bring to First Order swarms but doesn't really support any acey type squads so well.

And do you want to buy this expansion pack?  I think the answer to that question almost entirely depends on how much you like the generic efficiency side of First Order.  If that's not your bag then you can probably avoid this expansion for the time being - you won't really miss any of the Xi pilots and although Automated Target Priority is killer for 1pt it's really expensive to spend $30 just to get two copies of that upgrade card.  But if you ARE a big swarm efficiency style player then you will want both the Xi Shuttle and Commander Malarus, and you're also likely to want the Automated Target Priority and may even need to go back and find even more copies of ATP from a second expansion pack.

Finally, if you're not a First Order player there's pretty much no reason to buy this expansion unless my long odds guess about the MG-100 Starfortress comes true as the only neutral upgrade is Automated Target Priority.