Monday, 9 October 2017

"Ready, are you. What know you ready" - Adventures with Turrets & Bombs at Nationals

A couple of blogs ago I left a thread dangling when I committed to flying a bombing Ghost/Nym combination at UK Nationals, and I've never formally recounted what happened.  Let me tie that loose end up especially as it now leads on to where I may be playing next!

So, this is the blog I wrote, and here is the squad as it was when I set out on that journey.

Practice Makes Perfect

I knew that time commitments meant I would have very few chances to play the squad before UK Nationals so I would steal any half chance I could get to put the ships onto the table.  My first playtest session was fairly casual among a group of guys who were also prepping for Nationals but didn't expect to do too well.

I went 6-1 with the list on the day and the defeat was my first game of the day when I only lost to a poorly-timed Blinded Pilot crit seconds before I would have killed Dengar and won the game.  At the end of my blog I'd said that barring catastrophe this was my list, and this first playtest session at least told me that it wasn't a catastrophe!

I made one key change to the squad during the day: it took about one and a half turns of my first game for me to rip the Synced Turret off the Ghost and replace it with Dorsal Turret.  My god, Synced Turret is awful, especially in this list!

  • Turn One: roll forwards and prepare to joust Dengar
  • Turn Two: SURPRISE!  5 k-turn in front of Dengar and drop some Cluster Mines on him.  Don't have an action for a target lock.  Can't fire my turret.  Can't get a target lock with Fire Control System to give me a target lock for next turn.
  • Turn Three: 1-forwards and drop more Cluster Mines.  Still don't have a target lock.  Still can't fire my turret.  Still can't get a target lock for next turn.  Tear Synced Turret upgrade card into pieces.

So anyway, Dorsal Turret came in for my second game and stayed there for the rest of the day, with the extra point being used to upgrade the Ghost's Plasma Torpedo to a Proton Torpedo (for a free focus mod if I've used my action to drop bombs).  Dorsal Turret has a really bad reputation which I don't think it deserved, it's certainly unspectacular but it's reliable and in a meta with relatively little Agility around it contributes decent damage.

For the rest of the day my Dorsal-powered squad did me proud, even if I was definitely flying it pretty badly at times.  My best move was jamming the Ghost up into Rey's face for a joust, then next turn using a 2-turn to drop Cluster Mines right across her sloop path then pooped a Proton Torpedo out at her for good measure.  Cue fireworks and a toasty Falcon!

Rey eats Honey Nut Proton Clusters for breakfast!
My second playtest session was a few more games against casual opponents but it all helped me to get used to the movements of this big ship.  I won all these games again and was really enjoying flying the squad.

After this second session I made some significant changes.  So far having Hera Syndulla as my Ghost pilot had achieved precisely nothing - all of my opponents had been a higher PS bar one, and I'd crushed that opponent so decisively that Hera had never needed to change her dials.  There were points to be saved here and I used the saving from downgrading Hera to the basic Lothal Rebel to upgrade my offensive output by fitting a Twin Laser Turret to the Ghost, and loading Nym up differently with a Cruise Missile and an Ion Turret, taking away his Engine Upgrade.

Although by this point I was 9-1 with the list I was very aware that I hadn't been seeking out Nationals-level opposition.  With the Dorsal Turret and Autoblaster Turret equipped alongside my bombs I felt that my squad was very one-dimensional - I had to get close to die trying.  I didn't want to have to go into a game against a strong opponent with only one game plan because they'd identify that and just fly rings round me.

Switching to Twin Laser Turret and Ion Turret expanded the range of fire of both my ships, while adding the Cruise Missile to Captain Nym gave my opponent another big threat they had to worry about, and Ion is potentially a killer threat against the Mirandas and Nyms of this world.  It all meant that I was asking a few more questions of my opponent, giving them more of the table they couldn't safely sit in.

One last little playtest session with these changes equipped made me happy, and I rolled into Nationals with an 12-1 record behind me against casual opponents.  I knew full well that my squad wasn't about to repeat that sort of performance at Nationals, but with a following wind I thought I'd be able to achieve my goal of at least going 50-50 with it.

UK Nationals Recap

My Nationals box of hope & dreams
And the short version is that I did go 50-50... although that's because I dropped out after four rounds with a 2-2 record.  My fourth round game had ended really quickly and I didn't want to hang around for another 4 or 5 hours just to play two more meaningless games of X-Wing.  Especially when I was playing like a total spanner.

Four rounds played.  Four Captain Nyms practically handed to my opponent as a 45pt head start because I was playing like I was asleep.  I was getting really frustrated with myself and decided to knock it on the head early and go home.

The longer version:

Round One - Kester Smith (Kenkirk/Vader)

I lost this one but made a couple of half-asleep plays that make me think I should really have won it.  

On the initial engage I bust a gut to repeat that 5k maneuver I'd used on Dengar and scatter Cluster Mines in front of Kenkirk.  It worked, but that only gave Kester an extra agility and his Evade from Ysanne Isard so there was some false economy at work as he just made half of that damage back by repelling my Cruise Missile.  Kester's Vader swept around the flank and closed in behind Nym to punishing effect and I made my second mistake by not dropping a bomb behind Nym because it would have destroyed him, when it was clear that Nym was about to die anyway.  The bomb would have had a good chance of destroying Vader as well as Nym, leaving the Ghost 1-on-1 with a wounded Kenkirk but as it was Vader escaped and the Ghost went down against two opponents.

LOSS: 0-1

Round Two - Jesper Hills (Ion Brobots)

After losing my first round I expected an easier time than having to play former UK Champ Jesper Hills!  Unfortunately we only worked out after the match that the TOs had incorrectly entered my first round result as me winning, so I was in the winner's bracket while Kester had been sent down to the naughty step in my place.  

I underestimated how fast Jesper's Aggressors were going to close in and by trying to play it cute with Nym and hug just outside range 3 he just wound up being Ioned into the ground and dying for almost no effect - another 45pts given away.

Unfortunately for Jesper this woke me up for maybe the one time in the whole day when I actually started to play properly, and from that disastrous opening my Ghost actually managed to rapidly solo both his IG-88s!  There were two key moments in making this happen, the first was that I think Jesper didn't quite understand how good Chopper was so he decided to hit me with a Rigged Cargo Chute rather than an Ion Bomb.  I was terrified of his Ion threat but could cope with the stress and I simply barrelled through the Cargo Chute as though it wasn't there.  

The second key moment was that as I chased down his lead IG I correctly called where his second one was going to sweep in behind me - he hit all three Cluster Mines I dropped on his route and some unfortunate red dice meant he suffered 6 damage and exploded.

WIN: 1-1

Round Three - I forgot his name even though it was a really distinctive Scandinavian-sounded one, sorry!  (Nym/Asajj)

He was bringing a really unconventional Scum Nym with Minefield Mapper and Cluster Mines, hoping to build a fortress of bomb tokens then hide behind them and TLT me to death.  I once again executed my traditional sacrifice of Nym to terrible play, leaving the Ghost to finish up the job against both opponents.

Asajj went down quickly but his Nym was proving a tricky opponent to pin down, nevertheless I thought I would have the upper hand in a TLT-vs-TLT duel as I had much more hull to burn.  That changed when he finally completed his fortress with a last set of Cluster Mines - if he was going to keep adding Evades every time I shot at him I would lose that race after all!  I had no choice but to delibately smash my way over an asteroid onto three Cluster Mines just to break inside his fortress and get a kill shot.

7 red dice.  No damage.

That shouldn't have happened, and to be honest I didn't really need it to go quite that freakishly well, but it's a good story to tell your grand children.  That made it two games that the Lothal Rebel had bailed me out!

WIN: 2-1

Round Four - A Swiss Guy I also forgot the name of (Dash/Miranda)

When I'd been worrying about my Dorsal/Autoblaster turrets the list I'd had in mind as my bogey was this one, and even with TLT/Ion turrets I knew this was going to be a really really tough matchup as they would probably just circle away at range 3 and my bombs & ion cannon would never get to be useful.

So did I knuckle down in the face of adversity and play well, or did I throw my Nym away for a fourth time?  

If you answered "you threw Nym away for a fourth time" then you win a prize!

It's turn two and after moving I think Nym is just out of range of my opponent's Miranda, which I target locked with Long Range Scanner last turn.  I could barrel roll into range though and take a shot.  Cue one of those discussions like in old cartoons when the angel and devil appear on the hero's shoulder...

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: but if you get into range you won't be focused because action was to barrel roll

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: and you didn't go full speed so it's only a four dice attack anyway, with no focus.  That's rubbish.

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: and it's against Miranda, so she'll dodge half the damage then regen the rest, and she'll TLT you back and you'll just lose two shields for nothing

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: you should just switch your target lock to Dash.  He has to turn away next turn and a 4 forward from here will mean you get to hammer him with the Ghost and the Cruise Missile from Nym next turn

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: so for all those reasons you definitely shouldn't do a barrel roll.  Just switch target lock.

I did a barrel roll.  My cruise missile shot got 2 hits, Miranda took 1 damage, regenerated it and dealt me 2 damage back.  I would have been in perfect place to batter Dash the next turn, instead Miranda and Dash smashed Nym up.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and if I'd not done the barrel roll it would have been a different game.  I think I conceded in frustration on turn 4 when Nym died and my Lothal Rebel got a Blinded Pilot as he was about to unload his torpedo on Dash.

LOSS: 2-2

Time to go home.

Back To The Future

I like the list a lot still.  I played like a donkey at Nationals and managed to go 50-50, and on another day I think I could easily have been on 3-1 after those four rounds.  Moreover it was the Ghost part that was experimental but it was the Ghost that ultimately delivered the goods so that's another tick against it being a pretty good squad!  I'd happily play it again, though maybe I'd tinker back with the Nym loadout and the Cruise Missile I added never really did enough... a second TLT would be amazing on Nym if I could find a way to get that on alongside Engine Upgrade.

What's also on my plate, though, is that I enjoyed the Ghost so much that I wouldn't mind double-Ghosting it a bit, so I went out and picked up a second VCX-100.  I'm busily painting it up in Sabine's colours (as above, not finished yet) so I've not had chance to put it onto the table yet, but I've got two different squad ideas to give a try...

Kanan & Sabine (Bombs ahoy!)

Kanan & Finn (6 dice primary PEW PEW PEW!)

These both bring me something interesting alongside the solid Kanan Jarrus model, and I look forward to trying them both out!

EXTRA CREDIT: Turrets & Bombs Are Fun To Play.  In A Bad Way.

So I decided to play the Ghost and Nym because I wanted to really see how the other half lived having spent so much time playing jousters.  What I can report back is that playing with these powerful turrets and bombs is a completely different experience, emotionally.  Even though I was inexperienced with turrets & bombs and playing the ships badly I was enjoying it because the nature of these ships is that they make you feel powerful, they make you feel clever and like you're outflying your opponent.
Playing my Imperial Aces was a nervous experience, every dial set & revealed made me nervous that I'd be left unable to fire, or unable to take the action that I need to survive.  I won far more games than I lost, but even winnning comfortably could leave me a nervous wreck at times. 
When I switched to turrets and bombs that emotional journey flipped entirely and I was relishing setting dials for what I was going to do to my opponent, I was watching their moves then barrel-rolling to be out of arc and get my turret shot, I was dropping Cluster Mines right in front of them and relishing rolling those red dice and add Sabine damage to it.  I felt like I was running rings round my opponents. 
The truth is that I was playing my turrets and bombs quite badly because I'm new to that style of play, but it felt like I was being the greatest tactical genius and winning because of my own brilliance.  
When I ran into the better players at Nationals my mistakes and inexperience with the playstyle were exposed, but in all my other matches against more average quality opponents I think that I was benefiting from some big advantages in the capabilities of my ships which covered over the majority of my play mistakes.
I understand a bit more now why people like playing fat barrel-rolling turrets, and it's because it's so easy to get hooked on something that both makes life easier and makes you feel good about yourself into the bargain.  If that option is there for you then... why not take it?

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