Monday, 20 August 2018

The Empire Strikes Back - Reviewing the Imperial Navy in Second Edition

The Second Edition prep clock is ticking and we're already and T-minus 1 month and counting.  I've only had time to get a few physical games in on the table of 2nd Edition but I've been doing a ton of reading/thinking/talking about the game in the meantime.  As I've already said I'm planning on focusing on the Imperial faction and I want to begin that by laying out my thoughts on the ships available to the Imperial Navy on launch date.

First of all I think it's worth reposting this chart which shows the points cost of the ships in 2nd Edition relative to how much you had to pay for them in 1st Edition.  That highlights two big things for me:
  1. Compressed cost in a ship means named pilots are more often worth taking over the cheapest generics
  2. Huge entry level points discounts on a few ships, most notably the TIE Bomber and TIE Punisher

And secondly, so that you're not just listening to one man's opinion on the world (especially a man with minimal table time) I asked the X-Wing community to rate the Imperial Ships 1-5 stars, and here are the summary results of that poll.

It's probably worth bearing in mind some of the above results as well when you're reading through my review.  Sometimes I agree with the common consensus (eg. that the new TIE Phantom is pretty good, that Punishers aren't garbage) and sometimes I disagree (eg. I think there's more potential in the Gunboat than people seemed to, I'm nervous about the Defender being worth its points).

As a really (really) broad rule of thumb my approach to 2nd Edition is really simple: if something was good in the last days of 1st Edition FFG probably overcosted it in 2nd Edition.  If something was bad in 1st Edition it's probably pretty good in 2nd Edtion.  That rule doesn't hold true for everything but I think it's not a bad place to start!

And so without further ado, on to my review of the ships at the Empire's disposal...

Imperialis Generica

In my view there's no ship more iconic to Star Wars than the TIE Fighter.  The heroes might change - it could be an X-Wing, a B-Wing, the Falcon or the Ghost - but they're always up against TIE Fighters and it's the distinctive shape and sound that defines what we think of as a Star Wars space battle.

In 1st Edition the TIE Swarm was one of the earliest dominant squads and continued to terrorise the game essentially unchanged for several years, so much so that for a lot of veteran players the decline of the competitive TIE Swarm is taken as a marker for when things started to go wrong with the balance of the game.

Never fear, though, for in 2nd Edition X-Wing the TIE Swarm is back with a vengeance!

While almost every other 1st Edition squad archetype has taken some serious hits in the conversion to 2nd Edition the TIE Swarm has, incredibly, actually been hugely buffed by the addition of the 'Inferno Squad' pilots from EA's Battlefront 2 video game.  The TIE Swarm was always hugely dependent on its captain, Howlrunner, but in Iden Versio the TIE player now has a Get Out Of Jail Free card for Howlrunner in the initial joust, ensuring the swarm packs a punch later into the game.  There's also powerful new pilot abilities on the other Inferno Squad pilots and you can expect to see Gideon Hask, Seyn Marana and Del Meeko almost as often as Iden and Howlrunner.

There's probably two key archetypes to be aware of in the TIE Swarms that are coming to a metagame near you.  There's the 'Inferno Squad' list with 6 named TIE Fighters, and there's the 'TIE Academy' squad with Howlrunner, Iden Versio and 5 Academy Pilots in a 7-TIE swarm.  The smart money of the players I know who are big TIE Swarm fans is on the TIE Academy being the best of the two variants but I think you'll see Inferno Squad much more often, not least because a Conversion Kit and Core Set only bags you six TIE Fighter dials!

+ Incredibly strong & synergetic pre-built squad straight out of the box
+ Proven 1st Edition strategy has been buffed for 2nd Edition

- Little flexibility in squadbuilding or tactics
- They're going to be abso-fucking-lutely everywhere

TIE Bomber
Ammo Generica

As much as TIE Bombers are a popular ship from The Empire Strikes Back, and as much as they were given a revisit in Imperial Veterans, the 1st Edition TIE Bomber's competitive appearance were really restricted to some cameo roles for Deathfire (who was awesome) using Long-Range Scanners, Cluster Mines and Harpoon Missiles to deliver a real threat for little cost.

You know what's not in 2nd Edition?  Deathfire's ability, Long-Range Scanner, Cluster Mines or Harpoon Missiles.

What is in 2nd Edition, though, is OH MY LORDY but they're cheap, and on top of that price discount they've had a decent buff to their dial and a new ship ability added on top.  In most cases the TIE Bombers are going to fall foul of the old problems that Torpedoes and Bombs had (getting a target lock at low PS, and surviving long enough to fly past the opponent and drop bombs on them).

But... and it's a very important 'but'... Barrage Rockets exist and you don't need a Target Lock to fire them.   Equip a TIE Bomber with Barrage Rockets and what you get, pretty much, is a 1st Edition X-Wing for 34pts.  3 red dice, 6 health, 2 agility, white 2 and 3 turns on the dial - it's a Rookie Pilot with a 35% cost saving.  Yes it all goes wrong when you have to K-Turn or Barrel Roll and can't focus, but it's still a very strong option and I don't know how I feel about that.  

Actually, yes I do, and the answer is that I don't feel great about it.  I hope the points cost on TIE Bombers and/or Barrage Rockets is increased by the time 2nd Edition is properly released.  Right now the sheer punchiness of Barrage Rocket TIE Bombers is a powerful disincentive to use a bunch of other ships like the TIE Strikers, TIE Aggressors, Gunboats or TIE Interceptors that should really be filling that cheap jouster slot in the Imperial Navy.  

+ Significant points reduction from 1st Edition
+ Barrage Rockets turn them into a super-cheap jouster
+ White 2 Turn is a real help for their dial

- Without Deadeye or Long-Range Scanners it's tough to fire most ordnance at low PS

TIE Aggressor
Imperialis Platypus

Evolution is a funny thing, a force of mother nature that sees animals change over time in an attempt to survive every available niche in the environment.  It can lead to some truly glorious creatures perfectly adapted to their habitat, honed hunters and trackers who've been shaped over millions of years to be most effective and efficient killers in order to survive.

Sometimes, though, mother nature makes a mistake and the process of evolution leads to a strange dead end like the Duck-Billed Platypus, an animal that can't decide if it's trying to be a duck or a beaver.  The TIE Aggressor is one such mistake - too slow and puny to be a fighter and too weak and fragile to be a sturdy missile carrier, the only thing the TIE Aggressor has going for it is that it can equip a turret.  Turrets are a lot worse in 2nd Edition.  

Somebody put this poor guy out of its misery.

+ It's cheap enough

- No strong turret upgrades
- Poor relation of any other Imperial ordnance carrier

TIE Striker
Imperialis Sloopus

Almost everyone agreed that TIE Strikers were awesome fun in 1st Edition.  Unfortunately almost everyone also agreed that 'fun' didn't mean 'good' and although you occasionally caught sight of a TIE Striker hiding in among stronger friends they rarely made it into competitive squads.

Second edition is a lot kinder to the TIE Striker - there's no hordes of Twin Laser Turrets mowing them down before they can close enough to do damage, and with red dice in general being weaker they might even not crumple like a wet cardboard box before they get to fire.  These two factors mean that the Striker's promise of bringing cheap red dice is all the more alluring.

+ TLT had always held it back in 1st Edition
+ Cheap source of 3 red dice
+ Fun to fly

- No Lightweight Frame makes them a bit squishier
- Great as a filler/flanker but can they really beat out other options as jousters?

TIE Interceptor
Imperialis Velocitus

TIE Interceptors went on a real journey in 1st Edition, boosted from being the unwanted larger cousins of the TIE Fighter to the best ships in the game before being dumped back down as glass cannons that were mainly glass and not actually that much cannon.

In 2nd Edition the Interceptors find themselves without most of the things that made them great in 1st Edition, but also enjoying that a lot of their worst enemies have gone away too.  Although flimsy both Soontir Fel and Turr Phenir are very cheap to field on the table and so long as you don't load them up with too many extra upgrades they could be pretty efficient ways of frustrating opponents with their arc-dodging ways.  It'll require some recalibration of player expectations, though - they're more of a nuisance for your opponent to swat away than they are a bulletproof centrepiece as in 1st Edition.

+ Without their key 1st Edition upgrades they come in very cheap
+ Autothrusters ship ability is great
+ There are no Cluster Mines in 2nd Edition

- Without their key 1st Edition upgrades they come in very squishy

Alpha-Class Starwing (aka. The Gunboat)
Ammo Slammus Bammus

When the Gunboat was first released I pointed out just how damn expensive the named pilots were, and it turned out I pretty accurately predicted that it was the basic Nu Squadron pilot that offered the most value (even if I got their actual loadout wrong).

In 2nd Edition it might be the opposite that is true as the gap between cheapest and most expensive pilots has closed dramatically - from the equivalent of 16pts to just 6pts - and without Deadeye or Long-Range Scanners it's that much harder to use missiles or torpedoes at lower PS.  I feel like the Gunboat is a bit of a sleeper hit in 2nd Edition - the basic chassis is proven, the statline is good, SLAM is great, the elite pilots are costed really well, it's just maybe going to take a bit of work to unlock their right role and loadout.

+ Named pilots are much cheaper than they were in 1st Edition
+ Proven to be a robust & flexible platform

- Without Deadeye or Long-Range Scanners it's tough to fire most ordnance at low PS
- Cannon slot is a lot weaker with the new HLC

TIE Punisher
Ammo Maximus

I love the sheer brutal ugliness of the TIE Punisher and was one the few players to actually put it into the table with any regularity in 1st Edition.  It was almost certainly the worst ship in the old game, though, as it was hugely expensive and laboriously slow.

The 2nd Edition TIE Punisher comes with a massive points reduction that finally makes up for the fact you need to invest in armaments to justify bringing them in your squad.  The pilot abilities on both Redline and Deathrain are really good and they bring Trajectory Simulator and Proton Bombs to fend off TIE Swarms.  

Right now the TIE Punisher is proving one of the surprise hits of early 2nd Edition squadbuilding, even if it still has all the maneuvering capability of an arthritic Hippopotamus.

+ Huge points saving on 1st Edition
+ Named pilots have great abilities
+ Trajectory Simulator makes bombs more threatening

- The dial still isn't anything to shout about

TIE Advanced Prototype
Imperialis Inquisitio

In 1st Edition the TIE Advanced Prototype was known as the 'Inquisitor's TIE' and it was fitting as he was only pilot you ever really saw in it.  A pocket Push The Limit ace, the Inquisitor was a tricky and frustrating target to bring down for a bargain cost.

In 2nd Edition the TIE Advanced Prototype fits Supernatural Reflexes just as well it did Push The Limit in 1st Edition, and with its ability to chain a Focus action off the Boost/Barrel it got from Supernatural Reflexes the Prototype is a reliable source of dice mods an actions on top of its force-based repositioning.  Unfortunately the added cost of Force users means that you're paying a real premium for all that trickery and the danger is an end result of a ship that can float like a butterfly and sting like a butterfly... while costing as much as a bee.

+ Force points on generic pilots
+ Natural home for Supernatural Reflexes
+ One of the few ships able to stack Focus & Evade

- You pay a lot of points for a ship with minimal stats

Lambda Shuttle
Palpibus Tyderium

In 1st Edition the Lambda Shuttle was the lumbering 'space cow' that almost solely served to ferry Emperor Palpatine about.

In 2nd Edition the Lambda looks set to play a different role with a stronger basic chassis (rear arc!) meaning it isn't quite so offensively limited, and with the inbuilt promise of the excellent coordinate action replacing the dependency on the crutch of Palpatine.  Its a better ship but it remains to be seen where its new role fits into the 2nd Edition Imperial plans.

+ Significant buffs on the old 1st Edition chassis
+ Coordinate!

- The Emperor's not what he used to be
- Still a space cow

TIE Reaper
Palpibus Sloopus

The TIE Reaper has smashed into the final days of 1st Edition with all the subtlety and care of a runaway freight train.  It's bonkers how good the Reapers and Krennic are for their cost.

Everything that made the Reapers good in 1st Edition is worse in 2nd Edition.  Their dial is worse, the Jam action is worse, Jam tokens themselves are worse, Krennic is worse, ISB Slicers are worse, Lightweight Frame is gone.  What's left is a pretty decent raw stat line to joust with but losing the white 1 Turn means the Reapers are really going to struggle to turn around in a dogfight without relying on their sloop.  That's probably exactly as troop transports should be but it's a big step back from 1st Edition.

One thing I would note: I think by now everyone is aligned on the danger that Major Vermeil is in 1st Edition but in 2nd Edition I suspect it's the forgotten man Vizier who will be the best TIE Reaper pilot.  Vizier's pilot ability is good for two reasons - firstly you can Coordinate as a white action rather than taking stress (though you can always buy Tactical Officer for a white Coordinate), but more importantly you can Coordinate with your pilot ability and then reveal a sloop... and with these 2nd Edition dials your Reapers are going to want to sloop a lot!

+ Solid stat line

- Almost everything good in 1st Edition is worse in 2nd Edition
- Red 1 Turns is a massive nerf to their maneuver dial

TIE Advanced
Imperialis Vadus

In 1st Edition the TIE Advanced was all about Darth Vader and the other pilots were really weak by comparison to their Rebel counterparts in the T-65.

In 2nd Edition the TIE Advanced is all about Darth Vader and the other pilots are really weak by comparison to their Rebel counterparts in the T-65.

To compound that I have some doubts about Vader as without an Evade action to 'turtle' or a native Boost to arc-dodge he's living on borrowed time burning charges from his Afterburners, or health with Supernatural Reflexes.  A fully-loaded Vader with Supernatural Reflexes is nearly 95pts and you can build a much better Luke for those points than you can Vader.  Dont get me wrong, I'm sure Vader can put in a real shift on the table and get a lot done but his long term survival chances aren't that great considering how many points you have to spend to put him there.

+ Darth Vader
+ Better dial, solid all-round stats

- Anybody who's not Vader seems underwhelming
- No Evade action

TIE Phantom
Imperialis Peekaboo

No ship in the game has been so dramatically redesigned as the TIE Phantom.  In 1st Edition the Phantom was a glass cannon and a flat track bully with Whisper dominating most things that had lower PS but losing hard against anything that was higher. 

2nd Edition has been recalibrated in a really welcome way, with a new ship ability replacing the old crutch of Advanced Cloaking Device and high PS.  Bringing the red dice down a notch also serves to reclassify the glass cannon element and the end result is a much more balanced and playable ship at a new lower price point, albeit one that's going to require players coming to it with a fresh pair of eyes instead of trying to compare it to it's 1st Edition counterpart.

+ Attractively priced with built-in recloak
+ Freed from the crutch of Advanced Cloaking Device
+ One of the few ships naturally able to stack Focus & Evade

- They hit a lot less hard than you remember - 1 less red dice and no FCS
- You'll benefit from the extra green dice of being cloaked far less often

TIE Defender
Imperialis Rex

It took FFG a long while to get Defenders right in 1st Edition, pricing them out of the game to begin with then buffing them to the moon with Imperial Veterans.  By the end of 1st Edition they were probably about right.

The 2nd Edition Defenders are back to being super-expensive but they've retained the key buffs from Veterans and added more hull and a white Boost!  The new Defender is a fearsome beast that can do pretty much everything, but without a strong action efficiency buff my fear is they can't do all of it at once and won't be able to benefit fully from all their new toys and justify the added cost.

+ The most complete Starfighter in the game
+ Addition of Boost gives them a powerful new tool
+ Can stack Focus & Evade so will take a lot of work to kill

- Oh wow, are they expensive!
- Actions spread thin trying to do everything a Defender is capable of

VT-49 Decimator
Palpibus Extremis

The VT-49 Decimator has long been the Imperial go-to for players wanting something close to the Rebel's YT-1300 experience of flying a fat turreted ship, and in 1st Edition the Decimator certainly had plenty of opportunities to shine.  As a fat turret, as a vehicle for Palpatine, and finally as a home for Kylo Ren the Decimator had multiple runs into the top echelons of competition.

I was really excited for the Decimator in 2nd Edition, especially when I saw some of the powerful Imperial crew options, and I had some money on Double Decimator being a strong squad archetype.  

That money was lost when the points costs were revealed and my plans got stung by the hefty extra cost of a lot of the crew options, especially those with a Force point.  The Decimator remains a tough old bird but what I've really noticed in my attempts to create a squad with it is that ALL the upgrades that made it really sing in 1st Edition are gone - there's no Rebel Captive, no Engine Upgrade, no Kylo Ren, no Veteran Instincts, no Gunner.

I'm not ruling out the Decimator entirely and I think there are some good crew available but the move to a 'bowtie' arc and loss of Boost engine is a real double whammy to a ship that was already on a ticking clock of damage with its 0 agility.  I'm not sure the 2nd Edition Decimator's 3 red dice can ship damage out fast enough to justify it's huge points cost.

+ Reinforce & 16 health means they take a lot of punishment
+ There's some juicy Imperial crew options

- Pretty much everything that made them work in 1st Edition is gone
- Reinforce may only delay the inevitable

Signing Off...

Overall the impression I've had from the community is that they're really excited by what's in the Imperial Conversion Kit and I broadly agree.  I'm feeling a lit bit hesitant about trying out any 90pt aces like Darth Vader or Colonel Vessery just because I can buy so many more red dice for those points, so my focus is a lot more on how to to get 4 or 5 ships I like into a single squad.  I'm also especially a fan of the TIE Punisher for its ability to lob Proton Bombs at oncoming TIE swarms with Trajectory Simulator...

And so there you have it.  My opinions are still forming, and will continue to form the more playtime I get.  I'd love to hear what you think - where you agree, where you disagree.

And anyway, I'm starting to get a bit excited about a couple of Scum squads.  But that's a story for another time...

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