Monday, March 28, 2016

Why Gunnery Teams Are Teaching Us Bad Tactics

This has been a topic that has been bouncing through my mind for some time now, and one that is getting me more and more frustrated.  Specifically, it came to a head in the recent Store Championship we had wherein the Second Round had Chris (the eventual tournament winner) and Xavier flying a near mirror match where their big angry space triangles flew up and punched each other in the face, repeatedly, until one broke.

After that round, we took a 45 minute break for lunch, and I had the time to sit down and talk with Xavier about his game (I watched about 1/3 of it or so) and his strategy.  Namely, his big, angry ships flew right up to the opponent and unloaded only their front arcs, and couldn't get enough fire onto any given target to take it down.  Why did he not have enough of a punch from an ISD and 2 VSDs to out punch a ISD as First Player?

Because he had a Gunnery Team on each of his ships.

I need a new camera.

Yes, This is a Bit of a Clickbait Title

Let me explain.  

Totally a click-bait title, I know.  But hear me out, because this is quickly turning into one of my biggest pet peeves.

What is one of the first things we learn how to do in Armada to make our games successful?  The art of double-arc shots.  Essential to all aggressive maneuvering is the setup for the next turn of shooting, and that means lining up the most damage onto your target.

And that means getting the opponent into multiple arcs for your ship's shots.

Conversely, what is the one thing we try to avoid when flying defensively - if we cannot get out of an opponent's shot completely, we try to limit the shots they can actually take.  Staying at long range instead of medium, and keeping out of multiple fire arcs.

The JRPG Strategy

We are playing a game where a ship with 1 hull remaining (assuming no crippling critical effects) is just as combat effective as a ship with full hull and ships.  To this effect, being able to destroy an enemy ship is much preferable in terms of damage we will suffer in this, and future turns, than damaging multiple enemy ships.

I really enjoy playing Final Fantasy games, and have ever since I rented Final Fantasy III from the Blockbuster (back when it was on the SNES, and I didn't know it was really VI... it gets confusing).    Now one of the first things I learned in the game was that enemies were just as effective from full health to almost dead, and that taught me a valuable lesson in focus fire.  Now if I had four guys on my team, and they were fighting against several enemies, I would take less damage, and win "better" if I had them all attack the same target, taking them out one at a time.  I could spread out my damage, some times in the same attack, but it always do more total damage, but it would rarely kill anything outright.

This is a principle that I carried on to X-Wing, where again a starfighter with 1 hull was just as dangerous as one with full health.  It went into the strategy I used most often, which was the "Biggs Gambit" - using the special ability of one of my fighters to force my opponent to spread his damage between multiple targets while I focused down his lead ship.  Often enough, it was successful - only when he had the power to destroy multiple targets, or I lacked the power to take out his lead fighter, did things turn sour.

So how do these principles apply to Armada, and what does it have to do with Gunnery Team?

The Gunnery Team Mentality

Don't get me wrong, Gunnery Team is an important tool in the toolbox.  Being able to shoot multiple times out of your biggest, most dangerous arc is something power, and that should be rightfully feared.  But it leads to some bad thinking.

Specifically, it leads to an issue that I am going to call the Gunnery Team Mentality, that the only arc that matters is the best one your ship has.  Players flying all medium and large base ships fall into this trap.  Even the MC80, who doesn't have Gunnery Team as an option, has multiple upgrades that work to reinforce this type of flying (Slaved Turrets and Ackbar, who we will get to soon enough).  Players want to line up and keep the entire enemy fleet in their best arc, and stop trying to line up the double arc shot.  Why?

The Why is easy.  Players want to do more damage, they want to see bigger dice pools, bigger rolls.  They want to roll big hits and get big results.  And the medium / large base ships definitely give them that option.  And to them, it is working.  They do roll big hits against two enemy ships.

Those two big hits are both braced / redirected, but hey, can't do anything about that

Except you can.  We've talked in the past about how one of the best way to go Whaling is to fire multiple small attacks in a single turn, to overwhelm the brace (and other) tokens.  Your big attacks that hit multiple targets for ~3 damage (after brace) each is turned into ~3 damage and ~3 damage on a single opponent by getting them into your other arc.  You've gone from splashing the front shields (and being redirected to the sides) to stripping shields and punching into the hull.  No real damage lost, but all that damage against a single target.

And that is the danger of Gunnery Team Mentality.  Not only do you want to take that 8 dice shot on the 2nd enemy this turn, but you want to maneuver to take two 8 dice shots the next turn as well, and the next after that.  Which is all well and good if you are winning the exchange.

Until you are not.  Until someone is focusing on you, with double arc'd ships and squadrons, and putting the entire punch of their fleet at a dagger point right up Motti's throat.  Or they just got luckier with the Gunnery Team Mentality rolls than you did.  And then, you are flying 2 ships instead of 3.  Suddenly, you don't have the engineering to outpace their damage, nor do you have the punch to kill them faster than they can kill you.  Then you have 1, then none.

Back to Xavier

My advice to Xavier following the game was just that - focus one target at a time.  His next match was against a similar list (2 ISDs and a Raider) and he did... better, taking out one of the ISDs before all of his ships went down.  And his success against that ISD was credited to the strategy we had discussed he started moving into the brawl by turning both his VSDs to the side, double-arcing the enemy ISD he had picked out as his target.  Still, he had less oomph than his opponent, and wound up losing his ISD almost immediately after taking out the opponent's ship, as his opponent was able to focus fire on him as well but it was a step in the right direction for him.

A better camera was used here.
The lesson to take away from this is the importance of focusing down dangerous targets.  Remember the old phrase "If all you have his a hammer, every problem looks like a nail?"  Well, the front arc of an ISD with Gunnery Team is a pretty big hammer, but you can't forget still have another tool in your side arc, one you had even before Gunnery Team went on your ship as an upgrade in the first place.  It's an upgrade that can't dictate how you fly, but one that can open up a wealth of possibilities for you to take advantage of.  Sometimes you will see that nail in front of you, like when your first shot finishes off a target, and you can switch your second shot to something out of your front arc.  Other times, you have a screw that you really shouldn't be whacking into place.

It's a Trap!

But this discussion wouldn't be complete without out fishy friend on the Rebel side.  Ackbar is a challenge to this type of thinking as well, as - if Gunnery Team is a hammer - Ackbar and Gunnery Teams are an 8lb sledge.  Being able to roll those 2 extra Red twice really look like they make up for not taking a 2 Red attack from your front arc.  And to a certain extent, it's right.  You're rolling the same number of dice in a single roll from an AFII that you would against that same target in 2 rolls, and you get to do it again to someone else.  You don't even need to line up the double arc, which gives you great flexibility in positioning.

But you start running into the same problems as before - your opponent can brace both attacks, instead of only being able to brace one of the two.  Plus your biggest advantage (your side arcs) are now your biggest liability - your only tool is the "8lb sledge" because you effectively spent all your money on it (18 points of Commander over Dodonna, 7 points per ship on Gunnery Team, maybe 10 more for Enhanced Armaments - the upgrades add up quickly).  A single ship blocking your front, or trailing your rear can do considerable damage without you being able to fire back.

Plus, going from Ackbar back to other Commanders means that you have to unlearn all the flying techniques you've subconsciously gained while using him.  Techniques that worked because you had Ackbar, and that just don't quite muster up without him.  This is the equivalent of going from that 8lb sledge down to just a normal hammer - there are some tasks that you will just not be able to accomplish if your instincts are to start swinging.

The Conclusion

So yes, I think that Gunnery Teams (and to an extent, Ackbar) are teaching us bad tactics.  Though, knowing this, we can work to unlearn the bad habits that using them have gotten us into.  Remember, taking out an enemy is more important that damaging multiple enemies, and the best way to take an enemy out is to focus them down one at a time.

Hopefully this has been informative.  Disagree with me?  Let me know in the comments below.  Interested in more strategy articles?  Check out The Academy.


  1. Insightful article. The reason bombers can be so good is the flip side of the reason Akbar & Gunnery Teams can be a trap.

  2. Very sage and sound advise, gunnery team is best on something unmaneuverable like a Victory that will have a tough time double arcing as often. It does allow for anti-fighter + ship shot on an ISD which vs tons of ties maybe worth it.

    1. I definitely don't disagree - again, I'd caution that Gunnery Team is another tool in your tool box, and a very important tool as well. In a vacuum, I'd still rather have the carrier double arc'd than shoot flak at squadrons, but it is really important to have that option.

      Still, that's what it needs to be; an option, not the only choice your ship has.

  3. The advantage of gunnery team is that it lets you try to play keepaway rather than rely on going toward your opponent. If you want a battle of red dice the way rebel medium/large ships do, then you don't want to get close.

    It's a little bit different for small rebel ships which are a bit better up close.

  4. Couldn't agree more with this analysis. As an Imperial player I feel like gunnery teams can encourage lazy tactics, when focusing an enemy down is so important.

    With the Rebels, I can see a stronger case for it per the post above. When playing 'keep away' you are slowly bleeding your enemy, and a conga line overlapping fields of fire can have the same effect as double arcing two ships.

  5. So would you say that the better way to use Ackbar is to only use his ability when you can get good double arcs out of both sides, and you should be throwing front and side shots on the way in? Or is there another suggestion?

    1. For Ackbar, if you can focus your fire on a single target, taking 2 shots from front / side will always be better, just because of how defense tokens work, than taking one BIG side arc shot. That being said, Ackbar does two things for you - with Gunnery Team (or a slash) he lets you split your fire, and if you don't get the double arc shot you get the next best thing of extra damage out the side. For that matter, Ackbar gives you some wiggle room for how you fly, so if you want to play keep away by pointing your nose away from a double arc, you absolutely can.

      So my suggestion if you are flying Ackbar is to consider your game plan. If you have one ship that you want to focus down, forget the Ackbar effect, and go for double arcs. If you want to pour out damage onto multiple targets, just line up those side arcs on two enemies.

  6. This isn't a problem for me because I'm mainly a rebel player.besides, my only gunnery team is on my brother's ISD. And Ackbar would be hampering my fighter screen