Friday, October 6, 2017

Phase 4 - Skirmish - Here They Come!

We're getting closer and closer to the meat of the game.

4)  Skirmish - This typically takes place at the end of Turn 2 through Turn 3.  Faster ships or squadrons will engage one another from extreme range.

Key Advantages for this Phase:  Red Dice, Fast Squadrons, Rogue Squadrons, Evade Defense Tokens, Activation Advantage

Where before we were dealing with positioning, getting our pieces into place, and setting the game up for when the engagement will begin, now we begin to see the fruits of our labor.  This is an in-between section, more than anything else.  The majority of the assets we have are not able to be brought to bare and might considered to be still part of Phase 3 - Maneuvering.  Meanwhile, a few of our assets will be in position to engage the enemy in a limited way - but without their best guns brought to bare.

Red Dice Advantage

The first advantage for this phase is in Red Dice, and upgrades that modify Red Dice (or long range attacks - see Quad Battery Turrets or Defiance and Leading Shots).  Most engagements between ships will happen at this range, and (if you have a Quasar Fire II-Class) ships and squadrons.  The Maneuver Phase of the game is where you should have been setting up a trap for your opponent, to try and get them into a location where you can have a local advantage in weaponry, and here is where you spring the trap.

The best Skirmish upgrade still remains the Turbolaser Reroute Circuit, for hitting reliably from a distance.  The Evade cost is a bit steep during the Skirmish when you expect to take some Red Dice in return fire, so the Scout MC30c or CR90A are the best platforms in this situation.  For a more cost-effective solution to long range skirmishing, consider Dual Turbolaser Turrets for a free Red Reroll, or Veteran Gunners if you're not playing with a Gunnery Team.

Other options that can help with the skirmish and Red Dice are:
- Leading Shots and a Source of Blue Dice (Defiance / Quad Battery Turrets / Opening Salvo Second Player):  Gives you rerolls and another source of accuracy.
- Intel Officer:  No one wants to "waste" a Brace on a long range shot, even if you get lucky and drop 4+ damage on your Red dice.
- Home One / H9 Turbolasers:  Make sure your Red Dice can roll that elusive accuracy.  Important for hitting flotillas / single evade ships.
- Did I say a source of Blue Dice?  Disposable Capacitors, or DCaps, turn a skirmish into a full blown attack.  They're kinda good.

Evade Tokens (and Other Defenses)

Some may say this is really the only time they are ever truly useful.

Evade Tokens are frequently frowned upon, right up until your ISD is being shot at and you don't have any to toss that double hit the opponent rolled (or Turbolaser Reroute Circuit'd into existence).  The Empire gets the joy of being able to take up a valuable officer slot with Needa to get an Evade on any of their own ships, while the Rebels have to be content just having Evades on everything that isn't a Large ship.  Simply put, an Evade is good for a little better than 1 point of damage mitigated at long range, and when most ships aren't doing more than 3 average anyway, it's on par or better than a Brace most of the time.  Of course, the token's utility drops almost immediately afterwords, only picking up again in Disengagement Phase, so be liberal in applying it during this phase, discarding it as necessary.

Unfortunately there is very little that benefits the Evade token, short of having a specific title for the MC30c (Foresight) or Mon Mothma (who helps during Engagement, not Skirmish).  Instead, we need to focus on the other defensive options that can help during this phase.  
-  Major Derlin - Good in any phase, but the king of Skirmish.  Derlin drops 1 point off the top of an attack against his ship.  Great for a ship that you expect will be attacked early, and often.
- Advanced Projectors - Another great upgrade for a ship that will be attacked early and often.  While it is mostly ineffective against XI7s, it is still great for Skirmish by moving damage off to the exact opposite side of the ship, keeping you flying longer.
- Bright Hope - Like Major Derlin but every attack.  Too bad it is stuck as a title on a transport.
- General Cracken - Defense for all your fast, small ships.
- Redundant Shields - Like Major Derlin but instead of preventing the damage, heals it.

Fast Squadrons

Everyone talks about the Alpha Strike - being able to pounce on the enemy squadrons and hit them hard before they can hit you.  Squadron play, and long range squadron engagement is a crucial part of the skirmish stage.  However, a word of caution:  Do not assume that because you can hit your opponent's squadrons, you should.  More on this later, but suffice to say that pulling your squadrons out of your command bubble is deadly for them later on, losing them the tempo against whatever your alpha strike did not kill.

With that in mind, either the true Alpha Strike, or a "hit and engage" with a smaller, dedicated interceptor force are key components to this section.  You want squadrons that are fast, and either hit hard to pull something off the board, or that have counter and enough tokens to survive when they engage and hold down enemy squadrons.  The best combos of squadrons for dedicated interception forces right now are for the Rebels Tycho Celchu / Shara Bey and for the Imperials Ciena Ree / Valen Rudor.  Tycho / Shara are Speed 5, with Counter 2 / Counter 3 (plus criticals!), both with Scatter, while Ciena gives Counter 2 + Swarm and is always obstructed, letting Valen (Speed 4) hide behind her to hit extra hard (4 Blues / 3 Blacks + Swarm in 2 attacks for the duo).

Related to Fast Squadrons is our next line item...

Rogue Squadrons

A forgotten bit of fun was to hide 2 YT-2400s in your fighter blob to pop out and hit an enemy that left their squadrons just outside Distance 3 of your fighters.  Being able to activate last, move and shoot, is an absolutely crucial ability to have in your back pocket, and at least forces your opponent to play smart when it comes to overextending his squadrons.  Here is what is available, and how far away they can surprise an unwary opponent.  Keep in mind Speed 4 or higher is what you really need to be both Fast and a Rogue.

Aggressor - Speed 3
Firespray - Speed 3
YV-666 - Speed 2
Decimator - Speed 3
IG-88 - Speed 5 (Best Imperial Option)
Boba Fett - Speed 3
Bossk - Speed 3
Morna Kee - Speed 3

The Imperials really don't have any good options aside from IG-88.  At best they can bring some Decimators into the fight, or sneak their other squadrons in close prior to the squadron phase.

YT-2400 - Speed 4
Lancer-Class Pursuit Craft - Speed 4
Han Solo - Speed 3
Dash Rendar - Speed 4
Ketsu Onyo - Speed 4
Hera Syndulla - Speed 3*
Rogue Squadron - Speed 3
Corran Horn - Speed 4**

*Hera's ability makes 2 other Squadrons into Rogues as well.  That means you have a potential Speed 5 Rogue in any A-Wing on the board, or Speed 4** for any E-Wing.
** E-Wings and their use of Snipe gives them a much larger threat range than Medium Range.
Han Solo as well is a special case, as his ability lets him effectively double tap something, activating late in the Squadron phase of 1 turn, and activating once at the start of the next turn before additional actions can be taken by the defender.

Activation Advantage

We all know that being able to last/first your opponent is important in Armada, but for the sake of the Skirmish phase, just being able to get the last activation in can mean the difference between your opponent moving into range of your ship, and getting a long range shot off that you otherwise wouldn't have, or even getting a medium or close range shot as the enemy ships are forced to move into range.  It can also mean the difference in getting shot, or not getting shot at all.  All totaled, it can add up to a potential swing of two attacks - an attack your opponents didn't make and an attack that you were able to make - which can put the early lead in your favor!  Combine it with First Player activation the next turn, and you get the dreaded "double tap" of activating a ship twice in a row to make two attacks before your opponent can retaliate.

Honestly though,we probably don't need to beat this concept to death, but this is where the Activation Advantage shines.

Next time we will discuss the Engagement Phase, where the big ships bring their best dice to bear against one another!

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