Wednesday, March 2, 2016

5 Ships is the New Black

In my local area we've now had 2 of our store championships.  Both of these were won by similar, 5-ship Rebel lists.  If you read the FFG Armada forums, then you are likely aware of a 5-ship Imperial list that won a recent, large vassal tournament.  These wins reinforce my own perception that activation advantage is a huge benefit in competitive Armada and one that you need to account for as you prepare your own fleets.

After the arrival of Wave 2 in Armada I had expected the overall ship count in fleets to trend upward.  My initial observations showed me that this wasn't necessarily the case.  While we all had another 100 points to add to our fleets, most players seemed to be using those for the new upgrades, squadrons, and the large ships that came with Wave 2.  As I wrote in the recap of our first local store championships, this was a surprise to me.  The first really large Armada tournament, at GenCon last summer, had shown the value of high activation count.  Not just for the winner, but most of the top tables near the end were populated with high activation count lists (which in Wave 1 was 3-4 ships).  

The second local store championships saw an increase in overall ship count, with multiple 5 ships lists and a few 4 ships fleets as well.  So, maybe the trend I expected has started to show up. At least locally anyways.

So, what can we make of this?  Why is having lots of activations a benefit?
  • The shoot-then-move activation sequence in Armada causes the game to have a unique flow.  When you combine this with the limited maneuverability of the ships, it isn't hard to predict how a game will start to unfold.  Having more activations then your opponent can really let you dictate this flow.  You can hold back activating a ship, only using it once your opponent has been forced to move into range of your firepower.
  • I play several other games besides Armada.  Dropzone Commander is among my favorites and it also features an alternating activations turn sequence.  In any game with this style of turn sequence, maximizing your activations becomes a priority.  I often build my Dropzone armies with throwaway, low-priority activations for when I need to stall.  Those same tactics serve me well in Armada.
  • There is also the dreaded last/first combination.  It is most common with Demolisher Gladiators, but MC-30s, and Raiders can excel at it as well.  By having an advantage in activations, you can setup a situation where you move a ship into close range at the end of one turn.  Then you activate it first at the start of the next turn, shoot, and then run to safety.  This allows an essentially free shot that your opponent will have trouble reacting to.  Even if you are the second player, having lots of activations helps protect you against this tactic.
Really though, it comes down to choices.  More activations = more choices on the table.  This gives you a greater chance of exploiting tactical opportunities or forcing bad situations on your opponent.  The converse is true as well.  Few activations can really restrict your choices and ability to respond.

There are of course downsides to high activation fleets.  Generally speaking, you have to sacrifice something else to get there.  Many have no squadrons at all or feature only the lightest of ships.  I tend to play with only minimal upgrades.  Each of these options certainly has their drawbacks, but I tend to believe that they are less of a handicap then giving up the activation advantage to my opponent.

It is actually possible to build 5 activation fleets that include large ships like ISDs and MC-80s, 130-point Rhymerballs, or significant upgrades.  But probably only one of those three options.

Take this fleet as an example:
  • Assault Frigate MkIIb - Admiral Ackbar
  • Assault Frigate MkIIb
  • MC-30 Torpedo
  • CR-90a
  • CR-90a
  • 4x YT-2400
It has entirely given up on using upgrades, but Ackbar ensures each ship has ample firepower available.  The 4 YT-2400s account for about half of a maximum fighter allotment.  They are effective in both anti-squad and anti-ship work, while being durable and self-sufficient.  Would the fleet be better with upgrades and only 4 ships?  Maybe, but you have a significant advantage in having 5 if you are able to exploit it tactically.

If you are a tournament Armada player, you need to be prepared for 5 (and even 6-7) ship builds.  You need to understand how your opponent can use activation order to manipulate and take away your choices.  You need to look for quick, easy kills so that you can start to even the activation count quickly if you are behind.  I didn't write this to say that a 2-ship builds are bad or uncompetitive.  In fact, I think that they can be really effective.  But, they are giving up a huge advantage that needs to be understood going into the game.

1 comment:

  1. I think activation advantage is huge, and am surprised that people don't seem to think about it so much - I guess there is a post wave 2 desire to play with all the new toys (including upgrades). There were a lot of 2-3 ship builds in my FLGS store champ, but my activation advantage in all my matches was key - helping me to take the win. Fleets with more ships can also be more difficult to table, and my opponent in the last round had two 'Christmas Tree' ships with all the fixings and a 134pt Fireball. I tabled him by round 3.

    I think you are right that it comes down to a compromise - my preference is for more ships than the meta (i.e. 4 minimum), and the bare minimum number of upgrades to make a ship really shine.