Wednesday, January 25, 2017

ECM is not the answer...

In our local Corellian Conflict campaign one of the Imperial players is using a fleet with 2 ISDs.  He has twice run up against the Planetary Ion Cannon when assaulting a Rebel base and come out the worse for it.  The ISDs were just not tough enough to survive the assault.  Which seems opposite of what you might expect.

This has coincided with the recent release of Minister Tua giving the much coveted Defensive Retrofit upgrade to more Imperial ships.  I have seen many fleets using her to add ECM in an attempt to improve the durability of ISD-Is and VSDs.

This got me thinking about some of the reasons it can be challenging to play with Large base ships in Armada.  The biggest of those challenges being durability.  So, what can you do about that?  The more I thought on what I was seeing on the table, the more sure I was that ECM is not the answer.

The primary defensive asset a ship has in Armada is its defense tokens. There are lots of ways to get around those tokens.  Accuracy results can lock them down, XI7s and HTTs can make them less useful, but my preferred method is to simply overwhelm them with massed firepower.  Defense tokens are really effective ways to mitigate damage, but they are limited by their nature.  A ship only has so many and if a single token is used more than once in a turn it has to be discarded.  So, if I can shoot the same ship 3 or more times in a turn its Defense Tokens become less useful with each successive shot.

In a recent game I was fighting an ISD-I with Minister Tua and ECM.  I had stripped some shields from it, but it was in reasonably good shape.  My Ackbar boosted Assault Cruiser hit it for 11 damage.  I could have used re-rolls to fish for an accuracy, but didn't as he had ECM.  That spared it 5 damage, which is really nice.  In that same turn I also hit it with a Planetary Ion Cannon token, an Assault Frigate, and 4 squadrons.  Its remaining defense tokens couldn't keep up and it eventually folded.  Not to the big whack, but to the flurry of small jabs.

That's an example of why I don't like ECM much.  Yeah, it will occasionally save you several damage from a big hit, but it does very little against the horde.  ECM does not change the fact that an ISD only has 4 defense tokens to work with (and Contain can be of limited utility).  While ECM (or Advanced Projectors) certainly enhance the individual use of those tokens, they don't help those tokens from getting overwhelmed by a large volume of fire.

This is the real issue in large ship survivability.

So, when I want to think of how to improve the defenses of a ship, rather than trying to get more out of my limited defense token resources, I want to look for opportunities to improve the ships defenses that don't rely on using a defense token at all.  If my primary defensive resource is limited, let's look for secondary resources that can help.

If you want a checklist of defensive/survivability steps for large base ships it might look something like this:
  • Reduce the number of incoming attacks
  • Reduce the number of incoming attack dice
  • Maintain maximum hull/shields
  • Optimize your defense tokens
  • Manage incoming critical damage
 Let's go through and look at how you can make the most of each of these steps.

Reduce the Number of Incoming Attacks

I think it is pretty obvious why this one is at the top.  If you're best defensive asset has limited uses, reducing the number of times that you need to use them will help you out the most.  Much of this is accomplished through intentional maneuvering of your ships.  I think for a lot of players simply point their largest ship straight at the opponent and head in guns blazing.  This can be effective offensively, but can put you in a bad spot defensively.  I'll try to make a video on this in the future, but the basic gist would be "don't fly straight at your opponent, even with an ISD".  Aim for their flanks and do your best to maneuver where your ships can't get ganged up on.

Another place that hurts large ship here can be the activation game.  If their fleet is out activated the large ship can be forced to move into a spot where it can get ganged up on with no chance to retaliate.  Flotillas to accompany the big boys really help with this.

As I prefer to talk about maneuvers on video, I will go through some of the upgrade options for fleet building that can help with this here.  None of these are magic bullets.  They key really is in the maneuver, these upgrades just make that job easier.
  • Admiral Ozzel/Entrapment Formation/Engine Techs - These upgrades are all about speed control.  They allow you to manipulate the speed of your ship beyond the normal limits of dials and tokens.  Speed control helps you control the range of the engagement and can keep you from being forced forward into range or to speed out of a bad spot.  Less predictable movement leads to increased survivability.
  • Nav Team/Moff Jerjerrod/General Madine - Similarly, these upgrades improve the yaw of your ships.  This can help you dodge out of double arcs and move to limit the amount of incoming firepower.  You can also more easily reorient your ship so that incoming fire hits an arc where your shields are strongest.  You can get around flanks and keep your ship from being ganged up on.
  • Flechette Torpedoes/Dutch - These upgrades shut down squadrons.  Squadrons that can't activate can't shoot your ships, which make these great options for reducing incoming fire.  Sadly, Dutch can only do so much by himself and Flechettes seem difficult to deploy effectively.
  • Admiral Konstantine/Phylon Q7s/G-8 Projectors - These upgrades I think are best used defensively.  The hope would be that by manipulating your opponent's speed you can put them in a spot where they are less effective at attacking you.  Effectiveness would be match-up dependent.
Reduce the Amount of Incoming Damage 

Once you have maneuvered to reduce the number of incoming attacks you want to consider how to reduce the amount of incoming dice.  One of the keys here is range control.  Staying at long range will typically reduce the dice heading your way and increase their volatility.  Many of the above listed upgrades will help with that.  Again, not flying straight at your opponent's fleet will make this job easier.

Beyond maneuver there are some solid upgrades that help mitigate the amount of damage from individual attacks.
  • Lando/Targeting Scrambler - These are probably two of the strongest non-token damage reduction effects in the game.  Due to the nature of dice rolls they aren't the most reliable, but they can turn a brutal attack into a manageable one pretty quickly.  Lando is only one use and the Scramblers have range limitations, but their effects stack with your defense tokens in a really strong way.
  • Cracken/Montferrat/Obstacles - A great way to reduce damage is to just take away dice.  Cracken doesn't work with large ships, but I listed him here as the effect is similar to the others.  Most large players avoid obstacles as the large base makes it hard to avoid landing on them.  Flying near them can be a great plan though.  Just having a small rock near the yellow dot in an arc can hamper all incoming fire from that arc.  Now it hampers your attack as well, but you can be shooting 8+ dice from an arc.  Losing one is not as disruptive as taking 1 die each from 2 four dice attacks coming your way.
  • Needa - I love Needa.  He seems to get the most press on ships trying to use TRCs, but that seems like such a waste of his defensive potential.  People complain that the evade doesn't work at short range, but then also complain that Scramblers don't work out of short range.  No large ship gets an evade token, but that evade can mitigate several damage in a game.  Most players avoid short range of an ISD-I to stay away from the black dice.  Needa is perfect there where his effect can reduce the incoming damage throughout the game.  He provides a new defensive option that can be stacked with others.
  • Admonition/Major Derlin/Bright Hope - Of these 3 only the good Major can work on a large ship, but I listed all three as the impact is similar.  Taking damage out of the damage pool goes a long way towards increasing durability.  The Major stacks well with your defense tokens and other options too.
Maintain Maximum Hull and Shields

One of the common features of Large ships is a high Engineering value, typically 4.  This can be used to recover 2 shields a turn amongst other things.  I find Repair commands to be invaluable against squadrons attacks.  They chip away shields and hull one damage at a time, which is can be inefficient to use defense tokens against.  Being able to quickly recover that damage with Repair commands can help keep those ships in the fight.

Keeping your ship repaired throughout the game can help keep it alive when the defense tokens start letting you down.
  • Redemption/Engineering Team - Both Redemption and Engineering Team give you more options with your Repair commands.  They stack with each other and improve your tokens too.
  • Shields to Maximum/Redundant Shields/Projection Experts - I like these upgrades although I know many are not fans.  Each allow you to keep the shields up on ships above what a regular Repair command can accomplish.  They are expensive if you look at them by themselves, but the thing is that they stack and happen at different times during a turn.  You can gain as many as 4 additional shields to a ship on top of any Repair commands using all 3.  That is where they are powerful.  They stack with both repair commands and defense tokens to keep your ship going.
  • Reinforced Blast Doors/Motti/Repair Crews - These are similar to the above, but with a focus on hull rather than shields.  Repair crews are not good due to range and timing issues.  Motti is great, but can take other ships with him when he dies and RBDs are really efficient as long as you survive the turn you start taking hull damage in.
  • Raymus/Wulff/Garm/Tarkin/Aresko/Tarkin/Comms Net/Tantive IV - As the game has grown the number of ways that you can produce command tokens has grown as well.  Being able to generate tokens can help enhance your repair commands or let you shift shields when doing something else.  They are an important part of a repair based strategy.  Obviously they are also great for improving the maneuverability I talked about earlier with Nav tokens.
Optimize Your Defense Tokens

There are so many things you can do to improve your defenses before you start relying on defense tokens.  Your opponent has probably built things in to his list to nullify them or planned strategies to overwhelm them.  Having some layers of defense before you get there is important, but then you do want to use them well.  I always lay mine out by my ship cards in the order I find them most useful.  It helps me avoid mistakes in how I apply them during games.

There are upgrades that can help you get the most out of them:
  • General Tagge/Walex Blissex/Hand of Justice - The real trouble with defense tokens is their limited nature.  These help you get around that to an extent.  Underrated upgrades and I hope we see more like them.
  • Mon Mothma/Foresight - Evades have limitations, but they are the only defense token that outright removes attack dice.  These don't help large ships, but are listed here for completeness.
  • ECM - ECM can save a lot of damage over the course of the game.  There is a reason it has a strong reputation.  It won't save a ship by itself and is almost worthless against squadrons.  It is a last line of defense in my mind.
  • Advanced Projectors - These were really popular until the FAQ ruling that said XI7s nullified them.  I still think they have a place and are one of the better upgrades against squadron attacks out there.
Manage Incoming Critical Damage

Crits can be really debilitating and with lots of hull, the chances are high most large ships end up taking one.  Contains help with that quite a bit, but some seem to always get through.  If all else fails these upgrades can help.
  • Medical Team - 1 point for a chance to cancel a crit and discard the card is a pretty good deal.  It's a valuable slot though.  Basically a no brainier if you're not using the upgrade slot for something else.
  • Chart Officer - Another chance to nullify a crit effect.  Combos well with a strategy of using obstacles to reduce incoming damage and if your opponent forgets you have it you can move in some unexpected ways.
  • Damage Control Officer - Really opponent dependent on how useful this would be.
  • Endeavor - I was not big on this title when it was spoiled, but I think more highly of it lately.  It is the only upgrade in the game that just adds a defense token.  Even if i tis the least useful token, it is still pretty cool.

Looking back over what I wrote I don't know that there is a one best way to improve the durability of large ships.  It takes a multi-layered approach and defense tokens are really just one part of that.  Look for defensive options that stack with what you are already doing.  Make sure your defensive plan is more than just making sure ECM keeps your brace available.            


  1. The multi-tiered approach to large ship survivability is definitely needed. I think a lot of the "large ship suuuuck" whining is more related to people flying their large ships into a swarm and expecting to come out on top. Instead of adapting their flying, they just emulate what the other person is doing. It's classic wargamer behavior.

    However, having gone the DCO routeon my ISD I instead of Tua in the World Cup, I have to say I'm regretting it. Even if you're flying right, you sometimes need to absorb a big hit or two. The latest versions of my Vader fleet went back to Tua and ECM. The difference is noticeable. It doesn't make the ISD impervious, but it allows me to take a risk to set up a brutal shot that the lack of ECMs would not allow. ECMs are not the end all, be all, but they're still very necessary in my book with all the accuracy tools out there.

    1. This was definitely written as a response to some of that whining you mentioned. It is interesting to hear your experience with RBDs. I think they have potential, but as with most things are matchup dependent.

      ECMs are good, but I think have limited peoples thinking.

  2. One thing you might add to the above is simply Offense. And that doesn't mean just pushing the big ship straight into the teeth of the enemy formation. Prioritizing targets to reduce your opponent's damage efficiency as quickly as possible will go a long ways towards keeping your big ships alive.

    1. D'OH! I had meant to mention the best defense being the removal of your opponent, but forgot. That's a great point!

  3. I think that Endeavor plus DCO is worth the 9 points they cost to prevent one critical effect ecery attack. I'm not sure they are worth the opportunity cost of those slots, but that's another topic.

    1. I will have to put that on my list of things to try at some point.

  4. I have been using your echelon formation with an ISD and 2 vics(as well as a raider for Ackbar lines, otherwise it just tries to not die and flank), and the best way to keep them alive and in formation has been Moff Jery. Just spam repairs, and use Jers ability when needed, otherwise repair. All of them get a nav token to start, then it's all engineering. However, the ISD gets Wulf for speed control. It's pretty effective, and i feel like it's a good compromise.

    1. Always great to hear when people are actually using ideas from my blog. That sounds like a really strong setup too. Glad to read it has been effective.


  6. Solid analysis, thanks Shmitty. As always with Armada, the answer on best defence is 'it depends'. Running against an ISD/MC80? You'll be wanting that ECM. Running against a bomber swarm? Might want RBDs/quad-lasers. That is one of the great things about the game - there is no right answer! I therefore try to build a balanced fleet, that can take a punch but with enough cheap TIEs to bog down a bomber ball long enough to kill the carriers. It's all about how you fly it.

    Positioning is key, as you say - which is why I love the nav command.

    Activation is also a great defence BtW, the ability to delay flying into enemy guns is invaluable. Oh, and going first of course!