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Friday, May 12, 2017

"Star Wars Starship Battles": The Rebels Strike Back!

So after playing the most basic form of the rules, it seemed only fair to try them with the advanced rules and - most importantly - the use of Class 4 ships: starfighters. 

Not only do starfighters, e.g. "snubfighters", provide iconic imagery of the genre, like the X-Wing and the TIE fighter, but many of the most important battles seem to be decided by the use of starfighters. Who can forget General Dadonna's answer to the damn good question, "Pardon me for asking, sir, but what good are snubfighters going to be against THAT?" in the briefing before the battle of Yavin? Well, "An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battlestation - but the approach will NOT be easy."

So I scrubbed together a little Rebel squadron to take on some of the iconic bunch of Imperial Star Destroyers I have laying around [16...but who's counting??]. Never having played with the starfighters, I tried to guess at a reasonable force balance, and at least was partially aided by the game's point system.

It should be noted that altho I'm using the Advanced Rule "Fleet Building" and Optional Rule "Special Abilities" I'm not using the "Fleet Commander Options" Optional Rule. This would add a bit more to the game, and this force has no less than 3 ships with the Fleet Commander Special Rule, but hey, one thing at a time!

Below, the Imperial Squadron: 3 x Imp Star Destroyers, 3 x "Infinite" TIE fighters, 2 x TIE Interceptors, 2 x TIE Bombers, TOTAL 191 points. Cards to right with the Imp dice set to '20' each as they seemed to hit up there WAY too much in the last battle and replays!

Zooming into the images will show the stats and special rules:
- The ImpSD is just a great ship - solid armor, powerful guns, Tractor Beam and can launch a fighter a turn. I consider this the standard by which all capital ships are measured!
- The classic TIE fighter is only OK with 14 Defense and +2 Laser Cannon - BUT, it has the special rule "Infinite" so when it is destroyed it is returned to the Fighter Pool and can be relaunched again! So, you never really run out of the little boogers. This seems a bit cheap as it is only 1 pt more than a Y-wing, but the Y has two guns and up to 3 Damage, or triple the TIE, which is pretty useless against a capital ship packing too little punch. 
- The TIE Interceptor is much better - 16 Defense and TWO +3 Laser Cannons, and the special rule "Interceptor" so it can pass through any enemy starfighter that doesn't also have "Interceptor" Of course, all this goodness costs more, so it is 6 pts. 
- Finally, the TIE Bomber is also quite good - for what it is supposed to do. At only 4 pts, it may have a weak Defense of 13 and a lame +1 Laser Cannon, but it has killer +4 Proton Torpedoes that deal out 4 Damage - enough to take most capital ships halfway to the scrap yard; AND it has the special rule "Long Range Bomber" which allows it to attack non-fighters at 2 squares away dealing half damage [2 Damage]. This is important since with the 13 Defense most Point Defense on capital ships would tear these things to pieces.

Below, the Rebel Squadron: the Class 2 Unique ship "Home One", 2 x Rebel Cruisers, 1 x Rebel Transport, 4 x Y-wing, 4 x A-wing [one Ace], 3 x B-wing, 2 x X-win [one Ace and one Luke Skywalker X-wing - "May the Force be with Him!"], TOTAL 192 pts.

- Home One is a very solid ship with slightly weaker main guns but Fighter Launch 2, so it can launch two starfighters a turn, important for the "close in and swarm" tactic I'm planning, and it costs just a little less than an Imperial SD at 50 pts.
- The Rebel Cruiser is a much weaker ship but it costs half as much. The main guns are half as good but the Defense is only a point worse on the front Face. More importantly, it has Fighter Launch 1 and 7 Hull points, making two of these a little better than the Imp Star Destroyer if they roll up [14 Hull, twice the starfighter launch, and more maneuverable].
- The A-wing is a scrappy little starfighter with a good 16 Defense and "Interceptor", but the weapons are a bit weak, with two +1 Attacks, one a Blaster Cannon and the other Concussion Missiles, but the latter are +3 Attack v. nonstarfighters and do 2 Damage.
- The B-wing is a heavy hitting if vulnerable ship. It has only a 13 Defense like the TIE Bomber but with three weapon systems it can deal out a whopping NINE damage if they all hit! It's Proton Torpedoes are +3 Attack and deal SIX of the damage, then there's an Ion Cannon that's +4 Attack and up to 2 Damage. The Laser Cannon seems like an afterthought, but hey, it can be used to destroy nearly any starfighter - this is a cool ship!
- The X-wing is a very nicely balanced starfighter with two +3 Attacks, and the Proton Torpedo does 4 Damage. It has 16 Defense, good as an A-wing. It's only limitation is that the Proton Torpedoes can only be used against nonstarfighters, so in a dogfight it only has one Attack, while the Y-wing and A-wing both have two. Still, the high Defense makes it the best all-around starfighter if you don't know what you'll be up against. But in a dogfight, I'd want to have twice as many Attacks! The Ace ups these stats to +4 Attacks and 17 Defense.
- Luke Skywalker's X-wing is of course pretty amazing and can deal some dangerous hurt; TWO +5 Attacks for up to 6 Damage against non-fighters, and the "Force Sense" Special Rule gives adjacent starfighters -1 Defense. He can take it, too, with an 18 Defense and - unusually - TWO Hull Points. Overall, my only criticism of the ship is that it still only has one Attack, albeit a +5 Attack, against fighters, making it weaker than most of the other ship types in a dogfight. I'd have given him two +4 Laser Cannons for 1 Damage, instead of one +5 for 2 Damage as that extra Damage point is redundant v. starfighters. Still, put him into the middle of a bunch of starfighters and he's going to impact them!

It should be noted that an "Ace" variant for any starfighter usually means +1 Defense and +1 to all Attacks, and usually costs 1 point more.

Force Comparisons: The A-wings are 5 [6 for Ace], the B-wings 6, the X-wing Ace is 7 [6 for regular X-wing] and Luke Skywalker's X-wing is 9 pts. So the total investment in starfighters for this force is 71 out of 192, or 37%. The Imps have 31 out of 191, or 18%. So nearly a perfect 2-1 ratio of starfighter advantage. 

This is offset by the 35 point advantage in Imperial Class 2 ships, and they have unlimited range on their nasty batteries that deal up to 7 Damage a turn - each! The Hull Point totals are 30 to 30, however. The interesting difficulty will be the "Infinite TIE Fighters" that can be put into play again the turn after they're destroyed. The only way to stop this is to destroy the Imp SDs, which is the goal anyway! In gunnery, the Imps have 27 Attack bonuses v. 16 for the Rebels, a 1.7 - 1.0 advantage, so almost 2-1. Clearly, Imperial gunnery will be crucial to this fight as it is where much of their point advantage is resting.

Overall, the sides are interesting: both have strengths but different strengths.

SETUP below. The Imps win the setup roll-off, so the Rebs setup first. Playing across the wide side of the board, I don't want the Imps to be able to nestle in a far corner - just more gunnery with infinite range, up to two turns more, if I favor a side. I set up the Rebels smack in the middle, basically. I put both Rebel Cruisers together, hoping their starfighter Launching would be mutually supportive somehow. I set up the Imps in a corner, protecting all their sides except one, and all their rears, from nasty starfighter attacks. It also has them as far away as possible, giving them the most time for gunnery at distance, their forte.


Round 1 below. Imps lose Initiative - they sit tight and Fighter Launch three Infinite TIE Fighters, one each. The Rebels move full forward to Fighter Launch as close as possible. I picked the A-wings to pin down the TIEs yet be able to penetrate the starfighter screen if needed. I also hoped their two weak Attacks would still deal nasty to the TIEs.

Note that in their present positions, all the Rebel capital ships can hit the side Face of the right-most Imp SD, and most of them the middle SD, also. The turning rules make it hard to change this since you can only turn AND move forward. So those SDs would have to move forward 2 squares, then turn AND move forward a square the next Round, blocking the adjacent SD from any movement. This is a bit of a quandary since if they are not against the edge and crammed together, they are A LOT more vulnerable to starfighter attack. They are hoping to trash enough Rebels to win the gunnery duel, regardless of attack angle. Also, they outflank the Rebels in return, anyway - but will it help as much?

Round 1 Attack Phase. Imps blast Rebels off the map, hitting 5/6 shots, destroying two Rebel Cruisers and Reducing the Rebel Transport. Argh! The Force is with them!!

In return, Rebs knock out 7/10 of the right-most SD, Reducing it - small compensation.

As this is a playtest, I'm not very interested in hot dice! I reroll all Attacks, upping the Damage on the rightmost SD to 8/10, and saving one Rebel Cruiser by rolling average.


Round 2, the Imps again lose Initiative. Interestingly, this gives them first movement, and the opportunity to get starfighters where they're needed and lock other starfighters into position. So "losing" Initiative is more like a win with starfighters. Unfortunately for the Imps, all the Rebel starfighters are A-wings with "Interceptor" and they can just move away!

So, the forward positioning of the TIE Fighters [above] is pointless. But, they can occupy a square and keep the Rebel starfighters from attacking the weakened SD or the flank of the leftmost SD, so that's what they do instead [below].


The SDs then Fighter Launch nearly all their remaining fighters, two TIE Interceptors and a TIE Bomber. These protectively occupy more squares , leaving only a 3-square attack point at the front of the left SD; with Defense 16, I'm hoping it will be able to hold off the Rebels..


Round 2, Rebel movement. I pondered this a while. The maneuverability of the Class 3 ships was pretty useful here, with all of them moving diagonally and changing facing freely to end up on the Imperial side Faces. They then all Fighter Launch. Luke's X-wing emerging from the Cruiser, the X-wing Ace and a B-wing from Home One. The A-wings engage TIEs, with the Ace positioning to attack either SD or the TIE Interceptor, depending.


Round 2 Attack Phase. Revenge of the Rebel Cruiser! It rolls hot with its Turbolasers and knocks off the remaining two Hull Points of the Reduced Imp SD.


The Rebels target the center SD, rolling hot and inflicting 10 Damage, including 7 from Home One, 1 from the Transport, and 2 from the A-wing Ace's Concussion Missile.

Round 2 Attack Phase starfighters. The Interceptors to right both miss, the center one is outmatched by the A-wing that edges it out with a Concussion Missile [barely].

Round 2 Imperial Attack Phase. Gunnery smokes the second Rebel Cruiser, but the Imps miss 3/5 shots, and the TIE Fighter and Bomber also miss. I forgot to attack the Transport with the TIE Bomber's 2-square range, but it couldn't destroy it with 2 damage anyway, and I forgot to attack with the A-wing and Luke Skywalker, also! I also forgot to fire the Point Defense on the A-wing Ace and Luke Skywalker's X-wing. Learning pains...


Round 3. Imps lose Initiative again, but IMP starfighters get into position first. I forgot to Fighter Launch the remaining TIE Bomber, however. The SD doesn't move - too awkward and slow, and there's no advantage to doing so. Home One moves in closer and Fighter Launches two Y-wings. I picked them for their versatility against fighters or the SD. During Attack Phases, Home One misses, the Transport kills the adjacent TIE Fighter, but in return it is destroyed by the SD's Turbolasers - it's Ion Cannons then miss Home One. The left batch of A-wings miss and are missed by the TIE Fighter and Bomber. In front, the one TIE Fighter kills the X-wing Ace [THAT was a surprise!] and survives three Attacks! The left TIE dies while missing with its Attacks. I guess he didn't ace the Imperial Academy! 

Catching up on some mistakes, the Point Defense on the SD kills the A-wing Ace but misses Luke Skywalker - twice. Luke then attacks twice [once for last Round, once for this Round] and rolls hot, hitting 3/4 of the time including one Proton Torpedo run, for 8 total Damage - the Force IS with him! Note that if his other Proton Torpedo Attack had hit instead of the Laser Cannon, OR if Home One had hit once, the SD would be toast! As it is, it is Reduced.

Round 4. Things are wrapping up fast, with a wild starfighter melee between the two Class 2 ships, and little reason to maneuver, but I move Home One forward a square anyway, then Fighter Launch another Y-wing and a B-wing. Home One guns down the Reduced SD which misses in return. All that's left is the Starfighter Attacks.

At left, the Y-wing misses both attacks and is missed in return by the TIE Bomber. The two center TIE Fighters are destroyed by the B and Y-wing respectively, as Luke misses the right TIE. For sheer revenge at what is obviously an Imperial defeat, I attack Luke's X-wing with both TIE fighters, hoping for a long shot success since he has two Hull Points and 18 Defense. Wonder of Wonders...both hit! Luke is defeated, altho as a Major Hero he'll be rescued from Vacuum and return to the fight in the future after a long Bacta Bath.

Round 5. The lone TIE Bomber is an Imperial devotee, clearly! instead of surrendering, he tries to take out the Y-wing, but just misses. In return, he's killed three times over.


Final Result. Rebels have 100 pts surviving, including unused B and Y-wing. The Imps have a 4 pt TIE Bomber alive, and access to Infinite TIEs if they only had an SD!


The Cost. Imps lose three SDs, two TIE Interceptors, 1 TIE Bomber, 3 Infinite TIE Fighters, for 187 pts. The Rebels lost all three Class 3 ships, two A-wings [including an Ace] and two X-wings [including an Ace and Luke Skywalker!] for 92 pts.


The Cards show a wide variety of casualties in the storm of destruction!


Thoughts
- I'd toss the Rebel Transport, a Y-wing and B-wing for another Rebel Cruiser. It'd give me a bit more Hull and gunnery, and another Fighter Launch capability.
- Setup was ok, but I think I'd deploy the Class 3 ships farther to the side if I set up second. This would give them the ability to threaten the side Faces of the Star Destroyers, while Home One would hit the side if they turned, outflanking the static Imp plan.
- The Imps don't gain anything by splitting up. As they want distance for gunnery, they either deploy in the center [if first] or a corner [if second]. 
- There's a method to the madness if deciding how to run your Attacks, which provides a lot of the decision making each Round. Maneuver isn't that important for Class 1-2 ships, but it is pretty important for Class 3-4 ships. Basically, the big ships lumber around providing either long-range gunnery or short-range starfighter defense.
- This game is clearly designed to get you into a wild melee of starfighters. The big ships don't last long with the powerful, infinite-ranged gunnery. 
- If I fought down the long-edge of the map, there'd be one more Round of gunnery before the starfighters struck. This could certainly trash another Rebel Cruiser, but with average rolling the three Imp SDs are putting out about 10 Damage a Round while the Rebels are inflicting about 7 Damage a Round, pretty much Reducing one Imp SD.

So in three Rounds there'd be three dead Rebel Cruisers and either three Reduced SD, or, 1 Destroyed, 1 Reduced and 1 undamaged SD against an undamaged Home One. Or, they could destroy Home One with 1-2 Rebel Cruisers Destroyed or Reduced. This would still leave a weakened Imperial force taking on about 7-8 starfighters, which would be close.

Most importantly, it should be noted that the Imps had less points and only rolled average, unlike the last couple of playtests of the rules! [OK, ok, it was only ONE less point, but still...]

Summary
Well, I think there's a bunch of clear decision-points for players in this game, even playing it "as-is". It's more interesting than it seems at first glance, and certainly falls into the One-Hour Wargames spectrum of having a lot more play than you think until you actually play it and think about it. The flavor is excellent, including the game pieces themselves. I must say that I do prefer to have the ships out of scale relationship to each other but VISIBLE to my naked eye. So a blow against scale "realism" here.

Some things I'd like to change are:
- giving the Initiative winner choice of moving first or second,
- slowing the pace of the big ships dying to long-range gunnery [possibly by introducing some Ranges or making the Damage = how much you beat the Defense, up to the max],
- make the starfighters feel more like "squadrons" instead of single ships, 
- adding another facing direction [so 8 instead of 4],
- keeping main batteries from shooting at starfighters; the Point Defense should be enough  since everyone has access to starfighters and most ships have some fighter defense, also.
- doing something about total freedom with Attack selection and sequential Attack resolution. Perhaps some sort of Target Acquisition rule to encourage ships to pick targets and stick with them, or it could also be proximity-based.

I do want to preserve the Star Wars feel to the system and stay within the perimeter of the rules as much as possible. While the movement is heavily abstracted, it's very surprising how little that matters given the technology involved, and this is a game about space COMBAT not SPACE ASTROGATION anyway. General concepts and decisions about positioning are there for the players, and they DO affect the game, and that's all that matters at our level of play anyway, since all the technology is very heavily theoretical, to the point where it's hard to add details to it at all!

So altho this isn't the game I would have designed for Wizards of the Coast, and I do think they could have done a LOT more with the Advanced and Optional rules, there is more here than appears at first, and more to work with. I'll slow the pace at which I was thinking of introducing changes, and try to hit a couple of very specific things for next time.

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