Sunday, December 25, 2016

State of the Faction - Imperial

The final of three articles they various faction and how they fare against (or as) the current meta. The first covered Scum and the second covered Rebels. We finally get to Imperials, the faction I favor the most. Who doesn't love the lawfully empowered government?


Starting with the biggest offender, Agent Blaise is meta-defining. For his point cost, his attack pool, surges, defense, and health are everything you could want them to be. By itself it's quite good, but when you add the abilities Blaise has it becomes absurd. Adapt lets you make a figure Hidden the first time each round your opponent plays a command card, which can pose challenges to your opponent. But the real threat lies in Interrogate, which trades a surge for the ability to look at your opponent's command cards and allows you to force them to discard one by discarding one of equal or higher cost. And to add insult to injury, his personal command card is a 0 cost  which returns your discarded command card to your hand and draws you another. And just to top it all off, he brings in the Spy and Leader command cards, which are both exceptional.

The reason Blaise defines the game is because he breaks so many rules in ways that no other model does, in a way that cannot be mitigated except by another Blaise. Command cards are an essential part of the game, and not knowing the exact hand your opponent has is an essential part of the game. Blaise mitigates every part of command cards. He prevents you from having them, he negates the benefit of holding onto them, and he punishes using them. He removes a huge element of the game, but only for that player. The opponent still has to play the command card guessing game, knowing that even if he plays perfectly around what command cards his opponent might have, he can never win that aspect.

And ignoring everything else, Agent Blaise is cool and fun to play. Interesting abilities and introducing a new archetype for Imperials. I understand what FFG wanted from Blaise. But (I believe) Blaise is FFG's biggest misstep in Imperial Assault.

The Exceptional

Darth Vader is the strongest unit in the game. There's little denying that. With an exceptional pool of attack and defense, with incredibly strong abilities, Vader suffers no lack of combat potential. But his cost is prohibitive. Bringing Vader forces you into a game of attempting to get the investment back from him. With multiple attacks and the abilities brought by the Force User trait, I feel that Vader can very much bring back his value. With an invulnerability to anything less than a heavy weapon or hero, Vader has an aura of control over the battlefield. With proper application, Vader can lock down scenarios. A benefit of being so costly is that if your opponent cannot get 18 VPs from objectives, they must kill Vader. A losing proposition.

In a similar vein to Vader, RCG outperforms nearly any other model, barring the Dark Lord himself. RCG boasts an incredible attack and a noteworthy defense, with abilities that are always good. Whereas Vader is a calmly walking black hole of death and destruction, the RCG is a blur, speeding through the battlefield, ripping enemies apart. There is no ignoring him, there is no escaping him. There is only death.

 Stormtroopers are the backbone of the Imperial war machine. They boast attack, defense, health, speed, and cost that is standard troopers. The distinguishing features lie in their surges, which are the two most useful types for standard troopers, and their abilities. Squad Training mitigates dice, which is hugely powerful, meaning that Stormtroopers outperform other troopers similar to them. Last Stand is unique to the Elite Stormtroopers, which focuses another model in the group when one Stormtrooper dies. Focus is extremely powerful, and the ability plays off the strength of the Trooper archetype, which can take losses and continue to perform, as well as regaining lost Troopers. All in all, Stormtroopers are an extremely powerful option, and a top generalist performer.

The Imperial Officer is both an exceptional filler unit and a great utility choice. Low health and an acceptable attack are standard for such a low point cost, but there are several features that make the Imperial Officer great. One is the ability to Focus, which can make an Officer a surprising source of damage. Order is worth bringing an Officer for alone, as the ability to reposition models on the fly is a huge tactical advantage. And Cower with a white dice is annoying to remove, which discourages attacking the Officer. Plus bringing in the Leader trait is good. But the ability to get an entire activation for 2 points is a very large draw for listbuilding, regardless of the fact that the Officer is a great addition to any list.

The Good

General Sorin is the Imperial leader for mechanical warfare. He himself is nothing impressive, with a weak attack with abnormally good surges and a mediocre health pool. He will rarely attack himself, using his Bombardment ability to give an attack to another friendly figure, which gains Blast 1. But the entire reason to bring Sorin lies in his Advanced Firepower rule, which gives all adjacent Droids and Vehicles surges for damage, stun, and focus. Handing out these surges can make a huge impact, potentially giving Probes or HKs perpetual focus or a stun on demand. Sorin is not a figure you add to a list, he's a figure you build a list around. And with Advanced Comms Systems, an upgrade that changes adjacent to be within three spaces, he's entirely feasible to build a good list with. (Hint: Look at the traits of the upcoming Jet Troopers from Jabba's Palace)

 Kayn Somos is the Trooper equivalent of Sorin. He comes with a greatly improved attack and health pool, but doesn't come close to a powerhouse like Vader or RCG. Rather than hand out good surges like Sorin, Kayn can focus Troopers with a surge and can give out attacks to nearby Troopers, directly increasing the firepower that his list puts out. He doesn't have too many tricks, but he has raw firepower. And sometimes that's all you need.

Heavy Stormtroopers are exactly what their name implies. They're frontline Troopers with a heavier attack and access to Blast, on a tougher body. They have the Heavy Weapon trait, allowing them access to the several impressive cards tied to that trait. And they have Composite Plating, which adds some defense when attacked from far away, which is nice when it comes up. Overall, a good bit of punch for a Trooper list.

ISB Infiltrators are a frontline Spy unit. With a very standard attack pool, they're low on health with a white dice, partially made up by the surge for Hide. They have tricks in Coordinated Raid, which allows the group to trade an action for the other member to attack, which can be useful in different situations. Access to the Spy trait is always good. Overall, a useful pick if going with a Spy theme, but a soft choice compared to Stormtroopers in other lists.

Probe Droids are cheap, independent units with a decent health pool and a surprising capacity for damage. Mobile is good for running around where they shouldn't be. Self-Destruct is rarely used, as normally forcing the use of an additional shot or two is more valuable than the grenade damage, but there are situations in which it's a life-saver. A generally good investment for the low point cost.

The E-Web is essentially a stationary turret. You get it into position and hope it doesn't have to move again. Health is a bit on the low side (though the Elite adds automatic defense), but the combination of a hefty attack and Assault makes this a superb damage dealer for the point cost. Positioning is the struggle if you bring one, and the usefulness of it is determined by factors such as scenario. Difficult to get good use out of, but a good attacker if you can use it.

The Repulsor Tank is a personal favorite of mine. Its offense is good with its ability to double-tap, and its defense is a bit low with a meager health pool and only one defense dice. Defensible makes up somewhat, which can be either type on demand. Massive is good to block off other Massives and to make sure nothing is safe from its sights. Its best virtue is the ability to dominate areas, preventing the opponent opportunities to make safe plays in that area.

The Snowtrooper is very similar to the Stormtrooper. It trades a offense in terms of Squad Training and a damage surge for increased health and a Pierce surge. It also gets the ability to heal other Troopers. The elites have a surge for focus, somewhat increasing their damage output. Generally not a bad supporting choice in a Trooper list.

The Grand Inquisitor is a strong damage dealer. His attack is strong, with deadly to prevent the annoying X-Man when it comes up. He can also spread out his damage, with Cleave 3 doing significant damage. He has a lightsaber throw to deal damage at range, which is the first ranged Cleave. On the defensive side, his health is extremely high. His white dice has Defensive, which adds a block if he didn't roll one, making the white dice no joke. The Force User trait is quite good, but somewhat dangerous to use in Imperial, as the only other Force User is Vader. Overall, a strong inclusion into numerous list types.

The Mediocre

Royal Guards got hit with the nerf bat pretty hard. Their health is high, but their attack is like a wet noodle with their good damage surge removed. Their abilities are probably the only reason to take them. Sentinel is their trademark ability, handing around blocks, but they're quite expensive for just that task. Vengeance is good, but doesn't trigger enough to make up for their lack of damage. The Royal Guards are a far too defensive choice for Imperial Assault.

General Weiss rides a custom, modded AT-ST into battle, and his cost represents that. He gets to choose his attack pool, which is neat, but at only one attack a round is hard to justify nearly half a list on. High health and two black for defense makes him nigh-invulnerable to ordinary firepower. General's Orders is neat, but also not worth the points. Overall, a model far too expensive for one attack and little else a round.

AT-ST has all the same problems as Weiss. Too expensive for only one attack, though great survivability. The generic AT-ST has Awkward, which poses positioning issues, though it has a Targeting Computer by default. (How did Weiss forget that in his custom ride?) Just far too expensive for the minute effect it has.

Thoughts on Unit Options

Imperials have the best generic Troopers. Stormtroopers and Heavy Stormtroopers are great. Imperials also have the best centerpiece models. Vader, RCG, Sorin, and Kayn all are worth building an entire list around. Their support is lacking many of the options the other factions have (notably Rebels with Gideon and C-3PO), but with the usefulness of the Imperial Officer and the meta-knowledge of Blaise, Imperials don't much feel the lack.

There are very few bad Imperial options, but the general strength of some of the options make choosing even good models less than competitive.

Combatting the Meta

The current meta is that of elite Troopers, with good health and damage output, though typically lower numbers. Often backed by support options, be it Blaise with his command card shenanigans or Gideon+C-3PO for focus.

Imperials are the meta. Having the best generic Troopers makes a strong list. There's no shortage of Trooper lists running only on generics. Application of other choices like Blaise, Probe Droids, etc. make an endless search for your favorite combination. But Trooper is far from the only good Imperial list. I think any centerpiece list is a viable contender as well.

I've got this crack theory that Vader or RCG is the way to go when trying to counter the meta. Both are nigh-impervious to even elite Troopers. Vader is somewhat miffed by the loss of his command cards, but is a murder machine even without them. RCG doesn't at all care about command cards, he's largely not even going to use them barring the occasional supersonic Urgency or a cheeky Flurry of Blades.

I see Imperials as a solid roster of generic units, either by themselves of focused around one specific leader model. There's nearly no wrong choice when it comes to making an Imperial list.

But that's my thoughts. What are yours? Any conflicting opinions or questions left for me would be greatly appreciated.

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