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Friday, 31 July 2015

System Wars Review Part 1 - Aquan Ships


So both preceding (in the form of the PDF) and accompanying (in the form of the printed booklet) the invasion ships is the System Wars Phase 1 Supplement.


So in the spirit of full disclosure, I am - together with the FFG - (and as you will see from the credits on the picture above) the primary writer for this booklet, so my views are bound to be biased. This also gives me the ability to talk about intent and design purpose, so there are advantages and disadvantages to me writing this!

So the first thing to talk about is the difference between the PDF and printed booklet. Essentially the PDF has all of the ship stats and rules on Commanders, plus any errata, whereas the booklet does not. Both have background, pictures and descriptions of commanders and the four additional scenarios. For me this is a good compromise where I have a physical book to flick through and read, but without pages that will rapidly become invalid with errata and FAQs.

So I think the first thing to talk about are the ship stats themselves, which I'll tackle in the order they come up in the PDF, so first we'll deal with the Aquans.


Stat-wise the Nectridea is very similar to the Charybdis, just being slightly faster, slightly better defensively. At first this looks like a short-changed ship, but if you look at MARs, the ship has Reinforced fore (again, boosting its defences) and Energy Transfer (1) included - which costs 5 points on the standard carrier. In addition it has the Planetfall MAR (more on that later) and the Durable MAR, which makes the ship more resistant to the attentions of SRS. Its hardpoints also change the picture somewhat - the extra shield or Difficult Target make it more durable by far...the +3 WC (for free) boosts it to Charybdis levels of carrier capacity, making it a very viable alternative to that ship - similar role, but different focus.

"So what?", I hear people saying, "I never take the Charybdis anyway!". Well, that's up to you, but the Nectridea gives you options you didn't have before. You can configure it as a cheap carrier with Quick Launch - that's not to be sniffed at, giving your bombers a 6" range boost - by itself that could sell the ship. Alternatively, a DT Large with 6 Bombers is likely to deliver that payload right down the enemies throat. I've found in games the Nectridea is great at sweeping smalls or mediums out of its path, either using separate attacks or linked depending on requirement.

In invasion missions, the ship draws a lot of fire, as it's supposed to. DT & Reinforced Fore make it difficult to destroy, and I've not yet faced one that also has a second shield! It also has the option to take the Sulis as an accompaniment. Now this makes it more expensive, but imagine this - two Nectridea with Sulis, travelling together and each using the others Energy Locus to boost their combined RB1 shots into a target 20" away....that's potentially a 16AD attack per activation, plus Port/Starboard shots and any Wing action. It's not a Maelstrom, but it is viable and unusual....you can also choose to use the Energy Locus with another squadron (say 3 Stingray destroyers), and give yourself a 1-2 punch from them followed by the Nectridea squadron - or multiple fore shots. It all depends on who you're up against. Go against Dindrenzi with hard to kill shielded DT ships with lots of approach angles and I'd often opt for multiple lower AD shots, since I'd be unlikely to get a crit anyway, I'd go for attritional kills.

The thing for me is this gives Aquans another way of fielding ships, it ADDS to their already extensive toolbox, without being an auto-take. I can see uses for a Nectridea in Aquan fleets, and it's a difficult ship to square up against, which alone makes it a viable option in my opinion.


"An Assault Cruiser? It only has 2AP!?!"

Yes, once again I'm always amused by people who take a completely monocular view on ships, especially ones supposedly designed by aliens! There are no formal definitions of what ship classes are in FA, so to trying to impose them, especially on a diverse group of races as in FA, is slightly narrow-minded.

The Limulus is designed to assault enemy planets and installations by delivering ground forces safely to the surface - it's not an FA space assault marine ship. It can't even be upgraded to fit that role - it's simply one Aquans don't do well - period.

So what does it bring? Well the Limulus is tough - DR6/CR7 make it almost as tough as the Nectridea - oh, and it can gain DT too...with a typical Aquan squadron size, you can have four of these 6/7 DT ships heading for your planet, netting their commander 8 Battle Log - that's not something you can ignore. They're going to take a lot to bring them down, and that's a lot of firepower that then is NOT targeting your enemies combat ships.

That is the essence of the invasion ships and the scenarios (which I'll talk about in another blog) - the tough choices you need to make as an opponent to these ships. They bring only frigate-level firepower to the table, but any targets of opportunity they can pick off are just gravy - they just need to deliver their contents to the planet.

Whilst we're on the subject of firepower on these ships, let's just step back a moment....if these had decent (ie equivalent firepower to their normal equivalents), putting them on the planet would degrade your ability to damage the other fleet, and thus be a negative to actually doing it. The Large ships which actually do bring some firepower are also relatively slow, so they're not reaching the planet until turn 4 at the earliest, by which stage in the battle the BL they represent is better on the planet than potentially destroyed....and they're going to have attracted a lot of firepower by that stage.

As far as non-Planetfall builds, you have the option to take Mn2....Wow. Escort-sized mines...yawn, right? Well, they do this for free, and that links to Mn5 for the Squadron. Again, underwhelming. They have the option to take Double Mines, however, which now gives them a lot more options - now the squadron can lay 8 Mn2, 4 Mn 3, 2 Mn5 or 1 Mn9 token. Clouds of Mn2 or Mn3 mines don't sound much, but now think about these guys flying ahead of your fleet, sowing these mines in abundance. When the enemy arrives, these are going to do nothing to his ships, but any SRS around are going to have a rough time, as a 6 kills one wing regardless of its source....so 3 Mn2 tokens are as deadly to Wings as a single Mn6.

So again, is this an auto-take? No - 200 points to achieve this is a lot, but against certain enemies (like Relthoza), this kind of active suppression could be very handy. Dealing with the Squadron is also a pain because they're a nuisance rather than a priority threat, they're tough and yet they can shape the way the game flows. So again, difficult choices.


Finally we have the Antiarchi, and one of my favourite models from the release. Planetfall wise, these are tough, cheap and net you a Battle Log each - plus get one down on the planet and you've denied your opponent destroying the squadron, so no negative to your BL and no positive to him, meaning the worst they can do with one ship down on the planet is parity (+1 BL for enemy by reducing Tier 3 to half, +1 to you for getting one down).

Non-planetfall build, they give you 4 x Mn2, 2 x Mn3 or 1 x Mn5 Drone mines. So once again, you've now an active threat to SRS, or even small ships from these little tadpoles. The most you're going to spend on them is 80 points, so that seems like a fair return to add this sort of flexible harassment factor.

Originally the Smalls were not going to have a non-planetfall option, but adding one into the ships was actually not difficult and gives people the tactical options once again. Will this appeal to everyone? No, but then no option (or ship design) ever does. The point if that they're there for that time you could need them - how about a couple of squadrons of these in Hold the Waypoints, pumping out Drone mines around your (or your opponents) objective?

SUMMARY

The invasion ships are designed exactly for that, but also have builds to slot into existing fleets to bring a slightly different angle. They're probably non-optimal in several regards for standard fleets, but then that's to be expected - these are ships designed (both in a background and gaming sense) to fulfil a specific purpose. They tend to be tougher, down-gunned version of their respective classes, but are often designed with some little tricks to add something flavourful for the race in question. The Aquans demonstrate some aspects of this, and we'll pick up this thread in the other races ships as well.