Sunday, August 7, 2016

Armada: Imperials set the tone

Speak softly, but carry big turbolasers.

With Wave 4 coming to us as early as next week, I think we all need to sit back for a bit and think about how far this game has come.  With the release of the first real capital ships in Wave 2, I think the meta changed dramatically.  It completely revitalized the game in many ways and completely changed the dyanmic that the two current factions play on the battlefield.  Wave 4, I don't think will have the same kind of effect, but it does do a few subtle and important things.

The first thing that Wave 4 does is introduce the Interdictor and a more control-centric playstyle into the fore.  No longer are you concerned about doing maximum damage every time or overwhelming your opponents with fighters, you are now able to dictate his movement, his commands and his dice rolls.  With things like the Suppressor Gozanti, Slicer Tools and the various shenanigans that the Interdictor can do, I think it would be wise to consider why these elements are introduced in the first place.

One of the first things mentioned in this game when talking about the landscape of the meta or competitive play in general is the Demolisher.  Yes, I know that I tease a lot when I say that this is hot news or shit on people who talks about the Demolisher like it's something new, but for the most part, all of what they're saying is true.  In my opinion, when it comes to the metagame at least, there are very few things that define the meta.  Some things are more ambiguous than others like initiative bids or whatnot, but the things that truly define the competitive landscape is typically in the form of successful lists.  When this is considered, it goes without saying that I think that Imperials define the meta way more than the Rebels.  On one hand you have Ackbar and their congolines, and on the other hand you have Demolisher and Rhymer.  The difference between having a commander that changes a faction vs. having unique pieces that changes the faction is that in the latter, you can have multiples of.  In the case of the latest GenCon winning list, you can have the biggest and most powerful ship in the game (the ISD), the Demolisher and a Rhymerball all in one list.  This right here ladies and gentlemen, is how you set standards for the meta.  Shit, even the Firespray falls under the Imperial spotlight of single-best squadron in the game.

Tale your time Demolisher.  You'll get there eventually.

To expand on this a little bit more, I want to reiterate on the fact that I think Imperials define the meta, Rebels just find ways to mold to it.  While Ackbar was sort of the mold-breaker to this, and one of the reasons why I stick with him, Rebels didn't really get anything overwhelmingly impactful.  Some even argue to this day that the MC80 Home One-class ships are pretty rubbish compared to the monster that is the ISD.  One on hand, I completely and utterly disagree with them, but when looking at it from a completely statistical standpoint and without consideration of player skill, I can't really fault them.  In fact, I sort of agree with them:  The ISD-II is the better ship with all things considered.  It has the health, the speed, the damage and the upgrades to be the key on the battlefield, and they pay a mere 6 points more if you're comparing the MC80 Assault variant.  Now, I don't want you to think this is some kind of anti-Rebel rant or Imperial's OP crythread, I want to be crystal clear when I say that Imperials are currently setting the meta standards.  With the Interdictor coming into the fray, it's going to be once again, an Imperial ship that will define whether or not we see more Demolishers on the table.  Even Agent Kallus seems to be much stronger vs. the more fragile Imperial Aces, but he can be equally powerful vs. Rieekan Aces as well.

OK, so let's talk about skill.  Now, I might draw a lot of flak for this, but I take great pride in getting my MC80 to work and laying down the law with my AckbarBB.  A lot of people thought it was a points-sink, crazy or unworkable, but I made that damn thing work time and time again.  The MC30c is another one of those tough birds that only a few people have found success with them, and even the Mon Mothma TRC90 lists that run around need a significant amount of precision and poise to execute correctly.  Unfortunately, I just don't see the same kind of skill cap when examining Imperial counterparts.  The ISD-II just rolls face across the table, the Fireballs practically play themselves, and the Demolisher triple-trapping dudes in the ground has me questioning whether or not all this is intended.  Yes, by fluff the Imperials are supposed to be more elite, harder hitting and more powerful, but should this also translate into table-top design?  Don't get me wrong, here, I'm not saying that Imperials are all faceroll and no skill, I just find them on the lower end of the skill cap compared to playing with Rebels.

As for the balance, with Wave 4 and 5 on the horizon, I think they're only moving into a good direction.  So far, we know for a fact that Rhymer and Demolisher has been running rampant for a very long time.  The answer from them is similar to their direction with X-Wing, or Netrunner, and that specific cards are not errata'd or faq'd directly, but more and more answers for them are released by waves.  Their design approach is that by increasing player options and providing soft-counters to meta-dominant strategies, they'll add more to the game in the long run.  I agree 100% with this style of balance approach, even though we know at the end of the day, the Demolisher will still be strong, but there will be more tools to deal with it.

Lastly, I want to re-iterate on how FFG is addressing some of these concerns that people are having.  People say that Demolisher and Rhymer ruin the game, or that they're too over the top.  On one hand, I agree with them in the fact that they're too good for the points, but on the other hand, I'm not entirely worried.  For one, there are countermeasures around these as a player already.  I can't tell you the last time I lost to a Demolisher list, nor a Rhymerball list.  What I can say is that FFG is exceptionally well at subtlety addressing balance concerns by expanding player options and adding soft-counters.  Just a few examples:  Interdictor vs. Demo, Snipe vs. Rhymer, Kallus vs. Aces, and this is just scratching the surface.  FFG is an excellent game design company and having seen their work with their other successful titles, I have no doubt that the game, its health, and the state of the meta can only ever improve.

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