Welcome to the third and final part of the Scanners Offline blog discussion on our experimental rules balancing for Dropfleet Commander. This week, we focus on Shaltari and PHR.
Vectored: Change to; A Vectored ship may Course Correct and Max Thrust without gaining a Minor Spike.
There were several things about the Shaltari in their current rules form that we wanted to tweak. We didn’t want to go down the route of nerfing popular ship choices (Diamond, Amber, Topaz), but instead opted for trying to make other ship choices more attractive. High on our list were the Shaltari Light Cruisers.
“What?” I hear you cry, “Do they even have Light Cruisers? I’ve never seen any Shaltari player use them…” Exactly the point! Both the Azurite and the Aquamarine are taken in so few lists, I actually had to look up their names just now, and I’ve been playing the game nearly two years. Both Light Cruisers have Vectored as a special rule, which in old money allowed them some turning benefits, but nothing that a Course Correct order couldn’t already do.
Vectored was already a unique rule, so we aimed to edit and improve it. We imagined Shaltari Light Cruisers being both super manoeuvrable and really quiet, so we enhanced the existing style and fluff of the rule. They can now Course Correct and Max Thrust without picking up Spikes, which improves their use as rapid out-flankers, perhaps trying to get behind the enemy fleet line and harass them from the rear. They’re never going to be game-breakingly good, but they can certainly be an evasive, balletic thorn in the side of the enemy fleet, which we feel better captures the Shaltari approach to fleet battles.
Gravity Coils: Change to Impel-1 for all ships with Gravity Coils.
I love the idea behind Impel: Gravity weapons shunting enemy ships around and throwing your opponent’s carefully laid plans into disarray. Unfortunately Impel just didn’t happen often enough to warrant being included in serious Shaltari lists. Sure, it might be taken on board a Sapphire/ Palladium for a bit of fun in a casual game, but you certainly wouldn’t bring it to a tournament. The trouble lay with how often Impel was able to take effect. It would only turn a ship 45 degrees for every two crits, and to be honest the enemy ship would probably just turn back to face the way it wanted with a Course Correct the following turn.
Changing to Impel-1 rather than two means that each Critical hit results in a turn of 45 degrees. Even as a secondary weapon on a Battlecruiser, this hopefully makes it more tempting to give the Gravity Coils a try. There are some really good uses for a weapon that could reliably turn an enemy ship, especially against ships that rely on their Front Narrow arc for their main weapon systems, like the Diamond, or anything with a Burn-Through Laser. And the biggest incentive of all- seeing the look on your opponent’s face when you start spinning their ships around!
Jade: The Jade’s Particle Lance gains Fusillade-1 (One extra shot on Weapons Free)
Get Shaltari players discussing the effectiveness of Jades, and the conversation will quite quickly become expletive-ridden. And that’s with the changes already made by Hawk to improve them! It’s hard to believe that Jades were once only Lock 3+, Attack 1, Damage 1, Particle with a Front (N) arc. The change made them Lock 2+ instead, but Jades are still widely considered a massive waste of points in a Shaltari fleet. As George Lucy (The Hot LZ) once memorably put it : “Jades should stay on the sprue, the sprue should stay in the box, then the box should be burned and stamped on.” Powerful stuff! The reason for such Shaltari ire lies in the damage potential of a group of Jades. Ideally, in Dropfleet you want all of your combat Battlegroups to have at least the potential to cripple an enemy cruiser. That is the milestone by which we roughly judge a successful ship/ group in Dropfleet. Four Topaz, for example, throw out eight Lock 3+ shots; they have the potential to do 5 or 6 damage with decent rolling, and thus are taken widely among Shaltari players.
At first glance, Jade don’t look too far off. Particle means that as long as they can hit on a 2+, each hit will bypass armour saves and inflict one damage straight away. Potentially useful against high-armour, low-hull targets, I suppose. The problem comes with their damage potential being devastatingly predictable. If you take a group of 4 Jades against me, I know with 100% certainty that you cannot cripple my Scourge Hydra if I stick it within range, as the Jade can only do four damage, maximum. Probably one of those four shots will miss, and I’ll take three damage. I can plan for that occurrence in my tactics, account for it and negate or ignore it.
So, Jades needed better damage potential. Now we looked at various ways of tweaking them, but it was tricky to improve Jades without making them immediately overpowered. Changing them to Damage 2 would be way too powerful, the same with Attack 2. Change the Lock to 3+, but Damage 2 or Attacks 2? Still too good. We went looking through various special rules, to see if one would fit. In the end we settled on giving the Jades Fusillade-1. You’d never usually think to go Weapons Free with a Jade, but now you should! We imagined that in exchange for a big spike in Signature and reduced manoeuvrability, a Jade could choose to divert power to its Particle Lance, increasing from Attack 1 to Attack 2. Traditionally ships with Front (N) arcs are rarely able to go Weapons Free, because you need the enemy to sit still in front of you and passively get hit. However, there are two good reasons why Jades should be able to (occasionally) pull this off.
Firstly, Shaltari have a very long Scan range, and many good choices for Active Scanning frigates. The further away you get from the source of the Front (N) arc, the wider it actually is. So if a coordinating Opal in a different Battlegroup has just put a minor spike on a Scourge Hydra through Active Scanning, then four Jades move forward on Weapons Free, they can hit it from 26” away, with their Front (N) arcs ending in a not-so-narrow 9” wide cone. I actually just went and measured this to check!
Secondly, to pull off hitting a target in the same layer that hasn’t hidden from your Front (N) arc, you probably want to use the age-old tactic of Last-Activation/First-Activation. Jade can do this reasonably well, as you will be taking them in Groups of three or four frigates, meaning they probably only have to compete with your opponent’s equivalent-style Battlegroups (typically 3-4 Taipei, 3-6 Echo, 3-5 Europa, 4-5 Djinn) which will probably be trying to do the same to you somewhere else on the board.
Ultimately we envisage Jades with Fusillade-1 being used to early-game alpha-strike an important asset in the enemy fleet, but then the Jades probably being lost to return fire very quickly. Their damage potential on Weapons Free is greater than a similar number of Topaz, with which it competes for a slot in Shaltari lists, but Topaz are sneakier and more likely to survive to later in the game. Hopefully, that gives Shaltari players more selection choices than going for the Topaz by default.
Granite: Both Particle Lances gain Linked-1 and one Particle Lance gains Bloom.
As with everything I’ve just described for the Jade, the same can be said for the Granite. It has two Particle Lances with Lock 3+, Attack 1, Damage 2. In order to fire both, it has to go Weapons Free, then we run into the same problems that all Front (N) weapons have with Weapons Free. As described above, Shaltari can get away with it better than most, but it’s still not easy. Even if it did fire both weapon profiles, the Granite still only had a damage potential of four. Again, we wanted to improve the Granite without making it overpowered.
We went for just making it easier for the Granite to fire both Particle Lances if it wanted to, but for the price of a Minor Spike. This is quite a cautious tweak, as I was very wary of creating a cruiser that put out too much Particle fire-power, as negating armour saves is a powerful mechanic in the game. This makes it a better “finisher” cruiser- use it to reliably push damaged ships over their crippling threshold, or finish of ships that have already been crippled but got a forgiving result, like Scanners Offline or Fire.
We didn’t initially have any changes for PHR, but after some feedback it was decided that broadsides and batteries needed a further bump, just because the PHR Launch meta is so strong right now.
1) All Tonnage (M) and (H) ships with Light Battery, Light Broadside, Medium Battery and Medium Broadside weapon systems that have Linked: Gain Fusillade (2) (affects the Theseus, Ajax, Orion, Ikarus, Perseus, Hector, Agamemnon/Leonidas, Priam/Scipio).
2) Massed Weapon Banks (command card): Add line: If a ship already has Fusillade, increase the Fusillade value by 2.
I’m really happy with the blanket effect of this rules balancing, and that one rule so neatly affects so many ships. It’s easy to remember as a PHR player! Basically, whenever any PHR ship that has a Light or Medium, Broadside or Battery weapon (excluding troopships) goes Weapons Free, you get two extra shots on that profile. This would have been disproportionately powerful for Calibre (H) weapons as they have a low Attack value, and we considered the PHR troopships to both already be good enough. So this rule neatly affects all the ships that don’t get quite as much table-time as they should. It rewards clever manoeuvring and forward-planning on the part of the PHR player, just as Napoleonic-era seafaring warships had to plan for the exact moment and position to release a devastating double-broadside. We wanted to give PHR players a reason/reward for going Weapons Free, as a lot of the motivation had gone with the addition of Linked to most of these weapon systems in a previous Hawk errata.
I want to pick out the Agamemnon/Leonidas for particular attention, as it benefits more than any other ship. When it goes Weapons Free, it would now put out 10 Lock 4+ and 14 Lock 5+ Calibre (L) shots per side- that’s rolling 48 attack dice in total! If you happen to have been lucky enough to play Massed Weapon Banks before you lined up your perfect Weapons Free moment, you’d get 12 Lock 4+ and 16 Lock 5+ Calibre (L) shots per side. Roll 56 attack dice, good sir!
Now, before non-PHR players call foul, remember that lining up Weapons Free attack runs with side-facing weapons is trickier than with any other race’s ships. You also know about the risk of the Agamemnon doing this from the very start of the game, so you can plan and position to avoid it. Lastly, any Agamemnon that does pull this off is very likely to be left with a Major Spike somewhere near the middle of the board, and thus very unlikely to weather the counter-attack. So I feel there are definite trade-offs.
Ultimately it makes the PHR broadside attacks more cinematically epic, and totally on-point for the theme of the ships.
That’s it for the final part of the series exploring the thinking behind the RedWarSoc Experimental Errata, a community-led rules balancing for Scanners Offline. If you’ve tried some of these rules, please tell us! We’d love to hear about your games on the Scanners Offline Facebook page, or here on our website.
Thanks for reading. If you haven’t yet, take a read of Part 1 and Part 2. You can download the PDF of the RedWarSoc Experimental Rules Errata v1.21. Look out for more Dropfleet articles coming soon from Scanners Offline.