Hey all, long time Imperial Loyalist and Interceptor jockey Drew “Darklight” Edgar here. I’ve been coming up with non-standard lists for fun and noticed a few interesting points about the Empire’s list building dynamic and decided to share them here with you guys.
Firstly let’s look at the competition; The Rebel Alliance (aka The Original Scum). Their strength has always been in fewer ships that work well in tandem, or using combinations of abilities to assert combat dominance. Be it with Biggs forcing a target change, Esege loaning out focus tokens, or Cracken’s built-in Squad Leader upgrade, the Rebels seem to have plenty of availability when it comes to working well as a squadron. Most of their ships are also durable so staying in a proper formation isn’t a death sentence to most of these ships. (Unless you’re Biggs, in which case that’s actually the point.)
On the other-other side of the fence we have the Scum and Villainy. Their whole gimmick is to have ships loaded to the teeth with nasty surprises. They do that quite effectively with things like Dead-man’s switch, Feedback Array, and the newly popular Glitterstim! Their ships don’t have the Imperial speed, nor the Alliance’s modular synergy but they don’t need it. Most of their abilities rely on being a lone wolf, or in cases like Prince Xizor, simply being scumbags to one another. (Get it? Scumbags? Haha! Because they’re– ugh… I’ll see myself out…)
Now where does that leave the Imperials? Well quite obviously with the Speed and Agility. Many would argue that the top 3 slippery and deadly ships in the game could possibly be Soontir Fel, Darth Vader and Whisper. All of which are Imperial. They move last, they barrel roll, decloak and boost all over the place making them mentally strenuous to both play as and against. They also hit exceptionally hard. Just below them on the scale of terror are those like Carnor Jax, Turr Phennir, and Echo who all perform the same terrifying high-PilotSkill, highly unpredictable heavy hitting.
But these are just 3 ships in the Imperial Roster; the Advanced, the Phantom, and the Interceptor. What about the others? Why aren’t we seeing more groups lead by Howlrunner? Why are Defenders more invisible than Phantoms? Why is there only 1 Lambda pilot as far as the community is concerned? Quite simply put; they don’t belong in Imperial lists.
Now before you report me to Lord Vader for being a Rebel sympathizer, let me explain. The Empire’s play style clearly favours Arc-based and manoeuvre based shenanigans. What this means is Imperial ships don’t like being shot at, or like positioning themselves in a way that annoys the living bantha-poodoo out of their enemies. Synergistic abilities almost have no place in an Imperial List because reliance on these abilities removes that single advantage. Let’s look at a few examples.
Civé Rashon, aka ‘Howlrunner’. We all know her from the reigning days of the Swarm. Her ability statistically increases damage output of neighbouring ships by a considerable amount for such a low price point. So what’s the problem? Simple; Range 1.
Keeping friendly ships within Range 1 of Howlrunner makes their ending position based on their starting location and possible dial choices very predictable. For example, if Soontir wants to benefit from Howly’s reroll, he’s going to have to forego both a boost and a barrel roll for risk of moving too far away from his desired supporter. All your opponent has to do to ensure a good shot on the Baron is to outsmart the much more limited Pilot Skill 8 TIE Fighter and keep her in arc. Odds are the Baron will be somewhere nearby.
Obviously, that’s not optimal for the Interceptor so that doesn’t get utilized.
Jonus is the Secondary Weapon equivalent of Howlrunner. His ability does for Bombers, Punishers, Firesprays and Defenders what Howly does for TIE/LNs by increasing damage output. Different being that his ability only ever really works with smaller lists due to the base costs of ships that take secondaries and the cost of the secondaries themselves. He’s also in a TIE Bomber which doesn’t exactly have an agile dial so whatever nasty surprise he’s supporting probably only gets one or two chances before your opponent firmly places his nose-cone in your twin ion engine for the duration of the game.
How about these fine gentlemen?
The Lambda-Class was introduced to be a purist support vessel, and in it’s defence it’s built to do that just fine. The problem again is the limiting range on the abilities. Yorr’s ability to eat up stress at range 1-2 is pretty solid. In fact that’s one thing the Imperials actually have some decent control over in the current game. Stress tokens stop you from using your precious actions to barrel roll out of a sticky situation or grab that focus token when you need it, so on paper this ability is amazing. A range 2 bubble that moves around taking the stress away from those ships that just can’t afford to have it. The problem here is that the Range 2 bubble is pretty much on a fixed rail. The Lambda can’t really turn unless you kit it out with Advanced Sensors and an Engine Upgrade (which is actually pretty hilarious if you haven’t tried it). So this bubble would probably patrol around the outside of the board, limiting the nearby arc dodging and positioning required for other ships to get things done. Not to mention, it’s kind of huge. Big bases are 4 times the size of a small base so it’s much easier for you to screw up and run in to your own ship, or land on an asteroid when attempting to keep a Lambda in the thick of things.
Jendon is both figuratively and literally in the same ship. His ability sounds great on paper! Handing out target locks? Yes please. However it’s limited to those in range 1 and again the Lambda can’t turn so keeping anything close enough to make use of this ability with regularity cuts down on your manoeuvre choices.
Ultimately Yorr and Jendon aren’t terrible, but there aren’t many small base ships that will stay near a Lambda long enough to get the points out of their ability without getting nuked or losing the shuttle.
TIE/LN, TIE/IN, TIE/D, and TIE/PH all want to run free. Their dials have 1 sharps, all can barrel roll, and have the speed to run away if things get dicy. Combining the above abilities with lists using these ship types just can’t work reliably, at least not without some serious Thrawn-level tactical genius. So while the Empire has several ships that perform some exceptionally handy synergistic shenanigans, there aren’t any ships available that can fully benefit from those abilities due to one limitation or another. Some even have the opposite problem.
The fearless Onyx squadron leader Rexler Brath has such a problem; His ability screams Rebel Alliance. What he really needs to perform is an extra focus token on top of whatever other action he needs to do. Imagine for a moment that this ability is on an E-wing. I have no doubt in my mind that you’d see Garven, or Esege flying along side this guy all day because of the ease-of-access to another focus token! The Empire can’t really do that. For one; any ship that needs two focus tokens would probably rely on Recon Specialist to be self-sufficient. However, this is a TIE Defender so no crew upgrades. Failing that, it’d need a ship that would fly in close proximity to hand off an action somehow. Fleet Officer does that! But once again, to best utilize these abilities, Rexler would have to forego an arc escaping barrel roll or choose a much more predictable manoeuvre just to stay in range of the ship that would have Fleet Officer on board. Once more, there actually isn’t a ship in the game outside of the Defender that moves like a Defender enough to constantly be close by and still be more than a pure support ship! So even the aggressive Phantoms wouldn’t dare fill this role since they use decloaking to come in from radically different vectors than a Defender, not to mention dealing with the stress token issued from Fleet Officer stops ACD from working entirely. This leaves Decimators and Lambdas, both of which cannot K-turn, and Firesprays. To add yet another level of complexity, Fleet Officer is an Action, so any ship wanting to stay near Rexy to give him a Focus Token would have to be able to follow him around closely, and 180 turn with him without stressing themselves every time they do it!
More recently Vessery’s ability has started to blend in. His major issue before was that a lot of TIE variants can’t target lock making his ability useless. This is still somewhat an issue since it means you have to choose ships around him that can acquire target locks in some form or another. TIE Defenders are bloody expensive so there already isn’t much wiggle room to put ships in around him. The few ships that do get used will also have to acquire a target lock on his target, not necessarily the one they intend to shoot themselves. Finally; once they die, his ability is no longer usable at all. Pretty much every Rebel and Scum ship naturally comes with a Target Lock action so if Vessery were a pilot with either of those factions, you would have complete creative freedom on what other ships to include in the list. If you fill up an Imperial list with purely Vessery and TIE Fighters/TIE Interceptors/TIE Phantoms, you’re going to have either a very shallow ship count where a bunch of your points are sunk into Targeting Computer, or a Defender pilot with functionally no pilot ability.
So what does this all mean? Well it simply means that list construction for Imperials hits an interesting dilemma. You as an Imperial player slightly more defined choices ahead of you when it comes to list building. You can go the 2-ship build with one of the 3 Imperial Terrors and a Firespray/Decimator. You can go the newly formed Palpashuttle and Double Ace route. You can make a munitions joust list, a swarm, a barebones double deci with Howlrunner or even a Jonus Brothers list.
You can take combinations of only certain ships and, more often than not, upgrades to secure a truly effective squadron. Does this mean Imperial list building is more predictable than the other two factions? Maybe. At the very least it means that there are combinations of ships that want to work but simply can’t no matter how much their ability screams “I’m awesome, pick me coach!”