This week, we introduce our first guest writer, Mike Barry (Dashz), to talk about the Dark Lord of the Sith himself: Darth Vader. Mike is a good friend of mine and played in both the TTS Invader League and the Maximum Firepower Qualifier at the NOVA Open.
Lord Vader is the reason we play this game. (At least he’s the reason I play this game.) We’ve all seen him slaughter rebel troopers in darkened corridors and battle traitorous Jedi on more than a few battlefields on screen and on paper. But how does that translate to Star Wars: Legion?
Presently, Darth Vader is rather underrated. Out of the 3 days I was at the NOVA Open (unfortunately I only played in one of those 3 days) – I think I saw 6 total lists featuring the Dark Lord of the Sith (including mine). I find your lack of faith disturbing.
Darth Vader is very much outside the normal scope of the game mechanics. There are no similar units (with perhaps the exception of Luke – though Luke generally has a very different role) to compare armaments and abilities to. To this end, much of the information supplied is supported by experience and will be backed up by statistical data where applicable.
At a whopping 200 points, Darth Vader is the most expensive unit in the game without upgrades until his Master, Emperor Palpatine, shows up in a few months. For the foreseeable future however, Vader is our paragon of points value investiture. So what do we get for our faith?
Deflect – A great keyword for the aspiring force user, Deflect combos exceptionally well with force upgrades and the command cards available to Vader.
Immune: Pierce – This keyword is critical to Vader’s survival against all of the opposing characters that have the Pierce keyword. Additionally, as we progress into a world where more and more units have the Pierce keyword, Immune: Pierce is going to jump in value even further.
Master of the Force 1 – This is also a great keyword (and works really well with Deflect/Force Reflexes.) This allows you to take half a recover action at the end of every turn for free at the end of every turn. Congratulations, this is step 1 in our long trip to Vader’s value town. (Vader Value Town, .5: more on that below)
Relentless – Vader’s best keyword by a large margin when coupled with Saber Throw. This brings Vader’s standard action economy on a turn he can throw his lightsaber or melee a unit to 3. (Vader’s Value Town: .33 to .83 – you probably won’t trigger this on at least one turn of the game, probably 2)
3 Force slots – This is and most likely will be the highest number of force slots available on a character. While devoid of other upgrade types, these slots are the most rule-breaking slots in the game. Having access to any 3 force abilities is a major benefit for the Dark Lord of the Sith.
Red Defense Die/No Defensive Surge – The Red defense die means Vader will be taking damage 50% of the time unless you are triggering deflect. Presumably the second best passive infantry save in the game and the best active save (with a dodge token).
6 Red Melee/No Offensive surges – All of Vader’s melee attacks will have a 75% chance of rolling a hit – that’s a whopping 4.5 wounds with Pierce 3. When Vader hits things that aren’t pierce immune, they die. Most squads are 4-6 troopers at the moment; Vader will wipe most 4 mans squads off the table in one swing. It is additionally noteworthy that Vader’s Saber also upgrades its hits with Impact 3 – allowing Vader to deal a consistent 3 damage to vehicles with pierce on each melee attack.
8 Health – The most health out of any trooper unit in the game (presently). Each unit of health on Vader is precious and should be treated as such. He’s no good to us dead. Vader ranks close to last on the Effective Wounds chart. 8 wounds is not a lot for 200 points. We’ll go into this further later in this article. Keeping Vader safe is paramount to keeping him effective.
Fearless – Vader has no courage value, which does some very interesting things. First, it means Vader will never get a suppression token (and the benefits that come with it – it also means he’ll never lose an action to suppression). Later on we’ll talk about the value of dodge tokens and natural cover and their importance in keeping your Vader in the fight. Secondly, this courage value means that ALL of your units within range 3 of Vader will never panic as long as he remains in play. Overall, the benefits of this outweigh the negatives of it, but you need to be mindful that in the open Vader will never get suppression cover bonuses. If you allow your opponent to target him in the middle of the field, He Will Die.
Darth Vader only has force upgrade slots available to him. Let’s take a look at each of these below:
This allows Vader to take the equivalent of a “Free” dodge action. An excellent generic choice that is hard to go wrong with. VVT 1.
A quick note on Force Reflexes: As I continue to play more and more games with Vader – it has become apparent to me that the more you develop your skill to keep Vader in cover, the less of a necessity this becomes. Often Vader will be behind Heavy Cover, or locked in combat and will be a very difficult target to shoot at. I’ll be dropping Force Reflexes as an experiment in Season 2 of Invader League with the addition of Imperial Royal Guard as a test bed for this hypothesis. It frees up 15 points (and a force slot) to spend on other Force Abilities or other models.
For 5 points, this upgrade isn’t terrible. However, there is an opportunity cost, as it takes up a critical force slot. If Vader is in Force Choke range, he is also generally going to be dicing things in melee or throwing his saber. As the amount of non-commander models increases that are relevant (droids, etc.) it is extremely possible this card gets much, much better. In the very near future it may be useful to dispatch Electrostaff Guard upgrades in Imperial Royal Guard squads so that Vader can then cut them down after denying them Immune: Pierce.
This is a fantastic choice for flexibility. It allows Vader to bring squads into melee range, pull them out of cover, or force them out of an engagement. Its usefulness is not always immediately apparent, but it is almost always good. Force Push increases Vader’s melee threat range by about 2 inches.
Let me be clear here – if you are taking Darth Vader you are also taking Saber Throw. It allows him to take advantage of Relentless even on turns he is not in melee range.
This upgrade is situationally good depending on your army list. If you army list operates with a unit that absolutely needs orders outside command range, this is a viable, but perhaps unnecessary, upgrade. Note you can use this to bypass the unit type restriction on the command card in addition to the range requirement.
Vader’s Value Town
Vader’s various keywords and force abilities often give him the ability to take more than 2 actions per turn. Utilizing these ‘free’ actions are important to get the most out of your 200+ point investment. Earlier we alluded to the concept of Vader’s Value Town (VVT), which going forward we are going to define as the additional “free” actions that Darth Vader gets to take during his activation. We’ll be adding these up over the course of the article to stress the importance of free actions with Vader (VVT).
Presently we are going to run under the assumption that Darth Vader will always have two exhaustible force upgrades (Force Push and Force Reflexes) equipped along with Saber Throw and that he will be able to trigger Relentless on half of the available turns he is on the board. Vader will get an average VVT of 1 from Master of the Force 1 (.5, half a recover action for Vader) and Relentless (.5, half an attack action). This brings his total average actions per turn to 3 (1 VVT + 2 standard).
Let’s take a look at Vader’s activation in two scenarios: 1) on a turn he cannot engage but will end at least 1 of his 2 moves in saber throw range, and 2) on a turn where he can engage.
Example 1: Close to engage range; end in Range 1-2
Vader’s average Saber throw, without factoring in cover, will net a total of 2.24 hits with pierce (juicy saber stats are at the end of this article). In this example, the most likely outcome is that 2 of the 6 non Immune: Pierce troopers in will die from Vader’s Saber throw attack. It is worth noting that Vader’s Relentless attack is always immediately after his movement; you can’t Force Push something before triggering Relentless.
This turn nets a total equivalent 4.5 actions or 5.5 actions if you used force push, with an attack value of 2.24 wounds.
Ex2: Melee (with Force Push)
In this example Vader’s melee swing should net a total of 4.49 hits with pierce 3. Regardless of the save type available (red with no surge or white with surge), on average all hits will be converted to wounds. Note that this is just the average outcome of this attack; your results will vary. However, due to pierce 3, a minimum of 3 wounds are going to be inflicted on an average hit roll.
Vader’s action economy in this example is just as good (better due to the efficiency of the attack) as in the previous example (4.5/5.5). It is possible you may not need Force Push to get the enemy unit in a position for Vader to melee them.
This turn nets an equivalent action economy of 4.5 or 5.5 actions with an attack value of 4.49 wounds.
The above two examples are Vader in the the thick of the action. What does Vader’s Action economy look like on a turn he doesn’t trigger relentless and/or is out of force push range?
Ex3: No targets close to engagement range
Pretty simple. Vader performs 2 speed 1 moves, takes a dodge token, and recovers force reflexes for a total of 3.5 actions. As Vader cannot lose an action to suppression, this is our worst case scenario.
Getting Vader Close
So, we now understand that we are going to live in a world where Vader is taking between 3.5 and 5.5 actions per turn normally. It is clear that if we are looking to get the best bang for our buck from our Dark Lord, we want him to be as close as we can get him to the action as quickly as possible. Shocker, I know. Hard hitting analysis right there.
There are a few tricks to getting this to happen quickly:
- Focus on objectives that force a conflict in an area where your opponent has to meet you. Intercept the Transmissions and Recover the Supplies are both excellent for this. Key Positions is also excellent if you get to place 2 objective markers (Blue Player). I would recommend shying away from Sabotaging the Moisture Vaporators and Breakthrough; it is fairly easy to avoid Vader in both of these scenarios. Look to generate a key and lone point of contest and then capitalize on the fact that your opponent will have to deal with Vader.
- Advanced Positions, Advanced Positions, Advanced Positions – Did I mention Advanced Positions? All of the deployment areas have a range band of 1 away from the board edge closest to the enemy position (centrally). Advanced Positions allows you (and potentially your enemy too!) to start even closer with the Scout keyword. Take Advanced Positions whenever possible – it is worth a minimum of half a turn of movement, and if your enemy moves their units 1 movement closer to Vader, it is worth a full turn of Vader’s movement before the game starts.
Turn 0 briefly covered.
Let’s talk about getting Vader there safely after the dice rolling starts.
But Mike! He’s the Dark Lord of the Sith! He doesn’t care about safety! Yes, yes he does. And you’ll care too if you never get to swing his laser sword before he is shot off the table. So what factors should we be paying attention to when we talk about safety?
- The enemy commander – Presently, 90% of the lists you are going to be playing against have Veers or Leia in them. By extension that means 90% of the lists are going to have some sort of ranged bombardment available on turn 1. When you set up your Vader, try and put him out of LOS of the enemy’s deployment zone. If you can’t hide him completely, just set him up where it is most convenient – Leia has sharpshooter 2 and Veers has Sharpshooter 1. If they can see you, they WILL ignore at least part of your cover with their respective bombardments.
- Use the fact that Vader has a speed 1 move to your advantage. Walk over barricades and other obstacles that impede a normal unit’s movement, and use area terrain. They don’t slow down Vader, so use them for cover.
- Engage units in melee that have already activated this turn so they can’t disengage and open up Vader to a hail of laser fire. Be wary of an opponent’s Force Push in this regard as well.
- Remember that while he is only one model, Vader represents a minimum of a quarter of your armie’s strength. Issue orders to Vader often, especially if you need to traverse out into the open from cover. Wait to go last, traverse into the open, toss your saber. Then use just about any command card (Master of Evil is great for this) and get ready to charge into melee. Last/Firsting with Vader can be devastating.
Let’s talk about doing some damage, but before we do – let’s take a look at Vader’s command cards.
Vader’s 1 pip command card. This allows Vader to issue an order to himself, then after his first activation suffer a wound to shuffle his token back into the pile. This is great to play once Vader has actually engaged the enemy or at the end of the turn to go Vader, Vader last, Vader first into the next turn. 5 back to back moves with 3 free attacks should devastate a close knit enemy line.
New Ways to Motivate Them
Vader’s 2 pip command card. This is Vader’s force multiplier command card and can generate some unexpected damage depending on your order target. It is an excellent as a turn 2 or 3 play. Snowtroopers are made for this card. We’ll take a look at this deeper in the next section.
Master of Evil
Vader’s 3 pip command card. The most flexible of Vader’s commands as it allows him to take a dodge token immediately. Additionally, it doles out 3 suppression tokens to any enemy trooper units within range 2 when Vader activates. If you plan this out right you can dish out 15 suppression in a single turn. My current record for suppression given out with this is 21. If you’ve taken my advice from earlier in the article and staged the battle around a central objective, it should be fairly easy to pull this off. However, unless you have already killed the enemy commander, the objective of this card is to ensure that all the units around Vader only get one action. Panic is a real sweet bonus if it happens. If you are able to hit units outside the enemy commander’s range (due to death or them being elsewhere) this can quickly end multiple units’ impact on the game.
Okay, so there are Vader’s command cards. How do we kill stuff with Vader and his suite of abilities?
Light ‘em Up
This ploy is centered around Vader’s 2 pip command card, New Ways to Motivate Them. I would recommend taking two Snowtrooper units, each with a flamer (In the future, I’d suggest trying this out with Royal Guard). Don’t kit them out too hard; they are probably going to be your first units to die. Both of these units will be issued orders on whatever turn you can fling them with 3 moves and hit the enemy with your flamethrowers. This will likely be turn 2 or 3 depending on the deployment and your opponent’s strategy. The range of this attack is tremendously deceiving. Three speed one moves plus Range 1 on the attack allows you to successfully use this attack on any enemy that is about Range 3 away at the start of the Snowtroopers’ movement (see Know Your Ranges, below). Take the damage and fling your Snowtroopers across the map to start breaking your opponent’s important high troop count units. This attack ignores cover, so use it to break entrenched positions!
Whack a Mole
A common misconception is that Vader needs to rush completely headlong at the enemy. While you do need to get him close to the action, he doesn’t need to be in the thick of the enemy army. For instance:
Ex4: Whack a Mole (Peekaboo)
In this example, Vader is dealing with 2 enemy trooper squads. He could charge the one on the right and wipe most of it. However, depending on whether or not the squad on the left and right have activated, Vader should wait if able or play a bit of hit and run. Pop around the corner, throw your saber at the squad not in cover, take a dodge token and run back around the corner for your heavy cover bonus and LOS block on the squad you just threw your saber at. If both squads have activated go ahead and make the charge, but in a world where you fail to kill the right hand squad and it pulls away or you completely wipe it, Vader will be exposed to a brutal barrage of enemy fire.
Terrain is your best friend/set things up for your lackies
Ideally set up a combat scenario where Vader can advance through Heavy Cover towards the enemy lines (or better yet, out of LOS completely). Vader is not slowed down by difficult terrain. Walk across barricades and area terrain towards your targets whenever possible. Vader walking amidst a terrain piece (or multiple) most of the time straight out denies that same terrain to your opponent. Once you add snowtroopers with flamethrowers to that mix, it starts giving your opponent some hard decision points on what to shoot. Additionally, keeping Vader close to terrain allows him to utilize Force Push to move enemy squads out of their cover, either closer to Vader or into the open so your other units can shoot at them.
Don’t get too focused on Vader’s combat target for Force Push. Push has great utility and can put your opponent in situations they can do nothing about or force them into activating a unit they don’t want to so you can take advantage somewhere else on the table.
Welcome to the Dark Side
I hope these thoughts and tactics will change at least a few minds about our Dark Lord, or at move the needle towards a game that incorporates this iconic character in more competitive games.
- Use Vader’s various free action granting abilities to maximize his activations
- Fire up the barbecue with New Ways to Motivate Them
- Use area terrain and don’t be reckless (but be Relentless… see what I did there?)
- Vader’s value starts in turn 0. Try and force objectives that center around a specific area.
A parting thought:
While it’s fairly clear the meta is dominated by Leia/Luke and Veers lists, I’m not convinced that’s where it should have landed. The meta is going to shift over the next few weeks and months. On the Imperial side of the fence we’re going to gain Scout Troopers, giving us an additional cheap activation (2 man squads) to help on Vader list activation counts. We’re going to get Imperial Royal Guard; keeping a unit of IRG next to Vader for the duration of the game increases his effective health by a ton. I’ll leave it to Kyle to do the math on that one, but I imagine it will be challenging to focus down Vader at that point with anything but an AT-ST or multiple speeder bike squadrons.
Lastly, my favorite speculation – Force Choke is about to get a whole heck of a lot better. Right now, it can only really pick off some special weapons. Once you are able to choke medics, comms experts, Operatives etc. it may become a very quick replacement for Force Reflexes or Force Push in some lists. Dealing a wound to a Boba or Chewie every turn you’re in range for 5 points is not half bad, and the list of targets is only going to get longer.
May the Dark Side be with you,
Mike Barry (Dashz)
Thanks Mike! Let’s hit some quick supplemental tables.
About that Lightsaber
It’s big, its red. It’s made of laser. What’s not to like?
Below are the average wounds by target for various lightsaber related situations you may find yourself in.
Vader’s lightsaber hurts. It deletes most things in melee. No surprise there.
I included a row for Aim, because sometimes you get to do that, soon possibly for free. It makes a difference. Anger is a new force power that will come with Palpatine, and I think it will be pretty solid on Vader. Aim tokens are great for red dice.
Take a gander at those pierce immune columns. Don’t be surprised when you bust Implacable out on Luke and don’t kill him. Pierce Immune units are extremely inefficient targets for a weapon with lots of Pierce. I know that sounds obvious, but it is tempting to try and zero in on an opposing Luke or Vader. If you have other targets, consider Force Pushing your counterpart into a vulnerable position and hacking up something else. If not, take some swings with Vader and then Force Push them into the open to be shot. Vader’s lightsaber is devastating, but it certainly loses some luster without the Pierce.
Cover really hurts Saber Throw. This shouldn’t be surprising either. Prioritize vehicles or target units in the open.
Defense and Dodge
8 health is a lot, but it only goes so far. Vader will die under fire like anyone else. Below is the wounds to Vader by attacker; the color scales are inverted, so red = most damage/most dangerous, while green = least damage/least dangerous.
The two columns are with and without dodge/deflect. Besides giving you a red/surge save (essentially going from 4+ to 3+ on a six sided dice), spending the dodge token also cancels a hit. The ‘difference’ column shows, on average, how much extra damage you avoid from each target by having a dodge token. A dodge token cuts your damage by roughly an additional 50%.
Hey look, another chart that Fleets are on top of.
Even though Vader is immune to Pierce, Fleets still throw lots of dice. Any unit that generates large numbers of raw hits is going to be dangerous to Vader. You whittle Vader down by forcing him to spend dodge tokens and roll saves.
Know your ranges
There are several ranges important to know with Vader. In order of closest to farthest:
- Vader melee range (2 moves + Relentless)
- Vader melee range with Push (1 move, Force Pull, 1 move, Relentless)
- New Ways to Motivate Them range with Flametrooper (Flametrooper 3 moves + Steady)
- Saber Throw (2 moves + Relentless)
These ranges are pictured below on the range ruler.
That’s it folks. Try not to choke on your aspirations.