Who hasn’t looked upon Gideon and C-3P0 with jealous eye and contempt for their easy Focus distribution? How many times has Jabba turned a simple, two-dice Weequay into a Focused, three-dice colossus? Why must a Stormtrooper relinquish the mortal coil for his friends to feel the sweet taste of an extra green die? This is the curse of the Imperial player – in exchange Zillo and a deep bench of troopers, he or she is doomed to be without Focus.
Yet, there is hope for the Imperial legion. Like an ancient scroll, long forgotten, there is a card that rains focus tokens down upon Stormtroopers and Jet Troopers alike. However, it comes at a steep cost – a 2-point cost to be exact. Of course, I’m referring to Vader’s Finest.
Vader’s Finest is a relatively straightforward attachment card, limited to Troopers. Essentially, it provides two pieces of utility to a figure. First, it grants a figure the ability to perform an attack and then gain two movement points. Second, for two actions, it grants the ability to discard any harmful conditions on that figure and grants that figure a Focus token.
What I appreciate about Vader’s Finest is that the cost-benefit analysis is complex, making it quite difficult to theorize its use cases. For instance, granting three Stormtroopers the ability to Focus is strong on its face, but can you afford to sacrifice an entire activation (both movement and attack) to use it? Harder still, is judging the value of the two movement points following an attack. Players know that bonus movement is good, but that value is only extracted if units are placed correctly to take advantage of it; i.e., the value of the bonus movement increases with player skill.
Moreover, Vader's Finest can't be analyzed in a vacuum, but rather must be examined in concert with the units that can support it. Thus, in this article, I'm going to review some select Imperial troopers' use of the card and give my impressions of it. I'll highlight both the good and bad, with an emphasis on whether the trooper is really getting the necessary value from a 2-point upgrade (the "Is it better than an Officer?" test). Let's begin!
I thought I'd start with the staple of the Imperial army, as the Stormtrooper reigned supreme in many lists for quite some time. However, despite their strengths, I am skeptical of their ability to efficiently carry the Vader's Finest upgrade card (despite Stormtroopers being in the picture!).
Let's start with the good. For one, there's not a lot of competition for the upgrade slot on Stormtroopers - making the opportunity cost from that perspective relatively low. Moreover, because a Stormtrooper group consists of three figures, you'll be getting slightly more value from the upgrade as three units will get to use its benefits as opposed to one or two. Finally, being two-dice figures, Stormtroopers get decent value out of the extra die from the Focus token.
Yet, I can't ignore that Vader's Finest just doesn't seem to mesh well with a lot of the Stormtroopers' traits. Stormtroopers already have a method of becoming Focused, so its possible that the Focus from Vader's Finest may create redundancy when Last Stand is activated. Moreover, adding a green die to the Stormtroopers pool doesn't necessarily spike their damage all that much. Assuming that range isn't an issue, Stormtroopers only have one productive surge available to them (+2 damage). With a green-green-blue dice pool, it's very likely that you could end up with two surges, which makes for a mediocre attack.
Ultimately, I don't think Vader's Finest is terrible on Stormtroopers, but I don't think it provides the value it needs to for 2 points. In the best case, it provides a good way for Stormtroopers to move, shoot, and easily get back into cover - but I see this as being a nuisance for an opponent rather than game winning. Therefore, Vader's Finest paired with a Stormtrooper is probably not better than having another Officer in your list.
As the only player running Heavy Stormtroopers at Worlds 2017, these figures have a special place in my heart. Unlike their smaller brothers, Heavies actually extract a lot of unique benefits from Vader's Finest that may just make it a winning combination.
To begin, the Focus provided by Vader's Finest provides an insane amount of value to Heavies. First, the extra green die bumps the Heavies' minimum range from 4 to 5, and improves the chances of reaching even range 6 or 7 (there's a fifty percent chance to get greater than 1 range on the green die and sixty-six percent chance to get greater than range 2 on the blue die). Second, nearly every result on the green die is valuable to the Heavies. Unlike Stormtroopers, Heavies begin with a low chance of rolling a surge with their natural dice pool and have two amazing surge abilities (+2 damage and Blast 2). With a blue-green-red dice pool, getting the surge to spend on their abilities is far more likely. And, unlike their smaller brothers, the odds of rolling too many surges are very low. Finally, with Speed 3, the extra movement provided by Vader's Finest is quite beneficial. It enables Heavies to more easily move around corners and move back to a space out of enemies' line of sight. Given their sizable health pool, this will only extend their time on the board.
However, not all is well for the Heavies with Vader's Finest. First, using the double action to Focus (even if it is awesome) may not be feasible most games. After all, with Speed 3, it's unlikely that Heavies will be attacking the same turn they leave the deployment zone. This means that if you Focus round one, and then move round two, you won't likely get any offensive value out of your Heavies until round three. Depending on the map and mission, this may be unacceptable. It also goes without saying that 10 points (Elite Heavies with Vader's Finest) for two figures just feels bad.
If nothing else, Vader's Finest on Heavies may be a fun novelty - and may even pay themselves off with a good Blast or two. But ultimately, if I had to choose between an Officer or Vader's Finest with my Heavies, I'd stick with the Officer.
Jet Troopers stand as the most difficult unit to assess when it comes to Vader's Finest. I mean, I enjoy a four-dice attack as much as the next person, even if there's a good chance that you'll have a lot of unspent surges - the potential for a huge damage spike can't be ignored. However, their real strength lies in the unique benefit Jet Troopers acquire with the combination of Vader's Finest and Fly By - a bonus four movement points when attacking an enemy figure within two spaces.
Is this radically better than moving two spaces after an attack? I would think not, but the novelty of this particular benefit combined with the unique play style of Jet Troopers may make Vader's Finest a useful tech choice when running them. After all, gaining four movement points after an attack solves a major weakness of the Jets, in that they must move within two spaces to gain their additional blue dice. Moving four spaces instead of two drastically ramps up their ability to move in and out of combat zones, and force an opponent to put his/her units at risk to counter attack. Furthermore, I always find there to be strength in the unexpected. For what it's worth, most players will not be accustomed to a unit that can be six spaces away, move four to attack, and then move four back to its original position. Perhaps this doesn't have a lot of value if there was a free attack down a hallway, but on maps with lots of corners and walls, this type of benefit could turn removing those pesky Jet Troopers into a real chore.
As always, the point cost is unpleasant, and the opportunity cost of losing Targeting Computer on the Jets is also a bit unfortunate. However, more than the Elite Stormtrooper and the Heavy, Vader's Finest may feel best on the Jet Trooper. I may even forgo using the Focus ability, and simply take advantage of the movement. In my opinion, with some practice and the right supporting cast, a good argument could be made that Vader's Finest may actually provide enough value to the Jet Trooper that an Officer could be forgone.
I won't mince words - Vader's Finest is a novelty and is slightly too expensive given its costs and benefits. That said, it is the path for Imperials to get Focused and the movement bonus is unique to the game of Imperial Assault. Therefore, I actually think it's worth giving it a try. Losing an Officer is hard, but as the Chopper meta rises, you won't be able to run them anyway. :P