19 January 2015

Named Pilots- Airen Cracken

This post regarding Named Pilots is part of a larger article regarding Wave 4 listbuilding- the rest of the posts in this series will be available in the coming weeks. For more info, click the "List Building Resources" tab at the top of the page or simply click here.

Airen Cracken (19)
Card Text: After you perform an attack, you may choose another friendly ship at Range 1. That ship may perform one free Action.

Usage in game: Action support outside of the Action Phase.
Breakdown: As this is my first article in forever, naturally I went back and re-read what I'd written about Cracken when I talked about the Z-95 preview damn near a year ago. Obviously, you can click the link to read the whole thing, but to sum it up, I compared him to a Rebel version of Vader + Squad Leader with his ability, as well as a slightly better version of Garven Dreis. And I made some weed jokes that were probably inappropriate and largely tied to Lieutenant Blount, but managed to catch Cracken with some splash damage.

Again though, that was the preview. Were any of those comparisons at all accurate some 10 months later?

I think so, yeah.

For starters, looking at his text, the Free Action he's throwing around has some satisfaction criteria- the range thing isn't such a big deal as Z-95's are relatively maneuverable and shouldn't give you much trouble putting them where you want them to be, and his PS of 8 means there's a pretty good chance he'll be Attacking earlier rather than later, so you should find a pretty good degree of flexibility getting that Free Action out there somewhere.

I think the main downside is Airen has a pretty awesome special ability while also being in a relatively easy to kill ship. In other words, I don't know that there's a whole lot keeping your opponent from focus firing him out of the night sky early to mitigate him.

With that in mind, let's think about this for a second.

One option might be trying to tank him up to make him difficult to kill so he's around as long as possible. In general, while I talk about it all the freakin' time on here (and even worse, tried and tried to actually make it work), that strategy doesn't generally stand up for very long. X-Wing's dice and rules favor the Attacker, so generally you're better off gearing up to Attack better than be harder to hit or more difficult to kill. There's also the issue of him needing to Attack to activate the ability, and the need to be within Range 1 of the intended recipient of the Action. Me personally, I think you're swimming upstream trying to make Cracken hard to kill because his nature seems to go against hanging back and playing safe. I'm not saying sticking a Shield Upgrade would be the silliest thing you've done all day were you to give him one, but I do think it's spending points against the grain.

Truth is, if you really want Cracken to stay alive, you either need to have him be the Mouse to Han Solo's (or some other big scary Rebel) Gruffalo metaphorically speaking; giving your opponent something much more dangerous that they need to deal with at a higher priority or you need to roll Biggs so you can at least attempt to control the incoming fire to some degree. 

Going with the Biggs idea because lots of people have used Biggs in the past, but he isn't seeing as much action these days, ol' Cracken meshes up pretty nicely with Mr. Moustache. First, Biggs and X-Wings in general get notably tougher to kill when they bring R2-F2 along for the ride. Assuming you can get Cracken a valid target, he can pass the Free Action over to Biggs, then Biggs can use that Free Action to activate R2-F2 which allows him to Focus or Target Lock or whatever during his, and by his I mean Biggs, Declare Action step. So that's a good thing, no? 

Me personally, I'd resist the urge to put too many points into Cracken. He's going to be a pretty high priority target for your opponent as is, and since there's not a great way to keep him from getting killed, you don't want to hand your opponent more points on top of it. Backtracking to the activation criteria thing though, I think the main thing to remember is Cracken's Attack doesn't have to actually hit anything. So it's a two Attack and you're firing at a TIE Interceptor at Range 3. Who cares? So long as it's a valid target, you're going to pass that Action to a pal regardless. Alternatively, you could install the Munitions Failsafe modification and blaze away with Ion Pulse Missiles until you actually hit something and reap the same result(s) with the added benefit of possibly ionizing your target if you do manage to actually hit it. And for what it's worth, Cracken with Muntions Failsafe and Ion Pulse Missiles along with Biggs and R2-F2 is 51 points. Not a bad combination if you ask me.

Since most Rebel players didn't/ don't roll Squad Leader much, being able to pass around Actions is kind of a novel thing for a Rebel squadron. I mean yeah, you had Salm and Dreis in Wave 1, and Lando in Wave 2, but let's be honest for a second- hardly anyone ever actually played Salm, Dreis more or less fell out of vogue in Wave 2, and Lando was always eclipsed by Han or Chewie. About the closest thing we saw to something in the same ballpark is Kyle Katarn's Focus for days setup. The point I'm getting at is Rebel players might take a little longer look at trying to make Cracken work simply because he adds an element to a Rebel squadron that is pretty unlikely to be something an Imperial player has dealt with before.

Like a lot of people, I try not to get in my own way when it comes to upgrades, pilot skills, and Actions. In other words, if I'm flying Wedge with Marksmanship, I'm probably not going to also give him R2-F2 because both Marksmanship and R2-F2 require Actions to activate, so one way or the other, I'm kind of wasting points since I can't normally pull two Actions with Wedge, right? With Cracken flying nearby though, you totally can and I don't think most folks would be used to seeing Wedge rocking both at the same time. That kind of setup forces a tough decision too- go after the X-Wing with 3 Agility that's shooting the lights out of anything it can draw a bead on, or the guy tagging along behind that's enabling all that bad behavior. Tough call!

I think you can roll Cracken without any Elite Pilot Talents, and as I mentioned earlier, I think there's definitely a line of thought that says that keeping his point investment as low as feasibly possible a terrible idea, but if you really want to know, I think there are a couple of EPTs that line up pretty well with what Cracken's up to, depending on how you're using him.

First, Squad Leader would effectively allow you to pass two Actions (assuming you Attacked), which is pretty cool and the Range requirement synergizes with his card text so they don't get in the way of each other. I also kind of like it because you're more or less resigned to using Cracken as a support ship anyway, installing Squad Leader all but makes if official. It also allows you to reliably pass on at least one Action regardless of your opponent running away from him or not. Now, I doubt he's going to live all that long handing off his own Action, but again- I'm not entirely sold on the idea of anything for him to start with anyway.

Determination is something that might keep him around a bit longer and you've got a point to burn after you're done with the rest of the squadron, but with only two Hull on a Z, I don't know that it makes that much difference to be honest. Swarm Tactics works ok here as it has synergy with his card text and he has a PS high enough you might want to spread it around. Predator would essentially give you a Han type ability since a Z only has two Attack dice for three points, and if you're flying support for somebody anyway, in this case a lower PS somebody, Decoy could be a handy and possibly surprising option that also works with Cracken's card text.

Cracken is good for those of us who used to love flying Dreis lists because he's quite a lot cheaper than Dreis for similar role and functionality, and also because he can actually take Elite Pilot Talents should that kind of thing float your boat.