Time to finally finish off the Imperial wave 6 articles with a review of Admiral Sloane! Once John gets his Hammerhead article up, we'll be completely done with wave 6.
Thanks for the sweet later-in-the-EU art, wookieepedia!
Cool guys girls don't look at explosions.
The rules portion for Sloane is going to be a bit longer than usual for a commander, so buckle up!
Obviously she only affects non-Rogue squadrons (it's pretty straightforward there), so all plans of silliness with Firesprays or Decimators is unfortunately not going to work.
That's true whether they're activated in the Squadron Phase using Rogue or by a squadron command, there's no way around it.
This applies to all of Sloane's effects (both the reroll and spending defense tokens).
Remember that the critical icon reroll only applies when attacking a ship (not a squadron) and you may only reroll 1 die with the critical icon showing. If your TIE Phantom rolls two critical icons against a ship, only 1 of them gets a reroll.
The spending defense tokens portion of Sloane's ability is easily the one most likely to cause arguments, so let's break it down:
This ability is a "while" ability, so you can only do it once per attack. You can't spend multiple accuracy icon dice to spend multiple defense tokens.
Counter attacks are attacks in every way, so you may spend enemy squadron defense tokens by spending an accuracy icon die while making a Counter attack.
Spending a ready (green) defense token exhausts it (turns it red). Spending an exhausted defense token discards it.
This portion of Sloane's ability is not tied to an attack on a specific kind of target, so it may be used against ships or squadrons with defense tokens.
Because Sloane's spend is its own effect, the spent defense token does not produce any defensive bonuses.
Because a defense token cannot be spent more than once per attack (rules reference guide, page 4), a token spent by Sloane's effect cannot be spent by the defender later on during that attack.
The defender, however, may spend an untargeted duplicate of that kind of defense token (if they have one) when the time comes to spend defense tokens, as the defender is the only one limited by only being able to spend one of each type of defense token during an attack (rules reference guide, page 4), so Sloane spending that type of defense token doesn't affect their opponent beyond the restriction of not being able to spend that specific defense token during the attack.
Both the spending accuracy icons effect and rerolling crits effect are available in the resolve attack effects step of an attack, so you can use them in whatever order you like, before or after other effects (like adding a die from Howlrunner or rerolling from Swarm or whatnot).
All right, that's a bit much to take in, particularly the spending defense tokens bit. Let's provide some examples to clear it all up. All of the examples will involve attacks against an enemy ace squadron:
1) 2 hits and 1 accuracy against a scatter+brace ace
Sloane spends the accuracy to spend the ace's scatter token. Because it has been spent this attack, the defender can't spend it again. The brace is still available and the defender spends it to reduce the damage to 1.
2) 2 hits and 1 accuracy against a double brace ace
Sloane spends the accuracy to spend one of the brace tokens. The defender can't spend that specific token as Sloane has already spent it, but can spend the remaining brace token and does so to reduce the damage to 1.
3) 2 hits and 1 accuracy against an ace with one token.
Sloane spends the one token. The defender can't spend that token again and the 2 damage goes through unopposed.
4) 2 hits and 2 accuracies against any ace with two tokens.
Sloane spends the accuracy to spend one of the defense tokens. The attacker spends the other accuracy for its normal effect to disallow the defender from spending the other defense token. The defender can't do anything (one of their tokens is locked down, the other was spent already by Sloane) and the 2 damage goes through unopposed.
5) 1 blue die against a ship.
The initial roll was a critical hit. Sloane rerolls the die. The new result is an accuracy icon. Sloane spends the accuracy to spend the defender's exhausted brace. The brace is discarded. The attack pool then has no damage in it and thus does nothing else.
Hopefully that clears it up!
Okay, so what exactly does Sloane offer that other Imperial commanders don't? The easiest answer is she is the first Imperial commander that directly benefits squadrons. The Rebels have been able to do this with Dodonna since release and Rieekan since wave two and the Imperials finally have their own version.
The more nuanced version of that response is Sloane allows for an Imperial fleet build that invests more heavily in fighter squadrons without it being overkill. The usual problem with investing lots of points into Imperial fighter squadrons is they're generally good at only one job: blowing up enemy squadrons. Once they've won the squadron mini-game, they find that they're pretty bad at going after enemy ships and so you spent a lot of points on squadrons that aren't doing much at that point, to say nothing of the points invested into carrier ships to boss them around. Sloane turns this situation around a bit by both assisting her fighter squadrons at blowing through enemy aces (by spending their defense tokens, especially their scatter tokens) as well as improving her fighter squadrons pretty remarkably against enemy ships.
Let's talk about exactly what Sloane provides against ships: many non-Rogue Imperial squadrons roll a single blue die against ships and except for the Defender, they're don't have the Bomber keyword. These are specifically the kind of squadrons Sloane is looking to help. Normally, they have a 50% chance of doing a point of damage and that's it. With Sloane around, assuming you always reroll a crit result, you have this:
62.5% chance of doing one damage
31.3% chance of spending a defense token
6.2% chance of doing nothing (crit rerolled into another crit)
That's an absolute improvement, no doubt about it. Here comes the but, though. Here it comes! I told you!
"Rrrraggggh!" means "not that kind of butt, and also why did you do put my face there?"
Shyriiwook is a very information-dense language.
But with all that said, your fighters still aren't doing more damage than the same points invested into bombers would. Not even close - a Sloane-aided TIE Fighter does an average of 0.625 damage and a Bomber-Command-Center-buffed TIE Bomber does an average of 1.25 damage (twice as much!) for 1 more point. Plus, your bombers are designed from the ground-up to handle flak better than your fighters - a 5 hull TIE Bomber doesn't mind taking the occasional hit from flak, but a 3 hull TIE Fighter gets understandably nervous once its taken even a single point of damage. To be completely fair, though, the TIE Fighter is still quite capable as a fighter (for its cost) while the Bomber remains miserable at the job. What I'm trying to communicate with this point is Sloane adds a little bit of multi-role functionality to your fighter squadrons but they're still primarily fighters. If you're counting on them to be both full-fledged fighters and a source of consistent cost-effective damage against ships, you'll generally be disappointed.
Sloane won't do you much good for your squadrons that roll black dice, either, particularly for squadrons that roll a black die against ships. You want to keep your black hit+crit results against ships and your black dice can't roll an accuracy result for Sloane to spend, either. It doesn't mean you should avoid squadrons that use black dice altogether, but they're not a great fit for the majority of your squadron force.
To complicate matters some more, Sloane's ability to spend defense tokens, while useful against enemy aces when it comes to the squadron mini-game itself, doesn't do much against ships if all you're planning is pushing squadrons to do most of your damage. Squadron damage comes in tiny packets that defense tokens don't do much against in the first place. Sure, it's better to more quickly zap a brace token or redirect to get your bombing damage in faster, but it's not much better than just wearing them out naturally with higher-damage bombers. Essentially, if you plan to use Sloane's ability for all it's worth by going heavy on your fighters, you'll need some kind of combat ships to take advantage of the fact that you've been exhausting (hopefully even discarding) defense tokens from enemy ships so that they can't be used (or at least for long) against larger attacks where they make more of a difference. Attacking an enemy that can't scatter or brace effectively produces enough surplus damage that your Sloane-buffed-but-still-not-great-at-bombing fighters just made up their deficit. This is why the Avenger title on an ISD is a fairly common feature in Sloane fleets - commanding squadrons who spend a crucial defense token and then attacking a foe with the Avenger is a fierce and often fatal move.
It doesn't need to be the Avenger, though - any combat ship that wants to overheat enemy defense tokens rapidly appreciates the set-up, although getting your Rube Golberg machine to come together consistently can on occasion let you down when you don't have time to command squadrons first or if your squadrons can't make it to the target due to enemy fighters or if your squadron don't roll any accuracy results. On that note, getting the tempo right with Sloane can require some practice. If you're counting on spent defense tokens prior to your ships attacking you not only need to carefully plan your order of activations and queue up your squadron commands for the right rounds, you also need to have blown through the enemy fighter screen or found a way to ignore it (usually with Intel) when necessary, or else your combat ships are going to get to attacking enemy ships before your squadrons have sufficiently messed with their defense tokens.
The final problem I see players running into with Sloane and one that particularly troubles me is fleet-building. She wants a large fighter presence, she wants carriers to command those fighters, and she wants heavy-hitting combat ships to take advantage of spent defense tokens. Fitting all of that into a 400 point fleet isn't easy and often means sacrificing a portion of that triad. You can try to thread the needle by using some combat carriers for the job (like ISDs or VSDs), but timing their squadron commands and keeping them on target (as you're not issuing as many navigate commands as you would normally) can produce problems if you're not careful.
Having read all that, you may come to the conclusion that I'm pretty negative about Sloane. I'd moreso describe myself as "conflicted." Getting her to work consistently can be troublesome and you'll likely find that you're tinkering with your fleet build constantly to try to get to that "just right" mixture of squadrons, carriers, and combat ships after some element of the triad lets you down. In that regard, she's something of an Imperial Commander Sato in that she needs her squadrons and ships to work together for maximum benefit, but the more moving pieces you have the more likely it is your machine will break. When she does work and everything comes together, it's pretty swell, though. I wish I could remember who said it on the FFG forum, but I'm completely in agreement that Sloane is not great at creating openings/opportunities, but she is great at exploiting openings/opportunities that arise. If your opponent makes a mistake, you can get your "best case scenario engine" to kick into overdrive and mess with defense tokens and blow ships away with your combat ship. If your opponent doesn't, then getting all the pieces to come together can sometimes be elusive.
With that said, she also seems to be very meta-dependent - if your meta tends to have more large juicy targets and/or heavy-squadron fleets, then Sloane will be more appealing. Regarding the juicy targets, spending the defense tokens of medium and large ships is frequently more bang for your squadron buck than spending the redirect on a CR90, for example. That CR90 was going to melt against serious opposition anyways, and spending its defense tokens earlier on doesn't really hasten that significantly. Spend-discarding an HMC80's brace token, however, is a much bigger deal and can significantly reduce its longevity against other combat ships. Regarding the opposing heavy-squadron fleets, Sloane allows you to bring along a heavy fighter presence that can usually blow Rebel and mixed-arms Imperial heavy squadron forces out of the water in the early- to mid-game and then move on to harassing ships later, which is effectively your maxed-out squadron points eating the other player's maxed-out squadron points and then going on to influence the ship-on-ship game, making your squadron investment far more effective than your opponent's. In metas with less hard squadron builds and/or less large juicy targets (usually with more small ships), Sloane can struggle to really produce enough in-game benefit from her squadrons compared to a more conventional Imperial bomber fleet.
Fleet building and archetypes
In terms of archetypes, there's not much to discuss here. Sloane likes a squadron-heavier fleet leaning strongly on fighters and I already discussed the importance of finding a well-balanced "triad" of squadrons to carriers to combat ships, above. That will likely depend on your own inclinations and your meta as to how exactly you want to configure your Sloane triad. I would like to discuss some individual squadrons that Sloane can use and their merits and demerits, though. I'll be relinking things even if I already linked them just for ease of reference.
TIE Fighters are the default Sloane squadron and for their cost are the most effective method of delivering blue dice to enemy targets, ship or squadron. The main issues you'll run into here is they're fragile against flak and they're not very carrier-effective for their points - once your squadron numbers start outweighing your capacity to command them regularly, it's usually time to start subbing out TIE Fighters for something else. TIE Fighter aces, conversely, are all quite good with Sloane for not only their individual abilities (Howlrunner is great for even more blue dice against squadrons, Mauler Mithel helps end enemy squadrons even faster, etc.) but also for their scatter defense token. With a scatter + brace combination they're not only more difficult to shoot down but they also avoid the typical TIE Fighter problem with flak - so long as you're not getting flakked by more than one ship per turn, your TIE Fighter aces are near-invincible in most cases.
TIE Interceptors are very similar to TIE Fighters for Sloane, although overall I find them less appealing with her than with others because they retain the same problems against ships but for a higher cost and no additional anti-ship firepower. They are better against squadrons, of course, but that's not something Sloane really needs to prioritize in most cases, as most (if not all) of her squadrons will be capable fighters. The Counter attack can be fun for spending ace defense tokens when they're being attacked, but overall I'd generally look elsewhere. The TIE Interceptor aces, however, are quite useful for the same reasons as the TIE Fighter aces are. Ciena Ree in particular is nearly impossible to bring down with flak and with speed 5 can be a very persistent annoyance against ships once you no longer need her to deal with squadrons, Soontir Fel can be a source of "soft Escort" if you're not planning on bringing TIE Advanced, and Saber Squadron can be a powerful addition if you just want a 12-point squadron that provides raw anti-squadron beatdown at a distance, which makes it more likely to survive into the later game.
Jumpmasters in some fashion are a common inclusion with Sloane and generally their Intel is welcome to get your squadrons to ships when you don't have time to play with enemy fighters at the moment and to enable Mauler Mithel to continue his reign of terror. Due to Swarm, they're fond of being near Howlrunner and can contribute more than you'd think (but not a lot) against squadrons and with a blue anti-ship die can spend ship defense tokens too. Dengar is in most regards an upgrade, gaining the very-valuable-for-Sloane TIE ace defense token suite and handing out Counter 1 to his buddies, which can be augmented by Howlrunner to effectively Counter 2, often with a Swarm reroll. The main "downside" is Dengar's anti-ship die goes up to a black die, which isn't that great for Sloane.
TIE Defenders are a bit of a mixed bag with Sloane. The upside is they're great all-around speed 5 beaters, they're happy no matter what they roll against ships due to Bomber, and with 6 hull they will happily eat flak for several rounds before it troubles them. The downside is they're at least as expensive as the TIE Fighter aces, their 2 black anti-squadron dice don't do much with Sloane against enemy aces, and the points you spent on Sloane's ability to reroll crits against ships is only useful if you're fishing for an accuracy (otherwise you like it just fine). Others have reported some success with them, though. Conversely, I whole-heartedly recommend Maarek Stele as he's exactly what Sloane wants - a great all-around squadron that can be a real menace against ships and rolls 2 blue Bomber dice.
TIE Phantoms continue to be an enigma, but they show some promise with Sloane. 4 blue dice on the attack is good against aces (although without Swarm, it's inferior to an Interceptor and can't be buffed by Howlrunner) and two red dice against ships when combined with the Sloane crit reroll become more consistent, increasing the Phantom's average anti-ship damage from 1 to 1.22 and reduces their chance of doing nothing on their anti-ship attack from 39% to 22.6%. There's also some fun times to be had with Cloak, as an anti-ship attack made at distance 1 followed by a Cloak move at the end of the Squadron Phase leaves a Phantom outside of black flak dice range against ships like Raider-Is or Torpedo Hammerheads. The main issue with the Phantoms are the main issue always with Phantoms - their hull is not great (4 hull for 14 points) so they need some Escort help to stay in the fight, and Sloane doesn't have a lot of synergy with TIE Advanced. They also lack Swam and so they don't slot into the TIE Fighter ace engine supported by Howlrunner if you choose to go that way. Whisper is more recommended given that she's pretty self-sufficient and she's got that lovely scatter token.
Once you've figured out which/how many of the above to use, sprinkle with other squadrons as/if desired. Every approach has its upsides and downsides, but the above are your core options. It's pretty common to see a horde of aces used with Sloane, as they're pretty squadron-command-efficient, and scatter tokens help deliver them to the end game and allows them to be unconcerned about most flak. Plus it's an opportunity to run the Imperial aces flying circus competitively, and that's something we Imperials have been wanting to do for a while!
How do I beat Admiral Sloane?
Assuming that you're facing a fairly standard Sloane fleet (some aces, lots of fighter squadrons, a combat ship or two), then you need to identify which part of the Sloane triad (reminder: squadrons, carriers, combat ships) is weakest and attempt to overwhelm that element. Typically, that's usually the carrier or combat ship element of the fleet, but it's conceivable that your own fleet may have ample flak and fighter squadrons to put up a meaningful fight against Sloane's fighter squadrons. Regardless, if you can take out a link in that chain, the Sloane machine can break down rather quickly.
In some cases, the Sloane fleet is relying on carrier-battleship hybrids (ISDs and VSDs, often) to do the squadron lifting, but that will often mean the Sloane fleet is strongly out-activated due to few overall ships because ISDs and VSDs are not cheap, and neither is a pile of squadrons, so that's an advantage you can lean on as well in those circumstances. Just try to prepare for the strong quality activations earlier in the round (battleship + fighters coming at you all in one go) and ride out the storm. I'd also recommend trying to either preempt or delay when the Sloane player believes squadron commands are going to be necessary, because neither ISDs nor VSDs can change commands in those Command 3 stacks very easily, and so being a turn too early or too late with a crucial squadron command for them can be an opening for you.
The over-simplistic answer to this question is always "just blow up the flagship," but in Sloane's case that is a more realistic response. Typically Sloane fleets don't have a lot of great options for where she wants to sit. It's often in a glass-jawed Quasar or one of the few combat ships, both options of which are either easy to destroy with a concerted effort (the Quasar) or require being on the front lines (the combat ship). Either way, if the opportunity presents itself to make an assassination run on Sloane herself, do not let it slip you by.
Sloane has been an exciting new commander and the amount of rules-breaking she allows is something generally seen more frequently with Rebel commanders. When her combo engine comes together it can be very strong, but I overall find her meta-dependent and a bit tough to play well against stronger opponents that don't tend to make the kind of mistakes that Sloane punishes so fiercely. She's still being experimented with, however, so over time I may change my tune.