But you came to talk about Armada, and if there's one kind of topic I like it's timeliness. With the recent issues that have been cropping up in a tournament full of 2-3 activation fleets when they come up against a properly applied 5 activation fleet... well, let's talk about how to deal with Activation Advantage.
Activation Advantage - An Overview:
I've already talked about Activation Advantage once before, but it bears repeating: This is when you can get the final activation of any given turn. This is a lesser advantage than going first, but still significant. By having the final activation and reading your opponent's movements correctly, you can ensure that the final ship you activate will get a good shot on the opponent. Getting into a spot where your opponent has no choice other than to move into a bad position against you is the name of the game.
Whether or not you will gain an Activation Advantage in a given tournament game is entirely dependent upon the local Meta, but a few key things can be taken away - in the last tournament, the Meta centered around 3 activations being the baseline standard for ships - any list that took 4 was almost guaranteed the advantage - whether they went first or second. One player took it further, and dominated the tournament with a 5 ship list - showing how much of an advantage that was.
One may argue that activation advantage gives diminishing returns. Certainly, having 6 activations against a 3 activation opponent will not be much different than having 5. For that matter, 5 activations verses 4 gives a lot less of an advantage than 3 activations verses 2. In addition to the diminishing returns there, just to get those extra activations, something has to take the back seat - after all the cheapest Imperial activation cost is 44 for a Raider I, and the cheapest Rebel is a CR90B at 39. That's 11% and 10% of your list, respectively - something has to suffer to get an extra activation. That's a lot of points that could otherwise be spent on upgrades, or on bringing a bigger, more action efficient ship.
If the World Cup showed us anything, it is that giving a properly skilled opponent both first activation and an overall activation advantage is setting yourself up for a particularly bad time. The question we need to be asking ourselves though is that how, as Second Player, we can mitigate the problem if we find ourselves in this position.
Mitigation of Action Disadvantage:
So, how do we go about mitigating a disadvantage if we find ourselves in one? There are a few key points that you can follow to make the most out of your play.
1) Area Denial - There are a few ships that excel in area denial as a baseline. The VSDI for the Imperials is probably the cheapest way to put up a giant "don't go here" roadsign, but a properly kitted VSD1 or 2, an MC30c, or even a suicidal CR90 on a Reeikan fleet can stop something from being somewhere you don't want it to go. For that matter, obstacles are an excellent way to close specific area off from all but the most foolhardy of enemy ships - setting up with a rock wall to one side of your flank is usually sufficient to get your opponent to approach from the other side.
2) Counter Attack - You can probably figure out where your opponent will be moving his ships into position - if you can't avoid losing the a ship to a late activation, you already know where the first activation will come from the next turn, and can set up the second activation to be one that benefits you. Even better if you'll be first player, just move your ship to where you know he will be forced to move, and bring the kill to you!
For example, if you are facing the now infamous Clontroper5 list, and his GSD is bearing down on your flagship, move one of your ships into prime range of one of his already activated Raiders - now he may be able to take out your flag ship, but you've got the next activation to waste one of his in return.
3) Fighter Cover - Something people still haven't gotten particularly good with is using fighters not just with squadron activations and Rogue key-words, but by laying them as ambushes to an over-eager enemy ship. If your opponent doesn't have fighter cover of his own, and close by to intercept, you can lay your cover in a screen near your flank on the previous turn that can act as a pseudo-final ship activation, after everything your opponent does this turn.
Just because you can activate your squadrons early doesn't always mean that you should. Don't be afraid to set a trap.
4) Split Forces / Local Superiority - How often do we think of massing firepower at a particular location? How often do we want to fly our ships in perfect formation, overlapping fields of fire? This is all well and good, if we only have a single enemy target to overlap against, and if we actually have overall superiority.
Consider the other way - splitting your forces can at times force an opponent to split his as well, giving you advantages locally that you might not have had with his force bunched together. He may instead keep his together to focus on one of the targets you gave him, while your other group is able to get into a better overall position. Or he may split his forces and engage them with yours, potentially giving you the upper hand in one or more engagements you wouldn't have otherwise won. This works better if objectives are involved that take advantage of this, but your opponent will likely want to play for more points anyway, instead of just focusing down one lone ship and calling it quits. 6 point wins aren't going to take a Store Championship.
5) The Gambit - A term you'll hear a lot in chess. A gambit is a move that offers up a piece in exchange for a positional advantage. Consider a TRC CR90A (51 points) deployed way on the edge of the board, outflanking a Demolisher that is flanking the rest of your forces closer to the middle. Sure, your opponent can ignore the CR90, and have it chew on his side and rear from turn 3 on. Or he can turn his much pricier Demolisher away from the fight, deal with CR90 (who he obviously will be able to), and have it completely out of the fight from that point onward.
6) The Sacrifice - Most applicable to a Reeikan list, but worth looking into with other lists as well. Sometimes you have to be able to trade a piece for a high value target - especially for a higher value target. Pay attention to what your opponent's ships are worth - which ones can you reasonably expect to net - and figure out how much grabbing those points will cost you. Always be willing to consider a positive trade.
7) Objective Play - One of the greatest, most technical games of Armada I've ever watched was the Round 3 Worlds game, where a player with a CR90 swarm danced around a GenCon Special with Superior Positions, with no ships lost on either side. It was, in a word, spectacular. Another word would be boring. Sometimes wins are flashy and fun - sometimes you have to grab your 3rd objective token and run for the hills (75 points), or plink away at a GSD's butt for 4 turns with a CR90A, doing a single damage each time (60 points).
Look at your opponents fleet. You should be already familiar with your own (or at least in the process of working this out), and know what kind of damage each element of it can reliably do. What kind of local superiority matchups would benefit you? Which ones would benefit your opponent?
I feel like I started writing this as a way to mitigate your opponent having Activation Advantage, and it turned into just good all around advice. Either way, you've got a shot. Good luck out there.