Sunday 9 April 2023

Attack Wing: Secrets of the Tal’Shiar

To top the excellent Ships of the Line is going to be a hard act to follow but it looks like this new Romulan faction pack has just the cahoonas to do it.

Featuring four Romulan ships; a scout, a D’Deridex warbird, Valdore class warbird and the Scimitar, Secrets of the Tal’Shiar has gone exceptionally dark. Just out of the box, the biggest thing to notice is that the four models have all been "cloaked". Rather than polish them up with a new paint scheme such as Ships of the Line did in its nod to Online, these pieces have gone to the other extreme.

Translucent plastic, the ships retain their distinct features from previous expansions although this time their colouring is speckled with a "stars" effect to simulate the activation of their stealth technology. For the sake of repetition let's skip over analysis of the models as they are exactly the same as before. One further point - what the hell has happened to the quality of the stands and pegs? Ships are leaning all over the place and putting the clear poles together seems to have become a monstrous and rather frustrating task. The stand bases are fine but the pieces between the model and those elements can do one. They're equally as poor as the fittings from the Ships of the Line pack which saw the Sovereign Class nosediving.

As with the new expansions, the pack has taken account of the new points scoring for the fleet with a few points deducted from each vessel. For once the Scimitar is not too far out of reach to make a decent build but we'll come to that and some of its unique additions in a bit. 

Dropping a whopping four cost points, the Reman Warbird retains its six attack, two defence, seven hull and four shields but now utilises its unique feature to remain cloaked while attacking although it does acquire an Auxiliary Power Token,  The named version also slightly changes its upgrade bar to two Tech, two Crew and only a single Weapon upgrade where previously there were two Crew and one Weapon slot available.

With the Twilight's Wraith D'Deridex Warbird there is a two point adjustment down to a cost of 28 points and the IRW Belak by three to 27. One of the big wins in both this and the Ships of the Line pack is that there are more than one option for your included ships but here only in the case of the D'Deridex and Valdore Class Warbirds. In turn it allows players to tweak their formations out of the box for either a more offensive or defensive strategy. It can also provide balance to a fleet or adjust play so that captains can utilise more flexible tactics on the field.

In terms of the Captain options, Shinzon makes a welcome return with his ability rewritten and significantly shortened. Now a six point rather than an eight point cost, the Picard clone also wields space for two Elite Actions and the chance to use a free Action while cloaked which will counter the Auxiliary Power Token incurred if the Scimitar fires while cloaked. His flip side i also different should players opt to place him in the Admiral position as Shinzon can then remove Disable or Time Tokens as a Fleet Action. 

The additional four Captains (yes, another four!) of Donatra, Koval, Rekar and Lovok all tend to focus on more offensive abilities and I suppose this is in keeping with the more aggressive nature of the Tal'Shiar. One point here - shouldn't Lovok actually be dual faction Dominion?

The only reason I would question this is because amongst the Crew options B-4 is dual Romulan/Independent. Nicely plated with the Soong android as well since his ability also has the chance to directly affect an opponent ship if it's named Enterprise with an additional two Time Tokens on the Captain card as well as being able to alter the maneuver of the target ship.

As with the Captain choices, the Crew complement is packed out with Varak, the Reman Viceroy, Reman Helmsman, T'Rul and Nevala providing various additions to your ships of either two or three points. This might be the ability to equip a Cloaking Device, alter your own moves or increase Captain skill as well as providing some additional forms of defence considering how attacking a lot of this set is. Interestingly B-4 is a five point cost, marking him a significantly higher price tag than any of the other cards in the pack with the exception of Shinzon and a certain super weapon.

Over in the selection for Elite Actions there is that leaning towards more secretive aspects of the organisation with Covert Research working around the Scan feature and Outflank utilising the Cloak ability (two of this card are included which kind of emphasises its usefulness). I am impressed with the Fire Everything card here as provides a chance to turn an ineffective attack around.

Deep in the Weapons selection we have standard Aft Disruptor Emitters (x2) which hits ships out of your firing arc and Disruptor Pulse which allows players to hit multiple targets within the firing arc of your ship. Both are blindingly good upgrades which do make me wonder what players will do with a large chunk of their older cards thanks to these more useful cards and not just because of the cost reductions. Flanking Attack is most effective on the Valdore Class as it provides two additional attack dice. More so if you're firing at a ship not in your forward arc since it reduces the opponent's defence by two dice which is a big reduction.

Of course there's also the Thalaron Weapon which has been somewhat neutered since its original appearance. That cost a ridiculous and game breaking ten points with a ten dice attack. This version is half the cost for a six dice attack that forces the opponent to remove a command or Crew upgrade off the bat and by cancelling a further Critical Damage if successful it can take another of those upgrades away too. Wisely it's a one off discard but still worth a punt for your Reman Warbird if you want to deliver an early crippling blow.

As for Tech, Secrets of the Tal'Shiar offers two Romulan Cloaking Device upgrades which does benefit craft outside of this expansion as well as the chance to use tighter turns instead of the Sensor Echo shift. Advanced Cloaking means you don't decloak this round but incur an Auxiliary Power Token while Improved Cloaking is even more substantial although purely useable with the Reman Warbird. Instead of flipping all shields to deactivated, only one needs to be turned red adding an incredible level of defence to one of the game's deadliest ships.

Romulan Ale offers a get out of jail free option by taking Disable tokens from Captain and Crew to be replaced with Time Tokens as well as placing three onto the card itself plus reducing the effectiveness of attacks at and from the chosen ship. 

A cost of one point is more than reasonable here although it is a card that will reduce your battle readiness in some respects although it will counter by not needing an Action to re-enable some upgrades.

Keeping in line with other packs from the last 12 months, Secrets... includes two Ambassador cards in the form of "It's a Fake!!!" Vreenak and the ill-fated Kimara Creetak. The Ambassador upgrade is something I've still not really tackled in gameplay although the negotiations piece is a nice twist where either acceptance means a "levelling" of the playing field or an increase in hostilities. For these cards there's the chance to increase offensive capability or disable upgrades for one or provide repairs or deduction of Time Tokens on the other. Either way there seems to be a decent advantage - it just depends how you want to play it!

Fortunately with this box you don't need to go hunting under the insert tray to find the missions as they are back on the standard cards. Crossing the Rubicon faces Donatra against the Scimitar. In the second, The Human from Remus, Shinzon boards a D'Deridex Class Warbird, specifically the Twilight's Wrath to defend a planet against the Dominion. This one does require additional ships and cards from other packs to play out but I suspect that's a clever tool to get players to invest in the other recent faction packs!

The Romulans are one of my preferred factions if not playing as the Federation and in this set there are lots of quality options to really utilise them to the best of their subversive abilities. All of these later expansion packs have truly delivered another level to the game. Secrets of the Tal'Shiar might be a pack where you use the cards and ignore the models but it's certainly worth using.

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