Mask of Arcadius: Mercenary Ships

Roundabout the time you get the Paladin, you also unlock the ability to purchase Alliance Cruisers and Union Frigates from the Purchase screen. This option is a bit strange, in that they're semi-permanent proper units, but you can't upgrade them and if one gets destroyed you'll have to re-buy it to get it back, instead of being charged the token repair costs that one of your other downed units costs you. You also have a hard limit on how many of them you can have at a time; 2 Alliance Cruisers, and 4 Union Frigates.

The whole dynamic ends up being a bit odd, honestly, but it's a cool feature and I'd have liked for it to be a bit more refined.

Alliance Cruiser

Your first cap ship type other than the Sunrider itself.

Also, your only one, bar singular exceptions.

Muuuuch less versatile than the Sunrider, too.

Costs 2000$ a pop, too.

30 Energy per tile of movement.

Same as the Sunrider, which makes sense given they're both cap ships.

Thankfully, the weapon numbers work out so that it's a minor burden to move one tile each turn. That's good since you can't upgrade Alliance Cruisers.


This isn't too far behind the Sunrider's durability, aside that minor little detail that you can't upgrade Alliance Cruisers at all.

No shielding.


See the HP commentary; it's not that far behind the Sunrider's Armor, but you can't upgrade Alliance Cruisers.

As such, while Alliance Cruisers aren't at risk of being one-shotted outright, you shouldn't be reckless with them either. They can die in a single turn if you're even mildly reckless with them, and it'll cost you 2000$ to replace them; your names-and-faces units going down will cost what amounts to pennies by comparison -or just Command Points, if you like- and so even though Alliance Cruisers are faceless grunts you really should treat them as much less disposable than your characters, weirdly enough.

I feel like the generics should've been permanently added to your roster, honestly, given the silliness of this.

30%, Range: 2

This is one of the big reasons to be buying Alliance Cruisers; a pair of them will go a long way to making Missiles a more manageable issue. Without them, your Flak coverage is pretty difficult to keep reasonably strong on all units while having a dynamic formation. With them, you're a lot freer to shuffle things around to respond to changing situations.


Yes, Alliance Cruisers are actually noticeably dodgier than an un-upgraded Sunrider. And while it's technically possible for the Sunrider to upgrade to catch up, Evasion upgrades eat a tremendous amount of funding to do more than one, maybe two boosts, so in real terms this is a concrete advantage the Alliance Cruisers have. It makes them on average a little less frail when it comes to multi-shot attacks than their other numbers might suggest, and occasionally you'll even get lucky when cannon fire is thrown their way.

You still shouldn't let them soak fire if you can avoid it.

Energy: 70, Damage: 200x1, Aim: 150

This is the same Damage and Energy cost as the Sunrider's Laser, but the base Aim is actually noticeably higher, a full 30 points or 25% depending on how you want to look at it. It's not too expensive for the Sunrider to get there, so in real terms by the time you have Alliance Cruisers it's entirely possible the Sunrider is just as accurate or more accurate with its Lasers, and in any event the Sunrider is probably able to double-fire them, but it's appreciated regardless as it means that Alliance Cruisers can pretty consistently handle stuff like finishing off badly wounded cap ships at medium to long range.

It is not, however, the primary component of what makes Alliance Cruisers change how you play.

Energy: 60, Damage: 400x1, Aim: 110

Here we go. Cannons!

The fact that it costs 60 Energy doesn't meaningfully matter. Since you can't upgrade Alliance Cruisers, they have a base of 100 Energy, their movement burns 30 Energy, their other weapons all burn either 70 or 30 Energy, and the only 'external' modifier to Energy (Hacking) halves a unit's Energy generation, there is never actually a situation in which an Alliance Cruiser can fire its cannons that it couldn't fire its Laser in. I suspect at some point the design would've allowed this to matter and they just never changed it, leaving it to eternally drive people like me up the wall.

That said, they have much better Aim than the Sunrider's cannons! 40 Aim over 70 is a more than 50% advantage, which actually requires a fairly hefty amount of investment into Aim to catch the Sunrider up to. (And which is a dubious investment to pursue thanks to the teleportation trick) This is why Alliance Cruisers being unlocked very shortly after you get the Paladin leads to the endgame suddenly needing to throw large numbers of cap ships at you to have them threaten you -your overall capacity to tear apart capships has probably doubled or more, particularly if you put in the effort to get the Paladin able to double-fire its cannons. Prior to that point, a lower-end capship tended to be something you could kill one of per turn, if that. Afterward, the Paladin can potentially do that by itself while your two Alliance Cruisers cripple another one (Leaving something like the Phoenix to finish it off) and the Sunrider kills a third more or less by itself.

This is the reason why it's worth buying Alliance Cruisers. Flak is a close second, and everything else is gravy.

Energy: 30, Damage: 12x15, Aim: 105

This is noticeably weaker than the Sunrider's Assault weapon even before upgrades, only hitting 15 times instead of 20, though it again has a fairly significant Aim advantage of 35 points over the Sunrider's 70.

In real terms, an Alliance Cruiser's Assault weaponry only has two real uses aside Gravity shenanigans. Firstly, if you have no reason to move an Alliance Cruiser in a turn, then it has nothing better to do with its Energy once it's used up its Missiles. Might as well try to weaken a Ryder, maybe finish off a near-dead capship. This is only intermittently useful -most turns you should be maneuvering.

Secondly, if for some reason you want to move an Alliance Cruiser two spaces, it will again be the only weapon you can use if you're out of Missiles. This latter point doesn't crop up very often if you're decent at the game.

Occasionally you'll find that there are multiple units in the area that Assault weaponry could finish off, but this doesn't happen very often in part because the Phoenix tends to have literally nothing better to do most turns. It's usually better to have a Cruiser target something the Phoenix is worthless again, whether a capship or simply a Ryder too far away for Assault weaponry to do much of anything to but that an Alliance Cruiser's Laser has middling odds of hitting.

Energy: 30, Damage: 70x5, Ammunition: 1, Aim: 145

Alliance Cruiser Missiles are 15 points more accurate than the Sunrider's base value -and you can't upgrade Missile Aim so even if you were inclined to pour money into Missiles this difference would never go away. They also hit harder per missile (20 additional points), though in the vast majority of situations their damage will be inferior thanks to the halved number of missiles being fired.

By the time Alliance Cruisers show up, Flak ratings are intense on all maps, so you won't often have opportunities to get effective use out of Missiles. They're also weak enough to not be worth firing on a turn you moved, bar maybe having moved two tiles; you should fire the cannons or Laser instead. They also don't hit any 'magic number' values letting them one-shot key units, especially since the most fragile units in the game all have Flak ratings and will probably shoot down one of the missiles. This is compounded by the fact that your firepower on individual weapons has almost certainly risen, such that other units can straight-up one-shot the tough-ish Ryders and missile boats and so on. And of course you have only 1 ammo; if it had 3 ammo, it would be possible to lob all three in a single turn against a fairly durable target to good effect. With only 1 ammo...

The overall result is that it's actually really, really hard to find an opportunity worth tossing Missiles out over.

On the other hand, they're free. Might as well use them when the opportunity does arise, and at least you're not all that likely to be cursing yourself for using your one Missile shot too early.


Overall, Alliance Cruisers are most significant for buffering you against Missiles and for making enemy capships way more manageable. To be frank, the game is clearly tuned around the idea that you buy a pair within two missions of them being available -they might seem expensive, but they're worth it. Buy them! Buy both of them!

Just... don't let them get killed. It's pricey, even by endgame standards.

Union Frigate

500$ a pop and with a limit of 4, Union Frigates are way more affordable than Alliance Cruisers. Maxing out Union Frigates costs as much as buying one of your two Alliance Cruisers!

They're a bit more specialized than Alliance Cruisers, but quite worthwhile.

20 Energy per tile of movement.

Average movement speed. It actually fits in nicely to their other numbers overall, too.


Less HP than the Blackjack. Yikes.

Don't let Union Frigates get outside your shield and Flak bubble. They'll die nearly instantly, and while 500$ isn't abominable of a cost by the time they unlock, it's still not pleasant. If you do keep them inside the bubble, enemies will almost never target them in the first place, so such a loss really is pretty gratuitous as well.

No shielding.


Yes, that is tied with the Bianca, with only the Phoenix having worse Armor. 4 Armor isn't even high enough to fully block the weaker Assault weapons out there!

Seriously, don't let Union Frigates get shot at. They will die.

No Flak rating.


Yes, they even have awful Evasion. It's at least a positive number, but it's barely-existent. It just means that if you keep them in back they'll almost never be hit by cannons, which mind the AI will almost never waste a cannon shot in that situation in the first place.

Seriously, don't give enemies a chance to shoot them, and in particular make sure you've gotten your shield bubble to the 2-tiles out and 90% protection overall step. And keep them under your Flak protection too.

Energy: 70, Damage: 175x1, Aim: 150

Weaker than the Sunrider's Laser, though not as weak as the Liberty's, and with better Aim to boot.

This is okay. Union Frigate's aren't here to spit Lasers at enemies. It's occasionally worthwhile to have them finish off a target, but usually what you'll be using them for is...

Energy: 40. Lowers a target enemy's Shield generation by 15 points for 1 turn. Unlike other forms of hacking, Shield Jam can be stacked onto the same target repeatedly, lowering their Shield rating by an additional 15 points each time. Furthermore, if the current duration is 1 turn then the duration will be extended to 2 turns, allowing the effect to be maintained indefinitely via sustained Shield Jamming.


Shield Jam is, at first glance, a disappointment. (Especially if you're just going off the in-game description, which doesn't clarify the mechanics) The Liberty can spend 60 Energy to eliminate all of an enemy's shield rating, after all, which is just clearly more efficient in most situations. Union Frigates are of course additional units that don't compete with the Liberty, but really.

Ah, but first of all you can get four Union Frigates, and like all offensive hacking there's no range limit. Second of all, the Liberty's Energy can be put into other, very important jobs, like completely disabling key units and repairing your own units. Thirdly, Shield Jam is actually really good at sustained Shield elimination.

After all, the Shield generation reduction stacks infinitely (Though it won't push things into the negatives), and the stacking persists across turns. Hit a target with Shield Jam twice on the first turn, and now it has -30 Shield. Then next turn you hit it again and it has -45. Then -60. Then -75. Then -90. And finally, -100, letting you trivialize even perfect Shield ratings indefinitely at the minor cost of having a Union Frigate spending 40 Energy per turn on sustaining the effect.

Acquiring Union Frigates marks the point where shielding is really not a problem for you anymore, particularly if you stay on top of enemy hackers so they can't purge Shield Jam. Buy all four Union Frigates, and you can punch giant holes in Shield blobs and ensure they stick long enough for you to kill everything. A lone Union Frigate can actually move in a turn and use Shield Jam twice, letting it set up a chain all by itself! That means 4 Union Frigates can permanently lock out the shields of 7 units -while still moving every turn! That is hilarious overkill.

This comes with the caveat that the internet tells me that using Shield Jam when the duration is already 2 turns will reduce it to 1 turn and it then can't be re-extended, which I've not specifically tested but sounds plausible to me, so maybe don't try spamming Shield Jam too much on one target.

The only other 'catch' is that you're either firing a Frigate's Laser in a turn or having it Shield Jam. This can be mildly frustrating if you focus on the fact that Union Frigates are a Laser-firing unit that makes enemies more susceptible to Lasers, but it's really not a big deal, especially since 4 Union Frigates really is usually overkill for Shield Jamming purposes. It's pretty normal to have 2 Frigates handling the jamming in a turn while the other two take potshots.

As such, while the Union Frigate is at a glance a huge disappointment compared to Alliance Cruisers, in actual practice they're actually a lot more useful offensively. They're particularly critical for keeping the Blackjack strongly relevant, and their existence makes it more acceptable to invest a decent amount of money into the Sunrider's Lasers, which is good since it tends to be so useful to do so early in the game. And of course letting Alliance Cruisers snipe with their Lasers freely is a nice option to have, albeit one you shouldn't lean on too much.

Next time, we briefly cover the Orders mechanic before moving on to talking about the actual characters of Mask of Arcadius.


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