So I just got back from the LGS where I played several games of Armada. So far I’ve only played as the Rebel Alliance and I doubt I’d have much interest in playing the Imperials so that suits me. Even if the Imperials do suit my “Subtle is a smaller sledgehammer to the face right?” mentality. First I’m going to talk about how the game plays, then I’m going to run through how I feel about these decisions and mechanics.
How it Plays
So the basic mechanics of the game are, you set everything up, including your stack of commands, your ships, your fighters, your defense tokens, your turn marker, your initiative marker, your scenery, your deployment markers, everything. Each turn you flip over the top marker in your command stack (on subsequent turns you pick a new command to go on the bottom) and start activating your ships. When you reveal a command you can choose to convert it into a token that has less power than the command dial but can be banked up and spent later, a ship can bank up as many tokens as it has command points. This gives large, lumbering ships some flexibility by letting them store more tokens, at the cost of having a lower chance of having a useful dial command on any given turn.
Large ships activate alternately, with the ship activating, then moving, and special commands being used throughout the turn. This can give you some interesting combinations. Longer ranged ships can activate earlier in the turn without issue, closer ranged ships like to activate later to increase the chance of getting shots in. Ships then move in a more flexible manner than in X-Wing, you don’t commit to a move until you’ve had a lot of time to measure and prepare (outside of tournaments) and ships like the CR-90 Corvette can really dance around the field. Both firing resolution and movement resolution are very simple, without the opposed dice rolls, and reactions, and re-rolls that can drag out the X-Wing sequence, there’s a roll, a defensive reaction, MAYBE a re-roll, and move on. Just simplifying a step makes life a lot easier.
During large ship activation you can use dial commands or tokens. These use the same icons but commands are better than tokens. For example the Concentrate Firepower command gives you an extra dice, the token gives you a re-roll. The squadron one is where the game gets interesting. An Escort Frigate has a squadron value of 2. This means that it can activate 2 squadrons with the command, or 1 without. Those squadrons can move and shoot, or shoot and move, during the frigates activation. Quite spicy. The other commands let it repair or manage damage, or adjust it’s speed and maneuver batter. This is the only way to change speed without upgrade cards.
Fighters that aren’t activated by large ships activate at the end of the turn. They can move or shoot. This severely limits their ability to engage the enemy, though depending on their role it lets them still contribute. Fighters can roll a lot of dice against other fighters but generally only roll one dice against capital ships and only hits count (hits and criticals if you are a bomber, which the X-Wing is). Fighter Squadrons are highly specialized and the Ace squadrons are even more so. Luke Skywalker can skip shields and start chipping away at a ships hull right away, Howlrunner makes other fighters do even more damage just by being there.
Fleet building is an interesting challenge. There’s a couple of real wombo-combos so far, Grand Moff Token… erm… Tarkin leads the pack by handing out tokens each turn to his ships. The Rebels can build lots of crit combos around their ships using Dodonna’s ability to select a certain critical hit out of four whenever one is played. This can be brutal as critical hits are just that, critical. They do immediate and sometimes catastrophic damage to a ship. Others can give ships added capability, like additional attack dice, or special abilities on crits. There’s already a lot of depth in the game even with just the starter set, once Wave 1 arrives at the end of next month things might get silly.
Ok, this game has a LOT more depth to it than X-Wing. Movement is more fluid, damage resolution is quicker, but turns are longer as there’s a lot of measuring, planning and thinking going on. Ship movement is neat. Having to plan on firing before you move is awkward, and it’s meant to be. I like the mechanic but it is going to take a LOT of getting used to. As a Rebel player I had a lot of trouble getting both my ships in range to do something in the same turn. I expect this to be somewhat easier as the games get bigger, 2 on 1 matches are a bit rough as I have to move a ship that is dealing with the only Imperial ship on the table.
Firing resolution is very fast, as it should be. Once an attack is planned, executing it shouldn’t be a huge to do, and sometimes in X-Wing it felt like it was with dice being modified, re rolled, etc, to what felt like an excessive extent. While that CAN happen in this game, it isn’t the norm. Yet anyway.
The integration of fighters into a battle is going to be a very interesting thing to watch. I love fighters and I plan on using them heavily in a fleet, having to use a fighter command to get the most out of them is a REALLY neat idea, with the current lack of dedicated carriers and general dearth of them in the Star Wars canon it ought to be interesting to see how this plays out. There’s a lot of things you want capital ships to do and purely shepherding fighters isn’t always one of them, of course once a fighter gets into combat it can generally be left alone. Another neat mechanic is how fighters engage each other. Once fighters are in range they lock up and must shoot at each other, they cannot move. This means that one sacrificial lamb can jump into a throng of enemy fighters and tie down the whole striker force. Tie being the operative word, at 8 points each a TIE squadron can very easily tie up many more points of Rebel fighters on a key turn. Pre-empting this will be a major tactic in getting your own bombers onto the target. Of course that means you have to spend your precious fighter activations on your interceptor to get it there. See what I mean when it comes to complexity?
Movement is what this game turns on. Having to fire, then move means you HAVE to think a turn ahead, and having to move first can mean getting hit on the chin at times. I don’t think it will be quite as extreme once wave 1 comes out but there were times when I had ships roll into range and get alpha’d by a well prepared Victory I. That hurts.
The gameplay is fun, it feels faster than it is, this game is an hour-eater. It has the flow and scope of the kind of epic battles you see in the movies, and it’s easy for me to see what I’m looking forward to and what I’m worried about. I’m looking forward to big battles with lots of ships zooming about, pounding each other while wings of fighters slash and fence between them. Escorts charge in to harass major ships, while the big brutes hammer each other, ocasionally venting their wrath at an escort that has drifted out of place.
What I worry about is people saying “Ok, for 400 points I can build a mammoth ISD, park it in a corner for 5 turns, vaporise anyone with the temerity to come near me and have enough fighters and fast escorts to nip out on the last turn and deal with any pesky objectives”. Currently most of the ridiculous combos are offensive, and make demolishing ships easier, not harder, but it only takes one wonky card to tilt the balance and that is a worry I have for the game, especially with even bigger, harder to kill ships on the way.
Still the gameplay is excellent, engaging, fun and did not disappoint. 10/10 for gameplay, 8/10 for box contents.
Fantasy Flight Games has finally released Star Wars Armada. The game that lets you put Star Destroyers against Rebel Cruisers (This summer, because those are in Wave 2, and Wave 1 isn’t even out yet).
Fantasy Flight Games does brilliant, fun, well designed games. The rules are clean, the models are attractive, the systems they are built on are balanced and well thought out. Star Wars Armada is more of the same, and at the same time is STILL a unique, and different game from X-Wing.
Anyway let’s talk about the box. The box is big, heavy and loaded. Containing 10 squadrons of fighters (3 ships in each, 6 TIE-ln squadrons and 4 X-Wing squadrons) a CR90 Corvette, A Nebulon B Frigate, and a Victory class Star Destroyer. None of these are front line starships for any of the combatants, but they each have their own unique role. The models are a bit of a mixed bag. At one end you have the Star Destroyer which is an impressive slab, well shaded and attractive, with lots of detail, and the CR90 which is one of THE iconic ships of the franchise, looking sleek and potent. At the other end the fighters look more like ordinary game tokens and the Frigate’s paint job is… amateurish. There’s a good chance it’s getting re done. None of them are necessarily bad but the fighters and frigate are disappointing, even though they are more than serviceable for gameplay.
The rest of the box is a cornucopia of goodies. A movement tool that looks like it might have started off in the dentists office, enough counters to play any four games I ever played growing up, objectives, ship data cards, damage cards, upgrades, identification cards, and of course the obligatory Range Ruler and Fantasy Flight Proprietary Dice Set.
The ONLY thing I don’t like is the dice set. Look Fantasy Flight, I get it. You can sell dice and make a mint. I own your app already, I’m good. JEBUS am I getting tired of each and every game having a new dice set. I love the games, but man learning to read new dice every time is annoying.
The rest is very high quality thick cardboard, good cardstock and the parts that require assembly (shield counters, speed counters and command counters) fit together fast and intuitively.
I haven’t played a game yet, but you can tell at a glance that it will run longer than X-Wing. Tournaments double the time of a game in the current rules, and I expect things will be frantic in that time frame. I would expect casual games to take 2-3 times as long, especially with the amount of pre-measuring that is allowed. My first impression is this is a fantastic game if you are interested in this scale of combat, and in battles that require development and strategy. Currently it loses a point for some of the models being a bit less than expected, and for the proprietary dice.