This is a two-player game of fleet battles. Upping the scale from Fantasy Flight’s fighter game of X-Wing miniatures to the big hulking capital ships. Or, as I think of this game; a ‘big box of awesome’. And it is a very big box. But is it awesome? Well, I’ll tell you what I thought from my out of the box play…
What’s in the box? Three big ships, two Rebel Alliance, and one Imperial. All recognisable from the classic movies–even if the star destroyer is not one of the behemoths that rumble across the screens at the beginning of the movies (that’s coming later–squee!). And there are a handful of fighter squadrons–X-wings and Tie fighters. They aren’t in scale with the big ships and this doesn’t bug me as I thought it would. It looks a good fit on the table. The box has a bunch of tokens, from asteroids, rule devices, and cards for ship stats and upgrades. There are two rule books, one with the quick play and advanced rules, and another that serves as a reference book for the rules. Yes. You know you’re up against a more complex game when there are two rule books and one of them is an A-Z of game terms for easy reference…
Which brings me nicely onto how this game is actually played. You know, how the rules work to justify kids and grown(ish) adults playing with Star Wars toys. Well, justifies it for me anyhow. X-wing is a relatively simple game, rules wise, with tactics that add a nice level of involvement to it, and it’s a fast paced game which can be entered into with a pretty modest cost–for miniature war gaming. Armada is the complete opposite on every count. But before I get to why, I’ll give you the basic lowdown on how it plays.
First you build your fleet–the ships, the identity of the ship, the commanders, the crew, the tech, are all upgrades with costs, as do the squadrons and their squad leader upgrades. Then you set an objective (from a deck of objective cards), which Armada has over X-wing. I love X-wing, but me and my other half do like playing for an objective other than ‘kill each other’. Then you take turns to reveal a command to a ship, attack with it, and then move with it. The commands are the stand out element of this game that gives it the sense of scale it nails to the table.
There are a bunch of command dials in the box, and each one contains the same four commands. Each ship requires a different amount of command dials–the bigger the ship the more dials you have. At the beginning of the game you secretly set your commands in the dials and stack them up, knowing that you will draw one dial each turn. So, if you have a Star Destroyer with its three dials you have to plan three turns ahead from the outset. Ouch. So, that’s one layer of tactics you have to consider.
The ships themselves also have their own stats as you would expect. X-wing is about putting your enemy in your firing arc whilst keeping out of the firing arc of your enemy, Armada ships have all round firing arcs. The hull zones have different strengths due to different attack levels and different shield levels so it’s more about finding the sweet spot–the strength of your ship and the weakness of your opponent. But on capital ships it’s like trying to park a mardi gras float. In formation. In treacle. I imagine. Actually moving the ships is quite fun, as you have a snazzy maneuver ruler with jointed sections. Your ship and the speed you have chosen it to cruise at will determine how far down that ruler you can move the ship, and how many adjustments you can make on the joints to change the direction of the ship. It works really well–much better than having the 11 range rulers of X-wing.
Fighting involves a lot of dice, but it’s only for dealing damage. These ships can’t dodge out of the way, but thankfully the ships have shields and a lot of hull to soak up the destruction they can pour on one another. More tactics rear their head in defence though, as each capital ship has defence tokens which enable you to choose ways of spreading or reducing the damage, but you must choose their useage wisely as they can be exhausted for a round, or even the whole game.
The squads could easily have been decoration in the game, but they can damage capital ships, and protect them, so choosing how you use them–to strike out, to defend, to tie-up enemies from reaching you, it’s another level of tactical placement and movement.
The game is limited by a round cap of only six rounds, so this adds to the pressure of achieving your objective or doing as much damage and destruction as you can and is another influence on your tactics.
I like it. Not a ringing endorsement, I know. There’s a reason for that though. X-Wing can be played out of the box to get a good sense of the game. And, due to the fairly quick play you can have a few games to settle into the rules. I didn’t feel that with Armada. The points value used to build a fleet in Armada is 300–there’s not enough in the box to reach that even with squadrons and upgrades. Plus, each game we played out of the box took about three hours. Granted, there was a lot of rule checking. And I mean a lot.
I decided to get all of the wave 1 expansions to give this game a good go, and I can say that it made a marked difference. I’m going to keep my thoughts about my first games out of the box though. And that is ‘I liked it’ and felt it had a lot of potential. It’s a little strange that coming to X-wing as my first miniature game since I was a teenager, I didn’t like the lack of depth to it. However, it grew on me. With Armada, the depth, rules wise, was a little overwhelming for this amateur gamer who is more comfortable with a heavy themed board game than an RPG or tabletop wargame–but, as with X-wing I think (and now know) it’s a grower like it’s predecessor. I’m looking forward to playing more games to see if that happens…
- It’s Star Wars (Duh!). And it feels like it. All the ships are recognisable as Star Wars, even the non-movie ships of Wave 1 look the part.
- The sense of scale. Big unwieldy ships with nippy squadrons buzzing between and about them.
- The miniature ships. Nicely detailed and with a good quality feel–and the bases with their shield wheels and space for tokens keeps the game area neat and tidy.
- The jointed maneuver ruler. Great little tool.
- Objective cards.
- The depth of tactics that this game delivers. This could border on being a con for some, but I like a good think. And right from choosing your upgrades, to choosing your targets, to making moves and deploying your squadrons, there’s lots to think about. It’s like chess with turbolasers.
- The price. £75 if you don’t shop around. Personally, £45 would be the price point for this in my mind.
- The unpainted squadrons. That felt like a skimp. Okay. They are weeny and I don’t want anyone going blind painting them for me in a sweat shop, but come on, micro machines had little painted mini-figs. These could and should have been painted.
- Not enough dice in the box. There should be enough to play a game. There isn’t. One extra dice per colour grouping would have been fine. It feels mean without them.
- The box. It has a massive fricking hole in it. Okay, I’m not going to throw the box about because of its precious contents, but dust (& in our house–cat hairs). Picky, I know, but at £60 they could have put some plastic in that hole.
- The time sink a full game of this is likely to be. Okay. We have been slow on the uptake on the rules, but even a game out of the box took about two hours. A 300 point battle might take three or four.
Do you have this? What are your thoughts?