Thuloid Speaks: Star Wars Armada, a Review

Greetings, House made new! May your upgraded digs ride eternal, shiny and chrome. While life for Thuloid has its frustrations, what with the wave of people defecating on his place of business*, gaming is not among them. I might mention the new Games Workshop Morbidly Obese Fantasy Space Marines (their actual name), but those malproportioned shitty Blood Angel-knockoff models have effectively killed any lingering interest in Warhammer Fantasy. Oh, you haven’t seen them yet? Let our own network member Dice and Brush give you a gander.

Matthias_Flacius

Did not, to my knowledge, play Armada. But did write the Magdeburg Centuries!

*Literally. Second time in just more than a month. Barbarians in this town, I tell you.

Meanwhile, I’ll talk about something I enjoy. “What’s that?” you say, “a post about the influence of Matthias Flacius, the Magdeburg Confession and the doctrine of right of resistance of lesser magistrates on early modern political theory? Perhaps with tasteful sideboob?” One day, if you’re lucky, but not today. Today I will introduce you to a game that most have eyed but fewer tried– Fantasy Flight’s new offering, Star Wars: Armada.

First things: Armada is not X-Wing, nor X-Wing scaled up some. Its orientation is toward capital ships, with fighter squadrons providing essential support. Now, despite the name Armada, we’re not talking about vast numbers of ships here. A standard game is 300 pts. Word is that will increase to 400 with the release of wave 2 later this summer. But, to give you some idea of the size of forces, the starter box includes a Victory-class Star Destroyer and 6 squadrons of TIE fighters on the Imperial side, and a Nebulon B, a CR-90 Corvette and 4 X-Wing squadrons.  The recommended size of a starter box game is 180 points per side, which uses all the ships and is quite conservative with upgrades.

After enjoying the starter box (retails for $100, can be purchased for significantly less), I sprung for the Rebel Fighter Squadrons (two stands  each of X-, Y-, A- and B-Wings and a named pilot option for each) and Assault Frigate Mark II (looks a bit like a fat whale) expansions.  That gets me 300 points easily, in a bunch of different ways. Once the game settles at 400, my guess is you’ll see lists of one or two big ships, two or three smaller or medium sized, and then various squadrons. It might be possible to just squeeze in five star destroyers with no support, but that fleet would perform horribly.

photo 31

Victory Star Destroyer with Scale Wizard

So let’s talk a bit about mechanics. In Armada, you activate one capital ship at a time, then your opponent activates one, until both of you are done. At that point, you activate two fighter squadrons, then your opponent two, again until done. That’s a turn, and a game is six turns.

But what happens in a capital ship’s activation? Glad you asked. The first thing that happens is that you turn over the top command dial on your little stack. Now this is a cool mechanic. Ships have a command value, roughly correlated with size. So a CR-90 has a stack of 1, whereas a Victory star destroyer has a stack of 3. At the beginning of the turn, each player sets the most recently activated dial to one of four commands and puts it on the bottom of the stack:

  • Navigation, to help with movement
  • Concentrate fire, to assist shooting
  • Engineering, to repair damage, or
  • Squadron, to enhance squadron activations

On activation, that ship’s top dial is turned over and either used that activation or exchanged for a command token that can be stored till later for a lesser effect. A ship can move and shoot without a command, and squadrons can activate in due order, but the commands enhance that ability. Repairs always take a command. So big ships have to plan the emphases for their activations two turns ahead of time, whereas small ships can set it that very turn. A Star Destroyer is a very powerful ship, but sluggish. A Corvette is fast and responsive. A named admiral like Tarkin is hugely expensive, but his ability to assign command tokens is invaluable to the Imperials.photo 3

Next comes shooting. That’s right, in Armada a ship shoots before it moves. Since few games work this way, it takes a surprising amount of thought to set up shots carefully. Each ship is divided into four arcs, which are used for both shooting and receiving fire. Two arcs of a ship can fire per turn, and shooting is divided into three range bands. Each range band opens up a different type of weaponry which rolls a different color of dice (oh, Fantasy Flight and their silly proprietary dice). Black dice are short range and are heavy munitions–torpedoes, bombs and the like. Blue are medium, and include ion weaponry. These are great for rolling “accuracy” results which cancel defense tokens. Red are lasers, decent for damage. A ship has both a shield value for each of its arcs and an array of weapons, indicated by dots of the respective color–each dot is a die. So a Victory I Star Destroyer has six dots in its front arc–3 red and 3 black. It shoots with a respectable 3 dice at long and medium range, but at short range adds 3 devastating black dice to that. Don’t get caught directly in front of a Victory I.

There is a lot of variation between ships in terms of distribution and strength of shields, strength of weaponry (short, medium or long range, and whether a ship likes to fire forward or broadside), and even the angles of the arcs. A Victory II Star Destroyer (same model, different ship card for 12 points more) has no black dice, but blue instead–very different armament. Also different between ships are their available defense tokens. No dice are rolled for defense–rather, tokens are spent to reduce damage, redirect shields or partially evade attacks. These tokens refresh every turn (unless used a second time in a turn, in which case discarded), but this means that fire from multiple sources can quickly overwhelm defenses. Keeping your ships alive depends on planning.

photo 21

Six years and $3.2 million down the hole, but it’s the finest ruler in the galaxy.

Movement comes directly after shooting, and includes both speed and course. Speed can only be changed by using a navigation command. Because they love weird game aids, Fantasy Flight has developed a strange movement ruler. It is segmented plastic, with each knuckle capable of up to two clicks to the left or right, and numbered to correspond to a speed. A ship’s card indicates how many clicks it can turn at each knuckle at a given speed. Ships must move, and they must move their full speed. While measuring is allowed, sometimes it just doesn’t help. It’s surprisingly easy to get a ship “stuck” so that at its current speed it has only one (or none) viable move without colliding with another. Again, this isn’t X-Wing. Moving these ships feels like driving a boat, not flying a fighter. A small ship, going fast, has to cover a lot of ground but has a great deal of flexibility. A Star Destroyer chugs forward with little ability even to turn. It can get going to reasonable speed but will never be maneuverable. One minor quibble with the game might be the frequency with which large ships can get locked in a collision duel, in which each has no choice but to ram the other in its activation, causing damage to both. On the other hand, capital ship collisions seemed rather common in the Star Wars movies, so call it “cinematic.”

photo 11

WIP and unpainted. Very easy.

Squadrons can be activated early with a command, or toward the end of the turn, but either way their overall game function is the same. Nearly everything said so far about capital ships is ignored with squadrons. They don’t use the movement tool (they move freely using a distance ruler), they don’t worry about collisions, and they don’t require much planning. Some (most Rebel squadrons) can in swarms threaten capital ships. Others (TIEs), are little threat to big ships but effective at intercepting other squadrons. Capital ships can fire at squadrons, but a ship’s ability to do that is a separate value from its other armament, and again varies widely. Squadrons get “stuck in” with each other when close, and can’t break away until one or the other is destroyed. Their fights are randomish affairs, ignoring criticals and involving few defense tokens. FFG seems to have done a respectable job in forcing players to think about which kinds of squadrons they’d like to bring–each kind of ship “feels” roughly right. Lists are capped at 33% squadrons, which is a limit that players would easily break if possible, but that 33% at present includes four distinct options for each faction, not including (very potent) named squad leaders. Luke, for example, rolls a single black die if he attacks a capital ship, and ignores shields entirely.

photo 5

Scale Wizard and TIE. Think Epic sized.

I’ve used the word “cinematic” already, but it applies to this game. Ships behave as a fan of movies and various EU materials would expect them to. This is a more strategic game than X-Wing by far, less dice driven and much less about various abstract-feeling token mechanics and card combos.  The level of immersion is quite a bit stronger. In Armada, I tend to think a lot about how to set up shots, avoid catastrophic damage, and accomplish mission objectives (which I haven’t mentioned, but are important). The table is mercifully cleaner than in X-Wing as well. Fantasy flight has put dials for shields right on the bases of ships, and squadron bases include both a damage dial and an activation slider. No tokens, aside from objectives laid down at the start, are ever placed in the playing area. Information is all on the ship’s base or its card. The rules do not take long to learn. There are quick reference cards for command/token effects, and beyond that the most important thing is keeping the difference in mechanics between squadrons and ships straight.

The ships look very good on the table. Squadrons are simple and small, but take paint rather easily (as a test, I didn’t prime them). Not as well as primed minis, but about like Reaper Bones. I’ll give mine a shot of dullcote after I’m done just to be sure about chipping. I know the big ships take paint beautifully, as they’re pre-painted like the X-Wing ships, and have a nice level of detail.

Some reviews raise price as an issue with this game. I understand that–it’s not free, by any stretch. If a player is expecting to buy one of every ship that comes out, it could be expensive. Not GW-expensive, but not SAGA, either. But let me add up my expenditures to prove a point. My FLGS doesn’t carry the game right now, so online discounter it is. The starter box, an Assault Frigate and a box of Rebel Fighters gives me a number of options for 300 points. Comes in at ~$122. I really like the Rebels, so I’ll be purchasing the Rogues and Villains expansion (squadron-sized minis for both Rebels and Imps, including various bounty hunters and ne’er-do-wells), the MC30c Frigate and the Home One (Mon Calamari Cruiser). That’s another $63 via the same site, $185 in total, and I’ll own a ton of options for 400 points of Rebels and half as many Imperials.  If you’re really planning on playing this, buying into both factions is on the pricey side. Buying one is manageable.

Anyhow, this is an enthusiastic thumbs up. I could go into battle reports, and maybe one day I will, but right now it’s enough to say this game and Infinity are scratching my itch pretty well.

armada-wave2-title-image

 

 

 

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  • they pooped on a church lawn? wow. *speechless*

    • Thuloid

      I wish it had been on the lawn. We have bushes, they could’ve used them. No, they pooped on the building.

      • like, on the steps? or were they creative and was it elsewhere? or, wait. maybe I DON’T want to know. weird weird weird weird weird.

        • Thuloid

          This is not an abyss you want staring back at you.

      • Von

        Is this one of those TRVE KVLT church desecration things, or did someone just… lose control, one day?

        • Thuloid

          More than one day, and extremely intoxicated is the best guess.

      • I’m in no way condoning this behaviour but it does speak to a certain dedication to there errrrr hmmmm ……..process that it’s difficult not to admire

        • Thuloid

          And where were you last Saturday evening?

          • On a different continent I promise but I wouldn’t discount the possibility of others working as my proxy 😉

          • I know, right?
            I was thinking the same thing.
            -_-

  • The Warlock

    I for one am psyched as fuck for WHFB 9th/AoS. ^^;

    I like the look and feel of armada, but my older bro (who’s a diehard Imperial fan) is more into boardgames than boardgames with miniatures :/ so that kinda rules it out for me. Still, when SSDs come through, maybe he’ll change his mind.

    • Thuloid

      Warlock, I hope to God it’s a good game. I really do. But I just read something that, if true, means it isn’t, and when it comes out, nobody will disagree with me. We’ll see soon enough.

      As to Armada, no SSD. Still way too large. The smallest SSD is the size of a full table edge. You could play with that as a scenario, but there won’t be a mini for it. Lots of other ships, though.

      • The Warlock

        I hope it’s a good game too. My psyched-ness is pretty high but wavers due to the waves of negativity in each info leak. May ebay my O+G horde as they’ve had a good run if I’m gonna commit to the starter set. The Most Important Rule is still in effect, so we’ll see.

        No SSDs for now, but I’d place a small wager on them appearing in a box akin to the Corellian blockade runner and rebel transports. I’m sure I asked, but TIE interceptors/phantoms/defenders are in expansion packs?

        • Thuloid

          The Imperial Squadrons pack has 2 each of TIE/LN, Interceptor, Advanced and Bomber. Phantom and Defender will likely come later. Oh, and the named pilots are a lot of fun.

          • The Warlock

            Oooh, Wedge Antilles for X-wing character? I may look into this once I sell more GW stuffs.

          • Thuloid

            Luke comes as a squadron leader in the starter box. Wedge comes in the Rebel Squadrons box. He adds an extra 2 blue dice if he’s shooting at an already activated squadron–nobody clears out TIEs more efficiently.

  • I’m sorry I’m too distracted by those bizarre Sanguinary Guard flying around the Warhammer Old World. It’s really freaking me out.

    • Thuloid

      I know, right? Only, not the “Old World”, which is gone. Now “Regalia.” Ugh. Maybe those aren’t men. Maybe those are ogres crammed into that armor. Explains their giant torsos.

      • The Old World is gone? Well I guess that puts the nail in that coffin full of childhood memories. Nice knowing you Warhammer Fantasy Battle.

        You know, I thought I’d be sad, but I feel strangely relieved.

        • Von

          Sometimes you just have to take the old boy out back, let him gaze lovingly up the barrel of your twelve-gauge, and let the good Lord take the pain away.

          I am morbidly curious about what Warhammer will do now that its shtick isn’t “pseudo-historical, recognisably drawing on the real world”. Expectations are dialled firmly to “low”.

          • Smoke88

            MatWardGavThorpefluffcollaboration low?

            I’m kind of intrigued by it. Curious to see where this goes

          • Thuloid

            I have a theory. Feeling pretty confident about that theory. Will let you all know in a week if I was right.

          • I think it has all the trappings of a gateway drug. If you love this game that plays like a board game, then you might like the added complexity of… *insert more complicated ruleset*

          • Thuloid

            I don’t believe there will be “more complicated ruleset”, unless you mean 40k.

          • Ah, so you don’t think there’ll be a follow-up after AoS?

          • Thuloid

            The word right now is that the rules are the 4 page booklet in AoS. AoS, btw, is the name of the new game. There’s no 9th edition coming after it. So if it’s not in that booklet or in a warscroll (which is basically a unit data card), it’s not at all.(If this part is wrong, then the game has hope–but this is the belief at present). Warscrolls for all old units drop this week. I’ve seen 4 of them for the new units. They have no points costs. There are no list construction rules. A warscroll defines a unit as either “a single model” or “one or more”. Statlines are altogether new. M WS BS S T I A W is gone.

          • The Warlock

            I just saw the leaked “statlines”. Psyched-ness failed combat resolution, failed the break test and is now running halfway across the battlefield. 🙁

          • Thuloid

            I was really sad when I realized what was happening. I thought it might be bad, but bad in the sense of a poor edition, not something like this. On the one hand, I admire the effort to redesign completely–but this is utterly halfhearted. And if we’re digging into details, I’m not really sure why they kept hit and wound as separate rolls. KoW does everything in just 2–a melee roll for the attacker, then a defense roll against the defender’s defense stat (modifiable by a few special rules). But that game does everything this one wants to, except better.

          • The Warlock

            I was psyched up until I found out the much loved statline was vanishing. The redesign is admirable, as fantasy has been waning for some time and the End Times were the last hurrah. KoW may be my new mass battle fantasy game :/ I -am- still gonna review the AoS system if the rules are a free pdf. If not, I’ll just settle for the chaos sculpts and rebase for 6th-8th whfb/KoW. Or I could just go into Armada and sell off more WHFB stuff. I did love the SW: Empire at War pc game…

          • Thuloid

            One thing I love about KoW is that individual basing is irrelevant. Only the unit footprint matters.

          • I will be upfront and say I have no investment in warhammer either in the fluff or the models so can be quite dispassionate about it what I find really interesting is that there providing free rules on the Internet free army listing for all existing models and rules in the box for new models. This isnsuch a seachange for GW its almost an acknowledgement that they have competition and I can only accredited to the new chairman and hopefully a sign of progress in GWthink

          • It’ll be interesting to watch, that’s for sure 🙂

          • Yep. Coming of age at roughly the same time as the internet, I’ve seen most of the movies, TV shows, books and pursuits of my childhood publicly scrutinized and remembered by a billion people, and then sold back to them as weird, ever-changing living nostalgia-golems. It’s a death by a thousand cuts. A clean end is better.

            I often feel angry about it actually. It’s very hard to find and enjoy new creative experiences amid all the re-hashes. They’re like an addictive drug.

          • Thuloid

            I think it hands Warhammer back to the players. Ok, the game is dead. Well, so is Blood Bowl. But I can still play Blood Bowl, and people do, and that’s probably better than GW messing it up. My guess is you’ll see some quality fan-made 8.5 version emerge, probably with new codexes for Skaven, Bretonnians and Beastmen, and some other adjustments. No more waiting around for FAQs. Not necessarily bad.

          • Yes I feel positive about it too. Not sure if I got that across. It’s not official creators ending the things I love that pisses me off – it’s when they drag them out to a slow and humiliating end.

            I might be stepping gingerly into Von’s aesthetic graveyard here, but that’s how I feel. There is beauty in things being temporary. Not everything has to be forever.

  • MerryVulture

    Thuloid, because you are my hero, and the topic posted is very much of interest to me, as well as the topic of the comments, I have decided to join the discussion. (That will teach you to write interesting and well written articles, won’t it?)

    On Armada. I have mixed feelings about this game. I want to love it, but it is conspiring against me. Really. It released the weekend of my 10th anniversary, so I pre-ordered it, so as to not be left out of the game. Before I could pick it up, my car required repairs. I was on public transport for a week. (which in Utah means 2 hours of trains and buses, rather than 20 minutes of driving.) Couldn’t pick up my toys. Finally got them, and work got insane. Couldn’t find time to play for another week.

    Finally got in a game or two. My store scheduled a tournament, yay! Except it was the same day as the festival my wife had planned on us attending for the last year. Followed by two weeks of my usual gaming day being subsumed by family obligations. And then…

    New Fantasy! I have been cautiously looking forward to this since it became clear they were resetting the whole game. My deale..um… store owner has been led to believe some neat shit is happening with the game, and the next couple of weeks will be… Fantasy all the time, every time.

    Why does Armada hate me so much? Why?

    • Thuloid

      I promise never to write well again. Unfortunately for you, I’m dangerously unreliable. Also patronizing and a threat to the unity of the church, if my email inbox from this morning is to be taken seriously.

      I’d love it if good things happened in Fantasy. And they will! But maybe not from GW. Either way, I’m good.

      Sad to hear about your Armada troubles. How strange. My Imperial fighters showed up in the mail today. Tiny, adorable interceptors and bombers.

  • It took me spending 300 bucks or so to realize I just didn’t like X Wing, and I tried pretty hard. I think I might’ve just spent too many years getting used to moving my minis wherever I wanted, and I just never took to FF’s proprietary rulers and dice and whatnot.
    This game looks way more tactical though, and I do love Star Destroyers…cuz who doesn’t? I think I’m good on FF games for a while, however. They get weird with the ‘you hafta buy this big set of stuff you don’t particularly want to get that one single upgrade card you really want’ method of getting to your wallet, and as you mention in your review, this stuff ain’t free.

    Excellent review, btw.
    🙂

    • Thuloid

      Thanks! I enjoy X-Wing, but I like this better. Lately the level of X-Wing play at my store has spiked, and I have to work a lot harder. That means not only lists, but buying ships to get those cards to keep pace. I’m a little annoyed by that. Though, mostly, I’d like it if we played fewer “3 round tournament” style nights (that’s more or less every week) and did a few more scenarios.

      Some of the upgrade cards for Armada are good, but I think it’s about the ships. Squadrons are a big deal, and they don’t even get upgrades.