Published on June 19th, 2015 | by Dapper Dan0
Star Wars: Armada – Gaming Review
Fantasy Flight Games continue their inexorable march towards producing the best tabletop games based on licenced properties with their latest release; Star Wars: Armada.
If you’ve an interest in this game then there’s a good chance you’ve already played FFG’s earlier game X-Wing. Star Wars: Armada looks the same on the surface but is actually a very different beast, as it should be given that one is a game based around dogfights and the other around fleet-scale battles
The box is big. It’s the same square footprint as many of FFG’s other offerings, such as Descent and X-Wing, but is much deeper, to accommodate the larger ship models.
(Spaceman Dan shown for scale.)
Like many of FFG’s releases, the box has a filler insert so the components don’t rattle around, so on first glance the box seems needlessly big. This is intentional though as it allows you to store additional ships and squadrons as you purchase them. (And you will, as I will explain later on.)
Obviously the instant visual draw is the three ships visible through the box’s window. These are detailed and fully painted to a good degree. You could repaint if you wished but I wouldn’t see the need. Included are one Imperial ship, the Victory-class Star Destroyer, and two Rebel ships, a Nebulon-B Frigate and a Corellian Corvette. It’s interesting that they have opted for such an asymmetrical pairing in the starter set, because it means you’ll be playing two different playstyles if you switch up sides.
Beyond the big ships, you also get ten stands of fighters, to represent six squadrons of TIE Fighters and four squadrons of X-Wings. These are impressively detailed considering their small size but are, alas unpainted.
Finally, there are a lot of other components in the game, which could be a little daunting to tabletop beginners, but the rulebook has nice clear photographs of everything labelled. Three sheets of thick card counters and dials to represent everything you might need in the game, from asteroids, command tokens and ship identifiers to the range ruler.
Assembling the ships, squadrons and playing aids takes about 45 minutes. I’d suggest you don’t pop the counters off the sheets until you need them. While there are more than enough Ziploc baggies provided to store them in, you’re only going to complicate things for yourself. The ship movement tool is simple to pop together, and is one of the big differences between this and X-Wing.
Where X-Wing was a dogfight simulator between similar sized ships, Star Wars: Armada splits the game between the ships and the squadrons. Similarly, where X-wing allowed you to make you decisions every turn, Star Wars: Armada forces you to plan your ship movement several turns ahead. This is where it feels like you’re playing the long game. You *have* to understand the implications of your ships’ current speed and turning ability, otherwise you’ll find your rear exposed and susceptible to a torpedo where you don’t want one! The Star Destroyer in the basic set, for example, is bigger and tougher than the two Rebel ships, but is slow and turns like a crippled duck. The Rebel ships are faster, more manoeuvrable but significantly less resilient. Do NOT go head to head with a Star Destroyer with either of these! More on why, later…
Essentially, each turn is split into alternating ships actions between players, and then squadron actions between players. The emphasis here is really on the ships. While squadrons serve several useful purposes, they are like the potato dauphinoise with a fillet steak; tasty but not why you sat down at the table.
During my first game I foolishly moved my Rebel corvette close to the port side of the Star Destroyer, with the intention of blasting the shields there and bringing the frigate in next to attack the ship’s structure itself. Solid plan right? Yeah, no. In Star Wars: Armada the ships fire BEFORE they move, so I’d put my corvette at point blank range of an Imperial Star Destroyer, then realised I couldn’t do anything else that turn. Cue the dastardly Imperial player’s turn. “Open fire, all batteries!” they cried, rolling a veritable bucket of dice with glee. My corvette, the heroically named “Glorious Victory” became the more accurately ignominiously named “Vaporised Space Dust”. Bah.
Combat in Star Wars: Armada starts out in a similar way to X-Wing with the familiar three-segmented range ruler. While the smaller scale game used this to give attack or defence bonuses, Star Wars: Armada uses the ruler to show which colour dice you can roll. Black dice can fire up to range 1, blue to range 2 and red to range three. Each facing of a ship has a set amount of dice to represent the batteries mounted there. Some ships have their firepower concentrated in their front arc, others excel at broadsides. The coloured dice have different faces too, so you’re more likely to get certain results on certain dice than others. Again this adds to the strategy element, as some dice results have no effect on squadrons, only on other ships. Damage gets applied to the shields on the facing you are attacking, then onto the ship itself, using a damage deck in the same manner as X-wing facedown cards count as 1 point of damage, while critical hits are face up and have an effect like loss of speed, or fewer dice to attack with. Once a ship has taken as many damage cards as it has structure points; kaboom.
All is not lost when you take hits, as the bigger ships can repair themselves during the game, as one of the four orders you can assign each ship per turn, but doing so means you can’t use one of the other three; accelerate/decelerate, concentrate fire and activate squadrons in the ship phase.
After the ships have completed their void-dance of lasers and torpedoes, the fighters get their turn. Squadrons all move the same distance, have 360 facing and have two different attack values. Against other fighters, they are significantly more effective, but against ships, you need a swarm of them to guarantee the hit you’re looking for. Ships have a tough time eliminating fighters en masse, so you’ll need your own squadrons to run as a screen and intercept the enemy. The first wave of expansions for Star Wars: Armada includes new fighters for both factions, with interceptors, heavy fighters, bombers and the like, so your options will quickly increase with additional purchases.
If you think the game sounds complicated, then you’re right; it does seem very involved. On first playthrough but (And this is an important but) things start to make a lot of sense once you start playing and get into the swing of things.
If there’s anything the game could really benefit from, it’s a playsheet listing the phases of the turn and what actions can be taken each phase. The absence of such a game aid makes for a lot of flicking back and forth in the rulebook while you learn the game.
Overall Star Wars: Armada is a great game. It IS at the expensive end of tabletop games, especially for a starter set that you’ll need to expand on quickly, but you’re getting the rules system playing aids and several really nicely produced miniatures. Fantasy Flight Games have 3 waves of expansions already lined up, including extra squadrons and a variety of ships, both small and large, so the possibilities are endless. IF you’re a Star Wars fan and tabletop gamer, then you’ll enjoy Star Wars: Armada, and, in fact, even if you’re just a tabletop gamer looking for a fleet-based system you’ll enjoy it.
Star Wars: Armada is out now, available from gaming retailers. Review copy supplied by Esdevium Games