A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away… Also, a Few Days Ago, In a Basement Not Too Far Away…
Star Wars! The Sci-Fi Epic of a generation, a universe that has captured the minds of Gamers for generations. Whether or not we all agree with the direction the franchise has taken with the departure of Lucas form a leading role, a truly great addition has been the series of Fantasy Flight Games set in the Star Wars Universe!
Where as the increasingly popular X-Wing Miniatures Game focuses on the intense Dogfights, an intense furball between skilled fighter pilots, Star Wars Armada instead focuses on the major fleet engagements like was seen in the climactic Battle of Endor. Now players have the chance to direct fleets on a major scale action, a new dynamic to the two player competitive experience.
A note about this particular scenario: Our players have not played Armada before this engagement. We spent several hours going over the rules and running the tutorial game before preparing our fleets. Also, it is worth noting that we were limited in our options for fleet customization. We had at our disposal a total of Five Imperial Ships and Seven Rebel Ships, as well as One Imperial Squadron Set with two Rebel Squadron Sets.
Deployment and Point Buy
For our first scenario we played two teams of two, each player having 180 points to field. The Rebels ended up with A Mk. II Frigate, a Nebulon B Escort, Three CR-90 Corvettes, 2 X-Wings, 2 Y-Wings and 3 A-Wings. The Imperial Forces consisted of Two Victory Class Star Destroyers, a Gladiator Class, and eight Squadrons of TIE Fighters.
The initial deployment was based on the scenario card Prepared Position, granting Victory Points for any hits scored on the Read Section of an Enemy Ship. The Rebels anchored their Corvettes on the edge of the Asteroid Field with the heavier ships pinning the center. The Imperials for their part brought their heavy ships to bear in the center, using their TIE Fighters as a screen.
The first interesting development came when the Fighters engaged ahead of the fleets. The Imperials had invested a great deal of Upgrades and Points into making their lead Star Destroyer a support Aircraft Carrier. Despite the sheer advantages of having shielded and heavy fighters, the TIEs were able to mass their fire and special abilities to systematically obliterate the Rebel Squadrons. By the end of the game, only a single A-Wing Squadron stood, the TIE Fighters almost entirely intact.
Capital to Capital Combat
However, the Corvettes were able to take advantage of their tremendous speed and maneuvering to quickly flank the much slower and larger Victory-Class ships. The first Corvette had the misfortune of receiving a devastating broadside from the Imperials, and went out in a very literal blaze of glory, ramming the front shields of the Imperial Carrier.
(Something like this – except smaller – and intentional)
Though the Rebel heavy ships had the misfortune of coming up to speed too late in the fight, causing an unfortunate incident when the Escort Frigate rammed the rear of the Assault Frigate. Despite this, the Rebel Heavy Guns dealt a devastating and decisive blow, coordinating fire with the Corvettes to eliminate the Victory Class Carrier. The surviving A-Wing Squadron was even able to disengage and get a departing shot on the rear of the Victory before it was destroyed.
End of Game
In the end the point score came out to a minor Rebel Victory. Despite substantial losses of Squadrons and a Corvette, the loss of an Imperial Admiral and his Flagship Carrier was enough to almost singularly guarantee a Rebel Victory with points to spare.
Had the battle continued longer, the battle would almost certainly have turned to an Imperial Victory. The number of surviving squadrons would have been able to score several hits on rear shields uncontested, racking up victory points. Even if the largely unengaged Rebel Heavier Ships would have been brought fully into the fight, the weakened Rebel Corvettes would have almost certainly been sunk in only a single concentrated volley from the remaining Victory-Class Destroyer.
Several lessons were learned for deployment in future engagements. Since the orders capital ships receive are on a delay, it is important to plan your maneuvers well in advance! This does require a few games to understand ship movement, yet it remains difficult to change during the game. Ship speed and maneuvering is crucial, and without planning ramming obstacles or ships becomes far too easy to miscalculate.
I do question the effectiveness of squadrons. On the one hand, if left unchecked fighters can harass capital ships for several small chances to deal damage, much like shaving down a piece of wood. However, all fighters and bombers seemed to do in every scenario we played was occupy each other for the duration. If their entire function is only to tie each other up, why not have both sides field exclusively capital ships? Perhaps it will be made more clear in successive games.
In future scenarios we will hopefully have expanded options. Currently the Rebels are largely limited to fast, lighter ships with higher quality individual squadrons. Similarly, the Imperials are limited to extremely heavy ships, no escorts or fast movers, and lighter swarming fighter squadrons. We likely will be restricted to these types of ships for the immediate future.
Immediate impressions of the game
Armada is not a fast or easy game to learn compared to X-Wing. There are many particulars to the rules, and a great deal of depth to strategy and maneuvering, as well as bringing forces to bear. Also, the pieces and expansions are pricey, making it difficult to expand the game when a single piece expansion could mean an entire additional board game for some collectors.
That being said, it has the intricacy and level of forethought that puts this game on a tier closer to chess. I would compare X-Wing to 5th Edition D&D, and Armada to Pathfinder. If you take the time to learn all that Armada has to offer, the depth and complexity means the game can be completely made your own, and offers players a level of strategy that many simpler, shorter games lack.
I like Armada, and I love Star Wars. I doubt Armada will supplant the place both X-Wing and Edge Of The Empire have in our gaming circles. Even so, there are seldom more enjoyable moments than listening to John Williams on your phone while your Corvette veers headlong at the towering mass of a Star Destroyer, the fate of the Galaxy very well hanging in the balance.
Special thanks to Donald Lewis for this informed post! Donald has been playing tabletop games for most of his life and has an incredible understanding of the intricacies of tabletop gaming, RPGs and Board games. Check out his analysis of Siege battles in LoTR Minis for more of his writing. If you have any questions for him, please leave them in the comments. And don’t forget to follow our project to create Kansas City’s first board game cafe on our website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.