Life gets busy, and games you buy on release day sometimes sit around for weeks, taunting you with their large peek-a-boo panels. They reveal beautiful star ships encased in plastic, waiting for you to fiddle with their bits. This is what happened with Star Wars: Armada. I bought it on the Friday that it came out, but only got around to playing it this week. I got in one game, so this is going to be mostly my first impressions of the game, and not a thorough review of all the moving parts and strategies. My first impression of this game is that it is fantastic and is the fleet based miniatures game that I have been waiting for for a long time.
In each game of Star Wars: Armada, you’ll decide with your opponents on a point limit, and then you’ll figure out who brought the least points, and then figure out who is the first player. The first player is going to activate a ship, resolve the ship commands, shoot the ship’s guns, and then move the ship. The commands are fairly straightforward, but the rub is that you usually have to play the commands at least one turn in advance, and even more for the largest ships. So, if one of your ships is a Star Destroyer, you’ll need to plan commands 3 turns in advance- you’ll need to plan on where you will be, where your squadrons will be, and what shape your ship is going to be in. If you thought that a squadron command would be useful in three turns, and in three turns your squadrons are not within range of the ship, you’ll have lost out on a powerful effect. Planning in this game is key.
Reaction is the next big element of Armada. After you’ve activated your first ship, your opponent will activate their ship, and you’ll alternate doing so until you both have activated all of your ships. There’s no set way in which you have to activate your ships, no order to rigidly adhere to- if you want to activate your smallest ship first this turn, and get it out of range of the big guns of the Star Destroyer, you can do so. Unlike, say, in X-Wing, where the ships activate according to their pilot skill, the activation of ships is a strategic element to the game that adds a LOT of richness to the experience. You’ll want to be adaptive to your opponents’s plan, but not beholden to it.
Strategy, reaction, planning- these elements put the winning and losing in your own hands. The list that you bring seems far less important than in a lot of other miniature games, but still feels important. You could spend hours trying to maximize your list build, but I’d actually recommend that you spend some time learning to fly the ships that you have. Knowledge of where the ships can go, what kind of maneuvers they can pull off, and how to fly them without running off the board are going to be more useful than a 100% min/max list. This isn’t X-Wing or Attack Wing- in your first game there are going to be a few times where you either almost, or actually, fly the ships off the board.
You also get to use squadrons. You’ll get several squadrons, each of which represents a number of ships that you’ll use to get shots off on your opponents ships, engage with other squadrons, and harass the other player and their plans. Squadron superiority doesn’t seem like it’s SO important at this stage, but I bet someone smarter than me is figuring out how to use these squads effectively. Bombers seem underpowered currently, and spend a lot of the game tied up in fighter battles in the middle of the board.
Let’s talk about another element that I think is great- there are no tokens on the board. The only thing on the board necessary to determine the game state are the ships themselves. This is fantastic. Aside from the one instance of command tokens, Fantasy Flight has done a great job of cleaning up this game and making it easy on the eyes.
The two factions feel very different from each other, currently. The Rebels are focused on movement. hit and run tactics, and support, while the Empire is pure brute force, able to harass huge swaths of the board effectively. The Empire wants to occupy the center of the board and the Rebels want to stay on the ropes, able to counter attack with their superior fighters and small ships. I brought one Frigate that supported squadrons, one corvette that just sped around not doing too much, and a beefy Assault Frigate that felt like it could have held its own against a Star Destroyer. The ships engage in a few skirmishes, but never really got into toe to toe beatdown. The squadrons fought it out, and the X-Wings/B-Wings and A-Wings were victorious, but a lot of that had to do with the support of the Frigate. It really felt like I was fighting with a force that was randomly put together from whatever could be salvaged or stolen.
The only issue I have with this game is some really silly decisions on the contents of the box. Each ship in the box comes with enough tokens for every possible arrangement of tokens etc., such that the box COULD be split between two people. I’ve split a box with a friend of mine and $50.00 for a starter set in a miniatures game is perfectly reasonable. I anticipate that a full tournament army will run about $150.00. There’s NO reason why there shouldn’t be two movement tools, two range rulers, and some more dice. That would have made this box instantly divideable, and would have made it a much easier sell to people on the fence about buying in. There are currently plans to sell the movement tool separately, but the lack of two range rulers is stupid.
If it didn’t come through in the review, I really like this game. If you’re on the fence, thinking that this is just a clone of X-Wing or a money grab, I completely disagree an encourage you to get off the fence, buy in and get playing.