Review: Star Wars: Armada
Quinns: How much wine did you have? Oh, it was beautiful, Paul. We circled each other for hours, laughing, getting closer and ever closer. Finally, I got past your shields. It was wonderful.
Paul: Oh no.
Quinns: Then you activated your squadrons and managed to disable my turbolasers with your mighty TIE bombers.
Paul: Oh no. Wait. What?
Quinns: We played Star Wars: Armada, Paul! Fantasy Flight’s new game in the style of their hugely popular X-Wing Miniatures game. Everyone can read our first impressions of X-Wing here and watch our comprehensive review here, but to summarise, we love X-Wing. This week, with the release of Star Wars: Armada, Fantasy Flight is offering something more grand. The same collectable, pre-painted Star Wars ships, but this time they’re fighting on a much, much more epic scale. Look:
That leaves us with a big, hairy, Ewok of a question. Which game should we recommend now?
Paul: quinns where are my pants
Quinns: I know what you mean. My world’s been turned upside-down, too!
A quick play of Armada reveals a few crucial differences from X-Wing. Remember how we loved X-Wing for its elegance? Sure, it has its astromech droids and its fierce strategems if you want them, but at its heart it’s a game about space and chance, a game of trying to maneuver your pilots into place with nerve-wracking banks and spins, wrenching yourself into a position where you can take that killer shot, before trusting in the dice to deliver your destiny
Armada… well, let’s put it this way. If Armada was a person you lived with, they’d write their name on their eggs and milk. X-Wing is a geek. Armada is a dork.
Paul: i dont know what that means also my pa-
Quinns: Everything elegant, everything simple about X-Wing has been replaced by a more complicated rule. The game’s squadrons can flitter about like mayflies, but they can’t attack on the same turn. The giant capital ships now have momentum, modelled by an intimidating “Maneuver Tool”. Players now need to do more than just position their ships at the right range, facing the right way. In Armada, the question of what range and angle you want is a puzzle in itself.
The game is also just larger. In every way. It takes twice the table space and twice the time, the box is three times the price and, just like X-Wing, both players need a starter kit for enough ships that you feel like you’re actually playing the game and not simply nudging a couple of lonely vessels around a backwater system like a pair of paupers who found the game in a bin.
But two Starter sets is £80 each before you’ve even thought about all the ships that are going to hyperspace in with that first “Wave 1” of expansions.
Paul: Okay so if I wear large enough socks my dignity is protected.
Quinns: All told, Armada’s the most expensive game we’ve ever reviewed.
Paul: Cripes. Sounds pretty disappointing, then?
Quinns: Well. There’s just one problem. I’m a massive dork, too. I actually invited you over last night to get you blind drunk and persuade you to order your own Armada set.
Paul: While that accounts for my lack of memory, it doesn’t explain where my pants are.
Quinns: Well, after you ordered the Armada set you got really excited and started taking your clothes off and pretending to be Grand Moff Tarkin, and then I don’t know why but you put parts of yourself on the table and said they were the suns of Tatooi-
Paul: anyway quinns you’d say that armada is better for its complexity
Quinns: It’s not better, just less sporty and more bookish. Let’s actually talk about the game a bit.
Paul: Yes yes, that’s better, yes.
Quinns: Each turn begins with players simultaneously assigning “Command Dials” to their big ships, just like you do in X-Wing. These instructions secretly determine whether that ship is commanding squadrons of smaller fighter craft, preparing for a barrage of firepower, repairing itself or changing its speed. What’s cool, though, is that bigger ships have to set these dials a turn in advance, and the gigantic, lumbering Star Destroyer has to set it two turns in advance, carrying a teetering stack of dials around with it. Trying to predict the course the battle will take it a really interesting puzzle.
In the second phase of each turn players take it in turn to reveal these dials and activate their ships, with each ship able to fire from two of it’s four sides before commencing its battle with its mortal enemy: the Maneuver Tool. Although I guarantee in your first game of Armada you’ll feel like the only tool at the table, with your Corellian Corvette travelling slowly but inevitably away from where you REALLY NEED IT TO BE like a cow on ice. This is, again, an interesting puzzle.
Paul: Tool… Table…
Quinns: In the third and final phase both players move or attack with each of their little squadrons of fighter craft. And these guys are rubbish. Absolute space junk. They don’t do much damage, they’re slow and if they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time they get torn to pieces. …Unless, instead, you activate them using a big ship’s command dial, at which point they wake up and attack like a swarm of bees, just pouring dice onto their target.
So now we’ve got a game with anti-ship squadrons, squadron-supporting ships, anti-ship ships and so on and so forth, fleet building gets really interesting really quickly, as do the tactics of the game itself. Suddenly you’ve got units that duck X-Wing and Armada’s biggest obstacle, which is having to use those hateful templates to get where you want to be, and can act as obstacles themselves. Due to the minutiae of how overlapping figures works, squadrons of fighters that park right in the path of an enemy ship can travel with the larger miniature as it tries to push through them.
There’s all this fancy stuff going on, but underneath it all the core appeal of X-Wing is still there. Your heart sinking as you pick up a dial and grudgingly move your beautiful, beautiful ship into the firing arc of five eager enemies. A noisy clatter of dice. Your opponent screaming as the dice almost all come up blanks. Phew! He got a little cooked, but he’s okay.
Paul: Now that’s interesting. Less of the graceful and soaring arcs of X-Wing, more of the slow, pondering movements of giant chunks of armed metal. So… it really feels like big ships, then? I can’t remember.
Quinns: I dunno about the ships feeling “big”, but I’ll tell you what I love. All the miniatures are at the exact scale of the miniatures that commanders use in sci-fi films on their tactical map when they’re pushing things around with sticks. That’s what I love the most. When there’s a tremendous missile volley, then you watch the dice come to a stop and then reach over and swipe away the tiny figurine representing a whole squadron of pilots? That’s such a fun, mawkish gesture when you see commanders doing it in movies, but you get to do it yourself. I adore it.
The only thing that makes me sad is that the squadrons don’t launch or dock with the ships themselves. The Gladiator Class Star Destroyer that’s arriving soon even has a massive, visible bay at the front for launching ships which you will never use. Do you know how sad that makes me? I’m the guy whose favourite scenes in Battlestar Galactica were vipers launching and docking with bigger ships. I like things that go inside other things.
Paul: I’ll be honest here, I think this is becoming one of our stranger features.
Quinns: Also things that come out from things.
Paul: I just somehow feel different today.
I mean, it would add an interesting tactical dimension, don’t you think? Fighters launching or replenishing. Capital ships being destroyed while some of their squadrons are still desperately trying to take off.
Quinns: Take their pants off.
Paul: No, just take off.
Quinns: It would let you keep the squadrons you chose and the ships carrying them a secret, sure. But mostly it’s a thematic concern for me. This is a game called STAR WARS: ARMADA about ARMADAS IN STAR WARS, and you’re telling me I can’t deploy TIE Fighters from my Star Destroyer as the X-Wings close in. Are you joking? Is this a joke.
Quinns: But it’s not a joke, Paul. Every time I play a game of Armada it’s going to feel a bit like Fantasy Flight is ruining my 7th birthday party.
Paul: The fascists. I w-
Quinns: But like I said, it’s a fantastic enough game that I’m still committed to collecting it, and that was an easy decision. The last thing I’ll say about it is that it’s better suited to my style of collecting than X-Wing ever was. Is. Whatever.
Paul: Okay, so I don’t quite get this. What’s your style of collecting? You enjoy expansions. You like bringing new things to a game. Now you’re suggesting you like bringing new things in a particular way? Surely it can’t be that Armada has fewer expansions. It might do right now, but there’s bound to be many more coming for months. Years.
Quinns: Yeah. There’s actually a telling bit in the manual where it talks about how all the ships released right now fall into “Small” and “Medium” categories, so we’ve got Large ships coming. And I’m ending that sentence with a full stop because I am a professional, but I really, really, really, really want too end it with about eighteen exclamation marks.
What I mean by “my style of collecting” is that X-Wing’s so fast and the scene’s so competitive that only playing it once a month made me feel like I’m not getting the X-Wing experience. There’s a whole new faction out now (“Scum”) that I haven’t played with, and I never got stuck into the advanced player tactics that bend the game to its breaking point. Armada’s so slow and unsuited to tournament play that you can have your Star Destroyer sat on a shelf like Chekhov’s gun, only take it down for a play once a month, and that’s ok! It’s a bit like how we’ve always said it’s cool to buy Twilight Imperium and only get it to the table once a year. It’s such an “event” game that you still feel like you got your money’s worth.
Paul: So it’s grander, slower and perhaps even suits a more refined, more considerate palate?
Quinns: It’s a game I’ll be coming back to, ohhh, now and then, I suppose.
Paul: That’s great. That means I can actually keep my pants on for a whole month. Which is new.
Quinns: Paul what.
Paul: My shields up. I mean.
Quinns: Paul what.
Paul: Actually I have to go. I have to make the jump to light speed.
Quinns: Sitting there and doing the noise doesn’t make that actually happen.
Paul: Could you leave now please.