Star Wars Armada is a miniatures game that puts you in control of massive starships from the original trilogy. Corellian Corvettes, Star Destroyers, even Grand Moff Tarkin makes an appearance!
Armada is Fantasy Flight Games’ follow-up to the massively successful X-Wing miniature combat game. While X-Wing focused on skirmishes between small ships like individual X-Wing fighters, TIE fighters, Slave I, or the Millennium Falcon, the scale is significantly increased in Armada — now we’re talking about capital ships, behemoths with entire batteries of guns and heavy shields.
Our review copy of Star Wars Armada was provided by CoolStuffInc, and included one Victory-Class Star Destroyer, one Corellian Corvette, one Nebulon-B frigate, several X-Wing and TIE fighter squadrons, two measuring tools, and a truly massive amount of tokens, cards, and counters. The quality of the components is typical of Fantasy Flight Games, which is to say, damned impressive.
In fact, purely from a collector’s standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find better versions of these large ships suitable for a desktop or a display shelf. The detail is exceptional, and the quality control is also good — even the Nebulon’s long, spindly hull was straight as a rod. From experience, that kind of component can easily become warped, either by the molding process or by getting bent out of shape during shipping. There are a few spots I might want to improve the paint job, but there’s not much to complain about. I’m a bit worried about the maneuver tool — not that it’s poorly made, but it suffers a lot of wear and tear, and it is made of plastic.
How are the rules, though? A few basic facts: this game is not at all compatible with X-Wing. Totally different game, totally different scale. Also, Armada does not account for the Z-axis. All ships battle on a two-dimensional plane. If you’re looking for a super accurate simulation of 3D space combat, move along.
What this game does very well is depict the command and movement of massive starships in a quasi-realistic manner that feels very satisfying. It’s not easy to slow down or turn a huge ship, so each turn you have deal with the limitations of each particular vessel’s maneuverability and the fact that it’s already moving. You can’t stop on a dime — in fact, it’s hard to even slow down without dedicating a command to it. This creates a clear and interesting set of advantages and disadvantages between different ships. The Victory-Class Star Destroyer is obviously an immensely powerful ship, but it’s a lumbering oaf compared to the more nimble Rebel ships. It can be difficult to consistently bring the Star Destroyer’s brutal front batteries to bear.
Armada also takes the inherent difficulty in issuing and executing commands on a truly massive ship and makes it a fun, interesting part of the game. That’s quite a feat! When was the last time you got excited about logistics? But consider that a Victory-Class Star Destroyer is more than half a mile long, with a crew of nearly 5,000. It takes some time to coordinate the number of people and systems necessary to execute a maneuver.
This is represented in the game by a stack of command dials. When you issue a command, it’s placed at the bottom of that ship’s stack. When a command is executed later in the turn, the top command dial is the one that gets used. Bigger ships have more dials in their stacks — the Star Destroyer has three, while the Corvette has only one (which means you issue and execute commands in the same turn).
This could be frustrating — what if you’re out of range of your enemy by the time your “shoot” command is executed? But Armada cleverly avoids this. Basic things like maneuvering your ship and shooting your guns happen on every turn. The commands you issue give you a bonus of some kind to a particular action. The “Concentrate Fire” command gives you an extra attack die, for instance. Plus, you can save command tokens if you decide not to use a command on the turn it’s executed and spend them later. In that case, you get a lesser version of the bonus (the “Maneuver” command, for instance, lets you adjust your speed and make a sharper turn than normal, while the “save it for later” version only gives you the speed tweak).
This isn’t just a game of huge ships blundering about in space. Squadrons of smaller fighters come into play as well. The miniatures of these are not terribly detailed and completely unpainted, but they do the job of representing a small group of fighters on the table. I found the squadron element of the game a bit fussy, but they’re an important part of fleet tactics and using them properly, even if to simply counteract your opponent’s fighters, is a crucial part of the game.
Each ship has a point value that’s used to build balanced opposing forces and also calculate victory points (in most scenarios you get victory points for the ships you destroy). Each of the ships has a two-sided card for its base, as well as two different stat cards, that represent two variants of the ship with different point costs. There are also many add-ons you can build into your fleet, from improved weapons systems to special officers, including Grand Moff Tarkin. In addition to generic squads, there are also squads with special pilots, including one headed by some kid named Luke Skywalker.
You can add a bit of space terrain, like a space station and some asteroids, to liven up the field of battle, but most of the variety from match to match will involve scenarios. There are quite a few scenario cards included which offer different victory conditions and objectives, from defending a particular ship or rewarding getting all of your ships involved in the fight.
Fantasy Flight already has a number of expansions planned to add new ships to the game, as well as a bunch of accessories. You can replace the inevitably broken maneuvering tool or buy extra dice (the number of dice included in the core set isn’t even enough for many basic attacks in the core set itself, which is a bit disappointing). Some of the upcoming ships are pretty exciting though, including an Imperial-Class Star Destroyer and the perfect ship to let you yell “It’s a Trap!” at the gaming table. There will be a pack that adds iconic ships like the Millennium Falcon at the proper scale to act as squadrons to your main ships, and other squadron packs that add Y-Wing fighters and TIE Interceptors.
I never got into X-Wing, despite its success, but the larger scale and more methodical, strategic gameplay of Armada appeals to me immensely. Plus those amazing toy ships! Seriously, I need them all.