Reviewed by: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
(Fantasy Flight Games, 2 players, ages 14 and up, 120 minutes; $99.95)
I’ve always been fascinated by the Star Wars universe and related games. I played a lot with the old West End Games RPG and I really love Star Wars: X-Wings. When FFG announced the release of Star Wars: Armada, I was thrilled. Someone could think Armada is the “capital ship” edition of Star Wars: X-Wings but going through the rules and playing it you will discover it is a totally different game, a deeply strategic game with a lot of interesting mechanics, well immersed into this great sci-fi theme.
Star Wars: Armada, as designed by Christian T. Petersen and James Kniffen, is a tridimensional boardgame like Star Wars: X-Wings, Wings of Glory or Sails of Glory. Every player control a fleet of capital ships: Empire vs. Rebellion. Every ship has his own miniature and fighters (and bombers) are represented in the game as squadrons. Before starting the battle, you have to assemble your fleet using a value-based system. Ships and squadrons has a base-point cost and you have to add the cost of equipment, crews and upgrades. In the standard game, you have 300 points to spend and, to give you an idea, a Victory Class Star Destroyer costs 85 points and a Tie-Fighter squadron less than 10. A standard battle could include 2-3 capital ships in each side and from 6 to 8 squadrons meaning 8-10 units in each side.
Armada is an expandable game and, to have a real idea of the full game, you need at least some expansions; I wrote this review using the base game and all the ships/squadrons of the Wave I.
As mentioned, Armada has two kind of units: ships and squadrons. How squadrons behave is one of the greatest aspects of the design. Every ship is described by a card with command, squadron and engineering values. The ship is divided into 4 sections (front, right and left side, back) and each section has a shield value and an attack value (how many dice and which colors). Finally, the ship card describe the hull, the defense tokens, the anti-squadron value, the speed, maneuverability and special equipment. Squadrons are described by hit points, speed, ships and attack values versus ships and squadrons. Like ships, some squadron could have defense tokens and special abilities.
Going though the details of the rules is really long and complex and, I think, not what you are looking for so I’ll try to give you the idea of the game, highlighting peculiarities.
The round starts with the command phase, giving commands to each capital ship. Small ships react quickly and you just decide what they do in this round: for the bigger ones, you need to plan two or three turns ahead. Then, the ship phase starts. In turn order, every player activates one ship revealing the command, attacking and then executing maneuvers. Which ship will act first can sometimes make the difference and it is something you have to consider in your plans. In the Squadron phase, all squadrons are activated. Then, the round ends with a management phase. The game lasts six rounds.
Deciding what your ships are going to do in the round is one of the central parts of the game. You can navigate (to have more options during the maneuver), concentrate fire (bonus in attack), repair or activate squadrons. With the “activate squadron” command, you can move and attack with as many squadrons as is your ship squadron value. Squadrons can move and attack ships only if they are not engaged with enemy squadrons and, sometimes, moving some fighters early in the ship phase can be the difference between life and death. Every ship can attack once from one of its four sides. Some ships are better armed in front, other on the side. The attack value is indicated by the number and color of the rolled dice. Black dice can target only near enemies, blue are good also at mid-range and red can hit far away targets. Every rolled die can inflict from zero to two damages: normal and catastrophic. Defense tokens can be used to avoid and remove damages or to move damages on other sides of the ships. Damage first removes shields (usually a capital ship has 1 to 4 shields on each side) then hits the hull. Catastrophic damage can activate special effects displayed on damage cards. Concentrating the fire of different ships can be important since damage tokens can be used safely once every round or twice but then are removed from the game. It is also important to be able to turn your ship, spreading hits to different sides.
Finally, the ship has to move according to its speed (from 1 to 4) and maneuverability. Usually big ship are stronger, tougher, better armed and able to control more squadrons but slower and clumsier, taking a lot of time to turn while little and quick ships can easily move around the battlefield. Now it is the squadrons phase.
All squadrons not yet activated in this turn can move OR attack. Using the Squadron command in the ship phase is the only way to move and attack with a squadron in the same round. Ties are quicker and can be really dangerous swarming. X-Wings are slower but better in fighter vs. fighter and fighter vs. ship attack. With the Squadrons expansion of Wave I, you have Interceptor, Wing-Y, Wing-A, Tie Bomber and many others. Some squadrons have elite commanders (like Luke Skywalker) and related special abilities. How to move the squadrons, how to engage enemies, can make the difference because an unprotected capital ship can have trouble against a swarm of squadrons.
When playing Armada, you feel the emotion to be in command of a real spacefleet. You have to plan how to move, attack, repair your capital ships and how to use your squadrons to intercept enemy squadrons. You will feel the frustration of having your big ship outmaneuvered by quicker ones or the pleasure of a well planned squadrons’ assault. Every ship has strong and weak points you have to consider in your plans. There is randomness in attacking (you have to roll dice) but not enough to be that influential. You have to build your fleet and plan a strategy according to the ships and cards chosen. Of course, you get more possibilities with the materials (ships and cards) included in the expansions packs. In fleet creation, you also have to choose 3 objective cards that can change the set-up and/or the engagement rules. The player assembling the less-valued fleet will choose one of the opponent’s objective cards that will be used in the battle. This is an extra level of strategy I still have to explore.
I think Star Wars: Armada is probably the best fleet vs. fleet game I have ever played, with so many possibilities and options to explore and to keep me challenged for years. It is NOT an “extra large” version of Star Wars: X-Wings but something totally new, with so many interesting ideas and mechanics. – – — – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
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