Now I seem to remember saying some time ago, around about the time I had a game of X-Wing involving a full squadron of fighters, that X-Wing – as much as I love it – doesn’t have the slick rules or the flexibility for really big games. A dozen fighters a side took ages and the dogfights, whilst awesome, did get really messy on the board. Shortly after Star Wars Armada was announced which leads me to conclude either FFG have planted a bug somewhere about my person or they had the same thought but about a year prior… I know, it’s totally the bug thing.
So fleet sized engagements in the Star Wars universe huh? Well all I can say is: fucking yes! This has been a long time coming and, if I’m honest, I almost needed this game to be good. X-Wing is so much fun but the mechanic was buckling beneath the weight of FFG’s ambition. As cool as it was to have a Corellian Corvette on your board, it wasn’t the most practical thing to play with. That goes double for the Imperial Raider.
Star Wars Armada, it seems, is the answer to our prayers – a game that allows Star Wars fans to don the warbly bits of Admiral Ackbar and yell ‘It’s a trap!’ at least once a turn. Even when it isn’t.
My other reservation about the game was the price. It’s more than twice the price of the X-wing starter set. Sure you get twice the plastic but as the X-Wing box was a lot of money for a lot of cardboard it still doesn’t feel like great value. The thought being: if the starter set is £80 how much is it going to cost to build any kind of viable fleet? The answer is: shit loads. A lot just doesn’t cover it. Expansions start at around £17 full retail but the average cost of a decent ship is £35 upwards. And you’ll need roughly a dozen to make the games tasty. So almost 3 times what it costs to play X-Wing. The concluding thought after all this was: this game better be fantastic…
In truth? It’s not far off. The rules are terribly laid out – think Dystopian Wars 1st edition (sorry Spartan Games but it’s true). It’s so poor that all the rules that explain how the hell you do all the things you’re told about in the main rules are called ‘Additional Rules’. I can only assume that some one meant to write ‘Essential Rules’ but just wasn’t paying attention.
Considering Star Wars Armada isn’t excessively complicated it takes far more concentration than it should to understand how to do anything. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe what FFG thought was: if the rules are so laboriously written people will really put the effort in.
The reality is there’s irritated gamers and Star Wars fans lurking outside FFG’s offices waiting to slap anyone that looks remotely responsible.
I stress the rules themselves are not bad, you’ll just spend the first half of the rulebook looking confused and the second half of the rulebook looking both relieved and annoyed.
The weird thing is that there’s a reference booklet included in the box that’s actually clearer than the rulebook. Which makes no sense what-so-ever. It’s still clumsily written so the rulebook has the edge because it provides you with examples without which you’d be lost.
However, once you’ve ploughed your way through Star Wars Armada‘s rules, what you have is actually a pretty slick game. It takes the simple principles of the X-Wing game and builds on them so the basic phases and functions of the game are just as simple but you get all the fun of hammering capitol ships thrown in to the mix as well.
The result is a game that’s quick and involves throwing fistfuls of dice. It’s fair to say that’s usually a hallmark of a good game.
The fact that you need to measure arcs for both shooting and damage isn’t as much of faff as you’d think and fighter squadrons make a real contribution to the action in Armada, much like they did in the movie so bravo to FFG for striking the balance as well as they did. Although if you’re a Rebel player always take Luke Skywalker, his special rule is broken. And very useful…
All the various phases are quick and the shooting mechanic not only works but reminds me of the days of my long-lost youth playing X-Wing on the PC. What I mean is this: the longer the range the fewer shots the ship will make and the less accurate they become. This took me back to making attack runs and seeing ranging shots flash past the cockpit only to find my shields being hammered a few seconds later as I closed within effective range. How it’s worked it is simple and visually represented on profile cards and the range rule so you don’t have to waste time buggering about with the rulebook.
Damage in Star Wars Armada is tracked much like X-Wing, using cards, which is good because it’s a satisfying thing making your opponent draw them. Where it does differ is shields are tracked on the base using wheels for the four arcs. Again this is inspired because large games of X-Wing were a nightmare of models covered in wobbly stacks of cardboard.
My only real gripe is tracking the activation of fighters is needlessly complicated. The stands have slides which move under the base to denote if they’ve been activated or not. The colour representing activated changes depending on the colour of the initiative counter. It’s confusing. Surly a far simpler solution would have been to have sliders marked with ‘awaiting’ and ‘activated’ or similar?
Other than that though it’s a really tidy little game. The profile cards have subtle differences almost to the point of being unnecessary, much like in X-Wing but it didn’t bother me then so why should it bother me with Star Wars Armada? Like X-Wing, the upgrades offer some interesting game changes to keep players amused.
As for the models themselves for what they are and their size, pretty good. You get a Nebulon-B Frigate and a CR90 Corellian Corvette for the Rebels and a Victory Class Star Destroyer for the Imperials. The detail is more than sufficient and the pre-painted standard is okay. Roughly the same as that of X-Wing. However because the models in Star Wars Armada are of a small-scale that quick, slightly slapdash, approach works far better. A black wash works far better on something the size of the corvettes in Armada than the fooking huge one in X-Wing. Ultimately, they look good and they escape feeling like expensive Micro Machines.
In fact the whole set, as one would expect from Fantasy Flight Games is produced to a very high standard. I seriously doubt it’s £80 high though. Although maybe we’re paying fro the truly outrageous amounts of packaging. The box is 5.5 inches deep. It could be half that and there’d still be rattling around room. There really is no excuse for such an excessively big box other than to make people think they’re getting something hefty. I can well imagine new gamers feeling slightly cheated when they open Star Wars Armada for the first time. I didn’t because I knew what to expect. I knew what to expect because they fooled me with X-Wing.
The mad sized box and the price tag aside there’s no denying that Star Wars Armada is a brilliant game. It’s fun, it’s fast paced yet you’ll still get to spend a decent amount of time smacking each other around the board without it dragging on for too long. Whilst the various counters etc all make sense there’s going to be somewhat of a learning curve making sure they all get used in the right way at the right time but that’s not an unusual condition for a new game.
So is Star Wars Armada worth the hefty price tag? No with a but. It is flatly not worth full retail price. It’s still a push at £68 (from Firestorm Games) but considering the entire offering of the box and the contents will actually keep you entertained for quite a while, it can be justified. Barely. However it’s important to consider the quality of the game, not just the models and piles of cardboard. It is a good game. A game that you’ll wince paying or but the point is you will pay for it because ultimately you’ll enjoy it.
Star Wars Armada is available from Firestorm Games priced £67.99.