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Star Wars: Armada Review - A Must-Play Tabletop Experience

Jonathan Bolding | 7 Apr 2015 19:00
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Designed by James Kniffen and Christian T. Petersen. Published by Fantasy Flight Games. Released March 2015. Review copy provided by publisher.

Naval tactics games are a favorite niche of mine. Multiple ships with crews in the hundreds of people, all working together to outmaneuver and destroy their foes. Take that to space? Hell, take that to Star Wars? You have my attention. Thus it was with Star Wars: Armada, and I've been hankering for another crack at the game ever since Gen Con last year, hoping that it'd live up to the brief taste I got of it. What its core set delivered is a focused, enjoyable strategic-tactical experience that both stays true to its Star Wars roots and has the potential to be as good as, or better, a space tactics game than any we've seen in a long time. If you're like me, by the end of your first playthrough you'll be doing copious research to ensure your future victories. While many players won't be blown away by their initial impression, the starter set lays a solid foundation for a miniatures game, showing a lot of promise in a relatively small package.

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Continuing the kind of quality that Fantasy Flight established a few years ago, Armada's miniatures, cards, and tokens are all of the highest quality and latest design. The pre-painted miniatures are a joy to use and look wonderful on the table, and are certainly the highest quality pre-painted minis on the market right now. The little stands of three fighters that make up the squadron miniatures are monotone plastic, but they'd take paint if you really wanted them to be colored. The layout of the statistics cards is quite good, if a little cluttered for my tastes, but cards that contain a single rule or special ability are given a lot of space for clear text in larger than average font. The best thing about the components in Armada is that they're all intensely customized to go with the game you're playing. From the custom movement stick to the spinning dials and sliders on every ship's base, every piece is made so that you can quickly and handily track whatever statistic you need to without resorting to clumsy piles of tokens or pads of paper.

Turns are comparably simple to Armada's older sibling X-Wing Miniatures. Each round of the game is divided into distinct phases, and each phase has a very straightforward order of operations - it's the kind of very understandable base you want in a good skirmish or war game. First, you give your ships hidden commands, often forecasting those commands to meet your needs in a future round. Second, you reveal previous commands on a ship, fire with two arcs of its weapons, and then move it according to its current speed. Then your opponent does the same, then you continue to trade until every ship on the board has acted. Third, you activate each squadron of small ships, which can either move up to its speed or attack. Finally, you do a bit of cleanup, recover your ships' limited-use resources, and start the next round.

There aren't that many wrinkles beyond those simple phases, but the tactical considerations are much deeper than you think. Take speed, for example, each ship's speed is fixed unless you alter it with a command, and it has to keep moving that exact speed each round. If you're not careful your route can get away from you, sending your ships on a collision course with others or running them out of the combat area. Changing speed, however, is the domain of the secret command dials you give ships each round, which for larger ships means planning your major course corrections a round or two in advance. Since your ships' weapons are more or less powerful in their different arcs of fire, you need to manage your position against others' in order to maximize your firepower and keep your strong shields facing your opponents'.This is just one example of how Armada's simple systems allow for interesting and complex emergent gameplay based on adapting how your ships move to the battlefield - or forcing your opponent to do the same.

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