My wardrobe is full of spaceships. So many spaceships that there’s barely room for clothes. Most of them live in an enormous box which crushes my shirts out of all recognition when it’s squeezed in and out for play. It’s a good job I play with spaceships a lot more than I wear shirts.
Having a cupboard crammed with spaceships is awesome, but it’s also a little tiring. Each comes with cardboard and plastic that must be meticulously selected and laid out before playing. That was, up until recently, where most of the game was in x-wing, and that’s sad. What was sadder is how often I’d ruin the suspension of disbelief just to make a better list.
Take Poe Dameron. Poe’s an incredible fighter pilot, and it shows in his skills and abilities. He’s also an incredibly expensive fighter pilot that you’ll want to preserve to cause maximum carnage and deny the enemy victory points. So, given that his ability lets him benefit from focus tokens without spending them, it makes sense to give his ship an astromech droid which can spend the token to regenerate shields. Right?
Of course it does. Poe with R5-P9 is a great combo that I’ve seen used to great effect in many games. It’s also completely and utterly wrong.
You’ve seen The Force Awakens. You know that Poe would never take to space without his beloved BB-8 and focus tokens be dammed. So, with the Force Awakens base set for X-Wing and one each of the existing expansion models, that’s exactly what I did. I flew Poe as he’d want to be flown. With BB-8 on board, a rookie wingman, and nothing else.
They ran into an ambush on the wingman’s training flight. Three members of the First Order’s Omega Squadron and their fearsome ace. Similarly unequipped with any modifications. The TIE f/o’s caught them in an ambush and smashed down the rookie’s shields with a volley of plasma fire, before smartly executing a k-turn and coming back in for the kill.
Poe screwed up. He panicked, and no matter how much he weaved and used BB-8 to barrel roll, he could barely make it into the fight beyond a couple of stray bolts. The rookie, meanwhile, took a deep breath, concentrated on the force and flew straight and true into the heart of the enemy swam.
When the dust cleared, only Omega leader was left flying and the rookie, his hull hanging together with prayers and sticky tape, joined up with Poe and caught the wicked ace in a murderous crossfire. Game over.
It was simple. It was fast. And it was brilliant.
Armada had the same feeling of freshness when it was first released. That’s part of what I liked about it: a rich, epic game that played in a couple of hours and didn’t need lots of pre-prep work. What mattered were the decisions you made on the table, more than the ones you made beforehand. Wave 1 didn’t overburden that dynamic too much, and the game did need a few more ships.
So now we’ve got wave 2 and so far I’ve picked up the rebel releases. How could I not, with Admiral Ackbar coming in the Home One expansion and giving me the chance to shout “it’s a trap” when my fleet came into contact with the enemy? Plus, Home one and the MC30 rebel frigate are sweeting looking models. The Frigate also promises to bring some much-needed black dice firepower to the Rebel side. I still haven’t tamed my inner wargamer enough to resist pre-painted plastics.
Throw in the Rogues and Villains expansion and you’ve got a plethora of ships to play with. And that, for the moment, is all I care about. So I’ve started doing the same there – forgoing lots of detailed upgrades in favour of a fleet commander, a couple of capital ships and a few characters and fighter wings.
It’s hard to leave out Han and the Falcon when you’ve got them in your collection. You can even take the little plastic ship off its stand and perch above the bridge of a Star Destroyer if you’re a real geek.
The first time I ran a list like this was against someone who’d tooled up with upgrades just like usual. Because there’s still not a fleet builder for Armada that actually prints the card effects on the output sheet, it took a while to get set up. I’d seized on the concept of using Garm Bel Iblis and just taking as many ships as I could, to maximise my free tokens. It seemed like a good plan. It wasn’t.
In truth, it was a massacre. I didn’t play well, treating it more like X-Wing and going in all guns blazing than the more thoughtful approach required for Armada, but even so, I don’t think I took out a single Imperial big ship. Upgrades, it seems, are more important in Armada than they are in X-Wing. Which makes the lack of a fully-featured fleet builder all the more annoying.
Such an awful loss was partly down to an unfortunate feature of Armada that I don’t think I’ve spotted before. With the range ruler literally allowing handfuls more dice to be thrown between range steps, tiny distances can make a big difference in the outcome. His Gladiator-class Star Destroyer was in black dice range on a critical turn, and my MC30 wasn’t. If the opposite had been true, it might have been a very different outcome.
Frankly, I stopped playing miniature games to get away from exactly this sort of thing. But I like Armada too much to hold that against it. So next time, I think I might make both lists. Hang the upgrades and just take Akbar and Home One squaring off against some big Star Destroyers and squadrons, just like the denouement of Return of the Jedi. I’ll get to shout “it’s a trap!”, and I’d urge you all to do the same.