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Star Wars Armada Wave 1 Review


The base set of Armada looked to have the makings of an outstanding game. But it was kind of hard to tell for sure. With just three ships and a handful of fighter squadrons to divide between two sides, all you could do was sense the potential rather than experience it for yourself.

A generous first wave of expansions has now arrived. Each contains a variety of upgrades, many of which can, of course, be used on a variety of ships. And all that extra variety does the job. Armada finally plays like the game that it was shaping up to be.

Both sides needed extra ships for reasons other than variety, however.

The spindly, fragile Rebel ships felt desperately under-powered compared to the might of the Imperial Star Destroyer. The new Assault Frigate expansion fixes that to an extent. Dubbed the “space whale” by virtue of both a curvaceous design and a lumbering maneuver chart, it’s the most eye catching ship in this wave.

It also comes with a wealth of upgrades to increase its firepower and durability. And it needs them: this isn’t the panacea you might think it is. Even festooned with additional cards, it can’t match the devastating laser broadsides of Imperial ships. Which is for the best, since it ensures that the two sides play in a distinct manner, as they should.

One nice feature of the Assault Frigate is that the two ship cards you get offer quite distinct builds. One lends itself to being tanked up and sent into battle. The other looks to be an impressive fighter base for co-ordinating rebel squadrons. All in all, one of these models will lend Rebel Admirals a lot of flexibility in fleet building.

The other two rebel ships are copies of the ones in the base game, the Corvette and the Nebulon-B. Each comes with some new upgrades, of course, to tempt you into investing.

In truth, it’s kind of hard to see why you’d want a second Nebulon. There’s nothing essential in the upgrade list and the ship itself is hard to use effectively thanks to its flimsy flank shields. Some neat title upgrades are tempting. Especially Yavaris which helps turn the frigate into a squadron command platform, a role to which the ship is well suited. The Corvette is a different matter. Fielding two or more of these as cheap, mobile fire platforms is a viable way of counteracting the ponderous Imperial ships and their short-range firepower.


The Imperials, in their turn, get the option of a new medium class ship, the Gladiator. While still at its best in close quarters combat, this adds some much-needed speed and flexibility to the Imperial fleet. It packs an enormous punch at close range and, thanks to a much kinder maneuver chart, it’s far better placed to get in their and deliver its payload. Plus, since it’s cheaper than the Star Destroyer, it means the Imperial player can field two big ships with enough points left over for those all-important TIE fighters.

The points cost of the Star Destroyers themselves makes it buying the expansion something of a quandry. Two of them on the table look terrifying, but it leaves little left to get anything else, and they’re so ponderous that Rebel ships can dance round them at range. The lure is more likely to be the expansion cards. There’s a nice commander, and the title Corruptor offers the possibility of outfitting a Star Destroyer as squadron command rather than just brutal damage output. But this is probably the least interesting pack in the wave.

All these ships help add depth and breadth to the game. Bringing even a couple in to your collection should give you enough upgrades to build a lot of interesting lists. But what really shocked me about wave 1 is that the real interest isn’t in any of these lovely big models. It’s in the fighter squadrons.

There’s a pack for each, both with four different models of fighter. Different fighter models excel at different roles, as you’d expect. Rebel A-Wings and Imperial TIE Interceptors excel at taking out enemy squadrons. At the other end of the scale B-Wings and TIE Bombers offer impressive anti-ship firepower for their meager cost. Each fighter type also comes with a new hero, like Tycho Celchu or Darth Vader should you want him.

It’s because each pack contains four very different types of craft that these have such a huge impact on the game. Fighters can screen big ships, venture out to blow away the escorts of enemy craft, creep in close for a killer blow. Co-ordinating the different types along with squadron commands from the big ships is a complex and compelling source of tactics. It’s hard to learn to use these things well, but it’s essential for success.

The main issue with Armada was and remains its cost. There’s a slight saving grace here in that these expansions punch above their weight. If you’re collecting one faction then just a couple of selective purchases will add enormous diversity and fun to your games. And if you can afford it, you should. With wave 1 on board, Armada has blossomed into an incredible game. It looks great, plays fast and offers enormous replay value alongside a fine balance of depth and drama. It’s the best game I’ve played in several years, and you should play it too.

Star Wars: Armada Review


It takes about a New York minute between seeing a copy of the X-Wing base game and wondering what a Star Destroyer model might look like at that scale. In that minuscule time frame, Star Wars: Armada became an inevitability.

In truth, the Star Destroyer in any scale is almost bound to ruin the look of the game. Even here it looks enormous, and dwarfs the spindly Rebel ships that oppose it. The quality of the paint jobs seems to have gone down a notch, too. Armada just doesn’t have the same visual appeal as its illustrious predecessor.

So it’s a good job that it’s a much better game.

Miniatures games are, on the whole, luck-fests. The skill comes in picking your lists beforehand, like a chef carefully eying up flavour combinations for that nights’ dinner menu. At the moment, the lack of expansions means there’s a lot fewer options for Armada and that feels like a breath of fresh air. Instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of choice, you can slap a list together and play. And when you do, you’ll find that here, it’s the game itself that demands planning and strategy.

Although the models and the license beg comparison to X-Wing, this is a totally different game. Instead of secret movement selections you pick secret orders to fire, repair, maneuver or command fighters. The bigger the ship, the further in advance you have to select these orders. As they come up, you can chose to take a token to use on a later round for a weak effect, or use it then and there for a powerful one. So for a behemoth like a Star Destroyer, where you’re picking orders three rounds ahead, a lot of advance planning is necessary.

What really makes the game, however, is the turn structure. In this game, you fire before you move. A simple change, and one that’s hardly novel, but it means you have to make sure your ships are where you want them the turn before. More planning, more strategy. The more novel idea is separating the fire/move phases for the big ships and the fighters. Normally, the latter move after the former, making it doubly hard to get them into position. But if you use a Squadron command, you can move some of the little ships with the big ones. And at those moments, they can prove decisive.

The whole thing feels like a ponderous yet wonderful ballet. Colossal frigates and dreadnoughts wallow in the vacuum, trying to line up broadsides against one another. Fighters dart around them, hoping for the orders and information that will allow them to make a difference. Yet even as the fistfuls of multicoloured dice rattle over the table, they’re just arbiters to tip the see-saw and excitement to ice the cake. Most of the time, victory goes to the player with better list, the better plan and the best ability to predict moves ahead of time.

Nailing the balance of skill in list-building and skill in play is the chief triumph of Armada. It’s a tricky thing to get right, and many games have fallen by the wayside on the way. Whether Armada can maintain this delicate act in the face of an inevitably-expanding expansion roster remains to be seen. For now, it’s a thing to be savoured.

If you can afford it.


Because price and accessibility is one area where this does deserve comparison to X-Wing. For that, a modestly priced starter box gives you everything you need for a fun few games. Armada’s initial outing is about three times the price. And to get the most out of it you need not one copy, but two.

While the game excels at providing a challenging yet thrilling experience, it can feel gamey in a way that X-Wing never does. Instead of fighting until the bitter end, it’s played for a fixed six-turn duration. That makes it surprisingly quick, but can lead to bizarre situations toward the end like the leading player suddenly trying to break combat and run.

The clever twist of making fighters move after capital ships may add a lot of depth, but a moment’s consideration shows it’s also silly. It makes nimble fighters less able to react to the situation than ponderous cruisers. So you end up with the peculiar spectacle of fighters dancing around a bigger ship they can never hope to get into their target arc.

These problems are fundamental to the game, but the more models you put on the table the less of an issue they become. As the number of combatants increases, it becomes harder to run away, harder to leave your enemy without something to shoot at. Full scenarios also have objective cards which offer more complex and interesting victory conditions.

You get none of this with the starter scenario you can play with the paltry three models in the box. So right now, you need access to two copies for a satisfying game. Even then, the limited selection of ship models feels contraining after a few games. Things will improve a bit when the wave one expansions come out, but it’s still an expensive proposition.

Which is a shame, considering how great the beating heart that drives this title has the potential to be. Space combat is often imagined to be a bit like naval combat, but this is the first game that really made me feel like an Admiral. It’s just that you’ll need an Admirals salary to get the most out of the experience.

Star Wars X-Wing Scum and Villainy Review


Recently, I started playing X-Wing against someone who really knew their Star Wars. They knew that Howlrunner was a female pilot, and where the YT-2400 freighter originated from in the expanded universe. They also told me something interesting: that the Hutts and their criminal networks were a faction equal in power to the Rebels of the Empire. What looked like a footnote in the films was actually a major player in the galaxy.

At that moment, I decided I needed Scum and Villainy.

Before this revelation, I’d dismissed it as a cynical marketing gimmick to sell more ships. Especially more Z-95 and Y-Wing models, designs that have languished in popularity since launch. And it is, of course: some of the ship options make that abundantly clear. It’s just that now, it looks like a fun and attractive marketing gimmick rather than a cynical one.

That said, the core set to this new faction, Most Wanted, represents good value for money. You get three ships – two Headhunters and a Y-Wing, all with variant paint schemes – and a slew of upgrade cards. It’s especially good value for Rebel players because, of course, these ships can be used in Rebel squadrons too. All you need is a Rebel version of the ships for the correct pilot base tokens.

As well as having all the cards and tokens for the ships in the box, Most Wanted provides Scum & Villainy branded pilots for some existing ships. One, of course, is the Firespray. Which means, of course, that there’s another Boba Fett pilot card. This version gets rerolls for each enemy within range one.

There are also variants for the unloved HWK-290. While they don’t make that awful ship any better, there are a couple of neat new pilot skills on offer. Who isn’t going to glee at the idea of stealing enemy focus tokens, or of taking stress to cause automatic damage to ion-disabled targets?

These sorts of abilities are emblematic of the feel of Scum and Villainy. Some of the pilots like to fly by themselves, others can pinch tokens off friendly pilots. There’s even an new kind of “illicit” upgrade, which offer nasty surprises to the enemy, like discarding to gain a free 360 degree attack. Flying a Scum squadron feels more like a ragbag collection of selfish individualists than a well-drilled military wing. And that’s exactly how it should be.

For players who are more heavily invested in Imperial ships, the benefits of Most Wanted are more questionable. There’s one or two useful upgrade cards, but nothing special. Some people may want to get in to X-Wing and start off with Scum and Villainy, and for them Most Wanted is an essential starting point. They’ll need at least one or two more ships to build a squad, though.

And what better place to start than with the Starviper. This ship is the reason I was looking for an excuse to get in to Scum and Villainy. Not because it’s overpowered or has unmissable tasty upgrades, just because it’s such a beautiful model. Like some pale, ghostly space butterfly cruising through the cosmos. It might be the best-looking ship in the whole Star Wars canon, and this miniature does it proud.


It’s no slouch in battle, either, although with a high point cost and one shield and four hull, it’s vulnerable to critical hits. To compensate it’s very maneuverable. It also has a new move, Segnor’s loop, with allows the model to about-face after taking a gentle left or right turn.

Segnor’s loop is also available to the only new big ship in the range, the IG-2000 Aggressor. Indeed this beast is incredibly dexterous for its size, also being capable of the standard K-turn, and having three attack and evade dice to boot. The fluff says that this is because the pilots of these ships were bounty-hunting droids, which didn’t need life support. So all the extra space could be filled with engines and weapons. In reality it seems an excuse to make this a small model compared to the other big ships, yet charge the same price.

In addition to that powerful stat line, the IG-20o0 title card has another surprise. Each pilot can use the pilot abilities of every other friendly Aggressor pilot on the board, regardless of distance. This at once creates fascinating tactical opportunities while being an obvious stunt to try and make people buy these models in pairs. I guess it’s just a mercy that at 36 points each, you’re only going to see two in a standard 100 point list. Either avoid this, or be prepared to invest heavily.

Which leaves us with the odd one out, the peculiar Syck Interceptor. At first glance, there’s nothing to recommend this. It’s similar to a TIE fighter, but swaps some speed and maneuverability for one point of shield. The model is ugly, aside from a nice metallic sheen. It’s so obscure that even my Star Wars fan opponent has likely never heard of it.

So what’s the point of them? Well, for two points you can buy the “Heavy Syck” title which allows you to mount a cannon, missile or torpedo option on your strange little ship. That’s not interesting in itself, but it does offer quite incredible flexibility for squad building. If you’re desperate for a particular combo that won’t quite work with the other ships on offer, chances are a Heavy Syck can carry what you need. That still makes it far from an essential purchase for Scum and Villainy players. But having one around might prove handy for creative squad builds.

And that’s the current contents of this wretched hive. At first glace, it’s hard to see why someone would want to run a whole squadron from this faction. Existing players will buy selectively for spare ships and handy upgrades. But without the draw of iconic movie starfighters, these appear destined for collectors only.

Playing with the ships, however, makes it clear where the appeal lies. While the Rebels and Imperials execute their military maneuvers with bland precision, the Scum are full of pomp and flavour. The lack of film tie-ins leaves a blank canvas for you to paint your own characters and stories. Without such obvious co-ordination and killer combos as the existing factions, you might not win quite as many games. But my word, you’ll have a lot of fun trying.

Rivet Wars Review


Hot off the back of a successful kickstarter campaign, I really wasn’t sure what to make of Rivet Wars. It channels a first world war theme, yet presents you with a wildly incongruous steampunk theme, rendered in a weird, chunky anime style. It claims to be a board game representation of a real-time strategy game but has no resource control. What is this bizarre oddity?

Well it turns out to be a pretty streamlined two player game of tactical aggression. You pick a scenario, assemble a board out of modular components then use an allowance of resources each turn to purchase from a selection of units and march them up to the front line to contest control of critical objectives with your opponent. To spice things up a bit, both players have secret missions to fulfil for extra points, and action card that allow units to do unexpected things.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s a re-tread of an awful lot of what’s good about tactical combat games generally, and particularly that feted classic Nexus Ops, right down to stealing its innovation of hidden missions that can be accumulated and cashed in for quick victory point swings.

But while thunderingly uncreative, I don’t want to be too hard on Rivet Wars. It does have a keen eye for what’s good about its predecessors and distils it down into an easy to learn, easy to play package. And it also makes a couple of minor tweaks to the formula to help it stand out, just a little, from the herd.

The first is the cleverly designed asymmetry. At face value, each player is picking from what looks like an identical roster of units. Both sides have infantry, cavalry, artillery and armour as well as a couple of characterful heroes.

But a closer look at the unit charts reveals some fundamental differences. Allied infantry, for instance, are very good against other infantry but utterly powerless in the face of any kind of vehicle. Their Blight counterparts, by contrast, aren’t great any anything, but make a decent fist of combat against other troops or light armour alike.

Some of these differences are quite stark: while the allies have a useful all-round artillery piece, the Blight have a motorised machine gun, which is very powerful when it comes to mowing down waves of enemy infantry but completely useless at any other job at all. Attack one with even the flimsiest of vehicles and they can’t fire back, merely hold their ground and hope for the immanent arrival of support troops that can deal with the threat.

The game makes the most of this asymmetry to add lots of tactical interest and fun to the game in terms of squaring units off against each other with differing capabilities of firepower and manoeuvrability.

However, it can’t quite compensate for what are otherwise brute-fore combat mechanics: fistfuls of dice, hitting on fives and sixes. The clever interplay between secret missions and power-up cards that made Nexus Ops such a joy is pretty much absent here. You scrabble to fulfil your missions as fast as possible, slapping them down for extra points so you can draw more.


The second interesting thing is the theme. Now, when I first pulled this thing out of the packing, I was pretty aghast at what it appeared to offer. It was an obvious and rather weak pastiche of the first world war, a conflict fought in conditions so appalling that the horror still resonates a century later. And to add insult to injury, the chosen art style was an awful cutesy cartoon rendering, “chibi”-style, that turned everything round and fat, so that chubby-cheeked infantry faced off against jolly rotund tanks.

Yet, in some miracle of engineering, the sculptors who worked on the components managed to turn that vile artwork into quite astonishingly brilliant miniatures. As many of you will know, I was a miniatures gamer before I was a board gamer, so I know a decent set of sculpts when I see them. And the Rivet Wars figures are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game: brilliantly stylised into lifelike statues of their nasty two dimensional counterparts and rich with vibrancy and detail.

I found out after playing that Rivet Wars actually started out with that stylistic art, and is slowly evolving into a host of related media. If so, then it’s a bad beginning for what’s actually a fairly decent game. It might be derivative and it might be dumb, but it oozes with a sense of confident evolution, of slow organic growth into something that knows it might not be perfect, but knows it’s fun all the same, and is intent on thumbing its nose at all the prim, prissy, over-developed titles that it’s destined to share a shelf with.

Cracked LCD- Warhammer: Diskwars in Review


My first reaction to Fantasy Flight Games’ Warhammer: Diskwars was “they’re bringing back Diskwars? What’s next, Vortex?” My second reaction, after reading the advance post of the rules was “hey, this actually looks pretty fun.” My third reaction after playing it was “holy shit, I’ve been waiting for this game my entire gaming life.”

Pause for confessional. Even though I’ve gone through spells over the years, I’m not much of a traditional miniatures gamer these days. I do not like assembling, painting and basing figures. I do not like building terrain. I’m not much of a craftsman. And aside from Warmachine, I’ve never found a miniatures system that had rules that I actually like. Sure- the lore of some of these games is awesome. Games Workshop’s Warhammer lines in particular. And I do generally like the concepts of miniatures wargaming, so it’s always been something of a quandary for me

So I’m usually first in line when an no-paint/no-build “alternative” miniatures game appears on store shelves, and to this end I ordered Warhammer: Diskwars the day it was made available at my favorite online retailer. Cutting to what matters most, this game is one of the best of these kinds of games to date, it blows away the competition because it bridges that gap between the awesome allure of the Games Workshop world and the low commitment demanded by casual tabletoppers such as myself.

But really, I had played Diskwars before it had the taint of Chaos. The original Tom Jolly (that’s Mr. Wiz-War to you) had a generic fantasy theme and I had a couple of packs- it was originally a collectible game. The Star Trek: Red Alert version was much better, an ultra- nerdy game that suspiciously looked like pogs for Trekkers. The high level concept is that Diskwars is a miniatures game but with cardboard discs instead of figures. All stats and abilities are printed right there on the discs- no need to reference a codex or rulebook. Put the tape measure back in the tool box where it belongs. You move these armies by flipping them end over end a number of times equal to a movement rating.

The Warhammer Diskwars core box comes packed with an unusually generous assortment of these discs representing Empire, Ork, Chaos and High Elf units. You get enough to field three regiments for each faction and a two regiment game is a de facto standard for a 45-60 minute, five round game. Adding another core box, of course, drastically increases your ability to customize army lists and gives you much more versatility. With that said, this is one of the most “complete” core sets I’ve ever seen and if the game never saw another expansion I think it would still represent one of the best values in hobby gaming today with a $28 street price. For less than the cost of a Warhammer Fantasy Battles miniatures unit, you also get a couple of 2D terrain pieces, deployment zone cards, dice (used only for ranged attacks), administrative tokens and a small pile of Command cards that drive the flow of the game. All you need other than the box is a $2.99 piece of 3”x3” green felt from the craft store.

Rules are simple but expect to lean on the rulebook for a couple of games. Setup is easy. Once armies are built (a simple point-based process, as expected), players draw a card that provides an overall condition for the battle as well as cards that define goals such as earning VPs for defeating enemy heroes or having units overlapping the other side of the playfield by the end of the game. Troops are deployed in deployment zones, which may provide cover or other special abilities. Terrain is placed for strategic purposes by both sides. It’s your choice rather to place that lake in the middle of the enemy’s deployment lane to slow their advance or to put it where it can provide some defense for your Bolt Thrower.

Then it’s on. Each player selects an Command card which operates on a rock-paper-scissors-dynamite scheme. These define the number of units you can activate that turn and any special advantages. Discs start flipping into place. Ranged units get to take their shots, rolling dice to see if there’s a hit, a critical, a scatter or the dreaded Mark of Chaos. Once every unit has been activated- or is pinned by another unit, initiating melee-all engaged units exchange blows in piles of engaged discs called “scrums”.

The catch is that units need to take enough damage in a single round to receive a wound because all hits come off at the end of it. So coordinating attacks is essential to eliminate units before the reset. Inevitably, an assault turns into a full-on fracas as defending units pile on to protect whoever’s on the bottom of the pile. Melee can be somewhat complicated when several units are involved in a scrum, but a simple top-down resolution order and simple comparatives between attack or counter attack values and defense numbers keeps things from bogging down.

There’s lots of great detail. Firing a Helblaster cannon into a scrum might result in it accidentally hitting your own units if it scatters. Or you might get a result that causes the damn thing to malfunction, flipping over and killing the Talabheim Greatswords unit you have protecting its flank. Some units do damage as soon as they pin another. Others fly, avoiding terrain penalties. Magic users are a great way to get those guaranteed extra two hits or so that you need to put an enemy hero down- provided that they’re not magic resistant. There are units that can scout before the game actually begins and others that can deploy from any side of the playfield to flank the enemy. Every unit plays differently and has unique strengths and weaknesses. And above it all- most importantly- it totally feels like Warhammer even though diehard WHFB players will likely lament the distinct lack of wheeling formations.

Bottom line is that this game is fun. The rules complexity is just right, avoiding the sacrifice of either accessibility or depth. The units are exciting and offer lots of tactical possibilities within regimental builds. It’s an effortless design that has clearly been heavily analyzed, redeveloped and sharply refined not only to smooth out the Diskwars system (no more dropping ranged attack counters from above the table, for example) but also to make it work for Warhammer. This is the best game that Fantasy Flight has released since X-Wing. Go ahead and sign me up for every expansion.