Battleshed Diaries

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Imperial fleet coming into range!

Star Wars: Armada X-Wing squadron engages Imperial forces

My low-ranking, Rebel Alliance X-Wing pilot alter- ego has been on a temporary secondment, where he got to hobnob with the higher echelons of Rebel Command. Swapping his battered flight suit for a hired Alliance uniform, he had an opportunity to observe how Fleet Operations distill all the machinations of strategic and tactical planning into those familiar short, curt commands he normally receives through his fighter com-link. For he was in the nerve centre of Star Wars: Armada.

Yes, I finally got to take on the role of a Star Wars Fleet Commander, (well OK, shared the role with my fellow commander, Jamie M), to try and take out a Victory class Imperial Star Destroyer and it's escorting Tie squadrons. Our Rebel Alliance fleet contained a Nebulon-B frigate and a CR90 Corellian corvette with their X-Wing fighter escorts. This opportunity was all down to fellow club member, JG, who kindly ran us through a basic demo game using Fantasy Flight's core Star Wars Armada set.

I've been keen to have a chance to see how this system differs from X-Wing. On the face of it, as our host set up the game from his impressively expanded Armada, it looked somewhat similar in look and style to X-Wing, which isn't surprising considering they are from the same Fantasy Flight stable. So expect high quality components. And lots of tokens.
Victory class Imperial Star Destroyer and Tie Squadrons approach the Rebel Alliance fleet
Victory class Imperial Star Destroyer and Tie Squadrons approach the Rebel Alliance fleet

The scaling was the most obvious difference, with the Star Wars Armada miniatures set at a smaller scale to represent commanding entire squadrons (capital ships aside) rather than individual ships as in X-Wing. For a clumsy video gaming analogy, X-Wing is your First Person Shooter whereas Armada is more your strategy game adding depth and complexity. That said, under our host's adept tutelage, Jamie and I were soon issuing plans for our joint fleet to take on the Imperial bad boys. We were even naively optimistic of victory.

After the differences in scale (capital miniatures come painted, squadrons unpainted) there are some very nice Armada innovations worth mentioning. The capital ships use an 'articulated manoeuvre tool' to plot their movement, which is based on the current speed of the ship; class and speed dictates how far and how many 'clicks' on the tool you can use to orientate your capital ship.
Nebulon-B frigate and escort squadron engaged by Tie fighters
Nebulon-B frigate and escorts engaged by Imperial Tie fighter squadrons

Armada still uses the ubiquitous 'dials' but they are now mostly allocated to your capital ship's operation and can be 'stacked', depending on Command level, to plan ship orders in advance using special commands; navigate, squadron (to use your squadrons early), attack or repair/redistribute shields. With your fighter squadrons also having their own independent turn sequence and the command stacking feature, its clear Armada is focusing on the much wider strategic picture where the ability to plan your fleet's disposition is essential.

Damage dials are also incorporated into the base of both the squadron and capital ships, with the latter having multiple damage dials for each aspect - fore, aft, starboard and port (in keeping with the nautical heritage). A nifty feature is a red-blue tab that can be pushed on the squadron bases to indicate when they've been activated and comes into play when the corresponding turn initiative marker is turned over.
Nebulon-B frigate and X-Wing escort squadron
Nebulon-B frigate and X-Wing squadrons

Capital ships cards also have their own unique traits and abilities (command, squadron an engineering control) along with the more the X-Wing familiar hull, attack (dice), manoeuvre , tactical and upgrade options. Similarly these all add up to a points value so fleets can be balanced between the player opponents. Capital ships have their own attack and manoeuvre sequence, using either their red (concentrate fire) attack dice representing their main arsenal and/or their anti squadron (blue) attack dice.

Armada is played over 6 rounds broken into 4 phases: Command, Ship, Squadron and Status. Command abilities can be 'banked', with a slight reduction in effectiveness, for later use. So there's a lot to consider and plan for. Do you plan a succession of navigation commands to plot course and speed? Activate an escort squadron early? Concentrate fire? Reconfigure shields with an Engineering command? It was a shock for my X-Wing jockey alter ego, used to simply worrying about whether his antiquated targeting computer would actually lock onto something!
CR90 Corellian corvette and X-Wing ship cards

Fighter squadrons have their own turn sequence, although some individual squadrons (if in command range) may have already been activated via their capital ship squadron command option, but otherwise they can be activated independently in their own sequence to engage enemy squadrons or even go on a suicidal bombing run to chip away at the enemy capital's shields. Fighter v fighter combat seemed to be quick and quite deadly, with squadrons having a 360 arc of fire and simply moved in any direction along their range ruler (depending on speed) and attacking with their relevant number of 'blue' (squadron) dice.

And how did our two budding Rebel Alliance fleet commanders do on their first outing? It started well and we very fairly confident as mentioned. The X Wing squadrons proved quite adept at taking out the enemy Tie fighters. Both our capital ships started to manoeuvre and engage the Imperial Star Destroyer simultaneously, chipping way at its shields. Although it had awesome firepower and could soak up damage with it's 8 hull hit points. My corvette took a lot of return fire and after a particularly nasty broadside from the Imperial, its hull was brought down to 1 hit point! There were a hell of a lot of alarms sounding! It used its speed advantage to escape out of range and then made a nifty (if I say so myself!) set of manoeuvres to turnabout for another run, hopefully with Jamie's mostly intact Nebulon-B frigate in support. Except it had disappeared!
CR90 Corellian corvette
CR90 Corellian corvette

Jamie claimed it had 'recovered the secret plans and was making its way to Alderaan'. In reality, he'd managed to manoeuvre his Nebulon-B frigate out of the play area. Doh! It was brown-alert time on the bridge of my corvette! By the end of the sixth turn (yep, there's a 6 turn limit) the corvette had succumbed to the Star Destroyer and with nothing but a couple of shaken X-Wing squadrons left, they concluded a 'strategic withdrawal' back to Alderaan was indeed the best option!

There's no doubt a lot more to Armada that we didn't cover in this first game, especially when the numerous expansions are included. We were pretty much concentrating on simply learning the mechanics. But this game did provide us with a very useful overview of the core game play, which is down to our host's excellent guidance. If I hadn't already invested a considerable sum in X-Wing already I would most certainly be tempted by Star Wars Armada.

From what I've experienced, Armada and X-Wing compliment each other; although you'd have to be a sufficiently deep-pocketed Star Wars fan to fully buy into both. Many do though I'm sure. Including our host! If I was faced with the option of choosing one over the other system from the outset, in retrospect I'd probably opt for Armada. I like the added strategic depth of Armada over X-Wing's more in-the-seat skirmishing. But that's purely a personal choice. The two systems focus on different aspects of game play.

It's put me in the mood, though, for dusting off the X-wing capital ships that've been languishing in the Battleshed; the Tantive IV and Rebel Transport. Especially as Jamie M, a committed trekkie, has been lured, albeit temporarily, from the Dark Side! So my X-Wing alter-ego pilot, after his temporary secondment with higher command has returned to his fellow throttle jockeys in the flight hanger, swapping banter and complaining about condescending 'management'.