Star Wars Armada wave II

I might have been a bit unfair to X-Wing when I originally reviewed the Star Wars: Armada core set. I gave Armada a pretty glowing recommendation and praised it for giving the player more meaningful decisions and for fixing a handful of complaints that I had with X-Wing. But I kind of neglected the fact that the Armada core set has pretty much the same fundamental problem that stopped me from giving a similarly high grade to X-Wing: the limited content of the package.

X-Wing had three small ships, and a handful of alternate pilots and upgrades to add some replayability. But the game really needed some expansions to really come into its own. And I pointed that out in my review of X-Wing's core set, and docked its final score.

Don't get me wrong, Armada does offer more content in its core set than X-Wing did! It also has three ships, along with alternate ship cards and upgrades. But those three ships are different sizes and strengths, and there's ten fighter squadrons to go along with them. Armada's core set also includes the objective cards that helped to give that game more structured play, while X-Wing only had a couple of scenarios. So I still think that the Armada core set offers more value than the X-Wing core set.

However, I also knew that having a roster of expansion ships would improve the game, and I baked that assumption into my review for Armada. This may have been unfair to X-Wing, especially considering that the Armada core set has other problems that X-Wing doesn't have.

The core learning scenario doesn't do the game justice

It's been difficult for me to get friends into playing Armada. X-Wing has always seemed to be the more popular game. It took me a very long time to finally figure out why. During the past couple years of the COVID pandemic, it hasn't been viable to get together large groups for bigger board games, so I focused more on playing smaller, 2 and 3-player games to limit the number of people over at once. Games like X-Wing and Armada were ideal for that situation. In doing so, I tried a new technique for introducing friends to Armada that would hopefully get them up to speed faster, and which also seems to be much more successful than my earlier teaching attempts using the Learning Scenario.

Put simply: Armada's learning scenario is kind of crap. After teaching friends and co-workers to play the game through the learning scenario, their responses to the game has always been a resounding "meh". I then have to spend thirty minutes or an hour explaining [in vain] the merits of the full game to people who have already lost interest.

The learning scenario takes most of the strategic decisions away from the players.

The problem with the learning scenario is that it puts pre-configured fleets up against each other with no upgrade cards, no objectives, and no obstacles to navigate around. Without upgrades giving ships special abilities that can turn the tide of a game, and without objectives that give the players something to fight over, the early-game decisions of setting the starting queue of commands are really the only significant decisions in the entire game. Unfortunately, the learning scenario takes those decisions away from the players by recommending a default starting queue of commands! Once ships have been pointed at each other and met in the middle of the board, the last 3 or 4 turns of the learning game easily degrade into a passive process of drifting ahead and mindlessly rolling attack dice. Or the players forget to queue up a Navigate command, and the ships fly past each other in round 3, and spend the rest of the match trying to circle back around to get back in firing range.

Sid Meier, the designer of the original Civilization PC game has defined a game as "a series of interesting decisions". By that definition, the learning scenario of Star Wars Armada isn't even a game at all because all of the interesting decisions have already been made by the rule book before the players have taken a single turn.

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Star Wars Armada

If you like the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game (and I do like it), or if you're eagerly awaiting the release of the second edition, but you don't want to house-rule that your car can act as a makeshift Star Destroyer, then Fantasy Flight has you covered. Star Wars: Armada is a higher-scale, tactical combat game using capital ships, and it might actually be a considerably better game than the core X-Wing set (at least better than the first edition)!

Planning ahead

Much like the board game Sails of Glory (which I also really like), Armada requires you to plan the actions of your capital ships a couple turns in advance. However, unlike Sails of Glory, it isn't the movement of these ships that you must pre-plan; it's their desired "commands". I was a little disappointed that the capital ships don't require that players plan their movement in advance, but then again, the maneuverability of these ships is highly limited, and only gets lower as the ship goes faster (if the ship in question even can go faster). There is a sense of inertia to these behemoth ships, but not quite the same level of inertia as the sailing ships of Sails of Glory.

Star Wars: Armada - maneuver tool
Ships move very slowly and have very limited maneuverability.

I do like that these ships both begin and end their movement relative to the font of their base. This alleviates the problems that X-Wing had with its large ships counter-intuitively moving faster than their smaller counterparts. And since the base Armada package comes with ships of varying sizes, this improvement is immediately noticeable without needing to wait for expansions: all ships move and turn at consistent speeds.

The rules do require that ships attack prior to moving. This means that you must plan ahead a little bit, since you have to position yourself for an attack in the turn prior, and have to anticipate who will have initiative and where their ship(s) will be if they get to move them before you get to make your attack.

Star Wars: Armada - defense tokens
Defense tokens give players
more meaningful decisions.

More meaningful decisions

Even defense is a tactical decision! And this might be the single, best change from X-Wing. Instead of simply rolling defense dice to cancel out your opponent's attack rolls, you get to chose a set of defense tokens to apply, and each one mitigates damage in different ways. One defense token may allow you to cancel out an opponent's die roll, while another will allow you to redirect the damage to another hull section's shields, and yet another halves the total damage dealt. These tokens refresh each round, unless you use twice in the same round, in which case, it is permanently discarded.

This alleviates another of the problems that permeated X-Wing: that damaging an opponent often felt like playing craps. Getting into perfect position and lining up a point-blank shot against an opponent can be completely foiled by dice rolls in X-Wing. Dice still play a role in Armada, but damage seems to be much more consistently-dealt, and players actually have a say in how their ships defend themselves from damage. It gives the player more meaningful decisions...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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