Game provided by the distributor
The force has awoken, and so Star Wars fever – which has never really died down since the original outbreak in 1977 – is enjoying yet another peak. Although Star Wars Armada is coming up to a year old, now is as good a time as any to talk about just how good – or bad – this is. So: What are we looking at here?
Perhaps the most important thing to stress before anything else is that this is not a casual Star Wars game for the casual board game fan. The advisory markings on the box that this is for people aged 14+, and that each game is estimated to take two hours to complete, should tell you that much. I’m not even going to try to go into the rules in any detail, as this alone would result in the lengthiest review of any kind that Critical Gamer has ever seen. Bear in mind that the “Learn To Play” booklet is a 24 page almost-but-not-quite A4 tome, and there’s also a 16 page “Rules Reference”. You’re even flat-out advised to play your first game completely ignoring certain elements which, to be honest, is a good idea. Just getting started can be daunting before you even start looking through the rules; there are piles of models, plastic components, cards, and bits of cardboard to understand and arrange before Armada can even begin. Below is most (though not all) of what you need to play:
Though lengthy, the rules are very well written and fairly easy to understand (no mean feat). That said, there are a few unintentionally hilarious lines in the main booklet; mainly a patient explanation that the models have not been produced to exact scale and, especially, “Ships and squadrons are controlled by a player; therefore, when a ship or squadron is instructed to move, discard tokens, roll dice, etc., the player who controls that ship or squadron resolves those actions on its behalf”. What, there aren’t little people inside the ships to fly them around unaided? I want my money back!
It’s also a game that demands precision and strict abiding by the rules. You’re given a specific measurement for the area to clear for play, and there are even tools provided to measure exactly where and how pieces can move. None of this is unreasonable, and all of these restrictions are entirely necessary in order to play and enjoy the game.
Armada has already proven ferociously popular with a huge number of people but, again, generally speaking you’re going to have to be a hardcore tabletop games player (or be prepared to become one) in order to fully embrace and enjoy it. Put in the time and brainpower, though, and the rewards are immense. It’s a game for just two players – and, ideally, you’re expected to buy a core set each at £60-£80 a pop – but this is far from compulsory, and no matter how many pieces you have it’s a compelling game once it gets going.
As the name implies, each player assumes the role not of a fighter pilot, but of an admiral. Each game consists of six rounds, the victor being the one who has dealt the most damage at the end – or the one who has totally destroyed their enemy’s ships before that point. You really do need to think tactically and consider your fleet as a whole, always bearing in mind that your ships – while powerful – are to be protected at all costs, even if that means intentionally sacrificing a squadron or two of fighters. While videogames essentially have their roots in board games, things seem to have come full circle here in that Armada – intentionally or otherwise – has significant similarities with tactical videogames.
Vehicles have hit points. Speed can be increased or decreased. You can not hit targets indiscriminately, in that they must be both within range and within line of sight. There are even Criticals and characters with special abilities (although, unsurprisingly, some such as Han Solo have been held back for expansions). Positioning is just as important as attacking.
As good as the game is, how Star Wars-y it feels is up for debate. The models look as they should (even if the X Wings and Tie Fighters come off as disappointingly cheap) and the aforementioned characters are lifted straight out of the Star Wars canon. Ultimately, that’s neither here nor there. Star Wars nuts will make it feel like a Star Wars space battle, and everybody else can simply enjoy a painstakingly designed epic that, after some initial hard work, gives back ten times what it takes.