IN SHORT: Fantasy Flight Games has just released the Core Set for their new table top game – Star Wars: Armada. Here are my first impressions and thoughts on the core units.
GENERAL: The game itself focuses on the big picture, namely two fleets of capital ships battling it out while the fighters and bombers take a far smaller (though still important) role. The game has a wonderful sense of momentum to it. Capital ships navigate slowly. Orders take multiple turns to execute. The ships are massive behemoths that take time to react to changing circumstances, and this is represented very well in the game mechanics.
Star Wars: Armada also strikes that sweet spot between being pick-up-and-play friendly and a possessing a lot of depth hidden beneath the surface. Despite the limited amount of ships and upgrade cards, I was surprised by the number of options available for configuring my Victory-class Star Destroyer. (I played Imperial for all my games so far. My affinity for awesome villains remains unchanged. 🙂 )
Next, here’s what I thought of the ships and cards in the Core Set.
Grand Moff Tarkin: Every fleet needs a commander, and Tarkin is the only Imperial commander in the Core Set. But, wow, what an ability! The guy dishes out command tokens like candy, imparting a huge level of flexibility to the otherwise lumbering Victory-class Star Destroyer. Command tokens may not be as powerful as command dials, but Tarkin hands them out exactly when you need them instead of being forced to predict what you’ll need three turns down the road. But at 38 points, you pay a premium price for this ability. He’s almost the same cost as a base CR90 Corvette.
Victory-class Star Destroyer: This thing is a beast to take down. With 8 Hull, 4 Engineering, 2 Redirect defense tokens, a Brace defense token, and plenty of shielding, the Victory is not going to fall quickly to anything. Tarkin just makes a tough ship even tougher, since the command dials and tokens can be combined to even greater effect, giving the Victory a potential +3 shields every turn if the Imperial player decides to turtle up.
It also has a powerful front arc with 6 attack dice. However, the Victory’s biggest vulnerability is its rear arc, which only has 1 shield and 2 attack dice. With speeds that go from slow to slightly less slow, the Victory is in trouble if an enemy ship slips in behind it and can stay there.
TIE Fighter Squadrons: Cheap anti-squadron covering units. You want your Victory focused on the other capital ships, and TIE Fighter Squadrons are an excellent way to keep those X-Wings from pecking the Victory to death. They’re low cost-to-squadron ratio does have disadvantages, though, since squadrons really need squadron commands from capital ships to be at their most effective.
“Howlrunner” TIE Fighter Squadron: For the price of 2 TIE Fighter Squadrons, the Imperials can take this elite squadron. Howlrunner is a force multiplier, giving any friendly squadron with the Swarm rule (which TIE Fighters have), an additional blue attack die when they attack an enemy squadron. This allows a good TIE formation to absolutely shred enemy fighters. She also comes with defense tokens, so even though her TIE is a piece of flying confetti, it’s a hard to hit piece of flying confetti.
That being said, Howlrunner encourages the TIEs to clump up even more than they already do (again, thanks to that Swarm rule), which can leave them vulnerable to attacks from ships with decent anti-squadron abilities like the Nebulon-B Escort. A spray of 2 blue attack dice at every TIE squadron in one of its arcs is not a pretty thing to see.
General Dodonna: Like the Imperials, the Rebels only get one commander in the Core Set. At about half the price of Tarkin, he’s not quite as impressive. Where Tarkin provides a steady stream of benefits over the course of the game, Dodonna allows the Rebel player to draw 4 faceup damage cards (when resolving critical hits on enemy ships) and choose which of the 4 effects to apply to the enemy. This may have huge gameplay ramifications since critical hits can be so nasty … or it might have minimal impact. When the cards comply, Dodonna can be devastating, but I personally prefer more dependable abilities.
CR90 Corvette: Man, is this ship a nasty little speed demon! With two Evade defense tokens, the CR90 can be surprisingly hard to pin down at long or even medium range. It’s Redirect token and a good spread of shields adds to that unexpected resilience. It also has only 1 Command, which allows it to respond very rapidly to changing battlefield conditions.
That being said, the CR90 will not last long in a straight up fight, particularly at close range, which is why the A-type is a worthwhile upgrade over the B-type. With long range red dice in each arc, the CR90 Corvette A can maximize the use of its maneuverability and evade tokens while still launching attacks at the enemy.
Nebulon-B: The two versions of the Nebulon-B (Escort and Support) have some striking differences in their capabilities. With wide side arcs and 2 blue attack dice against squadrons, the Escort can shred through TIE squadrons at a surprising rate, and its enhanced Squadron value of 2 allows it to activate 2 X-Wing squadrons at once. In contrast, the Support acts as a discount version of the Nebulon-B without these enhancements.
However, those side arcs present a glaring weak point. With only 1 side shield each and no Redirect tokens, the Nebulon-B can start taking hull damage very quickly. Its 2 Brace tokens do help mitigate that damage, but it still wants to engage other ships with its (very narrow) front facing and at long range, where it has a much beefier 3 shields, Evade token, and 3 red attack dice.
X-Wing Squadrons: The X-Wings are well-rounded when compared to the anti-squadron focused TIE Fighters. First, they come with Bomber, which allows them to resolve critical hits against enemy ships, significantly increasing their threat level. Their anti-ship attack also uses a red die, granting the potential to do double damage during a single attack.
Their second rule is Escort, which forces nearby squadrons to take out the X-Wings before dealing with anything else (for example Y-Wing or B-Wing Squadrons in the upcoming expansions).
X-Wings. Hard-hitting and versatile for only 13 points.
Luke Skywalker X-Wing Squadron: Luke has everything a regular X-Wing squadron has and more. When making a bombing run on an enemy ship, he is not to be underestimated because his attacks ignore enemy shields! This, coupled with the fact that he performs his anti-ship attacks with a black die gives him a high damage potential. And with 5 hull and 2 Brace tokens, Luke can weather a lot of firepower before he goes down.
All this for 20 points? Not too bad, I think.
I had a ton of fun playing with the Core Set and will be collecting the Imperial faction for this game. I can’t put it any more simply than that. 🙂 Fantasy Flight Games has a great product here, and I am definitely looking forward to the Wave 1 releases, particularly those Gladiator-class Star Destroyers.