A guest article from my friend Sam, who attended one of last weekend’s tournaments with James and I. I’ll offer no unnecessary introduction, so take it away, Sam…
Looking around my room it is safe to say that I have something of an addiction to miniatures games. My PC monitor is surrounded by a crowd of X-Wings, E-Wings and TIE Interceptors, and my book collection has now been boxed and put in the loft to make room for Leman Russ battle tanks and battlegroups of UNSC Heavy Cruisers. My fondest memories of university are of being part of Coventry’s awesome Games Workshop community, or of trucking off to Warwick games club on Friday evening to play huge games of Apocalypse.
As an old Battlefleet Gothic player, it was perhaps inevitable that Fantasy Flight Games’ second Star Wars offering, Armada, would end up in my collection. When one of my friends excitedly messaged me on Facebook with “DUDE! Look at this! There’s a new Star Wars game with STAR DESTROYERS! You don’t even need to paint the models!” it took all of 30 seconds for me to have a starter set on the way from Amazon. When I finally got my hands on the game I was astounded by the size and detail of the miniatures, and excitedly pored over the rules.
Unfortunately there’s a catch. I live in the middle of buttfuck nowhere, as in REALLY the middle of buttfuck nowhere. Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire are a big black hole in the miniatures gaming world. One peek at the Armada players map on Facebook shows a good 50 miles of sweet FA around my own location. As a result, by the time last week rolled around, I had managed a piddly three games. But then an old friend from Coventry, Jon, asked me if I would like to go with him and a friend to an Armada tournament. With my last game being shortly after the release of wave 2 I jumped at the chance to, well, actually play the bloody game.
I put together a list for my favourite faction, the Imperial Navy, and headed off to Rugby’s Shadow Games, hopeful that my inexperience would not lead to me being soundly thrashed like a rambunctious Victorian boy in a Catholic nunnery.
My list – Battlegroup Relentless
Imperial I Star Destroyer – Admiral Screed, Gunnery Team, Relentless – 146 points
Gladiator I Star Destroyer – Assault Concussion Missiles, Demolisher – 73 points
Gladiator I Star Destroyer – Assault Concussion Missiles – 63 points
Raider II Corvette – Overload Pulse – 56 points
Raider II Corvette – Overload Pulse – 56 points
Fleet Total: 394
Objectives: Most Wanted, Hyperspace Assault, Intel Sweep
My logic behind this list was two-fold. Screed is probably the most reliable Imperial Admiral when combined with every Imperial player’s favourite ship, the Gladiator, reliably procing its Assault Concussion Missiles. Similarly, Screed can reliably proc Overload Pulse. Pair Overload Pulse with the ISD plus Avenger title… Well, to slightly paraphrase Dr Thrax from C&C Generals “Aah general, now you cannot discard your defence tokens, EVEN IF YOU WANTED TO!”
However, I picked Avenger over Relentless so that I could maintain a healthy initiative bid. Relentless, while not as synergizing with this list as Avenger, did allow me to be more reactive by reducing my command value to 2.
The choice to include raiders was also twofold. Firstly, they are fast and when combined with navigate commands can pull off some utterly bullshit maneuvers that make even Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in The Fast and Furious look like fucking rank amateurs next to the Raider’s awesome drifts. This would keep me covered in the event of an Intel Sweep mission. Secondly, Raider II’s get an Ion Cannon slot and thus Overload Pulse, making for a cheap Overload Pulse buggy.
My logic was that the Raider could get in and steal a ship’s ability to defend itself and run off again… Kinda like a Slough chav running in and stealing an old lady’s purse before running off again and hurling poorly constructed sentences over its shoulder, all while thinking it’s the hardest man to ever live. Fucking chavs. The ISD was there to do what ISDs do best: remove things from this plane of existence. Simple, really.
The Matches Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Embrace My Role As A Baby Harp Seal Being Clubbed To Death By A Tribe Of Eskimos
Now I’ll preface this by saying that I knew I would not be walking out a winner, or indeed having any real standing at all. I came to play Star Wars Armada and learn more about the game, and that’s exactly what I did, and I had a helluva lot of fun doing it. My ships also blew up. A lot.
Match 1 – Battlegroup Relentless vs Home One and Battle Guppies
My first match was against a chap named Paul, who was fielding a style of list that I had feared facing before arriving at the tourney. His list consisted of an MC80 with Admiral Ackbar that was tanked to crap with Redundant Shields. The MC80 was accompanied by two Mk II Assault Frigates, each with Enhanced Armament if I recall. I had initiative and erroneously chose second player, a mistake that would bite me in the ass again in match two. For some reason I thought picking to be second player was the best way to play the game, no idea why. I had five activations but was throwing away that advantage.
Paul selected ‘Most Wanted’ from my list of objectives, so I nominated my ISD and one of his Assault Frigates as the objective ships. I didn’t want to nominate the MC80 as an objective ship as I was not confident I could break through its defences before it took me to pieces. The deployment was roughly as follows (PH43R MY l33T MAD PAINT SKILLZ). Objective ships have a yellow dot.
My intention was to have the raiders swing wide, cross the “T” of the frigates and Overload Pulse the objective ship, by which point my Gladiators would have closed in and would be able to pummel it. The ISD was hopefully to take attention off the Gladiators and to also dish out some serious hurt to the Assault Frigates or to tie up Ackbar.
The first two turns consisted primarily of embracing my inner Nelson and closing the distance. On turn 3 our forces met, and things went very south very quickly. Ackbar puts out an obscene amount of dice. Paul’s first shot from one of his Assault Frigates put a Gladiator into hull and his second activation saw that Gladiator reduced to a smoldering hulk. Neither of my Glads were in range to shoot back. Meanwhile the Raiders ‘Vin Diesel’ and ‘Dwayne Johnson’ on the right flank were now closing in on the frigates, hurtling in behind them to hopefully unload their Overload Pulses. Ackbar laughed at this plan in turn 4 and I had both Corvettes one-shotted by the Assault Frigates. Welp.
The remaining turn saw the ISD trying and utterly failing to break through the MC80’s defences, and after two turns of MC80 broadsides, the barrage of turbolaser and ion cannon fire overcame the Relentless. With a dreadful shudder, the Star Destroyer began to roll over as it’s maneuvering thrusters failed and a series of internal explosions ripped through bulkheads and engine assemblies, turning the one-proud flagship into a radioactive debris field.
End result: Total Hell Death, 400-0 10-0 victory to Snackbar and the Rebel scum.
My tournament debut was NOT going well. I had been utterly humbled by this list and realized in that moment that in terms of player skill I was totally outclassed. I also learned just how deadly Ackbar could be. In retrospect my list probably had no chance of victory here. I had to spend too long at ranges where the Rebel fleet could pound me with impunity and I just could not fire back due to the short ranged nature of my ships. In terms of a pure gunfight this Rebel list is dominant, and the only real weakness I can see it having would be carriers.
Match 2 – Battlegroup Relentless vs Admiral Motti and the Victorys of Doom
This match I felt far more confident, as I was facing what I considered to be a roughly equal force in terms of direct firepower. My opponent had two Victory II class Star Destroyers, ships that are widely considered to be bad and outclassed. He had also included the Demolisher, complete with ACMs and Engine Techs. His Admiral, Motti, was on a highly upgraded VSD and was accompanied by nine TIE Fighter squadrons.
Again I had initiative and again I chose to go second for some reason. I recall reading somewhere that second player was always preferable because your opponent picks from your objectives, but I now know this to NOT be the case. My opponent Craig picked Hyperspace Assault as his objective and I thus elected to keep Demolisher in reserve to appear when needed. Following ship deployment I placed my three warp in beacons directly in between our fleets, the hope being to catch him in a trap when our fleets merged. Deployment was as follows:
The blue dots on the map are my warp-in beacons and the two ships with yellow dots are the flagships. Here I placed my ISD and remaining Gladiator close together, with a Raider on each flank. I was hoping to envelop his fleet with the Raiders while closing with the ISD and remaining Gladiator. When our fleets merged, Demolisher would appear behind his lines and get tasty rear arc shots.
The first two turns were closing the distance, myself advancing at flank speed while Craig perhaps wisely dropped down to speed 1 and awaited my arrival. He knew he could not afford to charge over my beacons and have my Demolisher appear uncontested. My right Raider flanked right wide, at what I thought was a safe distance. My left Raider flanked straight up the board to come in from my opponent’s edge of the board. By turn 3 the first combat occurred. His Demolisher complete with Engine Techs sped down the right edge of the board to catch my Raider at close range. The results of this exchange are kind of obvious. First blood to Craig.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the board we had our first long range exchanges, with a few shield points being lost on both sides but otherwise no significant damage. But here I made a terrible mistake. I warped in Demolisher, acutely aware that my forces already on the board were outgunned. Demolisher landed directly off Motti’s right flank, but unfortunately some stupid positioning on my part left the Demolisher’s rear arc JUST exposed to the frontal arc of the second Vic II.
Craig opened turn 4 with his trailing Victory, immediately punishing my mistake by removing Demolisher’s aft and port shields. My Demolisher activation followed next, and laid some serious smack down on Motti, breaking through his shields and procing ACMs to remove his remaining forward shield. Craig activated Motti now however, and slapped Demolisher down. Oh dear. My second activation was my ISD, which now had a clear shot on Motti’s Victory. In a hail of turbolaser and missile fire, Screed’s flagship decimated Motti’s Victory, high-powered energy bolts ripping through exposed armour and exposing entire sections of the Victory to hard vacuum.
His flagship reduced to a crippled, venting hulk, Motti was no more. Unfortunately my movement now resulted in ‘The Imperial Kiss’, the ISD and Victory slamming into one another and taking damage. Our remaining activations for turn 4 were inconsequential, I stupidly took asteroid damage on a Raider, while Craig’s Demolisher was still returning to the fight from its deletion of my other Raider.
Turn 5 opened with me hoping that I could destroy the second Victory before Craig’s Demolisher could get back into range. This was not to be. A squadron activation by the remaining Victory saw my ISD take a full 3 points of damage from squadrons, while it’s shooting destroyed my last Raider and punched through my ISD’s forward shields. With Demolisher now one move away from being in range, I knew that the writing was on the wall. Turn 6 opened with the Victory dropping my ISD down to 4 remaining hull points, and the final squadron activation saw the horde of TIE fighters finally destroy my flagship.
End margin of victory –250.
This match hinged on my being smart with Demolisher, and I was not smart. To compound matters I was realizing just how badly taking two 56 point raiders was crippling my fleet. To proc their Overload Pulses, the Raiders would have to close to point-blank range to have the black die to expend to guarantee an Overload Pulse proc with screed. At this range Raiders die very quickly, their two evade tokens useless. I was happy that I had killed Motti’s flagship, as it meant I had at least done SOMETHING as opposed to my first game. I also learned just how dangerous the Demolisher is with Engine Techs. Watching that thing shoot up the board and catch my Raider was a very rude shock.
Match 3 – Battlegroup Relentless vs Imperial Fury
My final match was against one of the guys I had come to the tournament with, a chap named James. James and Jon had both played against each other a lot, and while I was unsure of my previous opponent’s skill level I knew James was a good player and thus my feelings about this match were bleak. James’ list was horrible. An Imperial-II Star Destroyer backed up by THREE Gladiators with Screed left me feeling like a prison bitch sadly waiting for a painful ass fucking. At this point I decided to throw any caution to the wind. I was going to go in, and I was going to kill something and die gloriously. In my previous match I had been very cautious with my Raiders, and yet had still lost them, so I thought I might as well just send them straight in with the rest of the fleet, no silly flanking maneuvers.
In this final game I again had initiative but decided to go as first player, and picked James’ ‘Opening Salvo’ objective. We both deployed our fleets slightly left of the centre of our deployment zones, and advanced on one another very quickly. My fleet advanced tightly, with Raiders on each flank, with James also keeping a tight formation as we closed. On turn 2 I was forced to send my rightmost Raider wide to avoid a pointless death against his two Gladiators, which resulted in this Raider being out of the game for all intents and purposes. On turn 2 we also had first contact, with my fleet managing to cripple and then destroy James’ lone Gladiator that had moved slightly ahead of its comrades. I took a pounding in return however, with my two Gladiators ultimately succumbing to James’ ISD II and Gladiators by the end of turn 4. Meanwhile, my leftmost Raider managed to get in and Overload Pulse James’ flagship, with both ISDs hammering away at one another.
In turn 4 we had another ‘Imperial Kiss’ as the two flagships slammed into one another, and with both being at speed 2 were unable to free themselves for the remainder of the game. My Raider’s Overload Pulse proved to be critical, as my Relentless finally pounded his into scrap, but not without taking heavy damage, only two hit points remaining including two criticals. By some stroke of luck I managed to avoid losing my crippled ISD in the closing part of turn 4, as both of James’ remaining Gladiators had gone wide after killing mine and could not close to range.
Following some bad rolling from his TIE squadrons, we entered Turn 5 with my ISD still intact along with both Raiders, one however still being hopelessly out of position. To make matters worse both of James’ speed 3 Glads were now closing on the rear arc of my speed 2 ISD and all I could hope for was to run. It was not to be. An excellent Double Hit/Double Hit/Hit roll from Demolisher’s forward armament landed the killing blow on my flagship and it was reduced to scrap metal. With James’ ships having no hope of catching Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson zipping around at speed 4 we called the game there.
Final MOV -50 with a 6-4 victory for James.
I was honestly surprised I managed such a close defeat considering my previous two matches, and I won’t be arrogant enough to claim it was totally down to developing skill on my part. By the point of the third match I was beginning to tire and James was still wrestling a whiskey-induced hangover which he later credited with being the reason he hadn’t done well in his first game. James was very gracious and helped me out several times when I forgot to take actions or made rules mistakes. I was continually forgetting to flip up my command dials by this point and once forgot to take a second shot with Demolisher after moving, but James allowed all these mistakes on my part. This match again proved to me that the Raiders just weren’t a good investment for a player of my skill level, even though it was the first match I had actually used them as I had originally intended!
Overall I had a lot of fun attending the tournament and feel like it has helped me learn a hell of a lot about the game. Armada is a game that is very easy to get into, but actually learning all its intricacies is a tough job. Coming from games like Battlefleet Gothic, one is always in the “move firsts shoot second” mindset, but in Armada it is the opposite. You really need to be thinking several turns ahead so that your movement in one turn sets you up for a shot in the next turn, which might seem obvious to any Armada player who has spent time with the game, but not to a player like myself. Similarly, I was beginning to realise just how much thought needs to go into my order of activations. By the end of my third game I was beginning to get a full grasp of the logic behind this. Having my Overload Pulse Raider activate last to get it right up to a target only to activate it first in the next round allowed me to cripple James’ ISD in the final game, and was the first time I actually used that part of my list as I had originally intended it.
Talking of the list, I have seen just how much thought I need to put into a list intended for competitive play. I initially thought that my two Raiders could win some games for me, being part of a one-two punch that would cripple enemy ships and allow me to easily dispatch them with my heavier vessels. As it was the Raiders were a poor choice for Overload Pulse, as I do not have the knowhow to use them effectively and they are just so fragile. I think that perhaps a list composed of several larger, heavier ships would be better for a person of my skill level, as I need ships that don’t punish me heavily for making a poor maneuver in the way that Raiders do. Perhaps three ISDs with Motti…
I have played against some cracking lists and this has helped me understand what I need to do with my own list, and to look at fleet building in a new light. Just because a ship can do a thing does not necessarily mean it should do a thing. I also learned a lot more about my preferred playstyle, and can now build a list that synergises with it.
Was going to a tournament with so little experience a good idea? Honestly I think it was. Playing casual games at home with friends is one thing, but in the tournament environment I got to play three games against opponents who all knew their stuff. The opportunity for learning in such an environment is just so much better than anything one can get playing a few casual games every couple of weeks. Yes I was defeated, terribly in my first game, but I improved markedly with each game and was able to directly carry the lessons I had learned from each game over into the next game. I feel that I am ready to try a second tournament with a new list and a new understanding of the game!
Now, can I justify £90 to run three ISDs…