One thing about Star Wars: Armada that I find myself frequently repeating is how much you can learn from every match you play. It’s an uncommon depth of experience and is one of the main reasons that the game has cemented itself so quickly as one of my favourite pastimes.
The fact that I get to command Star Destroyers whilst humming ‘The Imperial March’ and pretending to be an admiral would be the other main reason.
With that in mind, and after some time for retrospective, I’ve assembled some of the lessons I learned after my time playing tournaments, and also just in general. Many of these points will be obvious to the experienced and actually talented players out there, but for a bumbling moron like myself, they’re vital to my efforts to not make a mess of everything.
These lessons may not contribute to you winning more games – but they will hopefully contribute to you having as much fun as possible with the game.
1 – Take.
I have lost far, far too many games, and ships, by rushing. This is a lesson that I have already covered, but still I fail to put it into action. When I get excited or anxious or nervous I rush ahead, forgetting key upgrades, fumbling activation orders, omitting critical effects that have a huge impact on the game.
The enemy of any game experience is “slow play” – pondering for what seems like hours over the smallest decisions. It drives me up the wall, and so I make an effort to make my decisions in good time and with determination. And that doesn’t have to change, but if you want to avoid silly mistakes then before you pick up your attack dice… take a breath. Before you set the manoeuvre tool, count to three. About to declare your defense tokens? Close your eyes for a heartbeat and think of somewhere peaceful.
Step back, and go through the rules in your head. Ask yourself questions. Before you move a vessel, ask “Have I performed both of my attacks with this ship?” When declaring a change of speed, ask “Did I update the speed dial?” If you just rolled fifteen damage with a single attack, ask “What weapon upgrades do I have? Which critical effects change what I can do?”
Armada is a gloriously steady game. It’s not a high-paced dogfight between X-Wings and TIE Fighters, it’s a gradual, thoughtful game that rewards careful play – Remember that. In a tournament, you have over two hours to finish your game, so if you’re on the last turn within fifty minutes, maybe you’re not spending enough time on your activations. Ninety minutes is a perfectly acceptable duration for a good game of Armada.
And if every game runs on to two-and-a-half hours, maybe you need to step things up. Maybe you need to spend a little less time achieving the perfect strategic placement for a solitary squadron of A-Wings, or the perfect colour of die to pick with a “Concentrate Fire” command. But don’t skimp on your self-checks. Focus on getting your turn procedure right. Maintain your discipline.
2 – Deploy as a Front, Engage at a Point
This is probably the most tactical of the lessons I have learned. Broadly speaking, it’s quite simple: it is perfectly acceptable to divide your forces, but it is death to engage your enemy so divided.
Positioning is everything in Armada – fire arcs and hull zones are the primary means of interaction between ships. And to achieve the best position against your opponent, sometimes it is necessary to split your fleet. Attacking with a divided force is frequently a suicidal tactic in other theatres of war, but in Armada it can be a necessary part of achieving a superior position. Gladiators hammer into the prows of Assault Cruisers whilst Scout Frigates swing rapidly into the rear arcs of a Star Destroyer, as that same Star Destroyer lines up its forward guns against the weakened shields of a Rebel flagship.
The issue, however, lies in timing. Specifically, at the time of engagement with the enemy, you must be acting with the entirety of your strength at a single point. In game-specific terms, on the turn in which you expect to be doing the most damage, every one of your vessels must be acting effectively against the same enemy ship.
Every game I have lost has been a result of me failing at this task. I have deployed my fleet spread across a broad front, ready to outflank the enemy – and then either lost my nerve, slowing a portion of my ships to reduce enemy fire, or I have failed to bring my fleet together, engaging on the same broad front and failing to inflict the damage necessary to truly hurt my opponent.
The simple fact is, if I want to take down an Imperial-class Star Destroyer, or an MC80 Assault Cruiser, I have to be hitting it with the primary firepower of all of my main-line capital ships, pretty much all at once. If I fail to do so, the target will simply cruise away, hurt but unbroken. Against a larger number of smaller ships, I still need to be engaging with my entire fleet, one target at a time. Methodical and precise.
Getting this right is, in essence, the true skill to be learned from your games of Armada. The ability to time your vessels’ manoeuvres for a crucial convergence at the same time is challenging, and can only be achieved through practice and patience. You may have devised the most synergised and synchronised fleet list that was ever scrutinised, but being able to control that fleet, to bring it to the focal point of the battle as a united, unstoppable force, that’s the real key to victory.
3 – Gunnery Teams are Glorious
Normally, I’d hesitate to focus on so specific an element of the game as a single upgrade card, but Gunnery Teams are the exception. Their straight-forward benefit – the ability to fire out of the same arc in the same activation, but only at different targets – is an absurdly useful addition to the right ship.
Not all ships, mind. Gladiators have wide-enough side arcs,and operate at short-enough range not to gain a great deal from Gunnery Teams, especially since their front and side arcs are similar in strength. Likewise, a Raider is unlikely to make full use of the seven-point upgrade due to their limited range. But on big ships with big primary arcs, like the Victory-class, the Imperial-class and the Assault Frigate, and the Scout Frigate in an Ackbar fleet, the ability to fire twice from the same powerful location is priceless.
Of course, spreading your firepower may not seem ideal, especially given that it runs contrary to the mantra “Engage at a Point”, but bear this in mind – an Imperial-class Star Destroyer with a Gunnery Team is able to take on two other Imperial-class vessels on an even footing. Granted, it will eventually succumb to damage first, but if two enemy Star Destroyers are tied up taking it down, that means there’s a potential for one Star Destroyer’s worth of smaller ships – preferably Gladiators with hefty Ordnance upgrades – flanking behind the enemy vessels.
This is perhaps overly simplistic, but it certainly held true in one game where I played against a double-Imperial fleet. Of course, due to my disregard of the first rule I rushed through activations and went on to lose the game, but if I’d kept my head, then a single Gunnery Team would have won me the day.
I think that in general, Gunnery Teams are one of those upgrades that is useful more often than not. There are plenty of more expensive upgrades that are fairly situational, but Gunnery Teams will consistently perform for you in all but the most specific circumstances.
4 – Certainty over Potential
This is more an issue of personal preference, really, but my feelings on the matter are shaped by experience.
Armada uses dice to determine a large portion of the game. It also relies upon a shuffled card deck for critical damage results. Hell, whether or not you’re in range and arc of an enemy ship ultimately comes down to chance, unless you have particularly astute spatial awareness.
All of these things are random. And if, like me, you have a history of rolling less damage in an entire game than your opponent rolls in a single attack, you’ll appreciate how viciously the dice can bite you in a sensitive spot. Indeed, I have built up such a complex over my own luck (justifiably or otherwise) that my approach with most games is now to assume that I will receive the worst possible outcome of any given range of random possibilities. And hence, I plan accordingly.
Admiral Screed is an auto-include for me. The ability to guarantee a single critical hit once per activation is so absurdly valuable that I don’t really know how to play without it – as long as it’s coupled with special “trigger-on-critical” upgrades. Darth Vader’s ability to reroll as many dice as you want may sound amazing, especially with a big, powerful attack, but when you spend a Defense token to roll another load of blanks, you find yourself cursing the Gods themselves for their cruelty.
Similarly, SW-7 Ion Batteries are just too damn reliable for me not to take them. I have in the past rolled four blue accuracies, two red accuracies and two red blanks with my Imperial-class’ forward arc. That kind of outcome is so depressing that it can lead to me switching off from the game if I don’t keep my morale up. Hence, SW-7s provide that safety net that I need: a guaranteed four points of blue damage from my Star Destroyer – again, certainty, instead of the uncertain re-rolls of Leading Shots.
I was previously asked on the Fantasy Flight community forum about my thoughts on Assault Concussion Missiles versus the awesome Assault Proton Torpedoes. My thoughts were simple: I can always rely on the ACMs to do the same thing every time I use them. APTs may well land an amazing face-up damage card at exactly the right time; that same damage card may also do nothing to help you. ACMs, on the other hand, have no element of random choice once triggered. You know exactly what they will do, so you can plan around it.
When it comes to making decisions in Armada, I always go for the reliable option. The known quantity. Whilst your own take on the game may differ, in my experience, trusting to fortune is a very quick and simple way to lose ships. Home One’s guaranteed Accuracy result for friendly ships’ attacks is just the edge you might need in a sustained firefight. Defiance’s extra die might simply come up blank.
Alternatively, just use weighted dice. I hear that works pretty well.
5 – Never mind the Lists, just go straight at ’em!
After one particularly painful defeat, I asked my opponent for his opinions on where I went wrong and what I should’ve done better. He immediately picked up my fleet list and began to point out the issues with it – despite the fact that the issues he pointed out had no bearing on the game we had just played. To my despair, he had no comment on the way in which I had deployed, or approached, or activated – his only insight on the game was though the medium of fleet building.
This was… unsatisfactory to me. Which is why the fifth and final lesson has no view on winning games. Rather, it’s about succeeding at the most important thing – enjoying yourself.
One of my favourite aspects of Armada is theory-crafting. Of approaching the game academically, running calculations, even simulations, discussing tactics with your friends and people who live on internet forums. And here, list-building is one of the biggest elements of discussion.
But my most favourite aspect of Armada is playing the game itself. Setting your ships on the correct trajectories, planning two, three turns in advance, second-guessing your opponent, planning responses to his counters, counters to his tactics. The game comes alive in the thick of the battle, turn three, maybe four, ships nose-to-nose, filling the void of space with missiles and laser bolts. The thrill of that decisive activation, that critical moment, that decision you make and then instantly regret.
That’s why I love the game. It’s why I play. It’s how I play – aggressive, direct, brutal.
But that may not be how you play the game, and that’s fine too. The player above, who viewed the game through fleet lists – that’s how he plays, that’s what he enjoys: crafting powerful lists with cunning synergies is his game.
My point is… Play the game you want to play. Make it fit your style. If you’re less fussed about manoeuvres and tactics, pick a slower, sturdier fleet with a broad reach, where you can really maximise those upgrades. Everyone might be talking about “Rhymerballs” and how the fighter game can’t be ignored – if you don’t like the fighter game, ignore it. Do your thing. Find a way to make it work the way you want it to work. There’s always a way.
If you’re going to play competitively, you will have to take some amount of care to have an effective fleet list. But it’s better to ensure that there aren’t glaring contradictions – such as Ordnance Experts on an Assault Frigate – than to try and finely hone your fleet to the maximum possible efficiency, when all you really want to do is fly your ships around the board.
If I’ve achieved my objective, then this will have proven somewhat helpful to a few Admirals out there who are reading it.
Coming soon – my own take on cracking Admiral Ackbar and the terror he brings. Watch this space.