A few weeks ago, Fantasy Flight Games treated us to the announcement of “Wave 3” of ‘Star Wars: Armada’ expansions. You’ll notice that there’s a single set of quotation marks around the term “Wave 3”, and that’s because adding more would have felt like self-indulgence.
The truth of the matter is that when the announcement dropped, I was… ambivalent. On the one hand, it was good to see ‘Armada’ getting a bit of development. On the other hand, the biggest announcement in a year for this amazing game was the addition of the Star Wars equivalent of haulage trucks. It’s tricky to go from the excitement of huge Star Destroyers and speedy frigates to the utilitarianism of a couple of vans with space walkie talkies.
Since then, however, we’ve not only had a new scenario and the announcement of Wave 4, but we’ve also had the full reveal articles of both Wave 3 expansions, giving us an insight into the array of options we’ll have with these bite-sized additions. The FFG articles do a pretty good job of showcasing what the new transport sets can do, but I wanted to take a look at them myself to see how I think they’ll fit into my own games of ‘Armada’.
Using the term “ship” feels like exaggeration when referring to either of these vessels. They’re more like overweight fighters – too big to manoeuvre freely, too puny to participate in ship-to-ship combat. Hell, their armaments are actually weaker than the anti-ship capabilities of many fighter squadrons. And the “Flotilla” special rule, meaning these transports don’t inflict any damage upon collision, makes it almost impossible to use these vessels offensively. Indeed, without upgrades, they’re mostly just decorative activations.
Defensively, they’re interesting. Put simply, you need four damage and one accuracy at short range in order to one-shot these things – plus an extra damage-dealing dice at medium and long range. If you want to go whaling, you’ll need things like Home One or H9 Turbolasers to avoid frustration, or those “Scatter” tokens are going to do your head in. In that regard, the new flotillas will at least have an impact on fleet selection – accuracy management will be much more important than it used to be.
It will be interesting to see how short-ranged, ordnance-heavy fleets such as my own perform in a flotilla-infested world – given that “Scatter” cancels all attack dice results, us knife-fighters won’t even get our lovely critical effects off, especially given the absence of accuracies on black dice.
Having a look at their movement, they’ve got an interesting contrast going on. At Speed-3, the Gozantis can turn earlier but get fewer clicks overall. At Speed-2, the GR-75s handle better. I think I’d rather have the Gozanti’s tighter turns at high speeds, personally, but there’s not much in it. In either case, you shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping your flotillas in position with most of your existing fleets.
Visually – and aesthetics are important in a game like this – these expansions are hit-and-miss. I really like the design of the Gozantis, they look just Imperial enough, with their wedge-like silhouettes and boxy superstructures. The Rebel GR-75s, on the other hand, are a bit of a “meh” for me – they were intentionally designed to look nondescript and vulnerable for their role in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, and whilst they’ll definitely contribute to the “rag-tag” feel of Rebel fleets in a good way, on they’re own they’re definitely underwhelming. That being said, the lacklustre paintwork doesn’t particularly help.
The Generals and Their Officers
We’re not just getting space trucks with this Wave, we’re also getting new commanders.
General Tagge, the gruff-voiced naysayer from aboard the Death Star, is a brilliant addition to the Imperial roster. His fleet-wide ability to regain spent defense tokens is going to allow you to make the most of those valuable “Brace” tokens, but he will also act as a counter to Intel Officer-using opponents. It’ll be tricky to decide between him and Admiral Motti for a defensive fleet, but I think Tagge will win out for me – those Braces could account for much more than three extra damage.
General Cracken is just neat. I’m gutted that he’s Rebel only – I could definitely make use of him with my Gladiators – but nonetheless, he’s good. Again, choosing between him and Mon Mothma will be tough, though Cracken is cheaper, and arguably more reliable at close range. I think Cracken will be a near-auto-include for MC30 fleets of the future.
What’s really interesting about both of these new commanders is the symmetry between them. Both are Generals, both are very defensive, both are in the same price range, and both bring upgraded versions of abilities that already existed in the game as unique, 5-point Officer upgrades in the opposite faction. Tagge adopts Walex Blissex’s particular talents, whilst Cracken takes Admiral Montferrat’s strengths and applies them across the fleet.
It’s good to see more defensive options for the game, particularly as both of these Commanders work best with aggressive, daring strategies. Cracken lends himself to fast fleets moving in close for the kill, whilst Tagge requires you to be in the thick of things, spending tokens left, right and centre. These two leaders should go a way to adding a more aggressive edge to the game, which seems good to me.
We’re getting two new unique officers for each side, too. Agent Kallus will be a solid addition to Imperial Raiders – the ability to roll as many as three black dice against named squadrons is pretty neat, or two black dice and a blue to hope for that accuracy. I don’t see him being too popular on other ships, though.
Toryn Farr is, for seven points, pretty bloody awesome. A single re-roll on a blue die is a small effect, but given it applies to everything in range, you’ve suddenly got A-Wings and X-Wings with the “Swarm” keyword, and the equivalent up to two “Concentrate Fire” tokens per ship. Plus, she hugely enhances every single ship’s anti-squadron armament. I can easily see Toryn as an auto-include on most Rebel fleets, especially those with a central command ship, such as Home One. Indeed, I can’t see many reasons against including her – she just makes everything better.
The flotillas themselves really aren’t much on their own, even when led by one of the new commanders. Even as a Squadron platform, the cost of each flotilla is more than the cost of replacing the squadrons they can activate with “Rogue”-craft. However, all of the transport variants gain access to the “Offensive Retrofit” upgrade slot, meaning they can all take Expanded Hangar Bays or Boosted Comms if they so choose.
Then there’s the “Fleet Support” upgrades. These four upgrades have been covered in some depth already, so I’ll keep this quick.
The Jamming Field is situational, but cheap. It’s handy for covering soft bombers, like Y-Wings or TIE Bombers, but those squadrons are already tough, and because the obstructed status only applies during attacks, the field’s effects don’t protect your bombers from being locked down through engagement. In any case, dedicated Bomber squadrons would arguably gain an increased benefit from the more expensive Bomber Command Centre, which massively enhances their primary role.
The Comms Net is a nice alternative to the Tantive IV, and handy for managing large ships with high command values. This is a good, low-cost card for flotillas added to a fleet to bulk up activations – but for just another two points, you could instead get Repair Crews, which have a shorter range but could avert disaster if they get rid of the right critical effect.
Lastly there are Slicer Tools, which for 7 points, are… pricey. And short-ranged. They’re one of those upgrades which could be incredible. If you use them to deny your opponent a Navigate command that would prevent their ship from flying off the board, then you’ll be laughing. I think the biggest thing about Slicer Tools is that they’re going to make Command-dial management much more important, and bring those officers such as Weapon Liaisons and Engineering Captains back into vogue.
The Fleet Support upgrade that really stands out for me is Repair Crews. It’s cheap, and the ability to remove damage cards will always be valuable – if it isn’t, then you’re probably already winning. The second-best option is Bomber Command Centre, which will work wonders for the already-trendy Janballs and Rhymerballs, and will boost the popularity of cheap, single-die Bombers. Slicer Tools are great, but you’re sacrificing the possibility of powerful buffs for your own fleet for the sake of what might be only a minor inconvenience to your enemy.
Finally, each set comes with two Titles for your transports to take. I find the titles to be the least interesting parts of these expansions. The Gozantis can boost the speed of non-Heavy squadrons or exhaust defense tokens, and both could be useful. The GR-75s get a defensive title, which could potentially make them incredibly tough when combined with Admiral Cracken, and a toned-down Engine Techs-style speed boost. I’m not convinced any of these titles will have a huge impact on the game, which is fine – they’re just nice little additions which will allow you to fine-tune your support ships to match the rest of your fleet.
The Bigger Picture
Alright, so let’s have a look at how all of this fits into the game as it stands.
The most obvious and exciting thing to come out of Wave 3 for me is the cheap activations and deployments. If you really wanted to, you could take two transports, each with Expanded Hangar Bays and an escort of 3 cheap bomber squadrons. It would look something like this:
Gozanti-class Cruisers – 23 pts
– Expanded Hangar Bay – 5 pts
– Bomber Command Centre – 8 pts
Gozanti-class Cruisers – 23 pts
– Expanded Hangar Bay – 5 pts
Major Rhymer – 16 pts
5 x TIE Bomber Squadrons – 45 pts
As a formation, that comes to a total of 125 points, for which you get six rerolling black anti-ship dice with an incredible strike range. Not only that, you’re also getting two activations and a total of Five extra deployments – and in a 400-point game, you still have 73 points to spend on escorting superiority fighters. Imagine this formation with an Imperial-class Star Destroyer and Demolisher, all led by Admiral Screed. You could even have points left for a Raider. That’s a hard-hitting fleet, with a total of five ship activations. And you might still be able to have a decent bid for first player.
The Rebels get the following:
GR-75 Medium Transports – 18 pts
– Expanded Hangar Bay – 5 pts
– Bomber Command Centre – 8 pts
GR-75 Medium Transports – 18 pts
– Expanded Hangar Bay – 5 pts
6 x Y-Wing Squadrons – 60 pts
Now, this formation costs a total of 114 points – ten points cheaper than the Imperial version. Admittedly, it’s got less reach, but it’s just as durable, and slightly better against enemy fighters. You’ve got 74 points to spend on escorting X-Wings, or maybe some A-Wings to rush in and tie down enemy squadrons. Either way, for just over a quarter of your fleet points (or just less than a third), you’ve got a solid, hard-hitting unit that can act pretty independently.
The fact is, these transport / bomber combinations give every admiral what they really need to pull off tactical miracles – more activations and more deployments. The ability to dictate the order of battle is what allows you to win games, and that’s exactly what you’re getting here.
The comparisons to trucks and vans that I’ve made earlier hold up well, because these expansions are utilitarian and, I reckon, will prove near-ubiquitous. For just 30 points, you can get a really useful little flotilla that does nothing more fancy than simply make your other fleet elements better.
Ultimately, there aren’t many types of fleet that couldn’t benefit from a flotilla or two. Fighter-heavy lists will definitely appreciate what they have to offer. Tanky, defensive lists will have a lot to gain. Even fast-moving, hard-hitting alpha-striking fleets will appreciate the cheap activations, and the utility of some of the fleet-support upgrades. I think, six months from now, transport ships are going to be seen everywhere in ‘Armada’.
Taking Them Down
And if they are going to appear everywhere, how can a forward-thinking admiral deal with them? The irony of flotillas is that they are incredibly fragile, but surprisingly sturdy due to that “Scatter” token. Sure, you could swipe them aside with a shot from your Imperial-II, but that would mean you’re not shooting at something much more worthy of a Star Destroyer’s attention.
Another irony with flotillas is that they are high-priority, low-value targets. They could cause you all manner of frustrations, and potentially cost you the battle – but destroying them only nets you a handful of victory points – typically about 30 at most.
This is the exciting part for me, because flotillas give Raiders and Corellian Corvettes a new purpose in life – pest control. The CR90-B and the Raider-II are often overlooked when I’m creating a fleet. The CR90-B is less useful than it’s longer-ranged sister, and the Raider-II doesn’t warrant the added cost in a fleet that needs a strong initiative bid and uses ordnance anyway. Flotillas change the ecosystem, however, and those blue-dice-laden ships now have exactly the targets they can feast upon.
The Raider-II is perfectly suited to hunting down flotillas. With three blue dice and a single black, it can kick out precisely enough damage as it needs to. If at close range it naturally rolls, say, three hits and an accuracy, then it can get through the single shield on a flotilla and put two damage cards on the hull. Follow that up with an intentional ram, and the Raider can finish the flotilla off automatically without suffering any damage itself.
You’re not guaranteed of that accuracy, however, so if you’re really keen on taking down those transport ships, you might want to add a Sensor Team. They’re not an upgrade I see often, and with good reason – they’re pricey, and require spending a die. However they do mean that, if you need to, you can be assured of the accuracy you need to negate the pesky “Scatter”. If you time this with a “Concentrate Fire” command, you could potentially one-shot the target if you roll well with your black dice.
The CR90-B will have a less easy time of dispatching flotillas, but it’s also not much more expensive than they are. If it can score a double-arc, it could feasibly take one down and, as ever with flotillas, there’s always the safe certainty of ramming them to death. If you were to put Leia Organa on board, you could also help to account for any troublesome Slicer Tools in the area.
The other main countermeasure to flotillas is squadrons. Squadrons are great because they broadly ignore a ship’s defense tokens due to their pin-prick damage, and with the capacity for only four points of damage on any one facing, flotillas don’t need many pricks to go down. Indeed, a swarm of TIE Fighters or A-Wings ought to do a solid job of harassing transports to a painful end.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and if you really set your mind to it you will find plenty of methods for extinguishing these flotillas, but given their low return in victory points, the key is to do it as efficiently as possible. The good thing is that the countermeasures to flotillas are, by definition, still useful in combat against larger, heftier ships, so you’re not wasting points on a one-trick-pony.
To reverse this point, you’re going to want to minimise the points you invest in these things. As soon as they start getting past the 40-point mark, they become much more tempting a target for enemy big ships. The Fantasy Flight article has some Rebel Transports equipped with Adar Tallon, and whilst he’s got a great effect, the transports are just too risky a vehicle for a 10-point upgrade, I feel.
So, flotillas are going to change things, there’s no doubt of that.
I expect Star Destroyers flanked by Repair Crewed Gozantis to be a common sight in future battles. All durable medium- and large-based ships are going to see their endurance greatly enhanced by escorting flotillas, so long as you can plan ahead and keep them in range. Slower ships like the Victory-class will definitely see some use out of them.
Similarly, I can see Rebel heavy-hitters forming a potent front line, punctuated by transports sweeping bombers forwards on potent attack runs. The ability to shift carrier roles onto the flotillas and keep your capital ships focused on “Navigates”, “Repairs” and “Concentrate Fires” will be invaluable.
The previous star players that were Demolishers and MC30s loaded out with Ordnance upgrades will struggle against flotilla-heavy fleets, but I don’t believe they will go out of vogue altogether. Rather, they will become much more discriminating in their choice of prey and hence their positioning, focusing on the big, juicy targets and leaving the smaller morsels to more specialised hunters.
Minor aspects of the game that I had previously ignored are going to become a lot more important. Management of accuracies and command dials will be vital to dealing with enemy flotillas, with the potential for Slicer Tools to really ruin your day if not accounted for.
I reckon the new defensive commanders are going to lead to more aggressive play styles. They will encourage more careful players to throw their caution to the wind and play for keeps. They certainly won’t reward players who sit back and stay out of trouble.
And the last, biggest change I think we’re going to see will be an escalation in bids for activation and deployment advantage, just as there has previously been something of an arms race for Initiative Bids. The ability to cheaply gain combat elements that retain effectiveness and grant you greater mastery of the order of battle will be relished by many.
The Future Of The Bloodied Spear
So, looking at the effect that this wave will have on my own fleet… Well, the truth is that I will probably wait until Wave 4 is released prior to making any major changes to the fleet. However, if Wave 3 were currently available and I was using it to make a list to play with tomorrow, I’ve got a couple of minor changes I would make.
Here is the list as it currently stands. Fast, aggressive, focused on damage-output, first-player bid and a minimum of four activations. Sadly, it lacks in deployments and I rarely get the value out of the second, flagship Gladiator as a combat vessel.
Here is a possible Wave 3 list. The key changes are the transferring of the flag to the Imperial following the removal of the second Gladiator, the addition of a flotilla of Gozantis with Repair Crews and some uncharacteristic (for me) bulking out of upgrades elsewhere in the fleet.
The Imperial gets a Support Officer to avoid unnecessary frustration from Slicer Tools and a Tractor Beam to assist with tracking down escaping ships which my second Gladiator might otherwise have pursued. Demolisher gains a Navigation Officer to counter slicing, and the Raider-I gains Sensor Team for sniping enemy flotillas. Despite my praise of the Raider-II earlier, I stuck with the Ordnance-version to keep the Assault Concussion Missiles for attacking capital ships. I also doubled my TIE Fighter escort, to give me an extra deployment.
This isn’t a huge change overall, and it feels weird to downgrade a Gladiator to a set of Gozantis, but that exchange has allowed me to properly tailor the other ships in my fleet to excel at their prescribed roles. I still only have four activations, but with a strong bid for initiative I reckon that shouldn’t be an issue. I feel less worried about making a bigger target out of my Star Destroyer by making it my flagship, because I have the repair capabilities of the Gozantis in support.
The key point is that I have all of the tools I need to tackle most obstacles that might be thrown against me, from bombers to Ackbar fleets to swarms of Raiders and Gladiators. I’m willing to bet that there will be plenty of surprises, but I’m confident I’ll be able to tackle them head-on in most cases.
So, those are my own thoughts on Wave 3, based on playing exactly zero games with any of its components. This is all just theory crafting at the moment, although there are already a few battle reports from Wave 3 Vassal games over at the Fantasy Flight Games community pages.
I think, for all the depth I’ve gone into with this wave, it still feels like it’s not a full release in its own right, and that the exciting stuff is all happening in Wave 4. Indeed, the Interdictor and the Liberty releases will, I think, make the flotillas more substantive, and give them more with which to work. Both of the Wave 4 ships are specialised weapons that will need support to minimise their weaknesses, and flotillas will be key to getting the most out of these highly tailored vessels.
Wave 3 will, put simply, multiply the options available to fleet commanders. It will likely not be optimal to build a fleet specifically around flotillas, but it would be foolish to ignore the support opportunities they afford.
The new wave is now just around the corner – they’re “On The Boat” as of late May, which means they could well be available around the end of June, or not much after. That means there’s not very long until all of my predictions and guesses are proven completely wrong. But Wave 4 will be hot on their heels, and it’s my guess that by the end of the year, all bets are off when it comes to the state of the game.