Well, it has been a while since my last Armada article – sadly, this is mostly due to the fact that I’ve been unable to play any games of late, except for a woeful performance at the Cardiff Regional Tournament last month. Since then I have predominantly been dining on ashes and attempting to keep up to date with the frankly absurd number of announcements of new products for our favourite Star Wars capital ship tabletop strategy game.
We’ve had full previews for Wave 4, which is only a few days away from being released alongside Wave 3. We’ve had ‘The Corellian Conflict’ appear out of nowhere, like diarrhea but in a nice way, and then Wave 5 dropped on us, similarly surprisingly.
And what a wave it is. Two small but gorgeous capital ships, and two similarly appealing fighter packs. Let’s get straight to it.
Let’s look at the squadrons first. Eight new squadron types, fairly pleasantly mirrored for both sides. These new fighter packs, creatively titled “Rebel Fighter Squadrons II” and “Imperial Fighter Squadrons II”, give us everything that was missing from X-Wing, specifically the Lambda shuttles, TIE Defenders and Phantoms, Decimators, E-Wings, Headhunters and Ghost from ‘Rebels’. Plus that weird cross between a Y-Wing and a dinner plate that nobody cares about.
They bring with them “Snipe”, “Strategic”, “Cloak” and “Relay” as keywords, plus a shitload of “Rogue” thrown in there too. They seem set on getting the fighter game back to being about actual faction fighters rather than spammed Rogues and Villains, which I’m all for, but sadly the details are mostly obscured on all of the new fighter cards, including the new keywords, so I’ll keep the in-depth analysis of that for a later date.
Suffice to say, I personally am excited to finally be getting Decimators onto the board as the tanky heavy-hitters that they should be, as well as TIE Defenders rushin’ about bombin’ stuff. The Rebel side of things is less interesting to me, but only because I was never really interested in many of those ships when they were introduced to X-Wing. I’m sure there are plenty of others who would love to get them into their fleets, though.
Now, the Big Stuff.
Okay, Slightly Bigger Stuff. The Pelta and Arquitens both look great, but they are a bit titchy – the former slightly longer than a Gladiator and the latter barely much bigger than a Raider. I personally like both of them. The Pelta, or Phoenix Home or whatever, looks like the improbable lovechild of a Corellian Corvette and a Clone Wars Venator, whilst the Arquitens looks like… well, a different improbable lovechild of a Corvette and a Venator. Basically, lots of Venators and Corvettes fucking in this wave, but it all works out fine.
The Pelta has a nasty frontal armament for a small ship – two Red and two Black on the “Assault” version, the same as a Gladiator, or two Red and two Blue for the “Command” type. Weak side armaments relegate it to the role of support ship, although with an Engineering value of 4 and five Hull points, it’s got the ability to endure. It has shield values of 3/2/1, just like the Glad, and the same Defense tokens, too. It looks to be Speed 2, although that might be inaccurate.
Indeed, its role as a support ship is cemented by these new “Fleet Command” upgrades, which… seem like a strange addition to a small ship, when you’ve got the MC80 and arguably the Imperial– and Victory-class Star Destroyers which would be crying out for something similar. Apparently, they allow you to “to spend command tokens to power advantages across every ship or squadron in your fleet!” No idea what the hell that means right now, but the three cards in question seem to be called Entrapment Something, Shields Blahblahblah and All Fighters Finish This Sentence – and all seem to do something at the start of some phase or other, I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine.
You also get the Phoenix Home title, which gives you an extra Officer upgrade plus some other stuff, as well as Rapid Launch and Flechette Warheads which do unknown things – although the warheads appear to have anti-fighter utility. You also get a Fighter Coordination Team, from the Interdictor set. There’s Major Asshole plus another Officer card, and finally Commander Sato, who allows you to swap out dice for better-coloured dice when you’re attacking a ship that’s next to your fighters.
I actually quite like Sato’s ability, but he’s 32 points… I dunno, I think a fleet of MC30 Scouts with Assault Proton Torpedoes and Ordnance Experts could do some horrific long-range damage with fighter support. Hell, a load of Assault Frigates all with Ordnance Experts and XX-9 Turbolasers could be equally terrifying. Sato’s going to be interesting. He’s a very neat mirror to Darth Vader in many ways.
The Arquitens (I just love that name, it’s about as pretentious as Stephen Fry wearing a bowler hat eating quinoa in the back of a Prius) is a lovely little vessel both in terms of looks and utility. Small, sleek, and with a lovely long-range attack for such a small vessel, I can see this getting a lot of play alongside Victory fleets, which are likely to come into vogue going forward.
It’s kind of an anti-Raider – it’s got the same shield profile of 2 all-round (although weirdly the front dial is set to ‘3’ – I wonder…) but it’s got more hull, is focused on red dice and has two Redirects but no Brace. Weirdly, it also has a Contain – which, to me, is fascinating, for such a small ship. Plus, with an Engineering value of 3, it’s actually capable of getting rid of any critical effects that it does suffer.
The weapons are interesting – three Red dice on the sides, with a forward and rear armament of one Red, one Black. At long range, it’s got as much punch as a Victory or an Assault Frigate, and the Evade token makes it a candidate for Turbolaser Reroute Circuits, a much better choice than the Dual Turbolaser Turrets which – well, they just baffle me. Five points to change a Blue or Black die to a Red die – I genuinely can’t think of a ship that would want to take such an upgrade, especially given how many other good upgrades there are for that slot. I mean, I suppose you might prefer a Red to a Blue in a limited set of circumstances, such as targeting fighters, but it’s also an “exhaust” card, so you only get to do it once…
Other upgrades include Engineering Teams, which are probably the least-used Support Team upgrade out there. You get two officers, one of whom seems to be a Damage Control Dude. Then there’s Reinforced… Corridors, which seem to allow you to do something to up to three damage cards – I’m hazarding a guess at flipping critical damage face-down – at the cost of either exhausting or discarding the upgrade. And, lastly, Moff Jerjerrod, who is a hopeful participant in the incredibly competitive league of “Star Wars Characters With The Silliest Names” – the first place of which is currently held by Darth Plagueis, followed closely by Supreme Leader Snoke and General “Seriously?” Grievous.
Moff Jerjerrod is the bit-part character most famous for being somehow less courageous than a Jawa and whose career advancement was presumably based on sycophancy and a willingness to swallow. In ‘Armada’, he’s responsible for giving the Victory-class some teeth. His ability to allow ships to suffer a damage to gain two clicks at the start of the manoeuvre tool is pretty swishy – particularly for the Victory, which has Hull to burn and the agility of Stephen Hawking helplessly spinning his wheels in a sand pit.
Indeed, the Arquitens‘ ability to throw out a solid long-range offence, coupled with its moderate resilience, make it a strong companion for the Victory. It’s difficult to devise lists without seeing points values, but a Victory, an Interdictor and a couple of escorting Arquitens could be a very tough little fleet indeed, especially if there’s room for a flotilla or two. Time will tell.
So where does all this leave us?
Well, the effort to keep both the old fighters and Victorys relevant continues. The Pelta seems very well set-up to boost fighters further with its Squadron value of 3, and the new Imperial fighter pack is just brill. The Arquitens is a much better escort for big heavy ships than either the Raider or the Gladiator. And the effects of the new Commander cards definitely achieve what they set out to do. Indeed, Commander Sato is, I believe, the first Commander we’ve seen to directly promote the fighter squadron game.
Buuuut… I have a very small, very insignificant pen- ah, reservation, and it ties into a lot of the changes we’ve seen in X-Wing lately, as well.
The last time I was really excited about X-Wing was about five waves ago. When they brought in the Decimator and the YT-2400, they just seemed to sit nicely with the rest of the range. They didn’t do anything that wasn’t already part of the game – sure, they had new upgrades, Doughnut Dash was a thing but broadly speaking, for me at least, Wave 5 of X-Wing was the last wave of releases that still felt like X-Wing.
Now, I look at Wave 9 and Wave 10, with their “mobile fire arcs” and “Condition cards” and… it’s all a bit too much. You’ve got SLAMs, you’ve got Tractor Beams, you’ve got S-Loops and Talon Rolls, a third faction made up mostly of horrifically fucking ugly ships, TIE Punishers which must be the least creative spaceship design since the Borg Sphere, the K-Wing which is just, simply awful, and then the Quadjumper, which I think I saw the back of for about sixteen nanoseconds in ‘The Force Awakens’ but which now has a full combat profile and shitloads of tractor beams, apparently. It’s all way too much for me to keep up with, and it’s all so forced.
Don’t get me wrong, a company like FFG need to work hard to keep a game expanding and exciting for an existing player base, and I’m sure that for the players who still keep up to date with X-Wing the new stuff is all fantastic, but for me, as someone who is now an outsider, it no longer feels like X-Wing – it feels like a different game. That being said, I am excited about the new Millenium Falcon, black T-70 and Kylo Ren’s shuttle, but that’s because I love the look of those ships. It’s not because I feel enthusiastic about what amazing new things they’ll allow me to do on the tabletop.
And that’s my fear with Armada. The most iconic Star Wars capital ships are all now done. These new ones from Rebels are nice, and definitely don’t fall into the same category as the K-Wing or the hideous Mist Hunter(*), but they are a bit… esoteric. A bit fringey. And that’s okay, but the fact that the Pelta comes with yet another new upgrade type, and yet again this is the only ship that has that upgrade, suggests to me that the designers feel like they’ve already exhausted their options with the existing rules. And that makes me sad.
Look at the new fighters as a prime example. Four new Keywords. Four. That’s as many as fighter squadrons had when the game started, which means that, in addition to “Grit” and “Rogue”, we’ve gone from four Keywords to ten in just three waves. Do we really need ten Keywords? That’s a lot to remember, a lot to take into account. Hopefully these new ones will really add to the game and fill in some gaps, but my concern is that it’s just more… padding. More carbs, less protein.
The same goes with the ship upgrades. Flotillas gave us Fleet Support, the Interdictor gave us Experimental Retrofits, and they both kind-of made sense. But now the Pelta gives us Fleet Command, and all I can think is that the Offensive Retrofit slot was already a bit sparse – maybe they could’ve just given us a few more of them? I’m sure there are valid game design reasons for why they couldn’t, and I’m sure with the full previews we’ll understand why. But it still worries me slightly.
With that lengthy rant out of the way, I’ll say that I’m still dead excited about this new wave, and about Wave 3/4, out in a few days. And with ‘Corellian Conflict’, I think Armada is about to fulfill its destiny as the modern-day remake of Battlefleet Gothic that it always should have been.
For now, I’ll simply thank Fantasy Flight Games for continuing to produce such awesome products, and look forward to Nationals in five days’ time. Speaking of which, I should really write my list…
(*) – Okay, the Mist Hunter. What an ugly fucking sack of crap that is. It looks like a shampoo bottle being fucked by a shopping cart.It looks like an Ibuprofen waving its arms. It looks like a sex toy designed by a Catholic bishop. It’s stupid and I hate it and I have no idea why they added it to the game when they had so many other legitimate options, such as the Starchaser or Luke’s Landspeeder or a used condom. Baffling.