Star Wars: Armada may well be the best Star Wars board game ever made, not that there is all the much competition at the moment. The game truly is a joy to own and play. It combines the tactical decision making familiar to anyone who has played a game of chess with the beauty of models that constitute works of art themselves, to create a uniquely immersive experience. Though somewhat daunting at first in terms of price and complexity the game swiftly justifies both. Rarely have I encountered a game that so immediately captures my interest and excitement.
So lets get the most awkward part of this out of the way first; price. Armada is an expensive game. At $100 a pop just to buy the base set, it is costly. Additionally expansions in the form of more fighters and ships can cost anywhere from $20 to $60. I must say that this is a small price to pay for the amount of entertainment that you will get out of this game. Once the somewhat complex rule book has been deciphered a wonderfuly deep and immersive experience awaits you.
Though the rule book can appear intimidating at first once understood the rules flow naturally and no longer feel dense or contrived. Initially they can be difficult to wrap your head around but in action they actually flow quite nicely and feel intuitive. After one or two practice games the game really comes into its own. In every game I’ve undertaken thus far I have played as the rebels and I really feel myself diving into the role of an Admiral in the rebel fleet. Finding solutions to the problem of relatively weak Rebel ships provides a satisfaction hard to match. Which taps into another aspect of the game which lends to its value; replayability. The Imperial and Rebel fleets have very different capabilities. With my current build I have available to me lots of small, fast ships compared to the Empire’s lumbering and powerful Victory Class Star Destroyers. It is up to the rebel player to strike hard and fast and achieve economy of force while engaging the Imperial player in detail. In contrast the Imperial play finds himself (or herself in my games with my wife) trying to force a single, massive engagements in which they can bring the full might of their firepower to bear. If this weren’t enough, once a few of the expansions have been purchased fleet builds can become quite diverse. Players have the choice between a large, fast striking fleet composed of many fighters and light ships, or a small juggernaut of a fleet with massive firepower and impenetrable shields. The inclusion of modifying cards in the game allow players to customize their fleets even further by adding abilities to their ships or simply increasing their ability to take hits.
Like all games there are some downsides to the game though. The rule book can be somewhat vague at times, especially when it comes to squadron rules and the scenario rules don’t always seem to make sense so we generally don’t use them. It’s also a tough game to simply pick up and play. The rules do require a careful reading and the first play through can feel tedious. This however, is to be expected with a game with so much depth. Unlike some games that simply have a theme bolted on (I’m looking at you Dominion) the theme of Star Wars fleet command is hard coded into Armada and thus justified in their complexity. The creators certainly achieved their goal in creating a game that offers a deep and intellectualy stimulating experience.
I simply cannot praise the tactical aspect of this game enough. Every decision feels real, from maneuvering fighter squadrons to unleashing massive broadsides against your opponent. I’ll admit to putting on the music to the Battle of Endor and yelling “Its a trap” when I see the plot my opponent has laid for me. The game is legitimately exciting and feels fast paced despite its typical play time of 90 minutes. It also breaks down nicely into a beginning, middle, and end giving each play through a narrative arc further improving the immersive experience. I highly recommend this game to anyone who has ever watched Star Wars and wanted to feel the excitement of the battle between the Empire and Rebellion for themselves.