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Back to basics with X-Wing and Armada

MT Updated January 31, 2019
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Back to basics with X-Wing and Armada
There Will Be Games

My wardrobe is full of spaceships. So many spaceships that there's barely room for clothes. Most of them live in an enormous box which crushes my shirts out of all recognition when it's squeezed in and out for play. It's a good job I play with spaceships a lot more than I wear shirts.

Having a cupboard crammed with spaceships is awesome, but it's also a little tiring. Each comes with cardboard and plastic that must be meticulously selected and laid out before playing. That was, up until recently, where most of the game was in x-wing, and that's sad. What was sadder is how often I'd ruin the suspension of disbelief just to make a better list.

Take Poe Dameron. Poe's an incredible fighter pilot, and it shows in his skills and abilities. He's also an incredibly expensive fighter pilot that you'll want to preserve to cause maximum carnage and deny the enemy victory points. So, given that his ability lets him benefit from focus tokens without spending them, it makes sense to give his ship an astromech droid which can spend the token to regenerate shields. Right?

Of course it does. Poe with R5-P9 is a great combo that I've seen used to great effect in many games. It's also completely and utterly wrong.

You've seen The Force Awakens. You know that Poe would never take to space without his beloved BB-8 and focus tokens be dammed. So, with the Force Awakens base set for X-Wing and one each of the existing expansion models, that's exactly what I did. I flew Poe as he'd want to be flown. With BB-8 on board, a rookie wingman, and nothing else.

They ran into an ambush on the wingman's training flight. Three members of the First Order's Omega Squadron and their fearsome ace. Similarly unequipped with any modifications. The TIE f/o's caught them in an ambush and smashed down the rookie's shields with a volley of plasma fire, before smartly executing a k-turn and coming back in for the kill.

Poe screwed up. He panicked, and no matter how much he weaved and used BB-8 to barrel roll, he could barely make it into the fight beyond a couple of stray bolts. The rookie, meanwhile, took a deep breath, concentrated on the force and flew straight and true into the heart of the enemy swam.

When the dust cleared, only Omega leader was left flying and the rookie, his hull hanging together with prayers and sticky tape, joined up with Poe and caught the wicked ace in a murderous crossfire. Game over.

It was simple. It was fast. And it was brilliant.

Armada had the same feeling of freshness when it was first released. That's part of what I liked about it: a rich, epic game that played in a couple of hours and didn't need lots of pre-prep work. What mattered were the decisions you made on the table, more than the ones you made beforehand. Wave 1 didn't overburden that dynamic too much, and the game did need a few more ships.

So now we've got wave 2 and so far I've picked up the rebel releases. How could I not, with Admiral Ackbar coming in the Home One expansion and giving me the chance to shout "it's a trap" when my fleet came into contact with the enemy? Plus, Home one and the MC30 rebel frigate are sweeting looking models. The Frigate also promises to bring some much-needed black dice firepower to the Rebel side. I still haven't tamed my inner wargamer enough to resist pre-painted plastics.

Throw in the Rogues and Villains expansion and you've got a plethora of ships to play with. And that, for the moment, is all I care about. So I've started doing the same there - forgoing lots of detailed upgrades in favour of a fleet commander, a couple of capital ships and a few characters and fighter wings. 

It's hard to leave out Han and the Falcon when you've got them in your collection. You can even take the little plastic ship off its stand and perch above the bridge of a Star Destroyer if you're a real geek.

The first time I ran a list like this was against someone who'd tooled up with upgrades just like usual. Because there's still not a fleet builder for Armada that actually prints the card effects on the output sheet, it took a while to get set up. I'd seized on the concept of using Garm Bel Iblis and just taking as many ships as I could, to maximise my free tokens. It seemed like a good plan. It wasn't.

In truth, it was a massacre. I didn't play well, treating it more like X-Wing and going in all guns blazing than the more thoughtful approach required for Armada, but even so, I don't think I took out a single Imperial big ship. Upgrades, it seems, are more important in Armada than they are in X-Wing. Which makes the lack of a fully-featured fleet builder all the more annoying.

Such an awful loss was partly down to an unfortunate feature of Armada that I don't think I've spotted before. With the range ruler literally allowing handfuls more dice to be thrown between range steps, tiny distances can make a big difference in the outcome. His Gladiator-class Star Destroyer was in black dice range on a critical turn, and my MC30 wasn't. If the opposite had been true, it might have been a very different outcome. 

Frankly, I stopped playing miniature games to get away from exactly this sort of thing. But I like Armada too much to hold that against it. So next time, I think I might make both lists. Hang the upgrades and just take Akbar and Home One squaring off against some big Star Destroyers and squadrons, just like the denouement of Return of the Jedi. I'll get to shout "it's a trap!", and I'd urge you all to do the same.

Matt Thrower
Head Writer

Matt has been writing about tabletop games professional since 2012, blogging since 2006 and playing them since he could talk.


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boothwah's Avatar
boothwah replied the topic: #224264 13 Mar 2016 19:22

Also, link is 404'd.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #224265 13 Mar 2016 20:17
Matt's Monday morning articles always have ghosts on Sunday night. It will be available at midnight.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #224284 14 Mar 2016 09:27
A good read Matt. We play X-Wing casually and I've never played a store or with people I don't know. We play competitive casually, meaning we don't take it too seriously but we do build lists. My buddy likes to spend tons of points outfitting larger ships with lots of secondaries and I tend to fly highly maneuverable stuff, even if it's not completely effective (such as A-Wings before Chardaan refit).

There's something to be said about playing the way you want to play rather than the way the optimized win-at-all-costs personality of the game wants you to.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #224294 14 Mar 2016 12:14
Part of the reason- and in fact probably the main reason- I love these games is because Star Wars. There is ONE YT-1300 in Star Wars. So I do not give a ruddy shit if the Internet fleet lists or the local "meta" say to run two of them. If you see that ship in my game, you better bet that it is the one and only Millennium Falcon and it is being piloted by Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and/or Nien Nunb.

I don't even follow all of the "meta" discussion...I just completely and flatly do not care. Is it "bad" to run a full squadron of prototype A-wings? I don't care. Does the TIE Advanced "suck"? I don't care. Should I run a particular type of ordnance with a certain astromech? Don't care. All of that stuff makes my eyes cross.

I play casually with a couple of friends who just use my stuff and will probably never buy their own, and fortunately they do not care about optimal builds either. They are more interested in putting Admiral Ackbar on Home One like Matt here. They always want Luke, Boba Fett, Vader and so forth on the table. I had to convince them that some of the other pilots like the Rogue Squadron guys were the real deal and not FFG made up stuff. When I do a random fleet build, I usually get it to optimize for ships. This reduces the upgrade cards. I like the upgrade cards and I think that's where a lot of the depth is, but I also prefer to limit them. I do not like running ships laden with cards at all.

But hey, like Charlie said, there's a lot to be said for playing how you want and I think these games support all of these approaches.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #224296 14 Mar 2016 13:11
I don't have anything against list-building. I'm a competitive gamer. I played tournament Magic. I love wargames. I spent thousands on Games Workshop's various games and those all require lists and point values and upgrades and whatever. I got into X-Wing primarily to scratch that miniatures itch with a far smaller price point attached. I'm competitive enough that I'm currently trying to get a regular Heroes of the Storm team together.

However, I noticed that when I really got into the X-Wing scene last year, my fire for the game got snuffed out, to the point where I can't remember the last time I actually played. I've never been a huge Star Wars guy, even when I was fanatical about the movies as a kid in the 70s. I think my SF fandom got permanently diverted by things like Blade Runner and Neuromancer. Even so, I sympathize with the idea that there "should" be only one Millennium Falcon on the board, while I question why a nominal freighter (isn't that ship just way too tiny to be a "freighter" that would be able to transport any cargo of significant value?) is one of the most powerful fighters in the galaxy...

Maybe what I don't want to do anymore is the GW thing: I don't want to keep spending money in order to keep up with the meta. But, by the same token, it'd be really cool to play some of the Scum & Villainy faction. So, perhaps my response to not wanting to be that competitive gamer on the constant money train was just to stop playing? Dunno.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #224300 14 Mar 2016 14:00
I'll give an Amen to this as well. I think that X-Wing has a lot of emotional entry barrier for players that don't have a regular gang of guys, because you need to do homework in order to not look like a chump when you show up at the game store on X-Wing night. That's to their disservice. But, they get a few extra hundred dollars out of their loyal followers by releasing a card or two in kits that otherwise have pretty routine parts. That's the game FFG is playing.

One of the catch-phrases that caught on in my game group is "I'm Luke Fucking Skywalker" because we played the original intro pack one night and Luke got first initiative every turn no matter what. We'd all reveal and start to do our thing and Jeff would say "no, you all follow after me because I'm Luke Fucking Skywalker". If it had been anything other than the lead character from the films it wouldn't have mattered, and we wouldn't have found that common ground. To me that adds to the game.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #224325 14 Mar 2016 16:21
Fun to read, Matt, and as always, captivating.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #224675 22 Mar 2016 10:18
I did not appreciate how good Matt's post was until I unboxed my Armada stuff yesterday and today (not done!). There are like 1000 upgrade cards that produce a billion combinations and part of me is like "fuck that shit, that is way too much."

I actually quite like that you can play the game either way, and I think it is a great move on their part to put in the hardcore upgrades system for tourney players to keep the game alive. But I don't know that I'll ever really play that way, hardcore min maxing. It seems like a lot of work.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #224677 22 Mar 2016 10:24

Gary Sax wrote: I did not appreciate how good Matt's post was until I unboxed my Armada stuff yesterday and today (not done!). There are like 1000 upgrade cards that produce a billion combinations and part of me is like "fuck that shit, that is way too much."

I actually quite like that you can play the game either way, and I think it is a great move on their part to put in the hardcore upgrades system for tourney players to keep the game alive. But I don't know that I'll ever really play that way, hardcore min maxing. It seems like a lot of work.

You can also choose to think of all those upgrades in a slightly different way. Think of them as expansion content to add variety. Instead of worrying about upgrades for min/maxing, include them to add variety and change up the flavor. Try a card you never have before or a combo that will make you fly differently.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #224678 22 Mar 2016 10:28

Gary Sax wrote: . . . and I think it is a great move on their part to put in the hardcore upgrades system for tourney players to keep the game alive.

That raises a question. Is the tournament scene necessary to keep a game like this alive? These are some really spankin' models, I'd be curious to know how much of sales (Armada in particular) are due to people buying components solely to be competitive in tournament play.

You guys all seem to be more in the "just too damn pretty to pass up" mold. Is anyone here in this for organized play?
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #224679 22 Mar 2016 10:30
^that is a good question, on its face X-wing seems like the big tourney hit because of its length.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #224682 22 Mar 2016 10:39
By the way, Barnes gives me crap for flying airplanes instead, but I'm genuinely interested in the Armada stuff in particular. My buddy Sippi Stephen was supposed to be my X-Wing guy but he sold his stuff, and no one in my group has jumped into Armada yet. I'm hard-pressed to go after it since I have so much space tied up in planes already, and I may be picking up 24 more from a fellow FAt-ite at a price that will require me to pass on some love in order to ease my guilt.

I was three miles away from a game shop that held an Armada tournament this past Sunday, but my boys' robot made it all the way to the finals and came within a hair's width of winning all the marbles, so telling him halfway through that I was leaving to go see the Star Wars Armada tournament at the game store struck me as unfatherly. To date I haven't seen one of these critters out of the box.

Columbob's Avatar
Columbob replied the topic: #224683 22 Mar 2016 10:42
The sacrifices a father must make.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #240341 11 Dec 2016 16:34
Thread resurrection. I took the great advice over in the SW: Destiny section and got the nephew x wing on a lark. I thought I'd buy him a ship for each side in addition to the base ships. He likes new star wars better than old star wars. Recommendations for ships that would be fun to add to the base pack if you weren't going to use titles, cards, etc and just go base game brawl? Preferably that have new movie material, though this isn't necessary. I asked him what his favorite ship was and he said the x-wing so I'm covered there. I could just get him another x-wing and a tie fighter, I guess, but...
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #240343 11 Dec 2016 16:42
A second core is really the best bet- 2 X-Wings and 4 TIEs is a decent skirmish.
Hex Sinister's Avatar
Hex Sinister replied the topic: #240345 11 Dec 2016 16:45
Maybe Heroes of the Resistance which comes with a Falcon and Poe Dameron's X-Wing in orange/black?

Special Forces TIE

Inquisitor's TIE

ARC=170 (prequel ship)

Upsilon Shuttle and U-Wing aren't out yet. That's about it for the "new" SW I think. Whether or not these are good w/o title/upgrade I can't say... Ghost is probably not a good choice.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #240346 11 Dec 2016 17:01
Thanks, maybe I'll splurge. He's a cool little dude.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #240347 11 Dec 2016 17:02
Oh SHIT that Heroes of the resistance pack is definitely his next if he likes the game.
Hex Sinister's Avatar
Hex Sinister replied the topic: #240351 11 Dec 2016 18:19
Thing is, even if he doesn't like the 'game' he still has toys to play with. I mean, I would've lol.