I think there is a slight problem with squadrons in Armada, and for me it’s mostly a problem of theme. Game mechanics have trumped fluff. Where are the heroes talking over comms to other pilots setting up attack runs? No one is saying “cut the chatter Red Two” because everyone is too busy waiting for orders from capital ships. Why do Imperials have to take mercenaries in their fleets if they want a squadron to move and attack? No TIEs have Rouge? Is that because Boba Fett is a better star pilot than Darth Vader?
Part of the reason many of us play Star Wars games, myself among them, is not because we’re hardcore gamers, but because we’re Star Wars fans first and foremost. For types like us, theme trumps everything. If Star Wars Armada was just another mini game, although it’s a very well designed game, I would never play it.
Like it or not, star fighters are a central part of Star Wars. You can consciously create a Star Wars space game that significantly reduces their roll, or eliminates them altogether, but then you are doing a disservice to the theme it’s based on. In Star Wars, the little ships overcome all odds and are just as important as the big ones. Only in Star Wars, size doesn’t matter! Snub fighters blow up Death Stars, take out shield generators, and kamikaze into Star Destroyers. They are command ships evaluating a battlefield and giving orders. Like it or not, star fighters are Star Wars personified.
Now it’s totally understandable why the developers of Armada went the route they did when it comes to squadrons. They wanted Armada’s focus to be squarely on capital ships and they didn’t want squadrons dominating. They succeeded on that front, but they did so at the cost of theme.
This article looks at that particular problem and not other issues that have come up in relation to squadrons in Armada. Like the price of squadrons and what they deliver on the table. For example, my friend Yik has argued that X-Wings cost a little too much for what they bring, just like in X-Wing the Miniatures Game .
Nor is this article about the speed of snub fighters in relation to each other. Case in point, the B-Wing is speed 2, which makes it a slug. In no other Star Wars game is the B-Wing depicted as a turtle of a ship. Not in PC, console, or old Role playing games is it so overwhelmingly slow.
Nor is this a look at the inherent drawbacks of squadron mechanics. That their two biggest drawbacks are 1) they take away actions from ships, and 2) their points cost replaces a ship in your list, thus costing you an activation.
This article is about how squadrons feel on the table and their representation of theme from the movies. As my friend Dave Clearihue said,
“In practice, Armada gives you the positioning and the big ships duking it out, but the squadrons just seem weird.
I’ve talked to others about this and I think objectively it’s a fine game, but what appears to be a shared feeling between us at least, is that squadrons didn’t quite show up ‘the way we hoped’ from a thematic point of view.”
So what is it about squadrons that just doesn’t sit well? In a nutshell they are too abstracted and counter intuitive in the name of game balance.
Our hero of Yavin, Luke Skywalker can move his distance 3, but will drool over himself and say “durrrr” unless he’s told by a capital ship to pull the trigger. Doesn’t feel very heroic, does he?
Where is Red Leader Garven Dries directing a battle telling other squadrons to prepare for attack runs?
Does the Rebellion’s top ace, Wedge, really need a Nebulon-B telling him to go shoot someone? In Jedi, didn’t he do just the opposite when he saw TIEs attacking a Nebulon-B Frigate by giving orders and changing his vector to help out?
Where is Lando in the falcon telling Ackbar what to do?
General Calrissian was hooked into all the battle data during Endor. Remember him looking at the Star Destroyers wondering why they’re not attacking? At Endor all the heroes, be it Ackbar on Home One or the guys in snub fighters are talking to each other and reacting accordingly like a team.
What we don’t see on screen is the Armada system of only Capital ships telling fighters what to do, and fighters being much less effective without Capital ships nearby. Star Wars is a story about heroes, no matter what size of ship they fly.
In my opinion, some elements of Armada are too “gamey” and I think this bled over into the squadron design. The designers should have taken their foot off the pedal and stopped with the “game mechanics porn.” For example, the Space Station makes no sense. In the middle of a battle either side can dock, get repaired and still fight like nothing happened? How am I supposed to play that out in my head?
There are always those guys out there in cyber space saying things like, “You should really think abstractly.” Well that’s the kind of thing I’d expect to hear from the Simpsons Comic Book Guy who might also say, “This is a game with X-Wings but not about X-Wings,” or bring up the “abstraction” of range rulers as proof nothing needs to make sense.
Well, this isn’t a Euro game either where we have little cubes representing thousands of ships. It’s a game based on the known universe of Star Wars. If I’m going to sit down and play a Star Wars game, I’d like it to feel like Star Wars in every sense and be intuitive in every mechanic.
I think even the coolest mechanics should be tossed out if they mess with theme and feel. Developers should try to represent what happened in the movies on the table as much as possible. It makes a game harder to design, but that’s what many fans look for and will be extremely grateful when it’s done right.
Now you can’t redesign an entire game once it’s released but I have one possible solution to this problem. Taking a queue from FFG’s other hit, the X-Wing Miniatures Game, why not give unique pilots upgrade cards? These cards can boost their own abilities or other non-unique squadrons around them, truly making a hero stand out on the battlefield. Customization can allow the player to build the star fighter pilot he wants, with the added benefit of injecting some Star Wars theme back into the game.
For example, how about a Squad Leader card that turns Dutch into Gold Leader or Wedge into Red Leader?
This card simulates what we see in the movies, namely a hero taking charge and telling other fighters where to go. Red Leader did this in Star Wars, Lando and Wedge did this in Jedi.
Personally, I’d have one card for each iconic ship, like the original TIE variants, the X-Wing, Y-Wing, B-Wing and perhaps the YT-1300 because of Lando.
Now you can have a small flanking force, commanded by a hero, without being tethered to capital ships. Squadrons still take away activations from your force by replacing capital ships, they still cost points, the game still ends if you loose all your capital ships, but now squadrons can free up ship commands if you decide to sink more points into a hero.
Squadrons are still capped at 1 / 3 your point total per game. They are still susceptible to an alpha strike from an enemy squadron command. There are so many checks in place from preventing squadrons from stealing the show, that giving a player some customization options will not break the game.
The other thematic problem in Armada is that certain larger than life heroes from the movies are outclassed by squadrons found in the Rogues and Villains expansion pack.
Are you telling me a generic Firespray can move and attack but Darth Vader can’t? Huh?
Now Luke can fly around using the force and really be “Rogue Leader.” Or Wedge can move and attack like the terrifying Ace he should be. Wedge doesn’t get much love now but with Rogue, he can do his thing in the squadron phase and almost always contribute to a battle. For 20+ points, half the cost of a CR-90, he better be worth taking every time!
Wouldn’t it be satisfying to fly Vader like the example below?
You can also do the same thing for Grit or Intel cards but I think Rogue and Squad Leader solve the problem nicely on their own.
Keep in mind, these aren’t free upgrades. You’re still paying points, you’ll be sinking over 20 points into ships with those examples above, but at least it gives the player options to kit out his force. A quibble can be it costs too little, or too much, but that can be playtested. The point I’m trying to get across is to allow players customization of squadrons to inject feel.
This would allow an Imperial player to field a fleet of TIEs with Rogue ships instead of being forced to take mercenaries for that roll. We don’t need their scum, do we? It would be nice to have that thematic option, wouldn’t it?
I love customizing ships in Armada and I think it would be fun with squadrons. I’m not sure if I have the right answer, but I’m hoping FFG tweaks snub fighters a little to make them more intuitive and thematic. Armada is a good game and it’s fun to play, but helping out squadrons this way would make it almost perfect in my books.
The following has been added on Nov. 19th, 2015.
I received a few requests for more mock up cards like the examples presented in the article above. So I made a bunch and posted them below.
I created two Y-Wing cards solely for thematic reasons. If you’re using a YT-1300 as a squad leader well it’s just got to be Gold Leader doesn’t it? That way if you’re using both a Y-Wing and a YT-1300, the Y-Wing will get demoted to Grey Leader. It also allows for a thematic re-creation of Endor.
If you are going to use these cards, please leave me some feedback as to how they worked out. I haven’t playtested any of them in a game yet, and feedback for balance reasons would be greatly appreciated.