A friend of mine showed me how to play Star Wars Armada the other day. I haven't really played any "naval" games before, but was eager to try this one because A) I love Star Wars, B) I've heard good stuff about the game and C) it's a nice change from the games I usually play.
The scenario was a straight forward bash between the "fleets" that come in the core box. I commanded the Imperial forces with a Victory class Star Destroyer and 6 squadrons of Tie Fighters. The Rebel Scum had two smaller main ships - a Corelian corvette and a Nebulon frigate - and 4 squadrons of X-wings. The objective was to cause as much destruction as possible in six turns.
Both sides started by advancing at "medium speed" towards the enemy. My Star Destroyer banked left whle the Tie Fighters moved right to cover that flank. My plan was to destroy the Corelian corvette first with some short range fire from the Star Destroyer while the Tie Fighters would hold the rest of the Rebels at bay.
The game was a learning experience for both of us and we (I) quickly learned that things don't work quite as expected. With the Star Destroyer you really have to plan ahead, as you have to set its commands 3 turns in advance (you still have a bunch off leeway though). The sequence of fire first, move second and the speed of the ships also threw us off, and my approach against the corvette didn't go as planned. Instead, we passed each other with too great speed, trading shots with our turbolasers that caused only minimal damage. Meanwhile, the fighter squadrons approached each other and got tied down in a massive skirmish. The Nebulon frigate started a wide flanking manoeuvre against the rear of my Star Destroyer.
The Star Destroyer weakened the shields of both the Corelian corvette and Nebulon frigate, but soon found both Rebel ships on its rear! The Star Destroyer had trouble turning around, as it was moving too fast (I had given it speed 2 at the start), was cumbersome to swivel and I had completely miss-planned the manoeuvres. My Tie Fighters managed to wipe out the X-wings, but this was little use. The Rebel main ships (particularly the frigate) kept hammering the rear of the Star Destroyer. With the rear shields gone, the vulnerable engines and reactor and of the Star Destroyer started taking hits, some of which were critical.
With its hull breached and its reactors overheating, the Star Destroyer's command personnel panicked. The behemoth lumbered forward, trailing debris and air. Klaxons were blaring and some of the personnel abandoned ship. Sensing victory, the Nebulon frigate's captain re-routed power from the frigate's engines for a concentrated volley at the Star Destroyer. There was little the Imperial crew could do and the Star Destroyer exploded in a brilliant ball of white light. The Imperium had lost. On some distant moon Ewoks were dancing and (Rebel) order was restored to this small segment of the galaxy.
The game was interesting and fun to play. I quite liked the turn mechanics and the orders given to the ships. Also the combination of main ships with fighter squadrons was nice. Another major source of joy was making little laser sounds every time I got to fire the Star Destroyer and playing relevant YouTube scenes from my phone mid-game. Good times.
That said, the rules were confusingly written and we had to spend a serious amount of time re-reading and cross-refencing them. The main problem is that the rules are split between two books and between various sections of the rules. This might be a good solution for tournament play or for someone who already knows the rules, but for a beginner this was very off-setting. Even for tournament play I think this could be done better.
The game also has a lot of counters, special rules for various ships and add-on cards (which you can purchase to make your ships better) plus very heavy "codex creep" for new ships that Fantasy Flight Games is releasing at a steady pace. This might be a good thing to add flavour to the otherwise "impersonal" ships and a chance to try different "builds" to your fleet to keep things interesting. However, this carries a risk of the game becoming one of micro-management and list optimization, which I don't like.
Anyway, the demo was fun and the game seemed to promise further interesting (and grandiose!) space fleet actions. Like a kid that has just received his allowance, I raced to the nearest games store and bought myself the starter set plus several additions. I am now the proud owner of a fledgling Imperial armada (plus a minuscule Rebel force to use as target practice). Stay tuned for more star fleet action!