I’m not sure if there is anything more delicious than the emergent narrative that appears in a non narrative based game. The tales of success and failure. The type of game that if you gave a report on, would read like a story of intensity and cunning, where desperate tactics in desperate situations won the day. Or even better the ones that force ridiculous situations that have both sides grinning at each other. Sworn enemies sharing a joke across a snarling and biting sea. Armada from Mantic games provides a framework in which these things are a possibility, a foundation that endeavours to avoid sinking to the bottom of the cold, bland and predictable same tactics sea.
Armada from Mantic Games is a naval battle game where you will pilot miniature boats within a set area, trying to win the agreed scenario. You’ll be manoeuvring in order to get within firing distance of your opponents in the hope to either sink their vessels, achieve an objective or force your opponents to surrender. Normally you’ll be playing a set points value of ships at your command, but as with most games of this genre, this will be something that you’ll agree before you even take the boats out of port.
There is always something quite compelling about playing a game with direct physicality on the table, where you’re not required to do any imagination gymnastics to comprehend what is in front of you. In a typical round in Armada, you’ll decide the direction of the wind and based on that you’ll determine how the ships on both sides will activate. Imagine the wind a like a wall that sweeps in a straight line across the ocean and activates the first vessel that it touches and you’ll get the general idea. Activations aren’t based on skill or armour points, so it is perfectly possible for the play order to change from round to round, especially if the dice fancies gusting the place up. Individual vessels have their speed decided by the player and each craft will then move by the appropriate distance you’ve decided they need to travel in increments. At the end of every single movement section, the ship has the chance to fire at an opponents ship using one side of their armoury and then if programmed in, they can change direction, move and again and then fire from a different side. It’s almost like you are taking the time to reload the cannons once they are fired and it means that even if you end up in a good tactical position, you might need to hit and run to make sure you aren’t left vulnerable as there’s a good chance your enemy will be next in line to activate. Attacking is simply a case of rolling all the coloured dice that are equivalent the to cannons or weapons you are firing with you hitting on a normal roll of six. Depending on the range and even angle of attack you’ll need to adjust the damage you give you opponents, sometimes it’s possible to score a critical hit that will hurt even more. Get a ship fully in your starboard or port side and your can go to town with a full ‘rake’ action where damage can be devastating. All the while keeping in mind to not leave yourself open to the counter attack. Damage your opponent enough and they’ll lose their nerve with a chance to make them surrender, get close enough and you can attempt a boarding action to make them taste cold steel up close and personal. This is all a base, a mere foundation for how the overall story will play out.
Normally you’ll win based on wiping out the opponent, but there are scenarios based around fixed rounds and most points scored or visiting islands, or attacking sea monsters. It is a movable feast.
You’ll be up the old sea dog recounting your tales of victory in about two hours. There’s not a huge set up and take down involved and even a first time game won’t take much longer than that.
I could tell you about the times where I was slightly annoyed scouring through the rulebook to find a particular explanation as I was learning the game. I could tell you the number of times I cursed Mantic for not having the dice colours on each card to make it easier to remember. I could mention as someone new to wargaming who had only played games in a galaxy far far away, that having to glue ships together with no guide was disappointing and caused nerves in case I made a mistake. These are all true statements. On the flip side, I could also tell you about the time where I tried to attack my son, rolled a set of misses and then had to dash off, as they then chased after me guns blazing with revenge in their sails. Or the time where we both ended up almost falling off the edge of the world as we were trying to swing our ships into firing, laughing as the moves got more desperate as time went on. Armada allows these moments because there’s a real sense of purity to what you can and can’t do. Yeah, there are additional skills that certain fleets add and you can even upgrade your crafts over a longer campaign, but you never get the feeling that you are playing a meta card game which includes models. You always feel like it’s down to planning and skill and seamanship. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of correctly guessing where your opponent was heading, and raking them into oblivion. It’s also worth mentioning the price, as you can buy a starter set at the moment for around £65 and the essentials box for around £35. So it compares favourably to both the Star Wars games and even your standard GW offering in terms of price. It’s the kind of game that you’ll roll out over a period of months, slowly painting and building your fleet, becoming more comfortable with the rules, adding in the extra wind and repair rules. For someone looking for a new challenge in the miniatures space, it just might be the right port in the storm.
Try to divide and conquer and remember that activation order might change due to the wind. While raking fire is the goal, sometimes it’s worth just chipping away at your opponents defence to make surrender a possibility.
This review is based on the retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.
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