Getting Started with Star Wars: Armada

Are you fond of Star Wars? Does the thought of commanding capital ships and their supporting squadrons appeal to you? Do you have an officer’s outlook and think that tromping around in the mud is beneath you? If you answered yes to two of those questions, then Star Wars: Armada might be your thing.

In a previous article, I explained what Star Wars: Armada is all about. In case you missed it, the short version is:

  • Tabletop wargame
  • Star Wars
  • Fleet engagements
  • Pre-painted capital ships ships, little squadrons and no scenery

This article is about starting Star Wars: Armada in the year 2022. Face-to-face gaming is a reality again, shipping is picking up, and the people demand bread and games once more. And you, you want to join the annals of famous fleet commanders in the Star Wars universe. Where to begin?

Game Formats – “You call this a diplomatic solution?”

Like most wargames, Armada is played in several official formats with different rules and game sizes. In ascending order of size, they are Task Force (200), Standard (400) and Sector Fleet (600+). There’s also the unofficial Golden Rule format, which is played at any points level, on any surface, with any rules as long as everyone agrees to it. It’s a game. Play it the way that makes you happy.

Things get a little complicated when you learn that the rules for Task Force are only officially available through the Rebellion in the Rim campaign expansion. Unlike Legion, whose Skirmish rules are freely available and are intended to be an entry point, Armada lacks an official entry point other than the 400 point standard format. The good news is, Armada players are quite accommodating toward new players and are often happy to play a smaller game or lend out their ships to bulk out your fleet. This article will focus on getting a basic fleet organised, and aim for the 400 point mark.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Game Factions – “Peace without justice is flawed, hollow at its core.”

Star Wars: Armada features four factions. Your faction determines the ship roster, commanders and faction-specific upgrades available to you. There are also plenty of generic upgrades and even some multi-faction upgrades to shake things up. As with other games, if you have a stark favourite faction, it’s a good idea to just go with them. Your collection will spend most of its life not being actively played and if it brings you joy to display, you’ve already made it. If you’re unsure, I’ll summarise them below. Keep your eyes out for more comprehensive Faction Focus articles on Armada as well.

Galactic Civil War Era

Star Wars: Armada launched with the iconic factions of the Galactic Civil War (GCW) from Episodes IV through VI: the Galactic Empire and Rebel Alliance. GCW factions have the largest ship and squadron rosters due to years of development, and feature a range of specialised ships that can fit any fleet archetype. The downside is that many of their ships and expansions have suffered power creep, and are not packaged with fully up-to-date upgrades. The GCW era is iconic, sprawling, and characterised by:

  • Large ship and squadron rosters.
  • Access to highly specialised ships.
  • Occasional victimisation due to power creep.

Galactic Empire

Fittingly, the Empire plays as a cold and implacable foe. Their ships are less manoeuvrable than many of their contemporaries, and are characterised by high hull values (HP), mediocre shields and a strong emphasis on frontal firepower. Their standard squadrons are cheap and numerous, but specialised and vulnerable. The Imperial roster is supported by a strong officer corps, lethal aces and a few standout specialist ships.

Play the Galactic Empire if you:

  • Like grey space triangles.
  • Find an implacable advance appealing.
  • Prefer good, honest firepower and durability.

Credit: Madeline Boni via Fantasy Flight Games

Rebel Alliance

The Rebel Alliance is a foil to the Empire. They are generally agile and well-shielded, but suffer from low ship HP. Their tendency is toward a mix of broadside and frontal power, with most ships favouring one or the other. Their squadrons are expensive, but multi-purpose and the Alliance is supported by outstanding characters and aces who excel at supporting each other.

Play the Rebel Alliance if you:

  • Like curvy space fish.
  • Enjoy a bit of finesse in your gameplay.
  • Love a character-driven fleet.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Clone Wars Era

Seen in Episodes II through III, the Clone Wars (CW) was defined by a large-scale conflict between the Galactic Republic and the droid armies of the Separatist Alliance. The CW factions are new releases, occurring after Armada’s transition into its 1.5th Edition. Their rosters use the most up-to-date rules and card formats, and bring a load of interesting new mechanics to the table. Due to their young age, the CW factions have very small rosters composed of extremely cost-effective multi-role ships, supported by a small range of strong squadrons. Don’t let the small ship rosters fool you – these few ships are largely responsible for the power creep the GCW ships have suffered. They are also differentiated by novel mechanics beyond strong-slow and fast-stabby as represented in the GCW. The era’s factions are defined by:

  • Small ship and squadron rosters.
  • Powerful, multi-role ships.
  • Complex faction-specific mechanics.

Galactic Republic

The Republic’s ships play as one would expect of the Empire’s predecessors: a strong emphasis on frontal firepower, and lots of big angry triangles. The similarities end there. The Republic’s squadrons are among the most powerful and elite in the game, supported by potent Jedi aces. Republic players must use the potent coordination and mutual support provided by their unique clone upgrades for maximum effect. Their ships are fast and manoeuvrable enough, but suffer from a lack of heavy punch. Their fleet also lacks Ion Cannon upgrades entirely, which costs them dearly in the consistency of their firepower.

Play the Galactic Republic if you:

  • Want to play the good guy Galactic Empire.
  • Enjoy a highly elite force.
  • Like a well-coordinated and consistent playstyle.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Separatist Alliance

The Separatists field an array of lethal warships supported by swarms of cheap fighters. Uniquely, many of their upgrades emphasise debilitation of the enemy through harassment and debuffs. Their ships are designed to hit hard from the front and sides alike, while having the necessary speed to get out of (or into) trouble swiftly. Separatist players must contend with fighters that are highly co-dependent on their ships, and the same small roster of the Republic.

Play the Separatist Alliance if you:

  • Consider casualties a stepping stone to victory.
  • Find droids, complex mechanics and balanced firepower fun.
  • Enjoy hitting hard and debilitating the opponent.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Vital Assets – “We have no time for sorrows, Commander.”

  • Ships
  • Tools
  • Squadrons

Armada is a game of capital ship warfare. Fleets require at least one non-Flotilla ship, usually more. Start there. Follow that with a complement of squadrons to round out your budding fleet. Lastly, you’ll need to procure some basic gameplay tools. The good news is that there are starter offerings for both eras, depending on how you (and even a friend) would like to begin. These are the Star Wars: Armada Core Set, or the Fleet Starters. All of these boxes hit each of the categories we need to play Armada: ships, squadrons, and tools.

Star Wars: Armada Core Set

This is the one that started it all. The first Armada release. A two-player boxed set for the Galactic Civil War containing 3 ships divided between the Empire and Rebels. Sprinkle in some squadrons, basic tools and a smattering of upgrade cards. I picked one up over 6 years ago and look where I am today. It’s not all roses, though. Being the earliest release means that of all the stuff subjected to power creep, this is the mostest subject to power creep. The anaemic number of ships included are incapable of supporting anything that could be mistaken for a fleet. The Empire gets one ship – not even a fleet by definition. It’s a strictly play-for-fun kind of box, and it’s a way to get people hooked on a new wargame.

Star Wars Armada Core Display
Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Start Armada with the Core Set if:

  • You want the OG Galactic Civil War starter.
  • Splitting a 2-player set with someone is an option.
  • You are willing to buy stuff to expand on it.

If you decide to go the Core Set route, you’ll want to get yourself out of the outdated cards and under-strength ship selection fairly quickly. The Imperial half is especially shoddy, having only a single ship (Victory-class Star Destroyer) in its most power-crept state. That poor thing. To address the outdated card problem, I strongly recommend the Upgrade Card Collection. It contains reprints of almost every upgrade in the game until the Clone Wars expansions were released. It’s cheap by wargaming standards, opens up a nearly unlimited array of options, and brings your collection up to the latest edition. It’ll also save you from the pain that we early adopters experienced of having to buy a copy of each expansion just for the cards inside. Horrible days, but they left me with a tremendous ship collection.

Credit: Summer

While you’re shopping, look at the Rogues and Villains squadron pack, which gives the Empires and Rebels 4 new squadrons, respectively. Slap on an Imperial or Rebel Squadrons Expansion Pack of your choice and you have a fleet cooking.

Expanding out of the Core Set looks something like this:

Taking the GCW route gives you loads and loads of options, and you won’t run out of things to play with for a long time. If you’re trying to get from the Core Set to a 400-point sized fleet, the quickest way is with a single large ship expansion and a faction-specific squadron pack. Reaching a tournament sized game in Armada can be done on the entry purchase, if you have some spare cash. It’s otherwise a short distance away, compared to many games that involve painstaking hours of saving, assembling and painting.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

The Droid attack on the Wookiees Fleet Starters

Released with the CW era ships, the two Fleet Starters are the newest way to start Armada. They’re also the only way to get into it for people interested in the Republic or Separatists. There two are pretty identical in contents: 1 medium ship, 2 small ships and 4 fighter squadrons, plus essential tools. If you noticed that the ships in a single Fleet Starter are essentially identical to the entire Core Set, then you get a cookie. Fleet Starters live up to the name as a faction-specific way to kick-start a new fleet, as well as being the only way to obtain the ships inside (they don’t have standalone expansions like GCW ships). They’re aimed at a single player and while you could break one down to share and play a mirror match, that’s not the intention.

Start Armada with a Fleet Starter if you:

  • Want to play a Clone Wars fleet
  • Favour a more complete starting experience for one
  • Want newer ships and cards in up-to-date formats

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

The Fleet Starter route is pretty tempting and has a lot of strong pros. The only real downside is that there are no equivalent Fleet Starters for the GCW factions. I suspect if GCW Fleet Starters were ever released, the Core Set would swiftly become obsolete. If you do the Fleet Starter thing, then an Upgrade Card Collection is still a prime recommendation to give your fleet as many upgrade options as possible. After that, it’s just a matter of building up your fleet. As outlined in the factions section above, CW era factions have much smaller ship ranges and the road to expansion is very straightforward. Be aware that Clone Wars era expansions don’t come with speed and command dials anymore – possibly due to complaints from veterans that we were amassing a pile of those things the same size as our collection. The Fleet Starter comes with enough to play, of course. The dials are sold separately in the Dial Pack. One should be enough for any fleet you’ll ever build.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Expanding out of a Fleet Starter looks like this:

  • Grab an Upgrade Card Collection to get most of the upgrades you’ll ever want.
  • Ask a veteran Armada player nicely if they have spare Command and Speed dials to trade. Otherwise, grab a Dial Pack. Can’t play without them.
  • Republic ship recommendations: Venator-class Star Destroyer. It’s big, it’s magnificent. Follow up with a Pelta-class frigate (make sure to get the Republic version, or you just joined the Rebel Alliance!).
  • Separatist ship recommendations: Invisible Hand expansion pack if you want something versatile and iconic. Recusant-class destroyer if you want a glass cannon large ship.
  • Squadrons: Whichever Squadron pack your faction needs. There are only 1 each.

New Armada players have it good in the Fleet Starters. Even though the path for building a CW fleet is short, it’s simple and covers the essentials. You kick off with a functional fleet and the addition of a single large ship will push you to the 400-point mark for tournament-sized games.

Closing Up – “I say we fight!”

Listen, I have a notable bias toward Star Wars: Armada. It’s my most-played tabletop game by far. When I started, it was everything other wargames were not – easy to try, cheaper to pick up (not as cheap as historicals though) and thematically designed. Times have gotten a bit harder and prices have risen, but I still think it’s a great way to get into Star Wars wargaming if you love capital ships and the feel of space-nautical combat. The starting paths I’ve described might be the most common, but they’re not the only ones. If you have an Armada veteran in the area, they’ll often have so many Command and Speed dials coming out of their ears they’ll hand them away for a pittance. Some of us also have spare range rulers, obstacles in piles. Ask to trade nicely. There are also lots of discounts, especially during the part of the year at big box retailers and game stores alike.

Take your time and give it thought. No matter how things go, I hope to see you on the bridge – and remember to ready that Salvo token.

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