Star Wars: Armada Faction Focus – Galactic Empire

Hey, it’s Summer and I get to talk about my favourite faction today. Great stuff.

Schwerpunkt – “Threats of insurrection must be met with strong, centralized power.”

The Galactic Empire is a dictatorial state that rose to power in the wake of the Clone Wars, driven by Sith plotting and populism. Their first portrayal in Star Wars forever set an image of greebled grey warships into the popular consciousness. Decades on, they made it to Star Wars: Armada as one of the first factions, bringing a legacy of pointy ship designs, un-subtlety, and ruthlessness to the tabletop.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

In Armada – “You must never lose focus on the larger landscape.”

The Galactic Empire is the game’s brute faction. Their ships have worse manoeuvring than others and are sometimes sluggish. Their firepower is predominantly directed from the frontal arc – an occasional liability since frontal firepower requires some agility to wield. Their slowness pays for stubbornness: the Empire has strong hull HP values across their fleet, paired up with mediocre shields. This fleet favours directed force and centralised power above finesse and agility. Imperial battlefleets are normally complemented by an array of cheap squadrons flying in swarms, strong aces and a high quality officer corps. If this sounds rather like how they are portrayed in fiction, then you’re right on the money.

The characteristics of the Galactic Empire in Armada are:

  • Sub-par manoeuvrability and/or speed
  • High hull HP, mediocre shielding
  • Strong forward-facing firepower
  • Large, well-rounded ship roster with the only huge ship in Armada
  • Exceptionally strong selection of Officer upgrade cards
  • Cheap and specialised generic squadrons supported by elite aces

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Commanding the Imperials – “You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.”

Imperial players benefit from a wide selection of ships spanning all sizes. Their combat ships cover every fleet archetype in any every size bracket, and they claim some specialised vessels not seen anywhere else. Iconic entries like the Imperial-class Star Destroyer and Executor­-class Star Dreadnought all appear, but players shouldn’t discount more obscure entries like the Gladiator­ and Quasar Fire. Imperial specialist ships bear special mention. Unlike other factions who have zero or very few special-purpose vessels, the Imperials almost have a mini-roster of gimmick ships. These include the game’s only dedicated carrier, the first and most powerful artillery ship, and a battlefield manipulation vessel. These give the discerning Imperial commander unparalleled ability to build around a specific playstyle, and it’s not surprising that the Light Carrier and Onager are both tournament staples. All of their ships are heavy on hull HP and benefit from beefy Engineering values and strong firepower to outlast the enemy.

Imperial commanders are a versatile lot, with abilities including fleet command generation, squadron expertise, dice control and damage output. Players are spoiled with a spread of commanders who can slot into a variety of fleets, without few hard limitations to ship sizes. Their commanders are far from one-size-fits-all, and even their ‘generalist’ commanders like Admiral Ozzel carry subtleties that must be built around. That won’t be a problem, since the Empire benefits from an outstanding selection of officers and ships with ample Weapon Team and Offensive Retrofit slots. All the ingredients you need to… intensify forward firepower.

Generic Imperial squadrons like TIE Fighters and TIE Bombers are cheap and specialised. They typically have above-average speed and below-average durability, matching their film depictions in legendary flimsiness and great numbers. They are potent when supported by a strong carrier, or a great way to squeeze a budget fighter screen into a fleet. The faction’s aces benefit from a long release history: there are elite Imperial squadrons for every purpose under the sun, but some of the best picks are designed to mess with an opponent (Moralo Eval, Ciena Ree, Valen Rudor) or kill them outright (Maarek Stele, Darth Vader [TIE Defender]).

Credit: Madeline Boni via Fantasy Flight Games

I have a tendency to recommend the Empire to new players, or set up learning games where the new player uses them. Compared to Rebels, they’re slow and it’s easier to stay out of trouble. Using the high hull values requires less experience than maximising the value of shields. They’re not laden down with unique mechanics or paragraph-long rules like the Clone Wars factions. Their depth comes from learning to use highly specialised ships, picking strong objectives and playing it all efficiently. However, even playing a simpler Empire fleet using a basic Demolisher or a Kuat Refit can be rewarding when the dice start flying. The Empire is a definitive easy to understand, difficult to master faction and they’re unsurprisingly popular with players of all types. I know of several casual players whose foray into Armada was playing a Demolisher and to this day, they insist on bringing it every single match.

Key requirements for playing the Galactic Empire to its full potential are:

  • Using Navigate commands effectively to mitigate poor manoeuvrability
  • Outfitting powerful specialist ships for unique capabilities
  • Managing damage to maximise hull HP efficiency
  • Keeping your strong front arcs on target with navigation and activation management
  • Understanding what your Officer slot is, and who to assign to it
  • Not using the Interdictor Combat Refit (wake me if they ever buff this thing)

Strong picks

Ships

Arquitens-class Light Cruiser
The Arquitens is notable solely for being one of the few Imperial ships that has strong broadsides. It is usually played as a skirmisher or second-line support ship, as part of a larger fleet plan, or spammed in a conga line. The simplest build mounts Captain Needa and Turbolaser Reroute Circuits to create a knockoff CR90. For best value, have Darth Vader (Officer) choke Needa out for bonus dice control.

Gladiator I-class Star Destroyer
This ship is mostly a Demolisher delivery system. A Gladiator I paired with its vaunted title is one of the most dangerous attack ships in Armada, because the title lets it break one of the game’s core rules. Demolisher is able to make an attack after it has moved, opening up tactical opportunities that no ship in the game can replicate. At release, it defined tournament play and despite over half a decade of nerfs and power creep, it still makes it onto the table. Get a Gladiator I. Cherish it.

Credit: Darren Tan via Fantasy Flight Games

Quasar Fire I-class Cruiser-Carrier
Although poorly named, the light carrier is a unique ship in Armada. It is the game’s only purpose-designed carrier and its release cemented the Empire’s reputation as a leader in naval aviation. Despite having no notable durability or anti-ship firepower, it is the core of most Imperial squadron fleets and there are a lot of those. The strength of this ship lies in the fighter group it commands, and those Imperial fighter groups are capable of anything from bombing runs to objective manipulation. Fit Boosted Comms and Expanded Hangar Bay, then season with an officer and title of choice.

Onager-class Testbed
Although the name implies that this is a prototype, every Imperial fleet in Armada seems to have Onagers pouring out of their arses. The Onager is yet another specialised Imperial ship with no equivalent anywhere else. Like Demolisher, it breaks the game’s established rules by being an artillery ship that can attack beyond long range. Its release necessitated the addition of a new range bracket. The Onager is an artillery ship, pure and simple. It lays down abominable firepower at extreme ranges and at time of publication, defines competitive gameplay more than any other ship. If that’s not enough, the correct combination of titles and upgrade cards makes it the only ship that can consistently attack on round 1, or lets you aim your oversized spinal weapon without moving. It breaks at least two of Armada’s expected conventions, and that’s why it has singlehandedly chased many fleet builds out of competitive use. Looks great while doing it, too.

Credit: Darren Tan via Fantasy Flight Games

Imperial-class Star Destroyer and Refits
Prospective admirals will be happy to hear that the Galactic Empire’s definitive warship comes in many variants, and is a fleet staple. The ISD or pizza slice is the Empire’s bread-and-butter large warship. Between its four variants, it can perform anything from torpedo assaults to fleet command. Everything the Imperial does, it does with the ruthless determination and grit you’d expect from one of the game’s definitive heavyweights. Realistically, this thing is only hampered by its substantial points cost and Onager infested waters. Veteran players may mourn the devastating nerf to Avenger, but the sun has not set on the original Star Destroyer.

Credit: Summer

Honourable Mention: Super Star Destroyer (Star Dreadnought)
The section is titled strong picks and although the Super Star Destroyer (SSD) isn’t dominating competitive tables, it deserves a mention for its comical size. The SSD is the first (and so far, only) ‘huge’ size ship in Armada. Like the Onager necessitating the release of a new range bracket, the SSD’s prodigious derrière launched a new size classification for ships. It’s not the strongest ship in the game, and can’t even turn without spending valuable commands, but it’s the biggest and that means something. You’ll have to repaint the engines to the canon-appropriate pink, unfortunately.

Squadrons

Colonel Jendon and Maarek Stele (Lambda-class Shuttle and TIE Defender)
I suspect Jendon was voted Most likely to play well with others in the Carida Imperial Academy yearbook. His ability is useful with any squadron but he is mostly seen with Maarek Stele, who makes great use of a free attack. Jendon is best used to support hard-hitting squadrons without the Rogue keyword, and Maarek fits the bill perfectly. Maarek himself is also a strong choice at his price point, offering best-in-class speed, high durability and a sledgehammer attack.

Valen Rudor (TIE Fighter)
Baron Rudor is a smug little shit. He’s a remarkably cheap ace for the Scatter + Brace token suite he brings to the table. He hits disproportionately hard for a TIE squadron, and worse, cannot be attacked by other squadrons unless he’s the only available target. Insert him into your squadron blob to place the opponent in an unenviable position: have him stabbing away at their squadrons for the whole game, or waste precious capital ship anti-squadron attacks trying to kill him sooner. He’s an auto-include whenever I want to irritate my opponent.

Ciena Ree (TIE Interceptor)
Like the prick in the previous entry, Ciena brings the powerful Scatter + Brace defence token suite. She makes up for the TIE Interceptor’s notable squishiness with her defence tokens and the ability to remove one die from the majority of attacks in the game. Removing one die makes anti-squadron fire from unprepared ships largely irrelevant, and greatly hinders any squadrons trying to kill her. Her entire purpose is to be a TIE Interceptor without petty concerns like dying.

Credit: Aurore Folny via Fantasy Flight Games

TIE Fighter Squadron
The basic TIE is a cheap anti-fighter unit best thrown at the enemy in great numbers. It’s a cheap way of putting anti-squadron dice on the table, and it does the job fine. Keen admirals can make the humble TIE truly shine in support of the Empire’s numerous strong aces, or pairing them with Admiral Sloane. Sloane’s ability drastically powers up basic squadrons, and triggering it as often as possible with cheap squadrons will burn down enemy aces and capital ships alike.

TIE Bomber Squadron
When the mission at hand is no-frills bombing, this is your pick. The TIE bomber is to clapping capital ships what the TIE fighter is to enemy squadrons: cheap and effective. In the days of Major Rhymer dominance, a cloud of TIE bombers was the end of your fleet. They take more finesse to use now, but they’re far from expired. Just be sure that your pilots’ life insurance documentation is in order. Eggs and omelettes, and all that.

Officers

Darth Vader (Officer)
Vader in the officer slot is a value-add for your one-use officers. The Empire faction is filled with officers who do something once and just… sit there. Vader can be used to ‘discard’ these officers to encourage their ship to fire more accurately, massively increasing their value. Imperial fleets tend to be stacked to the brim with officers and he seldom runs out of candidates. Vader (Officer) is such a staple that he has largely pushed his Commander and TIE Advanced versions out of use. The TIE Advanced rarely gets the same value and he offers the same basic dice control as his Commander self for cheaper. Fear will keep the systems in line, indeed.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Minister Tua
Maketh Tua’s ability is quite rare: she gives a capital ship a valuable slot that it otherwise would not have. Tua is brought in whenever Imperial players want to increase a ship’s durability by giving it access to the Defensive Retrofit slot. The cost is steep: her points cost, the valuable officer slot plus the cost of the retrofit. Yet, she sees regular use just because she opens up ship fitting possibilities like nobody else. And once you get into the game, use the aforementioned Darth Vader (Officer) to choke her out and she serves the Empire even in death.

Captain Needa
Captain Needa is a single-use officer who triggers at the beginning of the game. Which means he’s not long for this world. He’s like Minister Tua, but for the Evade token. He replaces one of your bad defence tokens (see: Contain) with the excellent Evade token. He lets everything from Star Destroyers to Interdictors dodge fire like a light cruiser, and pairs beautifully with other effects that trigger off Evade tokens, like Turbolaser Reroute Circuits. Just don’t forget to actually use his ability before you re-enact his finale from The Empire Strikes Back.

Iden Versio
Inferno Squad’s leader is one of my favourite characters in the setting, and her role in Armada reflects her place in special operations. People mostly take her for the first part of her ability, which allows her (normally small) ship to be far more survivable in close-quarters. She can also be shot onto enemy ships to cause trouble, but that’s secondary. She is standard-issue on Raiders and Gladiators, and is notably the first officer I’ve mentioned who has an ability that activates repeatedly. She gains value from regular use, and is unlikely to be asphyxiated by Vader. Good on you, Iden.

Credit: Fantasy Flight Games

Admiral Ozzel
The ‘clumsy’ and ‘stupid’ Admiral Ozzel allows you to make an aggressive first-round movement with one of your ships. Absolutely vital on Onager builds designed to fire in the first round of combat, and useful on ships that tend to lag behind. His ability is single-use and triggers at the beginning of the game. Between choking him and Needa with Vader (Officer), you’re basically just re-creating the Star Wars canon through normal gameplay. That’s called good game design.

Dishonourable Mention: Director Isard
Director Isard is a trap upgrade like Redundant Shields: both look like they tie into key elements of the game, but will almost never make their value back. Isard’s ability seems potent in a game where the enemy’s ship commands are invisible to you, but you already know what command each enemy ship has: each enemy ship has a command dial stack that is the absolutely worst possible thing for your fleet. If that turns out to be true, you’ve guessed right. If they chose a sub-optimal command, that’s a happy accident and you didn’t need Isard. Given how competitive the Imperial officer slot is, Director Isard could be free and many of us would still ignore her. Verdict: if you’re unlucky enough to have her in your fleet, just choke her out with Vader.

Fleet building pointers for the Galactic Empire:

  1. Imperial players are blessed with great ship options across all size classes. Picking ships to fit a cohesive fleet strategy is vital, as is knowing when and when to pull out your more gimmicky ships. The Imperial roster might trick new players into thinking it’s full of generalist ships, but most Imperial ships are quite narrow in their focus – you just have lots of choices.
  2. Know your officers. The Empire’s battlefleets live and die by the capabilities of its officer corps. With such a good selection of faction-specific officers and the full range of generics to pick from, Imperial players must decide carefully on who gets assigned to which ship before Darth Vader (Officer) obstructs their promotion path.
  3. Play cautiously and cover those flanks. Imperial warships are vulnerable to being flanked, owing to weak shields and clumsy side batteries. They are strong when directed onto the focal point of a battle, but embarrassing when outfoxed by a smaller opponent.

Conclusion – “He is as clumsy as he is stupid.”

The Empire is a great faction for players at all levels. They’re a great faction for learning the game and a sandbox of special mechanics not on offer anywhere else. They’ve seldom fallen out of the running in competitive play, and have often dominated various aspects of it – Demolisher triple tap, Boarding Troopers Avenger and Sloanager all come to mind. Their ship roster is filled with strong combatants and powerful specialists, all of which support an enduring and ruthless playstyle. So long as you keep your flanks covered and your positioning strong, you’ll come out ahead.

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