Monday, February 27, 2017

Armada 101: working your way up from starter box games tips and reminders

Last Thursday we had two new players in for Armada (our local community continues to grow, which is always a good thing), and being the odd man out, I assisted them with rules and fleet building and such for their first non-starter box game. They had many questions and made numerous mistakes (which is normal and nothing to be ashamed of) and it prompted me to think of many pieces of advice and clarifications for players in similar situations where they're starting to come to grips with "regular sized" games. So without any further ado, let's get to some general-purpose reminders/tips/clarifications for new players!

Run, run, run, jump! I can be a backpack while you run!
First and foremost, I assume that you're roughly familiar with the basic learn to play rules and have the rules reference guide handy if necessary. I realize that reading through the rules reference guide cover-to-cover is about as interesting as watching paint dry while listening to an NPR light jazz music review, but do keep it handy for when you're not sure about how a specific thing works so you can look it up! Beyond that, please remember the following things:

Don't sweat it: your goal in your first few games is not to win or make highly optimized moves. Your goal is to learn how the game works and get comfortable with it. Mistakes will be made. You will later on look back on your first handful of "real" games and laugh at some of your silly decisions and misunderstandings. That's fine. Anguishing over everything you do while not really understanding what you're doing is a recipe for an anxiety attack and it won't help you in any way, so don't sweat it!

Tone it down if necessary: If you and another new player agree, you can play games at smaller points values or without upgrades (either altogether or perhaps just certain types of upgrades like titles or commanders) or without objectives or obstacles. So long as you intend to include those missing things later as you acclimate to the game and both players agree to the restrictions, feel free!

Fleet building
Every fleet needs a commander: a commander is not optional and you must have exactly one of them. The commander is a special upgrade that can go on any ship and does not use up any upgrade slots on that ship (in particular, the officer upgrade slot remains free for an officer). Commanders have a unique effect that benefits your entire fleet, so try to pick one that does something for all your ships, if only just a bit. Worst case just use the commanders from the starter box (Dodonna and Tarkin). Because there aren't commanders in the starter box games, this is sometimes forgotten.

Every fleet needs 3 objectives: make sure to pick one red, one blue, and one yellow objective for your fleet. Which ones should you pick? That's very dependent upon your fleet, which can feel extremely overwhelming for a newer player as you're not sure what everything does and what kind of objectives your particular fleet prefers. My advice if you don't want to sweat it for now is to play the following objectives that are all-around useful and aren't too complicated:
  • Red: Most Wanted. It's pretty straightforward and doesn't introduce any new mechanics you're not familiar with (it functions similarly to a concentrate fire dial). Just remember that squadrons don't get the bonus dice!
  • Blue: Superior Positions. It's a good objective overall and few additional decisions are really required. It also simplifies deployment for both players.
  • Yellow: Contested Outpost. Of all the starter set yellow objectives it is the easiest to set up and use.
You can optionally choose to not use objectives but I don't generally recommend it. Being first player in Armada is pretty strong and objectives help make things more fair for the second player, who is otherwise disadvantaged if there are no objectives to help them out.

Squadron limitations: You cannot spend more than 1/3 of your points limit (rounded up) on squadrons. That means 100 points is your limit in a 300 point game and 134 points is your limit in a 400 point game.

Beginning of the game
Player initiative is determined by points spent: Whichever fleet has the least points spent (for example, 399 points beats 400 points) gets to decide on player initiative (choosing to either go first or second). If there's a tie, flip or roll for it. Remember that the second player provides the first player with the second player's three objectives and the first player needs to select which of the three will be used in that game.

Obstacle deployment begins with the second player: Following the obstacle deployment rules (obstacles must be at least distance 3 from the long edges and at least distance 5 from the short edges and at least distance 1 from one another), the second player deploys the first obstacle and then alternates with the first player. This is an advantage for the second player as they can set the tone for the deployments coming next and/or claim an important obstacle for themselves.

Fleet deployment begins with the first player: Following the ship deployment rules (ships must be deployed within distance 3 of their player's long table edge and outside of distance 5 of the short edges), deployment begins with the first player and alternates back and forth from then (although squadrons can be deployed starting with the second deployment, see below). This is another advantage for the second player, as they can deploy with some small knowledge of the first player's intentions and the first player has to deploy blind.

A few notes about squadron deployments: Squadrons must be deployed within distance 2 of any friendly ship and inside the setup area (so outside of distance 5 of the short table edges). This is their only deployment restriction. This means that they are not subject to the same deployment restrictions as your ships (and can be deployed in all kinds of places you can't deploy your ships), but it also means that they cannot be deployed as your first deployment (as there's no ship to deploy within 2 of at all on the first deployment). Also note that you need two squadrons for a "full" deployment -  a single squadron remaining must be deployed as your final deployment). Finally, try not to deploy your squadrons right in front of your ships. You will move and then land on them and you won't like it.

Set a ship's speed when it is deployed: If you're not sure what speed to go for, I'd recommend 2. Maximum speed across the board can get unwieldy and predictable, but hey they're your plastic spaceships do what you like 😉.

Activating and command effects
Assigning command dials: Remember to set them at the beginning of every turn and put them on the bottom of the stack if your ship is Command 2+. You can look at the commands you've assigned whenever you please, so feel free to consult the stack of commands before activating ships and before assigning new command dials.

Commands and activating ships: Remember to flip the command dial of whatever ship you activate first thing. This is your opportunity to determine if you want to keep the dial for use this turn or turn it into a token to be used at some point in the future (maybe even this turn). Remember that a ship can't have more command tokens than its Command value and you can't quickly spend one token before gaining a new one, so if you end up temporarily with more than your ship can hold, you must discard tokens down to your Command value immediately. Also remember to leave your command dial face up on the ship card once that ship's activation is completed - it's a way to remind you and your opponent that the ship in question has taken its activation already.

Timing of commands: An important thing to note is your command dials/tokens hang around until you spend them (although dials vanish at the end of the activation if left unspent, they do not turn into tokens under those circumstances). Some notes about when exactly the commands work and the tokens and/or dials are spent (see also the section on Commands in the rules reference guide).

I talk about specifics of command dials, tokens, and command resolutions in an article dedicated to the subject, if you're interested.

Other elements of ship activation
Make attacks and then move: Nearly no other turn-based war game works this way, so try not to forget!

Two hull zones can attack: Those attacks can be against a ship or all enemy squadrons in one hull zone and range but remember you can't attack twice from the same hull zone without some effect that specifies otherwise (like Gunnery Team).

Arcs and line of sight: Remember that the target needs to be within the arc making the attack (I find a laser line pen helps with this determination a lot and isn't as subjective or intrusive as holding a cardboard stick in some rough semblance of the same angle of the arc). It also needs to be in line of sight, which means drawing a line from the yellow dot in the attacking arc to the yellow dot in the opposing ship's arc. You can cross the arc lines of the attacking ship, but you can't do so for the defending ship.

Premeasuring: You can measure using the range/distance ruler (the cardboard stick) from anything to anything whenever you want for any reason. It's quite handy. You can only premeasure using the maneuver tool when you're trying to plot a course for the ship that is about to maneuver. That's the only time the maneuver tool is allowed on the table. I'm generally okay with letting newer players (and only newer players) premeasure with the maneuver tool whenever they feel like it, but please be aware that is not allowed by the more strictly-enforced rules of the game.

You also cannot premeasure using multiple tools at once (like using a maneuver tool to see where your ship would end its maneuver and then tagging a range ruler to the end of that to see what would be in range from that ending position). This also includes putting tokens or fingers on the mat to mark a point and then measuring from there. I'd advise not bending this rule because it's an extremely bad habit to get into and can be difficult to break out of.

Defense tokens: Remember that you can only spend one of each type of defense token against each attack. You can spend as many as you like provided you aren't spending any duplicates.

Attack sequence: I strongly recommend you read how the attack sequence works in the rules reference guide to better understand when defense tokens are spent, when each player can resolve their different effects, when critical effects trigger, etc. This will help answer a lot of questions you may have about the attack sequence. For example, if an opponent's evade forces you to reroll a die at medium range and it comes up an accuracy, what happens? The answer is: nothing. The attacking player's window to spend dice for effects (like accuracy dice can be to lock down defense tokens) is already over (as this happened during the defender's window to spend defense tokens) and the accuracy icon is for most purposes a blank dice.

The Squadron Phase
Pretty simple, really: just remember that squadrons activated in the Squadron Phase are activated one at a time until you've activated two total (or run out) and then play passes back to your opponent. Squadrons activated in the Squadron Phase can move or attack, not both. It's better generally to activate squadrons with ships (so they can move and attack in the earlier Ship Phase) than to wait for the Squadron Phase, but that's not always possible or desirable due to other priorities.

Hopefully that helps our newer readers to avoid some common mistakes in their first handful of "real" games as they transition from playing starter box games to more fleshed out games. If you have any questions, let me know!