Friday, January 25, 2019

2 year anniversary, where Armada is at, and 2.0 thoughts on ace squadrons

So first and foremost, Cannot Get Your Ship Out turns 2 years old today, January 25th! We've grown a fair bit in the last two years to over a million page views (1,150,000 or thereabout as of the writing of this article) and it's been fun. Thanks to John in particular for agreeing to join this silly project with me and thanks to our readers for sticking with us and recommending us. We're going to be covering a bit of ground in this article, so please bear with me!

The original cannot get your ship out!

That said, the pace of our articles has been slowing down as we've covered everything in the game and the release schedule has slowed down pretty dramatically. We definitely still have some work to do on updating older articles, especially the squadron articles as the meta has shifted pretty dramatically since John (and I helped!) wrote those articles earlier. We're getting there! John's been busy training for another marathon and I've got an extremely energetic one-year-old son so we do what we can when we can.

Speaking of the much slower release schedule, there has been more concern lately about the fate of Armada. This is due to a couple factors:
  • Armada's release schedule has been slowing pretty dramatically.
  • A fair amount of Armada product has been on back order for months and months with little recourse.
  • Armada articles are released very rarely on FFG.
  • Runewars support was just canceled by FFG and Runewars was getting more articles than Armada.
Let's talk over all those elements as quickly as I can.

Armada's release schedule has been slowing pretty dramatically.
Absolutely true. We got wave 7 in February of 2018 but we were supposed to get it in Q4 of 2017. We only learned it was delayed when some intrepid twitter user harassed FFG enough that they acknowledged it was delayed on twitter. We got no article informing us. We haven't had a release in just about a year at this point and while the SSD is exciting, it's only something you can buy if you play Imperials and have $200 MSRP to spend on a big plastic triangle. We haven't had any other product announced or teased.

A fair amount of Armada product has been on back order for months and months with little recourse.
We haven't had Imperial/Rebel Fighter I packs available for most of 2018 and that continues to right now (but I hear it should be fixed soon). We've had similar problems with Arquitens and Quasars and the like too. It's been frustrating for people getting into the game not having cornerstone squadrons available or ships they've been told to get (by some blog guys somewhere I guess 😉).

Armada articles are released very rarely by FFG
We haven't had any articles about product since the SSD teaser article in early August 2018, and nothing since then. SSD upgrades were spoiled in stores and online some time ago, but we haven't had an official article about any of that since.

In short, it's easy to come to the conclusion that at the very least, we're on the back burner and not a priority. With X-Wing 2.0 being the new hotness and Legion still growing fairly rapidly, it seems pretty clear that FFG has plenty on its plate for right now and Armada is just going to get what it gets when it gets it. That's obviously not great for us, but businesses can't make everything happen all the time instantly and prioritizing new product lines and their main moneymaker makes financial sense. And then this happened:

Runewars support was just canceled by FFG and Runewars was getting more articles than Armada.
So this development has taken the community from "well I guess we're just not a priority" to "oh crap, we're next." I think criticism of FFG for not communicating with us or seeming to support the game is valid, honestly. They could do a lot better and even having someone who says "hey guys there's still stuff coming, sorry but we can only make so much stuff at once and with other projects being in crucial periods it's just going to be an off year for you" would help substantially. The problem is a lot of the people criticizing FFG online for their issues in this department are pants-on-head insane and so their arguments are... let's say a bit melodramatic and not helpful. Especially because at the end of the day, it's plastic spaceships.

Anyways, suffice it to say the community is worried and in my opinion they're justified in being worried. That said, I feel like if the game was doomed, we wouldn't be getting restocks (albeit late restocks) of squadron packs. We wouldn't be getting regionals, we'd be getting an FFG article explaining that we're getting a kick in the pants instead. The game seems like it will persevere.

However, all minis games that survive long enough will get a reboot. All of them. There are always issues apparent in the original mechanics and units/upgrades released with any ruleset that come to cause problems, bottlenecks, or just unfun army/fleet lists that need corrections eventually and a do-over gives a great opportunity to clear away old issues and redo items that fell short in their previous incarnation. So in my mind, we're inching our way towards a 2.0. I'm not the only one who feels this way (John does too, of course) and with so much downtime lately a number of people have started to kind of feel out exactly what would be on their wish lists for changes. Let's start with an article about a bugbear of mine: ace squadrons.

Beyond some of the issues with squadrons in general, I dislike ace squadrons for several reasons. Let's get to them:
  • Aces are difficult to differentiate from other squadrons of the same type on the table because their differentiating elements (portrait of the ace themselves and sometimes different keyword icons) are very small and located on a small flat cardboard disc. The portrait/icons are often hidden by the plastic arrow on the squadron stand and/or other miniatures and/or miniature stands. It's particularly bad with Imperial aces, many of whom are wearing a black Imperial pilot helmet transposed on top of a black starfield-esque background. It's a mess. Most players I know just ask for clarity, which then requires their opponent to check for themselves and relay the ace's location back. It's a waste of time and I've seen even experienced players screw up where they thought a specific ace was to disastrous effect.
  • Aces all have unique abilities and it's difficult, especially for less experienced players, to keep in mind what they do, much less how they work and combine in play. There are currently by my count 35 different ace special rules - each faction gets 9 aces for wave one squads, 4 from Rogues and Villains, and 4 from wave five squads. Imperials get one extra with Gar Saxon. That's not counting the "generic unique" squads from Correlian Conflict, like Saber Squadron, that just have different keywords than the usual squadrons but are still different in ways that can make a big difference.
    • Aces that generate bubble effects (Jan Ors and Dengar being the best examples, as they each generate two separate bubbles due to Intel and their unique ability) are even worse. Your squadrons want to maximize the buffs they get from friendly bubbles. Enemy squadrons want to minimize the debuffs they get from debuff bubbles. It can make good squadron play take quite a while, as exact placement to maximize benefits and minimize detriments can make or break a game.
  • Aces are simply better than generic squadrons and so because there is a wide assortment of aces that can do more or less whatever you want, it has become the default to see squadron groups that are all-aces or at the very least where aces outnumber generics. A few sub-points on this theme:
    • There are some exceptions to this general principle:
      • TIE Bomber or Y-Wing hull-spam fleets that intend to use Ruthless Strategists as a means to trade hull against other ace-heavier fleets in order to field mostly bombers as their squadron component (but often with ace backup to ensure they can handle troublesome high-hull enemy squadrons if/when they cause trouble).
      • When the generic version of a squad does something the ace does not, such as how VCXs have Relay and Strategic while Hera does not, or how YT-1300s have Escort and Counter 1 while Han Solo does not.
      • When a generic squadron is self-sufficient and probably undercosted, there's an incentive to spam just that squadron in the right builds. Specifically, I'm referring to the thankfully fairly-rare "angry frisbees" YT-2400 spam fleet. 
    • There is the matter of aces' points costs probably being a bit too low. This seems to me to come down to a discount for being unique. This is an issue in a lot of miniature games I've played where the immediate question that must be answered when a unique unit is offered up is "why shouldn't I just use the generic version rather than being locked into this (whatever) I can only use one of?" The answer frequently is "because the package deal comes at a discount to entice you to use it despite the mild constraints." To put it a bit more directly so far as Armada is concerned, would you ever use generic TIE Defenders if Maarek Stele was not unique? Would you ever use generic A-Wings if Tycho and Shara weren't unique? Probably not, no.
      • A squadron group consisting of mostly/all aces thus logically is getting more bang for its buck than one composed of all generics given the aces have the unique discount and the generics do not.
    • Even if we can't reach consensus on ace points costs being too low, I think we can all agree aces are individually more powerful and more durable than their generic counterparts. The inclusion of defense tokens, special abilities, and occasionally more potent attack dice makes them superior to generics. When you're trying to max out the quality of an individual squadron command which is tied to a ship you spent points on already, it's better to go for stronger squadrons in most cases rather than more squadrons which you can't afford to activate and which will accomplish less per "point" of squadron command than aces would.
So suffice it to say I have beef with aces and overall I don't feel like they've had a net positive impact on the game. I've told John in the past that were I given the power, I'd Thanos snap all unique squadrons out of existence in favor of only generics.

As if millions of Jan Ors suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
John, a big fan of the characters of Star Wars and a man who is deeply concerned about whether or not Luke Skywalker's butt is in the seat of one of his X-Wings, threatened to rally the Avengers to stop me. That made me give some consideration to whether some kind of compromise option would be possible. Ideally, I'd like some kind of solution where starfighter pilots from the Star Wars IP can still show up to the table and do something cool but not displace generics and cause the other issues like they have in v1.0.

John wants to be Captain America, but in his heart of hearts, he knows he's Hawkeye.
My proposal is to turn ace squadrons into squadron upgrade cards called aces that would come from your squadron points and be associated with a specific type of squadron (for the record, no other squadron upgrade cards would exist except aces - I'm otherwise not keen on the idea). So for example, Luke Skywalker would be an X-Wing ace costing Z points and his ability let's say would be "exhaust this card when attacking to flip one die to any side." Ace upgrades would only affect their type of squadron and whenever you had more aces for that type of squadron than the associated squadrons remaining on the board, you would need to discard aces until you had equaled out. So you certainly could run Wedge, Biggs, and Luke in X-Wings but as soon as you go below 3 X-Wing squadrons, one of them gets destroyed, granting their opponent points and removing their benefit from the table. Similarly, you could definitely run one ace with one squadron, but that's a very fragile ace. If your aces want plot armor, they need squadrons of that type to hide in.

Ideally, most/all ace abilities would be relatively straightforward and no more complex than most ship upgrades, with most(/all?) requiring an exhaust to work. This makes ace abilities more additive, which is easier to balance for, than multiplicative, which is how the bubble effects presently work and can create issues. Some aces would be defensive, some offensive, etc.

I grant that an ace effectively "hopping around" the board to boost whichever squadron of his/her type is a little odd but it diminishes bookkeeping pretty substantially for both players (it's less "where is Luke, I forgot" and more "is Luke exhausted or not this round, I can see where the X-Wings are") and takes the current situation of "aces instead of generics" and turns it into "aces as an addition to generics" that encourages bringing multiple generics of that type if you want to rely on your aces. It also keeps characters on the table a little longer, although it won't increase an individual squadron's lifespans with defense tokens. For example, so long as you've got a TIE Advanced on the table, Darth Vader won't be sulking away just because your opponent (rightly) jumped on him and kicked him because he's a weird super-deadly squadron with a big "kick me" note stuck to his Escort keyword like he is right now.

Final thoughts
Thanks for sticking it through to the end. I'll still be working on other articles, but I enjoy musing on how mechanical elements of the game could be changed in a future edition, so expect the occasional 2.0 musing from me. I know some people aren't keen on a 2.0 coming too soon and articles like this aren't necessarily pushing for something to happen immediately, moreso focusing on what types of changes might be worth considering when it happens eventually.


  1. I am a fan of making squadrons attack range base contact, making positioning of them take less time. Also more points for named squadrons or limit amount of unique squadrons you can take (1 per 40 points spent on squadrons)

    1. With the caveat that I'm a new player -- I really like the base contact idea as a way to streamline play. To Timeless' concerns: Perhaps there could be a one-step transitivity rule. Something like "squadrons with escort can attack other squadrons touching the base of a friendly squadron you are also touching" and "bombers can attack ships touching the base of a friendly squadron you are also touching."

    2. A transitivity rule mechanic seems to make sense.

      Though I would warn that base-touching might not necessarily be easy on the table, especially since you also need the activation slider. Fitting the bases together could be fiddly. Unless Armada 2.0 finds a different approach for that, maybe changing to some hex base? With a fixed number of "docking" slots you might do other things as well, though there are also interesting implications - how you rotate your first fighter in the upcoming squadron ball affects how the ball is shaped.

      I'd probably try to minimize dice rolling for squadrons as well. Maybe squadrons have an attack strength and a defense strength (similar to X-Wing), and you simply compare the values (not like anything so far): If your attack is half or lower than the enemies defense, you deal one damage, if it it's equal, two damage, if the defense score is half your attack score, it's three damage.
      Only when attacking ships do you roll dice.

  2. Problem is it means running larger squadron groups is no longer viable because you can only attack a side arc on an ISD that is at 0 shields with 3ish squads, max.

    It would funnel 'quality over quantity' even more than it already does. Also, if I hide in an asteroid and you move to b2b, am I still obstructed? It would also nuke much of the positioning mini game from orbit. I do think it could be streamlined (Less bubble effects, aces that grant static buffs) but removing that positioning game entirely is not a great idea, in my eyes.

    1. I think on of the biggest flaws with the game is that it takes longer to play then other table top games. I can't think of any other area of the game that could be stream lined for time other than squadron phase (usually because of that positioning game). I personally don't think killing the squadron positioning game would hurt the overall game that much.

      You could have a rule like old 40K where you can attack if you are base to base with someone that is base to base (so you get to attack from a second row, opening up 7 to 8 squadrons on one weak side).

  3. I think that having all aces be upgrades isn't the best way to go. As how would it work for the irregulars such as Boba Fett or Han Solo? Both of these pilots are linked to their modified ships, so much so that would make sense that they would have a separate card with different abilities and possibly attacks.

    Thus I would rather see something like this for the rank and file. Give every genaric squadron one upgrade slot. This could be an ace or something else like an astromech or proton torpedoes.

    Aces like Luke or Howlrunner would have a singular cost 5 points that way adding an ace to a pile of fighters doesn't break the bank. They would have the plot armor ability as outlined in the original post.

    The remaining two uogrades would work on a additive scale. Meaning that if you wanted to bring a dozen genarics but give them some upgrade you would end up paying more per squadron but get a more useful global effect.

    Adding astromechs might be +3 meaning that a X-Wing or TIE fighter would now cost16 or 11 points per unit, but now would be able to heal one damage per turn.

    Proton torpedoes would work similarly but maube upgrade your anti ship abilities, say change your bomber die to a black for +8 points. So 21 points per X-wing that can now be a competitive bomber, or 16 points for TIE fighters that will die trying to torpedo something.

    Now if you wanted a more specialized team of squadrons I would say take the unique squads and make them units consisting of N number of units. These units would cost more and have more upgrades to let you get exactly what you want out of the group but would require some minimum buy in to get the group in the first place.

    For example Rouge Squadron would have a cost 15 points but require three X-wing units and have two ace seats and the one general upgrade slot. Meaning you could put Luke, Wedge and Biggs into the three Rouge Squadron upgrades but once you loose a Rouge unit your out an ace. The non ace upgrades would be discounted on these uniques squads as they would only count as one unit.

    So Rouge Squadron with Luke Wedge and proton torpedoes would be 45 from the required X-wings+ 5 for Luke, + 5 for Wedge and + 8 for proton torpedoes totaling 63 points. But these three X-wings would be rouge back die bombers with two ace abilities, possibly tap to add two blue against an activated fighter group and tap to ignore shields when attacking a ship.

    Different unique squads would have a different number of ace seats, non ace upgrade slots and wildcard slots, and number of required units. But the principle would be the same as outlined above.

    Just rember the example with Rouge Squad is purely for an example and I do admit most if not all the abilities would need to be adjusted to work in this system and not become overpowering or otherwise game breaking.

    The last thing would be to give generic squadrons some sort of patterned or colored base that makes them easily identifiable and then add embellishments to make the unique squads pop out of the more genaric groups. Sabre squad could get its red stripe, Rouge squad could have its patch placed on the base, etc etc. Just make the more expensive and powerful bases stand out.

    Circling back around to the irregulars like Boba and Han, I would make them their own unique squadrons with out an ace slot and some number of non ace upgrade slots.

    All in all I think that a system like this would kinda span the bridge between X-Wing and Armada and keep to the theme and spectical of the Star Wars universe.

    P.S. I do apologize for any mistakes. I'm currently on my phone.

    1. I'm not in favor of a system that complicated at all, honestly, but I wanted to let you know that I appreciate that you put a lot of effort into your response.

  4. That's understandable. I think that making squads mini ships in terms of upgrades and capabilities makes sense.

    However I agree I probably went to far and made a solurion that was too complex but I don't see it as too complicated. As it boils down to aces have a once per turn effect and a flat cost, all other upgrades have a per group cost and a global benefit. Unique squads of squads have a set number of units, an ability or/and extra upgrade slots.

  5. Congrats on the anniversary and all your success with the site. Keep up the great content!

  6. Long time reader first time commenter.

    I personally believe that Armada is on its way to an "Irish Goodbye". I love it and the community, but it didn't catch on like X-Wing, and what with Legion on the scene, I feel that it might be crowded out.

    I think there are a lot of positives with the game, so much that I don't believe we need a "2.0". X-wing definitely did, running into problems in the beginning that needed special cards to fix the unplanned meta and small errors, but I think FFG learned a lot and made a more solid experience that just didn't take off as well as maybe it should have.

    I really love your ideas about aces, and I'll admit I come here to have a basic understanding of starfighter combat.

  7. I think the current implementation of aces works well but that some individual abilities and/or the lack of any limit to the ace quantity are the problem. If something limited the number of aces in a fleet be it the ships, a ratio of aces to generics, a flat no more than 2 or 3 per fleet, and some problematic abilities were nerfed i think the problem would go away.

    I think the biggest problem Armada has from a big picture view is just how easily the game can be won or lost during the deployment phase and all the fleet building details especially the objectives/commanders/etc effect that and you create a massive learning curve combined with not so fun to play learning experiences. It is, to me, so unsatisfying to know that a game is over at the end of turn 1 on either side of the mat.

    To contrast with Xwing even if you have a bad match up or deploy badly it still feels like you have a chance to do something.

  8. I like the idea of aces as upgrades (that exhaust). Seems much simpler than checking cards and double checking which squadron is which.

  9. to fix your who is who problem.... have different paint jobs on squadrons, quick simple done.

    1. I'd say at best I see about 5% of squadrons in Armada actually painted. It helps, but it's not common at all.

  10. I think that the major difference between Armada and a lot of other miniature games is that the rules for this game are better by a lot at their core than the rules for other games such as X-Wing, which necessitated the second edition of that game in the first place. I don't think 2.0 is likely in the short term, nor do I think that the game is dead - I do think that FFG will be watching sales of the SSD extremely closely however to see how it does. Wizards of the Coast has recently been creating and selling a lot of expensive 'premium' Magic: The Gathering oroducts that have sold very well, so I think the SSD is an experiment to try the same with the Armada playerbase. If it is a success, I think we'll get more waves and more huge ships.

    I also want to say that the importance of deployment to victory is one of my favorite parts of the game because there are so many examples in history of a larger or more powerful force being beaten by a more mobile one, in many cases due to incorrect deployment.

  11. Thanks for all the thought and time you & John have put into this blog. Every article is informative, entertaining and interesting. Regarding squadrons, I can understand the frustrations you detail but overall wouldn't this be easily mitigated by only allowing a cap number of aces permitted in total? Maybe 3?

    While I appreciate certain elements of your concept it seems to run the risk of over-simplifying and, please pardon the expression, but dumbing down the game. I've seen this happen to so many great games (TT & VG), and ultimately it alienates the original fan base and waters down the experience. Similarly the base contact concept that others have proposed seems it will inevitably limit the tactical options which imo is the essential core component of any good "war" game. Then again I could be in the minority but I prefer a really interesting/complex 4 hour game as opposed to a breezy 1 hr game.

    Hopefully Armada survives regardless of a 2.0 or not but a 2.0 seems risky. Imo people that have put a significant investment ($500-$!k or more) for the current game are just going to be turned off at best, unless the segue to 2.0 is affordable, seamlessly backwards compatible and whatever errata or revisions proposed are lauded by the vast majority. In essence, a very tall order.

    All aside, thanks again for the great work on the blog & congrats on your son. Have two young boys as well and hoping Armada is still around when they're old enough to play! Will be buying you and John a beer. Cheers

    1. You're welcome!

      The issue with ace caps is they sound good in theory but I feel it would over-emphasize more impactful more expensive aces in most cases, as you'd get the most bang for your three (or however many) slots that way. You wouldn't see much 13 point Valen Rudor, but you would see a lot of 21 point Maarek Stele, for example (well... probably about as much as you currently see him, which is a lot).

      Re: "dumbing down"
      I honestly have never seen a game do poorly when elements get streamlined between iterations, and I've played I think 9 or 10 minis games at this point in my life. I would agree that most people don't want to play 4 hour games of Armada (I get enough grumbling about 2ish hour games one after another for tournaments), but if that's what you enjoy, there's nothing wrong with playing it how you like it. The base-to-base idea I'm still a little uncertain on but I think exploring it has some merit should FFG consider going in that direction. I guess we'll see.

      Re: 2.0
      Every edition update I've seen for any game has cost something. I don't think it's possible to update to a new edition without at least a new rulebook and in X-Wing's case, new faction update packs to replace the old ship and upgrade cards. In cases like GW games, the rulebook and codex are required replacements (and the rulebook is not cheap) and because units get rebalanced and new model kits released, there's often a substantial cost there, too, and for the most part everyone goes along with it and at a much higher cost than the X-Wing update. I don't think it would be that bad. I'm sure some people wouldn't be keen on it, but for the most part, the X-Wing 2.0 update has been pretty successful and the folks leaving that game were those who already had one foot out the door in 1.0.

      All that said (in short "I disagree" but without any malice, mind you), thank you for your kind words. We'd also like to see the hobby persist for many years. I feel a lot of Armada players realize the game has potential and just wish FFG would give us a shot to make it big like their other games. We'll never be X-Wing big because X-Wing is much more accessible, but being Legion big (another game that takes up a 3x6 playing area and lasts around 2 hours) doesn't seem impossible with the right support.

  12. Yes, good point on the ace mitigation and all around. Always enjoy a healthy debate haha. Keep up the good work! Cheers

  13. One partial solution to the Ace problem could be "No more than one squadron type of Ace in any fleet build" so you can't have Norra & Dutch, Luke & Wedge, Shara & Tycho, Soontir & Ciena, no Howlrunner+Mauler or even Valen getting those 3 blacks and 1 blue (2 with FC) for a measly 13 points!!

    Thematically this could work since your Aces would act as the "squadrons" leader. So Luke+2 generic X-Wings, Vader+2 generic TIE/A would all be legal.

    I think we could certainly go a little further to curtailing squads, I do like distance 1 attack range for ships and base-to-base for squads as additional solutions.

  14. New to the game, but as I look at making thematic non-ace spam lists, I like this idea. As you present in your example, it incorporates the idea of ratios, forcing some use of generics, and thus becomes self limiting. You could bring the high-value aces, but then you’d end up paying premium to bring along their non-unique “wingmen”.

  15. Love the blog which has helped me raise my Armada gaming skill from atrocious right up to dreadful (which is a comment on my ability and not the site!)

    The chap I play against most often and I run a simple rule of a maximum of 1 ace per 50 pts squadrons. That works well for us.