FFG has finally released rules for battles beyond the 400 point limt: the Sector Fleet rules. Those rules are divided in two parts, the actual rules for epic fleets and a teamplay gaming mode for those fleets. For the purpose of this article, I am only interested in the first part.
What do the epic play rules consist in? In a nutshell it is:
- Battles can be fought with 600, 800, 1000, and 1200 fleet points per side.
- Such fleets cannot have more than three flotillas (instead of 2).
- A maximum of 25% of the maximum fleet points can be dedicated to squadrons (instead of 33%).
- For 1000 and 1200 point games the short edges of the setup area are in distance 3 to the short edges of the play area (instead of distance 5).
- There is a MoV table for such games, if they are used for tournaments.
And that's it.
Challenges for Epic Play in Armada
Before I evaluate those rules, I want to address the challanges it poses to introduce an epic play mode to Armada.
Increasing the point limit to a higher value than 400 points seems to be the a tempting step for everybody who has dreamed of fielding a true Armada. But because the game is optimized for 400 fleet points this creates many imbalances:
- Most importantly, the asymmetry of first player and objective play does not cope well with increased fleet points. This is the case for several reasons. First, the advantage of the first player decreases with higher points, because most likely the higher amount of plastic in the play area creates several conflict zones. The advantage of the first activation helps in only one of them. Second, some of the objectives are marginalized by the higher point fleets. Whereas 75 points for a successful intel sweep are great in standard games, they are barely worth mentioning in a 1200 points game. Although these two aspects cancel each other out to a certain degree, the entire first player/objective asymmetry becomes at best pointless. Third, some objectives even become ridiculous: if two 1200 point fleets try to score victory tokens from one tiny Contested Outpost, the game becomes a parody of itself, full of unintentional ramming.
- Two other aspects of the game that do not scale well with increased fleet points are deployment and maneuvering finesse. As experienced players of Star Wars: Armada know, avoiding enemy fire, circling the enemy fleet, or concentrating your forces in a tight spot are a challenging and rewarding aspect of the game. Although the game is played in a 3’ x 6’ play area, the tactics of game demand quite often to avoid large parts of that play area and to focus on other parts. This is less possible the higher the fleet points are increased: So much plastic is in the play area, that deploying and maneuvering the entire fleet around certain parts becomes impossible. An important aspect of the game dies.
Sector Fleet Rules?
Now, how do the Sector Fleet rules address these problems? The answer is quite sobering. The first aspect is close to completely ignored. There is a sentence on page 4 that tells us that higher points change this aspect, but considering actual rules there is nothing there.
The second point is also close to ignored. Although there is a increased setup area, this is only the case for 1000+ point battles. That means that we play games with twice the fleet points in exactly the same setup area as in 400 point battles. And in games with thrice (!) the standard fleet points, the setup area grows by negligible 25%.
Maybe three and a half sentences are not enough to take a game designed for 400 fleet points to thrice its size...
In the next paragraphs I want to introduce two other official solutions. Each of them has its own problems. However, I believe that we can take them in order to gain a well balanced epic play solution for Star Wars: Armada.
alternating First Player Advantage
Page 14 of the Rules Reference Guide offers under the headline Unlimited Rounds an option where the First Player advantage alternates. That means that every odd round one player is first player and every even round his opponent dons this role. This seems to be a neat solution for epic play where the asymmetry of first player and objectives is heavily marginalized.
However, I think there are three reasons that speak against this solution:
- The problem of limited maneuvering and deployment space is not addressed at all.
- The player who is second player in round 2 and first player in round 3 is very likely to get the two most important activations of the game: last of round 2, first of round 3. What looks like a symmetry is it in fact not.
- This option ditches objectives. Because the multitude of objectives contributes a lot to the tactical variety, it would make Star Wars: Armada less rich in its replay value.
The All-Out-Offensive of Corellian Conflict
The campaign expansion Corellian Conflict introduces rules for 1000 to 1500 fleet points. A larger setup area (and a larger play area for 1500 points) are used. In addition, not all ships are initially deployed thanks to the hyperspace reserves mechanism. They get deployed during later game rounds, resulting in more space in the setup and the play area.
For me, those are the most promising rules for the problem of limited space in epic play matches. Nevertheless, I still see some problems:
- First, we obviously do not get here the tactical variety of the objectives either.
- These rules have a strong second player bias. As has been mentioned above, the first player advantage is marginalized in games with more than 400 fleet points. But in contrast the second player gets the advantage of deploying his hyperspace reserve after the first player - and thanks to the additional spawning point even with more flexibility. Whoever has played Raddus (or against him) knows that it is an extreme advantage to deploy one's ships in the middle of the battle field when the enemy ships are already present.
- When we are already talkling about Raddus: deploying one's heavy hitters close to freely in the play area is borderline boring. They can be deployed for perfect double arcs. No maneuvering finesse, no planning in advance is needed. Another important aspect of the game is marginalized.
The Solution: The Grand Battle Rules
The Grand Battle rules I want to introduce aim at keeping the strengths of the different approaches - and hopes that the disadvantages cancel each other out. In a nutshell, the rules consist in three basic principles:
- The first player advantage alternates.
- Hyperspace Reserves rules similar to those of the all-out-offensive are used. They give us the same deployment and maneuvering space. But the second player/first player advantage of round 2/3 is compensated by the second player's hyperspace reserves deployment advantage. But this one is also mitigated by the alternating first player role. However, the deployment of the hyperspace reserve is anyway constrained in order to avoid Raddus like drops for perfect double arcs.
- There are 15 new objectives for Grand Battles. These objectives are designed in a way that they scale well with increased fleet points. However, the Grand Battle rules do not work with only one objective per match. In contrast, each side has its individual objective during a match. Whereas one side might need to break a blockade, the other side might want to test an early prototype of the Death Star super laser technology. This aims at offering a deep tactical variety and a high replay value, because every time not only different fleets, but also different objectives have to face each other.
Curious? Click here to download the Grand Battle rules!
- The link provides an English as well as a German document. Both are up to date and complete. It does not matter which one you pick.
- Don't be deterred by the size of the document (roughly 15 pages). The actual rules are roughly 2 pages plus the new objectives. The rest is due to formatting reasons, explanations, and options.
- I did not have the time for checking spelling mistakes and I am not a native speaker. Please excuse the lack of proper spelling and grammar.
- Yes, some of the objectives are quite complicated to read (especially the Super Laser Prototype Test). However, they are not complicated to play as soon as you have understood how they work. Promise!
- Everything is completelly untested! Be a playtester! :-D