SW Armada: Large Ships Just Aren’t Worth It

Large ships seem increasingly overshadowed in Armada. But is this perception or reality?

Armada is overall a pretty balanced game. Fantasy Flight has put great effort into making this so. While in the early squadrons felt underwhelming, a series of changes has made them once more integral parts of most lists. Recently however it seems like big ships, MC80s and ISDs, are suffering. While medium and small ships retain their power, less and less competitive fleets seem to be winning with large ships. Many players are completely abandoning them in favor of smaller ships, but in larger numbers. Some players are even saying: “the era of large ships is over”, and that they are not worth taking at all. In the face of this criticism of large ships we must ask, is this true or hyperbole?

Are large ships worth it and why do players think they aren’t? Lets take a look at some of the issues.

A Rare breed

One simple reason large ships may be seeing less play is that there really aren’t that many of them. Imperials for instance have only the ISD, one large ship. The Rebels have two versions of the MC80. This scarcity insures they will be played less. If for instance you want to build an Imperial fleet and not use a ISD, you simply won’t have a large ship in your fleet. This lack of variety does show one reason why people may not use large ships, and also is not a comment at all on the quality of large ships. While it alone doesn’t mean large ships are bad, its also not the only reason they aren’t used.

Cost

Large ships are expensive. At base cost they range fro 96-120 points. With upgrades they can get up to around 170-180. This means in a standard 400 point game just taking a single large ship and the required admiral is going to be between a third and half of your points. As squadrons grow in important it becomes more and more necessary to spend some points there as well. Once you’ve done that you are now left with very few points to build out your remaining list. Even though you do have options the constants put upon you in list building turn people away from taking a large ship. These constants might not deter players if large ships were an efficient way of using those points, but that is not always the case as we shall see.

Points Efficiency

There are good reasons to take a large ship. They put a large amount of fire in a compact space. They tend to be the hardest things to kill in the game. Large ships are cool. They are not however, the most efficient use of points. The CR90, one of the cheapest ships in the game, is the most efficient per point ship in the game. ISDs on the other hand are pretty inefficient.

If your goal is to maximize your offensive dice, or your hull/shield points then a roughly points equal number of small ships will almost always beat a single large ship. In addition, since most commands and Admiral give a fixed per ship bonus, the more ships you have the more you can take advantage of those. Three Raider I’s concentrating firepower will pout out 15 dice from their front arcs, vs the 9 that an ISD II will put out. They will also have more hull and shield points, and get to make better use of an admiral like Screed. Of course aside from just number of dice and hull points there is the questions of activations.

Activations

Probably the biggest weakness of large ships is how much they hurt you when it comes to activaitons and deployment drops. Increasingly Armada is becoming a game were the number of activations you have is a major factor in winning or losing. While early meta tended to focus on a lot of 3-4 ship fleets, the introduction of flotillas and deadlier squadrons has pushed activation count up and up. Most really comparative ships have a minimum of 4 activations, with some having as many as 7 or 8 without being gimmicky.

As we mentioned before big ships are expensive, and taking one really limits your choices. Fleets with one or two activations just aren’t really viable. This means you need to take some flotillas with your large ship to give you the needed activations, which in turns means filling your points up. Players are left with a couple of choices, have a powerful large ship, supported by squadrons and some flotillas, or a powerful large ship with a support fleet or combat ships and flotillas but no squadrons. The first options means your large ship is the only ship in your fleet that can fight. The second options  leaves you vulnerable in the ever more important squadron game.

Many players don’t like either choice. They prefer to take a more balanced list of medium and small ships and squadrons. This allows them to balance the three areas of squadrons, combat ships and activations. Fleets with large ships just can’t do that well.

In Their Defense

There are good reasons to take large ships. They are unmatched in fire power and do some things smaller ships just can’t. While they may not be efficient in base points, they are more efficient in upgrade costs as you have to buy fewer to improve a single ship. Their ability to shrug off massive attacks  and survive games wins games. They can have a major physiological effect on your enemy, and they can control the flow of a game like no other ship. They certainly do have a place, but what is it?

Final Thoughts

Personally I’m not quite ready to declare large ships dead. As I’ve noted there are good reasons to take them. In addition the cool factor will mean they will never really go away. I do think some things could be done to make them more competitive however. Firstly I’d love to see more of them. Just giving us options would be great. I also think moving the game to 500 points would really bring them back. Allowing a player more points to play with would make taking a large ship less of a constraint on the rest of your fleet choices. Other upgrades and titles could help as well. I do feel something needs to be done. Right now I don’t feel they are really worth it in most situations. In the end we will just have to see what FFG does in the long run and how the meta continues to change.

~That’s it for this week BoLS fans. Let us know what you think about large ships down in the comments!

  • Brandon Sharitt

    They aren’t worth it at 400 point games. I play with a local group where we generally do 550 points, and occasionally do 650 and big ships see a bit more play there. In fact I find that the game tends to be more cinematic and a bit more balanced at those point levels. I’d like to see the “standard” game size go up to at least 500 points where I think a bigger variety of fleets become more viable.

    • Deathwing

      Yep. This right here.
      I do tend to agree with the article authors assessment on the ISD being one of the most points in-efficient ships in the game. Perhaps a slight adjustment in the points cost of both the MC80 and the ISD is in order. I could very well see them getting either a few points off OR their single cheapest upgrade card you take on them in your list being free. That would increase the points efficiency and encourage players to only take a single upgrade on them if they want something boss for free, which opens up points for other ships as your not spending 50+ points on upgrades for the one big bad on your roster.

  • I wouldn’t know. No one here plays it publicly.

    • mafiacheese

      It’s okay, I don’t get to play it privately either! Mainly just a collector at this point.

  • Pain_Glove

    with my group we added a house-rule to the IDSs (and frankly to some other medium and big ships as well) … for example you do not pay for squadrons up to the squadron-value of the ship – and ISDs can respawn squadrons with the Swarm ability once.
    really makes games more cinematic (swarms of TIEs that get to repawn really feels like the movies … episodes IV-VI)

  • Jeremy Larson

    We have been trying a solution that fixes Life-Boating AND makes big ships more attractive: have ship-size provide a range to your admiral’s ability.
    It works like this: If your admiral is on a flotilla, the Admiral’s ability only effects within range 3. Other small ships provide range 4, medium ships get range 5, and if your admiral is on a big ship, the effect works on the entire board.

    • GoodOleBoy01

      Brilliant rule! FFG, take notes!

  • Drpx

    Game is sold to players as a way to play with big ships.

    Big ships suck in the game meta.

    Huh, might explain why I haven’t seen a game of armada played for almost a year. This is like X-Wings sucking in X-wing all over again.

    • af

      > Big ships suck in the game meta.

      Surely this only matters for competitive players? Gamers who love Star Wars and want to play Imperials surely *will* take Star Destroyers, possibly the most iconic ship of the Star Wars universe.

      Armada is still a fantastic game in my books. I haven’t bought anything beyond the core box and a couple of extra ships and fighters from the first wave, mind you. I like games where I don’t have to constantly keep buying new releases of stuff.

  • Chad Underdonk

    Also the fewer times you shoot at an enemy ship(i.e. activations) the more their defense tokens are effective at limiting your shots. A few big ships doesn’t force your opponent to make hard choices when taking hits.

  • mafiacheese

    Last time I was able to play, my ISD-II ripped open a Nebulon-B Frigate in one volley, just like Vader’s Devastator did at the end of Rogue One…it was glorious.

    But then again, you can probably discount anything I say, because in the rare instance that I do play, it’s for fun and not at all with any regards to points efficiency or tournament thinking.

    • af

      Playing for fun and not for points efficiency is the best way to play in my opinion. Who cares about efficiency? This is Star Wars!

      Being able to rip open a Nebulon with a Star Destroyer is why this game exists.