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.
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.
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.
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?
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!