27 March 2023
Hobby high jinks on the high seas
Armada is the latest release in Mantic’s range of tabletop miniature games. Set in the world of their tabletop combat game Kings of War, it replicates the swashbuckling and cannon-fire of naval warfare. If you’ve ever wanted to push boats round a table with your friends, this may be your chance.
Armada applies the ruleset from Warlord’s Black Seas game, but with a fantasy approach rather than the historical accuracy of its older sibling. This opens the door for magical Kraken, Orc ships with huge rotating fists on the bow, and Undead Sorcery. Say what you like about Napoleonic warfare, but it generally suffered from a disappointing lack of flying Elvish Dragons.
The core mechanic is deliciously uncomplicated; each ship has a speed that it can move up or down by one each round, and four firing arcs (bow, stern, starboard, err.. left?) and all its actions are defined by those. Increase your speed from Steady to Battle speed, and gain an extra movement step, increase to Full speed and get another one (but also some negatives to dice rolls). Fire a broadside at something on the left (the port side!) and use whatever guns you have on the port arc.
All ability tests are on a ten sided dice, and everything succeeds on a 6 or more; with modifiers applied. Get your superior, trained crew within 3 inches of ship? Your guns hit on a 3+. Attempt to target a distant ship with an inexperienced crew? You need your dice to roll 8 or more. Rolling a 10 also scores a critical hit with extra damage and effects; trust me – setting your opponent’s flagship on fire is very satisfying.
Activation order is equally straightforward, and beautifully thematic. Wind direction is rolled for each round, either staying the same, or shifting one step clock-wise or counterclock-wise. Ships activate in order that they are hit by the wind, sensibly enough in a wind-powered arena. Knowing which ship will move first next turn is thus fairly predictable, but just unreliable enough to keep things interesting.
Now, miniatures games have a (well deserved) reputation for requiring lots of additional spend, outside of the initial purchase. Not so here. This two player starter set contains a massive table mat, two fleets and all the tokens, dice, rulers and dice needed to play endless games. There are additional fleets, ships and beasts you can buy, if you wish, but we played multiple games with the included ships and didn’t feel the experience was lacking anything. That said, do I think an insane twenty ship battle-to-the-death would be a great time? Aye, Captain!
The models, made of resin, are very pretty, but a little fiddly to put together, and the box is a little weak for the job. My only true criticism is the Ship cards, which could have colour-coded the guns to match the colour-coded dice, but didn’t. We coloured in ours with permanent markers, but until we did so there was unnecessary confusion every Shooting phase. The rulebook is also not going to win any awards, but manages to do its job. It took us a while to get our heads round the Grappling rules – for pulling an opponent ship closed and boarding – and whoever is still commissioning rulesets without an index needs to be keel-hauled.
Overall though, Armada uses deceptively simple rules to hide a tasty tactical challenge. The mental acrobatics of planning attacks whilst also estimating where ships will be several turns from now is delectable, and the impact of luck is about right; a big ship firing a broadside at a tiny vessel is likely to have a devastating effect – but you can never guarantee it.
PLAY IT? YES
Want to face down your friends over a table of sea and smoke? Mantic’s Armada will give you ample reasons to cheer (and groan) around the table.
TRY THIS IF YOU liked Battlefleet Gothic…
…whilst that sci-fi classic tended towards fiddly specificity, Armada manages much of the same sensations of intrepid fleet warfare but without having to constantly recheck tables before rolling dice.
Designer: Matt Gilbert
Time: 60-90 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 96-page rulebook with 10 scenarios, background lore and advanced rules
- 8 bases
- 8 ship cards
- 5 fleet reference cards
- 14 Basilean and orc MDF upgrade tokens
- 12 dice, 10 ten sided in 4 colours, 2 custom six sided.
- 4 resin Orc ships
- 4 resin Basilean ships
- 3ft by 4ft gaming mat
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