Star Wars Armada is a great game to play every once in a while. But committing to play a lot of it in the name of an organised campaign is another story.
The Corellian Conflict, released last year, is an attempt by Fantasy Flight to add a bit more weight to your fleet engagements by linking a series of battles together. No longer will you just turn up at a friend's house, wreck some cheap squadrons, shake hands, and call it a night.
Instead, The Corellian Conflict asks players to build a fleet then carry it through battle after battle after battle as part of a long campaign, with everyone able to repair, replace and upgrade ships throughout depending on how well they did.
This went about as well for the Rebels as it looked.
Here's how it works. Everyone playing gets 400 points that they're able to spend, for the most part, however they want. The campaign supports up to six players split across the two sides, with one person on each team acting as the Admiral, which means they get to make all the strategic decisions. That comes into play mostly when it comes to team selection: Even if you have six people playing, there can only be two taking part in a 1v1 battle at any one time, so Admirals are responsible for choosing the location of a battle from the campaign map, then designating which player is going to go at it.
Everything you get in the box. The squadrons are great! The campaign map is not.
The winners of each battle can earn more points to spend on their fleet (each fleet can move up to 500) along with campaign points. Losers meanwhile will also earn points, but as is the nature of battle, they will not only get less, but will also be likely spending more of them on repairs, while the victor tends to be able to spend them on upgrades instead.
Earn enough campaign points and the campaign section of things is over, triggering one final battle between all players, at the same table at the same time. Which means, yes, if you have the space and the cash for all those ships, you can have a 3v3 showdown.
Good luck finding a nice table for a 3v3 battle, we had enough trouble finding one for 2v2.
My own experience wasn't quite as extravagant -- we "only" had 2v2 -- but that final, Endor-esque encounter was still easily the most fun I've had with the game since release. Not only was the scale of the engagement a sight to behold, but the fact we'd worked for months to get into the positions we were in made the whole thing feel far more personal than previous, one-off battles had been.
The problem was that, as fun as that big last confrontation was, it didn't feel like all the work we'd put into it beforehand had been worth it.
I have several complaints with the way The Corellian Conflict has been designed and sold, and it starts with the moment you open the box. While the addition of some new squadron cards was nice, the whole thing felt very cheap, especially the fact the campaign map was just a piece of paper, and the campaign tokens a bunch of stickers (meaning if you ever want to play this again, you'd better make some modifications).
TCC's next and perhaps biggest issue is that the core campaign missions felt like a grind. I mean, I get it that the people picking this up are doing so because they love Armada and want to play a lot more of it, but the way missions restricted things to 1v1 battles really robbed our campaign of a lot of the social interaction that I love in board games, and made getting through them to reach the last battle -- and hang out and play together -- feel like a chore.
The campaign's cold design might have contributed to this. The last time I played a Final Fantasy Star Wars campaign, it was Imperial Assault, which propelled us through a narrative that featured branching missions and situations depending on how we'd played. And it was amazing. TCC gives you a map and the ability to fight anywhere on it, with no story whatsoever, and as a result each battle feels far less connected and important than I was expecting.
Indeed the only real impact each individual battle has on the composition of your forces for the last engagement is how powerful each would be, and again, this had problems. Our campaign began with a couple of successive Rebel losses and... that's how it continued throughout. The Empire quickly upgraded while the Rebels were forced into repairs, meaning the next battles were lopsided, and the ones after that even more so, and so it went until we went into the final battle with both Rebel fleets on 400 points while both Imperial forces had 500.
This had the Rebels at such a disadvantage for that showdown that the outcome was never really in doubt, turning what could have been a tense struggle into a seven-hour death march.
And yet... in spite of all this, that last battle was so fun that it was almost worth the hours and hours of grind that I hadn't been that into. Almost.
I think this is a campaign whose appeal is going to be very particular. As someone who liked Armada but isn't obsessed by it, and who likes hanging out with all my friends at once, I just wasn't feeling it. Armada fanatics, though, the people who play this game all the time regardless, probably won't mind the rules and stipulations here, and might view the last battle as a nice extra, instead of how I saw it as the main event and everything leading up to it as a bore.
The last remaining photo of our Rebel Fleet before it was wiped off the table.
The most important factor in how much you'll enjoy TCC, though, might be how much cash you have. While you're free to share models during the campaign missions, for the last battle every ship on the table has to be unique. I'm very lucky: Between being sent some ships for my review of this game and the fact one of my friends is very into Armada, we were able to fill the table with big and cool ships, which probably went a long way towards making it one of the most memorable game sessions I've ever had.
If you're short on ships, you'll probably be fine for the campaign missions, but will find the spectacle of the final battle lacking. Unless you're enticed by the idea of the campaign and become motivated to buy more Star Destroyers. Which I suspect is the driving force behind this entire campaign and its design in the first place.
I'm sure there will be hardcore Armada players who have already finished a number of campaigns reading and thinking I'm totally off about this. But you don't need noted snack food and cosplay site Kotaku to tell you about Armada. I approached this campaign as a part-time Armada player (who prefers X-Wing to this anyway), and walked away almost glad it was over.
Almost. Because boy, despite not really digging everything that went into it, I can't stop thinking about the day I got to spend seven hours pushing hundreds of dollars worth of Star Wars ships around a table and have it mean something...
Please allow 117 hours to clean up after the last battle.