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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nerding Out With Star Wars: Armada

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 at 4:00 PM

  • shutterstock/3000ad

The Star Wars Episode VII trailer that had us all mesmerized the other day showed — among many other things — how technology has given the space opera its connective tissue. In the both trilogies, there are battles among starships in deep space and there are scenes set on the ground, at human scale, but there comparatively few dogfights over a planet’s surface. (The AT-AT scene in The Empire Strikes Back is a notable exception.)

But the shots of the Millennium Falcon over Tattooine, in both of the trailers released so far, reflect a nimbleness and intensity to the battle scenes that simply wasn’t possible when Industrial Light & Magic was forced to rely on scale models alone. There are risks to this liberating approach, of course. One major weakness of Star Trek Into Darkness was how the Enterprise became much, much larger than it had ever been depicted (and could go below the surface of a planet’s ocean without breaking apart).

Escaping this knotty problem of verisimilitude, there is a new disturbance in the Force in the form of a game. Star Wars: Armada recreates a space battle between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance with beautifully fashioned Star Destroyers, Corellian corvettes, and fighters. Players adopt the role of fleet admirals, navigating a three-dimensional battlefield to victory. As massive Imperial cruisers can easily outgun the Rebels, the latter’s ships are comparatively agile and undercut their defenses.

The exquisitely painted ships are divided into four sections, each with its own firepower and shields (determined by the roll of the dice), while tokens, cards, and counters hammer out every last detail of how the battle progresses. They’re superb collectors’ pieces in their own right, but as a play-able game, it seems very satisfying.

As io9 put it, What this game does very well is depict the command and movement of massive starships in a quasi-realistic manner that feels very satisfying. It’s not easy to slow down or turn a huge ship, so each turn you have deal with the limitations of each particular vessel’s maneuverability and the fact that it’s already moving. You can’t stop on a dime — in fact, it’s hard to even slow down without dedicating a command to it. This creates a clear and interesting set of advantages and disadvantages between different ships.”

So, cool. A tie-in that feels like it rewards fanboys and -girls is most welcome from a franchise that brought us Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks. It’s only too bad that the expansion pack doesn’t contain a giant Death Star for a Super-Star Destroyer to plow into, exploding in a fireball only minutes before the Death Star itself explodes.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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