This past week I've been trying a few games I hadn't played before. Two in particular have been fantastic: RAMbots and Armada.
RAMbots brings the crazy fun that still allows room for strategy, but I think Armada might be my new favorite Icehouse game (yes, even more than Zendo / Binary Homeworlds / Gnostica).
I've played Armada against a few different friends who prefer different strategies, but something about this game tickles all of us in just the right ways. Most strikingly, this is the most realistic-feeling simulation I've experienced in the largely abstract Icehouse system. The bigs ships feel powerful, intimidating, and clunky. The small ships feel quick and vulnerable. We actually feel like two men commanding a fleet when we play this game. Flanking and skirmishing et all aren't represented with numerical bonuses, but rather are rewarded in the same way such things play out in real battles. There's something satisfyingly old-timey about rushing an exposed foe and banking at the last second to open fire from the side of your ship. I could go on and on about how the simple rules do more to make you feel like a Admiral (or Pirate Captain!) than anything else could have.
If you own more than one stash, I'd recommend playing with the 12 point ship-buy setup. That variant, combined with the freeform nature of initial placement, allow for any number of fascinating tactical experiments to play out. Last night, my friend and I started a battle with his fleet completely surrounding mine. It was an awesome game, with a particularly dramatic end as his one remaining ship had a dogfight with my final ship, engulfed in flames (we use orange icehouse pieces to indicate how damaged a ship is; they do a great job at resembling fire, so that you can instantly see where the destruction is across the battlefield). His cannons brought me down after a miscalculated swoop.
On that last point, I'd like to mention the house rule we've been using. We didn't see it anywhere in the rules, but after the first couple games we decided that players would no longer be allowed to test movement or firing range. If you touch a ship to move it, you move it. No careful checking in advance to make sure you'll have that shot you need. This has had multiple positive effects on the game. Firstly, it's sped things up. Turns used to take twice as long. Secondly, it's cut down on the number of jostled ship incidents. Finally, it's added another element of realism to the game. As you become more familiar with your ships, their capabilities are more defined in your mind. A mistake quickly becomes a lesson.
We've also found that Armada lends itself to being played even while doing other things. Having a game going on the side to return to is nice, especially since watching your opponent's turns isn't particularly vital.
So you've heard a bit about my love affair with this game. What are your impressions of it? What's your favorite point-buy fleet?
We've been referring to starting fleets based on the number of large ships they have, like so:
As of now, I'm torn for my favorite fleet between Flotilla [2S/2M/2L] and Flagship [1S/4M/1L], though Dogfight seems the strongest choice for a new player - small ships are very easy to use. Blockade and Dreadnought haven't gotten much play outside of specific scenarios; they seem overly defensive at first glance. That exciting game from last night, though, was a diffuse Flotilla attacking my Blockade sitting in tight formation. Maybe with a little more practice, Dreadnought could be a contender when it's not just sitting back and waiting on the enemy. I think I'll play Dreadnought the next few games and see where it takes me.