Mantic's Armada

In the end of August 2021 I ordered Armada from Mantic's web store, and played my first game against my perennial opponent Gareth on 2 January 2021. The information age is well and truly with us. In the past I would have had to rely on the vagaries of memory, or if I was lucky, a scribbled note in my diary to remind of me of when I did what. Nowadays in this age of big data I can hop onto the Mantic website and ascertain exactly when I placed my Armada order (31 August 2021). I can also date when I played my first Armada game (2 January 2022) thanks to the embedded date, time and location data within the photo itself. It truly is an age of wonder. Or burgeoning unprecedented tyranny. We leave our digital footprints everywhere, and the spoor we leave behind leaves enough of who we are to be exploited. I wonder how many digital phantasms still prowl the Internet long after their physical counterparts have shuffled off their mortal coil. My poor mother's Facebook page persisted for years after she passed in 2016, and my sister's tribute to her remains on YouTube, presumably to remain there for as long as the servers remain operational, or for as long as Google remains solvent. Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, written in 1609, concludes with the following lines:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The digital age has given those lines a peculiar twist unforeseen by the great bard, but the idea remains the same. The Internet is still young, having really just existed for a generation - but one day it will be full of ghosts, forever young, trapped in time, living in Instagram photos and TikTok videos.

Anyway, I digress. Armada is a game of fantasy ships, using the stock races commonly found in fantasy and placing them in a naval battle setting. As a child I wanted to purchase and play Games Workshop's Man O' War, released almost 30 years ago in 1993. I was only a school boy at the time, however, and lacked the means to purchase the box, which promised a world of sea-borne adventures sequestered within. It came and went out of print, dancing tantalizingly out of my reach, but enough of the desire remained buried within my psyche that when Mantic released their own version I immediately bought a copy, without really thinking about it. At the time of writing I still don't know of any other Armada player in Japan. I am fortunate that Gareth was willing to play, and doubly fortunate to find that he actually liked it. He is a historical gamer and a naval enthusiast, so much so that he was willing to forgive the fantastic setting, which is something he is usually dismissive of. Encouraged by this, I doubled down on my initial investment and bought almost all the ships in the Armada range on impulse. No doubt I was being impelled by the childhood disappointment of never having been able to own a copy of Man O' War. For better or for worse I now have a literal armada of vessels to assemble and paint. 

I am pleased to say that the basic game is good - I do not have the expansion rules which include fliers and campaigns, and it's not something I'm in a rush to acquire. I have to confess however, that I have only played a handful of naval games, and have only the most rudimentary knowledge about how naval warfare was conducted. I've played Seastrike (Cold War era, released in 1974) and The Great War At Sea: Mediterranean (WWI, released in 1996), and that's about it - the rest of my knowledge is pieced together from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series (2003-2017), the Netflix documentary The Lost Pirate Kingdom (2021) and the PC submarine simulators Sub Battle Simulator (1987) and Aces of the Deep (1994). It surprised me to learn that naval battles during the age of sail were mostly brutal slugfests, with ships basically lining up and bombarding the snot out of each other. In my mind's eye I always thought that maneuver played more of a part, but apparently the tactic of the day was to sail within range, exchange cannon fire, and the ship able to limp away wins. In this respect Armada succeeds - so far in our games Gareth and I have concentrated on lining up broadsides to try and get decisive shooting phases to win the game one way or the other. In our three games to date Gareth has always played the humans to soothe his non-fantasy bias, and I play the orcs with their ridiculous ramshackle ships armed with outlandish gadgets. Needless to say I love the orcs, and take great pleasure in trying to wreck Gareth's human fleet by ramming them.

In game number one Gareth demonstrated his superior knowledge of naval combat by lining up several episodes of raking fire and inflicting tremendous damage on the orcish fleet. Crossing the T was Nelson's tactic during the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), and we had a fantasy re-enactment of that with Gareth basically being the English and myself being the French, if the French were a bunch of green skinned savages looking to ram their enemies and board at any cost. My comical attempts at trying to ram the humans also ended up with me flying off the play area with two of my ships. Gareth took the game comfortably, and I was hooked.

We played a second game immediately afterwards. It was closer but I believe Gareth still eked out a smaller victory when he finally sank one of my main ships at the end of the game. This time out I was more conservative with my speed, but I was still unable to board any of Gareth's ships successfully. The orcs' penchant for ramming and boarding ensured that the battle was never dull, even if they failed in all their attempts. I guess this is what the US navy felt when they were under assault by kamikazes in the Philippine Sea or Okinawa during WWII. Except without the threat of real death and the terror that accompanies it.

Our third game turned out to be the revenge of the orcs, who this time abandoned their kamikaze ramming tactics and played like the humans, exchanging fire over long distances while threatening to board if they got close enough. Exchanging fire with the humans appeared to be a risky gambit, but luck fell my way, and the orcs were able to let loose some blistering shooting phases while the humans failed to hit the proverbial side of a barn. One devastating raking fire broadside shredded one of Gareth's Elohi (a class of Basilean - human - warship) and sent it straight to the bottom. The remaining ships, damaged and limping, disengaged and withdrew. The orcs had won their first victory.

I recommend Armada for anyone who has a fantasy naval fetish like myself. The models are large, simple and look great on the tabletop. The game system is simple and easy to follow, and while my experience is still quite limited, I have found it to be fun and enjoyable. Time will reveal if the gameplay has more tactical depth, but for now I am content to assemble and paint up the models. There are more scenarios to play, and different factions to try. My only concern is that I don't know any other Armada players in Japan, and this sad state of affairs means I have to buy both sides so I can supply the models for casual games with casual players. Nonetheless, purchasing Armada has fulfilled a childhood dream of mine. That little boy staring through the glass of a Games Workshop store, eyes wide at the small ships and the promise of great adventures within, can finally run home clutching his booty to his chest. It makes me sad to think that most of his playmates have moved on to other things, but that's life. A fellow Warhammer enthusiast, Joshua, has an almost complete set of Man O' War on display in his gaming room in Ibaraki. It's beautifully painted and almost complete, but through the eyes of an adult I have to confess that it doesn't look like much anymore. Whatever hold it had on me as a child is long gone in the adult. And now that I have Armada, I am filled with conflicting feelings of having wasted my money, happiness that I have a fantasy naval game at last, and sadness at the lack of players who share my enthusiasm. I don't really know what I would say to my younger self, as a parent or a teacher or a guardian - would I tell him that games are a waste of time, ephemeral distractions which rob you of time and opportunity? I don't know if I could bear seeing his face fall, or to rob him of the happiness he would have clutching that game to his chest. I think the best route would be to let him know that while the game is great, true happiness lies in playing it with others.


  1. I don't know if I'll spring for Armada, but I wanted to take the moment to welcome you back to blogging!

    1. Hey Redbeard. thanks - I see that you are still chugging along yourself.

    2. Yes, on my 13th year. At this rate the blog will be driving before I know it.

  2. > The information age is well and truly with us. [...] Nowadays in this age of big data I can hop onto the Mantic website and ascertain exactly when I placed my Armada order

    Funny, I found that also in that information age, data can easily disappear, especially when it's not stored on Internet BigCorp servers but rather on smaller image hosts (tinypic, imageshack), personal websites/blogs, niche forums... or even on the bigcorp when it's part of purge, of services that get shuttered or moved...

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