I had a really good time at GenCon this year. The con itself is always a blast and it's just fun to see so many games going on all at once. I started this blog just after GenCon last year as a place to kind of "think out loud" about Armada. I've been kind of surprised and pleased that anyone has cared enough to follow along.
The blog gave me the chance to go back to GenCon this year with a Press Badge. For whatever reason I found this really amusing. So, I decided to take it seriously and see if I could do some press-like things and get some interviews or do some reporting. That turned out to be a lot of fun and was in some ways the most memorable part of this year's con for me.
In my interviews I really tried to stay away from spoilery questions and focus on getting the big picture. The spoilers will come eventually anyways, but there isn't always a lot of context on Armada in internet discussions. So, the purpose of this post is to give an un-official "State of Armada" report based on what I learned at GenCon.
FFG has a huge presence at GenCon. They have one of the largest ares in both the exhibition and event halls. Their games are everywhere. I asked Christian Peterson, the CEO of FFG, if they viewed GenCon as an opportunity or a chore. He related that it is "like their SuperBowl". For FFG it's a chance to show off and generate buzz, but for the developers it's a chance to get out from behind a computer screen and actually interact with their customers. I heard from multiple FFG employees how much they enjoy the show and the chance to interact with their fans.
I also spoke with a British company, 4Ground, that was making their first GenCon appearance. They said they were totally blown away by their experience and that there was nothing to rival the GenCon experience in Europe. So, FFG has the largest presence at the largest game convention in the world.
What about Armada? It was right out front. Shown prominently in their display cases. The huge pile of Wave 4 ships was the first thing I saw when I got into their sales area on Thursday. (By Sunday afternoon Wave 3 was fully sold out) The Armada demo tables were busy with con-goers trying out the game and while I was playing in the tournament, Armada was in a high-traffic area and generating lots of questions and comments.
I asked in general terms how Armada was doing for FFG, if sales were healthy, etc. Mr. Peterson excitedly told me about how well it was doing. He said it was the 3rd best selling miniature game in the USA behind X-Wing and Warhammer 40k. He related that FFG does not really compare Armada sales to those of X-Wing. The sales for X-Wing have been astronomical for FFG and I got the impression that they almost view those as an outlier and not a bench mark for their other game lines. It would appear that by their own measurements FFG considers Armada to be very successful and healthy from a sales standpoint. He said that he knows that production delays can sometimes give another impression, but that in no way is the case from their point of view.
Now, I got extremely positive sales numbers from a company CEO....shocking right? All I can say is I am a high school teacher and my BS sensor is pretty highly tuned. I honestly found Mr. Peterson to be very genuine in his conversation with me.
The best evidence I saw for the sales health of Armada was the Corellian Conflict expansion. If Armada was struggling or even just getting by I don't know that FFG would invest in trying a new type of product for the line. Why not try it with X-Wing first if that was the case? It is doing well enough financially to try out something in a new design space. Also, several times when I was near the display case I would witness a passerby point to the Corellian Conflict box and say to their friend something to the effect of "that is what will get me to finally buy into Armada."
I asked about the challenges associated with producing pre-painted models. This is where Mr. Peterson seemed the most eager to get out his message. He went as far as pulling out his cell phone and showing me images from the factory of how many specialized parts it took to paint the X-wing Raider, 92!
In general terms all of the various delays for X-Wing or Armada are factory related. (Pretty much the port strike was the exception.) There are 2-3 factories that they work with to get their models created, built, and painted and there can be issues with the dyes, casting, the painting process, etc that can seriously delay a whole wave. He seemed genuinely frustrated that these delays occur and understood that the silence can give the impression that nothing is happening. He seemed hopeful that they were finally caught up on the overall backlog and related that they had some new processes in place that they were hoping would help. It sounds like they are trying to improve everything that they can control, but especially with the pre-painted models there is a lot they can't control.
So, what actually happened with Wave 3 & 4?
Here is my best guess at how it went down. This is based on a few conversations and some inferences on my part, so this is definitely the unoffical story.
Wave 2 was delayed for various factory and shipping reasons, but probably the painting process was part of it. Wave 3 & 4 were originally slated to be one wave. FFG wanted to avoid another delay and so split the wave in two parts. The simpler to paint flotillas went to one factory and the more complicated Liberty and Interdictor to another. (Or one factory was slated to do the waves one after the other.) Again, controlling what they could to get a new product on the shelves in a timely fashion. FFG was then surprised when the Wave 4 half were completed much sooner than expected or the Wave 3 half took longer than planned (or some combination of the 2). Rather than release them a couple of weeks apart they were then able to release them together at GenCon. I think they were making the best they could of the pre-painted supply chain.
What does this mean going forward? I think we will see more smaller waves like wave 5. I think delays will still be an issue on occasion.
The Actual Game of Armada
One of the great things about the GenCon Armada tournament is that Alex Davy, the FFG developer in charge of the line, is there as the tournament marshal. Could we ask for a better authority on the rules?
Beyond that Alex is a great guy who obviously enjoys the game and cares a great deal about it. It was fun to have the chance to talk Armada with him between rounds of the tournament. After we had talked about the Corellian Conflict expansion I told him I wrote a blog and would be writing about it. He asked which blog and when told, said he does read my posts. That's kinda fun. Alex, and the other developers, do read the blogs and forums, but don't get involved for a plethora of reasons.
I asked if he, or anyone at FFG, had seen the Regionals data that I collected. Yes! was the emphatic answer that I got. He said there are similar efforts for their other games and they really appreciate it. The developers don't have the time to compile that themselves, but find it fascinating and really useful. He said the data confirmed some of his suspicions and eased some others, which had been my experience as well. There are definitely cards they are keeping an eye on for possible adjustment. However, an errata or something similar would only happen in an extreme case. I know that they have been playtesting some of these adjustments.
Why adjust things? They want a balanced game that has a variety of options. Some are easier to do than others. Moff JerJerrod is an obvious answer to the struggles of the VSD. Trying to figure what, if anything, should be done with Demolisher is much trickier. This is one case where he said the Regionals data was genuinely helpful to them.
I think it is great for the long term health of the game that they are paying attention to which fleets are doing well in tournaments and trying to maintain a healthy, diverse meta. I got the impression that if there are adjustments made to any cards it will be more about maintaining diversity than anything else.
From my own impression of the tournament I thought there was a solid diversity to the lists although some admirals were notably absent. Compared to last year, where no-squadron fleets were dominant, this year squadrons were everywhere. There were no-squadron fleets, but they had a mixed level of success, with only one playing the final day.
Alex is really excited about the new waves and how much they will shake up the game. He really feels many of us will need to go back to the drawing board to adjust. Mixed with that though is a strong desire to keep the original ships relevant. I expect Waves 1 and 2 will continue to be the core of many fleets, but enhanced by the new options opened up!
Really, that's what I expect. More ships, squadrons, and hopefully campaigns. Alex was pretty happy that the new Wave 5 Squadrons would give Armada most of the non-scum X-Wing options. When I look at both the newly announced X-Wing and Armada waves what I noticed was that pretty much everything, with the exception of some squadrons brought over from X-Wing, is on screen canon. I expect that trend to continue.
Right now if you want to know what's next in either game you should be watching Rebels. I mean you should watch it cause it's a really fun show, but that seems to be our current source of ship designs as well. I'm sure if there are capital ships in Rogue One that they will make their way to Armada as well. It just makes sense from a marketing standpoint for both Disney/Lucas and FFG.
So, as much as I am a fan of some of the old West End Games ship designs I'm not holding out hope for them.
Mostly, I left GenCon feeling really good about Armada and the direction that it is headed. The community of players is excellent, FFG cares about the game, and the developers want it to be the best that it can.
It was a really cool opportunity to get to talk with everyone and kinda put the parts of this post together. I don't want to come off as claiming I am THE expert on Armada, but I wanted to share what is hopefully some useful context to the game. Hopefully this kind of big picture view of things will be interesting or helpful to you.
I think I covered everything, but if you have any specific questions please ask them here or on the FFG forums and I'll do my best to share what I learned.
As always, thanks for reading.