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Subject: So You Want to Play A Call to Arms: Noble Armada... rss

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Justin Borges
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Noble Armada is Mongoose Publishing's recent re-dux of the A Call to Arms system (ACTA), which they previously published in the Babylon 5 setting, and will soon be revamped in the Star Fleet Universe. The ACTA system is an easy to learn, fast to play ruleset pitting players' fleets against each other in bitter, deadly space combat. The setting of Noble Armada comes from the Fading Suns RPG, where the nobility of various Houses plot against each other during a future Dark Age for humanity.

The game is played on the tabletop using fleets of spaceship miniatures. Mongoose has a slew of models for each House, including starter fleets that contains enough ships to start a campaign with. Of course, a starter box just isn't enough, especially when they release ships like the large Dreadnoughts, the death-dealing behemoths of the fleets. The core rulebook includes fleet lists for five of the Houses. An upcoming expansion will include a few more Houses or playable groups, as well as new ships for the existing Houses.

Anyway, let's get on with a quick look at how the game plays.

To begin with, players choose a Scenario, randomly or otherwise agreed upon. There are 15 scenarios included in the rulebook. Next, players agree on a "Conflict Intensity," ranging from Patrol (500 points or less) right through to War (2000 points or more). The more points you play at, the longer the game will take, of course. Sometimes the actual points value or certain limitations will be determined by the scenario. Victory conditions are also listed in the scenario, and is often based on total points values of enemy ships you've destroyed.

And now you're ready to play the game, which goes a little something like this...

The Turn Sequence

Initiative Phase
Movement Phase
Attack Phase
Boarding Phase
End Phase

Initiative Phase

Simply, players determine who has initiative this turn by rolling 2d6 and adding their fleet initiative modifier.

Movement Phase

The player with initiative can choose to go first, or force his opponent to. The player going first will move one of his ships, followed by the opponent. Players alternate moving ships until all ships in both fleets have moved. If one player has more ships than the opponent, he will get more activations. Players will want to manoeuvre their ships into advantageous positions for the upcoming Attack Phase.

All ships must move at least half of, and up to, their Speed score in inches. Depending on their Turn score (1/45, 2/45, 1/90, 2/90) they will be able to make 1 or 2 turns per movement, at up to 45 or 90 degrees each. They must move a minimum of 2 inches after a turn before making another. Ships with a Turn score of SM are so manoeuvrable that they can be placed anywhere up to their Speed score, facing any direction.

Thus, movement is quite simple in Noble Armada. There are also a number of Special Actions that can be declared and attempted at this time. One of these is "Prepare to Grapple!" which, if successful, allows the ship to board the enemy and attempt to commandeer the ship.

Attack Phase

Using the same initiative order from the Movement Phase, players now alternate firing their ships' weapons, one ship at a time. All damage is resolved before the opponent's next ship is activated to fire.

Each weapon system on a ship can be used once, targeting a single ship in its arc and range. A ship on the line of two arcs cannot be fired at by weapons in both arcs. Ships do not block line of site, and you may never fire upon your own ships.

When a weapon is fired, a number of dice are rolled equal to the weapon's Attack Dice score (AD). Each die that is equal to or greater than the target's Hull score results in a Hit. A roll of 6 is always a Hit, and a 1 is always a Miss.

Next, tally the number of successful Hits and subtract the number of functioning Shields the target has. For each Hit not absorbed by the Shields, roll a d6. The ship will now either not take Damage (result of 1), take 1 Damage (2-5) or take 1 Damage and roll for a Critical Hit on the Systems Table (6). The Critical Hit roll can effect either the Engines, Reactor, Weapons, Crew or Shields. Each time one of these locations takes a Critical Hit, its Critical Score increases. There is a table in the rulebook that lists the effects for each Critical Score level, from 1 to 6. Generally, each Critical Score level lists Extra Damage the ship takes, such as 1, 3 or 2d6, as well as Effects on the ship, such as -1 Speed, -2 Shields or "lose one random trait." The Effects are cumulative, and if a Hit causes more than one Critical Score increase (through certain weapon traits), the Critical Score level and those 'skipped' are combined. Damage and Effects are applied immediately.

Ships have a dual Damage score, such as 18/6. This means that the ship can take 18 points of Damage before being destroyed, but once at 6 points or below, its Threshold has been met and it has been Crippled. Turns are reduced to 45 degrees; the ship is allowed one fewer turns per Movement; its Speed score is reduced by half; only one weapon system may be fired; and a d6 is rolled for each of the ship's trait, losing it on a 4+.

When a ship's Damage score is reduced to 0 or below, it has been destroyed. All of an attacking ship's weapons that have targeted the ship must still be rolled, even if the ship has been reduced to 0 or less Damage. After all attacks have been finished, the attacking player rolls a d6, adding +1 for each point of Damage below 0 that the ship has taken. The table for this roll shows results ranging from Running Adrift to Ship Explodes, where all ships within 4 inches are attacked by the exploding ship. Cool.

There are a number of weapon system types in Noble Armada, from Slug Guns to Blasters to Rockets. Each weapon system has a Range, AD and Special Traits that are listed in the fleet list and explained in the rulebook.

Boarding Phase

Here is an aspect of Noble Armada that has been emphasized more than in other fleet games. If a "Prepare to Grapple!" Special Action was successfully made in the Movement Phase, and both ships have survived the Attack Phase (they can still fire their weapons, even when grappled), they are now moved into contact with each other and boarding begins.

Ships have a Troop score, which are usually made of standard Marines, that act as both attacking and defending forces during Boarding Actions. The player that initiated the grapple is the attacker, and now decides how many of his Troops to send into the enemy ship, which will be his Troop Dice. The defender has as many Troop Dice as his current Troop Score. Both players roll their Troop Dice, with every 5+ killing off one of the opponent's Troop Dice. If either ship loses all of their Troop Dice, the opponent wins. If the attacker wins, they take over the ship. If the defender wins, they have repelled the boarders, and may even counterattack. If both players still have Troop Dice remaining, it is a stalemate and will fight again in the next turn's Boarding Phase.

There can be multiple Boarding Actions among multiple grappled ships. As well, after one full turn a grappling ship may un-grapple, leaving his Troops behind to continue fighting, thus allowing a single ship to board multiple ships over a number of turns. Cool.

Above the standard Marines, Troops can also be Elite (+1 bonus to die rolls) or Marauders (+2 bonus and lose half as many troops).

End Phase

In this phase, any ships Running Adrift are moved half their current Speed in a straight line.

As well, ships can attempt to repair their ships through Damage Control. Each ship may attempt to reduce on location's Critical Score by rolling a d6 and adding their Crew Quality. For each point above 8, the Critical Score is lowered by 1 and all Effects (but not Damage or lost Troops) are repaired, and any lost Traits are restored.

Shields that have been knocked out by Burn Out weapons are restored now. And any location whose Critical Score includes "Escalate" must roll to check for Escalation. On a 4+ the Critical Score is increased by 1.

Special Actions, Traits and Advanced Rules

There are 10 Special Actions that ships may attempt throughout the turn. Some are automatically made, while others require a Crew Quality check (d6 plus standard Crew Quality of 4). These include ramming, grappling, running silent, fully stopping or minimising damage taken.

Ships can have 1 or more Special Traits. There are currently 9 of these, such as Agile that lets the ship turn better, and Stealth that make a ship invisible to enemy targeting systems.

Weapons can also have 1 or more Special Traits, out of a pool of 12. Some of these burn through Shields, knocking them out until the end of the turn. Others ignore Shields altogether, or increase the Critical Score by 2 levels instead of 1.

Advanced Rules include random Crew Quality, Gatling Lasers (point-defence weapons similar to phaser-3s in Star Fleet Universe games), Multiplayer Games and Squadrons.

Fighters, Scenarios and Campaigns

In Noble Armada, Fighters are support ships and, when used in coordinated attacks, can deal heavy damage to even the largest of ships. There are a number of rules for Fighters, such as dogfighting and supporting larger craft. As of yet, I am not sure how heavy a role Fighters play in battles.

The rulebook contains 15 Scenarios. This is often a highlight of Mongoose Publishing's games. Scenarios for Noble Armada range from Carrier Clash to Towering Inferno, and add a variety of victory conditions, fleet limitations and deployment zones.

The rulebook also provides a pretty complete system for running a Campaign. Over 12 pages, there are listings for Strategic Targets, The Campaign Turn, Ship Experience Points, Space Installations, Space Debris, etc. It looks to be a nice, comprehensive system that I do hope to try out some day, adding something a little more engaging than one-off battles.

The Fading Suns Universe

The rulebook goes into some depth of the background of Noble Armada, offering a history of the Fading Suns universe. Not exactly necessary to play the game, it does provide a nice background to the conflicting Houses, and provides enough story to motivate players to create unique fleets. Personally I am going to do a little more research into the setting, so that my own fleets will be somewhat 'realistic' to the storyline.

Final Pre-Play Thoughts

There is a bit more to the Noble Armada rule system and rulebook than I've described here, of course. But this should give you an overall understanding of how the game plays, and what you might expect with the game. I personally very much enjoyed the Babylon 5 version of the rules, then again I also very much enjoyed the Babylon 5 show. If that game was rereleased with new miniatures, I surely would have no problem getting into it. However, I am also quite looking forward to getting into Noble Armada. I already have a fleet on order, as does a regular gaming buddy of mine.

Once I have my fleet in-hand and have played a couple of games I will write another review, talking about components and gameplay. Until then, from what I've seen so far, I do encourage you to check this game out, and take a peek at Mongoose's pretty-active blog and forums for more info on this and other games of theirs.

Thanks for reading!
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Karl Larsson
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Great write-up. Looking forward to the update.
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