“God Blew and They Were Scattered!” The Invincible Armada is a Fantastic Game! Game Review
The Invincible Armada 1588 AD Game Review. Publisher: Turning Point Simulations Designer: Mark G. McLaughlin Price: $29.95 (zip lock) $34.95 (boxed)
Passed Inspection: Small footprint, simple to learn but dynamic to play, great value for the price, exciting, plays perfectly well solo. Also a great educational experience.
Failed Basic: Needs a better explanation of the Parma counters (turns out these are used during the Armada Rendezvous sequence but they are not referenced directly in the rules), a few rule typos, “Eddystone Light” on the strategic map should just read “Eddystone” as the lighthouse wasn’t built until 1696 – over 100 years after 1588. Fireship rules could be “unpacked” a little for clarity.
The Invincible Armada 1588 AD is a game in Turning Point Simulations’ “Battles that Changed the World” series. As with the other games in the series, this game is available in a zip lock version or a boxed version.
Surely the battle between the British Navy and the Spanish Armada must be remembered as one of the most important battles in history and, as was the case with the Battle of Britain centuries later, the fate of Britain, itself, rested upon the outcome.
The Invincible Armada allows you to either save Britain or to try and invade it.
Upon opening the game, you find a very impressive amount of high quality components stuffed in to a very small package:
One full color, 11” x 17” mounted map
180 full color, 5/8″ and 1/2″ die-cut counters
12 page rulebook
2 Squadron Charts
2 Player Aid Charts
You will need two six sided die in order to play.
The mounted map board is split between a strategic map and a tactical map. The British have 5 squadron counters replicated for both the strategic display and the tactical display. The Spanish have one squadron representing the Armada and then individual squadron counters for the various captains. Additionally, there are squadron play aids which show the name of the squadron commander plus their individual abilities and die roll modifiers (both based upon their real life personalities and skills) and the strength of the squadron plus an area to keep track of ammunition status. In addition, there are two play aids with charts and tables plus counters for the squadrons, random events, the weather and wind plus others status counters.
The map board is elegantly designed to provide an efficient way of tracking the strategic positions of the ships plus the tactical positions of the squadrons. In addition, there are spaces to place the wind direction counter and track the weather conditions. My only concern with the map is that the “Eddystone Light” area on the strategic map should just read “Eddystone” as the lighthouse wasn’t built until 1696 – 108 years after 1588.
The compactness of the map board and the other play aids makes this the perfect game to take on trips where space is at a premium.
The event chits cover a wide variety of things that can make your life easier or drive you crazy. Everything from efficient quartermasters to sea sickness, critical hits and fire breaking out on a ship are simulated. These greatly add to the replay ability of this fine game. My one complaint about these are that the Parma event counters need to be explained in the rules. A check with the designer revealed that are used to modify the die rolls during the Armada Rendezvous sequence in which Spanish troops are loaded on the ships for invasion of the British Isles. Somehow I couldn’t find this in the rules.
Set up is fast and can be accomplished in less than five minutes.
The turn sequence is as follows:
English Tactical Moves
Spanish Tactical Moves
Reorganize and Reinforce
Weather and Strategic Moves
Event Chit Draw
Tactical moves are conducted by squadrons on the tactical section of the map board. While the directions of the ships are not modeled, the wind direction dictates the directions and speed of the ship squadrons. Squadrons have to be adjacent to attack and they may only attack orthogonal (that is straight up and down or right and left – no diagonal attacks are allowed but diagonal movement is allowed).
Squadrons can either move and attack or attempt to rally, repair damage or reload their ammunition.
Each side has three tactics counters of which they pick one. The options are “Stand Off”, “Close In” or “Try and Board”. Each side picks a tactic (or in the case of solo play, put the tactics face down and draw one at random) then the tactics are cross referenced on a chart in order to find out how many die to roll for combat and whether moral rolls need to be made; all very fast to play out and very elegant in execution.
Authentic formation examples are included for the Spanish Armada.
British squadrons are faster in movement than the Spanish squadrons and the interplay between the skill sets of the different squadron captains adds to the exciting play.
Playing as the British during my play through, I found that I had to close and hit hard and then attempt to retreat and re-arm and repair my ships quickly before the Armada moved further away. I was trying to nitpick the Armada to death – rather the like the proverbial “death of a thousand cuts”.
As the Armada continues on its course towards its rendezvous with the Spanish troops near Gravelines, the British have the chance to re-create the fire ship attack off the shores of Calais. I found the fire ship attack rules to be a little too densely written. I had to re-read that section about four times until I figured out what the designer was trying to say. This section could use a little “unpacking” for ease of reading but once you figure it out, it is a very exciting part of the game with 8 British ships set on fire and set on a ramming attack directly in to the heart of the Armada.
Eventually the Armada may get to Gravelines and attempt to meet up with The Duke of Parma’s army as well as troop transport barges and additional supply ships in the Netherlands. A variety of factors can create issues which can delay the rendezvous or even prevent it. Full rules are included to review the condition of the Armada and how well it can transport the planned invasion force.
The key to the game seems to be for the British to continually hit the Armada with two squadrons and while the other two or three squadrons attempt to refit, reload ammo or raise their damaged morale. Even if the British fire ship attack doesn’t sink many of the Spanish ships, it can still disrupt their morale.
In my play through, I was playing the British and by the time the Armada loaded the troops on for invasion, I had weakened it and several of their squadrons had bad morale. Right before the invasion force landed, with one turn left to win or lose as the British, I brought all my squadrons to bear – even the ones with very low ammunition. This final attack so disrupted the Armada that they were unable to land the invasion force and the British won the battle! It came down to the wire in a way that very few games I’ve played do.
There are plenty of alternative rules which can be used to create “what if” scenarios.
According to the game’s designer Mark McLaughlin, Turning Point Simulations “… said three other designers had tried and given up (designing a game on the Spanish Armada), saying it was ungameable…..I smiled and said “It’s a World War 2 convoy battle, that’s all….the Spanish are the convoy, the British are the u-boats/raiders/pocketbattleships/Luftwaffe, etc…..I have always loved books and movies and documentaries and museum visits relating to the armada (even “Fire over England” with Laurence Olivier).”
While designed as a two player game with one person playing the Armada and one person playing the British Squadrons, the game is perfectly suited for solo play as the Armada has to move along the strategic track in a linear manner. The solo player draws event chits for both sides and then during tactical battles blindly draws the tactic chit for the Spanish squadron. It plays perfectly!
The game can be played in three or four hours and is a very satisfying playing experience.
If you are interested in naval warfare of the age of sail, don’t strike your colors – get this game sailor!
Armchair General Rating: 94 %
Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!