27 November 2017 | Star Wars: Armada

Grand Admiral Thrawn

2016 World Champion Josiah Burkhardsmeier on Bringing Thrawn to Star Wars™: Armada

"I will start my operations here, and pull the rebels apart piece by piece."
     –Grand Admiral Thrawn

Fans of the Galactic Empire are going to enjoy Star Wars™: Armada Wave VII.

As we announced in August, Wave VII consists of two starship expansions—one for the Rebellion and one for the Empire. Both are bringing brilliant new commanders to your Star Wars fleet battles. The Rebels gain the services of Admiral Raddus, who arrives with his flagship, the Profundity, in the Profundity Expansion Pack. The Imperials, meanwhile, gain the legendary, blue-skinned tactician Grand Admiral Thrawn .

Arriving as part of the Chimaera Expansion Pack, which features a repainted and retrofitted Imperial-class Star Destroyer as well as two Mandalorian Gauntlet squadrons, the Grand Admiral is undoubtedly the star of the wave. A fan-favorite villain who first came to life in Timothy Zahn's classic novel, Heir to the Empire, Thrawn recently made his way to Star Wars Rebels, where he served as a formidable opponent to Hera Syndulla, Kanan Jarrus, and the rest of the show's namesake Rebels.

Given Thrawn's reputation as a master strategist, many Armada fans felt it was inevitable that he would appear in the game, and they were right. But it's not just the fact that he arrives in Wave VII that's noteworthy; the way he's incorporated into the game is just as notable. Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of two cards in Wave VII designed by the game's World Champions.

Before we get to the rest of the wave, then, we're going to honor these World Champions and their contributions to the wave. Soon, we'll hear from 2015 World Champion Jonathan Reinig about his card design, but today we begin our Wave VII previews with the story behind Grand Admiral Thrawn, as told by 2016 World Champion Josiah Burkhardsmeier.

You can watch the full coverage of Josiah's victory in the 2016 Star Wars: Armada World Championships by following this link to our YouTube page.

2016 World Champion Josiah Burkhardsmeier on Designing Grand Admiral Thrawn

How do you capture the essence of one of the greatest and most iconic Star Wars admirals? This was the challenge I faced when planning Grand Admiral Thrawn’s entrance into Star Wars: Armada. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a challenge I even wanted to undertake, so we’ll get back to that question later…

When the developers approached me about the card I wanted to design for winning the 2016 Armada World Championships, the first question I asked myself was, “What type of card do I want to make?”

I looked at the meta at that time and thought about filling holes that existed. I thought about creating a card that would mesh well with my playstyle. However, whenever I approached the design from a purely mechanical standpoint, I couldn't find a theme or character I loved that fit my mechanics. I thought my ideas were cool, but I really wanted to create something special and iconic, not some generic turbolaser.

I decided that to be satisfied, I would need to design a character card, which most likely meant an officer or admiral. I started asking myself a different question, “If you could choose anyone, what iconic Star Wars character would you choose?” Here, my first thought was Thrawn, but I wasn’t sure if FFG would allow me to pick him. I thought through some other character ideas, but I couldn’t shake the desire to at least ask about Thrawn.

The Essence of Thrawn

Now I was, once again, asking myself that opening question. How could I capture Thrawn's essence?

I needed to create an ability that did service to the greatest strategic mind Star Wars has ever seen. What makes Thrawn Thrawn? The ability had to feel like Thrawn. It needed to require strategic foresight and reward the ability to plan for the future. Thrawn’s ability to coordinate his forces meant his game ability needed to be fleet-wide. The fact that Thrawn could take whatever forces he was given and use them to maximum effectiveness meant his ability needed to work for all fleet types.

I had to consider other factors, as well. There were already numerous lower-costed commanders that were very effective. Admiral Motti , Moff Jerjerrod , and Admiral Sloane are all well under thirty fleet points. On the other hand, the higher-costed commanders have seen less play on the Imperial side of the table. I wanted Thrawn to be a viable Commander at more than thirty fleet points. His ability needed to be strong, wihout forcing a price that would limit his playability.

Thrawn's playability was another reason I wanted his ability to fit any fleet. The last thing I wanted was for Thrawn to be a commander who only saw play in a few competitive archetypes; it just wouldn’t fit the Grand Admiral.

I decided the best way to accomplish all my goals would be through commands. Commands are already fleet-wide, and we plan them in advance. Taking that planning a step further, to a place no other commander had, felt like Thrawn.

The command dials assigned to your ships are locked into place and order, sometimes as many as three deep, but the dials assigned to Grand Admiral Thrawn are available whenever you need them most. Here, an Imperial Star Destroyer reveals a squadron command when its squadrons have already been destroyed, but Thrawn allows it to gain the navigate command it so desperately needs.

Taken together, these things led us to the final design for Grand Admiral Thrawn, and an ability that forces choices in setup, encouraging that element of planning the whole fight before the battle begins. Also, since ships can’t double up on the same command, Thrawn demands that you take extra care when setting your command dials for your ships so you get maximum value from your fleet-wide free command.

Some players may choose to give Thrawn three copies of the same command to simplify their interaction with the fleet, but these players miss out on the tactical flexibility that Thrawn can provide. Building more ships into your fleet makes every one of Thrawn's commands more effective, but those commands are typically more powerful on larger ships. There are many choices, but playing Thrawn is fairly easy, and he is a solid addition to any fleet. Still, cunning commanders will soon see there is plenty of room to master his use.

Bringing Thrawn to Life

Once I settled on the basics, I wrote up several variations for Thrawn's ability and sent them to FFG, along with my request to be allowed the honor of designing Thrawn. I didn’t hear back for a little while, and during that time Wave VII started development. Lo and behold, Thrawn was included in the wave. But his ability wasn’t one of those I had sent. It turned out he was already in development. I was a little disappointed, but I had avoided getting my hopes up too high. It was back to the drawing board for me…

Then, a few weeks later I got an email. It said that the developers had decided to give my idea for Grand Admiral Thrawn a shot. I was incredibly thrilled! As testing went on the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Soon the final decision was made to use my idea for Grand Admiral Thrawn, the result of which I’m so excited to see released into the wild!

And as a way to showcase the incredible tactical flexibility that Thrawn and his flagship Chimaera can give a fleet, I've submitted a sample fleet that I’d love to play.

  • Imperial Star Destroyer Kuat Refit with Grand Admiral Thrawn, Ordnance Experts , Electronic Countermeasures , External Racks , Intensify Firepower , and Chimaera
  • Gladiator I-class Star Destroyer with Ordnance Experts, Engine Techs , Assault Proton Torpedoes , and Demolisher
  • Quasar Fire I-class Cruiser-Carrier , Flight Controllers , and Pursuant
  • Gozanti-class Cruisers with Comms Net
  • TIE Defender Squadron
  • TIE Defender Squadron
  • Valen Rudor
  • "Mauler" Mithel

               Total Fleet Points: 398

This fleet packs an overwhelming amount of firepower aboard the ordnance-toting Chimaera, and has the command flexibility needed to bring it all to bear on its target.

To bring this fleet to battle, I’d probably have Thrawn take two navigate commands and a repair command. This leaves my ships free to concentrate firepower or repair during the engagement, while Thrawn provides the navigational ability to get on target. If I take damage earlier in the game than anticipated, Thrawn can give me that engineering command while I wait for the ones on my command stacks to reach the top.

There's more flexibility within the fleet, as well. Intensify Firepower will help boost the damage on my attacks, and—if needed—Chimera can swap the card out for another Fleet Command that better suits my needs. The Pursuant can even use its Title and Thrawn to resolve three different commands in one turn—in addition to whatever benefit my current Fleet Command is giving me. The ability to adapt to a changing battlefield often means the difference between victory or defeat, and this fleet—with Thrawn—can provide that flexibility.


Designing Grand Admiral Thrawn has been one of the greatest experiences in my board gaming life, and I’m proud to share him with the Armada community!

You are all such an incredible group of people, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet in person. Thank you for making our community what it is today!

I’d also like to thank all the playtesters who helped get Thrawn ready for release—without you this wouldn’t have happened! And last, but not least, I’d like to thank Michael Gernes and Sam Stewart, the lead designers on Wave VII. Thank you so much for all your hard work and for allowing me the opportunity to design such an iconic card!

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