Some long-time RPGers may remember the Fading Suns RPG from Holistic Designs. A side project by some of the people writing for the popular Vampire RPGs, while the rules were a bit clunky, the setting was fantastic, very evocative and as dark as you want it to be. There weren't too many supporting games for the RPG, but one of the ones that came out was Noble Armada, a ship based game that could either be integrated into the RPG, or played as a stand alone.
Unfortunately Fading Suns never got the recognition I think it deserved, and has been floating in "edition limbo" for the past few years (work is being done on the 3rd edition, to be published through Print on Demand). That's why when Mongoose announced it was going to team up its A Call to Arms starship combat engine with the Noble Armada concept, it was quite a surprise.
The rules, published in a practical (and inexpensive - $30 at the time of this writing) hardback format, comprise a mere 28 pages. This includes standard, advanced, terrain, and special rules, making for a very economical usage of space. Following that is background material ("fluff") which comprises a whopping 28 pages as well. For most gamers, the Fading Suns universe is probably fairly obscure, so all this fluff is probably necessary in order to give enough background to care about the factions.The next 17 pages are scenarios (quite a few!), followed by 12 pages of campaign rules, a page on unusual situations, and a page on minor houses (more fluff, a bit strange including it here).
Much of the rest of the book is in color, and is taken up by some starter fleet lists, some terrain building tips, and the requisite (for a minis game) pages showing off the minis themselves (which I like to call "figure porn..."). The latter portion of the book is a bit of a letdown. While the ships themselves are well painted and shown off to good regard in the fleet lists, the "in-action" photos leave a bit to be desired. Say what you will about GW games, but their figure porn pages are always excellent, with a high level of modeling not just in the figures, but the terrain itself. As the point to these games is to collect and game with the figures, I think a little more attention could be spent here.
I have yet to play the game, but there are already plans for it to go off later this week. I hope to post some reflections on the game at that time.
A note about pricing. If you're looking at a new minis game to get into, Noble Armada is fairly cheap as they come. The rulebook itself is only $30, and you can get fleet boxes (usually with a light carrier, 2 destroyers, 4 frigates, 2 galliots, 2 scout ships, and 8 fighters of 2 different types) for around the same price. Usually these boxed sets come in at around 1370-90 points, enough for a small to mid-sized game. A beginner could easily drop around $100 to $150 and never have to purchase anything else; that includes the rules, 2 fleet boxes, and around $60 of blisters to round out the fleet, making this a pretty inexpensive game to get a good variety of forces and minis for (you could just get the rules and a fleet box for $60, though, and have a decently rounded force for smaller games). Of course there is plenty of incentive to go beyond this (new ships, and any serious minis gamer will want to tweak his list from time to time -- or even overhaul it completely), but with the most vocal concerns about minis gaming being the entry costs, this isn't too bad at all...