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Star Wars: Imperial Assault

RRP: £109.99
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RRP £109.99
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Star Wars Imperial Assault is a miniatures board game for two to five players set within the Star Wars universe.Imperial Assault puts you in the midst of the Galactic Civil War after the destruction of the Death Star over Yavin 4. In this game, you and your friends can participate in two separate games.The campaign game pits the limitless troops and resources of the Galactic Empire …
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Star Wars Imperial Assault is a strategy board game of tactical combat and missions offering two distinct games of adventure in the Star Wars universe!

Awards

Golden Pear

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Star Wars!!!
  • Interaction with friends.
  • Components & figures.
  • Being part of a story/bid to free the galaxy from Imperial rule (or crushing the Rebels).

Might Not Like

  • A little overwhelming and complex.
  • Requires a long term time commitment.
  • Expensive.
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Description

Star Wars Imperial Assault is a miniatures board game for two to five players set within the Star Wars universe.Imperial Assault puts you in the midst of the Galactic Civil War after the destruction of the Death Star over Yavin 4. In this game, you and your friends can participate in two separate games.The campaign game pits the limitless troops and resources of the Galactic Empire against a crack team of elite Rebel operatives as they strive to break the Empire’s hold on the galaxy, while the skirmish game invites you and a friend to muster strike teams and battle head-to-head over conflicting objectives.

"Imperial forces have entered the base…"

I vividly remember watching The Empire Strikes Back a few years ago, with an adult who had never seen any of the Star Wars films. They were genuinely shocked to discover that Darth Vader was Luke's dad. There was a sharp intake of breath, a sudden jolt backwards, and an involuntary: "no way!" I think it's probably easy to forget just how good that story is. And Star Wars: Imperial Forces is the same - pretty awesome.

What Actually Is It?! 

Having never played a campaign-style board game before but loving Star Wars, this was a no brainer for me. Star Wars: Imperial Assault isn't cheap to invest in (at full whack it can go for £100). But if you can get your hands on a copy in the sale it's well worth it.

The box says it's a tactical miniatures campaign board game. You play a series of 'missions' and the outcome of each mission determines (sort of) what happens next. Think Godtear or Warhammer, but with a self-contained and overarching story. You play by moving miniatures around a board, taking actions and trying to defeat your opponent.

The campaign element makes it sort of like an RPG. You'll level up Rebel characters whilst the Imperials will get more, and better, reinforcements as the war rages. The map changes each mission by combining tiles to create a board (a tiny bit like legend of Dr'izzit). After a set number of missions, you'll reach the end of a predetermined story. Then you can choose to play skirmish missions (one-off battles). Or you can work through the campaign again by swapping roles, changing characters, or taking a different approach.

Or, you can buy an expansion.

Unboxing The Beast 

This is probably the largest game box that sits on my shelf. Opening up the chunky behemoth promises something special, and it doesn't disappoint. There are a bewildering array of bits of cardboard, stickers, bases, board pieces, rules books, cards, and figurines. Skip over everything else and get stuck into the figures - they're going to be the most exciting, and least intimidating, part of setting up. Mostly everything is put together but the real joy is in constructing the AT-ST (mildly unclear instructions aside). It sits next to the rebel forces in a pleasingly menacing way.

After that though, you might find yourself needing a lie down in a darkened room. There are multiple rule books, a skirmish book, tokens, stickers, and a lot to process. Not only that, but you really shouldn't read through the campaign booklet unless you're going to be controlling the Imperial forces. Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a game that can only really be played against someone who is willing to strap in for the long haul. Knowing what will happen in the missions will ruin some of the fun for the Rebels, so you need to avoid this if possible. This does detract from the replayability slightly and means that if you don't have people to play with regularly then it's going to be an uphill struggle. The good news is that there is an app that you can play against - if you like that sort of thing.

How Much Time Do I Need To Play? 

Well, each mission can take a different length of time. But combining set-up and set-down you probably need at least 90 minutes per mission. But that doesn't tell the whole tale of commitment.

Case in point: I started the campaign with friends and got through two (perhaps three?) missions before COVID hit. When we finally got to pick up where we'd left off, no one could track down exactly where we were, who had what, or what we needed to do next…

This is a game that takes concentration over a period of time, and you need to wrap your head around the rules to avoid drowning in game pieces. But it's worth it. We found ourselves trying to arrange the next game night well ahead of schedule so that we could carry on. In fact, although coming back to the game took a few minutes of concentration and rule reading, it actually became incredibly straightforward. The rules make sense (even though there are a few of them) and once you grasp them then you'll be good to go. If you've never played a complex CCG or a game that has multiple rules to balance, then grab yourself someone who has. Or prepare for a few minutes of head-scratching and rule checking.

Setting Up 

Star Wars: Imperial Assault gives the Imperial player a choice of three ways to play. It ranges from straightforward to dastardly with a midway point somewhere in between. The Rebel player will always control at least two heroes depending on how many people are playing, with scope for a team of four to take on the Imperials. If there are less than three Rebel players then the heroes get a boost to their stats.

Rebels can choose from wookies, smugglers, jedi, snipers, and more. Add-ons, expansions, and other sets add a larger variety. Say you have a favourite jetpack-wearing, armoured bounty hunter that you want in the mix. Just for instance.

There's an introductory mission to help you figure out the basic game mechanics and it's worth playing that. Not to mention some useful tutorial videos that can be found online.

The mission will dictate what the playing board looks like and it will take the Imperial player a little while to set that up. It's made of numbered tiles that need to be slotted together like a jigsaw. Time enough for the Rebels to sort out their upgrades, fetch drinks, or set up some kind of atmospheric background music. The Imperials act as a sort of DM for the campaign so they do need to be on the ball. We also ended up writing down a whole host of notes before we packed away. A way to store things that you need (as opposed to things that you might use, won't use, or are for different missions) are a great idea.

How Does It Play? 

Surprisingly seamlessly. Players take turns to 'activate' a character (although in the Imperial player's case a character can actually be a whole squad). That character can take a series of two basic actions: move, attack, rest, or interact. Movement can be split on either side of another action. Your character determines how far you can move, what kind of attack you can make, or any other special abilities you have. That's for both the Rebels and the Imperials, with the one key difference being that the Imperials can only attack once.

The Rebels can 'rest' (heal) whilst the Imperials can get reinforcements at the end of each round. Turns alternate between Rebel and Imperial players, and the movement/reinforcement aspect of the game makes it feel a little as if you're facing waves of a gigantic, galactic war machine bent on your obliteration. Which you are. Assuming you're the Rebels of course. Otherwise, you're throwing your military might at crushing the scum hellbent on destroying the galactic order. Those resources aren't completely endless - so there's a certain amount of tactical thinking. The Rebels absolutely have to talk to each other. In the meantime, surprise actions (dictated by the mission and unbeknownst to the Rebels) will occur and add an extremely pleasing amount of frenetic pressure to things. Not to mention the various equipment cards you can collect, and the fact that the missions have only a certain number of turns before the Rebels lose.

Best Soundtrack? 

Star Wars. Really that: crank up a playlist for atmosphere. Watch the Imperial player slap down an AT-ST, or a squad of stormtroopers. Jump your Rebel forces around the game board and enjoy! It's an addictive game, and the chance to replay it but switch roles, change play style or throw in an expansion is fantastic. Once you wrap your head around the initial rules and components you'll be laughing. Or crying - depending on which way your mission is going. But either way, that kind of emotional intensity is great.

Anything Problematic? 

A (very) minor one: If you lose all of your missions then this can feel a little depressing. It might seem like the Imperials have a slight advantage: each mission they get stronger and stronger, whether they win or not, in a way that the Rebels don't. Perhaps, at the beginning of the campaign, there's a slight tilt towards the Rebels. But this seems to soon balance out, and then perhaps even begins to tilt the other way. I actually think that adds a great edge to Star Wars: Imperial Assault, but you might not like that level of fighting against the odds. It isn't unbalanced, but a series of missions that turn out badly might sour your playing slightly. Fantasy Flight have tried to mitigate this. Even if you lose, you still get credits to spend and experience to level up your characters. But, as you might expect from real life or any other role-playing game, victory does lead to larger rewards for your team.

A major one: The major downside is price. Assuming that you play the campaign three times, you'll end up with around 30 missions worth of gaming. And for £100, if you were to never pick it up again that's quite an expensive investment. As a game that combines miniatures, a board, a campaign, and a specialised theme this is a little bit niche. You might love that or hate it. In truth, I'm not sure how much I'll play it after working through the campaign a couple of times.

How Does The First Mission Play Out?

With the Emperor's throne room score playing in the background (interrupted only with an advert for 'Bodyform Ultra' in a display of google analytics thoroughly misreading the room), I'm happy to report that the Rebels triumphed. There were a few hairy moments, such as when my smuggler charged point-blank at the E-web engineer. They took around 10 points (out of 20) damage in one turn. That nearly resulted in a wounded character sheet, which isn't the end, per se, but your abilities get downgraded. It can even trigger the Imperial win conditions. With squads of stormtroopers closing in from either side there was an amount of buttock clenching nervousness, but we made it through just in time. I don't think the Imperials felt too bad about losing, but if they did they were willing to return and put us in our places. Apparently, (according to the side mission we picked) we'll next be heading to Tatooine to recruit Luke Skywalker. I suspect that we'll be meeting Darth Vader sooner than I'd bargained for.

After the mission, you gain experience points to spend on new abilities, and credits to spend on better weapons. Each character can take two weapons on each mission. You can choose ranged or melee in any combination you prefer - I bought a new blaster rifle. Assuming you have the credits, you'll get to buy better and better equipment as the campaign progresses. And since you won't have enough cash at first, you'll want to play the next mission so that you can afford the next upgrade. It's mildly addictive in a good way.

Overall

Star Wars: Imperial Assault is great. But it's not a casual game and requires some people to commit to it or have some serious flexibility. It's expensive, but you're paying for the franchise and that is a big draw. Fantasy Flight make some incredible games and have access to some amazing universes to pick from. If you're up for spending the money and can find people to play with, this certainly doesn't disappoint. It may not be the most replayable game in your collection, but you'll get a lot of games each playthrough even if you only repeat the campaign once or twice. The 'random' side mission deck does make things slightly different each time, and there are expansions for variety.

Would I use Star Wars: Imperial Assault to introduce someone to board games? Only if they really love Star Wars and might be willing to give it a shot. If they already love more involved games, campaigns, miniature games (Godtear is a 'basic' version to get into), or role-playing, then it's certainly worth taking a look at. If you don't love Star Wars then there are other, and cheaper, ways to play campaign games. But they won't be Star Wars.

Having seen off the Imperials in a stunning victory during the opening round, we were ready to take on the first side mission of the Imperial Assault campaign. Actually, in truth, it was slightly more of a nail-biting finish. Two full squads of stormtroopers were bearing down on us, we were a handful of health points away from being wounded, and an officer was taking pot shots. But the final outcome was a win for the rebels and some new equipment that you can purchase with the credits you receive from winning. I bought a new gun from the randomly turned up selection of items.

Off To Tatooine

Now we were off to Tatooine to see Luke Skywalker. You never quite know until the Imperial player/DM reads out the mission details but either way it would involve sand. And, as it turns out, Darth Vader.

What Are All These Figures For?

The actual set-up of any mission for Imperial Assault is quite fun. Using the mission manual, the Imperial player slots a board together out of the handily numbered pieces. There is a specific deployment point that the rebels must place their figures next to, whilst the Imperials have designated starting positions, and then it's game on.

The Imperial player will read out the mission parameters (some of which the rebels won't know due to the very sensible fact that the Imperials don't want to share that kind of intel). Rebel players get to do any two things of their choosing from attacking, moving, resting or using an action to perform a special ability. That may also include getting rid of a status effect (such as bleeding) or gaining one (usually becoming focussed which gives you more dice to roll when next attaching).

Each player/figure takes it in turns to use their two actions bouncing from Rebel to Imperial. Although the Imperial figures are generally banned from attacking twice. If there are fewer than 4 Rebel players, then each hero figure gets two activations and can ultimately take four actions per round. Should the Rebels want to take an ally (which you gain through side missions) on a mission then the Imperials get a hefty reinforcement bonus to offset the extra two actions they gain.

The Missions

The complexity and fun come from deciding which heroes to take, what upgrades to buy for your characters, which actions you should take each turn (trading off more attacks now for soaking up damage and risking a character becoming wounded - and thus less effective), and which way around the map/in what order your complete tasks.

The exact missions you have to attempt will depend on which expansions you own, which side missions are randomly selected (there are always two to choose from) and which you pick. The campaign manual tells you whether you should complete a main or side mission next, and to some extent whoever won the last mission determines what you do next.

Go Rescue Luke Skywalker

The mission itself plays out on a small board around which you need to hightail it to a console, open a door, get to a space cruiser, and most importantly, not let Luke die. Due to the confined nature of the board, it's quite a fun mission because you have to balance the fact that the many, many stormtroopers will almost always have a line of sight to you. If you win, then the rebel players get to keep Luke as an additional character that they can choose to take on missions.

Although adding him to your team means that the Imperials get a hefty reinforcement bonus. It actually went rather smoothly until, as occasionally they are wont to do, the Imperials said, "hold up". This kind of phrase is invariably followed by some kind of teeth clenching as they, probably deliberately slowly, read out the appropriate section of mission text. In this specific instance, for example: as the door opens in front of you, you see several stormtroopers and… Darth Vader!

The thing was that it actually wasn't that hard to get Luke to the ship. We had a moment of indecision as to whether we could collect all of the crates before being butchered (we decided not to be greedy), and then valiantly threw ourselves in front of lightsabers, force-chokes and assorted blaster bolts whilst 'Luke-hero-of-the-rebellion-Skywalker' ran to a ship and left us to fend for ourselves…

Actually, at this stage, we did rather wonder if our heroes would have made it out of the garage alive, but since the mission automatically ended anyway, we chalked it up to luck and assumed that everyone went home for tea and crumpets.

Which led us nicely into buying equipment (we didn't), buying new abilities (we did), and heading off to our next campaign mission where we decided to try taking Luke along with us.

Luke Isn't That Useful

We landed on a planet, destroyed some probe droids, opened some doors, did some things to terminals, and discovered that having Luke along wasn't as useful as we thought. He more or less ended up as probe droid and nasty beasties cannon-fodder, but it was fun for a while to control him. This mission proved challenging only so much as it had a strict time limit before we lost.

Anyway, the important issue is that at some unspecified point there was the usual "hang on" interjection which cued the arrival of the AT-ST. All of which was rather spoiled by the fact that it couldn't actually turn the corner into the corridor we were racing down to reach the final terminal and win the mission. We were, by sheer luck, completely safe. Apart from Luke. We'd abandoned him to get variously stomped, shot and bitten whilst we cowardly ran in the other direction. It seemed somewhat fair since he'd abandoned us in his aunt's garage facing his sith-powered dad.

For some slightly inexplicable reason, the AT-ST had been hiding in the forest all this time but not actually doing anything. The Imperial military academy clearly has a lot to do to up its game if this is how they run battle tactics. We escaped into the jungle, singing songs of Luke's heroism, and telling of his noble sacrifice, just in time to buy more new equipment and decide that we needed more experience points.

Off To Buy A Lightsaber

So it was that we found ourselves on Yavin. We were in search of a special lightsaber for the Twi'lek. Another small board with two route options, one guarded by the bitey, jumpy animals; the other by what appear to be elite Imperial Guards. Who knows what they're doing there?

There's a cool mechanic whereby Twi'lek starts to go mad at the end of each round and if she runs out of prozac pills, you lose the mission. It involved tokens, dark-side temptation, having extra attacks and was a thoroughly enjoyable additional mechanic.

We faced an ever-diminishing supply of chill-pills, some Imperial Guards, and some steps. We charged left, Jedi in the lead with smuggler managing a somewhat impressive rear-guard defence. Cleared out most of the troops with relative ease. Apparently, we only had to open a door and inside would be the lightsaber.

Slightly disturbing was the fact that the Imperial player was holding back about six million reinforcement credits. But since the door opened with the usual "hang on" we had more important things to deal with, Darth Vader again.

Turns out that he has health equal to double the number of reinforcements points the Imperial player currently has (which made it about twelve million) and that the only way to win is to kill him. All of which might have been fine had the dice gods not chosen that moment to abandon us and transform our attack rolls into the equivalent of throwing small water balloons at enraged rancor.

Needless to say, we were about to lose until the Imperials took great pity on us and flooded the map with reinforcements. This meant that Darth Vader changed from being the world's strongest man to roughly the same strength as your elderly grandmother struggling with a large Ikea parcel. It didn't seem fair.

So now Twi'lek has a new lightsaber and we're off to our next story mission. I might tell Luke just in case he's available.

The Verdict

The campaign is certainly something that we're quickly becoming addicted to and would happily have played late into the early hours of the morning except that, we're getting old. Also, respective employers, wives, children and so on might have had something to say about it. I've reviewed Imperial Assault elsewhere on the site and I stand by the fact that you really should buy Star Wars Imperial Assault. The more I play the more I remember that actually, it's brilliant.

I mean, it's not a perfect game, it's expensive, and there are a few rules that I still have to check every now and then. It's a lot of fun to play and the theme is awesome. We're itching to play again and I'm already sad about the fact that the campaign needs to end at some point. If I was looking for some kind of saccharin way to make myself feel better about that and a cheap pop as a finishing sentence, I might point out that you can console yourself with the notion that the force will be with you, always.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Star Wars!!!
  • Interaction with friends.
  • Components & figures.
  • Being part of a story/bid to free the galaxy from Imperial rule (or crushing the Rebels).

Might not like

  • A little overwhelming and complex.
  • Requires a long term time commitment.
  • Expensive.