Though we received several board games during the Christmas holidays and you’ll surely see a few of them reviewed here, the one I’m about to review for you today was not one of them. In fact, we haven’t really played this style of board game in a while, though we have several similar ones. My husband had the urge for a campaign style RPG-like game, and found a Star Wars themed one. It is set immediately after the original Star Wars movie, Episode 4: A New Hope.
High school aged me would have LOVED this game. I did enjoy it a lot and am glad we picked it up, but I would have been all over this a decade and a half ago (ugh, feeling old …).
If you have ever played Dungeons and Dragons, or a lite board game version of D&D, such as Descent, this game was very similar.
The box is pretty neat. Now here is a look at all the stuff that came inside the box (though the way the box was packed was a bummer – essentially just a box with some baggies for different things, nothing spent on organization). It doesn’t look too bad here, but there are quite a lot of pieces.
There are 11 missions in a campaign of this game. Five players can play, with one person playing the Imperials / GM role. The GM reads the missions and sets up the board and the scenarios. Each mission has a max number of rounds, and particular objectives for the Rebellion players to meet. If the Rebels meet the objectives within the time limit, they win the mission. If not, the Imperials win the mission. There is an additional loss case for the Rebels if all the characters become wounded during the mission. In either case, both sides get experience and some amount of currency that allows them to “level up” slowly over the course of the campaign.
Each player gets to pick which character they are going to play. You can choose from about 8, I think. Our group wound up with a commander (Gideon Argus, coolest name EVER!), a Jedi, a Wookie, and a Bothan. The commander and the Bothan had ranged weapons, and the Wookie and Jedi were melee fighters. Each character had one piece of starting equipment, such as a pistol or a staff. I chose to play the Twi’lek Jedi. In addition to her staff, she had two special abilities she could use on her turn if I paid some of her endurance.
Once the map is put together and the objective explained, the Rebellion’s start point is placed on the board, as well as any starting Imperial characters. The Rebels get to go first, but play alternates as it continues. This means after one Rebel character goes, one of the Imperial player’s characters go. On each turn, players can perform two actions – Move, Attack, Interact, Rest, Use Special. You can do any of the actions twice as well, assuming you have the resources. Below is a shot of what the first mission we played looked like at the start. Our objectives were to destroy the four panels, represented by the three pronged cardboard bits.
The meat of the game is in attacking the opposite side, and performing actions to complete missions. When you attack, you specify which other character you are attacking, and you roll the appropriate dice based on your weapon card (in my Jedi’s case above, every attack meant she rolled a green die and a yellow die.). The character you are attacking gets to roll a defense die (either black or white depending on what their character card says). You resolve the symbols on the dice, and damage is distributed appropriately. In the picture below, a character rolled a blue and yellow die. The burst symbols represent damage, the number represents weapon range (if applicable) and the lightning represents a surge. The surge can be used to do a number of different effects, depending on your equipment and abilities, including more damage. So the attacker did a total of 3 damage if we just count the surge as plus 1 (I don’t remember what the abilities were for the person using the dice in the picture). On the black die, the triangle symbols indicate how much damage was blocked, in this case 1. So the resolution of this attack is that the defending Imperial target took 2 damage.
There is a little more to combat, such as line of sight rules and range. Movement is important to battle, and other characters can get in your way. But if you are interested in playing the game, you’ll have to read up on all that – this review is just a general synopsis.
For the player moving the Imperials, the game seems pretty fun too. They get to level up and do things to try to win from their perspective. For instance, they have a threat counter each mission that goes up by a certain amount each round. They can spend threat to redeploy more troops (in certain spawn points on the board known only to them). And over the course of the campaign, they will gain XP and abilities and other ways to buff characters. In the shot below, during the status phase between rounds, the blast door closed leaving one team member outside. And my husband spawned an Imperial gunner outside with him. Ruh-roh!
After we completed each mission, we received some amount of credits, which we could spend on items to improve our characters, and 1 XP. Apparently the XP grind in this game is going to be very slow … Since it was our first day of the campaign, there was a lot more setup time than there will be going forward. We got through 2 missions this weekend, but I suspect next time we might be able to get through 3 in one sitting.
One of the things I liked about it is that the missions are branched rather than linear. When we complete one mission, we get to choose between three missions what our next one will be. And if the Imperials win instead of us, that can affect which mission comes next in the campaign progression as well.
Overall, it felt very balanced. The two missions we played had 6 rounds each. We won the first with maybe 1 round to spare, but the second mission was tough. We won on the last round, with one character having a turn left. I honestly thought my husband’s Imperials were going to take that one.
One mechanic that bugged me was that if you choose a Rest action for your character, you recover an amount equal to your Endurance stat, first of Endurance, and THEN of health. So to really make your rest useful, you are forced to use two actions to recover health. That assumes you use your character’s special abilities, but we found most of them to be very useful. There is a way when you roll the dice to recover endurance using unspent surge points, but I’m not convinced that this will make too much difference, as surges are too useful for other weapon effects like stuns, bleeds, cleaves, etc.
You can’t die per se, but on each mission your character gets two chances. After you lose your health completely once, you become wounded. You flip your character card to the other side, and if you lose all your health again, you are essentially knocked out for the rest of the mission (but can come back at the next part of the campaign). We had one character get wounded, and others come close, but weren’t in danger of losing the mission this way. Our biggest struggle seemed to be time. And also poor rolls when trying to blast down a door.
One mechanic that bothered Jesse as the Imperials was that in the second mission, he had two Imperial guards on the last round trying to protect something we were supposed to destroy. He moved them up to a doorway on their turns, and during our team’s turns we just moved through and around them (you can move past a space with an enemy character on it for 1 move penalty as long as you don’t land on the space they are in) and ignored them to destroy the archives we needed to finish the mission. In many games like this, there is a moment of opportunity gained when characters move into or out of a space containing an enemy character. We didn’t see one in the rules for this game, but if we missed it, that would change how we continue to play in the future.
There is a whole other mode to this game, called Skirmish Mode, that we did not even delve into at all, so you’ll have to go elsewhere for feedback on that part of this game This is a game I like to put in the category of “dungeon crawler”, and if you like that type of game (or if you enjoy D&D or MMO games like WOW), you’ll enjoy this. I don’t feel like it added anything new to the genre, but it was nice to play in the Star Wars universe. It keeps it simple enough that I don’t think we’ll get lost in rules debates every time, and it feels balanced and hard enough that we will probably lose a mission every now and then as the Rebels.
If I had to give this game a score out of 5, like I try to do every time I give a game a review, I think Star Wars Imperial Assault would earn a 4 from me. A part of me wants to give it a 5 just because it is Star Wars themed, but if I am comparing this to all other board games I play, I just don’t enjoy the dungeon crawler type as much as I enjoy, say tile or worker placement games. But make no mistake, this game is super fun and easily in my top two dungeon crawlers – it probably even edges out Descent, due to the theme. Star Wars fans everywhere rejoice!