Star Wars: Imperial Assault: The Kotaku Review

Star Wars: Imperial Assault: The Kotaku Review

Imperial Assault is a board game that was released in late 2014. I only got around to playing it over the weekend, and I already count those months between as wasted.

Having made a ton of money off their excellent X-Wing game before moving onto capital ship battles, Imperial Assault is Fantasy Flight's shot at moving Star Wars into more traditional tabletop territory.

If you've ever played HeroQuest, Space Crusade or even XCOM, you'll be familiar with the basics here: players take control of a character and take turns to move about a grid-based battlefield, using terrain as cover as they battle enemies and complete objectives.

It's designed for 2-5 players, but shines brighter the closer you get to the latter. A single player -- basically the dungeon master -- takes control of all Imperial forces, while everyone else selects a single Rebel character, choosing from a stable of RPG class stalwarts (support, sniper, etc).

Star Wars: Imperial Assault: The Kotaku Review

I'm not going out this door...

And then you go at it. There are one-off skirmishes you can play, but the real fun comes in the game's campaigns, which link missions together as part of a wider story. Victory or defeat determines which mission you play next, or the conditions in which you play it, while there are also side-quests you can take part in where there's better loot or cash available.

There's nothing particularly new about any of this. Imperial Assault is basically Fantasy Flight bolting the Star Wars licence onto another of its games, the also-very-good Descent, which itself is basically just a more regimented take on a good Dungeons & Dragon crawl.

Not that this is a problem! I mean, this is a Star Wars game, which for most people will just seem cooler, but it's also a smart game, one that will feel strangely familiar to veterans of video games as diverse as XCOM and Wing Commander.

The campaign structure I mentioned above is great, as it adds tension to each encounter without being too punitive; it will suck if/when you eventually fail a mission, but it doesn't instantly end your game, and the loot available both in side-missions and the main quest itself mean you can always take a break, branch off and get stronger for the next fight.

Star Wars: Imperial Assault: The Kotaku Review

Rebel players: this guy is the worst.

Imperial Assault's battle system has this neat thing where the fate of a battle is placed mostly in the hands of the defender. Attackers roll their dice and are pretty much guaranteed to hit; but whether thy actually do any damage is up what the defender rolls, as many units can soften blows substantially, while it's also common to simply negate an attack altogether. I know, the end result is the same as if an attacker rolled a "miss", but it's more fun when that dodge comes as a result of a defender's activity.

Also: it's fun being the Imperials. You might think you're missing out by not being part of the team, but I can assure you, the advantages handed to the lone bad guy are worth the isolation. Only Imperials are allowed to build a map, and only the Empire is allowed to know the conditions triggered when the Rebels meet certain objectives. They're also in control of an army which can spawn at any time, while the Rebels only have the sole unit they chose at the beginning of the game.

Example: in one of the earlier missions I played over the weekend, I was leading the Rebels in an attack on a small Imperial base to steal some computer codes. Having killed the Stormtroopers guarding the front door, I rushed forwards and opened it, ready to race in and do my thing. "Weird", I thought, "those were some light defences."

Star Wars: Imperial Assault: The Kotaku Review

Any time you think you've got the Imperials beat, remember: they might be about to call on some of these guys to kick your arse.

Of course they were. There was a secret condition attached to the mission that only the Imperial player knew about. It meant that as soon as the Rebels entered the base, the Empire could spawn a number of defenders. Including a giant mounted gun emplacement that was pointing straight at me.

What's so great about this wasn't just this initial surprise, but the effect it has on the rest of a campaign, because you're now a little gunshy, wary of every move you make, every terminal you access and every door you open. Some might lead the way to riches! Others might be the excuse the Empire was waiting for to rain death down upon you. It really has an effect on the strategies you develop at the start of each mission.

Star Wars: Imperial Assault: The Kotaku Review

This is me, about to shoot this stupid Trandoshan in his stupid Trandoshan face.

The combination of these battle and campaign systems mean that you basically spend the entire game on the edge of your seat. You can't take a single encounter for granted, as every battle (or action, even against a seemingly-defeated foe) can determine the outcome of a mission, and every mission can determine the outcome of a campaign.

Which can be exhausting -- we needed a break after each mission -- but most of them only last an hour or two, so it's not hard breaking a campaign down into more manageable chunks.

The core game, which includes a ton of Imperial figures and a nice selection of Rebel heroes, is a pretty good deal. You get enough units and map pieces (they're reversible) to not just play a campaign, but also skirmish missions as well.

To go along with this, though -- and Fantasy Flight veterans will know what's coming -- there are additional expansions and characters. These not only add new missions and mini-campaigns to the game, but also give you plastic units, some of them based on characters like Han Solo and Boba Fett.

The only real complaints we had after a weekend's playing was that the game's aiming rules, which determine whether you can shoot at a player or not, can be a bit confusing. Some of the objectives you had to complete as a Rebel also felt a little unfair, based more on luck than ability. But then hey, that's war I guess (and also not the end of the world, since you can still progress in the campaign even if you fail some missions).

Imperial Assault is a fantastic game that I'd recommend to anyone who's a fan of either board games and/or strategy video games. And may God have mercy on your soul (and wallet) if you're either of those things and a big Star Wars fan, because the conveyor belt of expansions and fresh figures will be grinding onwards for years to come...


    Ping @trjn - have you played this one?

      I don't have a regular board game group at the moment, so everything campaign orientated is out. Pretty much the only chance I'd get to play would be if I stalked Plunkett and forced my way into his group :(

        That's essentially what stopping me running out of the office to try and immediately get a copy, no regular board game peoples. :(

          At least you have more options than me. Brisbane has the GO Lounge, the Bridge Club, a handful of FLGSs and some groups on meetup. Here in Canberra we have... well the same except no GO Lounge. One of our meetup groups goes to a video game bar. Unfortunately, none of those groups are appropriate for campaign gaming. That's why I'm trying to get people from the dog park to start board gaming with me.

            Yeah, I really should get around to GO Lounge.

              I like it and best of all, even if Stones Corner is a bit odd these days.

                I like the Go Lounge too - its a good central place for people to meetup. And it has a great atmosphere.

          Jump into BGG's forums for your respective state and throw it out there. You may be surprised to find a lot of like minded people happy to form a group.

            I've checked before and yet somehow I missed half the groups that are active. That'll learn me, I could've been playing some Euros around the corner from my house.

            Cheers. I keep forgetting how useful BGG is.

    I've got this still in its shrinkwrap, haven't had a chance to get it into play :(

    Its a great game, and if any of you are tempted to doll the supplied figures up with a bit of paint, Sorastro on youtube has a really great series of tutorials going through how to paint each of the figures - aimed squarely at beginners.

    I've played HEAP of FFG's X-wing game (Which i love), and have recently played about 2/3 of the campaign of this. To be honest this Imperial Assault is a total grind for me. At the start it's ok when you heroes are low level and only have a perk or 2, but after a while each hero is SO jacked up with rule-breaking/modifying upgrades that every shot is a slow admin-heavy grind.

    I.e Storm trooper shoots and hits 3 times, hero rolls for defense and gets one dodge then "Hooooold on, I've also got this med pack, and this extra dodge move, and this negates one stun token. But you've got one show of force card which ups you damage by 2, so I'll use this extra perk to minus 1" etc etc....for EVERY shot. We quickly found the flow to be so slow that it wasn't fun any more.

    Also, in the missions, they usually seemed very unbalanced in objectives, and only at the end of a mission when it's over, and one person was usually stomped, could you go "Ah I see how they probably wanted us to do it, I had less time than I thought to try and fight, I should have just run for the objective and ignored all enemies." but you'd never know that until it's over.

    for me, X-wing is a FAR superior game.

    Last edited 09/10/15 11:32 am

    We've just finished our first campaign of this, and I have to say the aiming rules are not confusing at all. The game actually has one of the best rulebooks for clarity I've played.
    If you love dungeon crawlers and or star wars, definitely grab this game!

    I had a blast with this. I think for some it could be a bit of a grind like Hatchdog experienced, but I played with a good group and the length of the campaign meant that some really fun stories could emerge from the things that happened. Like our jedi, who never found a lightsaber and couldn't roll a force push to save his life - but was unstoppable when he got a set of brass knuckles. Or the one rebel trooper we got to control that was more or less unkillable. We named him Jim and we were more sad about his death in the final mission than the actual PC that didn't make it.

    tl;dr the rules encourage minmaxing, but within that space you can have a much better time if you roleplay a bit of personality onto your characters.

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