Star Wars Imperial Assault: A Game of Legends
Part 1: The Core Box
Besides Star Wars, one of my other big loves is board games. I love playing board games or
other tabletop games with friends and family any chance that I can get. That love of board
games is what caused me to meet three friends in the Star Wars Expanded Universe community.
When it comes to Star Wars and board games there quite a few. I have tried my hand at several Star Wars tabletop games over the years, such as Epic Duels and the Queens Gambit. Most Star Wars board games nowadays come from Fantasy Flight Games, and while I enjoy almost all their Star Wars games, one sticks out the most and is probably my most favorite is Imperial Assault.
Like most Fantasy Flight Star Wars games, this game is a little tricky. You see, Fantasy Flight
renewed their contract with Lucasfilm right before the decision came to reboot the Star Wars
timeline. So, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) were able, and did make Expanded Universe related content until their Force and Destiny sourcebook for their RPG was released. While it had great stuff, like the amazing Clone Wars retcon, it did make it clear that going forward they would not only be doing Legends, but also Nu-Canon as well. I, like several other EU fans, checked out at that point. Other Star Wars games followed suit, Star Wars: The Card Game, Star Wars Destiny, and several others were no different. Legends and Nu-Canon content. So too did Imperial Assault, and so too did I.
With this mini-series, I wanted to delve in and take a look at the excellent story-telling and go through the Legends only Imperial Assault Content to share with all of you the excitement this game has to offer and share tales of excellent campaigns. So, let’s start with the launch title, the Core Set.
Imperial Assault is a strange mix of a board game mixed with an RPG, while the maps are
usually relatively small compared to a lot of board games, the play area needed is surprisingly large when you include the need for player space, deck piles, upgrade space, and the usual plethora of tokens that FFG needs to include in seemingly every product. The game uses changeable, double sided board pieces that are put together somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle. The quality of these is on par with all FFGs games and are a nice, thick cardboard with colorful prints.
Each section of the board is covered in a grid that overlays the artwork of the piece, be it a
muddy trail, a dark corridor, or the control room of an Imperial Star Destroyer. This grid is used for all measurements, how far a figure can move, shoot, use abilities etc. You move around this board to complete objectives and kill enemy units.
Each character has its own move value, attack attributes, and abilities, with the more famous characters, (i.e. Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader) getting some pretty powerful abilities like attacking twice, to the Stormtrooper ‘re-roll a dice’. Playable units are split between an activation card and their model/token, a named character will be on their own on the card, whereas generic things like Stormtroopers are 3 models per card to show that they work as a team. Players alternate activating their cards until everything has been activated then you refresh for the next turn.
To attack another figure, players look at what color dice they have available for the attack
attribute then roll their attack dice. At the same time, the defender rolls their defense dice.
Players can then use abilities to modify their dice before comparing the damage dealt to the
damage blocked by the defender. Some attack dice have a number on as well as symbols. For a ranged attack you need to have a total value equal to or higher than the number of squares you are away from the target. So, a green 2 and yellow 1 would be a total of 3 squares you could be shooting from. Simple.
Line of sight is usually needed for attacks and abilities and the rule book does a great job of
providing a lot of different examples and scenarios to cover all line of sight and movement
questions. This is particularly obvious in the skirmish mode where tactical movement is key.
Having spent a lot of time playing the game, the rules themselves are simple when you come to grips with them, but you can put a lot of time and thought into the minutiae of how you move figures to maximize your attacks while negating incoming fire by blocking corridors and corners which adds a lot of depth to what is a relatively simple system. As Imperial Assault is mostly an upgrade of Descent (also by FFG), you can see where the designers have looked at what did and did not work in the previous game and have capitalized on this to great effect.
The campaign is designed to be played by 2-5 players. One player is always the Imperials and the other 1-4 players make up the rebel team. At the start of the campaign there is a lot of set up, I have found that it can generally take us about 45-60 minutes to set up for a new campaign, although a lot of this time is discussion on who is playing what and getting side-tracked. The set-up process is easier if you have agreed in advance who the imperial player is. The condensed version is that Rebel players pick heroes, Imperial player picks a theme deck for their upgrades that might make your droids more damage based, or your Stormtroopers more survivable; the aim is that while these upgrades do not make the bad guys as good as the Rebels, it lets them feel like they are better than normal mooks. The Imperial player then also creates a Threat Deck which offers them rewards post game if they managed to beat the Rebels.
Progression in the campaign is very simple; you play a mission, if the Rebels win you do X
mission next. If the Imperials win play Y instead. All missions award experience and money
(influence for the Imperials) to both sides, and a boosted reward to whichever side won the
mission. Most missions have a bonus available to the rebels if they manage to complete
something like taking 3 turns to complete the mission or collecting x amount of loot crates.
This progress system is often considered the biggest downside of the core game. Many players have noticed that it is very easy for either the Rebels or the Imperials to gain an early advantage in experience or upgrades which lets them breeze through subsequent missions with little chance for the other team to win. Side missions in the core game really suffer from this problem. They are shuffled randomly and appear at staged points, which means they are designed to be possible for heroes to win right at the start of the campaign and right at the end. The reality of this is that late game the Imperials must get supremely lucky to even stand a chance of winning in this type of mission.
The replay value of the campaign is something that is often discussed. Many people point out that if there are only two paths through the game then play groups are going to repeat missions and they will know what the bonus objectives or where trigger points are, particularly if you have the Imperial player from the last campaign joining the Rebels. While this is true to some extent, we found that not launching from one campaign into another really helped. Give yourselves a few months off to try the plethora of other great games out there and do not try and memorize everything you have done in the previous campaign or you are actively going to be reducing your enjoyment. The expansions also lend themselves to this. Once you have your gaming group, organized play through the campaigns one at a time with a month or two breaks in between each deluxe campaign. By the time you have done all these missions quite a bit of time will have passed, and you will find it hard to remember everything beyond maybe some of the key points in the game such as when something like an AT-ST appears or Vader attacks you.
Unfortunately, there is little you can do to deal with having an exceedingly accurate memory.
The game does have some ways around alleviate the above knowledge and add to its replay
value. The expansions, both deluxe expansions and figure packs, include new (and more
balanced) side missions, villain characters, and threat decks that the Imperials can throw at you, so even if you know exactly what happens in a mission you might not expect some assassin droids to appear instead of some Stormtroopers.
FFG is great at building tournament player bases for its games and Imperial Assault is no
exception. Who does not want to build a squad of iconic Star Wars characters and pit them to the death against another kitted out group of soldiers? This is where the game “breaks canon”, but it is a nice callback to Epic Duels!
The skirmish uses most of the same rules as the campaign so transitioning between the two is very simple. The major difference is that you must build a list of both models and a card deck.
The deck is used in game to provide bonuses to your chosen force and is for multiplayer use
only, it helps add a different element to the game and allows you to tailor your personal squad even further.
The base game comes with several skirmish maps and every figure expansion pack adds another map, characters, cards, and variety, which by now means there are a huge number of skirmish maps to choose from (although only a limited number are tournament legal).
While it is like the main campaign in that you do not have to buy a single expansion to enjoy the game, the skirmish feels a lot more focused on always buying the next packs. For a group of Star Wars fans like us, this is not a problem, but for a lot of people who frequent tournaments it can be difficult to stay on top of every pack to get every card. This is symptomatic of any game which has a ‘meta’ which is curated on a regular basis by the IP owner. Lists do well, FFG does not want people to become disillusioned, so nerfs to top list and releases new models, old models become stale and power creep means new toys are needed.
As for the Star Wars timeline, the base campaign begins shortly after the Battle of Yavin. There will be some reference to EU and film events during the Galactic Civil War. The Campaign has all original stories, so it is exciting to play. These missions will be ones that have not been told before and that can make the game more exciting. Being a huge an EU fan, when hearing the Imperial player reading the missions and hearing a reference to Mara Jade or Thrawn make me grin and giddy.
Another aspect of the game I like is that you play as original characters made for the game.
You could be an exiled Jedi, a Mandalorian, a smuggler, Rebel, bounty hunter, etc... You of course will encounter more famous Star Wars Characters. They may be enemies, or potential allies you can recruit to your team. To me, I like that. It makes the story more exciting to be running missions for the Rebellion and encountering Han Solo, or Princess Leia and convincing them to help. Use them wisely though, you are limited to how long you can use them, and sometimes, by saving them, only helps you. For example, this last campaign we played. We had Luke Skywalker on our team as he appears in the first few issues of the Marvel series. We used him once and decided to hold onto Luke for a later mission that might be harder. After a few missions, we were able to upgrade Luke to as he was post Return of the Jedi to show that time had pass. We suddenly we had a much stronger Jedi on our side.
I will go over more of the expansions in later post, but I wanted to do a dive into the base set.
Imperial Assault is a great tabletop game to have a more in-depth Star Wars experience while being able to stay in the Legends universe. For me, because of all the content the base game can get you, I do believe the price of the game is worth it. You can create some incredible experiences with people and with the Star Wars universe.
I will end with this, my buddy Josh and I were playing a game with our friend Landon, who had never played before. Landon was just getting into strategy board games and he did not really think strategy, more destroying the enemy. They had no allies in this mission and I, the Imperial player, lured them into the hanger. In a Phantom Menace like way, I was able to lock the doors, Josh in one hallway, Landon behind a locked door in another with stormtroopers and who do I can onto the field, Darth Vader. Josh was trapped and needed backup. He called to Landon to break down the door. But Lando believed that he should go for the stormtroopers. I could not help but laugh as I sent Vader towards them, mowing the down. Needless to say, I won that mission. But the memories these campaigns create, that is worth more than anything.