Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a board game of tactical missions that can be played in an asymmetrical campaign mode that will remind you of dungeon crawling RPGs and a skirmish mode that a more traditional miniatures war game. I’ve had the opportunity to play both modes, though the skirmish was a single bout using the starting rules.
I’m currently playing in a campaign. My friend Scott is the Imperial player (analogous to a game master, Scott controls the enemy forces and sets up the missions) for four of us Rebel heroes, including my wife. The game has been very engaging and enjoyable after five missions, though there is a steep learning curve for some of the minutiae. What really impresses me is some of the innovations the game presents for game masters.
Mind you, Imperial Assault is a board game and not an RPG but it walks that line very closely. Characters earn XP as the campaign progresses. Missions are all story-based with the campaign following a branching path based on the outcomes of the various missions. Each Rebel hero has a side mission to acquire a unique reward of some sort and other side missions allow the heroes to recruit allies to the cause. Like I said, the Imperial player is very much a game master role.
The neat thing about the Imperial player is that the role is still that of a player. When the campaign book says “every player gains 1 XP” that includes the Imperial player. In fact, the Imperial player gets to choose a class at the start of a campaign. There are currently three classes, presumably with more to come in expansions. Each class, both hero and Imperial, consists of a single card that begins in play (weapons for heroes, special ability for Imperial) and eight cards that can be purchased with XP – two cards at a cost of 1, 2, 3, and 4 XP. These class cards are thematic building blocks for a campaign. The wookiee warrior becomes an ever more fearsome hand hand combatant, dealing more damage and shrugging off damage more readily. The Jedi gains the ability to move through the battlefield unimpeded and Force push enemies. The smuggler gains the ability to weave through the field and wield two pistols.
Where the heroes earn credits for buying weapons and gear, the Imperial player earns Influence that can be spent on campaign altering cards. The heroes can be forced to take on a mission dictated by the Imperial player – one that has no reward for them but may have a big benefit for the Imperial player. Darth Vader’s deployment card can be added to the Imperial player’s hand for a single mission. Traps can be laid for the heroes. It’s a very intricate and elegant system. I look forward to seeing how it is expanded in future releases.
The campaign follows a structure of alternating story missions and side missions. At the beginning of the campaign, the players assemble a side mission deck that is drawn from randomly in the course of the campaign. It’s entirely possible that none of the heroes will have an opportunity to go on their specific side missions. Each story mission branches in two directions: one way if the heroes win and another if the Imperial wins. The sheer variance of the campaign structure is incredible across 11-15 missions.
We are about halfway through our campaign, with seven missions under our belts where only one was a forced mission. The heroes are starting to gel and really ramp up their effectiveness. My wookiee is able to charge across the field and reliably put damage down on enemies while shrugging off their silly blasters. The sniper, played by my wife, is a death dealing nightmare. The Jedi’s player has decided to be the sacrificial runner, forgoing attacks in favor of getting objectives flipped. Our leader is Gideon Argus and he just got the ability to use Command twice in a single turn – which led to the interesting round in which the wookiee covered 16 squares of movement and attacked twice for the win.
Mind you, Scott is beefing up his Imperials as we progress but the awesome of the Rebels cannot be denied.
In my limited experience with the skirmish mode, it seems to be just as well balanced as the campaign mode. Each player has 40 points with which to build an army and a command deck that has exactly 15 cards with no more than 15 points worth of cards in it (many of the starting cards are 0 cost).
What I really like is that skirmish isn’t just a straight killing exercise. Players are fighting over objectives. The win condition is to be the first player to 40 victory points – killing your opponent will certainly do that but it’s likely faster and easier to score a few objectives along the way. Especially since objectives can be as high as 15 points.
What I find most interesting is that the non-Rebel cards from the campaign remain unchanged in the skirmish mode. Stormtroopers function exactly the same in both game modes. The Rebel heroes, however, undergo a dramatic loss of competence in skirmish mode. Mak and Gideon, highly effective heroes in campaign mode, are the cheapest Rebel figures at just 3 points each. Their game statistics reflect this low cost. The other Rebel heroes are priced more comparably to the middling Imperial units while the famous Rebels like Han, Luke, & Chewbacca are priced closer to the Royal Guards or an AT-ST.
There is a third faction for the skirmish mode so it’s not always just Rebels vs. Imperials. Following suit with the rest of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars games, it’s a scum & villainy faction. So far it has the nexu and trandoshan hunters in regular and elite form and an IG-88. There’s not much squad building for the scum & villainy as all of the units come in at 39 points but there is a card that allows a scum & villainy army to have up to 2 Rebel cards in it. So you could bring in Fenn Signis and a squad of Rebel Troopers as a synergistic group for one arm of your army or make Chewbacca (the single most expensive Rebel card) the lynchpin.
I really want to play more of the skirmish game. I’m sure it’ll happen soon. My FLGS put in for a tournament kit and I’ve volunteered to be their TO for Imperial Assault.
That’s it for now folks!