Cardboard Children – Star Wars: Imperial Assault

Hello youse.

Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a giant box of board game stuff that lets you play two different types of game. One of them is a big campaign thing, with side-missions and a developing story. The other is a skirmish game, where you fling lots of little plastic Star Wars toys on a board, roll lots of dice, and try to come out on top. A campaign-based game is a difficult thing to review. Sure, I could just cover the mechanics and the first few missions, but often problems in a campaign game’s structure only become clear as things develop. The skirmish game is different. I can cover that right now.

And I will.

STAR WARS: IMPERIAL ASSAULT (SKIRMISH)

Okay then. Let me explain, first of all, what you get inside this big ole box. There is a big bag of plastic baddies. There’s Darth Vader, and a load of Stormtroopers. There’s the supercool Royal Guard, those big red bastards who protect the Emperor, and those snotty little prick Imperial Officers. Lots more stuff, too. Lots of baddies. And then there are the good guys. There’s Luke Skywalker who, get this, is the SON of the baddie Darth Vader! And there’s a wookie who isn’t Chewbacca. And a woman with tentacles on her head. And a man with a bug gun. And an old guy. And a woman who is a good shooter of guns and such. Yeah, the goodies are mainly newly created characters, but HEY, it’s all good.

Now, in the campaign game, one player is all the baddies and up to four players can be the goodies. And the goodies will lead those new characters, such as Tentacle Nut and Old Man, through a big branching story. In skirmish, things are much simpler. Every character and group of troops has a points value. You choose a scenario to play (and there are a few of these in the box, with new ones coming with every expansion) and this will tell you which battle map to build and what your objectives are. You then build an “army” of a certain points total – usually 40 – and deploy them in your chosen side’s deployment zone.

When you build your team, you have a decent amount of choice in what to bring into action. As an Imperial player you might choose Vader (18 points, if I remember correctly) and a group of three Stormtroopers (6 points, I think) and two Royal Guards (8 points, maybe) and then spend the rest on special cards for your Command Deck.

Your Command Deck is a deck of 15 cards that you will draw and use during the scenario. You build this by spending points. Many of the cards have a cost of zero, but some of them cost a lot more. These are the strong ones, game-changers, and really cool. (One of these is Lure of the Dark Side, which is a card that lets you briefly take control of an opponent’s character – it costs 3 points, but is WORTH IT.)

Okay, so you have your dudes and your cards. You draw three cards to start the game and then off you go! Now, here’s one scenario, as an example – both teams are tasked with retrieving smuggled goods from the alleyways and junk shops of Mos Eisley. There are little crate tokens laid on the map, representing these smuggled goods. When one of your characters is holding a crate in your own deployment zone at the end of a turn, you score 15 points. When you kill an enemy character or unit, you score their points value in points. First to 40 wins. Really simple, very clear. Grab crates, bring them home. Kill enemies. First to 40 is the winner.

Then all the cool little wrinkles come in. When you hold a crate, your character loses 2 speed points. These things are heavy. Okay. So who should dash for the crates? And who covers them when they do that? And where should you create little bottlenecks and traps for your opponent? Which character should hunt which character? Where do you send your Lord Vader? After Luke? Or out to mop up one of the weaker crate runners? Oh, and should you go and take control of some of those terminals on the skirmish map? The ones that give you extra command cards? WHAT’S THE PLAN, KID?

Each deployment card, representing the characters and units, lists a number of special abilities that you need to pay attention to. Even Stormtroopers have a nice ability, giving them a bonus when they stay in formation with the rest of their unit. Vader can do an incredible FORCE CHOKE to anybody in his line of sight. This is a brilliant ability – it makes the opposing player scared of his characters even being SEEN by Vader, which helps tell a great story. The rogueish Jyn Odan has a dynamic ability called NIMBLE, which can award her extra movement after an enemy’s attack. This allows her to duck behind cover when under fire, which – again – just makes for great story moments. She also has an ability called HAIR TRIGGER, which – one for Space Hulk fans here – acts just like Overwatch, allowing her to interrupt an enemy’s move. She’s a great character, but all the characters and units have really cool stuff to play around with. I love the characters and units in this game.

The combat itself is very easy to resolve. For anyone who has played Descent – it’s pretty much Descent. Every attack has its own dice pool. You roll those dice and total the hits (in a ranged attack you need to add up a range total too) and then the target has to roll defence dice to block them. “Surge” icons on the attack dice can be used to activate special lines on the deployment cards, giving bonuses to the attack. A surge can, for example, activate a character’s CLEAVE ability, allowing damage to carry through onto another target. I’ve always loved this combat system. I love the simplicity of the strong characters rolling “strong dice”, you know? Vader rolls two reds and a yellow – those be some STRONG dice. It’s a clear, visual warning to BACK AWAY FROM THE BIG BOY.

The command cards let you break up play with special attacks and activations. Having the right card at the right time can be crucial, and the fear that your opponent might have a particular powerful card (such as Son of Skywalker, which lets a character act twice) really makes you consider your options very carefully. And once the deck is empty, the cards are GONE, so managing that deck and playing the cards optimally is hugely satisfying.

Imperial Assault’s skirmish mode is MAD FUN to play. When you consider that it comes as an additional element to the main campaign game, it really punches above its weight. It means the game will get onto your table far more often than it would otherwise, because you only need one other knucklehead at the table to make the action happen. You can play through a scenario in an hour, easily, and it’s a nice hour of dice-chucking, card-playing and dirty tricks.

And it FEELS like Star Wars. When your group of Stormtroopers are falling down dead at the slightest buzz of laser fire? That’s Star Wars. When Jyn is ducking behind a crate as those Stormtrooper dicks are missing with every shot? That’s Star Wars. When there’s a big wide open space around Darth Vader because everyone is terrified of him? That’s Star Wars.

And when, as happened in my last session, Luke Skywalker cuts down his father with an incredible roll, and both players at the table are making the sound effects?

BVVVVVVVVVVVVV-ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZHHHHHHHHHHHHHHEEOOOOOOO

HAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWW-PEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

HAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWW-PEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

UGHHHHHHHHHHHHH-KKKKHHHHHHH-KHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

“Father…”

That’s Star Wars.

25 Comments

  1. Fitzmogwai says:

    Ah crap. How much is a kidney going for these days? I only need one, right?

  2. thekelvingreen says:

    How much stuff do you get? All the images I’ve seen have made it look like quite a small game, nothing like the size of The Descent.

    • Monteef says:

      I’d thought the same thing, but it’s actually a pretty large box that’s jammed full of stuff – so much so that now all the tokens and tiles have been punched out of their cardboard sprues it’s a bit hard to close the box.

      If you’ve got a boardgame store near you, just take a look at the size of the box – it looks small in pictures on the internet, but quite big in person.

    • marlowespade says:

      It does indeed feel smaller than The Descentening, particularly in terms of base box vs. base box – it didn’t take me several afternoons to punch out tokens, and the figures actually all fit back in the box nicely after ditching the insert. That said, the campaign structure and side missions make me believe that content-wise there may actually be more here.

  3. puffinmcpuffs says:

    ” There’s Luke Skywalker who, get this, is the SON of the baddie Darth Vader!”

    Well, thanks for spoiling that!

  4. Tiax says:

    What about the second part of XCOM review?

  5. aircool says:

    I’ve got this, but not played it yet.

  6. Bundin says:

    Heh, nice timing :) I ordered this earlier today, had a look through the rulebook and watched some vids. Seems there’s less models than with Descent (which I never played), but it seems to be high quality overall.

    The one downside I see is Fantasy Flight Games getting another shot at yoinking my money, after X-wing…

  7. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    Sounds great. Still have to pick up Descent but this might also be a good alternative. Just bought the BSG game and have yet to play the Eldritch Horror copy I got for Christmas, so it might be a while before I could justify the $$$.

    Luckily, when I moved to the U.S. I ended-up living 10 mins from Fantasy Flight HQ (by sheer, wonderful coincidence), so I can pop over and try it out first without spending any monies. They seriously have pretty much any game you can think of available to play for free. It’s a fantastic resource.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Oh the irony. I think they opened that about a year after I moved from the US. How many afternoons could I have wasted there?

  8. Siimon says:

    This is just crazy expensive! Needs to be 1/3 or maaaaybe 1/2 of the current price before it is a justifiable purchase for me.

    PS. Time for RPS to crank up the antispam filters again!

    • Deano2099 says:

      Team up with one or two friends to buy it then! The campaign especially means you’re more likely to play with a regular group than different people, so it’s more appealing.

  9. Edgewise says:

    I’ve only played once so far, but I am already taken with its ability to deliver cinematic gameplay while also being a nice thinky game. I think Rab’s really nailed all that in his review. The characters seem bland when you read their (simple) stats and go through the (simple) rules. But when it all gets moving, it becomes balanced, tactical and reasonably deep. And fast! And fun! This iteration of the Gears of War/Descent engine really pares it down to what works.

  10. Gothnak says:

    I picked this up 2nd hand in a facebook Boardgame group for £50. It looks amazing, haven’t got it to the table yet, but soon!

  11. Hanban says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about the game. The mission structure made it very difficult to make good decisions on what to do. It felt like any time our team of heroes tried to adapt and do something differently we stepped on another landmine. The only missions that seemed to be in our favour was the character missions. Towards the end of the campaign the imperial player would just drop his super boosted stormtroopers and they would be so tough that it was almost never worth fighting them. Don’t think I’ll be playing it again, but maybe the problem was just that we sucked!

  12. wraithgr says:

    This is ridiculous. Everyone knows light sabers ACTUALLY go TSHHHHHHHHHHH and KHHHHHH.

  13. crowleyhammer says:

    I own everything for Descent 2nd edition, and i mean everything, each of the little packs of lieutenants , i have spent a fortune on it, and regardless of how cool this looks I”m not going through it all again!

  14. GAmbrose says:

    Fuck my life….This sounds good

  15. guygodbois00 says:

    So, basically, Descent: Journey into Darkness reskin. Or not. Sorry, commenting from work – did not read the entire (master)piece.

    • Josh W says:

      Yep, except it’s star wars, and so there’s more shooting, and so more things take advantage of the range mechanic than in descent, which actually spreads things out very nicely. It’s also slightly more lethal than 2nd edition descent, from what I remember, meaning that it’s no longer purely about playing for time, although that is still a strong element.

  16. Havalynii says:

    “There’s Luke Skywalker who, get this, is the SON of the baddie Darth Vader!”

    You bastard.

  17. vahnn says:

    My copy should be arriving tomorrow… !