Have You Played… Star Wars: Rebellion

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

This is a rare example of a ‘Have You Played’ entry about a game that I had completely forgotten about until RPS readers sent me messages saying, “haven’t you played Star Wars: Rebellion?” Yes, is the answer, but I’d entirely forgotten it until you asked.

The catalyst for those messages was a comment I made when we published Rab’s review of…Star Wars: Rebellion. The boardgame. It sounds like the Star Wars strategy game I’ve always wanted , with rule systems that encourage roleplaying, whether you’re on the light side or the dark side.

See, here’s the thing I love best about this game – it’s not the game it looks like. You set it up on the table and it looks like one of your standard big 4X conquest and development games. You instinctively build a picture of what you’ll be doing in the game – building troops, researching new tech, expanding across the galaxy. But it’s not that. Rebellion doesn’t so much use Star Wars as the setting for its gameplay as use “galactic conquest board game” as its setting. Because it’s really all about those leaders, and the dynamic of how they’re used across the span of the game.

Naturally, I expressed hope that there’d be a digital adaptation one day. Who wouldn’t want to see a big ol’ Star Wars game about diplomacy, espionage and fleet combat rather than lightsabering people in the kidneys?

Well, it turns out that game already existed. And it has exactly the same name as the boardgame. Released in 1998, Rebellion is the closest thing to a grand strategy Star Wars game that exists and even though it sounds ideal on paper (and indeed on cardboard), I’d managed to entirely erase the PC version from my memory.

It isn’t identical to the boardgame but it’s close enough that I feel faintly embarrassed to have forgotten it during a discussion of that boardgame.

As to why I forgot about it, I couldn’t say for sure. I recall a terrible interface that failed to teach me what was possible and the few times I played, combat seemed to be more important (and more tedious) than any other option.

So, in a reversal of the usual formula, I’m turning the question around. I have played Star Wars: Rebellion but should I play it again, or try to forget it one more time.

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  1. Jokerme says:

    Nice bloody article you have there.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Syt says:

    Rebellion/Supremacy was such a fun game. And highly moddable.

    I would love to have a game with the strategic gameplay of Rebellion and the tactical battles of Empire at War.

  3. ryan1701 says:

    Loved this game back in the day, must have gone through at least 3 or 4 copies of the CD.

  4. Simon_Scott says:

    So is this the best of the Star Trek games, then?

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      No no no, this isn’t Star Trek, it’s StarGATE.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        Oh, I thought that space station to the left was Babylon 5.

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          Vandelay says:

          I would of thought someone whose name referenced Space 1999 would of known their sci-fi!

  5. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    Yes, I have played it. Way back when it was first released, in fact.

    So many good ideas in that game, all so poorly implemented. And the AI! Dear God, the AI. It was so, so bad.

    Honestly I’m not sure it’s worth steering people to, except as an historical footnote; Empire at War did just about everything it did better.

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    distantlurker says:

    I still play Star Wars Supremacy (Brit title) all the time.

    I love it. It’s a terrible game btw (the AI simply can’t win, the force training missions are a waste of time largely, the luke/vader/emperor mechanic almost never pans out etc. etc.) but I love it nonetheless for precisely why Rab likes his. It’s the leaders and what you imagine them doing on those missions you send them. It’s pre-Ep VII EU pr0n for a Star Wars fan.

    Nothing quite like finding out Admiral Daala is force sensitive and sending her to assassinate Ackbar the traitor!

    Couple of points I’d make if you’re gonna give it a try. Firstly, it’s available on your usual digital platforms but last I tried you had to play it in a window (not full screen window, a proper, proper window) or all the icons are upside down.

    Pause at every notification. You’ll get the hang of which you can ignore after a while and then fiddle with the ones you don’t want.

    Start on small galaxy, particularly if you play as Empire (it can take a hundred hours to stumble upon the Rebel base on the biggest galaxy).

    If you play as Empire, consolidate your starting fleets quickly. It’s the only dangerous bit in the game.

    There are lots of other tips of course but you can still find guides on them intertubez if you want them.

    • Stargazer86 says:

      It’s got so much potential but turned out so badly. Building fleets of Star Destroyers, blowing up planets with the Death Star, watching your side spread throughout the galaxy, all that was great. I remember building the Death Star and just hopping around blowing up every single planet that dared to go Rebel. I even still have the poster that came with the game, featuring all the characters and ships including ones from the now defunct EU. It was neat sending people from the books around on missions.

      But, of course, the AI was horrible and the 3D battle interface was so horrendous that I just outright auto-resolved every time. So very, very awful. When Star Wars: Empire at War came out I was hoping for a revamped and superior Star Wars: Rebellion and inevitably wound up disappointed.

      For as many problems as this game had I still enjoyed it simply because it’s the only Star Wars game that actually delved into the grand strategy portion of what’s supposed to be a Galactic Civil War.

    • J.C. says:

      I am embarrassed to say that the A.I. beat me every single time in this game.

  7. Jhoulden says:

    This is an awesome game and is available on gog.com there are many nuances to the game. There is a star wars rebellion canister you should also v I sit.

  8. Greyusurper says:

    I greatly enjoyed this game for what it was. In so many ways it was more nuanced than it’s Star Trek counterpart, Birth of the Federation.

    Do a replay with the Empire faction and work your way up to a Death Star. Use it. Then tell me ’98 era you would selve this game. Getting the hang of the political and esponiage missions is really the trick. Overcoming the tactical battles is just a matter of time.

  9. Darth Gangrel says:

    “Who wouldn’t want to see a big ol’ Star Wars game about diplomacy, espionage and fleet combat rather than lightsabering people in the kidneys?” I strongly prefer lightsabering people in the kidneys… and in the game.

  10. PsychoWedge says:

    I can’t even begin to describe how terrible this game is. I also can’t even begin to count the thousands of hours I played it. One of my all time favourites!

    I think that’s because it’s from a time when I didn’t have many games and I basically had to play what I got. You learn to really search for the tiny sparkles of something good in the dirt in those situations. (this makes me sound like some world war 2 survivor who survived on rat bones alone when in reality I’m just some cunt with a summer of barely limited videogame variety in my childhood… xD)

  11. Doogie2K says:

    I really enjoyed this game as a kid. It’s flawed, yes, but enjoyably ambitious and totally unlike any other space 4X I’ve ever played. Just…never play the real-time combat. Ever. It is literally the worst piece of video gaming ever created.

    I really liked the retrospective Three Moves Ahead did on this game last Christmas. They covered a lot of the things I remembered enjoying (and scratching my head at, even as a kid) and looked at it in a fresh way.

  12. stuw23 says:

    This was one of my favourite games in my teen years; I must have sunk hundreds of hours in to it. It’s very unwelcoming, and the learning curve is crazily steep, but I have a lot of love for it despite its flaws. I got the Steam version recently, and found that it was still quite fun despite being even more aware of its many, many flaws, which surprised me.

  13. tobel says:

    I reinstalled this recently, I still love it almost as much as I did back in the day. I think part of it was that I was just getting into the Star Wars EU back then, but there was something amazing about writing your own alternate Star Wars history. Is there a Crusader Kings II mod for this yet?

    • Haplo says:

      Not as far as I know of, but there -is- a space opera mod for CK2 called Crisis of the Confederation. I have it, haven’t played it, don’t know if it’s supported, but it’s an impressive effort.

  14. nootrac4571 says:

    Ha, I always bounced hard off 4x games, but this was the only one which ever seriously hooked me. I truly loved this game and played it through more times than I can remember. With hindsight, it was probably 100% due to the Star Wars theme and 0% due to the actual quality of the game, so I’m definitely never going to play it again. I’d hate to have my wonderful but suspiciously selective memories exposed for the lies they surely are.

  15. Chewbacca says:

    I remember when I played Rebellion as a kiddo. Building my first Death Star, sending it just for giggles into a Rebel system and was greeted by 3 squads of X-Wings. I laughed, pressed auto-resolved and my Death Star was gone.

    The 3-D combat was a bit clunky and didn’t look that great even for the time it came out. I mainly auto-resolved the battles. Still had my fun though. And when the Empire wounded Chewbacca, it got personal!

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Really, you should have known what happens when a Death Star goes up against a handful of snub fighters. :)

  16. Comco says:

    I’m another who played this again recently when GOG released it and had a blast with it again. While it is certainly flawed, what Rebellion is, at its core, is a genuinely Star Wars feeling 4X game. It has, among other things –

    – Espionage that is absolutely essential to winning the war
    – Heroes that were familiar and critical elements to the game – just as they should be in the Star Wars universe
    – A refreshingly accurate depiction of the two sides. Instead of having to balance them to be roughly equivalent like so many games have to, Rebellion makes you play as the universe is – the Rebels engaging in guerrilla warfare and start the game as strong underdogs, using subterfuge to stay hidden, while the Imperial Navy spends its time putting down uprisings and maintaining their strangle hold on their planets.

    There’s so much that’s frustrating about it, but it nails so many elements of the Star Wars, and did so in daring ways that no one has even attempted since – how many 4x games in the last 10 years basically just riff off the MOO formula or rip it off wholesale?

    Personally, I’d love to see a sequel. As a 4x, it was vastly superior to Empire at War and if you get a skilled design team to take the best of Rebellion offered and go back to the drawing board on the rest, you’d have one hell of a game.

  17. buzzmong says:

    Still have the boxed cd copy of this.

    Great game. Deeply, deeply flawed as a piece of software, but it’s quite fun.
    I sort of view it as a proto 4x game. Lots of interesting ideas and features. Would be very nice to see a modern take on it.

  18. FireStorm1010 says:

    I actually loved the game. I even loved the tactical battles, that to my surprise, everyone seem to hate here. Its only true problem was the very bad AI , that limited replayability. It was actually the first game that i liked o smuch, i started playing multiplayer on the internet:). The glory times of 10kb/s lol.

    Judging from todys perspective, where it was truly special was the heroes and quests: it added that heroic/adventure dimension to the strategy game, that played very well with Star Wars universe.And it was powerful enough that it was very important.