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?
That's Star Wars.