A long time ago, about ten years actually, I watched all of the Star Wars films for the first time back to back to back. Like many of you, I fell in love with Star Wars. And like many of you, I also wanted most of everything Star Wars related: toys, (a real) lightsaber, a droid companion, video games, the Force.
Fast forward to December 2015 and my already-deep fascination with Star Wars is reignited with the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Of course, I wanted, I yearned, I coveted Star Wars things yet again; but not everything. This time, I only wanted Star Wars: Imperial Assault, and a (real) lightsaber. Despite many nights spent staring at the Star Wars: Imperial Assault page on Amazon with the mouse hovering over “Add to Cart,” I never bought it myself. I received it for Christmas from friends (no, seriously).
Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a strategy and tactical board game with miniature figures set in the Star Wars universe after the destruction of the Death Star. The game can accommodate 2-5 players in the campaign mode, and exactly two players in the skirmish mode. In the campaign mode, one player plays as the Empire, controlling all Imperial and bounty hunter/monster characters and playing as the game master, while all other players control the Rebel heroes. In this asymmetrical game, the Imperial player holds all of the quest details while the Rebel heroes walk into the missions with only their objectives and little-to-no additional information. As the game mode suggests, campaign mode follows a variable story-line with side missions intertwined with main story missions with a progression that depends on the victory conditions of each mission. Skirmish mode on the other hand is more straight forward: build an army, build a command card deck, and accomplish the objectives to score victory points before you get obliterated by your opponent.
Since its grand opening last lovely Christmas morning, Imperial Assault has hit the table more frequently than any other game: more than 10 times. Though I have played both campaign and skirmish modes, I would like to reflect on the campaign mode this time. Having read all four rulebooks in one night, I took the role of the Imperial player.
Playing the introductory/learning mission, I thought “Cool! I get to control these Stormtroopers and probe droids and make them do things!” The first campaign mission went slowly, with line-of-sight checks and attack/defense dice calculations taking up the bulk of the time. I also found myself checking the rulebooks quite frequently for certain specific situations, like bleed, cleave, other conditions, and interrupt actions. Don’t be surprised if you have to do that as well on your first few missions (keep the rulebooks on hand). Imperial Assault offers players with many, many choices, and knowing that these choices can have huge impacts in the late-game can lead to long downtime of just discussions and strategizing. These weren’t an issue for us because we enjoyed taking our time with the game. In the first few missions, it is easy to “mess up” if you forget what your skills are or what your items can do. All of this make for long and tedious games (only initially!).
Imperial Assault requires players to be patient and to be really into the game, to be open to some mistakes and small errors. After the first few missions, I started to appreciate Imperial Assault more and more. As my friends became more familiar with their Rebel heroes and their abilities and skills, I also became more familiar with the various Imperial and bounty hunter characters. It is during this time that Imperial Assault started to really shine. The Rebel heroes were no longer running into rooms blindly; they were planning their actions to support one another just in case a monster leaps out from behind a closed door or explosives are triggered. Line of sight was easier to plot and the attack/defense dice were easier to read.
I also became a better Imperial player. It took five missions before I won against the Rebels. With each loss, I reflected upon what led to my defeat: did I leave the hallway too open? Did I rush all of my Stormtroopers to their immediate deaths? Did I play the wrong agenda or item cards? Did I choose the wrong set of troops for deployment?
With this in mind, I started planning better chokepoints and traps against the Rebel heroes. Meanwhile the Rebel heroes plotted their gameplan. Who will run and open the door? Who will get their blaster ready for any surprises? The Rebels planned their attacks while I timed my reinforcements. The Rebels were scared of opening doors, and I was careful not to be overeager and order my troops to their deaths. We were all getting better.
It was during this time that Imperial Assault really started to shine. By the time we hit our fourth mission, we played from 11 PM to 4 AM. The Star Wars theme was more apparent and palpable than ever. After losing many Stormtroopers to the Rebel heroes, I deployed an AT-ST in an effort to destroy them once and for all. The Heroes counted their moves and made sure no action was wasted. They weaved in between and through my troops in a last-ditch effort to storm the final room to retrieve the last objective. Unsuccessfully, I tried to pursue the Rebel heroes, but it was too late. The Rebels had accomplished all their objectives.
In the end, the Rebels celebrated their triumph, and I also celebrated my defeat, because it didn’t feel like a defeat. It felt like what Star Wars would feel like if we took upon the roles we were just playing and acted out the mission we were just presented. The Rebels were outnumbered and outgunned. At times, the situation seemed desperate and hopeless. As the Imperial player, I felt omnipotent and omniscient. I had reinforcements and hidden deployments. I had traps and triggered events. In the end, the Rebels won with less than one round remaining by pulling some tricky and daring moves. In the end, we weren’t just playing a game, we were having an experience. It all felt like Star Wars in an interactive, cooperative, and competitive board game.
After every mission, we debriefed and reflected on the coolest parts and the “what if” moments. We recorded our scores and experience points and prepared for the next mission, because the next mission is another opportunity to defeat the opposition.
What did you think of Star Wars: Imperial Assault? Share your thoughts and experiences, and feel free to ask me any questions about it.
In the future I will be posting more impressions of Star Wars: Imperial Assault gameplay, skirmish mode, and the solo variant. Here is a sneak preview of my current work-in-progress painting of the Star Wars: Imperial Assault miniatures, Imperial Officer.