Sunday, 17 May 2015

Boardgame Review - Star Wars: Imperial Assault

By Fantasy Flight Games

This review has been a long time coming but I wanted to be sure about a couple of things; for one, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t simply surfing the wave of Star Wars excitement that’s washing over the beach of fandom at the moment, what with the most recent Star Wars Celebration now over and the wonderful Episode VII trailer still ringing in my ears. Secondly, I’m always wary of boardgames and their longevity, as some seem to run out of steam as you play them for any length of time and then end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

So, with that in mind, let’s get to business.

Now, I would go into a lot of detail about the rules and how to play but there’s absolutely no need - you can download and read the rules for yourself right here.

I’d also go into detail about the components of the game, but you’ll find that in the downloadable rules, as well. Just so you know, what you get us the following:

A learn to play rulebook, a rules reference, a campaign guide, and a skirmish guide
34 detailed plastic figures
59 double-sided map tiles
Eleven custom dice
Over 250 cards
Over 150 assorted tokens
The Luke Skywalker Ally Pack and the Darth Vader Villain Pack

That’s a lot, right? And it shows - the box is solid, big and quite hefty so you know you’re getting a lot of blasters for your buck. The figures are solid and well made and the counters and interlocking boards are made of good quality stock and will last you a long time.

I originally played this game with composer James Semple and Jedi News boss Mark Newbold, and James, being the guy with the game and the man in the know, ran the games for us. We got three sessions in, and since then I’ve played the game on and off over the last few weeks.

Me, James Semple and Mark Newbold

Thanks to James the game was very easy to get into and it only took the first session to really get to grips with the rules and the layout. I’d say it took us the better part of an hour to set up and play through the first encounter, and James said that he’d only run some practice games, so I reckon that if you got this out of the box with no prior experience it’d take about ninety minutes to to a couple of hours to get the first game off the ground. That’s not bad going for a game this size.

I’m not a huge boardgamer - I’m more a tabletop RPG man myself - but there are elements to this that reminded me of an encounter-based RPG session. Both me and Mark knew our chosen character’s abilities and skills so we played to our strengths and covered each other’s weaknesses against James’ Imperial onslaught. And here have the core enjoyment of the game; Imperial Assault is a combat game, pure and simple, and there’s a degree of tactics required not just from a positional standpoint but through knowledge of the game mechanics, how far a character can move and what they are capable of etc. Out of the three encounters we played we won two of them; by the second one we realised that our chosen character’s abilities and the victory conditions were intertwined, and we started shouting orders, calling ideas and planning the next round’s actions, making sure that we were covering all the bases and not biting off more than we could chew. I still maintain that with one extra round we’d have nailed that last mission.

This is what you want from a game such as this. It’s a tactical combat game and it does just that - makes you think tactically. There’s an element of utilising the game rules to help manipulate the encounter slightly, but this is true of any boardgame, and this is what made it fun to play; I found that I was thinking two or three moves ahead, and planning carefully where I should go and what I should do.

I’m still not a fan of the dice that FFG use in their games but it wasn’t too much of a distraction, but even though we got used to the rules it felt we had to spend the most amount of time figuring out what the symbols meant. The encounters were quick and fun but games like this do concern me as far as longevity is concerned, but to be fair the missions can be accomplished in many different ways and this is what I found playing it since this first session in February. I’ve got some good games out of this over the last three months and it feels like there’s still some use I can wring out of it. FFG will no doubt be supporting the game with new figures and expansions, so there’ll be other missions to run. There’s nothing stopping you from creating your own missions, as well.

Am I excited about this game because of the heightened exposure of Star Wars at the moment? Yes and no. It’s a great game and great fun, and between the three of us we had a great day shouting orders and blowing up Imperials. As Star Wars and game fans this was right up our alley and I’m looking forward to more sessions. Yes, the recent trailer release had me getting the game out, but for an everyday gamer and maybe casual or non-Star Wars fans it’s still a great game; however, in their case I can see the game being played ferociously for a while but then only being pulled out every now and then. The game doesn’t break any new ground and veteran gamers might not find anything new in here to ‘wow' them, but it is a solid game and deserves to be in any serious gamer’s collection.

We really enjoyed it and we’re looking forward to more, and even though I’m not playing it as often as I did I can see myself getting Star Wars: Imperial Assault out for a blast on a regular basis with a group of like-minded friends.