Board Games
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Star Wars Imperial Assault

by on March 5, 2015
The Good

A polished gaming experience.
Lots and lots of very cool miniatures.
Two game modes.
Captures that Star Wars feel.

The Bad

Its not cheap, but you do get a large amount of bang for your buck.
To get the most out of this you'll want to complete the campaign which needs a regular group of players.

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Summing Up
 

This is a Star Wars fan's essential purchase, it captures the thrilling heroics of the much loved films and has enough tweaks on the tried and tested Descent formula to make it its own beast.

 

Dum, de duh doo, dah doo dada dee da! Ah yes even now when I hear those masterful notes from John Williams epic Star Wars scores I get all a quiver. Its a vast universe ripe with possibility and adventure which disappointingly many of the board and card games licensed from the films have been a big heap of Bantha Fodder*.

There are some notable exceptions, Epic Duels had a decent stab at lightsaber battles and The Queens Gambit was highly enjoyable (more-so than watching the bloody movie) sadly these are all now out of print or in the case of the Video board game about as much fun as Greedo firing first. Despite all of this if you’re a serious fan then you’ve learnt to be a apologist (well someone saw the prequels more than once) seeking for the midichlorians in the rough even if it does require turning to the dark side, is often worth it. We want to love you Star Wars, Lumpys, JaJa’s and all. So does Imperial Assault get all Holiday Special on us or is this a New Hope?

 

 

Taking its cue from Descent 2.0 Imperial Assault has streamlined further that games clunk, tweaked the dice rolling combat systems while retaining that stormtrooper inaccuracy with blasters and finally given the Overlord a greater involvement in proceedings.

By far the most welcome addition is how the players activate. In Descent all the heroes would take their turn whilst the Overlord sat patiently waiting, maybe firing off an occasional card to irritate a player, waiting some more, defending his monsters when they were attacked but mostly waiting.

So Imperial Assault has trash compacted that process and now a Rebel gets an activation and then the Imperial player (the Overlord) does, this simple little change really spices things up. It means that the rebels can’t now take all their turns as one coherent assault, potentially wiping the board of a threat before it can actually do something. And it allows for the Imperial player to adapt his strategy on the fly, leading to a much more tense and involved game for everyone.

gideonargusThe missions themselves and how they progress have also received a lacquer of attention. In Descent everything was laid out on the table starting monsters and all, everyone knew what they were doing and where they were going, leaving very few real surprises. This always sort of bugged me, Heroquest had managed to create the feeling of exploration as you ventured deeper into the dungeon, opening rooms and finding out what lay within, and I was always disappointed that Descent lacked this element.

Imperial Assault attempts to rectify this shortfall whilst remaining in the confines of the Descent set up. It does this in two ways, most of the  missions now come with a set round limit instilling an urgency to proceedings, a ticking clock forcing the Rebels to press on like a little gaggle of Jack Bauer’s. But most tantalizing, information is now hidden from the Rebels empowering the Imperial player with the feeling of an old school  DM and at times even some hidden choices over what events will trigger. The board is still laid out for all to see but now these events thematically tied to each mission will occur during rounds, it might be more imperials showing up at an unexpected moment or changes of objective, it results is this juicy level of uncertainty for the Rebel players. These little tweaks now offer a far more involved thematic and rewarding game for both sides, and is probably my most beloved addition to the rules.

There are also forced missions that trigger when specific goals are not met by the Rebels and spin the campaign off into daring escapes and denying the players the option to level up until completed, helping to make players feel that they are part of some epic story. Yes we know that it will all ultimately come down to that last mission but it now feels that the choices being made are having a very meaningful impact.

pic2237761_mdSay the Rebels are attacking an Imperial Arms Depot, suddenly a legion of Stormtrooper’s or worse a Walker might lurch up mid game, maybe all the doors might seal themselves trapping the Rebel scum! It lends proceedings that excitement of the films and forces the Rebel’s to think on their toes, everyone always “Has a bad feeling about this” it promotes much derring-do from our rag tag band. And besides from adding some great thematic touches it completely removes any chance of playing by committee that I found could rear its head in Descent.

There has been much ballyhoo with cries that this has unbalanced game play from both sides of the force, I really don’t see it. Yes some games feel that the Imperial player has all the toys but a rebel team playing well and leveled up can pull off some incredible feats, nearly all of the games in our campaign have come down to the wire, usually down to the dice roll. I won’t argue that now missions can be less forgiving and a poorly timed move or activation by the Imperial player can lead to a wipe, but then this is a campaign and as long as you learn from your mistakes the Empire can strike back. And that’s surely how it should be, we’ve had some amazing stand up from the table moments of heroic dice rolling and close scrapes, everything you want from a Star Wars game.

SWI01-ProductLayoutBesides all of this wonderful uncertainly the one guaranteed factor is the obligatory polish we expect from Fantasy Flight, and this game is no slouch in that department. We get a great modular jigsaw board system and a battalion of fantastic miniatures that are just crying out for a splash of paint, fistfuls of tokens, decks of cards all that’s missing is a soundtrack CD. And I applaud FFG again on a solid set of manuals and another one of those cool reference guides.

And if that wasn’t enough the game also comes with a separate Skirmish mode where you and another player can just have some straight up mano-a-mano miniature battles. I’ve not dived into this yet but it certainly adds more value to the box and will give you a perfectly sensible excuse for buying all the new mini’s as they come out.

SWI03-09PacksAnd as we are discussing extra’s then expansions have to rear their head, after all this being Fantasy Flight we are going to get some. The campaign system is designed to enable games in different time periods, the one in this box is set just after Episode IV so we can fully expect more to tie in with the subsequent movies and potentially some from the prequels. And less we forget this Christmas see’s the new movie hitting which I’d be very surprised if we don’t see some content coming for that. Hopefully they will go the route they have with Eldritch horror by releasing a smaller expansion followed up by a big box, for me I’d want to see Droid’s, a staple of the movies were the faithful droid companions and they’re noticeably absent from this set and obviously Boba Fett, c’mon FFG what are you playing at!

Here’s the thing, if you are a Star Wars fan then you are going to eat this up, in fact I find your lack of faith disturbing that you don’t own this already. Games are tight and fast and most importantly fun. If you own Descent then whether you splash out on this is really going to come down to the theme and if you have the spare cash. Personally Imperial Assault replaces Descent for me, I’m enjoying this far more and with the volume turned up on the entire back catalog of Star Wars soundtracks and a like minded group then there is no better way to while away a couple of hours in a galaxy far far away.

*For the process of this review I’m counting X-Wing as a miniatures game, and yes I’d count it as very good.

 

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  • Ryan
    March 19, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    This is a great review. One thing that I would like to know is if you think it is possible to carry the rules from Imperial Assault over to Descent 2.0. As I do not own either game, I lean towards Descent for its theme, but IA for its mechanics. If it’s possible to adapt Descent to IA’s set of rules, that would be great!

    Reply

    • Mike B
      March 20, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      Possibly? You should be able to house rule the turn structure but would have to do something about the overlord cards as they are mostly aimed at the fact she isn’t doing anything for slabs of time and focus on stopping heroes moving etc, which may completely unbalance the game. I’d also be concerned that the campaign in the descent base set is designed for the overlord only get a certain amount of moves, suddenly giving him more actions may completely break the game. If you designed a campaign around the new turn structure that might work, but in all honesty its a lot of work. If you’re set on investing I’d either look past the theme and still go IA or maybe just go for a completely different dungeon crawl say Arcadia Quest or maybe Myth. Descent is a solid fantasy dungeon crawl and has a wealth of extra content and expansions out there and is still a solid game.

      Oh and thanks for the kind words.

      Reply

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