Sunday, 25 January 2015

A first look at Star Wars Imperial Assault

I picked up Star Wars Imperial assault a couple of weeks ago and finally got to break it out last night.

As this game is pretty new and hot right now I thought it may be worth putting down some of my initial thoughts here on the blog, for people wary of the very high price point on this game.

Note: I've only played the game one night. We played through the intro mission and the first campaign mission: Ambush. We then did the work to set up the next mission as we wanted to see how the XP and shopping rules worked. We figured out what our next mission was but didn't play it. 

We also did not try the Skirmish mode. It's also worth noting that it was 3 players, myself playing the Imperials and my wife and a friend each playing one hero.

The short version: Beautiful game I really enjoyed, just not sure how often I will actually get to play it.

Imperial Assault summary:

Imperial Assault is a Star Wars dungeon crawl. It uses the system from Descent Second Edition and applies it to the Star Wars universe. It's a very expensive game but you get a ton of stuff in the box. This is one of the heaviest boxes I own. That said, there's a ton of air in that box. Maybe they expect you to fill that with expansions.

One player takes on the role of the Imperial Forces and the other players (up to four more, so five total players) each take on a role of a hero. These heroes aren't the main characters from the Star Wars universe but new characters created for this game. 

The game is designed to play in a campaign. So much so that there's no rules for doing a one off game other than a point based skirmish battle, similar to many other squad based miniature games. There's no starting on mission five. You start fresh with Ambush every time.

Actual game play is really quick to learn. A hero goes, then an Imperial, then a hero, etc. Then there's a bookkeeping phase. Rinse and repeat until one side wins. Actually winning is based on the mission you play and there is a huge variety here. For example mission one, the Imperials have to hold off the Rebels for six rounds or wound all of them. The Rebels are trying to destroy four computer terminals.

Each player activation has players taking two actions with their heroes. These are usually move and/or attack but there are also things like opening doors, looting crates, etc. We didn't see it but later in the campaign there are even RPG like stat checks. 

Combat is a big part of the game, and it uses special dice. I assume these are the same as the Descent ones but I'm not sure. Generally you roll a bunch of attack dice, the defender rolls defense dice. Attack dice have hit and surge symbols and some have numbers. The numbers are used to determine if you hit with a ranged attack. Hits do damage and surge is spent to do interesting things or get bonuses. The defense dice have symbols that cancel these.

At the end of each mission, players get XP and credits (more if they looted crates during the mission). These are used to improve your characters between missions. Each character has an ability deck they spend XP on and there's a shared supply deck you use to see what's for sale between missions. The Imperial player also gets XP (called Influence) and can buy Agenda Cards and abilities from an Imperial upgrade deck.

After everyone has 'leveled up' you start the next mission in the Campaign. Here's where some of the real brilliance of the system shows. For a full campaign you play through 11-15 missions. Only 5 of these are core story missions. The rest are Side Missions and Forced Missions the Imperial Player can spend XP to make the players go through. The number of Forced Missions is what will determine if you play 11 or 15 missions.

Story mission choice is determined by how the players performed during the last mission. It's a which way kind of thing. The side missions are much more interesting. At the start of the campaign you build a Side Mission Deck. This deck will include missions specific to the characters you are playing. A choice of four player beneficial missions, and a set of grey missions. When it's time to find out which Side mission to play, the Rebel player gets a hand of these cards and picks which one to do next. 

What I found really neat is that the main characters of the Star Wars series can show up in these Side Missions. After finishing Ambush, you could draw a card that features a Chewbacca mission. You don't play Chewie but if you complete this mission you get Chewie as an ally. The base game comes with a bunch of these cool 'guest star' events. 

Expansion packs are going to add even more of these side missions and more guest stars. The core game includes the Luke and Vader expansion to give you a taste of this.

Obviously there's a lot more to the game then this but all of it is pretty straight forward. Most of the information you need is actually on the many decks of cards the game comes with.

It's so pretty:

What an amazing looking game! The map boards are fantastic looking and fit together in rather interesting ways. I think I'll be stealing these for use in my sci-fi RPGs. Even better looking than the board pieces are the minis. Fantasy Flight has set a new bar for board game miniatures with this one. These are just beautiful; so much detail. 

There are three different books included and each is easy enough to read and very well illustrated. I would even go so far as to say that the rules are actually a step up from most Fantasy Flight Rulebooks. There's still a "stuff often forgotten" section but overall things seem more clear and better organized.

So what's the downside?

It all sounds so good doesn't it? I thought so too and what's why I picked up Imperial Assault. The campaign mode is so damn cool, better than any I've seen in a board game thus far. There in lies the problem though: it's a campaign game.

If you are anything like me, you don't game with the same group of gamers every weekend (or whatever your gaming frequency is). I play a variety of games with a variety of people. I don't have a set group that I game with regularly. Each weekend I'm at 3-5 different tables with a variety of different players.

The one night I can get a group of regulars together, we play RPGs. That's my all dwarf Warhammer game. While I dig boardgames and dig this game, if I have a regular group I'd rather play a full on RPG over an RPG like board game.

I did really enjoy Imperial Assault, but the fact that there's no real way (currently) to just jump in and play besides the skirmish mode, means that this one may just gather dust. 

One other complaint: skip the intro mission in the how to play book. Unless you've never played a board game before, there's no point. Not only is it too basic, no where does it actually tell you how to win. We assumed it was last man standing but I'm not even sure, as there were terminals you put out on the map.

Imperial Assault a big investment. It's beautiful, contains the best looking Star Wars miniatures I've ever seen and play very well. But, if you aren't going to get the same group of players together to play it regularly, it may not be worth it to you. 

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