Review – Star Wars: Imperial Assault (Campaign)

I shot first because it's MY activation phase!

71i0LkDfcRL._AC_SL1000_

 

Designer Justin Kemppainen, Corey Konieczka, Jonathan Ying

Artist Arden Beckwith, Christopher Burdett + 10 more

Publisher Fantasy Flight Games

Category Dungeon-Crawler, RPG

Length 1-2 hours

Release Date 2014

Player Count 1-5

Fantasy Flight Games makes solid dungeon-crawlers. It’s what they do (insert Geico ad). From their Descent series to Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth, they’ve been refining their dungeon-crawling formula since they released Descent: Journeys in the Dark in 2005. So where does Imperial Assault, a Star Wars-inspired dungeon-crawler fit in?

Note: This review is based primarily on a full campaign playthrough, so I won’t have much to say about the app-controlled Heroes of the Rebellion or skirmish mode. I plan on playing another campaign with the app and will update this review accordingly.

Review

To begin a campaign, 1-4 players will play as the Rebels and 1 player will play as the Empire. The base game comes with 6 Rebel heroes to choose from, and they more or less fit dungeon-crawler stereotypes: support, tank, ranged, rogue, etc. Each character includes a set of upgrade cards that can be purchased through experience points after each mission, so there’s a lot of customization options here. If you’re wanting to create a ranged-support character or a rogue-tank, you usually can through upgrade cards!

The Empire player will choose 1 of 3 sets of upgrade cards to have access to during the campaign, which work much like the Rebel players’ upgrade cards. The Empire also chooses 6 sets of influence cards, which are usually special one-off cards geared towards a certain theme (such as interrogation or droids) and occasionally a special mission card. If the Empire wins the special mission (they’re called “forced missions” in the game) they reap the benefits, usually a new villain card (such as Darth Vader or IG-88) or a permanent upgrade. 

Before a mission, the Imperial player will read the scenario and set up the game board. The game board is composed of nice puzzle pieces that fit together well and don’t slide around or detach during gameplay. The Imperial player acts as the dungeon master and will narrate the story from the story cards and scenario flavor text, particularly after events such as door openings. The Imperial player also chooses what units they want to add to their reinforcement pool for the mission (they start with basic units, but can later unlock Imperial Guards, Trandoshan hunters, and an AT-ST).

Actual gameplay is quite straightforward. First, the Rebels activate 1 of their heroes, who performs 2 actions. Then, the Imperial player chooses 1 of their units, activates it, and every figure in the unit performs 2 actions. This process is repeated until both sides’ units are exhausted. The threat is then increased (threat is the Imperial player’s currency for bringing in reinforcements) and the next round begins! In general, the Imperial player will activate more figures, but the Rebel players are much more powerful than the Imperial player’s on average. 

Imperial Assault‘s gameplay is tight, logical, and there were only a few times where we had to Google some obscure rule. The tight gameplay makes for an excellent sandbox for all sorts of different missions, which are varied enough so that you never feel like you’re playing the same mission twice. Some missions are all about eliminating the enemy’s units, some missions are about activating certain terminals or defending certain objectives, and some missions are about breaching a bunker and discovering what awaits inside!

Depending on the outcome of the mission, players receive specific rewards. The side who won the mission will receive more/better rewards, but everyone typically gets something, which is especially fun because you can build towards the next mission. Maybe the Imperial player torched you with melee attacks, so buying a long-range blaster would be a good move. Maybe the Rebels hit-and-ran, so purchasing movement enhancements could be a good counter. Rebel players can buy upgrade cards and items, while the Imperial player can buy upgrade cards and influence cards.

A story mission’s outcome will also determine what story mission will be played next, so you could play through the same campaign twice and play through different missions, depending on who won what. There are also side missions between story missions, and during campaign set-up Rebel and Imperial players choose which side missions are shuffled into the mission deck for the campaign. 

The entire campaign builds towards an epic finale. The winner of the finale is declared the winner of the campaign, so both sides would do well to build toward the final encounter while keeping in mind that the more story missions you win, the more favorable the finale will be for your side.

The flavor text on the cards enrich the Star Wars theme.

There’s a lot of fun to be had here. Watching your character grow from a scrub with 1 weapon and 1 extra action into a very bad boy with 2 weapons, a couple items, and a myriad of buffs is satisfying. The story, which takes place between episodes IV and V, is engaging, and it’s nice to see past mission endings impact future missions. Gameplay is fun, and teamwork is essential, so there’s a lot of table talk and opportunities for role-playing, if that’s your thing. 

A downside here is that as characters grow, it’s easy to lose track of all the abilities, which can lead to some longer turns or frustrating forgetfulness. It is great fun to play as the Empire, but it’s also a lot to manage, so the Empire player needs to be on their toes so the game experience is fun for everyone (watching the Empire debate on who to move when for 3 minutes will dampen the fun). 

The components are what you would expect from a Fantasy Flight game: very good. The miniatures are detailed, sturdy, and paintable (the AT-ST is especially cool), the artwork is good, the card stock is suitable for its purpose, and the cardboard tokens are fine. The puzzle-piece game boards build a fun board, offer customization options for skirmishes, and are generally easy to set up. The dice are great, but you really need more if you’re going to play the campaign or do any sort of buffing in skirmish mode. An additional pack of dice is around $13, and it’s annoying that they don’t come with the game because they are all but necessary for the full campaign experience. 

The game board pieces fit snuggly together via puzzle-piece.

My main gripe with this game, besides the lack of dice, is that there’s a decent amount of luck involved. The dice rolls eventually even themselves out over the course of the campaign, but some of the mission structure seems a bit too random. Sometimes it’s best for the Rebels to push forward ASAP, and sometimes it’s best for them to fight their way through every single enemy. It’s still fun, and this approach leaves room for surprises, but I would like to have some of the luck mitigated, especially because of how much Imperial Assault opens itself up to strategic thinking (and analysis paralysis). 

Besides the app-based campaign, where an app runs the Imperial player for you, Imperial Assault also includes scenarios for skirmishes. Skirmishes allow players to build their own custom squads, outfitted to their choosing, and square off in different scenarios ranging from elimination to defending or attacking a certain area. 

As far as Star Wars games go, this is up there with Outer Rim (which I love) for me.

My group and I had a blast with the campaign. We had 4 Rebel players (I played as the Empire), and each of the 13 missions averaged around 2 hours. Expect a solid time commitment, but if you find a group that’s willing to put in the time, you’re in for a rewarding campaign experience. Note also that this isn’t a legacy game, so you can play through it as many times as you want, even solo with the app. The game is very replayable; in fact, my group is going to play through Jabba’s Realm next, so expect to see a review of that when we’re finished. Give Imperial Assault a look if you want a lighter Gloomhaven with a Star Wars theme. Although its price tag is high, it will not fail you. And if it does, you can always use Darth Vader’s force choke ability to make it pay for its incompetence.

The Bottom Line

If you want a Star Wars-themed dungeon-crawler, this is your ticket.

 

8.5

spencer
Author: Spencer Patterson

I'm a teacher, writer, and board game reviewer. I especially love board games that pull me in like a good book. My wife is my favorite gaming partner.