Years ago, the thought of me playing a game like Star Wars: Imperial Assault was unfathomable. Despite my love for the franchise, I had no interest in playing anything approaching Dungeons & Dragons or Warhammer levels of complexity was far too geeky for my taste. It’s taken some time and a lot of practice with simpler games, but I’ve finally made it.
Due to the size and scope of Imperial Assault, don’t expect a full review of this with insights on the campaign any time soon. Instead, I’ll share my thoughts on my limited time with the tutorial.
This is a strategic board game of tactical combat. Each mission features a map that you build with terrain tiles and object tokens to represent things such as crates, computers and doors. You’re figures then move through the map, fighting their enemies while trying to achieve the mission objective. Combat is primarily resolved through dice, though there are no shortage of cards that can change any given outcome.
There are two primary ways to play: Campaign and Skirmish. Campaign is played out over the course of many missions, where a group of heroes will try to beat the Imperial forces and level-up along the way. Skirmish is a 1v1 battle where players can assemble their own armies and put them to the test. Before you do either of those, it’s highly recommended that you try out the tutorial.
Just getting to the tutorial is going to take some work. Between terrain tiles, figurines, cards, tokens, stickers and dice, this box has hundreds of different pieces that need to be sorted out. In the case of the hulking AT-ST, it’s going to require some assembly as well. Word to the wise, there’s a trick to getting the front gun into place. Would have saved myself 30 or so minutes by following this, so please use that pro-tip! Veterans of this style of game may be more familiar with the set-up process, but this is certainly not a game to crack open at a party when others want to get something going quickly.
After about an hour or so, I was ready to play the tutorial mission. With the handy Learn to Play book, I was able to grasp the core concepts of the game right away and start playing. Board games generally have a reputation of coming with poorly-written instruction manuals. This one was excellent, as it pretty much covered everything I needed to know without me having to scour the internet for additional tutorials. The game also comes with separate books for the Campaign mode, Skirmish mode and a general reference guide, which are written just as well.
Set on a small map, the tutorial mission pits the Rebels against Imperial forces that are rushing their base. The Rebels must defeat all of the enemy units in order to win. Meanwhile, the Imperial forces can win if they force one Rebel to withdraw from the battle, or if they can interact with one computer inside the base.
With this mission being relatively light in terms of scale, it’s a great way to get accustomed to its gameplay. Each round is broken into two different phases: Activation and Status. In the Activation Phase, players take turns completing two actions with one unit. Once all units have been activated, all of the cards are reset in the Status Phase before beginning the Activation Phase again.
When you activate a character, the actions available to you include move, interact, special, rest and attack. Movement is pretty straightforward, as it allows you to move your units a number of spaces equal to that unit’s speed. Interact allows you to interact with an object in the world, such as a crate or a computer. Depending on the mission, there will be different things to interact with that behave in different ways. Triggering a special ability can give you access to things like an extra attack or movement speed. As for resting, certain limited-use actions will cause Strain. If your character becomes overly strained, they’ll lose access to those abilities and take damage. By sacrificing an action to rest, you’ll rid yourself of a Strain token.
Finally, there’s the option of attacking. When you declare an attack, you’ll take a set of dice that match the weapon you’re going to use. The defender, meanwhile, will take that character’s corresponding defense dice. Together, you’ll roll your dice to see how the encounter is resolved. In general, the attacker wants to score a lot of attack power and the defender wants to score a lot of blocking power, but combat encounters are more nuanced than that.
For instance, in order for an attack to connect, the numerical value on the attack dice must equal or exceed the distance between the two characters. If it’s short, the attack just misses. On the attacker side, they can roll Surges, which act like the attacker got a sudden burst in ability or energy. These Surges can be cashed in for modifiers that will make your attack more potent. Meanwhile, your opponent can roll Evade icons to cancel out Surges. Finally, if a character can defend with a white die, there’s a chance that they’ll dodge the attack completely. Because of this, every dice throw is far more thrilling than your average toss.
After that first play of the tutorial, two big things stuck out to me about Imperial Assault. One, grasping the general rules of play was surprisingly straightforward. While I certainly chalk some of that up to years of experience with other games that share gameplay elements, credit is certainly owed to the designers of the game for making its foundation so elegant.
The other part that struck me was the realization that I was just scratching the surface on a very deep game. The general goal of defeating your opponent is simple to understand. Exactly how you achieve seems to have an endless number of possibilities. From the order in which you move your characters, to the position on the map in which you choose to fire, to the abilities you activate that may turn the tide of battle, you have so many interesting choices to make as a tactician.
Best of all, this all feels like Star Wars. The art direction on the figurines, to the cards, to the terrain tiles is excellent. Maybe the proportions are off, but having figures of different sizes, such as the lumbering AT-ST, really add scale to the battle. Beyond their looks, every character’s in-game attributes bring each character to life in a way that fits perfectly with the Star Wars universe.
With this post going on for longer than originally planned, I’m going to cut this short. Having played some of the Skirmish mode as well, a follow-up post on that should appear in the coming days or weeks. Before I go though, I will say that for a game of this scale and complexity, it makes quite a first impression.