Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a game designed to capture the essence of ground-based combat in the Star Wars universe. Heroes with blasters and lightsabers take on the Imperial army, which features Stormtroopers, Probe Droids and even AT-STs. Heck, even the likes of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader make cameo appearances here. Is this the Star Wars board game you’re looking for?
Opening up the box for the first time gave me a rush of excitement and intimidation. It’s so cool to see all of the figurines, but there’s just so much stuff in the box to wrap your head around, from dozens of terrain tiles, to over 100 cardboard tokens, to a multi-piece AT-ST that needs to be assembled. Mounting the front gun is a pain, as it pops out every time you try and press them together with your hands. The trick that eventually worked for me was to place the gun on a table and press the head of the AT-ST down on it.
Most of the pieces look amazing. Even for the characters I don’t recognize, it’s easy to look at their card and match them up with their corresponding figures thanks to how detailed everything is. The build quality, however, is a bit spotty when it comes to long and skinny stretches of plastic. For example, Darth Vader’s lightsaber is curved as if he were wielding an inflatable pool noodle. Garkhaan, a Wookie character that is introduced in this game, has an axe that is on the verge of snapping off at the head.
Worst of all are the Probe Droids, of which two of them were already broken when I first opened the box. These seem to be poorly conceived, as there’s no way their flimsy design would hold up to the wear and tear of resting in that box, let alone in actual play. Thankfully, Fantasy Flight replaced my Droids with new ones upon request. May still glue the broken ones back together just in case, though it seems inevitable that they’ll all break.
After about an hour or so of prepping the pieces and reading the Learn to Play Guide, I got the Tutorial mission off of the ground. Played on a simple map, it challenges 1-4 Rebel players to defend their base against one Imperial player who is trying to either defeat a Hero or interact with a computer inside the base. It’s a perfect way to get your feet wet in the game’s core mechanics, such as moving and attacking.
Speaking of which, the combat in the game is excellent. Based on the attributes outlined on their cards, every character plays in a way that matches how you would expect them to behave within the Star Wars universe. Engaging in combat is also exciting. Where you’re positioned matters, as a seemingly great attack now could leave you vulnerable for the rest of the round.
Also, resolving combat is fantastic, as there’s a lot of factors that come into it besides rolling the dice for attack and defense values. Range is a factor, as attacks that can’t cover the distance between characters is considered a miss. You’re going to want to measure out your distances when attacking, as to find the right balance between an attack more guaranteed to land while maintaining a positional advantage. Best of all are the Surges that the offensive player can obtain through their attack roll. By spending their total Surge value, they can trigger character-specific bonuses to their attack, such as extra damage or stun. However, the defensive player can cancel out Surges by rolling Evade icons on their roll. Even if combat is resolved through rolling dice, there’s still a lot of player agency required to ensure that you get the most out of your combat encounters.
After running through the tutorial, the game gives you two different ways to play: Campaign and Skirmish. Campaign is an extended experience that takes place over the course of many missions, while Skirmish is a single-mission variant that’s meant for head-to-head competitive play. Let’s start with the Campaign, as this is the heart of the experience.
Playing as one of six brand new Heroes, one-to-four players assume the role of the Rebel forces, while one other player controls the Imperial army. This saga will play out over the course of a number of missions, with both sides gaining strength as time passes. The framework gives players a ton of freedom to explore the game’s numerous branching paths while having a ton of customization options. It’s also great that the scenarios are carefully designed to entertain while being reasonably balanced.
Having never been a dungeon master before, the learning curve for being one proved to be notably steeper than anything else the game has to offer. Part of it has to do with all of the additional setup required to make these great missions happen. However, some of it also comes from failings in its support material. Oftentimes, questions you may have can only be answered by taking information from three different instruction books and mashing that info together to create the specific answer you need. For the Tutorial and Skirmish stuff, the documentation is excellent. However, with the campaign stuff, there’s certainly room for improvement. Even little things like how to move from one mission to the next could be explained better, as it’s not clear that side missions are actually mandatory.
For something that allows you to enjoy the combat without the commitment of a multi-mission adventure, the Skirmish mode is readily available. In these one-off challenges, players create custom armies and pit them in battle on a predefined Skirmish map. Having the ability to customize your army and their loadouts is huge, as it adds a lot of replayability to the mix. I also like how each Skirmish map has two different missions associated with it that are drawn after armies are set, so that there’s a level of uncertainty after you’ve locked in your roster and starting positions. In total, the game comes with three Skirmish maps with two missions per map. Wish there were more maps in the box, but you can squeeze a lot out of what’s here.
For more Skirmish maps, side missions and figures to replace the cardboard tokens that come in the game, Imperial Assault has a number of expansions that are sold separately. Each costs between $10-20 depending on what you get. I haven’t purchased any yet, but I would like to replace my Han Solo and Chewbacca tokens with actual figures. Larger scale expansions are also available, such as the Twin Shadows expansion, which contains even more characters, map tiles and missions.
In terms of scope, Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a massive game. It also happens to be a mostly awesome one. The primary draw of ground-based combat is stellar, as you’re constantly on your toes in regards to how to best manage your troops on the battlefield. It’s Campaign mode is beefy on all fronts while the Skirmish mode is a nice bonus that is almost a full game in itself. Can’t excuse it for the questionable build quality on some figures or the clunky Campaign learning process, but neither of those are enough to push interested gamers away. If the thought of playing a Star Wars board game featuring blasters, lightsabers and AT-STs sounds like something you’d want to play, Imperial Assault won’t disappoint.