If you like Star Wars and you like board games, then you definitely want Star Wars: Imperial Assault by Fantasy Flight Games in your collection. If for some reason you are sitting on the fence about it or you are new to board gaming, let me tell you why it's awesome.
Star Wars Imperial Assault - Starting the Campaign
To begin with, there are two games inside the Imperial Assault box. The main draw to many board gamers is the Descent: Second Edition style, one vs Many campaign game. In addition to the campaign game, though, Fantasy Flight has also included a fully realized skirmish game. Initially, I thought that the skirmish game would be a fun distraction to play once or twice, but it is really fun and only looks to get better as the planned Ally and Villain packs are released.
The campaign game uses the foundation that Fantasy Flight has established with Doom, Descent and Descent: Second Edition and refines it, smoothing many of the (already minor) rough edges and making it absolutely hum. The Imperial Assault campaign is designed for 2 to 5 players with one player playing as the Empire and the other players playing as one or more Rebel hero characters each. Over the course of the campaign, the Rebel players and the Empire player will be competing against each other in various missions, each with different goals and win conditions.
The campaign structure is really well done. Before the campaign begins the Rebel players will build a deck of Side Missions that will be used between the various story missions. The best part of the Side Mission deck is the inclusion of one mission specific to each Rebel hero being used in the campaign, such as the mission for the character Diala that lets her attempt to reclaim her master's lightsaber. The possibility to play missions specifically tailored to the Rebel heroes adds a wonderful touch of storytelling to the campaign and really integrates the characters into the story.
Star Wars Imperial Assault - Campaign Progression
Throughout the campaign both the Rebel players and the Empire player will gain experience with which to buy additional skills and useful abilities. The Rebel players will also earn Credits with which to purchase useful items between missions, like blasters and armor. The Empire player will earn Influence points which can be spent on cards from a customized Agenda deck. Agenda cards allow the the Empire player to do various things like spring nasty surprises on the Rebel players or put special Side Missions in to play that award the Empire player if the Rebel players choose not to attempt the mission.
The campaign game is excellent and interesting. The method of mission selection is fun, the campaign tells a story personalized to the chosen Rebel heroes and the game-play rules themselves have been tweaked and streamlined. Additionally, the map tiles are not only numbered but the campaign book lists the numbers of the tiles needed to build each map. This is a huge time saver especially if players plan to play more than one mission per session.
Star Wars Imperial Assault - Skirmish
The Imperial Assault skirmish game is designed for two players and uses most of the core game-play concepts from the campaign. The dice-play and many rules from the campaign, such as line of sight and movement, all lend themselves to the skirmish game very effectively. Because the skirmish and campaign share rules so efficiently it is nearly seamless to transition from one to the other.
Each player builds a 4o point army and deck of Command cards with which to square off against each other in one of the skirmish missions. All of the skirmish missions have listed objectives that can be accomplished to score victory points, and players also score victory points for eliminating troops from their opponent's army. The skirmish game ends as soon as one player manages to score 40 victory points.
It is up to each player to decide how best to build their army and their Command deck with every unit being on offer. The skirmish game, while designed for two players, is open ended enough that players could possibly play team games or ignore the designated skirmish missions and build a map to their liking and just play an all out battle-royale. Army building is fun, trying different strategies is fun, and it's awesome to be able to have an army led by Darth Vader face off against a swarm of stormtroopers led by a crazed Wookie.
A Few Notes on Star Wars Imperial Assault
A note on player count: The campaign portion of the game is designed to be played with 2 to 5 players, with one player controlling the Empire and the other players controlling the Rebel hero characters. My game group has been playing with four players, 3 controlling one Rebel hero each and myself controlling both the Empire and the 4th Rebel hero. This is actually my group's preferred play method with '1 v Many' games as it removes most of the competitive element and lends the game an almost RPG-esque feel. Keep in mind that if you choose to play this way, it can heavily effect game balance if the Empire/hero player isn't careful, as many missions have information that is supposed to be hidden from the Rebel hero players. When played as intended as a competitive experience, though, the balance of the game is excellent.
A note on “chrome”: As is typical with Fantasy Flight releases, the components, art, and production values are almost uniformly excellent. There are a few minor exceptions to this in Imperial Assault, though. The Probe Droid minis are only attached to their bases at three tiny points and are very fragile, and two of mine were broken off of their bases when I opened the box. Additionally, the E-Web Engineer minis also have a thin cord piece, and one of my two was also broken. The Probe Droids were easy to glue back to their bases but the E-Web Engineer wasn't as easy to fix.
Should I Spend My Money on Star Wars Imperial Assault?
Star Wars Imperial Assault is fantastic. It is the best '1 vs. Many' game that I have played to date. Fantasy Flight has absolutely refined the game system that they have created for their "Descent" style games. The campaign structure is thematic, the missions are fun, and the theme is awesome. In addition to the campaign game, the inclusion of the skirmish game, which is very good in its own right, means that you get incredible value for your money with Star Wars: Imperial Assault.
The copy of Star Wars Imperial Assault used in this review was purchased by the reviewer. This review was originally published on 02-17-2015. While care has been taken to update the piece to reflect our modern style guidelines, some of the information may be out of date. We've left pieces like this as they were to reflect the original authors' opinions and for historical context.