What is Star Wars: Imperial Assault like?
Every year, my gaming group and I like to have an ongoing campaign. This year, we are playing Gloomhaven, a game that I have written about several times on this blog already. Next year, I am hoping to run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign in a bid to try all the goodies in Xanathar’s Guide. Who doesn’t want to summon a fortress at will in D&D?
Last year, however, we played the game that (arguably) started our love of campaign games. We played through the entire base campaign of Star Wars: Imperial Assault.
Back then, when we actually came around to finishing the campaign, I never really wrote about it. Today, I seek to rectify that due to a request made by a fellow blogger to share my opinion on a few Star Wars games (Azazel from Azazel’s Bitz Box). Today I’ll try to answer the question: what is Star Wars: Imperial Assault like?
For this article, answering what Star Wars: Imperial Assault is like, I’m not going to structure this like a review. It’s actually been around six months since we last played, so I wouldn’t be able to accurately recount all the minute details of each and every small rule. Instead, this will more cover the basic concepts and, most importantly, what it is actually like being in a campaign.
The images throughout this article show our games of Imperial Assault. The miniatures were painted by one of my closest friends and a dude in our gaming group called Ric. You can read his opinions on Star Wars: Imperial Assault on his website eyres.me.uk. He’s an ace guy, so you should check his site out.
A Team Game And The Role Of The Imperials
It’s amazing. The first time I played Imperial Assault I was incredibly surprised when Ric, playing as the imperials, kicked our asses. We were a calamity in motion for our first game, with the imperials coming fast and furious. This is because I made an incredibly stupid assumption that went along the following lines:
Imperial Assault is the equivalent to a futuristic dungeon crawler. Dungeons and Dragons is a dungeon crawler (or it can be) and the role of the DM in D&D is to facilitate the game. Therefore, the role of the Imperial player in Imperial Assault must be to facilitate the game. Therefore, the Imperials are there to present a challenge, but not actually constantly be trying to defeat us.
Oh, how wrong that assumption was. In Star Wars: Imperial Assault, the Imperial player is under no illusion to play nice. They can be out for blood, and that can seriously hurt. Over the course of the campaign, I would guess we played around 12 scenarios, and we won about half of those. The other times, the Imperials won.
In order to win the scenarios, we needed to pitch together and really get to know our characters.
The characterisation is diverse in Imperial Assault. In the base game there are several characters to play, and in a four Rebel game (five players in total) we ended up with a really nice selection. There are six heroes to choose from. I ended up playing as Diala Passil, a Haunted Jedi Exile who seemed to fight with anything but a lightsaber. We had Gaarkhan, a fierce Wookie warrior and tank in our group also. We were the two close combat specialists.
From a distance, we had Jyn Odan, the Smuggler (like Han Solo, only different), and Mak Eshka’rey. Mak was, from what I could tell, some kind of goat man who was an expert sharpshooter. He was the Bold Renegade. This formed a strong team, and we soon found ourselves coming up with tactics that worked well for the group.
Namely, myself and Gaarkhan would rush forward. Gaarkhan would cause a lot of damage, Jyn and Mak would shoot into combat from a distance, and I…well…I would be a cork. That was my job. I was a professional bottleneck.
What is interesting is that looking at the characters as a whole, they tend to be split into primary and support characters. Namely, there are those who are great at combat, and those who are somewhat more lacking but who have abilities such as healing or interrupting other’s turns.
What Is The Theme Like?
There are so many games nowadays where the theme feels like it is just bolted on afterward. It feels like little was done to merge the game and the theme into a seamless experience.
As someone who grew up and spent the majority of my school years having “Luke, I am your father” misquoted at me, I have always preferred Star Trek over Star Wars. Luke Skywalker is awesome, but the wider universe of Star Wars and the wider story arc of dark vs light always feels a little bit 2D to me. Controversially, I can take or leave Rogue One and did not think it was the best Star Wars movie ever.
On the other hand, I met Wil Wheaton in 2016 at a Star Trek convention. We actually discussed board games and it was freaking awesome.
Back to the game, Imperial Assault does a great job with the theme and story arc. The story is set in the Galactic Civil War and tells the story of Rebels vs Imperials, after the second Death Star has been destroyed, over Yavin 4. This is cool, as it sets the campaign during one of the better-known points in the Star Wars universe. It can feel, because of this, like an extension of the original trilogy.
Fantasy Flight really put their all into Imperial Assault to make it feel like a faultless addition to the SWU. The really encompass Yoda’s famous quote –
Do, or do not, there is no try.
The Star Wars: Imperial Assault Legacy and Rules
It may come as a surprise, or it may be unsurprising, but Star Wars: Imperial Assault does not have a completely original rules set. Instead, the rules are based on the set Fantasy Flight developed with the Descent: Journeys in the Dark series, adapted and built upon in the futuristic setting.
I have to admit, as someone who has played both Star Wars: Imperial Assault and Descent, it is obvious where Imperial Assault has improved upon ideas. This includes having weakened versions of the characters, giving them more health overall, but making them less effective when down to half their hit points damage. In Descent (the base game), all the characters have different stats, but they have the same dice for defence. In Imperial Assault the characterisation is much stronger. Each character feels radically different, and not just slightly different because that is what the rules demand. The characters are bold, and almost three dimensional. With a bit of roleplaying however, those 3 dimensions are not far away and it becomes a real dungeon crawling experience…only with guns…and the force.
The way that Imperial Assault has been designed makes me want to play another campaign. We bonded as a group over destroying the Imperials, and, just as much, we bonded over getting destroyed. We all want to play it again because of that meta-experience.
In a nutshell, if you want a simple breakdown – the game itself is played with different coloured six-sided dice, each with different types of sides. Your character will have its own set of dice, and it comes down to trying to get as many dice and as many good dice on your side as possible. This includes upgrading your character, as well as upgrading your equipment as you progress through the game.
The game is a campaign game, built up of several different environments and scenarios. Each one is different and no two really feel the same.
Did the Painting and Additional Props Add To The Experience?
Looking at the images above, and around this post, you may notice chunkier doors, 3D boxes, and (I would be a little bit worried if you didn’t notice) painted miniatures. The Imperial Assault minis are not provided painted, and most of the pieces are cardboard out of the box. Instead, Ric, whose game it is, laboriously painted every mini and purchased additional props for the game. These include things like computer terminals and crates.
I have to admit – it REALLY added to the experience. The minis look gorgeous, and by spending a bit more money, and a heck of a lot more time, the game became infinitely more immersive. This review of some of the expansions by Rock Paper Shotgun shows what the minis look like unpainted. They are plain and plastic. The paint makes such an amazing difference.
So, What Is It Like Playing Star Wars: Imperial Assault?
This is the golden question really, and the one that is arguably a stand-alone question deserving of a thorough answer.
There is a common misconception, I am finding, that American Style board games are quick and require less thought than Eurogames. This is where the common phrase “Ameritrash” comes from, and I have to admit that over the past few years, I have drawn my own conclusion. Ameritrash games require just as much thought, if not more so, than most Eurogames.
Playing a game like Star Wars: Imperial Assault, a game wherein the missions can have time limits and turn limits, means having to optimise turns to the extreme. It comes down to planning moves and moves ahead. It comes down to needing to constantly think of what the ramifications could be for both you and your group. You become one part in a larger (four player, in this case) hive collective, trying to roll as many dice as you can on your turn, trying to keep cover between you and your enemies, and trying to make the most out of absolutely everything just to stand a chance of surviving.
Even then, there is no guarantee, and the chances can be against you even with perfect precision planning. Dice rolls come with risk, and that randomness can win or lose a game.
This gives more of an impression of being adventurers – heroes – who work together as a finely tuned machine. You are experts at what you do, and that feeling comes across really strong throughout the game.
How Does Star Wars: Imperial Assault Compare To Other Miniature Games/American Style Board Games?
I can only give you a very personal and kind of limited experience of this, as I can only judge it on the similar games I have played. Hmmm…What is Star Wars: Imperial Assault like? What is Star Wars: Imperial Assault really like?
Well, how’s this – here are my top 3 American Style board games:
- Blood Rage
- Imperial Assault
Descent does not make it into the top three. Instead, the short form Blood Rage can probably be placed above Imperial Assault, but not by much.
As mentioned before, Imperial Assault is the next evolution of Descent; however, I personally prefer Gloomhaven. This is quite possibly due to the randomness element – you have some control over it in Gloomhaven, whereas you have to approach dice rolling in Imperial Assault in a completely different way.
That being said, Imperial Assault is incredibly satisfying when taking Stormtroopers apart. You roll, and for a split second the tension builds. Then you see the results and whether you managed to successfully save your own hide or not.
Conclusion: What is Star Wars: Imperial Assault like?
TL;DR – Yeah, really good.
Star Wars: Imperial Assault is an immersive campaign experience. The games all feel different and the scenarios do not get samey. Instead, it is an original addition to the Star Wars universe. Kudos to Fantasy Flight on this one, they did a good job, although it is worth putting in a bit more time, effort, and money to add props and paint the minis.
So, what do you think? Is Star Wars: Imperial Assault the kind of game you want to try? Alternatively, does it have no appeal to you whatsoever? Let me know in the comments below.