Monday, 5 January 2015

Game Review: Star Wars Imperial Assault

I've been looking forward to this. – warning, this review will be FULL of Star Wars quips and quotes, I am ridiculously excited about this release and now I finally have my mitts on it (I have you now!) I can tell you all if it was worth the wait. This will be a day long remembered…….

It started a Long time ago (ok August) in a Galaxy far far away (somewhere in America) at Gencon 2014. More or less announced out of the Blue (Harvest) Imperial Assault is a Star Wars themed spin on FFGs established Descent system. They were demoing it at Gencon alongside the X-wing Fleet spin off Armada, which is the game that was generating the most hype at the time and another we hope to have reviewed soon). Then the covers were whipped off this miniature combat game in a blaze of fanfare (Probably not the 20th Century Fox one but that would be cool). Ill be honest, I was sold pretty much without even knowing anything about it. It was always going to be a day one purchase for me, I mean it has an AT-ST in it! Fantasy Flight are at the top of their game at the moment and pretty much a safe bet, and to anyone who disagrees I can only say I find your lack of faith disturbing! I checked out a few Youtube vids from Gencon and became more and more excited about the game and its potential. Expected in January, FFG pulled their own Kessel Run and released it a month early (right on top of Christmas, gah!) still, I was committed so grabbed a copy. I’ve had a few games now and though I am itching for many more i'm also eager to review the game.

That's no game, it's a space station:

Actually no, it is a game but the box is HUGE!!! Taller than any other FFG game box that i recall seeing, its impressive, most impressive. It should certainly grab the attention of causal browsers on the shelf. It is thankfully not particularly hefty however (although it looks like it should be) so you wont have to be strong enough to wrestle a Gundark to get it home. Upon opening the box you are greeted by the usual shrink wrapped tiles and counters. These are of typical FFG quality, which is to say very good. Similar to X-wing components in thickness and detail they will not be troubling Space Hulk anytime soon for best game components ever but are perfectly serviceable and in the upper tier of component quality and all detach from their card housing without any problems. But don’t get cocky....

These are not the Tiles you are looking for

There are 59 double sided tiles in the box with environments that vary between Jungle, Desert and Death Star along with a few other environments, not many of these are rooms so you will not be able to build massive maps but to be honest most of the games i have played thus far have only required a dozen or so tiles anyway and i am sure that you will be able to create a sufficiently impressive arena for the inbuilt skirmish mode, were you to utilise them all. Finding the right tiles can be an absolute bastard though and i will have to find some way or organizing them that eliminates the 10 minutes or so searching for the right one especially as they are ALL numbered, even the very small connecting pieces.

‘No, This one goes there THAT one goes there!’

I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself

Beneath the Card you will have, well cards. Lots of cards in fact, some large some small, split over about a dozen decks. Not all of these are used in each game mode so you wont be drowning under decks but there are enough cards to suggest the complexity behind the game and they can seem a little daunting at first. They are nicely designed and the artwork within is original and of varying quality but nothing stands out as particularly poor. You will probably want to get some of the FFG card protectors to keep them pristine and you will need a fair few packs. There are upgrade cards, mission cards, side mission cards, agenda cards, event cards. Strategy cards equipment decks, Lots of cards. More than enough to provide a unique experience and allow you to tailor your character.

He's more machine than man now...

Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?

So to the miniatures (an important distinction from playing pieces –more on this later). These are the among the finest figures that FFG have ever produced. Far above the likes of Talisman, they are well detailed and look like they will be fun to paint. Obviously they ARE still gaming pieces so don’t expect super fine detail and they are a little bendy in places like weapons and lightsabers but nothing too deal breaking. They are made out of the same plastic that all other FFG figures are but they certainly look the part and are all one peice figures apart from the AST which requires a minimal amount of assembly (although the turret gun is a right pain – a bit of trimming is required to get this to fit and you have to be careful not to break it). Overall the miniatures are very impressive. Dont take my word for it, look at the pictures! The core game also comes with the expansion packs for Vader and Luke (more on these in a bit) so that’s a nice glimpse of what lies ahead for the game. The imperial forces comprise of, Stormtroopers and officers. Imperial Probe Droids, Royal Guard and E Web blasters. The E-webs in particular are very nasty and clever use of them can decimate the heroes in no time. The only bugbear is that they are all monopose so all the models look identical but this isn’t a massive problem.

The Models really are very impressive

Bounty Hunters?! We don’t need their scum

Other than that it’s an assortment of mercenaries (bounty hunters and mercs are a separate faction which as you would expect ally with either side) Particularly nice are the Nexu which, once the mould lines are taken off will look fantastic. Im sure more scum and villainy will be announced in course. Droid bounty hunter, IG88 is one of the upcoming expansion packs and i would be astonished if a certain Mandalorian didn’t turn up sooner or later....

You’re a member of the Rebel Alliance and a Traitor!

Speaking of the heroes, 6 are included in the game, each has different abilities and characteristics and play styles varying from the tank Wookie to a spy sniper the mandatory Jedi Exile, a Rebel General and a couple of others. Despite the 6 available heroes the game is 2-5 players with one player always taking the Imperial Forces. This player acts as the GM and the other players work as a team to achieve the objective which can vary greatly. Some missions are on a turn or time limit but if they are not then the onus is on the Imperial player to keep pressure on the Rebel Players. There is a Campaign mode in which you will partake in a selection of around 30 missions, incorporating a branching structure but even after that is exhausted there is also a skirmish mode, to prolong the life of the game. The game is largely based upon the Descent game system with a few tweaks and scales rather cleverly with the heroes receiving upgrades and bonus activations if they are less than 4 in number. With staus effects and special damage rules adding a bit of spice to the pot the opportunity for tactical play is huge and co-operation and forward thinking is absolutely critical if the Rebels are to emerge triumphant.

Mark my words, that precise strike is NASTY

You’ve taken your first steps in to a larger world.

One thing that really impresses is the attention to detail and the authenticity of the product. This is not just a Star Wars skin on an existing product, this IS Star Wars, the setting, the characters, the missions and the events all feel firmly imbedded in that universe which allows for some wonderfully narrative and personal feeling scenarios. Already in the handful of games i have played there have been some memorable Star Wars moments that feel just right. With the addition of skirmish mode the potential for this game is very high. You will be able to create bespoke Star Wars experiences at will and i think the longevity of the game will be substantial even if you choose not to pick up any of the expansions. It will take you a long time to exhaust the potential within. The campaign has replayability as it is branching and won’t play the same every time with the mission order changing dependant on the victor. 


“Boba Fett? Boba Fett? Where?”

Of course it wouldn’t be FFG if there were not some expansions on the way and the first wave of character packs is already announced. One of the pleasing things about these is that they are designed to replace tokens already in the set. So they are by no means necessary. Of course they do come with additional missions and upgrade cards so there is worth in picking them up, and of course who isn’t going to want the Han Solo and Chewie figures? BUT they are not a necessity and you can use the characters as they pop up in the game with the tokens provided. Of course as mentioned you do get Luke and Vader in the core set to let you know what the expansions are like. Vader has cropped up in one game already and the Sith Lord is as deadly as you would expect. As i have already said i would be astonished if Boba Fett did not also turn up in a future wave.

The first Wave of figure packs, Expect many more

General Solo is your strike team ready?

Of course the main draw of the expansion packs will likely be for the skirmish mode of the game where you choose points and go at it in battle with balanced forces. For this you will be able to field small units of rebel troopers, spies and other mercenaries. There would therefore seem to be an almost limitless amount of expansions that will be released although i would be suprised if anything other that infantry made an appearance from this point on. A bit further down the line a Hoth Expansion would be ice. But until then i guess FFG are just Taun-Taun us with the possibilites. Nonetheless the scope for expansion here would seem to be limited only as far as the license and as FFG have already demonstrated with a BRAND NEW to Star Wars Imperial ship, they have a lot of sway with Lucasfilm in this regard. I would expect a great deal of support to be put into this game over the next few years. I mean lets face it, X wing is about to get its SEVENTH wave of expansions and there are a lot more characters than ships available in the star ship canon.

Do you NEED another AT-ST? No. Are you going to get one anyway? Probably

How hard can it be?

So as a package its all very nice. Good quality and it continues the standard that you expect from Fantasy Flight products. But how is it to play? Well, a lot of fun to be honest, easy to pick up the basics but with hidden depth…as with all new games there are elements that require a little more thought and possibly some FAQing but in general the ruleset is rather robust and concise. Alternate activations ensure tactics remain forefront of the players minds and as each turn progresses the Imperial Player gains Threat which he can use to reinforce his squads or even bring on new units. Each activation consists of two actions so players have to calculate carefully in order to give themselves the best hope of victory. Thus far i have only played the tutorial and a couple of campaign games but flicking further through the book i can see the complexity of things will increase greatly with more rules and ideas being introduced as the stakes are raised. The size of the maps also gets quite a lot biger as more models come into play and although the few games i have played thus far have been very swift (between 60-90min) i don’t think this will be the case towards the end of the story.

 In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck
Combat is done via bespoke dice in a clever system. Rather than different stats for combat each model rolls different coloured dice in order to calculate attack and defense. Each dice has different ranges and damage output and amount of ‘Surges’ which are used to activate special conditions. Defence dice can cancel surges, block a number of hits or even in some instances dodge the attack entirely. Its a system that works really well and ensures a fast paced and exciting experience. By using the dice in different combinations all sorts of different weapons and powers can be replicated. A long range blaster might have high accuracy and range but do less damage so uses 2 blue dice. Whereas something less accurate with a shorter range may well a different combination. There are also ways of boosting your dice rolls via special abilities or Focus which adds a green dice to all rolls. For example, some heroes can use Strain (another stat) up to their limit to enhance rolls or debuff enemy rolls.

“I want them alive — no disintegrations!”

Once your hero has taken its maximum amount of wounds you flip its card over, the reverse side of the cards typically features reduced stats and special abilities, the wounds are wiped and once you have reached the maximum again then you are out, but only out of that mission. You’ll be back for the next game. Imperial units are dead however once they leave the board. The Imperial player will have to hope for reinforcements. But then the imperials do not gain Experience, only Influence to bolster their forces.

“Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi craves not these things!.”

Speaking of experience, the Heroes level up as time goes on with XP points granting access to upgrade cards and improved weaponry, the imperial Player gains INFLUENCE which can be used to hire bounty hunters or curry favours from certain Sith lords. Creating bespoke campaigns is also well within the scope of the game and one could easily see a string of missions revolving around Vaders hunt for Luke (the game is set directly after Episode IV) or whatever else gamers fertile imaginations can come up with. As i said, even with the limited amount of games i have had there have been some very cinematic moments and i am itching to be able to give the rebels a go and forge my own narrative. With each expansion pack coming with an extra mission which you could incorporate into a campaign im sure the games will continue for a long long time.

So all in all Imperial Assault gets a VERY high rating from me. In fact i would struggle to really indentify any problems with it at all. However, in a attempt to prove i am not being paid by FFG i will address one or two issues that i came across in a summary of lightside and Darkside points.


· It looks great, the box looks impressive and upon opening its the typical FFG high end components and card.

· The models are a step up from anything that has been attempted previously, not far off miniature company standard. They will be a joy to paint.

· The game has massive potential for replayability and expansion

· It is fast paced and easy to pick up but with hidden depth and complexity added as the campaign progresses using the myriad of additional decks of cards.

· It feels 100% like Star Wars, so much so that i almost expect George Lucas to announce a special edition with a bunch of unnecessary changes.


· The Box may be great, the contents may be great but the inlay? What the Hell FFG? Its awful, it actually prevents putting the components back in the box easily and it’s just generally a pain, i'll likely wait for KR or one of the other foam companies to produce a bespoke inlay.

· The AT-ST is a lovely model but getting then nose cannon in is a real struggle, i was worried about snapping the barrels off as the fit was that tight (i actually had to trim the plastic)

· The rules, although fairly tight are not waterproof, i feel there may be a few areas where a FAQ would be beneficial as a few areas are open to interpretation and there certainly seems to be a couple of exploits that the Rebel players in particular can take advantage of all too readily. I have read far worse rulesets though, and again it is typical FFG quality which is to say very high.

· The components layout is also a little cumbersome. Tiles are a nighmare to find and tokens litter the board. One would think there was a slightly easier method that could have been adopted. Good housekeeping during gaming sessions is essential

Finally perhaps the biggest issue, cost. This is not a cheap game. With an RRP of £80 it is a substantial outlay. Not to say that it is not worth the money, there is a large amount of hig quality components within and lets not forget you effectively get two expansion packs for free. But is it a high price point and it is about to get even higer. Enter the Beuracrats (the only Prequel quote!) there has been a bit of a legal tussle recently with Hasbro over Imperial Assault. Essentially, the rights for Star Wars BOARD Games lies with Hasbro. FFG hold the right for Star Wars Miniature games. This is why you’ll find nothing referring to Imperial Assault as a boardgame anywhere. It is sold as a tactical game of miniature combat. To be fair i see their point, tiles do not make a board and they are certainly miniatures as opposed to playing peices, BUT would you call Space Hulk a boardgame? It seems that the powers that be do and have sided with Hasbro. Hence FFG will have to pay a levy or royalities to Hasbro for each copy sold. I can only see this making a costly game even more expensive. Whether or not this puts buyers off will remain to be seen. This is an exceptional product and pretty much a dream for any Star Wars gamer. The miniatures are really nice, the tiles/board is of good quality and there is a HELL of a lot of replayability and expansion potential. The rules, although not watertight are robust and the game experience is a lot of fun. More importantly the whole thing positively REEKS of Star Wars, it feels authentic and right and sometimes to get something that good i guess you have to pay a little more. The Force is Strong with this one....


4.5 Death Stars out of 5

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