That's Not How The Force Works! - Star Wars Imperial Assault Review

Phew it's taken me a while to get this one done! Unfortunately with the game being made up of two very distinctly different gaming experiences it wasn't enough to just partake in one. Skirmish mode wasn't too difficult, I just had to find a willing guinea pig. But the campaign mode meant spending many weeks with the same group going through what seemed like an endless story until we finally completed it. I could have reviewed Imperial Assault a little bit earlier, but I started noticing things the more we went through the campaign and it became apparent that I had to wait it out and see what developed.

Now I've already done a small review for the Twin Shadows expansion so I won't touch on that here, especially as our campaign mode barely used much of that expansion anyway. A side mission and one of the characters, that was literally it. Maybe some random items and guns were found as well but I wasn't paying attention to what expansion the cards came from. I'm going to do my best to avoid spoilers here also, but I can't promise anything. Now buckle your seat belts, this is going to be a long ride that will take longer than 12 Parsecs. . .




Designer: Corey Konieczka
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Age: 12+
Players: 2-5
Time: 90+ Minutes per Mission/Scenario
RRP: £59.99


A Long Time Ago In A . . . TL:DR!


Imperial Assault is a Sci-Fi clone of Descent 2.0, an excellent miniatures dungeon crawl game which had you questing with the typical fantasy style adventurers against all your favourite kinds of fantasy monsters. Well now it's all about Star Wars and in a unique story arc set literally straight after the conclusion of the Yavin IV battle from the original movie you control a band of rebels undertaking missions against the Empire, controlled by another player.

In the Campaign mode each mission involves a unique map setup and as with most miniature games you will move your figures, shoot down enemies, race to objectives (and there's a lot of racing, we'll get on to that later) and aim to complete it successfully to move through the story. Depending on which side wins determines the level of rewards and sometimes the next mission that will be undertaken. Characters can upgrade their abilities, weapons, items and stats throughout as well as the Empire themselves who can obtain sneaky tricks to tip the scales during a mission as well as upgrades of their own. On the final mission it's all or nothing, win or lose to take overall victory or total defeat.

In the Skirmish mode, each mission is its own unique scenario where two players build a separate force of Rebels and Imperials within the boundaries of a standard point system with flexibility in what can be chosen. You can take squads of basic infantry or invest in the iconic characters from the movies, it's up to you. Aside from that the game plays out much like a campaign mission except that in addition to normal combat you have a selection of Command action cards that can be played to cause in-game effects. To win each side has to either wipe out the opposing forces or fulfill their own objective.


Happy To Settle With Episodes IV Through VI


You are a paying a ton for this game and future expansions, but you're getting some quality plastic miniatures for it. However they're all unpainted as expected so you won't get the full appreciation for them unless you're good at art and for me I'm not. However some models are especially fiddly and might need a redesign. Probe droids frequently bend/break their legs as they barely connect with the stand and my god did they measure the feet slot dimensions of the AT-ST, because I'm not convinced they did. You may find yourself forced to superglue that one together but have fun storing that in the box after expansions especially if you buy the blister pack that has a second one!

The artwork is the usual high quality across the cards and especially the map tiles. There's a wide variety of terrain tiles to put you in the scene and the detail on some of the interior locations is particularly good. It's a pain having to locate which tiles you need for each mission on setup, but that's a given really. You'll quickly notice however that rooms are generally not very large so you can imagine that long range combat isn't common.



Worthy Of The Mantle Of Episode VII


The Skirmish mode is in my opinion where Imperial Assault shines the most. There are plenty of two player miniature war/skirmish games out there (Command and Colours, War of the Ring/Battle of Five Armies and Battlelore 2.0 to name but a few) and this sits in nicely with that style albeit with tactical squad combat rather than strategic army fighting. Outsmarting your opponent and figuring out their battle plans is key as well as obviously being fortunate with the dice.

There's a good amount of Skirmish scenarios in the base set with the included Luke/Vader packs, but every single expansion blister pack you buy after that will also include 1-2 scenarios on top so before you know it you'll have a ton of variety in the missions you choose. Some are better than others, but generally there's a good mix of objectives and iconic characters that will feature as part of each mission.

The variety only gets better with being able to build your forces however you see fit. Of course some scenarios may require some thematic explanations, but otherwise you can design your favourite squad that you've always wanted subject to the points limit. OK you won't be able to have a squad containing all the heroes from the movies at once, but you can mix and match it. The Command cards will also influence the game play based on what you draw and they're not to be underestimated so grabbing those terminals is worth doing, though not at the expense of failing a mission obviously. Again the blister pack expansions bring in more of these cards so the variety can only get better.

Skirmish mode is great fun to play with no game ever playing out the same due to the variation in choosing your initial forces.A greater sense of attachment is felt to the heroes in this variant rather than the made up ones in the campaign and unlike the campaign you never have to worry that taking a iconic character gives the Imperial more stuff to use. Very rarely in that mode did players take powerful allies because of the benefits the Imperial player got (even though personally I felt that any allies the Rebel forces got were more powerful than Imperial versions).

Now if Imperial Assault was just about the Skirmish mode that would do me nicely even though 2 player games are hard for me to get to a table. When I did my Top 75 last year this featured on the charts mainly because of this mode as I was relatively new to the campaign at that time. However both need to be considered and this is where things take a U-turn. . .


Destined To Remain With I Through III.

The Campaign mode is where things start to slip. Overall it's an enjoyable experience, but there are a lot of times when the theme takes a back seat and some of the flawed mechanics come to light. The story itself is nothing that new, basically a giant bait and switch cliche and pretty predictable in various places. The missions themselves are also not especially varied in how to resolve them. The Rebels usually just have to activate a bunch of terminals and reach a spot on the map or kill one guy. The Empire 95% of the time has to wound/defeat all Rebels or delay them until the round timer runs out. And that last one is what kills the experience most of the time.

Most of the missions have a timer of around 6-7 rounds. In the early stages that timer becomes so tight that you literally have to rush the map in order to succeed, forget picking up crate items or resting, you don't have the time to do that trusting only that the Empire player has bad luck in rolling dice to hit you. But in the late stages the timer is so stupidly long that the game couldn't possibly end that way, hell the game will set you back a minimum of 90 minutes anyway (depending on Rebel tactic discussions) even if an earlier condition is met so you can imagine how long a full mission takes. So essentially all the Empire player has left is "wound all Rebels", which gets a lot harder to do when they've gotten all their defensive upgrades.

But because of that timer, a large majority of the time, games will degenerate into "wall of men" blocking tactics if you can call that a tactic. Ambushes rarely occur, instead you plug up a corridor with lots of figures to basically block the way to their main objective. It just gets to ridiculous levels of silliness when you see 8 Imperial figures hugging a terminal just so the Rebel's can't get to it. In fact I had a mission with a "spirit Vader" in play and because the Rebel players were somewhat overpowered by this point I had no choice but to surround him in figures so that the timer ran out before they could beat him. And in one game an AT-ST appeared with a veteran commander inside only to be taken down easily in less than one round, mostly from two characters alone. How is that thematic? In the walker case especially, that's a lot of plastic invested in that miniature only to have it be pretty much obsolete in campaign mode. Also how do you stun or bleed a giant metal walker? Apparently nothing in the rules suggested you couldn't so that didn't help either.

I mentioned overpoweredness - well yes the balance in this game can skew heavily in one direction, usually to the Rebel side depending on what characters / upgrades were chosen. The Empire player has some upgrade routes that are clearly better than others and if you chose a bad one to begin with, good luck for the rest of the campaign. As for the Rebels, there are definitely some more powerful than others in their upgrades with characters like the Wookie, Veteran and Smuggler reaching ridiculous levels of power - the Wookie especially quickly becomes an unkillable mountain that steamrolls most of your forces by the late game by himself. Some will say "shoot at range", but when players can easily cross most of the map in one turn, long range shooting is rarely ever done or worth even considering. This is especially irritating when the setups like to put weak Imperial forces within easy group blast/charging range of the Rebels at the start so half your force is wiped out on the first turn. Cover becomes quickly obsolete as line of sight is usually easy to maintain and difficult terrain might as well not even feature for how little it ever appears or does anything.

However the campaign's way of balancing this out is to throw in sledgehammer moments which can seem unfair as well. Clearly in our campaign the Rebels were powerful enough to steamroll what the Empire gets to use in the finale, though I did do quite well in holding them back for a while. However at the end, the game chucks in a giant sledgehammer moment which essentially means GG for most players and kind of ruins the climax a bit especially as it's so predictable anyway. I ended up winning the overall campaign as the Empire, but never really felt I should have.

It sounds like I'm really bashing the campaign mode and I don't mean to. It's still an enjoyable experience to play the game, but the theme seems to stop and start like a faulty record player at times. Because of this, the long length of the campaign means the game may overstay its welcome by the half way point and by the end I was half glad to see it end. If I ever do a campaign again, it will be a mini-campaign from an expansion or something, the original one is just too long to want to commit to.



Verdict


Imperial Assault has provided many hours of great fun, however it's also provided its fair share of frustration as well. It remains therefore a mixed bag. The Skirmish mode is definitely the best part of this game with such a wide variety of characters and scenarios to choose from and the chance to build your force as you see fit. No game will be the same as you mix and match your figures each time and the tactical card play only makes it better. It's just a shame it's only for two players and takes a while to get set up.

The campaign however is the weak point. The story is pretty predictable and the missions feel very similar to each other especially their resolution which tends to quickly degenerate into "wall of model" tactics, which isn't fun. The theme is there, but in bits as frequently some of the rules in the game break the immersion. The balance is also difficult to maintain with one side quickly becoming more powerful than the other (usually the Rebels) throughout the campaign especially if they've taken some of the characters that are clearly better than others. It can entertain for a while, but soon you'll probably be keen to move things along and end it and chances are you won't be desperate to run through it twice.

Imperial Assault started off being a great game and worthy of my Top 75, but quickly it's started to develop some cracks and the problems began to surface, which is going to hurt its chances next year unless I end up doing a Top 100 and even then it's dubious. Unless you're getting a lot of mileage out of the Skirmish mode, which I feel should be your main consideration when buying this game, this might very well simply be a one hit wonder for you.



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:



You are a fan of Star Wars - even with its flaws, it's still staying true to the license.


You enjoyed Descent 2.0, but want to experience a Sci-Fi alternative.


You are intending to play the game more for the Skirmish mode than the Campaign.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:



You only play this for the campaign - it starts getting repetitive in the long run.


You are hoping for a completely balanced venture - it can skew very quickly with sledgehammer moments.


You're on a budget. The game itself isn't cheap and model packs on top will set you back a ton.



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