The last board game I purchased was Star Wars: Rebellion. It’s a pretty amazing game, the only real disadvantage it has is it’s only a two-player game and it takes about 4-5 hours to player, or even longer if you’re not familiar with the rules yet.
Despite all this, if you’ve recently watched Rogue One and are looking for some way to re-live the Galactic Civil War beyond watching the original trilogy of films, then buying into Star Wars: Rebellion is a way to go.
Exactly why follows..
This is the genius of the game. It’s genius because it makes the game feel like the films and because it is very hard to do as a piece of game design and Star Wars: Rebellion pulls it off brilliant.
What is meant by it being asymmetrical? It means the way the game plays between the two participants is very different. The play experience is not mirrored on each side, which would be symmetrical play. The asymmetrical play manifests in the way The Empire and Rebel Alliance play out the game.
The Empire plays out the game exactly like The Empire, it wants to dominate and subjugate planets, run secret weapons projects, build Death Stars and hunt down that Rebel Alliance base and crush it. The oppressive nature of the Empire in the game is ever present and given time…they will win.
The Rebel Alliance plays out the game exactly like a plucky resistance movement based on hope. Remember guys, rebellions are based on hope! The Rebel Alliance player tries to keep his base secret, brings planets on side, performs sabotage and does heroic and plucky military actions that just might win them the game. They may even destroy a Death Star at a dramatically appropriate moment.
It is really clever how the designers of the game have implemented this very hard to do and balance part of the game.
Complex, But Simple
It’s not a simple game, but it much simpler than it should be considering what the game is doing. This is primarily because the game is based on a very solid sequence of steps that is repeatable and understandable.
Don’t get me wrong, we made a lot of mistakes the first time we played it. There was still some rules referencing the second time. Despite this the repeatable structure of the game meant the third time, assuming it’s not months before we do it again, will be much smoother. It is really clever how the game’s structure gives the game repeatable rhythm.
This is coming from someone who is usually frustrated with really complicated games, it’s that good at making its complexity digestible.
It Has Great Pacing
I’ve never really thought of pacing being part of a great board game. Now I’ve experienced it with Star Wars Rebellion and written it down it’s obvious this is the case I’ve just not consciously thought about it. I guess you notice it a lot more when the pacing is off and games drag out.
The pacing on Star Wars Rebellion is brilliant. It’s brilliant because it feels like the films.
Key to this is a myriad of factors that enhance the pace. The way recruitment works means the number of heroes or villains each side has scales up and the turns get longer, more strategic and really make you think. They make you think in a way that’s not laborious and boring though. I’m one of those people that if the strategies get too much I’ll just go ‘I will do this and see what happens’, but I don’t mind working my way through the strategies in Star Wars Rebellion. The way the Rebel players works his way through the card deck that contains his victory conditions controls pace, which has to be balanced with the chance of being captured. Inevitably, if our two plays are to go by, you’re looking at the secret rebel base being uncovered around turn 4 or 5, but the game isn’t over – it’s just begun.
In both games, the Rebel Alliance base was located two rounds before the game ended. In both games the end came at about round six – seven. This creates some amazing excitement. Since it’s inevitable, given time, that the secret rebel base will be discovered due to the probe droids and the Imperial player using their vast fleet to drop ground units on planets, it’s great that the game picks up pace once it is.
In both games the Rebel Alliance player could have or did win the game in the two rounds after the base was discovered and losing was literally just a matter of fleet movements.
It Has Depth
The game is deep. The two plays so far have just revealed new tactical options and combinations and I’m sure it will be a good number of plays before I have a handle on them all and that is only for one side!
The key to this is the variation in how the game plays out. The starting positions of the two sides is always different. The heroes each side has in play will always be recruited in different combinations. I can’t comment as much on the Imperial side but the actions that move the victory track for the Rebel Alliance will always come out in a different order. Unique things might happen like The Empire revealing a card that reveals seven planets as NOT being the secret rebel base in quick reveal. Like a lot of modern games the depth of the game is on the cards, not necessarily in the rules and there is a lot of cards and thus variations.
This combination of depth and variation keeps the game fresh and interesting for a good long while. Even when all this depth and variation has been absorbed, it’ll still be a fascinating game as you then get the tense experience of both players not being weakened by the learning experience.
It Makes War Personal
The board game focuses on playing out the Galactic Civil War like in the original films until one side wins. This might make it feel like a grand strategy game about resources, units and fighting military battles in the right strategic locations.
It’s sort of is, but like the films, it’s a war enacted through the big personalities of the films.
Despite all the fleets and ground units, and having the right distribution of these is important, the game is focused on heroes executing missions. Everything revolves around that even the movement of those fleets and ground units. This is one of the factors that makes the game different every time as you only ever get a subset of the heroes to use in any particular game.
The mission-based structure is also what makes the game’s complexity easily digestable as each round you are using your heroes in three ways: mission, activating a system or countering the actions of the other player. It’s a great lens through which to frame the game.
It Feels Desperate…Continuously
The feel of Star Wars is very hard to replicate. Many people try and many people fail, producing generic space opera in the process. The feel of the Galactic Civil War is fantastically re-produced.
The Empire will expand across the galaxy in a methodological, inexorable expansion with a never ending military machine. They appear unbeatable. This keeps the Rebel Alliance player on a desperate edge as his base will be found and it could be found quickly if certain cards are drawn and used well.
The Rebel Alliance has to be plucky and audacious based on objectives pulled from a deck of cards every round. In our first play through The Empire had found my base, but I destroyed a Death Star and won that battle. Once The Empire organised another assault I was done for, but while they moved their fleet into position there was cards I could play involving plucky assaults that, if the things had gone my way, a Rebel Alliance victory would still have been attained. It is desperate for The Empire because they know the Rebel Alliance is trying to chip away at the time they do have continually in numerous and diverse ways. I also believe, though it’s not come up in either of our two games, that the further the Rebel Alliance gets into that deck of popularity objectives the more the Empire’s actions can undo them (such as gaining popularity because the Empire has used the Star Destroyer to blow up planets).
It plays out brilliant in actual play.
Events Happen Like The Films
While the game is not one that has a narrative. Events do happen like in the films. Rebel heroes get captured. They can even be turned to the Dark Side, which is a great move by the Imperial player as he gains a hero and his opponent loses one. The Rebel Alliance can pull off heroic rescues of captures heroes. People get frozen in carbonite. A Death Star or two, including building one Return of the Jedi style, may destroy some planets.
Luke can become Jedi Luke, though it’s not happened yet in either of the two games.
Certainly don’t buy this game if you’re wanting a narrative to be part of it but it’s cool to have different things happen in different combinations that occurred in the films.
If you’re looking for a Star Wars fix after Rogue One, and you have the £70 to spare, as like all modern, high production board games, they ain’t cheap, you would find it hard to do something better than to play out the Galactic Civil War in board game format through Star Wars: Rebellion.
It’s fun, tense, deeply involving with a lot of different combinations, while still, in my view, being very understandable and easy to learn after a couple of plays. It’s also a thing of beauty in terms of its design. A great product.
I’m really intrigued as to whether they will put expansions out and what for they will take, but the game delivers so much you won’t be in any rush for those.