This is a review of Star Wars: Imperial Assault (skirmish mode) designed by Corey Konieczka, Jonathan Ying, Justin Kemppainen. It plays 2-5 players. Realistcally, I’d estimate the playtime at 60 minutes in skirmish.
Imperial Assault borrows heavily from it’s high-fantasy predecessor, Descent. Basically, this game is a port of Descent with the Star Wars theme. For those unfamiliar with Descent, it is a classic dungeon crawler that places one of the players as a game master of sorts. Unlike an RPG, the role of the game master is not to dynamically walk the players through an evolving narrative but, instead, to decimate the Rebel heroes via the over-whelming power and resources of the Imperial army.
At a basic level, the game tasks players, both Imperial and Rebel alike, with taking turns either activating unique characters or squads of non-uniques to move, interact with objects, and, most importantly, attack their foes. Each unit has a corresponding character card that provides their generic stats (health and speed), color attack dice, and special abilities. If a player declares an attack, they chuck the appropriate dice and compare the results against an opposing defense die roll. Simple.
All of that being said, Imperial Assault distinguishes itself beautifully by adding a 2-4 player skirmish mode, which has been my sole experience with the game, and refining a couple wonky mechanics from Descent. Unlike the traditional campaign mode, the players each build a 40 point squad or army from characters of a single faction. In addition, each player has a command deck that provides single use instant abilities, which can be customized to their particular character build. Opposing squads then face off on a map predicated by the mission the players have mutually chosen and attempt to meet the corresponding victory condition.
As to refinements, the most evident involve line of sight and movement. Descent (2nd Edition) was liberal with it’s rules on line of sight and movement to the point at which the foundational laws of physics were abandoned. Thankfully, the new rules for line of sight and movement of massive creatures feel far more intuitive.
Star Wars! The base set included cards for fan favorites from the original trilogy (Darth Vader, Luke, Leia, Han, etc.) as well as new unique characters specific to the lure of Imperial Assault. There’s not much more to say. In my humble opinion, Star Wars is the best IP in gaming and content generation in general. Skirmishes feel like Star Wars whether it’s the barrage of a swarm of stormtroopers that individually feel like pests more than foes or the near panic that sets in when Darth Vader stalks down your hulking wookie brute and ends him with a force choke and a simple slash of his lightsaber.
The components are comprised of a bounty of pre-assembled miniatures, puzzle piece style map tiles, and cards. As with just about any FFG game, the card artwork is excellent. Fan favorite characters are captured at their most epic and memorable moments and the original characters are given a wealth of detail to make them feel like actual members of the universe. This then leads me to the miniatures which are of excellent quality and detail for the price point. By no means could they be mistaken for Games Workshop or Privateer Press minis but they are worthy of putting brush to plastic. One small issue is that they are fairly pliable and may require heating in warm water to address unwanted droopage.
The only real issue with the components in Imperial Assault are the map tiles. The artwork is pleasant; however, the efforts to create a 3 dimensional aspect can be slightly confusing. Certain sections include staircases and balconies overlooking lower levels. Without studying the tiles in great detail prior to set-up, a player could end up overlooking some of these obstacles and configure their units in an area or formation that puts them at a distinct disadvantage.
Wow does this game move fast! Character actions are quick and attack sequences play out fluidly. In the mission we attempted, the first turn was comprised mostly of moving units into adjoining rooms from our starting base. Fast forward one turn and Vader had killed two of my heroes and left the remainder of my units back pedaling. Certain mission objectives forced the players to meet their opposition head on like a jousting match. After each player has activated all units, there is a brief reset phase and players count victory points earned by mission specific objectives. Initiative then moves to the next player and play continues.
Honestly, there is nothing that comes to mind that would help or is needed to speed up the gameplay. Set-up can be slightly tedious if you are new to the game due to the necessity of building a 40 point squad and a command deck but, with experience, this becomes a new challenging means to establish a long-term winning strategy.
The base set retails for roughly $100. While a triple-digit price might give you pause, there is a massive amount of content stuffed into this box. For skirmish mode, the players have 4 missions to choose from. While that number might not seem significant, keep in mind that the squad building aspect of the game can significantly change the way a mission feels. Aside from skirmish, the traditional campaign mode comes with roughly 10 different missions the players can work their way through while also earning XP to gain new weapons and items. If this mode is close to that Descent, this campaign will likely offer 15 to 20 hours of gameplay.
WARNING: This could empty your wallet. To date, FFG has produced 4 deluxe expansions and somewhere around 25 blister packs for specific allies and characters. Each deluxe expansion retails for $50-$75 and blister packs range from $8-$15. If you’re willing to foot the bill, the amount of content is immense.
Imperial Assault probably falls in the mid-weight ameritrash category. If you have no experience with the Descent system, the first playthrough in skirmish may take around 2 hours but will easily settle under 1 hour after multiple plays. For that reason, a new gamer could jump into this product quite easily if they are patient enough to slog through the first play or have an experienced friend to teach the game.
For skirmish, this could hit the table on a weekly basis. The campaign mode on the other hand is likely a monthly affair because of the necessity to schedule time for 3 to 4 players to sustain it for the long haul.
For my own personal preferences, this game obsoletes Descent. This is not only due to the superior theme but also the small refinements of basic mechanics and the addition of skirmish mode.
As to the long-term sustainability of the game, it seems somewhat outlandish to imagine it is going anywhere. Star Wars content (movies, comics, books) are being released at a faster rate than ever, which will feed the available narratives for Imperial Assault. Possibly the most exciting prospect for this game is an app that is in the works to take the place of the Imperial game master in the campaign mode. FFG has developed this style of app for Descent which was my preferred style of play.
This may not rank at top of my favorite FFG Star Wars games but I look forward to tens of hours of play with the release of the aforementioned app. Easily ranks as my top dungeon-crawl (my copy of Gloomhaven has not arrived yet so take that with a grain of salt).