19th Jun2019

‘Star Wars Rebellion’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

sw-rebellion-box

For Star Wars fans, The Original Trilogy remains somewhat sacred, and whilst both the Prequel Trilogy and the Disney franchise movies continue to have both their fans and a number of detractors, most agree that George Lucas’s seminal trilogy remain the benchmark. As such, it is always hugely exciting when a new product is released that has a sole focus on Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and their arch nemeses, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. Whilst Star Wars Rebellion isn’t a brand new game, it still represents perhaps the most complete way to play through the first three Star Wars movies on an epic scale.

Star Wars Rebellion is a two or four player game in which each side takes on the role of either Princess Leia’s Rebellion or Emperor Palpatine’s Galactic Empire. Each side has a highly asymmetric setup featuring different units, characters and powers, as well as fundamentally opposed victory conditions. In short, the Empire will be hoping to locate and destroy the rebels secret base, whilst the Rebellion is hoping to build up popular support for their cause, whilst at the same time keeping their base safe or, if necessary, relocating it.

Each game of Star Wars Rebellion takes place over about two to three hours and through luck or judgement, it can end sooner if the Rebel base is discovered early in the game. Regardless of how long each game plays for, it’s always a thematic experience in which the players build up their forces, expand onto the map to make systems loyal (or to subjugate them, if you are the Empire) and undertake missions that drive the action forwards. Most of this is achieved by placing cardboard standees of popular characters like Leia, Darth Vadar, Chewbacca and General Veers (to name but a few) and then having them perform an action.

Each turn is split into a few phases, primarily involving the players each taking turns to assign their characters and then subsequently executing the desired actions one by one. On their turn, a player will place the desired character standee in a space and then pass to the other player, it’s as simple as that. When these character actions are resolved, things get a little more interesting because the players will be using these characters to complete missions (to advance their cause) or to move fleets of ships and armies of ground troops, but these actions can sometimes be blocked by the other player.

Choosing which character performs which mission is also important, since each character has a number of icons on their token, which indicate their proficiency at completing certain tasks. Princess Leia is good at diplomacy and covert ops, whilst Darth Vader is also skilled in diplomacy (through fear, presumably) as well as open combat. Mon Mothma is very skilled in diplomacy, but little use for anything else – and so on for each character. What makes this interesting is that the level of skill shown on a character will increase their chance of completing a mission if a block is attempted.

Missions are sometimes completed automatically (and cannot be blocked) whilst others must be attempted. Whenever the relevant keyword is used, the player attempting to complete the mission must allow the other player a chance to block. If a block is made, then the blocking player will place one of their own characters in the same space, but they will only be able to do so if such a character is still on their available leaders board. This need to balance undertaking missions of your own with reserving characters to perform blocks makes for a very interesting dynamic in Star Wars Rebellion, and it forms one of the key strategic principles of the game.

Of course, when a block is made, it doesn’t mean that the mission being attempted fails, instead it results in the characters rolling off based on their respective skills based on the kind of mission being undertaken. The two sides will simply compare the number of successes rolled, and the blocking player will win any ties. With this in mind, undertaking missions of this kind can be risky, but the risk can be managed by sequencing the order in which you complete missions in a smart way, to hopefully ensure that your opponent has no characters left to block with.

Whilst we’re looking at dice rolling, let’s talk briefly about movement and combat. Movement is also restricted by the placement of characters (usually) but cannot be blocked. A player may use a character placed in a space to “draw” units from surrounding spaces into that space. There’s no limit on how many units can move, but ground units must move with space units that have sufficient room (as indicated on the player board) to move them. If this results in units from opposing forces being in the same space, then a battle ensues which will result in the rolling of red and black dice, modified by tactics cards that are drawn based on the leaders in the fight.

Combat in Star Wars Rebellion is not the most scintillating (and it’s already been corrected by an expansion that we don’t have access to) but I didn’t find it too bad. Simply put, both large and small ships will usually roll weaker black dice, whilst heavier ships and bombers will roll red dice. The key thing here is that bigger ships can only be damaged by red dice, whilst fighters and so on will be damaged by black dice. Rolling a critical hit on either dice will allow the damage to be applied as if it were either colour. Tactics cards (drawn based on a characters proficiency in battle) can be used to influence dice rolls, mitigate hits and so on. Battles rage on until either one side retreats, or all forces on one side are defeated.

After a round ends (which is when both sides have taken actions with all their characters and/or passed) then a few cleanup steps are performed. Firstly, the time token moves one step closer to the Rebellion Reputation token – should these ever meet, then the Rebel player wins. The time track also shows one or two symbols (depending on the round) which are build and recruit. Build basically allows the players to generate build points associated with the planets that they either control or have subjugated. For loyal (controlled) planets, both construction symbols are added to the pool, but when a planet is subjugated, it generates only one of the shown resources – to indicate that is participating in the Empire’s plans unwillingly.

With the recruitment pool complete, players convert points into ships and ground units as per the symbols shown on their player board. For the Imperial player, this can be anything from X-Wing’s up to Star Destroyers, whilst for the Rebellion, forces include ground defenses, X-Wing’s and even Calamari Cruisers. Some readers will have spotted the presence of Super Star Destroyers and Death Star’s among the photos and these can be built by The Empire (who start with one Death Star) once special project cards have been drawn.

Once units are chosen, they are placed onto the board in their respective build spaces and the next step is to move each of the in-progress units one step closer to completion. Finished units are taken from the build queue and placed onto the board based on a few restrictions, but broadly speaking they can be placed anywhere in controlled space, with a limit on how many can be added to a single space. If the players see a recruit symbol on the time track, then they will be able to recruit new characters – this is done by drawing two from their deck and then choosing one, which is added to their leader pool for the next turn.

With a few other bits of cleanup (like drawing cards) done, the next turn begins with The Empire player performing their probe droid scan. Here, I should explain how the Rebel Base is setup, since it is one of the most exciting things about Star Wars Rebellion. During the setup of the game, the Rebel player will choose one card from the probe droid deck and place it secretly onto the Rebel Base space. Each turn, The Empire player will draw two of these cards (and some missions allow more to be drawn) which eventually whittles down the deck until The Empire player has narrowed down the Rebel Base to a very small number of systems. If The Empire ever wander onto the rebel base by chance, then the Rebel player must reveal it honestly.

Now, whilst there’s a lot going on in Star Wars Rebellion, it is actually quite simple to play. The placement of characters drives the action, with the missions and movements that they allow being relatively simple to resolve as a consequence during the next phase. The objective of each side, whilst absolutely asymmetric, is also very clear. The Rebel side are working to wind down the clock and to increase their reputation (which is often achieved through the objective cards that they secretly hold until completed) whilst The Empire is always looking to expand and tighten their grip, whilst attempting to probe for the Rebel Base as aggressively as possible.

Each player has access to four basic mission cards that can be replayed time after time, but they will also draw at least two new mission cards each turn, expanding their possibilities. For the Rebel, one option is to rapidly mobilise the Rebel Base and relocate it, but time is short, because of course The Empire player will be able to outgun the Rebel’s without a second thought, if only they can get their fleets into position. Most excitingly for The Empire is the Death Star (or Death Stars) which can actually use their superweapon to destroy planets, replacing them permanently with a cardboard token that blots them out of existence.

Between the huge number of small but well formed miniatures and the individually painted character standee’s, all set against the backdrop of a huge board setup (that is actually two boards side by side) Star Wars Rebellion even manages to look incredible. As a pure spectacle, it captures the imagination of any dedicated fan of the original series. With that said, the mission cards, objectives and characters will be seen time after time from one game to the next (which can reduce replay value) but in all fairness, how many times (and how frequently) do you really need to play a three hour game to feel that you’ve got your monies worth?

I had heard that Star Wars Rebellion was good, but that some players did indeed get bored with the same missions being repeated over several games. This isn’t a problem for me, seeing as I am likely to play the game once every month or two from this point forwards. Just as when I watch the Star Wars movies, I may know what’s going to happen, but I never fail to feel the same level of thrill even despite the predictability. To be fair, the Rebel Base is always located somewhere different and the order in which events from the movies happen is completely random, as is the order of characters that can be recruited.

To summarise, Star Wars Rebellion is a superb looking game that absolutely captures the feel of the original Star Wars trilogy at a galactic scale. It features every planet and every character from the iconic movies, as well as all your favourite vehicles, missions and supporting paraphernalia. Mechanically, it’s also a tight, balanced and very enjoyable game, despite the polarising asymmetry on each side. Star Wars Rebellion is quick to teach and easy to learn, with few of the more elaborate decks of cards and minute rules that some Fantasy Flight Games can suffer from. I’ve very excited about trying the expansion in the future, but even as it standards, Star Wars Rebellion is a superb two player (or four, working in teams) addition to any strategy gamers shelf.

**** 4.5/5

Star Wars Rebellion is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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