A game of star-fighter combat like X-Wing I can understand. Ditto for a skirmish game like Star Wars Miniatures. But shoehorning Star Wars into a dungeon crawl seemed like a dumb idea to me.
But then, when the damned thing started to appear on store shelves, it initiated a long and protracted process of me picking the thing up, marveling over the size and weight of the box, reading every detail on the back, sniffing it thoroughly and then putting it back down on the shelf over and over again. This was all set to the running commentary of one person after another telling me that it was the greatest thing to happen to Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back.
But I refused to buy it blind; I had to test drive it first. So, back on February 4'th I got my apartment in order and volunteered to host game night again. My only corollary: Andrew had to bring Star Wars: Imperial Assault and he had to run it.
Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the opening title crawl for the game directly from Fantasy Flight:
"Imperial Assault is a miniatures game of tactical combat and missions for two to five players, offering two distinct games of battle and adventure in the Star Wars universe!
"Imperial Assault puts you in the midst of the Galactic Civil War between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire after the destruction of the Death Star over Yavin 4. In this game, you and your friends can participate in two separate games. The campaign game pits the limitless troops and resources of the Galactic Empire against a crack team of elite Rebel operatives as they strive to break the Empire’s hold on the galaxy, while the skirmish game invites you and a friend to muster strike teams and battle head-to-head over conflicting objectives."
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John also joined us that evening and since he'd already played the game before as a Rebel he was keen to see how the other half lived. This worked out rather well since Andrew had run the game a week before for Chad as the Empire and this would also give him a chance to switch roles.
I was pretty happy with this arrangement since Andrew could give Mike and I some time-tested strategy tips on how to win the scenario. Nice thought, but unfortunately it didn't quite work out so well.
More on that later.
So, here's how the role selection shook out:
JOHN, starting with one Probe Droid, one Imperial Officer and three Stormtroopers.
ANDREW - MAK ESHKA'REY
ME - FENN SIGNIS
MIKE - JYN ODAN
We decided to play Scenario One in the Campaign Guide. Our mission: destroy the four computer Terminals on the map within six Turns. As the Imperials, it was John's task to run out the six-Round clock and protect the Terminals or Wound each one of us.
So, here we are appearing at our insertion point on the map:
Between Mak's Longblaster and Jyn's "Opportunist" trait, Andrew and Mike quickly put one of the Stormtroopers in the dirt. In order to maximize my "Lone Wolf" ability, I decided to move away from my allies, risking a reprisal from John in the process. This allowed me to blast both Troopers at once with my "Havoc Shot" and recover Strain at the end of my turn.
We made short work of the Stormtroopers but, as expected, John used the Probe Droid's "special fist attachment" to give Fenn an ungodly rogering under the directive of his Imperial Officer. Andrew and I started blasting back while Mike snuck around to the other side to try and outflank our foes.
Thanks to our combined fire, we eventually managed to put down the Probot, leaving a lone n' scared Imperial Officer to oppose us.
We quickly dropped him like a bad habit. During this brief lull in the battle I quickly took the opportunity use two Rest actions to flip my Hero Sheet back to the "unwounded" side.
This also gave us a chance to sabotage the exterior Terminal. Andrew, ever the team player, decided to help himself to a med pack that he "yoinked" out of a nearby Crate. Unfortunately, just as we completed our handiwork, John brought another Probe Droid onto the battlefield!
Knowing that we were rapidly running out of time, Andrew and I urged Mike to whip open the bunker's blast door. Upon doing so, we found ourselves face-to-barrel with an E-Web Engineer. Deeper inside the bunker, another platoon of three Stormtroopers and an Officer prepared to defend themselves against this "terrorist" incursion.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, we decided to storm the bunker right away. Jyn dodged around the corner to try and start clearing out the control room. Ignoring the Probe Droid breathing down our necks and the E-Web about to paste us, both Fenn and Mak started pelting away at the Terminal in the corner of the room.
And that's when it happened: John remotely sealed the external blast doors, trapping Mak, A.K.A. Andrew, A.K.A. one-third of our friggin' strike force A.K.A. the one person around the table who shoulda known better, outside of the friggin' bunker!
As you might expect, things started to go downhill almost immediately. Jyn "Solo" got an unexpected amount of push-back from the Imperials she was trying to murder in the next room, I got smeared against the inside bunker door by the E-Web and Andrew deservedly ended up with a Pringles-can-sized poop chute thanks to the "Grope-Bot 3000" that he was now trapped outside with.
Even though I was "Wounded" again and Andrew had the friggin' med pack, we tried to forge on. Fenn rushed past the E-Web emplacement in the first room and joined Jyn in attacking the first Terminal. John, in perfect Empire style, struck back, forcing Mike to flip over his Hero Sheet as well. Not only were things looking dire on the Damage front, we only had a few turns left to try and pull off what amounted to a miracle.
Knowing that there wasn't enough time to blast through the bunker doors, Andrew used the med pack on himself to stave off a third Wound and then backed away from "Mr. All Arms", hoping to destroy the Probe Droid at a distance.
Meanwhile, inside the bunker's control room, things were swiftly turning into a galactic mosh pit. John brought in yet another wave of three Stormtroopers. Thanks to our communal "Heroic" Card, Mike leveraged his second activation to blast away at our foes as well as the third Terminal. Unfortunately, the durability of the damned thing had been improved considerably thanks to the horde
of Imperials guarding it.
After a few pot-shots, I took a Rest actions to recover my Strain hoping to exploit my Havoc Shot during the final turn.
True to my word, I used the double activation to start firing at will, causing widespread damage to both the closest terminal as well as the Imperial troops. Unfortunately it wasn't quite enough to destroy any of them. Mike cracked open a nearby storage Crate, hoping to find a concussion grenade but coming away with some sort of crappy com-link instead.
Meanwhile, John performed an authoritative curb-stomp, moving a Stormtrooper onto the only undamaged Terminal in an effort to cock-block us.
In the final round, Andrew finally broke up with Fifty Shades of (Metal) Grey outside. Unfortunately his ex was immediately replaced by an equally-randy twin just moments later. *yay*
Mike and I destroyed a third control Terminal at the end of Round Six but we still had one remaining.
But with that we were officially out of time and the evil Galactic Empire was victorious!
END GAME ANALYSIS & STRATEGY
Y'know, I still have no friggin' clue what happened here. Andrew, I'm looking in your direction.
He ran this scenario before as the Imperials, so surely he must have known about the whole "locked bunker door" option?!? You were the only person around the table with even the slightest inkling that this could happen yet your character was the only one who locked outside? Whutupwitdat? Please tell me that you recently received an unmarked Paypal money transfer from John recently, 'cuz that's the only thing that makes sense to me.
Seriously, you gotta explain this one. Until you do, you are, for all intents and purposes, completely dead to me.
Oh, and here's another question: why is it that your brain turns into a super-computer whenever you're playing a highly-competitive game where it's every last man, woman and child for themselves yet when faced with the daunting prospects of playing co-cooperatively you immediately get chump-blocked out of contention?
Oh, strategy tips? You want a strategy tip: DON'T PLAY THIS GAME WITH ANDREW!!!
- The game's productions values are the best I've seen yet from Fantasy Flight. The Threat / Round Dial, Map Tiles, Doors, Hero Sheets, Cards and Tokens are all top-notch. The sculpts for the miniatures are so detailed that they practically beg to be painted. And I haven't even pawed all over the the AT-ST yet!
- The designers do a pretty good job taking Descent mechanics and marrying them with the Star Wars Universe. The Stormtroopers, Imperial Officers, E-Web Cannons and the Probe Droids feel thematically appropriate. And between the standard issue Infantry Rifle, the "Havoc Shot" special ability and the "Lone Wolf" trait, Fenn Signis felt distinct enough to stand out from his peers. I think it would be an absolute blast to guide a single character through an entire campaign and watch them improve with better gear and more skills.
- Set up time was deceptively quick and we got into the action right away. Basically, if you've played Descent then you're pretty much ready to go.
- To paraphrase George Lucas before he lost his marbles, "a battle without an objective is a pretty boring thing". Yes, you can play just a skirmish but campaign mode is infinitely more interesting to me.
- Branching choices within the same scenario! I love how John was given a choice between two different options which completely changed the game conditions. I'm left wondering if the Rebels will also get a chance to do these things and whether or not the decisions effect the overall campaign. Clever options like this make me feel like I'm playing a simplified version of the old Star Wars Role Playing Game!
- The custom combat dice make range and damage determination a breeze.
- Not only does each scenario feel like a set piece from a Star Wars movie, you can play at least some of them out in less time than it takes to watch a Star Wars movie!
- The ability to spend double movement points to elbow your way through a scrum of enemies may be forgivable in a melee-based game like Descent but it feels pretty goofy here. Yes, the firefights in the Star Wars franchise weren't very realistic but they had a certain internal logic and still felt perilous. Whenever our heroes encountered hostiles in the movies, they'd quickly jump into cover and then start blasting away from across the battlefield. Not once did I ever see Luke, Leia, Han or Lando make a suicidal bee-line charge into a pack of Stormtroopers, stand right up next to them and then try to cap each one in the helmet gangsta-style at point blank range. It's times like this when I thank Monte Cook and company for the simple, elegant "attack of opportunity" rule in the third edition of D&D.
- From the time a scenario starts to the time it ends you'll find yourself locked in incessant combat. This slog through endless waves of enemies can sometimes get a bit tiring. Wouldn't it be great if the Imperial player could spend Threat to hard-lock a bunker door like they did in Return of the Jedi? This would put combat on hold for a moment as the heroes tried to hot-wire it back open via some sort of puzzle-like mini game. Varied tests like this would give players a brief respite from the endless spigot of battle and challenge them in creative ways. I'm hoping that the more involved scenarios that come later do something like this.
Like I said in the preamble, when I first heard about a Star Wars / Descent hybrid I thought it sounded ridiculous. Perhaps it's because the first edition of Descent, with its plodding, repetitive, ceaselessly-violent Gauntlet-meets-Doom style game-play, was still stuck in my head. I'd forgotten that the newer iteration of Descent made tremendous strides to feel like an adventure, like a mission to be completed.
So here I am now, eating crow. I officially stand corrected. Imperial Assault is some kind of wonderful, a bonafide space miracle. I look forward to playing through an entire campaign and growing l'il Fenn Signis from raw recruit to Rebel hero.
As such, Star Wars: Imperial Assault scores five pips outta six with a strong tilt up towards that orbiting, half-completed Death Star.
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