Board Game Review: Star Wars Rebellion – True to the Awesome of the Original Trilogy | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Star Wars Rebellion – True to the Awesome of the Original Trilogy

It is a time of civil war. But this time, it is up to the players to determine what happened long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. In Star Wars: Rebellion, one player takes on the mantle of the Galactic Empire while the other directs the operations of the fledgling Rebel Alliance.

The Basics. At the beginning of the game, the Rebel player must choose which system, of the 32 represented on the board, houses his secret rebel base. There is a deck of probe droid cards each of which features one system. He removes one for his base. The Imperial player also gets to start the game by drawing two probe droid cards. These represent two systems where the rebel base is not located.

Each side begins with four leaders. Leaders are the conduit for the rest of the game. If you want to move ships, you place a leader in the system you are moving to and then move ships from neighboring systems there. If any opposing forces are present, a combat is started. Combat occurs separately in space and on the ground. In fact, combat might end with one player achieving victory among the stars and the other on the planet surface.

Starting leaders for each side

But leaders can also be assigned to missions. Missions might change the loyalty of systems, build up new units, move the rebel base, or even capture opposing leaders. Each round begins with an Assignment phase where leaders are assigned to missions. Then begins the Command phase where leaders are used to move ships or attempt missions. Opposing leaders may also be moved to interfere with missions. Finally, the Refresh phase allows players to draw new missions and get probe droid and objective cards.

The Imperial player wins by finding and capturing the rebel base. Or by blowing it to smithereens with the Death Star. The Rebel player, however, does not win through military might. Instead, he wins by slowly building up sympathy for the rebel cause and turning enough systems against the Empire. The rebel player has a reputation marker that starts on round 14. If the turn track gets there, rebels win. But the Rebel player can also move up the reputation marker by completing various objectives (including using the Death Star plans to blow up the Death Star). This effectively steals turns away from the Imperials. If the turn and reputation markers meet, the Rebels have achieved victory.

Some from the series, like C-3PO, are just represented as rings

The Feel. I was simply not prepared for how awesome this game is. Even though Fantasy Flight has done a good job with the Star Wars license, I always get nervous when a Star Wars game comes out. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism after watching the prequels. But I thought a game this big would rely on fans to make sales, rather than solid content. I was wrong.

Star Wars Rebellion is phenomenal. The decisions are tense, strategic and tactical considerations are paramount, and there is a good deal of misdirection and harassment on both sides of the board. Plus, it does a solid job of bringing the original trilogy to the table and fans will find a lot to love as they maneuver beloved heroes and infamous villains through the conflict.

The rebel base is out there somewhere…

Playing as the Imperials, you know you are working against time. You have to find the rebel base and quickly. But you also have more to do. There are several good missions you’ll want to assign leaders to. And you’ll need to hold some back to oppose particularly obnoxious rebel missions. But you also need to use leaders to spread out across the galaxy. As a result, your leaders are a precious resource and you’re constantly evaluating when you’ll oppose the rebels and when you’ll allow their shenanigans to occur.

On the Rebel side of things, you feel like you’re under constant pressure. Every turn, the Imperials get that much closer to discovering your base. Of paramount importance is securing rebel objectives to move the reputation and decrease the time before you win. You’ll have to stymie the imperials at every opportunity. Not only can you do so with effective use of missions, but also with how you play them. Timing is critical. And maybe you want to perform a mission where a large imperial fleet is. After all, if they oppose it, they’ll have to move a leader there. And when they do, their fleet will be locked down for the turn.

The Death Star strikes!

The result is that, despite the highly asymmetric play, both sides feel like they are under incredible pressure. Those pressures mount as the game continues. Although a complete game can clock in at three hours or more, it hardly feels like it. You are so focused and intent on the board that the time flies. In fact, my first game – which included some time to look up a few rules – finished in just under four hours. And when I looked at the time, I was shocked. I felt certain that it had been 90 minutes, tops.

The bottom line is that this game is mechanically fantastic. There are great maneuvers and a wonderful balance between long term strategy and opportunistic, tactical play. The Star Wars theme is icing on the cake. If you aren’t a fan of Star Wars, the game is still enjoyable. But for a fan, it is exhilarating to use the known worlds and characters to accomplish your in-game objectives. Not only that, but it takes the best parts of the trilogy (like building a new Death Star) and leaves behind most of the detritus (not an ewok in sight).

Imperial space and ground forces

The sole downside to the game is the play time. Three hours is not a small commitment. And, if playing it with just two, that means setting aside a large chunk with just one other gamer. Now, if you’ve got the setup and ability to do that, great! But this game can be logistically difficult to get to the table.

There is also a separate mode of play for three and four players. It does introduce some new tweaks – like each faction taking two turns in a row. But overall it merely divides the responsibilities between two players. At least it does so in a way that fosters communication and team involvement. While not a terrible way to play, it pales in comparison to the two player game.

Plucky rebel fighters

Components: 5 of 5. Hoo-boy. Fantasy Flight did not skimp in this department. The leaders are standees with high quality art. While they could have gone with minis, I think standees are actually the right call here. With a few exceptions, it might have been hard to discern the minis. Plus, it allows the game information to be printed on the standee which makes play easier. The troops, however, are minis and they look gorgeous. The Death Star Under Construction figure is a favorite of mine.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. Rebellion is hugely strategic. As the Rebels, you’ll absolutely need to focus on your objectives and get the reputation marker marching downward. As the Imperials, it’s about spreading throughout the galaxy and stopping the rebels when possible. There is luck in the leaders you can recruit, the mission cards you draw, and die rolls in combat. But it is set nicely within the greater strategic context. You never feel like you lost because you didn’t draw a particular card or won because you rolled particularly well.

Mechanics: 4.5 of 5. The gestalt of the game is fantastic. The asymmetric play is engaging while still being well balanced. The way that leaders are handled is easily understood and leads to tense, even agonizing decisions. I wish combat had been done a little differently. Maxing out at five dice is a bit of a bummer, especially for the Imperials who could easily roll many more. But it does give the Rebellion a bit more of a chance to fight.

Replayability: 3.5 of 5. There is a lot of game in the box. Randomized setups will make certain planets more valuable. The semi-random introduction of leaders means that strengths and weaknesses will shift from game to game. And there are multiple viable strategies. Still, the three hour time will keep this from being played more often. And, on a high level, the meta-game of deciding where to place the rebel base can get stale if players aren’t creative.

Spite: NA of 5. As a two player game, there is no spite as I define it. The same holds true for the team game.

This sabotage is the work of rebel scum

Overall: 5 of 5. Rebellion isn’t a perfect game. But it’s an amazingly fun one. It has a hallmark of the greatest titles: after a game finishes, I keep thinking about it. What could I have done differently, how should I have reacted, should I have pursued a different objective? When a game keeps me thinking about it well after the play has concluded, I know it’s awesome. If you get a chance to try this one out, definitely do so.

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