Star Wars: Rebellion… Grips You By The Throat

Base Game Review

Player/s: 2-4 (technically *rolls eyes*)

Play Time (Box): 3-4 hours

Play Time (Goof): 2-4 hours

Producer: Fantasy Flight Games

Designer: Corey Konieczka

 

I freaking love Star Wars.

My favourite era: Old Republic (a millennia before the battle of Yavin).

My favourite Sith Lord: Darth Bane.

My favourite Jedi: … well Obi-Wan. Which I feel doesn’t prove anything.

I know the videogames, the books, the lore, the movies. I know why the Rule of Two makes complete sense (and have spent many nights debating it with my father).

What I don’t know? Any good Star Wars tabletop games (…I just felt a disturbance in the force. Probably from all the people I just pissed off). Give me a chance to explain.

I’ve often found the model of games used by people making Star Wars licensed games is one I normally either don’t want to or can’t afford to partake in. Generally being Collectible Card Games, Miniature gaming, or mass market products (who honestly gives a bantha doodoo about Star Wars Cluedo?). I did review their LCG on Star Wars Day a couple years back, and played around with Star Wars X-Wing for a few months before a couple of my ships broke in transit, but other than this the tabletop games from a galaxy far far away haven’t really caught my eye.

At least this was the case – until Star Wars Rebellion.

 

Gameplay (10/10)

Star Wars Rebellion is everything I wanted it to be. Planetary subjugation and military might, versus the scrappy and sneaky. I could easily have seen a bad design decision make Star Wars Rebellion play with more equal military forces, where the game is essentially identical either side with the illusion of asymmetry (sorry… I can’t seem to stop talking about The Card Game) but Rebellion is incredibly different depending on the side you’re playing.

I love how every element of Star Wars Rebellion feels like it is unique yet seamlessly interacts with the other elements. The big space battles, the politics, the stealth missions, the tricks. It’s an equation which equals Star Wars. If any element of this was missing, it’d stand out like a Gungan in a lightsaber battle.

The use of leaders, the heroes and villains of the Star Wars original trilogy, is where the core of the gameplay takes place. And it makes so much sense – Star Wars has always been about the characters, about the handful of people who play an integral role in the events affecting the galaxy of billions. You use them to move units, complete missions, and respond to the attempts of the other side. From a gameplay perspective, it keeps things neat and focused. You have as many actions as you do leaders, with some leaders being more suited to certain tasks like covert operations, diplomacy, logistics, space battles and so on (if I list off every different element to this rather complex, albeit elegant, game this review will look more like a scattered index than an actual article).

As the Rebels, it’s easy to think you need to get as many troops out as possible into defensive positions and beat down the Empire. But in all the hours I’ve played, what you’re actually trying to do is just weaken the Empire. You know you’re going to lose troops. You will not win most fights. And it’s hard for some people to accept this element as a positive in a game which at its surface appears to be about area control. I love this element of Star Wars Rebellion, but I can see why some people would grow incredibly frustrated with it. Star Wars Rebellion is not about bringing your best to match their best. It’s about who loses the least, who out thinks and outplays their opponent, and yeah – who seems to have the will of the Force on their side (luck. I’m talking about luck).

There are a couple of elements to Star Wars Rebellion which sound minor, but I really believe they are some of the most crucial elements to this game being as seamless and as fun as it is.

There are several missions which form a central style of play for each side. These missions start in your hand and return to your hand each round. What I like about this from a gameplay point of view is you have a series of moves you’re able to do each turn, which allows for consistent strategy. It also means you come to learn what your opponent may do each round and you can prepare to counter it. In a game as large as Star Wars Rebellion, this consistency is important. Without it, the game would likely devolve into pure luck, who drew the best cards and when.

It’s a bit of an odd one but the whole idea of construction queues is very Star Wars. Building the Death Star, or even Imperial Star Destroyers is something you often see in the movies. So knowing when the opponent (usually more important for the Rebel player to know about the Empire) is going to have certain ships ready is really important. Especially since you can mess with the build queues. Maybe you give up a certain planet in favour of defending another one, especially if you know the units they get off it wont be available for a few turns and you might be able to do something about this.

The decisions you get to make in Star Wars Rebellion are so much fun. Take the same example I just gave about giving up one planet to defend another. There are so many reasons you’d consider doing this (I’m legit about to use dot points here for the first time in an article. Look at me being all lazy fancy):

  • Bluffing about what’s important to you to get the Empire to chase you somewhere else.
  • Knowing the subjugated production the Empire gets out of one is less important than the other.
  • Knowing the Loyalty bonus for the Empire is too enticing for your opponent not to spend an extra action or two attempting to get it.
  • Knowing you’ve got a mission up your sleeve which requires one planet over another;
  • Baiting the Empire into a trap.
  • Really needing to defend the other planet.
  • Trying to get the Empire to spread too thin.

I think you’ve probably worked out by now I prefer playing the Rebels. But this isn’t to say the Empire doesn’t have their own tricks. The projects they can achieve, like the short notice (yet still nicely fitting in the build queue system) of a Super Star Destroyer being built, Vader capturing one of the Rebel leaders and attempting to turn them to the dark side… one of my all-time favourite moments as an Empire player was letting a Rebel leader escape just to follow them back to their sector and capture another of their leaders. I felt so dastardly evil. Star Wars Rebellion lets you embrace the dark side *clasps fist like Vader*.

The more complex games I play, the more I appreciate clear reaction windows. I used to find it a little tedious when I first got into gaming, mainly in constructed deck games like Android: Netrunner, where the rulebook clearly defines every opportunity to take a turn between an opponent’s actions. But Star Wars Rebellion could really have done with breaking down the steps more during the combat phase. When you’re looking through the online forums and no one there seems to know either, you know you’ve missed some important information out of your rules. When do you use those damn tactics cards? For a game you could be forgiven for thinking is about “dudes on a map”, the combat is the only time things feel really clunky (and I’m talking about the dice system there as well. I feel the lightsabers symbol should have been cut from there. It clouds things up and gives you less of a reason to care about tactics cards you may never use. Not a biggy, but an odd design choice nevertheless).

Look, I won’t deduct points from you here FFG. Because I get it. You’re trying to sell a 3-4 hour game and it’s hard to do when the game only says 2 players on the box. But you’re kinda lying to people. Because Star Wars Rebellion is in no way anything other than a 2 player game. I’ll be honest here and admit I haven’t played with more than 2 players (another reason I won’t deduct points) but you’re splitting up the group and spaceship units at higher player counts, and ground units can’t do anything except twiddle their thumbs if they’re not being dragged around by spaceships. Not to mention you get half the leaders each and just… no. Bad FFG. Bad!

Pros: ++asymmetry done right, +clean design, +bluffception, +Core missions, +build queues, +important decisions

  

 

Theme (10/10)

As the Empire you’re playing the galaxy’s most frustrating game of whack-a-mole. You balance building up your army, and sending them out to subjugate and find those rebel scum.

As the Rebel Scum (I’m certain it’s the official term) you’re using whatever forces you can muster to hold back the unstoppable Empire just long enough to play a more political game. You’re using sabotage, sneak tactics, bluffing and double bluffing. Sometimes the bluffing is so complex it becomes bluffception. And I LOVE it. It feels incredibly Star Wars.

Everything about Star Wars Rebellion feels like a grown up version of hide and seek (I almost said “adult version” but I have a feeling people would be picturing Twi’lek dancers, and they’re not in this game). The emotions you go through in Star Wars Rebellion are quite intense, and as much as I’m raving about it I want you to honestly consider this next point before you play it.

“No matter what side you play on, you’re going to be upset”.

This is actually part of the pull for me with Star Wars Rebellion. You become emotionally invested. And yeah, this is in part because you’ve been playing this game for three hours. But as the Empire you feel as though you have this unstoppable army, but cannot find the pricks. Every time you manage to get yourself to a strong position, threads start pulling away until you’re in a bad position all over again. As the Rebellion, you feel outmatched at almost every turn. You start off pretty much losing, and you’re going to continue to feel this way until you manage to squeak out a victory or die in a blaze of… I’d say glory but chances are if there’s going to be a big fight, you’re going to lose. And lose hard.

One of the things I’ve always wanted when playing a game where I’m at least subjectively the bad guys (a debate I’m very happy to have in the comments) is the feeling of being powerful. The feeling of being bad, and unstoppable. It’s what I want playing the Corp in Android: Netrunner. It’s what I want playing the Vampire in VWars, or the traitor in Betrayal at House on the Hill. The problem is, in these games there’s a need for balance which overrules the thematic evilness. But Rebellion gives me this. Playing the Empire, subjugating planets. I feel powerful. I feel scary. Every action the Rebels take I’m able to answer with sheer force. I don’t mean to insinuate Rebellion isn’t balanced (although the more my tabletop tastes develop the more I think asymmetrical games where there is a thematic evil side should have a slight imbalance for good to overcome. I said SLIGHT).

You know, I’ve heard people were upset because Rebellion’s not “forging your own Star Wars story” in a box. I’ve checked, and I’m confused… coz it doesn’t say this anywhere on the box? You’re not making your own Star Wars story here. This isn’t an RPG. What it is, what it’s designed to do, is throw you in the middle of the Galactic Civil War. In fact, on the box it says you’re REENACTING, which admittedly is a bit of a turn off for me as a description (but the game’s so good you can ignore this word if you’re like me). You’re supposed to feel the immense power and yet frustrating annoyance of the Empire. You’re supposed to feel the helplessness yet hope of the Alliance. Star Wars Rebellion captures these emotions perfectly.

I talked a bit in the Gameplay section about how Star Wars Rebellion contains within it the various elements of what makes the Star Wars films so great. I really wanted to reiterate this here as it does so much with the Star Wars theme. The space battles take the forefront of the action, but they’re strung together with this essential bluffing and outmaneuvering.

Pros: ++emotionally invested, ++perfectly captures Star Wars, +feels so good to be bad

 

 

Production (9/10)

Look at this Death Star. Look at it! Do it or I’ll blow up Alderaan!

Shit… too late

The production quality of Star Wars Rebellion is awesome. And it needed to be. Everything about the flavour in Star Wars Rebellion is designed to give you the feeling of running your side of the conflict. If the Imperial Star Destroyers didn’t feel big, if the Rebel Army didn’t feel overwhelmed, if the Death Star didn’t invoke fear, if I didn’t get to feel like I was ordering a squadron of X-Wings into the fray – so much of the game may have fallen flat. You’ll notice throughout the entire review so far I’ve talked about the feelings Rebellion invokes in you while you play, and the production quality lends itself to this beautifully.

I LOVE the Death Star model. The fact it stands up (none of this half-sun TI3 business), and the model of it under construction. It’s this lording presence. If you get the chance to unload this baby… sweet Geonosis…

I actually hate screen caps in games. And thankfully Star Wars Rebellion uses artwork, which again I feel is something which could have easily gone another way in production (“but wouldn’t it be cool if we had a picture of Mark Hamilton.. NO! BAD IMAGINARY PRODUCER!). The artwork is really well done in Rebellion. There’s a few in there I’d love to see blown up and hung on my wall. Charlotte pointed out how similar it looks to the artwork on the original posters when ‘Star Wars’ first came out. As soon as she said it my jaw hit the floor. That’s why I love it so much!

One of the clever things I’ve come to appreciate more and more as I’ve played is the fact the leaders have subtly different shapes depending on which side you’re on. Rebels are rounded, Empire is straight edged. And again this ties in so well to the sharp order of the Empire (who’s logo I’d argue is more jagged while the Rebel’s has a rounded bottom… okay. I get the “you read too much into things” comment my parents used to make). The best bit for me is how easy it is to pick them up off the board at the end of each round. While they’re not intrusive, when you’re looking for it during the game they’re clear and practical.

I think having the statistics printed directly onto the leaders was an excellent choice. It keeps your eyes up, and doesn’t give you even more to look at if you needed more reference sheets. It’s again another great job of streamlining the components and gameplay from what would have otherwise been over inflated.

While I’m on the topic of the leaders – having them be standees while the units are minis was a stroke of genius (Good FFG. Good). I’m not normally a fan of the mix and match, but here it works. I think the main reason it works is the difference in scale. This is supposed to be an individual in this area of the galaxy, instead of saying “yes, Leia is the size of a space cruiser”. And it quickly identifies where on the board things are happening.

You know, I had this whole rant prepared about how hard Star Wars Rebellion is to learn. And yeah, it’s a complicated beast. But the way FFG teach you how to play is excellent. I feel like they’re really starting to master this whole ‘learn to play’ rulebook and the ‘rules reference’ rulebook. I mean yeah, I’ve still got some frustrations with it. Like when there’s a rule in the ‘learn to play’ book which is taken for granted in the ‘rules reference guide’, but you don’t need to force leap to get over this particular hurdle. It’s more an inconvenience than game breaking.

I don’t like the fact the Rebels and Empire have the same tactics cards. It comes back to the whole clunky-ness of the combat system. You have all these cards and spare models on your side of the table, and a giant board between you. Then suddenly you’ve got to find a spot to put a couple tiny decks between you? Such a freaking pain (yeah yeah, they fixed this in the expansion. But I’m not using Jedi precognition right now. I’m staying in the moment, and only evaluating what’s in front of me).

Pros: ++excellent minis, ++artwork, ++cleverly designed components

Cons: – – tactics cards

 

Conclusion

So much of Star Wars Rebellion feels like it hangs on the edge of a vibroblade. The design decision, the production decisions, the fate of the galaxy (during gameplay. If Rebellion had sucked I’m sure the galaxy would have survived). And yet everything is so beautifully done Fantasy Flight and Corey Konieczka deserve a medal ceremony with a princess (can someone explain to me why Chewie didn’t get a medal in this scene? It’s always bothered me).

I give Star Wars Rebellion:

10/10

So I know what I’ll be playing on Star Wars day from now on. And for once I’m not talking about the LCG.

I got my copy through Tabletop Wonderland

Tabletop Wonderland are offering readers of The Goof Review a 10% discount off of your first month to their subscription service! Just use the code GOOFREVIEW10

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Please comment, lets get the conversations flowing!

 

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