WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 2-4
Published by: Fantasy Flight Games
Designed by: Corey Konieczka
This pictures in this review include painted miniatures. The base game comes with un-painted minis. These have been painted by Steve, and aren't they cool!
Star Wars Rebellion is an asymmetrical cat and mouse game set in the original Star Wars trilogy. One player will play as the glorious Empire and the other player will play as the rebel scum……ahem, sorry I promised myself I would let this get political, I promise it won’t happen again.
For the rebels to win they have to complete objectives to move their reputation marker up the track. When the round marker and the reputation marker share the same space then the rebels win. For the Empire to win they have to find the hidden rebel base and wipe those irritating rebels from the face of the planet…..sorry, sorry, I’ll go to the rules rundown, that should be fairly bias free.
After setting up and the sudden realisation that the rebels really are the underdogs, have the rebel player pick a spot for their base, take the corresponding probe card from the deck and place it next to the rebel base space face down….obvs.
At the start of the round each player will pick mission cards from their hand that they want to play this round and assign a leader/s to them. Each card has an icon and a number on it The leader assigned to it has to have at least that number of matching icons on it.
On your turn you can play a mission card that you’ve set out, activate a system or pass. The cards themselves will tell you what they do but they all work in a similar way. They will tell you to place the leader you assigned to the card in a particular type of system, then, if it says resolve on the text on the card, the. you just play out the card. If it says attempt then your opponent has the opportunity to send one of their leaders that haven’t been assigned to cards to try and stop that happening. You each roll dice and compare successes and if the player who played the mission wins then the card plays out. If it’s a draw or if they lose then the mission fails and the card is discarded unplayed.
When you activate a system, you take one of the leaders from your leader pool, place it in a system. You can then move any units from adjacent systems into that one following all transport rules. You can’t move things like ground units on their own, they have to be carried by ships that have a transport capacity. If the empire placed ground units on a system that isn’t imperial controlled then it becomes subjugated. When you place boots or big metal feet on the ground as the empire, the rebel player then has to reveal if the base is on that system or not. If it is then they move all of their units from the rebel base space on to that system and then combat commences. I’ll cover combat a bit later on in the review.
At the end of a round certain other things will happen. In the first few rounds will be a recruit phase which lets players recruit new leaders into their pool which will give you more things to do each round. On each alternative round there will be a build action. What units you can build will depend on the planets you have under your control. Each planet will give you unit types you can build and a space on the build cue that you need to place them on. These will move down a space at the end of every round and when they move off the end they can be placed on planets you control.
The Rebel scum
As the rebels, the first choice you’re faced with is arguably the most important choice of the game. Where to put the rebel base. Do you place it as far away from any imperial units as possible? Do you place it where you already have you own units? Or do you play it really risky and put it right next to the imperial hub of Coruscant, in the hope that your opponent would never look there because they think you wouldn’t make such a ridiculous choice.
Playing as the rebels is the very definition of an uphill struggle. When you first look at your thinly spread forces on the board you can’t help but say “are you sure that's all I get? let me see the rules again.” Unlike the empire, the rebels are all about scoring those objectives and the little victories. Although I’d hardly call blowing up a Death Star or even a Death Star under construction with all its independent contractors on, a small victory. It’s a lot of fun subtly sneaking around the galaxy trying to gain loyalty in the different systems hoping that the empire will be too engrossed in looking for the rebel base to notice, or care that a backwater little planet has changed allegiances.
The rebels are all about tension and then fear of being caught. You sit there hoping that certain board states hold out till the end of the round so you can score an objective card but every move the imperial player does could jeopardise that very state. You constantly feel the wave of the Empire creeping towards you to either ruin your well laid out plans or, even worse, find your rebel base. The way the rebels work and need to be played is ridiculously thematic. You can’t help but feel like this rag tag bunch of fighters who are hanging on by a thread against this onslaught of grey and white looming towards you. Watching a Death Star or a Super Star Destroyer get closer and closer to being built is a nerve racking thing. Of course the even more nerve racking thing is, where are they going to put it.
Just because they look thin in the ground it doesn’t mean they haven’t got a chance. As I said, it's all about the little victories and how they use their resources. Sabotaging imperial systems so they can’t build there or even playing missions solely to draw out their leader and restrict their movement are just some of the ways the rebels can gain the advantage.
As the game moves slowly on like the ship reveal at the start of Spaceballs (you know you're humming the music right now) the board will get tighter and tighter as the empire starts to close in on the rebel base. One of the starting cards in your hand will let you relocate your base at the end of the round and, as the rounds go on, you’ll find that being played almost everything round in constant fear that that round is the round you may have to use it. The problem being that the more the game goes on, the less spaces on the board there are that you can relocate to. It’s another way that the game really draws out every inch of tension and thrusts you at light speed in the role of the rebels.
Of course when it comes to tension, there’s nothing more tense than being just one round from victory and just knowing all you have to do is survive for the win, but you know that the Empire is closing in.
The Glorious Empire
The Empire is all about threat and menace but at the same time are playing a deduction game with trying to locate the rebel base. On the one hand they need to find it, but on the other they need the forces to be able to take it out when they do. Not only that but the rebels are causing all sorts of disruptions and taking over new planets that could help them score points as soon as a round ends and these also need dealing with.
The rebels, whilst handy, aren’t necessarily focused on creating a ton of units. The empire however needs them to be able to spread effectively across the galaxy and still prove to be an imposing force. As the empire you're constantly trying to wear down the rebels by taking away loyal systems, stifle their building capabilities and most of all capture their leaders to reduce the amount of actions they can do. Throughout all this you’re trying to search the galaxy for that base. At the end of each round you’ll get probe cards that tell you where the base isn’t and you have other cards that can slowly whittle down the locations. Which probe cards you have in your hand is obviously going to be a secret and you can really start to play mind games with your opponent. Maybe start moving some troops away and lulling them into a false sense of security before you make before you start moving your Death Star towards a potential system. There’s a great buzz you get when you look at the cards in your hand, then look at the map and realise that surely, surely you’ve found them. The worst thing you can do as the empire is look in Alderaan places.
The end of the game tension doesn’t end with the Rebels. Yes you're an all powerful force but you still need to find and destroy the base. Even if the Rebels haven’t gained many points, the round marker is still moving towards their victory condition and a couple of well played cards could change that at the drop of Obi Wan's cloak. As the game draws in you can’t help but feel that victory is within reach every time you put boots on a new planet.
One touch I love is that you can’t move ships out of systems that already have one of your leaders in them. This means that you have to be careful about where you oppose missions for fear of blocking potential movement that round. It also means that the empire especially can’t just cover the whole board in the first couple of rounds. For the empire it also adds to their looming presence as they spread about the galaxy slowly pinning the rebels into a corner.
Just like the rebels, playing as the empire is super thematic. You can’t help but feel like this all powerful, unstoppable force storming around the galaxy, subjugating systems and enveloping the board in a swath of grey plastic. Quite honestly there’s nothing more fun than blowing up a system with a Death Star, either for game winning purposes or, just for the heck of it, to get rid of the annoying teddy bears or Jar Jar binks. I think many of us would take out a planet just to get rid of him alone!
Star Wars Stories
Everything I’ve described above all culminates together to give us one of the thing I absolutely love about this game. The stories. I once saw a criticism of this game that the story telling element of it was lacking. Personally I think they missed the point. Rebellion was never a “storytelling” game, not in the same way as maybe Eldritch or Arkham horror. Rebellion just gives you the world and the characters that lets you tell your own in game narrative if you want to. You’ll soon be talking about that time that Chewbacca was captured by the Emperor and encased in carbonite, only to have Obi Wan sacrifice himself to free him and then have Admiral Ackbar get caught on the other side of the galaxy. For a Star Wars fan this can open up a world of what if’s as you play out your own stories in this universe. It won't just be thematic stories you’ll talk about though. You’ll also have some epic gaming moments to talk about as well. Stories of close calls, epic endings and that one story of when your opponent brought in ALL the star destroyers just to take out two X-Wings to end the game (true story)
Of course telling a narrative isn’t necessary to enjoy the game, it’s not an RPG, but if you're a fan then it’s gonna be hard not to throw in at least a quote or two or even some heavy breathing…….. you know, because of Darth Vader.
Unrest in the galaxy.
Let’s talk about the small grey moon, wait that’s no moon that’s a space station in the room. Despite the rating, not everything works. Anyone who had seen anything about this will know that the combat system is famously wonky. In fact it’s the one thing that I give a brief run down of to give opponents enough info, then I teach it when it comes to it so as not to overwhelm anyone.
During combat you’ll be rolling dice and playing cards. Some of these cards will require you to have rolled the lightsaber symbol on the dice before you can use them. Here’s the problem with it. The cards. They are incredibly random and go from really useful…..to completely useless. You could easily be holding some great cards in your hand, but yet not be able to play them because you haven’t rolled any lightsabers! It annoyingly works the other way round. If you have the symbol but no cards then you can spend that die to draw a new card, but if it requires the same symbol you just spent to play it, then you’re unable to use it.
The dice rolling is the main feature of combat but the cards are a great bonus, especially if you're the underdog or aren’t able to roll the right type of damage. If you can’t use them though then it’s easy to feel fairly useless in a fight, almost to the point where it’s not worth bothering to roll at all. I know fans of this game are screaming at me right now that the expansion fixes that. Yes it does but that’s a review for another day!
Another let down here is the rule book. It’s not great. It half explains concepts in one part of the book and then finishes them in another. For example it tells you about playing cards before a round. But doesn’t tell you the mechanics of placing leaders on them and how that works until a few pages later. It’s not a great learning tool and I was almost put off trying to learn the game because of it. Instead I’d have someone teach it to you or watch RTFMs brilliant rules video on YouTube.
Lastly I do want to point out that this is a long, expensive, two player game (I know there is a four player variant but you’re literally just splitting each sides turns up and it’s not a mode that I personally really want to try) and because of that, I can see some people being a bit put off by it and I totally get that. I've had my fair few plays of it but it still doesn’t get to the table nearly as often as I’d like. So it’s something to bear in mind before you rush out and grab a copy.
A New Hope.
Despite those issues, I love this game! There’s so much strategy, intrigue and theme crammed inside this one box. This game is often touted as “Star Wars in a box”. Now I’m usually the person who tries to steer clear of overused terms like that……but in this case, this is absolutely Star Wars in a box. If you're not a fan of the films but like the sci-fi setting then you’ll still find a solid, fun strategic game that you’ll really be able to get your teeth into. If you're a fan though, then this will give you everything you need in a Star Wars board game.
Thanks for reading, I’m now off to take the Death Star for a spin round Yavin IV for……absolutely no reason whatsoever!