Star Wars Rise of the Empire Expansion Board Game Review
Star Wars Rebellion: Rise of the Empire
WBG Score: 10
Player Count: 2-4
You’ll like this if you like: Star Wars Rebellion, Twilight Imperium, War of the Ring
Published by: Fantasy Flight Games
Designed by: Corey Konieczka
A couple of things before I jump into this expansion. First, if you want to know how Rebellion plays then go and check out my full review here on the site. Second, I’ve painted all my miniatures for this game so just be aware that the minis in this box do all come unpainted, although, does grey plastic for the empire technically count as a paint job? Third, rather than a traditional review I’m basically going to break down what comes in this box and what I like about each. So if you’re looking for info about a particular aspect then you can scroll right to it. There’s a lot of cool stuff in this box though so it’s worth taking a look at everything if your interested in this expansion.
The new leaders and, pretty much most of the expansion, are all based around the film Rogue One. The only outliers here are Admiral Motti (the guy who gets force choked in A New Hope) and Jabba the Hutt. More leaders obviously means more choice and if you were a fan of Rogue One then these are all gonna be familiar and a lot of fun to add In The choice to make this expansion fit with that film makes a ton of sense when you consider how it fits into those original films.
The new leaders will come with Minor skill icons. These smaller icons count towards fulfilling skill requirements and will allow you to roll the new green dice when it comes to missions. These dice only have two direct hit symbols on them each. Whilst they have fewer symbols on them, being able to roll a few extra dice may just be the difference between loss and victory. As with the base game you’ll also get new action cards that go with the leaders and again this is great for providing some variety into the mix.
You’ll get new units for each side. For the rebels you’ll get frigates, U-wings, vanguard (troops with rocket launchers) and a new gun turret. For the Empire you’ll have Tie Strikers, assault tanks, shield bunkers and my favourite, Interdictors. The rebel units are nice additions but are really just standard units. The empire however gets the coolest new additions, plus they get some new abilities with theirs.
Having a shield bunker the same system with a Death Star will stop it from being destroyed when the Death Star plans card is played. The rebels now have to take out the bunker before they can destroy the Death Star. Having an Interdictor will mean that the rebels can no longer retreat from the system until it’s destroyed.
I love how thematic the shield bunker is. If you want to feel like you're playing out the end of Return of the Jedi then this will do it for you but without the teddy bears! The Death Star plans card was a nuisance and, in a well engineered situation on the part of the rebels, could be easy to pull off. Just survive a round of combat and there goes a hard earned Death Star. The shield bunker brings with it a whole new depth when it comes to planning your strategy.
All of the new units will roll the new green dice for combat meaning that they can deal damage to any type of unit in the game. Again the dice have less hits on them but now you potentially get to roll three more dice in combat.
I love these new units. The ships in particular are, let’s face it, just cool looking ships. The new abilities for the Empire I would imagine are there to help with balancing the game. The base game was apparently more balanced in the rebels favour. It wasn’t anything that I personally experienced but if this does work to address that issue then I’m all for it.
New Mission/project cards
There are a couple of cards here that you can replace permanently that are just reworded versions of cards in the base game but now work with this expansion in mind. To use the rest of the new cards you first need to separate all the base game cards with the character pictures on the cards then add those to this new deck. The other cards from the base game can be left in the box. The new cards are easily seen with a Darth Vader symbol on the card. The project cards simply mix in with the project deck. These cards are no better or worse than the base game cards, they're just different and they bring out the rogue one theme. If you’ve played Rebellion enough that the regular cards are feeling a bit familiar then this will give the game some variety. It’s also easy enough to separate the cards and go back to using the base game set. Being as they are aren’t any more complex than the regular cards, I think you could easily teach the game using this new set of cards if you want to.
New Objective Cards
For these simply add in the twelve objective cards into their respective phases. To set up, build a stage three deck by adding four random stage three cards to a Death Star plans card. Do the same with the stage two cards then deal out five random stage one cards. Just like the mission cards these are more cards to add a bit of variety and also some randomness to stop the empire player predicting the mission cards in your hand. Some of these are immediate objectives and some introduce target markers. You place the target marker in the system indicated by the card. When you place a ground unit in that system you remove the mark and score the objective card. These are fun new cards that add a bit more of a race element to the game because if the system with the marker is destroyed then it’s lost. I love how you can throw a target maker halfway across the galaxy and use them as a potential decoy. The Empire now has a choice between leaving the markers in place for you to score, or head towards them and try and get rid of them. For only a few cards they add a lot to your strategy. The new objectives are a welcome new addition to keep the game fresh and make it less predictable for the empire.
New Combat System.
This is the big one and the thing I’m guessing you’re all here for and rightly so. The big criticism of the base game is that combat wasn’t the best. It’s the big thing that stopped that game getting a 10 for me. Well meet the thing that claws that point back.
Take the base games combat cards. Have you got them? Good, now throw them away, go on, you won’t need them any more. Ok don’t actually throw them away, that’s just wasteful. But you definitely don't need them anymore.
Each side now gets a hand of 16 new tactics card that they have access to for every battle. Before a round of combat starts each player will simultaneously pick a card to use and reveal them at which point the cards text will play out. Each card will have two sections to it. The top part you will be able to play if you have the pictured unit in the fight. This is the more powerful of the two actions on the card. The bottom part will be less powerful but you can play it regardless of the unit in battle. Once played, cards will then be put in a discard pile and you won’t get them back until you’ve played all of your cards. So you could potentially go a few battles with a dwindling hand of cards before you get them back. Combat will continue as in the base game with players rolling dice and assigning hits until a new round starts and you pick a new card.
Previously in a battle you needed to have a leader with a tactics number in a system at which point you’d draw cards equal to that theatre of combat. With the new system in place those numbers now relate to the number of rerolls you can have per attack in that theatre. The manner in which the crossed Lightsaber symbols work has changed as well. When you roll one you can remove a damage from a unit whose health matches the dice.
As I spoke about in my review of the base game I had a real problem with the amount of luck in the original system. This new system isn’t going to stop unlucky dice rolls or the mismatch of attack to defence dice (although the green dice do help with that) but this system is sooooo much better. First of all cinematic combat cards give space for some decision making, a bit of focus and to play a bit more tactically rather than hoping that you roll the right sort of damage or draw a good card. Not only that but not being able to get your cards back until you’ve played all of them makes those decisions even tougher because now you’re not just thinking of this battle but also any future battles.
Switching those leader tactic values to make them rerolls is another stroke of genius and in my opinion makes those numbers even more important and valuable. Having rerolls helps, at least a little bit, with that feeling of uselessness when you're staring down the barrel of a really unlucky roll.
Lastly, being able to remove damage is huge. Again it’s all based on a die roll but if that symbol comes up that could be the difference between either losing an important system or losing the game and holding on for one more round to play a Death Star plans card. Coupling that with the potential that you can reroll your dice in the hope that you can repair damage gives this all the hallmarks to make some epic battles.
I love the improvements they’ve made to combat. As much as I wanted to give the base game a 10 out of 10 combat was bringing it down enough to make me drop that one point off. This system and even this expansion is enough to bump this game up for me. Does this mean the game is perfect? No, of course not, no game is perfect but for me personally I still rate this a ten because despite its flaws I still love this game.
Is this the expansion you're looking for?
Is this expansion essential? I think this is one of those rare cases where I think it is essential. Granted this may be there to fix a few problems that people had with the base game (i.e. combat, balance) but the fact that it does address that and does it really well it’s more than worth a look at. Especially if you're someone who enjoyed the base game but those factors were a let down.
Even though I think this is an essential expansion it doesn’t mean you necessarily need to get it right away, especially since the base game isn’t cheap. Play the base game a few times and make sure you enjoy it before grabbing this. (I’d actually apply that advice to board games in general) Even if you don’t get it for the “fixes” it’s worth it for the Imperial minis alone…..I mean…..tie strikers and interdictors and tanks Oh My!