Saturday, January 7, 2017

Star Wars Imperial Assault : Jabba's Realm

Hey everyone!

Join me as I make my way through this wretched hive of scum and villainy in the new Imperial Assault deluxe expansion Jabba's Realm.

Let's start by talking about Imperial Assault first.

Released in 2014 by Fantasy Flight games, and becoming an instant hit, Imperial Assault has since seen the release of many expansions. The base set rules were designed by Corey Konieczka (Star Wars X Wing, Descent), Justin Kemppainen (GoTh : The Iron Throne, Road to Legend App), and Johnathan Ying. With these guys involved, you know you're getting a well-designed ruleset. If you're familiar with the Descent system, then you already know how this system works, as it's a reimplementation. For those of you unfamiliar with that system, here's a brief breakdown :

You build modular maps from interlocking tiles as per a certain scenario (or "Mission", in the case of Imperial Assault), and a group of friends, using their miniatures, move through this map collecting treasures and/or meeting other objectives while battling enemies controlled by one opposing player.

Imperial Assault is a little on the heavy side, and the learning curve is daunting but not too steep, so if you're looking for a party game this isn't going to be your cup of tea.

I am, at heart, a Social Gamer. I'm also a titanic Star Wars fan, from the moment I sat in the theater with my parents to see the original Star Wars (before it was re-released in 1981 as Episode 4 : A New Hope. That's right kids, the original release had no episode number or subtitle). 
Like many, that moment transformed my life. Thanks to a love of Sci-Fi, this film instantly became a part of my very DNA, so it's no surprise that I'm likely one of the easiest to sell on a SW themed game. Add that it's a one-vs-many style game implementing miniatures, and I'm all in.

It might be worth mentioning that there's an app due for release "soon" that takes the place of the Imperial player, giving folks like me - those who can't get together regularly with others for a game - the ability to play the game solo (hehe!). 
I'm looking forward to this, but I greatly prefer playing with my friends. Games are, by their very nature, social animals after all!

Imperial Assault sees you and a group of friends take on the roles of heroes of the Rebellion as another of your friends takes on the role of the Empire, as you try to accomplish missions, battling against the Empire's forces all the while. 

This occurs in missions that can be played out as one-off adventures, or, taking on a role-play-like aspect, can all be linked together to form a larger narrative across a campaign. Ratcheting the role play mechanic up a bit further, you're able to gain money (Credits) and Xp that you and your friends can spend between missions for better gear or to amp up your character's abilities.

Keep in mind that the more experienced player should assume the role of the Empire, as there is a lot of bookkeeping and game set up that falls on their shoulders. Also keep in mind this is the role they'll assume throughout the campaign.

The campaign is driven by both a win/loss result - sometimes funneling the heroes into a specific mission - and the Rebels' ability to choose various missions from a deck that are then put into play. The campaign log also steers the course of events a bit, as occasionally it will call for a mission of a specific type : Either story or side.

While the base game has a massive campaign that includes both story missions and character-specific side-missions, FFG have gone out of their way to produce some really quality add-on missions that integrate seamlessly into the base. These can be found in the numerous expansion figure packs.

Each of these missions has a timeline coded to it, so you're not really able to mix ages. This is only really restrictive once you start adding in the expansions.

Don't care for missions or campaigns or the Pseudo-roleplay aspect? No problem, as one of the greatest strengths of Imperial Assault is that it also has a built-in skirmish mode, so you and a friend can play a small one-on-one battle!

Where the game really starts to blossom is in all the add on content. And that brings us back to the latest deluxe expansion, Jabba's Realm.

Packed to the brim with fantastic Star Wars goodness, the expansion brings us a new mini-length campaign that will have you navigating the criminal underworld across various planets and small moons full of pirates and criminals.
You'll find interlocking map tiles for Jabba's Palace, the Sarlacc Pit, Jabba's sail Barge, and other Star Wars locations. Simply mix the included tiles in with the base set's map tiles and you have the ability to construct each of the campaign's many maps!

The expansion also includes sixteen new figures to add to your games. These range from Weequay warriors and Gamorrean Guards to a MASSIVE Rancor! Seriously, the Rancor model is titanic, and, thanks to the fantastic level of detail each mini has, this thing just begs to be painted!

Three new Rebellion heroes are also included, and are simply a blast to play! There's the "tank" Onar Koma, who's slow but can soak up massive amounts of damage ; the support character Shyla Varad, who's fast but can hold her own in a fight; and the ridiculously-fun-to-play Rodian gunslinger Vinto Hreeda, who simply Can't. Stop. Shooting, even when he's moving!

You'll also find a wealth of new abilities, missions and other cards to add to the base set.

Alongside the deluxe we get four smaller releases, each containing new skirmish and mission cards, as well as premium miniatures : Alliance Rangers, Captain Terro, Jabba the Hutt (yep, he's not included in the expansion named for, and Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker! Each of these sees a token included in the Jabba's Realm expansion, however, so you're able to play them in the missions. It is worth noting that the figure packs include new skirmish cards, agendas, etc that can only be had there.

Speaking of, lets touch on the components for a moment.

The cards are split between standard sized and mini, and are decently heavier than average card stock. I've talked before about sleeving your cards, and I stand by that here. They're bound to see a lot of gameplay, and thereby handled quite a bit, so you'll want to go that one extra step to prolong their life.
The cardboard tokens and map pieces are - as per usual for FFG - above the usual standard and should hold up very well under repeated plays.
But here's the real gold : the figures.
These things are ridiculously detailed and boast some mighty impressive sculpts, considering the price point of the sets. There's some issue with the occasional spear or light saber being a bit bent, as this is a softer plastic, but this is easily remedied by dipping the bent/warped piece in hot water, reshaping it, and then running it under cold water.
The components all fit back in the box really well, including the larger map tiles. I wish FFG would jump on the bandwagon of including a few plastic zip baggies for the smaller tokens and chits in their games as other companies are beginning to do.

So that's the good news.

What's the bad news?

Well, the side missions can drag the overall campaign out a little too long. The core set campaign is long already, with many players commenting that it's possibly too long. I've heard complaints of losing the story, spending too much time on missions that really don't affect the overall story-arc, or, worst of all, losing interest in the game entirely!!

Jabba's Realm, at a brisk campaign length of just four missions, could potentially be played through in an afternoon!

Another issue is that the game overall can be "swingy". What this means is that you're doing well, when suddenly your luck bottoms out and all of your work seems to be for naught. It's something that's really difficult to recover from. Right now it seems neither side is immune to this. Unfortunately this expansion does little to mitigate this, as the game can quickly turn into a "run for the objective" affair, denying your Imperial friend any kind of meaningful interaction.

Set up time can really be a problem.
The tiles are all numbered, and each map lists out the tiles required by number. If you don't have your tiles organized in some fashion it can take a bit to sort out the ones you need. I suggest mitigating this by pulling the required map tiles before your gaming session.

Lastly, I sometimes hear grumbling that it's really luck based. This complaint stems from the dice system used for battles, and I tend to agree. One bad dice roll and you can pretty much tell which way that particular mission will go. I will add the caveat that, if you view this from a role-play point of view (as I tend to do, playing it out very cinematically), the drawbacks become just as fun, as thematically the Rebels weren't always winning or even accomplishing their goals. This makes for a far more dynamic gameplay experience, but can be a trifle off-putting to folks who are used to a more traditional "win/loss" mechanic.

Imperial Assault overall is swamped with the SW theme, but never moreso than with this expansion. Returning us to familiar locales, we finally get a real taste of the "scum and villainy" Obi-Wan warned Luke of in Episode 4.

That's it for this review. Thanks for reading and if I'm not chucked into Jabba's Rancor pit, I'll see ya next time!

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