Star Wars: Imperial Assault Wave 1 Review


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Posted by Michael on May 18, 2015

Fantasy Flight’s Imperial Assault was, for me at least, a tremendous disappointment. I felt that the game failed to capture the spirit of Star Wars in the way that X-Wing – one of the best games of the past decade – did so effectively. Mechanically, it was fine but the Descent 2.0 engine with pictures of Wookies and Stormtroopers is still the Descent 2.0 engine. The campaign offered some interesting possibilities but required an extensive commitment to see it through, the skirmish game felt limited and somewhat tacked on to the package. Yet here I am, five months on, still playing the game largely at the behest of some friends that absolutely love it and now I’m reviewing the first wave of Villain and Ally packs for Miniature Market’s review corner. I think Imperial Assault represents the most I’ve ever played a game that I’m not really that crazy about.

But I do love Star Wars, and regardless of my opinion of the game and its simplistic “theme equals pictures and card titles” approach, I still get at least a little kid-giddy at opening a package containing a Han Solo or IG-88 miniature. Each of these small-box expansions includes a figure or figures that replace cardboard tokens found in the base game along with a campaign mission, a skirmish map with two scenarios, and a handful of cards for both gameplay modes. If you’ll recall, the Imperial Assault base game gave you the Luke and Vader Ally and Villain packs “free” in the box, and these expansions are in line with what were included there.

Like those packs, these small-box expansions effectively replace placeholder tokens that were already in the base game, so it may not be quite accurate to call them expansions despite a little new content scattered across multiple SKUs. It feels like these packs complete rather than complement the base game yet they also do not feel essential at all. It feels like how DLC often does over in the video games world.

The psychology is almost irresistible, however- especially for a Star Wars fan like me that has spent a terrifying amount of money on licensed products over the past 30 years, even before figuring in X-Wing. Nobody wants to see a Star Wars game where there is no Chewbacca figure and he’s just a little cardboard disc. So Fantasy Flight shrewdly puts that figure and a couple of cards in a different package and sells it separately. It practically sells itself, and it’s probably smart marketing on their part regardless of your opinion on it. Yet Chewbacca is already in the game and other than a couple of cards, you wouldn’t miss much without the Ally pack. It’s up to you to decide, as the Bee Gees once musically asked, “how deep is your love?”

As far as new content goes, the main features are the campaign cards. If you’re buying these expansions for them, you are adding quite a lot of variety to the missions on offer. Additional reward and agenda cards are definitely welcome. But if you’re halfway done or almost done with a campaign and aren’t looking to start fresh, then there’s a limited utility there. I haven’t played most of the new scenarios on offer, but the ones I’ve played and looked at nicely highlight the figure or squad they are packed with. But they also don’t feel essential or very inspired. It’s the same old Descent-style missions again with Star Wars text. Cue John Williams? I don’t think so. Star Wars is more than that to me.

However, the additions to the skirmish game actually make these add-ons more worthwhile. Each pack includes new Command cards, which were sorely needed in the base game to increase the possibilities in squad and deck building. Having a little more to play with has made the skirmish game feel more viable, distinct and actually worth playing. And admittedly, it is nice to have an actual IG-88 figure instead of having that bad ass assassin droid relegated to a little cardboard disc. But there again it’s really a cosmetic thing.

Unfortunately, the new skirmish missions leave a lot to be desired. They are the usual capture-the-flag, king-of-the-hill, escape-the-map, activate-the-terminal kinds of fare not really very much different than those offered in the base game. Frankly, most players could likely come up with more compelling scenarios by throwing together a map and coming up with their own goals and special rules. There are a couple of decent ones – IG-88 comes with an especially good one where there is an automated laser turret that moves across the board and wipes everything out– but it still feels like skirmish is second fiddle to the big, long campaign game. Which is unfortunate because skirmish is much more accessible as a pick up and play affair.

Ultimately, if you never pick up these figures and can live with the cardboard tokens representing them (or if you proxy them with other Star Wars miniatures or whatever), you’ll probably get by just fine. The campaign game is already packed full of content as it is and the skirmish game really has a long way to go before it emerges as a compelling reason on its own to buy Imperial Assault. I like having the figures- especially Han and Chewie- and the expansion of skirmish at least points to a promising future but the rest of these feel completely non-essential at this stage. Particularly the General Weiss pack, which adds another outsized and obnoxious AT-ST to the game.

I can’t help but feel that these should have been in that first purchase of Imperial Assault that I made and it is disappointing that the first expansion round doesn’t actually offer all that much that is genuinely new. I suppose that’s coming in the Twin Shadows expansion. Which will, of course, have its own line of Villain and Ally packs to replace tokens in the base game. Boba Fett is on the box, but you have to buy his figure separately. How am I supposed to play this game without a Boba Fett figure? Yes, of course I’ll get in line for it. And so it goes, my strange affair with Imperial Assault.