If you want to sing out...
Music is the sound of human emotion
Star Wars: Rebellion has been making waves in the gaming world lately. It is Fantasy Flight's latest release of Star Wars themed games which borrows mechanics from Eclipse, Twilight Struggle and even chess. Outshining its fantastically-executed artwork is it its two armies of miniatures including 3 Death Stars (one of which is under construction!). Personally I like the Star Destroyers best (I've always been a sucker for them), but they are all very cool.
Best with 2 players, SW:R is a strategy war game where the Rebels are trying to survive long enough on their hidden base to generate a political atmosphere in the galaxy such that the demise of the Empire is inevitable. On the other hand, the Empire is trying to find the hidden rebel base and destroy it as fast as possible, thus crushing the Rebellion forever. Though not a fast paced game, it offers lots of player interaction and awards the win to the player who out-thinks, out-maneuvers, and out-wits their opponent.
As a guy who got a Star Wars tattoo at the tender age of 22, I'm going to be a little bias with regards to the theme. It's Star Wars for Yoda's sake! How can anything themed Star Wars be bad?!?
OK, OK, not everything Star Wars is a home run. And thankfully Dink Dink Mr. I'm Stupid doesn't make an appearance. In fact, the majority of the characters, planets, and situations lend themselves from the original trilogy. There are a few references to the prequels or expanded universe (particularly system/planet names because they needed 30 or so of them), but that's it.
The game play often ties nicely into Star Wars cannon, but isn't restricted to it. For example, the Rebel's Luke Leader can seek out Yoda on Dagobah and get upgraded to the Jedi Luke Leader which is more obviously powerful. But any leader can do that and get an upgrade, it doesn't need to be Luke (though Luke's upgrade is better). Likewise, the Death Star can blow up Alderaan, but it can also blow up any any other planet. So, you aren't trying to play out the story line. Instead, you are creating an alternative history in the Star Wars universe and will sometimes get a bonus if your story matches up with the cannon. I've actually seen players, for the sake of nostalgia, make less-than-optimal moves simply to follow cannon.
The theme of the Star Wars Rebellion is perfectly melded into every aspect of the game. Even the end game triggers are perfectly aligned with the story. The Empire wins if it discovers the hidden Rebel Base and conquers (or destroys) the system. Thus, the Rebels receive such a blow from which they can not recover and the Empire is free to continue its rule. The Rebels win if their Reputation Maker on the turn track meets the Turn tracking marker. If the Rebels hide long enough, the Turn Marker will reach the Reputation Marker by default. However, they can speed up that process by gaining Reputation from completing Objectives (which are mostly focused on hindering the Imperial machine). Thus, when the markers meet, the Rebels have garnered so much sympathy among the galaxy that the Empire can no longer control it and it falls apart.
With a MSRP of $100, SR:R is well out of the price range of the casual gamer. Granted, it can be found for as low as $75 (+shipping) at the time of this writing, but it is still an expensive game. I paid about $85 (shipped). It is clear why the price is high: lots of miniatures and Disney licensing fees. And speaking as one who used to buy everything under the sun with Star Wars printed on it (including empty chip bags), the power of that brand is great. So, the ultimate question for many of you reading this review is: "Is the hefty price worth it?"
In a word: probably.
As a game goes, its a good game and it will get a fair amount of game play in the next year. That being said, if it had been themed Lord of the Rings, I would have passed on it. Star Wars fans will enjoy how the game play relates to the things they know and love. Non Star Wars fans won't have the same connection. It really depends on how heavy of a SW fan you are and your level as a gamer. I have come up this handy little formula to help you decision:
Star Wars Fan + heavy boardgamer = Worth the money
Star Wars Fan + light boardgamer = Probably worth the money
Non-Fan + heavy boardgamer = Iffy on being worth the money and only if you like strategy war games
Non-Fan + light boardgamer = Not worth the money
Finally, I don't see this game becoming collector's gold in 10 years. There are simply too many other Star Wars themed boardgames out there and I don't see mint copies of Star Wars Monopoly commanding high prices on eBay.
Game play can be summarized as a mixture of chess, Twilight Struggle, and Eclipse. The core goal of the game is area control: the Rebel player is trying to control his/her single system where the Rebel Base is hidden and the Empire is trying to take over as much as possible in order to find it. Another important area control element is the ship/troop production which is directly related to areas controlled (called Loyal or Subjugated in SW:R) (think Eclipse).
Each player has a number of "Leaders" that they use to perform actions and how the players utilize their Leaders is the core strategy of the game. Leaders can be attached to "Missions" which are ostensibly events that are either good for the player attempting them or bad for the opponent (think Twilight Struggle). The opponent also has the opportunity to oppose those events with Leaders of their own. Of course, different Leaders are better for some Missions than others, so choosing wisely is key. You can also assign Leaders to battles and, again, choosing the right one is important (some are better in Space, some better on the Ground).
Combats are similar to those in Eclipse or other war based games where you roll dice and assign damage. Each combat consists of two sub-battles that are occurring at the same time but are resolved separately (think the space battle above Endor and the ground battle on Endor occurring at the same time). First the ships in space resolve their combat, then the ground troops resolve theirs. After one round, each player has the option to retreat. If neither chooses to do so, another round of combat commences. This continues until all of the units from one side are destroyed.
So, game play largely consists of assigning your Leaders to actions, whether they are Missions or moving troops and battling. The order in which you perform those actions is meant to most effectively control certain systems in a certain order, confuse or hinder your opponent, and to react to opponents actions.
Parts & Quality
Living in NYC where apartments are small and a lot of people only have coffee tables, boardgamers often play at gamer friendly places like Whole Foods where large tables and lots of ready-made food are available. I have played 100's of games dozens of times at various Whole Foods around Manhattan and can say that no other game has gotten more attention than SW:R. Last weekend no less that 10 people (mainly parents with their small children) stopped by and gawked at the board covered with little Star Destroyers, AT-ATs, X-Wings, Y-Wings, and (of course) Death Stars.
Therefore, of course, I must say the show stopper is this game is its componentry of little ships and soldiers. Each one is extremely detailed down to the separate windows of the TIE Fighter's forward view. When all lined up together beside the board it really looks like two miniature armies reminiscent of the opening scenes of Return of the Jedi in the Death Star. The Imperial units are grey and the Rebel units are light cream making them very easy to see separately while pile onto the board.
All of that said, there are some production issues it seems with the manufacturer. Right out of the box, my copy had a TIE fighter with the wing torn off. Also, when assembling the Death Stars, particularly the Death Star under construction, the two halves didn't quite line up. It was like the plastic was taken out of the mold too soon and the warm plastic sagged a little before hardening. Frankly, it was a bit disappointing. If a publisher is going to command a premium for a game with loads of miniatures, they better not be defective. I've also seen other reports of missing components and warped boards. Not good.
Another issue with the components are how the Leaders fit into their stands with respect to the Leader rings. The Leaders are cardboard rectangles and slide vertically into little plastic stands. They fit in snugly, but there are occasions when you need to add a cardboard ring around the plastic stand. The problem is you can't get the ring onto the stand without taking the leader token out, putting the ring on the stand, then returning the leader token back to the slot. This causes quick and destructive wear on the Leader token. I've seen a few options online to mitigate the wear and tear issue, but have yet to try one. The fact is that there a design problem with how it works.
Another odd thing is the box is HUGE for no reason other to be large. But you can cut down the box should you desire.
In the end, the parts are way cool, but there are some quality issues.
In an age when Kickstarter is hemorrhaging boardgames with top notch art quality (but mediocre game mechanics...), it is hard to stand out from the crowd when it comes to shelf appeal. Granted I'm a bit bias due to my Star Wars tattoo, but I think the art designers did a fantastic job with SW:R. Unlike a lot of Star Wars branded stuff that simply use stock stills from the films, SW:R chose to use artistic representations for everything including the box, rules, and all of the cards. Thus, all of the pictures look more like drawings than photos, but characters still look clearly like the original actors. I'm not sure if it's original artwork, but it adds a certain amount of respectability to the design process and shames the artwork of games that simply slap on the same photos we've all seen a hundred times on the cards.
The cards are well designed and easy to read and follow. One minor beef I have is about the Objective cards which have the title of the card on the bottom and the game text on the top. Since every card in the game (and all cards ever for that matter) follow the Title-on-Top-Text-on-Bottom format, I often find I pick up my hand of them and find am reading it upside down. It's not a big deal, but it has a feeling of a college-level design choice (aka. being different simply for the sake of being different).
Regardless, I like how everything in the box has a nice Star Wars-y feel to them. The names and text are all relevant to the theme and game play thus making for a solidly designed game.
Teaching & Learning
I learned the game largely by reading the rules since there wasn't much online content at the time. The game comes with 2 booklets: "Learn to Play" (LP or L2P) and "Rules Reference" (RR). The former is meant to be read first and gives a pretty clear walk through of the game and the rules. I found it quite helpful and easy to read. The RR is a glossary of rules (complete with index) for referencing the nitty-gritty details of the game and is meant to be used while playing (and will see lots of it the first few games you play). Both are quite comprehensive, though, as one would expect, there are already Rules threads with questions popping up here on BGG.
Surprisingly, the rules to SW:R are not that complicated and most of the complicated ones deal with combat. Explaining the three Phases of the round is straight forward enough: you both choose your Missions, you both attempt your Missions and/or have battles, then you clean up for the next round. You do this until one of two things happens: the Rebel base is captured or time runs out for the Imperials. Simple. OK, so it's a bit more complex than that, but teaching the game can be done in 20 minutes easily and can be done while setting up. The combat sequence takes a bit of explaining, but it's really just a sequence of steps that can be followed straight out of the rule book or off of a player reference. Further, if there is an experienced player in the game, it's explanation can be delayed until it becomes relevant.
The complexity of the game comes in how to out guess your opponent. Choosing of what Missions to attempt, what Leaders to use on Missions, how many leaders to hold in reserve, and when to attach and when to hold back. The core of the game is very chess like in that sense and, like space chess, leaning the game is easy, learning how to win it is an art form (unless you are a Wookie).
Because SW:R is ostensibly a 2-sided (i.e. 2-player) game, there are going to be times when a Jedi is going to playing against a moister farmer. I've done it myself. In my experience, it makes sense to put the new player on the Imperial side for 2 reasons. First, this game requires secret knowledge to be held by the Rebel player, so it will be hard for him/her to ask questions about the mechanics of the Rebel's game, such as when he/she should reveal the base, without divulging secret information. Because there is less hidden information from the Imperial's perspective, that player can ask questions more freely and not reveal anything significant. Second, and more importantly I feel, is the Rebel side needs to be sneaky and coy, which is hard to do when you're learning the rules and strategies at the same time. I played a team game as the Imperials against a fairly green Rebel team. They really struggled during the first few rounds when the Rebels are seriously outnumbered and it was soon very obvious where the base was hidden. The game resulted in a crushing loss by the Rebels and not a win for Star Wars: Rebellion from their perspective. Thus, I think it would be more fun for new players to feel the overwhelming power of the Empire, even if they don't find the base.
The bulk of games I normally play are heavy Euros like Tzolk'in, Agricola, Lords of the Waterdeep and Argent. These games require significant planing and efficiency of actions if you want to win. Further, even minor mistakes early can be catastrophic to your game. SW:R doesn't have this level of weight. The decisions, while important, aren't about maximum efficiency, especially from the Rebels' perspective. The strategy for the Rebels is to be sly and evasive; to poke at the Imperial fleet, but not with the goal of defeating them (this should be obvious from the number of miniatures in the Imperial supply verses the Rebel supply which is close to a 2 to 1 ratio).
If you are an Eclipse (or even Small World) player, you'll excel on the Empire's side. You will be focused on building ships, deploying ships, and taking over everything near you. The strategy for the Imperials is to search the galaxy and be poised to attack at the right spot when the Rebel Base is found.
In the end, I'd call this a medium weight game because there's just not that much you must concentrate on at any given time, maybe leaning heaver if both players are evenly matched. Though the strategies are different between the two factions, I feel they are about the same weight as far as that goes.
I always feel like I need to address the chance of AP in my reviews. In heavy Euros, AP is generally reserved for having to think through all of the options available to you and how best to utilize them. This is not the case in SW:R. Instead, AP here is almost always based on "what do I think my opponent is going to do." Should I attack or not? Is the base here or over there? Thus, there is a little bit, but not at a level that cripples the game-flow.
Luck & Chance
Despite being a me-verses-you game, there is a fair amount of chance and luck in the game. With the exception of your first game where the rules recommend you use a specific layout of systems, the initial setup of the Imperial and Rebel loyal systems is randomly drawn from a deck of cards. I guess that could go your way or not, but it's not a big game changer. In the end, the Empire will have to spread like weeds regardless.
Also, there are several decks each player draws from: Mission cards, Leader cards, location cards, etc... The luck of the draw can certainly help or hurt your side's cause, but I've never felt that I've gotten completely screwed or completely helped by the cards I'm holding. The feelings have been more like, "Sweet! That's cool!" or "Eh... I'll probably be discarding this at some point." Just to prove the point, late in a game when the Rebels were moving their base there were only only 9 cards left in the Probe Deck and the Empire very spread out. This means that there were only a few systems they could legally move to and those cards had to be drawn from the Probe Deck. Still of the 4 cards they drew, surprisingly, 3 of them were legal options for the new Rebel Base.
However, any time you add dice to the game, you are adding a good deal of chance to the game. During combat, like the combat in Eclipse, you are rolling different colored dice. The more ships you have, the more dice you roll (to a maximum of 10 total). In that respect, you can manage your expectations of winning or losing fairly well but you are still at the mercy of the dice. A solid roll can see a weaker force rout an otherwise stronger force, so the Force still needs to be on your side.
In the end, despite the chance and luck involved in the game, solid strategies are going to win you the game, not good rolls or draws.
Since you are direct conflict with the other player in a chess-like way, this game is all about that type player interaction. The out thinking and out maneuvering of your opponent is key to winning this game. You are in constant interaction with the opponent's ships, leaders and systems. Whether it is the Rebels trying to hinder the Imperial war machine causing systems to slip through its fingers or it is the Empire capturing and interrogating Rebel leaders, there is no stop to the interaction between the players.
Downtime & Waiting
In 2-player games is there is usually little downtime and SW:R is no exception. Aside from reading cards for the first time or rule checking, action in the game moves fairly quickly. The only slow down I've experienced where one player is simply waiting for the other is during the Assignment Phase at the beginning of a round when the players must choose which Mission cards they want to use that round and which Leaders to place on them. First the Rebels choose, then the Imperials. This Phase can take a few minutes because it's when you are deciding your strategy for the round and committing resources to it. This is when a lot of the tough decisions are being made and is most likely time for AP to take a hold.
Another waiting period is during Deployment at the very end of a round. Again, Rebels deploy Units first, then the Imperials deploy; thus, one player is waiting for the other to make decisions, but I find Deployment doesn't take as long as the Assignment Phase.
Expect your initial game to take a few hours (like 5 or 6). My first game (my opponent's second) took us a whooping 6 hours to set up and play. Even though I had read the rules twice and he had played once before, there was a lot of time spent rule checking, reading the cards then discussing interpretations, and executing the mechanics of the game. Any time there are new cards with text involved never seen before, games always tend to lag as people read them and discuss how that text fits in the context of the base rules.
However, by the 2nd and 3rd games I played sped up significantly. There aren't a lot of cards in the game so after 2-3 plays you'll have them largely in your memory. Also, the Refresh Phase speeds up to the point that it only takes 2-3 minutes plus Deployment Time. I'd say two players who know the rules reasonably well can setup, play, and put away the game in 3.5 hours without problem. Because a lot of the game is out thinking your opponent (like chess), I have found players who struggle with committing to a strategy will slow the game down as they hum-and-haw over decisions. But this isn't unique to this type of game and gentle prodding to hurry up (or a game clock) can be effective.
This is the question of the day, if you ask me: How replayable is this 2-player game? One of my litmus tests for replayability is are you faced with new or different challenges each time you play. Remembering that the way to win from the Rebel's perspective is different than that of the Imperial's, SW:R offers two unique ways of playing. This means if you get bored playing one faction, you always play the other faction for an entirely different game.
The "Learn to Play" manual recommends that you follow a "First Play" setup and to follow a couple of special rules while you run through your first game. It is important to understand that this setup is NOT replayable. It is too obvious where the Rebel Base is likely to be hidden. Perhaps an experienced player could replay it as the Rebel faction to help teach someone the game (the beginner playing the Imperials), but that's it. Moving to the "Advanced" setup, which really should be called the "Basic" setup, after your first play through is imperative to the replay enjoyment.
After your initial game, the initial layout of Loyalties (starting systems) is random. Thus, the game start will vary from game to game. From the Imperial's perspective, my strategy hasn't changed drastically from game to game. I get my initial 6 systems and start my search from them all the while trying to build my fleet and disrupt Rebel production.
From the Rebel's perspective, the randomness of the initial layout offers many different avenues. Where the initial Imperial systems are located on the board combined with how he deploys his starting units will determine the best location for the hidden Rebel Base. Then, how to proceed from there is very situational and being able to re-evaluate my strategies mid game is key. That said, the board isn't that big so I suspect that over a dozen or two games there will be only several basic beginning states from which decided strategies will be standardized. So, I suspect that the excitement of the game will decrease over time.
In the end, I've played several games thus far, mostly as the Empire and am still enjoying the Hell out of it. When I get board with the Imperials, then I have the Rebels to learn, so I'm not too worried about getting bored with the game in the near future. But, long term, I'm not seeing much diversity in the games. But, hey, people still love chess and it's the same every time.
Initially playing the Rebel side (especially using the First Game setup) will seem hopeless. I felt I had very few resources and had almost no options except the option available due to my current, meager resources. That felt VERY thematic since I suspect the Rebellion had to make due with what they had. It was stressful, but fun that way. Further, I wasn't getting anywhere close to completing any Objectives until the 5th after which I was able to get a couple one. That said, I still won the game because I was able to survive long enough. So, don't give up on the game if you play the Rebels and the Empire crushes you on your first game. Give it another chance.
Despite what other's say, this is a 2-player game and that's it. The rules for the 4-player version, much less the 3-player version, are so clunky that they seem like they were simply slapped on at the last minute so the box can sport the "2-4 Players" label. In short, in a 4 player game there are teams of 2. On each side, the duties and decisions are split between the 2 team mates (called the Admiral and the General). Even who gets to play mission cards, who draws tactic cards, and which Leaders the players can activate is split. The reason for this division in duties (aside from allowing 2 people to play a single role) is in a real military duties are split. For example, the Admiral controls the Navy (Space Units) and the General the Army (Ground Units).
However, IMO, in a game where a holistic strategy is important, having duties split like that is annoying and often is debilitating when reacting. One of the main rules of team play is the Admiral can only place some leaders and the General the others. Thus, if the Admiral uses up his Leaders early, he may not get to react to something the opponent does, even if the General has leaders left. Further, since secrecy of one's strategy is imperative (doubly so for the Rebels), having to discuss openly with your team mate in front of the your opponents is counter productive.
I mean, you can do the same thing with chess where one player controls the king's side of the pieces and the other player controls the queen's side, but it still doesn't make it a 4 player game.
I really like Star Wars: Rebellion and look forward to playing it over the next few months. The game play is exciting, especially with the Star Wars theme. When your game coincides with the Star Wars cannon, it feels like a win for both sides! The rules aren't cumbersome and the miniatures are loads of fun to play with. I also I like the head-to-head aspect. A lot of 2-player games aren't that great, but SW:R solidly hit that nail on the head.
I don't see this game becoming a classic by any one of its attributes alone, but the game play, the theme and the miniatures taken all together it certainly has a chance to make it one. I'm a bit iffy on it's long term playability due to the limited board and number initial setup options, but concede that one could say the same thing about chess.
In the end, SW:R was well worth the money and, even thought it won't become my favorite game ever (I'm a Euro guy), it will see a good number of plays amongst my gaming groups.
Good review, just Eclipse doesn't look like best for comparison where we can mention Twilight Imperium or War of the Ring.
If you want to sing out...
Music is the sound of human emotion
Good review, just Eclipse doesn't look like best for comparison where we can mention Twilight Imperium or War of the Ring.
That may be, but I haven't played either Twilight Imperium or War of the Ring and don't like to reference material I am unfamiliar with. I'll leave it to your comment to inform readers. Thanks.
- Last edited Thu Apr 21, 2016 7:29 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Apr 21, 2016 7:28 pm
In all fairness, there is really no legitimate comparison between SW: Rebellion and TI3. While it does scratch more or less the same itch for me, TI3 is A LOT of game. Far more than pretty much any game I've ever played. TI3 has diplomacy, intrigue, politics, tech trees, trading, etc. (and trust me, as a dedicated Hacan player, I LOVE the extra bits of TI3). Rebellion doesn't have all of that, but it also doesn't have the huge play time. I'd actually call Rebellion the middle ground between TI3 and Forbidden Stars.
And I love the review, but I wanted to point something out. You mentioned price multiple times, including blaming Disney for it. $100 is standard for games that come in this size box from FFG. Granted I've only seen licensed games come in this size box, but you better believe if they ever do a descent 3rd edition, it's coming in this box for a c note. Bear in mind that TI3 clocks in at $90 MSRP, and that game came out 11 years ago. Inflation is also a thing. Granted, TI3 does come with more stuff, but all the minis are the same for each faction (save on molds), the minis come on sprues (which I imagine saves some production $$), and the cards and board pieces feel lower quality. A hypothetical TI4 would either come in the "new" big box for $100, or still use the coffin, tie in some stuff from the expansions, and in my guess hit $120.
I'm just saying that I have no regrets dropping $100 on the game. I could have gotten it for $75 from Amazon, of course, but big games like this are a once a year expense for me, and the extra $25 was a "thank you" to my LGS. Sure, it's an expensive game, but a video game is $60 at retail, to say nothing of subscriptions or DLC. For a great social experience face to face with my friends, it's a price I am willing to pay.