In Star Wars: Rebellion, two players take on the role of either the Rebels or the Empire in a game of grand strategy. They will issue orders, move troops, run secret missions and play out events in their own mash-up of the original Star Wars trilogy.
Wedge Antilles, expert pilot of the rebellion, leads in a small fleet to the skies above Rodia, a Jungle Planet on the outer rim of the galactic map. Why? Because, there in the immense blackness of space, lies the Empire’s Death Star. The Rebels have recently got hold of the plans required to destroy it. After a ferocious and explosive dogfight, Wedge’s X-Wing is still alive thanks to the tactical acumen of the fleet’s commander, Han Solo. Wedge dives towards the Death Star, Proton Torpedoes armed, and takes the shot to put an end to the Empire’s deadliest weapon.
And he… misses.
Moments later, after Chewbacca lead a daring raid on an inner Empire planet leaving only a few troops at the hidden Rebel base, Emperor Palpatine leads a fleet and touches down on Mygeeto, a crystalline and snowy trading hub. There the imperial army discover the undefended base, taking out the few heroes that remained and destroying the rebellion once and for all. Just like that, hope is extinguished and the galaxy falls into a state of subjugation.
If the above retelling of our recent playthrough of Star Wars: Rebellion sounds exciting, that’s because it was exactly that – a thrilling denouement to a four-hour game played over two sittings. Brilliantly cinematic, strategically deep and consistently nail-biting, Rebellion rewards you for learning its rules and nuances by delivering a sweeping narrative borne of your own making.
In Star Wars: Rebellion, one player acts as the leader of the Rebels, with a hidden base on one of the galaxies many planets. The other player is in charge of the Empire, building scores of ground troops and capital ships, invading systems in the hunt for the Rebel base. While there is a huge asymmetry in the strategy of each side, the actions and decisions you will be taking are fairly similar.
A turn begins with each player assigning their leaders (famous and not-so-famous characters from Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader to Mon Mothma and Grand Moff Tarkin) to either a particular mission or project, with the project remaining hidden. Then, each player in turn either reveals and resolve one of their missions, or uses an unassigned leader to move one of their fleets to an adjacent system, perhaps triggering combat. Some missions autocomplete, while some can be opposed by their opponent. These are resolved by chucking some dice, and taking into account any modifiers each particular leader may have. For instance, Princess Leia is strong when attempting Diplomacy or Intel missions, while Darth Vader is obviously a good shout when attempting a Combat one.
Combat is initiated whenever opposing ships or ground troops (often both) are in the same system. Player may add leaders to provide access to tactics cards, which provide re-rolls or other small buffs such as the ability block damage or discard other tactic cards for extra hits. It’s simple and does the job, but unexciting and, depending on the size of the battle, a little exhausting. There is a maximum cap on the amount of dice you can roll (which discourages gathering together huge armadas), but you feel this system is a little underdeveloped compared to the rest of the game. That said, if you don’t focus on it too much, the lack of depth in the combat does mean the other elements of the game come to the fore, and these are what really provide the narrative depth.
After each player has used up all their leaders (through being assigned missions or opposing them, or moving troops / heading up combat), they then get to gain some resources (obtuse rectangles, triangles and circles of varying colours), build ships, recruit new leaders and draw new cards. The resource economy is another nuance players become aware of quickly, as the rarest resources build the best ships. The Rebel player in particular has to decide if it is worth the effort to ally, and then protect, such precious planets.
There are, of course, delicious layer of Star Wars in almost every detail. Missions play out in glorious cinematic overtures, from the simple act of Emperor Palpatine stepping on a planet’s surface and immediately subjugating its populace, to Chewbacca leading a a raiding party on a nearby imperial facility. It’s Star Wars, but not as you know it. The miniatures provided are plentiful, tiny versions of classic screen machines such as tie fighters, X and Y Wings, as well as stormtroopers and AT-ATs.
This might overwhelm the casual board gamer – there are plenty of rules, although the beginner set-up does eliminate some of it in the name of accessibility. There might also be the odd anti-climax; the end-game is either the imperials finding and destroying the rebel base (an exciting hidden-movement-esque chase!) or… the rebel loyalty marker reaching the same spot as the turn tracker (not as exciting). There is also the length of the game, which can span 2-4 hours depending on your familiarity with the game. Although splitting this up into two or three sessions almost feels even more like you’re creating your own trilogy, especially if you happen to have a break just after an excessively nervy mission or combat.
However, this is not a rock-up-to-the-local-shop kind of game. This is a game you buy, knowing the first 1-2 times you play it you won’t fully understand how best to approach it. It’s a game you come back to against the same opponent, perhaps playing the same side, perhaps playing different sides, so you can get better in comprehending how all the systems interlink. It’s a game you want to come back to to try something new, to play with the misdirection and bluffing elements that are not immediately obvious, to create your own Star Wars history.
There might not be another game – save for X-Wing, perhaps – that really embraces the Star Wars IP and lets it drive every design decision. This will absolutely appeal to fans of the series, and if you’re not, then it should appeal to you if you’re just a fan of bloody good board games. It’s another shining example of how magical an evening or two around the dining table can really be.
Now it’s your turn!
If you’d like to find out more about the game, we also discuss it in our podcast, in Episode 7: Why Do We Board Game?