Thursday, April 7, 2016

Star Wars: Rebellion - A Review

I figured I should share a review of Rebellion before I start discussing strategies for finding the Rebel base, or completing objectives against the might of the Empire.

Star Wars:  Rebellion is a turn based 4X-like strategy board game designed to capture the epic feel of the Galactic Civil War from Star Wars Episodes 4 - 6.  While it shows some similarities to games that I've played in the past, especially including FFG games, it is in many ways its own animal.  I am going to be writing about the games that I've managed to play so far, and what I've taken away from the game - both what I think the game will appeal to and frustrations with the system.

In a future article, my better half "Howlrunner" will be writing what she thought of the games that she played against me, and what she liked (and didn't like) about the games.  Full disclosure, I won the first game as the Empire, and she won the second game also as the Empire.  I also lost a 3rd game, playing with 4 players, as the Empire (though we played the multi-player team variant kind of wrong).

First Game:  (Biggs - Imperial vs Howlrunner - Rebel)

Initial setup for the Empire involved plans to go after the Rebel bases at Kashyyyk and Mon Calamari from their home base of Mandalore.  Ryloth also contained Rebel sympathizers, and a small contingent geared up on Sullust to deal with any Rebel forces there.  Howlrunner placed her starting forces in Mon Calamari, and we were off!

Things started slow, with me bringing the might of the Empire to bear on Kashyyyk first, and taking over the non-existent garrison.  I also spent most of my time using "Gather Intel" and "Research and Development" to narrow down where the Rebel base could be, and also to build up my hand of project cards.  While I never managed to get my hands on a "Superlaser Online", I did have a Super Star Destroyer in the build queue, and was pondering where to start a second Death Star.

Howlrunner frustrated my chances of moving on Mon Calamari by conducting "Sabotage" on my supply lines at Mandalore, and I realized after the fact that by opposing it, I was giving up my chance to move onward to take out Mon Calamari, which was a thorn in my side, bringing MC80s into the fight.  A few even popped out at Hoth to threaten (and destroy a Star Destroyer for an objective!) at Mustafar.

But then, a success!  Gen Dodonna had been captured attempting to infiltrate Mygeeto.  I was able to capture him fairly easily, and with the help of Col Yolarren, used an "Interrogation Droid" mission to force him to tell me three possible locations of the Rebel base.

Howlrunner thought for a moment, and finally told me "Illim, Kessel, and Hoth".  Narrowed to three, so that was good, but I had no way of telling which three.  Kessel was a problem, as I was stationed at Saleucami with a Death Star and a host of ships / ground troops, spoiling for a fight in Mon Calamari.  Mon Mothma had just turned Kessel to Rebel Loyalty, which I thought was a bit odd.  Now I had a real reason to go there, giving up Mon Calamari (and letting it build more MC80s) for 2 more turns at least.

Hoth was another problem.  Rebel ships had popped out there, but as a part of a mission.  They hadn't just "moved" there from an adjacent hidden base.  I had some forces headed into the area that were Massing at Sullust, but not enough to hunt it down immediately.

Illim was off by itself, though pretty close to my starting bases at Mygeeto and Mandalore.  Going after it meant wasting activations, and I didn't even have any forces in that area more than a lone Assault Cruiser, a pair of TIE Fighters, and a few Stormtroopers.

But no "Rapid Redeployment" was played, so I had a turn to prepare and hunt down what I could.  I had enough forces in my "1" queue to go after one of either Illim or Hoth, though Howlrunner would certainly be running for the hills if I guessed wrong.  A pair of AT-AT's, a few Stormtroopers, and enough Assault Carriers to get them there were coming up for next turn.

I decided Illim would be my bet, and I'd hit Kessel from Saleucami anyway, Mon Calamari can live for now, I guess.  All my deployment went down in Mygeeto, and the search was on!  Death Star into Kessel reveals...

Nothing.  Just the Rebel Trooper / Airspeeder that had been deployed there the previous turn.  It was a well played feint.  My 3 Assault Cruisers and massive ground army moved into Illim...

Rebel base found, and Rebel base sacked.  A pair of AT-AT's made short work of the base, Gen. Veers blew up the shield generator, and the Empire had taken the first victory of the game.

Lessons from the First Game:

The Empire definitely wins by finding and pouncing on the Rebel base, and it being located so close to an Imperial base made it very vulnerable once it was narrowed down.  Intel based missions were key to locating the base and the best ones of those involved having a Rebel captive.  An early capture and key missions sealed the deal, though Howlrunner did her best to misdirect me.  If it actually was on Hoth, she would have not only gotten off scot-free, but wasted the Empire's time in the process.

Howlrunner would probably tell you better than I did, but she said that she felt that the Rebels were in a bad shape the whole game, and that her only goal was to frustrate me - and to a large part she succeeded.  Trying to deal with the little problems that kept popping up prevented me from completing a lot of the goals that I had set out to do.

Second Game - (Biggs - Rebel vs Howlrunner - Imperial)

Switching sides, a new day and new strategies.  Much like before, the Rebels had Mon Calamari, Kashyyyk and Ryloth, and the Empire held Mandalore, Mygeeto, Corellia, Sullust, and Rodia.  The Empire set up mostly to deal with the Wookies, and a little bit more out in Rodia.  I set up most of my forces on Mon Calamari, figuring they'd last longer there, and give the Empire a good fight when they brought it to me, and hid my base on a little planet in the middle of nowhere, Hoth.

I played this game as a hiding game, sorting objectives with "Infiltration" and slowing Star Destroyer production by "Sabotage" of Corellia.  Lando was at one point captured, though rescued by Leia and Luke Skywalker (Jedi) who had come back from training with Yoda on Dagobah.  The Empire continued to scout for my base, sending lots of probe droids essentially every turn.

Then, it happened.  The Empire occupied Bespin and began building a second Death Star nearby Endor.  My base on Hoth was in serious danger, and I had a lot of personnel hiding there.

I knew this was my best chance to take out at least one Death Star, while it was still being built.  My first move was to cut off Imperial reinforcement from reaching it, by popping out my fleet from the Rebel base and liberating the sky around Bespin.  Then Gen Rieekan began an early evacuation, pulling all ground personnel away from the base to Dantooine.  The Death Star was isolated, unguarded, and under construction on Endor, and I would pounce on it next turn.

Hoth was successfully evacuated as I drew the best possible spot for the new Rebel Base - Fortress Mon Calamari!

Tragedy struck soon after, the Empire was able to capture Lando once more, and with "Retrieve the Plans" he was able to take the "Death Star Plans" I had worked to get into my hand and put them at the bottom of the deck.  Now he had a Death Star pointed at Mon Calamari, and I didn't have the plans to stop it.  But he didn't know quite where my base was, and I had a little bit of time to try and get another set of plans, or win with other objectives.  More MC80s popped out of the Rebel base to chase some Star Destroyers and claim a Victory in space.  An uprising in Mandalore liberated an occupied system.  2 spaces separated me from victory, and the Death Star was still sitting in Kashyyyk.  I had drawn 4 objectives, but none were very useful, so I put them back.

Lando, still in Imperial custody, was freed by an improbable source - he had a "Homing Beacon" hidden on the ship that rescued him.  I had to put him in the sector the contained the Rebel base... and that was it.  The Rebel base couldn't be anywhere else but the Mon Calamari fortress I had been building.

And the Emperor moved in first, landing troops on the ground, and losing, but revealing the base.  I had begun a Rapid Mobilization to get the Rebel fleet back in time to fight a fleet battle, but with it revealed I couldn't pull my ships back.  The base was blockaded by a bunch of Assault Cruisers, I had no probe droid cards left to run, 

The tragedy there, the Emperor lost the ground battle, to a Luke Skywalker (Jedi).  And I had put Return of the Jedi in the objective deck just one slot too low to have in my hand for that turn.  No game win for me, and the next turn the Death Star was there to end the Mon Cal insurrection for good.

Lessons from the Second Game:

Objective play, and focus on objectives is the way to go for the Rebels.  Hiding in an obvious location is good, if you actually have a way to defend it.  But if that way is taken away from you, you're a bit screwed.  I didn't really have a focus, but the Empire went whole hog on capturing leaders and Intel missions, which seemed to help them a lot as there wasn't a probe deck left at the end of the game.

Final Game (so far) - (Biggs / Chris - Empire vs Dan / New Guy - Rebels)

A team game, which all of us who had shown up to play Armada decided to play instead due to A) it being there, B) Dan buying a new copy of the game, and C) Chris being "too sick" to play his League Game.

Game setup:  Rebels on Bothawui, Mon Calamari, Naboo.  Empire on Sullust, Corellia, Mandalore, Salucami, Mygeeto.

Empire takes the Death Star and pops it down on Sullust, with an eye for Gungan Death.  Strong force on Saleucami to move on Mon Calamari.  Smattering of forces elsewhere.  Rebels set up their starting forces in Bothawui.  Ready to go.

Empire's play in this one, in collaboration between me and Chris, was to focus on occupation, and Superlasers.  Things Were Going To Blow Up.  We started a sweep of the core systems, taking a Star Destroyer on a joy-ride from Corellia to Ord Mantell, letting off Stormtroopers on the way.  Obiwan was encased in Carbonite for trying to fish for Death Star Plans, and the Death Star showed itself to be a technological terror, by blowing up Naboo.

Things were bleak for the Rebellion, though they continued to hide.  Wulff was able to discover that the Rebels were not in the Bespin / Hoth / Endor / Mustafar sector, and that narrowed things down considerably.  The Emperor did a show of strength in Dathomir, bringing Kashyyyk and Malastare into the fold.  Mon Calamari changed hands as Lando relocated the entire Imperial Garrison, freeing Old Ben in the process.

Otherwise things were going great!  Superlasers were ready to go online, and the Rebel base couldn't hide forever.  A second Death Star was already operational on Dathomir.  Finally, the first Death Star moved into position over Geonosis and said "Rebel base might be here, better blow it up".  Tarkin gave the word.

Ryloth at that point decided honesty was the best policy, and declared themselves for the Empire, revealing a hidden Rebel base.  Gen Rieekan had already ordered a Rapid Mobilization.

We figured our odds were good here.  There weren't many places that the Rebels could conceivably run that wasn't Imperial occupied or at least threatened.  Their base was empty now, and they still have 4 spaces to go to claim a win.

Not only did they complete 4 points of objectives the next turn, as Imperial forces ignored the Rebel forces already on the board to scour the galaxy for the newly hidden base, that base had been moved to Endor, literally the only location that was 100% safe that turn from an Imperial assault.

Victory to the Rebellion.

Final Thoughts:

Imperial Diplomacy was a fun way to play, and meshed well with the Missions we actually drew, but at the end of the game there were still a ton of Probe Droid cards left in the deck, which is what gave the Rebels a chance to wind up in Endor and safety.  Ignoring the Rebel forces for an entire turn also spelled our doom, as they were able to set up to complete multiple objectives they otherwise wouldn't have been able to take.  Overall, I think we did an okay job with a bad strategy, and then choked down the stretch.

I hope my writing captured the feel of the game - I had originally set out to describe the mechanics of the game and instead just described the things that happened.  Really, the game is mostly about that feel - capturing the epic sense of the galaxy.  It's not a game that you should play wanting to win, but a game you should play because you enjoy thinking, scheming, and bluffing your opponent.  As the Empire, you feel stretched too thin, too often.  You have so many things that you can do, and need to do, and while you have the resources to do any one or three of them, you just don't have the activations to do all of them.  As the Rebels, you are outclassed, and out built.  You have the resources to do maybe one thing, but the mobility to get those resources exactly where they need to be.  If the Empire is a hammer, you are a small dagger in the ribs.  The Empire needs to win fast, but the Rebels get better the longer they hang around.

As far as mechanics, the game most reminds me of Twilight Imperium.  It has the same "place a token to activate a system" mechanic, though instead of a token it is a Leader.  The Missions are a nice twist as well, with different leaders able to do different missions better than others (and Lando being basically able to help do anything, though not as well as someone specialized in that mission).  I think there's multiple articles worth of material just on leaders, missions, and recruitment strategies.

Advanced setup is also a fun part of the game.  The map may be static, but where things start certainly isn't, with random starting sites for Rebels and Imperials (though those sites are 3 / 5 for Rebels and 5 / 7 for Imperials) and starting loyalty for the Empire (2 of their 5 starting locations are "occupied" neutral, not actually loyal).  The Rebel base being literally able to start anywhere is a surprisingly fun mechanic, and I think it is important to ignore the "must start non-adjacent to an Imperial System" rule in the learning setup needs to be ignored immediately.  Knowing a lot of places the Rebel base couldn't be based on where the Imperial starting locations are really narrows down the game.

Combat... falls a bit flat.  More dice would have been nice for late game rolling, though you can just add a D6 and count 1 - 2 as misses, 3 - 4 as hits, 5 - direct hit, 6 - tactics.  I had one point where I was rolling 18 dice and got 7 tactics results, and ended with a fist full of cards.  For small engagements it is fun, and the tactics cards add to that, but if you are sending 3 star destroyers against 2 MC80s with assorted fighters, and then also have to fight a ground battle, the combat gets old pretty quick.  Not sure what they could have done to fix it short of adding more dice to the box, or going with some other combat system.

I think I've written enough for now.  Hopefully I can put some more out on this, and I need to write some more about Armada as well (and play some soon, with any luck!)  Until next time!


  1. Good write up. The most dice of any color you can roll during combat is 5.

    1. Roll Dice
    The player rolls dice matching the color
    and quantity of the attack values of all his
    participating ships or ground units. Each
    attack is limited to a maximum of five red
    and five black dic

    1. I see. I didn't catch that part of the rule. Good to know going forward.

  2. Regarding the Rebel objectives, remember they can only score 1 per Combat and 1 per Refresh phase. Should be really hard for them to pull off more than 1 or 2 objectives a turn.

    1. Guess that is another rule I missed. The Rebels definitely scored at least 2 in the refresh phase that last game. Good to know for the future.

  3. Nice, since I love Twilight Imperium, this looks like it'll be a fun game.

  4. Thanks for the review, this game looks like a lot of fun. I love how they have captured the asymmetry of the two sides so well with the different missions and victory conditions. Looks like a blast to play. Shame the combat is so clunky. Could you just do something like Axis and Allies instead?