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Star Wars Rebellion Review – Epic Asymmetrical Gameplay

I’m enough of a Star Wars and Fantasy Flight fan that Star Wars Rebellion was easily a day one purchase for me.  In fact, it’s been a long time since I pre-ordered a game and I was quite happy when it was delivered to my door.  Having to wait four days until my game group’s next game night was the hardest part for me.  After playing two rounds of the game I went online to find comments from the gaming community on Rebellion and I was surprised to find a good amount of them were negative.  After playing more and studying the game at length, I have my review, and an explanation of why I think so many gamers found this game lacking….

My thoughts on Star Wars Rebellion

If you know me it’s not too much of a surprise that I love Star Wars Rebellion.  It’s an epic game with a steep learning curve.  Even after you are familiar with Rebellion, it will still take an evening to play while you and your friends joke and laugh, as I hope you always do with your game group.  I wouldn’t recommend playing Rebellion with people you just met, such as at a game convention or game meetup though.  For me I feel that the time involved in playing a round of Rebellion is best done with close friends, but that is likely just my personal style of social awkwardness that creates that opinion.

The game’s timing, tactics, random dice rolls and combat all work together very well to create tension for both players as they try to achieve their different objectives.  The Empire player is trying to find and destroy the Rebellion base while the Rebels are trying to hold out against the Empire until their galactic influence is enough that the Empire loses control of the Galaxy.  The asymmetrical gameplay is a HUGE draw for me and although it is what I would consider a ‘light’ amount of asymmetrical options, Rebellion adds in different thematic cards for missions and characters to give each faction a distinct feel.

One thing that I enjoy is that no matter which faction you are, you feel at all times that you are losing the game.  Both players/teams feel this way.  It’s actually quite comical to look up from your mission cards as you are trying to choose, assured of a massive loss no matter what you do, and ask your opponent(s), “How bad do you feel you are losing right now” and hear them say what you are thinking…….”This is impossible.”  Well….I can assure you that one faction always wins this game.  You have to build up to a win…slowly…..a lot slower than you may be used to in other similar games.  The way that Star Wars Rebellion pulls off this epic buildup inside of a 3+ hour game creates an immersive and tense experience that is a marathon you need to be willing to run.

The mechanic I enjoy most is the multiple different ways that you can use your characters in Rebellion.  It is not enough to just slap down mission cards facedown and then place a character on each one.  You have to think about who you should leave back to block your opponent(s) from doing what they want to do, and who to hold back to move your forces around the board.   Additionally, when recruiting a new character you get a thematic Action card that can shift your strategic focus around this character.   Properly utilizing your characters is a critical part of the game and you will find that you need to commit to unusual mid-turn strategic changes in response to what your opponent(s) just did on their turn adding to the ever-changing path of your eventual loss or defeat.

In all of this though, you never feel like you are out of control of what is happening.  When you employ a strategy during the game, the feedback from your opponent and the game is almost immediate, you will know if you are on the right path or not.  Combat can be a bit random (with dice rolls and a shared tactics deck) but in general at the end of a large battle, or the game itself, it will be pretty clear as to why one side won or lost.  Due to the critical nature of strategic play in Rebellion, if you have some “Analysis Paralysis” type players in your group, you may be in a bit of trouble if you are trying to keep the game under four hours.

I personally enjoy a more strategic game and so I can only say that for me, I think Star Wars Rebellion is amazing.  I’ve played a handful of games that are similar in size and execution, but as a Star Wars fan I gotta say….yeah….. Fantasy Flight got me fair and square on this one, I recommend it.  Also…. funny things happen:

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That one time that Soontir Fel captured Jan Dodonna on Mandalore, that was in the movies, right?

So….what about those that say the game is terrible?

Now, when I say that comments are very negative I am not talking about reviews.  Game Reviews from websites, writers, and game creators tend to be very positive.  (I am guilty of this as well)  The negativity I am seeing is from the general gaming community; forum posts, facebook, twitter, etc.  People exclaim that it’s impossible to win with the empire while others lament that the rebellion is too hard to play.   There are comments that the game can end in one or two turns because you can’t hide the Rebel base well while others say that you can never find the base as Empire.

Well, I think this is due to an issue that you don’t see in a lot of games that are being published right now; Rebellion is not the kind of game you can sit down, lightly read the rules, and then do well in during your first playthrough.  So many new games tout “simplistic, easy to learn rules” (and are AMAZING games) that sometimes its hard to wrap your head around a game that you not only need to know all the rules very well to play, you also need to know what is possible for your faction and your opponents faction to be able to win the game.  This is a lot like tournament-style games such as Netrunner, Magic: the Gathering, X-Wing, Warhammer, etc.  You have to know what you are doing AND what is possible for every other player to be playing in the community to do well in these kinds of games.  Fantasy Flight makes some of the best tournament-able(?) games among everything out there and if you are familiar with their style you can definitely see it in Rebellion.  If you want to win at this game, you need to study the game.  I think some of the negative commentary you may see around Rebellion reflects a gamer mindset that does not like tournament-style play.  Hey, big shocker: Not every game is for everyone.

My one issue….

This is going to be a pretty weak negative comment because I’m gonna say it and then immediately backtrack:

I’m not a big fan of games that are two player games that then tack on “teamplay” rules so they can put “2-4 players” on the side of the box.  Star Wars Rebellion did this for sure.  It’s a 2 player game…..It has only 2 sides.  The rules for 4 player essentially can be broken down to “The other player ‘controls’ half the forces and holds half the cards.”   This to me is the dumbest most ham-fisted way of creating teamplay inside of a game and I’ve seen it show up in a number of games recently.  I can’t remember what game did this, but there is a 2 player game where the rules for 4 players is that the extra player holds the cards.  Why not have a 6 player variant where the third player on the team is the one that draws the cards from the deck and hands them to the second player?  Where does it end?

And……onto my backtracking:  So……In Star Wars Rebellion, in my game group this actually kinda works.  The way my game group plays games (very much a social gaming style) Rebellion is a much better 4 player game than a 2 player game.  We play as two teams of two (4 player) and we don’t worry about who controls what, we discuss our strategies in hushed voices to each other and try to crush our opponents. Then we laugh when our plans are wrecked or if our tactic unfolds perfectly as we torment the other two players.  We don’t play “One person controls Space combat and the other controls Ground combat” as the rulebook states, but we play the whole Empire or Rebellion as a two person team that works together to come up with the best plan.  Again, I doubt that Rebellion would be a good multi-player game if you weren’t playing it with close friends.

Should it be in your collection?

If you were in my game store and you pulled Star Wars Rebellion off the shelf and asked me if it was a good game, I would ask you:

  • Do you like Epic Games that take 3+ hours to play?
  • Are you ok with not really knowing every tactic/strategy in the game the first time you play?
  • Can you think long term in the context of a long game, building up to a final push for victory?
  • Are you into Star Wars?  (and if not, get the heck out of my store!!)
  • Have you played (and enjoyed) other Fantasy Flight Games?
  • This game says up to 4 players, but 4 players is team play, would that fit in your game group?

 

If you answered Yes to most of these, then Star Wars Rebellion will likely fit well in your game group.  The game has a hefty price tag (MSRP: $100) so you may want to discuss with your friends which one of you should be buying this one…..just get the person that is a good painter and takes care of their possessions well ;p.  For our group, I can see that Star Wars Rebellion will get into our normal rotation for sure.

David Gerrard

@dagerr

 

One thought on “Star Wars Rebellion Review – Epic Asymmetrical Gameplay

  1. I loved your review. I will be getting this game soon, as I love the Star Wars universe, and this looks like they finally got something right with a boardgame version.

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