Aug 13, 2018

Let's Play Star Wars: Rebellion

“My lord,” said Anakinn, “The Jedi Fjord men cast their magic openly. They are not such men as cut runes in the roots in the twilight, but rather they use their magic for prophecy and for healing. But the Seith-men cast dark spells and dissemble; and if they give men help, it is only because they expect that they will then help them.”
- Tattúínárdǿla saga, Chapter 12: Concerning the Secret Counsel of King Falfathinn

Back in May, we had the distinct pleasure of trying Star Wars: Rebellion: an epic board game that's kind of like War of the Ring, but in space.

There's a huge map, covering a bunch of systems outward from Coruscant, and a boatload of figures from stormtroopers to Death Stars, and of course, several decks of cards and piles of tokens. Below, the map.

The two sides have different objectives. The Empire has to find and destroy the secret rebel base; if the rebels survive long enough and gain enough prestige while doing it, they win. Both sides have their fleets and armies, but everything revolves around leaders: only they can move forces on the map or complete missions. This both limits the number of available actions and is great for theme, because you're never moving, say, a star destroyer to this square; you're sending Vader to Geonosis. The leaders all have unique abilities that affect how likely it is they'll succeed at missions or how effective they'll be as commanders, and they can be captured, converted or even frozen in carbonite.


Our first attempt would be a three-player game, which works the same as War of the Ring, with two players sharing control of the bad guys. Since I'm something of a fan of General Tagge (he was right about the Death Star!), I elected to play the role of the Imperial General, with my brother-in-law, a TIE Fighter veteran, joining me as the Imperial Admiral.

The Empire, of course, starts with a crushing military superiority, and we cheerfully made use of this, happily humming along to the Imperial March as we wiped out the rebel military. However, we were having no luck finding their base...

At one point, Princess Leia went on a mission to Mygeeto, which was either a ploy to draw us away from the rebel base, or a ploy to make us think it was a ploy to draw us away from the rebel base. However that was, we'd just recruited Boba Fett, so we sent him to capture her, and succeeded!

Soon, Tarkin's Super Star Destroyer and the Death Star we were building at Dagobah spooked the rebels into abandoning their base at Utapau, but now we had no idea where they were. Tarkin was at Geonosis; Vader and the Death Star were at Nal Hutta, wondering whether to head for Kessel or Tatooine; Tagge was looking for the rebels at Yavin; our forces on Mygeeto were stuck with no transports and we couldn't deploy them any because of a very inconveniently placed sabotage marker, and Colonel Yularen was getting nowhere interrogating Leia. Everything was threatening to unravel; by now, I was convinced that the rebel base was on Dantooine and we'd never make it there in time with enough forces. That is, until, guided no doubt by the Force, the Emperor personally led a single Imperial Assault Carrier and one unit of Stormtroopers to Malastare, where he found the newly relocated rebel base, and won us the game.

We made several mistakes, and no doubt played very unoptimally, but we had an absolutely tremendous time doing it. Even when you don't know what you're doing, the game is wonderfully Star Wars in its execution, and it really feels like an epic story unfolding. We simply loved it.


I also got the chance to try a two-player game over Midsummer, again with the first game rules as it was my opponent's first time playing.

I decided to utilize my previous experience when picking a base location.

I was determined to use the Rebel fleet aggressively and take the fight to the Imperials, drawing them as far away from my base as possible.

To that end, on my first turn, Mon Mothma secured the loyalty of Utapau, and I massed the fleet at Rodia. This drew an Imperial response immediately, with one fleet attacking Utapau and another subjugating Naboo.

It was time to go on the offensive. Jan Dodonna had been captured infiltrating Naboo, and Admiral Ackbar led the rebel fleet there to rescue him and liberate Naboo. Despite the Emperor himself commanding the occupation force, they were wiped out in the First Battle of Naboo.

That victory, however, would be short-lived, as Grand Moff Tarkin led the Death Star to Naboo. The rebels lost a Corellian corvette in the space battle, and while the rebel ground force managed to take down an AT-AT, they were wiped out by a devastating bombardment from the Death Star. There was nothing to do but fall back on Rodia, but the sacrifice was worth it: the Death Star was moving ever further from my base.

While the rebel fleet regrouped, I deployed some forces at Nal Hutta and scattered ground units at various systems like Kashyyk and Cato Neimoidia, which even got the Coruscant garrison moving. At this point, pretty much the entire Imperial fleet, bar a single star destroyer at Felucia, was east of Coruscant. Even better, I managed to hit a jackpot: using the Infiltration mission to churn through the objective deck got me the Death Star plans, and I drew General Dodonna's mission card, which allows you to attack a system with an Imperial ship in it with units from the Rebel base. My fleet had already destroyed half of the Death Star's fighter screen at Second Naboo; I now sent Chewbacca on a sabotage mission to blow up the last two TIEs, and the coast was clear. The Death Star's defenses shot down our Y-wing, but the two X-wings finished the job, and that's how Jan Dodonna blew up the Death Star.

Meanwhile, part of the Coruscant garrison had made its way to Alderaan, and the Imperial fleet at Felucia advanced to Dathomir, searching for my base. My fleet destroyed the Imperial ships at Toydaria, but we lost the ground battle. At this point, it was only a question of time until the Empire found my base, but I had high hopes that I had killed enough time to stop them from gathering enough forces to overrun it before the game ended. With that in mind, I used Rapid Mobilization to move the remnants of my fleet to the base.

Thus, when Moff Jerjerrod's task force found my base on Dantoiine, we wiped them out.

Now that the base was revealed, it was a question of time: would the Empire be able to mass enough forces to destroy the base before time ran out? It didn't look good, but they had one fiendish trick up their sleeve: Boba Fett captured Admiral Ackbar and delivered him to Darth Vader, who had him frozen in carbonite! This cost us one reputation and actually extended the game by one turn.

Still, even that wasn't enough: a huge Imperial force was bearing down on Dantoiine, but time ran out for them and the rebellion was victorious.

It was a damn near-run thing, but the rebels held out and we had a great time seeing it through. I should also mention that while none of the Imperial forces could reach my base in the last turn, what they did have time to do was convert Admiral Ackbar to the dark side.


As with War of the Ring, I think the three-player experience is excellent. With both games, though, I wish there was some incentive for the players on the bad guys side to not co-operate; a prestige tracker or something like that. Even without it, though, I think the three-player game offers the best possible combination of strategy and social interaction. Mind you, this doesn't mean the game isn't great fun with two players!

In my opinion, there are a couple of things that really elevate the Rebellion experience. First and foremost, theme. The game does a great job capturing memorable moments from the original trilogy, but in a freeform enough way that the people and circumstances around them can change: this time, Jan Dodonna destroys the Death Star. The leaders are really important for this, but so are the units: from a gameplay perspective, it's not necessary to have both AT-STs and AT-ATs, but it does wonders for theme. Also, the miniatures are excellent, and really contribute to the feel of the game.

Second, I can't see two games ever being exactly the same. There are at least five good choices for the rebel base location based purely on geography (astrography?), and that's without factoring in the psychological aspects. Similarly, the way the missions amd objectives come up will change games a lot; our second three-player game was completely turned around when we drew and succesfully played Homing Beacon.

More importantly, there's a great psychological game going on with the Imperials trying to guess where the rebel base is, and the rebels trying to guess where the Imperials think it is, and both trying to mislead the other, and I don't see this playing out the same way many times either. The psychological and social dynamics are an absolute treat.


We've also got a copy of the Rise of the Empire expansion, so we'll be returning to Rebellion later! For now, suffice to say that this is an absolutely tremendous game, and I'm looking forward to playing it many, many more times. It's like War of the Ring, but not nearly as stressful or complicated, while still being a wonderfully intriguing strategic challenge. It also seems to be excellently balanced: you can find threads on Boardgamegeek where people are convinced the rebels win every time, and another where someone sold their copy of the game because it's so boring when the Empire wins every time. All I can say at this point is that I've thoroughly enjoyed playing both, and I highly recommend this game.

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