Build Your Own Galactic Civil War

As the Star Destroyer chases Princess Leia’s Tantive IV ship across the space above Tatooine, the whole course of the Star Wars saga hangs in the balance. What if Leia isn’t captured? What if Luke never joins the Rebellion? What if the peaceful planet of Alderaan avoids its grim fate at the end of the Death Star’s superlaser?

Fantasy Flight’s new board game puts you and up to three of your friends in charge of either the fl edgling Rebel Alliance or the overpowering Empire in an asymmetric battle for control of the galaxy. Each session of the board game opens at the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope, but from there, your decisions shape the course of the confl ict. The board game is a collision of strategic troop deployment, planetary and space battles, and named heroes and villains whose stories play out across the original trilogy. We visited Fantasy Flight to play the new game and speak to its designers about bringing the iconic fi ction to life.

“You’ve got a galaxy that’s in a very interesting transition point,” says game designer Corey Konieczka. “The Empire has become this huge presence. The Senate has been dissolved. The fl edgling rebels have just started becoming a threat. And you’ve got all sorts of interesting tropes that you see there. The epic space battles, the intrigue, the stories about the characters. We’re trying to capture all of that.”

For inspiration, Fantasy Flight looked repeatedly to the tone and themes of the original trilogy, and tried to craft a game that evokes the classic Star Wars dynamic in every game session. The gameplay loop is focused on territory control, smart troop deployment, and careful use of your named heroes. “We want to make you really feel like you’re a part of that – that you’re a key player making these decisions on a high strategic level about what your characters and ships are doing, and the different missions you should go on.”

At first glance Rebellion looks like a Star Wars version of Risk. But after just one play session, it’s clear that Rebellion is something else entirely. Moving tiny plastic star destroyers and AT-ATs to occupy planetary systems provides the thrill of a war simulation, but just like in the movies, the real focus is on characters.

Each team begins with four heroes – characters like Darth Vader and Admiral Ackbar – each with his or her own distinct skills like diplomacy and logistics. As the game continues, more familiar faces enter play through recruitment, and up to eight of the twelve available heroes on each side can enter any given game. These characters are the movers and shakers of the fiction, and everything is driven by how you deploy them each turn. Do you send Luke Skywalker on a mission to Mandalore, or have him lead a fl eet deployment to Naboo? Should Boba Fett attempt to capture Mon Mothma during her diplomatic envoy to Nal Hutta, or should he stay in reserve to counter Han Solo’s potential trickery? The idea that a small group of people can change the galaxy defi nes Star Wars: Rebellion, and sets it apart from many other board games in the genre.

Another fascinating aspect of Rebellion is its asymmetric structure. The Empire appears at first to be the obvious favorite, with more deployable ships, greater starting control of planets, and the devastating Death Star prepared to rain death on hapless planets. Yes, you can blow up entire planets. And yet, the guerrilla tactics of the Rebel Alliance are a perfect counter, as they inspire hope instead of instilling fear by sabotaging Imperial shipyards and deploying hit-and-run tactics against larger fl eets. “Each side has different objectives,” Konieczka says. “The Rebels are trying to deal a crippling blow to the Empire, and prove to the rest of the galaxy that these guys can be taken down – that if we all unite together, we can liberate the galaxy. The Emperor knows that the Rebels are a bigger threat than they might seem.” To refl ect this, the Rebels have secret objectives to complete. With each Alliance victory, they give the Empire less time to track down their hidden base on one of the game’s 32 planets. But if that base is uncovered and destroyed, the Empire is in place to rule in victory through fear.

From a visual perspective, Star Wars: Rebellion is impressive, but it’s not a game for a small table. Two full-sized connected boards show the scope of the galactic playspace: Coruscant sits at the bottom, with an arc of 32 total planets arrayed beyond. “We talked with Lucasfi lm a lot about which planets to include. What do they build? Where are they located?” says producer Steven Kimball. The Empire begins with control of the most powerful systems. “The sheer number of Imperial forces is impressive. Before you play anything, you know that the Emperor has this juggernaut that is go ing to sweep through the galaxy.”

Intricate plastic miniatures represent the two opposing armies, with distinct fi gures for outer space combat (like X-Wings and Super Star Destroyers) to ground units (like AT-STs and ion cannons). Sturdy cardboard standees of each hero tower above the board – a subtle acknowledgment of the way one character can turn the tide of a game. One side of the board hosts a build queue for both forces, indicating everything from how long the Rebels have to wait for their new shield generator to the looming threat of a second Death Star. On the opposite side of the board, a turn tracker reveals how long the Empire has to track down the Rebel scum, along with the burgeoning Alliance forces hidden away at the Rebel base, even if its actual location remains a secret. Players sit opposite one another, and use a double-sided faction sheet to track their forces; the opposite side includes split control for a ship admiral and ground-forces general, for games of three or four players.

For me, the game’s greatest triumph is the emergent narrative that unfolds, and it’s easy to see how each replay would tell a different story. Leia can go to Dagobah and learn of the Force from Yoda. Han Solo might be turned to the dark side. Grand Moff Tarkin might destroy Naboo. No matter the path of the story, Star Wars: Rebellion works because it nails that unmistakable Star Wars feeling, in which pulp action meets sci-fi grandeur, and larger-than-life heroes play out their relationships against a galactic backdrop. Fantasy Flight hopes that when Star Wars: Rebellion releases in 2016, it’s the people sitting around the table who will shape the course of galac tic affairs

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