Episode I: Aftermath
**Spoiler alert! You’ll find Imperial Assault is full of surprises, which will invariably be ruined for you to some degree if you read along with our campaign. But! If you’re thinking about buying it, chances are you’ll end up taking control of the Empire side anyway, in which case you’re in control of all the secrets regardless. That said, read on!
ALEX: Following an unfortunate incident with his new favourite toy, the Death Star, it was down to Imi ‘Dark Side’ Dale and I to put a smile back on Emperor Palpatine’s wrinkly face. With chunks of that’s-no-moon still falling from the sky, a battalion of stormtroopers land on nearby actual-moon Yavin 4, take over a bunker and install a network of beacons – presumably to signal delivery of a cake for the Emperor’s surprise birthday party or something.
Ever the spoilsports, the Rebel Alliance deploy what the manual describes as “a small team of elite operatives” but who look to me like: an axe-wielding carpet with legs (the character sheets inform me he’s actually called ‘Gaarkhan’); a knock-off Han Solo (‘Jyn Odan’, apparently); what appears to be a gerbil with a sniper rifle (the so-called ‘Mak Eshka’rey’); and, to be fair, a pretty badass-looking Jedi lady with tentacles for hair (‘Diala Passil’).
They’re here to shut down the beacons, and ruin the surprise party. We’ll defend them with our very lives…
Oh. Something you learn very quickly in Imperial Assault is that life in the Empire is cheap. Like, 99p-Store cheap. Like, the-Stormtrooper-deployment-card-actually-shows-them-getting-mown-down-by-laser-fire cheap.
It makes perfect thematic sense – what are Stormtroopers for if not rushing down a hallway en masse, completely missing the target, and getting bumped off by the heroes, after all – but it can be frustrating. Like now, for example, as the Rebels decimate and then rapidly centimate the forces we posted outside the bunker before we can even assign cutesy names to all of them.
MIKE: Yup! Those stormtroopers crumbled like a packet of old biscuits, and although they brought along a probe droid pal we managed to off it before it pulled its party trick of self-destructing in our faces, which can cause some pretty serious damage to anyone stuck next to it when it blows.
There’s no time for tea and medals yet though – we’ve only got a set number of turns to shut down the four beacons scattered across the complex, or the Emperor will be celebrating victory while floating slices of birthday cake into his maw. Makes sense for the wookiee to run on ahead and open the door to the base then, eh?
Well no. You see, it turns out that opening a door is one of the more dangerous moves you can make in Imperial Assault, as you have no idea what could be lurking behind it. So before everyone can regroup, the wookiee’s at the door, and amid a chorus of groans and shouts of ‘no’ it zips open to reveal another stormtrooper squad, an officer and a pretty hefty-looking heavy weapon platform. Since the rebel players have all had their turns, the grinning Empire pair get a free run with all the new troops and have a good old blast away at poor Gaarkhan, who was only trying to get on with the mission. Wookiees don’t run away, but I can now confirm that they do occasionally disappear whimpering around a corner to check whether they’re still alive.
ALEX: Each mission comes with its own page in the Campaign log, available only to the Empire players, which details the troops they can keep in reserve, and any ‘mission events’ that get triggered as the Rebels progress, reminiscent of the excellent ‘Crossroads’ mechanic from Dead of Winter.
So when the door opens, we get to reveal the aforementioned troops. Then, once the door’s been opened, the Rebels have the rest of the turn to get inside before the ‘Lockdown’ event triggers, and the blast door seals itself again with a suitably Star Wars-y ‘bttttzzzz’.
With Gaarkhan having bravely legged it, the Rebels are locked out of the bunker like a misbehaving cat, giving the Imperials time to… well, not do very much of anything. With no enemies to shoot at, our troops inside were were left twiddling their white-armoured thumbs, listening to the scrapes and blasts outside.
MIKE: Oh, so NOW everyone wants to get through the door. A thoroughly confused Gaarkhan sits on the grass and bandages up some wounds, while Jyn and Mak blast away at the single outside beacon and the locked door before Diala manages to slam it open with her staff. Getting locked out has slowed us down for a whole turn, and it’s going to need a pretty serious push past all those enemy troops if we’re going to knock out all the beacons in time.
Diala’s taken a few hits already, but as one of our close combat specialists she’s got to get stuck in if we’re going to win his one, and races up the corridor into the teeth of the enemy attack. It looks like a suicide run, but as lasers arc towards her from trooper and gun emplacement, Diala manages to dance between the blasts before making short work of the lone soldier.
ALEX: This was the moment at which the whole game went wrong for us dark siders. Nevertheless, I can’t resist marvelling at the mechanic responsible for Diala’s unlikely salvation: the white dice.
When any character in Imperial Assault is attacked, they roll one of two defence dice. If they’re a strong or armoured character, they roll a black die, which represents them shrugging off laser fire or their helmet absorbing that blow to the head. If they’re a nimble character like Diala, though, they’ll roll the white dice, as they attempt to dodge the attack entirely. While the black die will always block at least some damage, the white has a single blank face. Roll this and your character stumbles, taking every last hit being thrown their way.
But! It also has one face marked with an X symbol. Roll this and you’ll leap perfectly out of the way, ignoring all damage. It gives the white dice an all-or-nothing feel, and allows for some fantastically Star-Wars-style moments of flukery. Which is exactly what happened here.
Faced with a card-flipping amount of damage from our fearsome turret gunner, Beth picked up Diala’s white die, gave it a kiss – and rolled an X. Our faces fell. But wait! The turret gunner is the rare Imperial troop capable of taking two shots in one turn. We roll another fist of attack dice, and watch Beth’s dodge dice as it slowly comes to rest… on another X.
The entire table breaks out into cheers. If you looked carefully, underneath the shadow of my cloak’s hood, you might even have been able to make out a smile.
MIKE: You totally could. And that’s Imperial Assault, right there – no one’s just moving their plastic characters around and rolling a bunch of dice. This is storytelling, and taking part in that story as it unfolds means it can be almost as enjoyable watching things go against you as it can when you’re steamrollering the opposition. Fluffing an easy dice roll while trying to knock off some stormtroopers rarely feels like bad luck, just like part of the tale. Like Solo grinning away as he attempts to go to lightspeed, only for his face to fall as the hyperdrive goes kaput. This should have been straightforward heroics, but the gun’s jammed. How are we going to get out of this one?
Back in the game, and it’s all a bit close. Despite Diala dancing around laser blasts we’re still against the clock, and the turns are rapidly running out. It’s now or never for the Rebels. Garkhaan the wookiee roars in and smashes the gun emplacement, cleaving an arc which also damages a beacon before storming off into the heart of the complex. Jyn the scoundrel and Mak the sniper follow up with guns blazing, pinging the last stormtrooper and leaving the damaged beacon beyond repair.
Seeing the impending danger to the final pair of beacons, a pair of troopers, officer and probe droid launch their last stand, attempting to block off access to the devices. The wookiee crashes into the final room, taking heavy damage in exchange for demolishing the penultimate beacon. Diala follows, vaulting up a wall and around the enemy blockade to deliver a searing blow to the final comms device. The smuggler was next, pistol blasts peppering the beacon to leave it within a whisker of destruction. A stormtrooper attempts to take advantage by getting off a shot, but Jyn Odan has been in tighter spots than this in the seedier bars of Tatooine. Awake to the threat, she skids round the beacon and looses a shot, slamming high into the trooper’s helmet before he even has the chance to pull the trigger. The way was open for Mak. Breaking cover, the tiny Bothan took aim and loosed a single blast towards the smoking beacon…
…and wrecked it utterly. Literally the last throw of the dice, and the Rebels take the day. Victory!
ALEX: After two dry runs, this is the third time I’ve played this mission, and the third time it’s been decided on a lucky dice roll in the final turn. It’s perfect Star Wars, the ‘heroes’ (ahem) turning it around at the very last minute, so I’m actually not too sore about our defeat.
With the Rebels retreating to their ship, which I believe they’re calling the ‘Fillennium Malcolm’, the remaining Empire troops are left in the bunker, feeling useless and trying to work out where else they’re going to get a birthday cake at this space-hour. Time for a bit of retail therapy!
After each mission, both sides are rewarded with resources they can spend on new abilities, equipment or even missions. Dealing out the cards to everyone, watching them excitedly pick through their character’s deck and deliberate over what to buy is my favourite moment of the night.
Tentacle-headed Diala Passil learns ‘Force Throw’, allowing her to push other troops around the board. The team blow half their credits on a fancy Combat Coat (‘practical and stylish,’ reads the card) and squabble over who gets to wear it.
Thanks to our loss, the Empire gets less to spend, but we still have enough for a single card I won’t describe here in case Mike sees it. Suffice to say, you’ll know when we play it. Mwahahahaha.
Experience points and shopping for items are hardly new concepts in gaming, but this is the first time I’ve encountered them like this. We’re used to board games being a one-off anecdote – you win or lose, make the appropriate noises, then clear the board and move on. Imperial Assault, though, has characters that grow with time and decisions with long-lasting consequences. Fingers crossed, it’s going to be a full story.
One we’ll continue telling next time on Return of the Je-DICE, as Jyn Odan hunts down a backstabbing ex-associate, and we meet the campaign’s first character with his own Wookieepedia page: General Weiss.
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