2016’s Star Wars: Rebellion was—ahem—a force to be reckoned with. Presenting the original film trilogy within the scope of a three-hour board game is a monumental challenge. But Rebellion succeeded. If the tabletop industry was Yavin IV, Rebellion was the looming Death Star casting its shadow on all competitors.
Now, the definitive Star Wars board game is back with Rise of the Empire. This small-box expansion is all about “more.” More units like the U-Wing and TIE Striker, more leaders like Jyn Erso and Director Krennic, and more missions allowing you to sneak behind enemy lines or hire bounty hunters.
Beefing up existing content is a normal tactic for expansions, but Rise of the Empire does have a new identity of its own: Rogue One. Instead of an assortment of varied effects and disparate characters, we have a coherent narrative supporting player action.
In committing to Rogue One, Rise of the Empire necessarily must adjust its timeline, meaning that the Empire doesn’t begin with a fully operational Death Star anymore. Instead, that little plastic ball of hate is still under construction, and additional starting units are placed in order to protect it. While this story touch is excellent, it does result in less overall usage of the Death Star.
At setup, you’re given the option to completely replace a huge chunk of the original mission deck—the stack of cards that are the lifeblood of Rebellion. The new cards boast a large suite of tricks. Your eyes will turn into saucers the first time you come across the glorious Sarlacc pit, which lets you toss a Rebel prisoner into the creature’s misshapen gullet. Killing off Luke or Han by feeding either one to the beast is wild—a key moment you’ll be recounting over beers for years to come.
There’s also renewed flexibility in recruiting leaders from these cards. For instance, the new “subterfuge” type of mission allows you to assign up to two of your leaders to a card, creating the illusion that they are unavailable for defense. Should you be attacked, however, simply reveal the subterfuge mission and you gain those leaders and a bonus die for the battle to come. This provides a hedge against some of the stronger missions in the game.
Also new is the target marker mechanism, found among the new mission cards and on a handful of Rebel objectives. These markers allow a player to put cardboard targets on the board, sometimes with restrictions such as being allowed only on remote or Imperial systems. One Rebel objective might tell the Imperial player to lay down markers in a couple of remote systems, for instance. If the Rebels can get to those systems and remove the markers, they’ll earn Reputation, increasing their odds of victory. These bonuses reference key moments of the films, such as destroying the bunker on Endor (fortunately, you don’t have to enlist an incompetent group of diminutive teddy bears). Their implementation is a treat.
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