Star Wars: Rebellion was one of the big games of 2016 in every respect, from the double-depth box, to the double-sized board, to the vast array of awards it picked up, to the widescreen cinematic experience it offered. Despite having a hefty playtime and requiring its players to achieve a Jedi-like level of serenity to dodge all those keywords successfully, I awarded it the accolade of my game of the year. It hits the table only infrequently, partially because of the investment it requires, partially because I need to place things at awkward angles just to get everything onto that same table, but it never fails to provide an epic and immersive experience. Frankly, I love it.
A smaller box this time around.
Do good things come in small packages? Let’s see!
Here, though, like the Millennium Falcon trapped in the tractor ray of a fully armed and operational Death Star, comes the first expansion to that epic behemoth, Star Wars: Rebellion – Rise Of The Empire. This must be serious because the name contains a colon and a hyphen, and that is as sure a statement of intent as one can find in the gaming industry. Thankfully Rise Of The Empire comes in a much smaller box than the base game, and if you toss out the double troughed insert from the original crate you can easily fit all the new stuff inside. In fact, it is possible even with the insert in place – Millennium Falcons and Death Stars again.
This is what your money gets you.
What Rise Of The Empire offers is more. Of what? you might well ask. Well, the answer is pretty much ‘of everything’ – more ships, more dice, more tokens, more cards, and certainly more options. Right from the moment its owner’s grubby rebellious/imperial (delete as appropriate) fingers rummage through the contents of Rise Of The Empire’s Box it is clear that the remit of the base game has been expanded, not just in terms of components, but also in terms of narrative scope. The original box’s focus on the central three films has been expanded to include the newer offerings, including Rogue One, and while Ewoks make a fleeting appearance on one of the cards, which is probably about enough, other areas, such as the Hutts, have been expanded while thankfully that annoying chap who insists on joining your group for a drink and loitering on the boundary of your circle is nowhere to be seen. His name was Jar-Jar, I think, but traumatic experiences are so difficult to recall.
Ewoks and Hutts
The Empire Rules…with only four pages!
With an expansion such as Rise Of The Empire, the fear is that it will dilute and overcomplicate the base product, add unnecessary complexity, and render this experience closed to all but the most ardent of Star Wars: Rebellion devotees. It is therefore a good sign that the instructions for this expansion consist of a few sides of A4, positively parsimonious by Fantasy Flight’s normal standards. A quick read then reveals that most of those rules are devoted to the hows of incorporating the new decks of cards into the base game, to the extent that the two sides now have the option of choosing which set to play with. There is a core set of cards that will be used in every game, but to those either side may add the extra cards from the base set or from Rise Of The Empire. Already this begins to push Rise Of The Empire towards the territory of my favourite type of expansion, that which adds depth to the game without needless extra complexity.
Streamlined battle? Better in every way!
The main difference between Rise Of The Empire and the core set, however, is in the battle system. This was the main focus of criticism in the base game, as some players found it a little cumbersome in comparison with the streamlined play that went on on either side. In my original review I wrote that the battle system seemed “complicated at first” but was “gloriously thematic too”, and it did require players to keep a weather eye on various chits and ships, but Rise Of The Rebellion has upped the ante on this phase of the game. The buzzword here, at least according to the rules, is “cinematic”, and given that the base box feels decidedly widescreen in any case, that is no bad thing.
More of everything is good.
In Rise Of The Empire only the Tactic Cards from the expansion are used. Not only does a player always have access to any of their non-discarded Tactic Cards, but these are played face down before each round of combat and each card has two options. When players reveal these cards they are allowed to choose either of these options, some of which are contingent upon having a certain type of unit present in the system. In the base game players would draw a certain number of Tactic Cards at the start of combat and play them in the middle of the round – Rise Of The Empire’s system simultaneously offers greater flexibility, a little wiggle room for a bad choice, and clears up the main thrust of combat. It is an impressive tweak that keeps the central area of battle clear for fighting.
New Tactics Cards are A Good Thing.
Looking for more reputation? Try mission control!
The new cards, a few of which replace those in the base game, also open up a whole new galaxy of strategic options, and the supply of markers in the box means that some of those cards can operate in new ways. I was particularly excited by the Show No Fear card. With this card the rebel player places a marker in the very system where their base is hidden – yes, that’s the system that the Empire is trying to find and overrun in order to win the game! – and gains 1 Reputation Point for each turn that the marker is in place before they have to ship out to somewhere else. I have always admired Fantasy Flight card games for the intense level of theme they can create in their cards, but this is one that genuinely made my heart beat faster when I saw it, bringing brinksmanship of the highest order into the game at critical moments.
Love this card!
The Empire also gets new cards to wield against those rebellious upstarts, bigger and better ships too, although their AT-ATs can be brought down by Tow Cables just like in the films. As before, each action has an equal and opposite counter-reaction, but it is up to the players to anticipate where and when those cards will be needed, thrusting Rise Of The Empire up a couple of levels in terms of think and doublethink.
There are other tweaks in the game as well, such as the green dice and the Minor Skills icons attributed to some of the leaders. The new dice are used in some combats, and also when resolving the minor skills, and once more bring extra depth to Rise Of The Empire without bloating the rules, subtle shifts in strategic matters that might make the difference between win and loss, between the collapse of an Empire or the enforcement of might.
New green dice for this expansion, and minor skills.
It’s not quite brilliant – there is a dark side!
It is not all exploding Death Star brightness, however, and there are some downsides to what Rise Of The Empire has to offer. Set up of the original box was already a complicated and lengthy affair, especially once players had graduated from the basic options, and Rise Of The Empire merely throws in more options to the equation, including separating out the decks and sorting out the new units. If the base box was stretching the boundaries of your gaming table, then, to paraphrase our shark-hunting pals, you are going to need a bigger table.
Rise Of The Empire is also very expensive for what it offers, and that is something that simply cannot be ignored, its RRP edging up to half that of the base box. Given that Star Wars: Rebellion’s two troughs come stuffed to the rafters with goodies and two massive boards, to pay nearly half as much again and come away with a pack and a bit of cards, some ships, three dice and fifteen tokens seems, well, on the upper edge of devotion, and players on a tight budget would be wise to think before buying, given what else this kind of price can get you.
A pile of expensive plastic.
Adding value? Yes, but at a price!
Maybe the question should instead be about what Rise Of The Empire offers in terms of added value to the base box, however, and there is little doubt that it opens up the experience of Star Wars: Rebellion in a wholly gratifying manner, even making the battle system simpler to implement and understand. As with so many Fantasy Flight games, Rise Of The Empire truly begins to shine when both sides are aware of what is in the deck, and that will take several plays and – because this is a long game – many, many hours of hunching over your new and larger table.
Rise Of The Empire therefore does what the best expansions do. It adds depth to the base game without unnecessary complexity, it fixes some of the issues in the base game, but it also allows integrates smoothly with those components, allowing players the extra strategic flexibility of deciding which set of cards to go with. The game remains a lengthy play, the time saved on faffing around with tactics cards in the middle of battle now transferred to faffing around with them at the start of battle, but, as I concluded in my review of the original box, each and every decision generates a wholly unique and thematic story that plays out in the Star Wars galaxy right there on your table.
The characters are right up to date.
Do you want more? Get it right here!
Those who have only dabbled in this game should think long and hard about whether the high price of entry justifies purchasing Rise Of The Empire, but those who have explored Star Wars: Rebellion in anything like average depth will find this an essential addition to the core box. As a bonus factor, everything will fit into that massive original crate, but as a final minus point, when are publishers ever going to learn that player aids should be an essential part of a game’s components? Sheesh…
Despite its few flaws, though, this is a great expansion for an outstanding game, something that will provide entertainment for many plays, and it will sit proudly next to the base box in that compartment of my gaming shelves reserved for those games that are going absolutely nowhere other than to the gaming table and back, ever. It is not perfect, but it maintains and enhances the grand drama and cinematic sweep of the base game, alhough at a price. With The Last Jedi just hovering into view over the horizon, who would bet against yet more Star Warsy goodness on the way sometime maybe in the next year or so? Pretty please… A widescreen 9 out of 10 from me for one of the best expansions of the year.
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I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and i'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.