There are board games, just like there are stories, at every level of scale. Some put you in control of a single piece with one ability – often just being able to move in a direction. Others give you mountains of rules, pieces, and options and it’s up to you to parse what to do with them.
Star Wars: Rebellion sits on the latter end of that scale – you pick a side from the movie series and play against the other (Empire or Rebellion – no prequels here). Rebellion chases after that most compelling of goals: the asynchronous victory condition: the Rebels win by staying alive long enough to get sympathy from the galaxy, the Empire wins by destroying the rebel base.
This conflict plays out through all sorts of movements, missions, die rolls and recruiting. You have a galaxy spread out, on a board befitting it, and you’ll use most of its planets in every game. I’ve played most of mine as the Rebels and I’ve always felt, at first, like there are a thousand places to hide. By the end, I’m scattered to a few defunct systems hoping against hope that the Empire will send its fleet in the wrong direction and, thereby, allow me to win.
It’s rare, though, that victory by waiting out the clock feels satisfying. Think about it – if, in a novel or a movie, the protagonist sat around and the villains failed to find them, that isn’t in itself all that interesting. The protagonist doesn’t do anything in that scenario.
Now, twist it. Instead, the villains outnumber the hero and they’re running around, crafting traps and disappearing. Leading the villains in wrong directions. Harassing them without warning. Playing as the Rebels feels like being the kid in Home Alone – every chance you get, you’re trying to simultaneously slow the Empire down and run like hell. It’s a tense blast to play.
As the Empire, meanwhile, it can feel like there are dozens of insects to crush. The Rebels would be ground to dust if only you could catch them. Sometimes you manage Princess Leia to the dark side and she helps lead your fleets to the base and you detonate it with your Death Star, laughing at the elaborate Rebel defenses that have proved so useless.
On the other hand, perhaps you’ve sent your ships far and wide only to have the Rebels sneak behind you and sabotage your factories. Entice planets you thought were loyally yours to turn sides. Or even bait Darth Vader into a battle he can’t win and, when the Empire loses, strike Vader down permanently.
Rebellion, for better and for worse, is not a short game. These stories take time to tell. With experience, the average game would likely take 3 hours (including setup). Newer playthroughs are going to approach 4 or more as players get adjusted to all the parts. Still, it’s never boring. Combat, the worst part of the base game due to a lot of repetitive die rolls, is made much better with the Rogue One-inspired Rise of the Rebellion expansion.
Ultimately, what gets this game off the shelf more than anything else is the potential for unique moments. For those hilarious or crushing times, like a do-or-die attempt to blow up the Death Star that succeeds, or the capture of Luke Skywalker and subsequent corruption of the same. This game tells stories, and if you’re a Star Wars fan with a passion for the table-top side of life, you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.