All battles basically boil down to Good Vs Evil. Well most do. Okay, yes, I understand there are a lot of grey areas. Fine. SOME battles basically boil down to Good Vs Evil. Star Wars definitely does. It’s quite explicit. The Empire just choke people out for no reason and go around dressed in all black. Everyone knows that all-black attire means you’re either a goth, a ninja or evil, and I don’t see any eye-lined covered throwing stars. The Rebellion are the good guys. They have aspirations of peace and equality, and a general anti-choking stance. That’s all you need to know. Empire bad. Rebellion good. Now, which side is the coolest? Well, that’s a much harder question. No, wait. The Empire are the coolest, my mistake.
Star Wars: Empire Vs Rebellion is a two player card game, with elements of bluffing, deck building and hand management. It’s designed by Sebastien Gigaudaut and David Rakoto, and published by Fantasy Flight. Sheathe your lightsaber, brush off your sandy tunic and finish herding your nerfs, because it’s review time.
How It Plays
The idea of Empire Vs Rebellion is to win as many Events as possible. Winning events gets you Victory Points, and the first player to seven victory points is the winner.
To set up the game, each player selects a side, either Empire or Rebellion. Place the shuffled Event cards in the centre of the table, face down. Each player removes their Strategy cards, and places them face-down in their play area. Each player selects four of their Character resource cards (the ones with character names on) and shuffles them into their Resource deck. The other four characters are placed, face-down, next to your Strategy cards. These four becoming your Reserve deck, which you can nip into later. Each player begins the game with two Influence tokens, with the rest going into the middle to form the supply. Flip the Balance token. The Rebel force starts the game.
A round is split into three phases: Planning, Struggle and Dominance.
During the Planning phase, we reveal the top card of the Event deck. Event cards tell you how many cards you’re allowed out during the round, and the combined Resource target score. They also have an effect which occurs once a winner has been crowned, as well as indicating how many Victory Points and Influence tokens the winner receives. Once you’re happy with the event (or even if you’re not), you get to choose your strategy for the round. Each player has an identical Strategy deck consisting of five cards which influence the outcome of a round. One card gives you a +2 to to your resource total while another lets the lower scoring player win. Select your strategy and place it onto the table face-down. I’d recommend placing it up next to the current event card, because your own play area might get quite messy. The unselected Strategy cards are returned face-down to your play area.
Players can take one of four actions on their turn:
- Play a card. Place the top card of your Resource deck face up in your play area. This is considered a ‘ready’ resource and can be used on your next turn. You cannot have more cards in plan than the Event card’s capacity (the little hexes).
- Use a power. You can select and use any one power from a readied Resource card (including characters). When you use a Resource’s power, turn the card 90 degrees clockwise. That card is currently Exhausted and its power cannot be used again. Using the power may also change the card’s Resource value. Characters, for example, change from 6 to 1 when they are exhausted.
- Spend influence. Spend one of your Influence tokens to change one of your exhausted Resource cards to ready.
- Pass. Do nuttin’.
Players will then take turns carrying out one of these actions until both players pass, whether by choice or force.
The dominance phase is the bit where you figure out who wins. For a start, you both flip over your Strategy cards. If your played Resource cards have a combined total higher than the Event’s Objective Value (the number in the bottom-left), then your Strategy card has no effect. The winner of the round is the player with the highest combined Resource value, without going over the maximum number on the Event. If it’s a tie, the faction that is currently face up on the balance token wins. The winner keeps the event card, which tells them how many Victory points it is worth, as well as the number of Influence tokens they may take from the supply as a reward for all of their hard work and/or deception.
At the end of the round, clean up the used cards into their own discard piles. If you’re out of Strategy cards, you can reclaim all of the used ones and begin again. Flip the balance token to show whichever faction has the fewest points. This will now indicate the start player, as well as breaking ties.
The winner is the first player to get to seven points.
Is this the droid you’re looking for?
It’s a matter of record that I enjoy Star Wars. I’ve got a house full of Storm Trooper related tatt and tchotchkes, so we’re already off on the right foot. In the question of ‘how well implemented is the theme when compared to other Star Wars games?’ the answer is a resounding “meeeehhhhhh kinda.” You could swap the theme out for almost any other type of evenly balanced conflict and it would feel just the same. WWII battlefield? You got it. Lemonade Stand wars? Sure, that would just about fit. I don’t think that the game benefits at all from the theme, other than saleability and brand recognition. I don’t really mind though because this isn’t a game on the scale of Imperial Assault or Rebellion. It’s a short(ish), mechanical card came where two players try to bluff and outfox each other. For these sorts of games often the best you can hope for is a theme that doesn’t detract from your enjoyment.
Mechanically, the game is tight and simple. There are few rules, as illustrated by the petite rule book. Most of the play comes from how you use the card’s Powers to manipulate play and alter the battlefield. The box says it’s sixty minutes long but I haven’t played one that lasted over 30 so far. The skill in this game is in anticipating what your opponent might do next. You’ve already seen their discarded Strategy cards, so you may have an indication of which card they have chosen for this round. You’ve already seen the spent cards in your opponent’s Resource discard pile too, so you know whether they may or may not Jabba you in the face any time soon. It’s a balance of memory, bluffing and the ability to spot a good move when it presents itself. A poorly played round could last just a minute or two, while a closely contested Event card could go all the way through your Resource deck. It’s almost chess-like in the way that a newly played card introduces potential effects and Powers which may have hypothetical implications for any or all of the cards currently in play. What players may mistake as a light filler for their first few games, will quickly turn into a real intellectual challenge by the time opponents are familiar with the cards. The box says it’s for players aged ten years and over, which seems fair, as the rules are straightforward but the actual game play will be beyond the capabilities of younger children
The components are pretty good, overall. It has a nice, small box, which is always a bonus in my eyes. The cards are good quality linen stock, featuring movie stills from the original trilogy. It’s not winning any original art prizes, but its graphics are nicely put together and in keeping with the style already established by Fantasy Flight’s current crop of Star Wars games. The rule book is small, easy to follow and has plenty of illustration. The box insert is excessive, merely there to make the box a couple of sizes bigger than it really needs to be. The tokens are tactile and chunky, and feel like they’ll hold up well.
My concerns about this game are almost par for the course at this point. It’s a small box card game, with a limited deck, so there’s always going to be the question of replayability. I understand that the card count has to be low, otherwise the memory element to the bluffing wouldn’t work. Adding more cards would probably break the game. I don’t think it’s too much of a concern here though, since there is still a heavy random element and player interaction is so high. It’s hard to have any success if you’re trying to stick with one play style and not rolling with the punches.
It’s a satisfying game, which fills a PvP conflict hole. It’s solid but not overly inspiring. The game lives and dies on the quality of your opponent, and in the same way that the two decks rely on being balanced, you’ll have more fun if the challenge is as well.