When the Rebellion Isn’t Scum
Look, you’ve probably heard plenty about Star Wars: Rebellion, so I’m not going to do my usual thing here. For some people, the fact that it’s a high-production Star Wars game will be enough to rave about it, regardless of whether or not it’s particularly good. Which is why I’m here to tell you, as a Star Wars skeptic, that this is an incredible, fantastic, tense, wonderful game. Sure, it’s only for two players (or two teams) and it runs anywhere from two to four hours, but it absolutely captures the adventure, desperation, and drama of Star Wars. Better yet, it’s adventurous, desperate, and dramatic no matter the setting. Seriously, this is a very good game.
So come along and let me tell you about two very different plays, and why this just might be one of the best games I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
Story Time #1: A Moisture Farmer Walks into a Dagobah
One of the things most immediately appealing about Rebellion is the way it pitches the conflict between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance as entirely asymmetrical. Right from the get-go, the Empire actually feels like it’s this unstoppable military juggernaut that might feasibly keep dozens of systems under their black-gloved thumbs. They’ve got the big ships, the masses of fighters and ground pounders, and plenty of planets both loyal and subjugated. The Rebel Alliance, by unfair comparison, is sort of pathetic. They’ve got a few ships, a few troops, and they’ve somehow duped a couple planets into sympathizing with them. Other than that, they’ve got nothing.
Well, not nothing. The one thing they’ve got is secrecy. Somewhere in the galaxy, hidden from the Empire’s long reach, they’ve got a base. And as long as that base is around, they don’t have to face the Empire directly. They can mount hit-and-run missions, send agents to hassle imperial assets, and hopefully, eventually, with a lot of pluck and probably the Force or something, live up to their full potential. In my case, my Rebel base was hidden on Ilum (protip: it’s always on Ilum), a remote planet that had thus far escaped notice.
Luke Skywalker doesn’t necessarily appear in Rebellion, but when he does, he’s the Luke Skywalker of A New Hope rather than the Jedi of the later movies, always complaining about Chewbacca clogging up the shower drains aboard the Millennium Falcon and dispensing advice about moisture farming. The option of new leaders comes around every so often, and I’d picked Luke because the alternative was Lando.
In a way, Rebellion behaves a little bit like a worker placement game. Every round revolves around both sides assigning their leaders to various tasks, whether undertaking missions, blocking enemy missions, or leading your forces into battle. Any portion of the game might therefore revolve around any number of narrative beats: Princess Leia convinces Naboo to join the Alliance; Han Solo leads a fleet to liberate Bespin; Chewbacca shows up to pummel Boba Fett when the notorious bounty hunter tries to capture Jan Dodonna. Stuff like that.
Within a couple rounds, I was regretting taking Luke over Lando. He just wasn’t getting anything done. He lost the one battle he fought in when Darth Vader showed up on the opposite side, and was briefly captured before getting rescued by Princess Leia. His humiliation seemed complete. Fortunately, his redemption came when I happened to draw the “Seek Yoda” mission. One quick jaunt to Dagobah later, and Luke was a new man.
More than a new man, Luke was the one who would deal the crippling blow to the Empire. Over the course of many turns, my Rebel Alliance had slowly chipped away at the Empire’s support. While they closed in on my base on Ilum, we sabotaged shipyards, curried popular support, and made strategic strikes on under-accompanied Star Destroyers. But when the Death Star plans fell into our hands, it was time for Luke to earn his keep.
The weakest element of Rebellion is the combat. It’s serviceable, and does this one cool thing where it highlights the need for both big units and mobs of weaker chaff, but it never really shines compared to the rest of the game. For the battle of Geonosis, however, all the combat cards and hit assignments barely mattered. While the Death Star, two Star Destroyers, and a host of TIE Fighters and ground troops closed in on my meager forces, all I needed was to survive the first round of the fight. Then out came the Death Star plans, my tiny fighters suddenly made deadly by their knowledge of that weak point. They missed their first attempt on the Death Star — except for the fact that Luke’s training on Dagobah let him reroll a single die in every combat. Boom went the Death Star.
It wasn’t enough to win the game immediately, but it was the tipping point the Rebel Alliance needed. It also had both me and Somerset on our feet, screaming at such a tidal shift in the balance of power.
That’s good stuff.
Story Time #2: Too Fabulous for the Rebellion
Mon Mothma wasn’t terribly central to the movies. Mostly she stood around looking like someone’s mom had come home early from the symphony and found the living room full of malcontents. Meanwhile in Rebellion, she’s a damn champ. She can’t lead fleets or armies, but when it comes to persuading a planet to join the Alliance, there’s nobody better. As the Empire, I watched as that singular soccer mom switched planet after planet to the other side. The fish-people of Mon Calamari would rise up, so I’d go put them back down. Then Kessel got all uppity about the definition of a “parsec,” forcing me to intervene. Then my support on Saleucami dried up. And at the center of every provocation was Mon Mothma and her stupid smock.
Refusing to be deterred, I dispatched my best agents (that means Boba Fett) to capture her. Once she was in my possession, I knew the Alliance would eventually try to nab her back. So without delay I had her interrogated, cluing me into the location of the first Rebel base — on Hoth. How cute. My forces started closing in, the Rebels tucked their tail between their legs and ran.
Still, Mon Motha was in my possession, so I figured I might as well put her to work. Before the Rebels could mount a rescue mission, a special visitor appeared in her cell: Emperor Palpatine. With a job offer.
A short time later, the possible location of the Rebel base had been whittled down to three final locations. Alderaan was the first, but a quick expeditionary jaunt from Coruscant put those rumors to bed. The last two options were Bespin and Tattooine. Unknown to my Rebel opponent, I’d already sent probe droids to Bespin and knew it couldn’t be there. He smiled as I sent a huge number of ships to his decoy planet. Meanwhile, the Death Star slipped up to Tattooine nearly unattended.
I felt it was fitting for Mon Mothma to pull the lever that destroyed the very Alliance she had helped assemble. Call it poetic, call it the lure of the Dark Side. I call it memorable.