I have a confession to make. Back in 2014, fresh off Fantasy Flight’s announcement of Imperial Assault, I cast immense side-eye towards the game’s inclusion of both campaign and skirmish modes. Surely a Star Wars-themed version of Descent would be a major hit for FFG, so why risk watering down the experience with an alternate mode of play? I never expected that three years on, this flexibility would make Imperial Assault be the gem I was hoping for among a crowded market of Star Wars games.
As for the gameplay, objective-based sessions immediately set Imperial Assault apart. There’s something refreshing about playing not just to blow up your opponent, but primarily to complete some objective on a map. This twist on the victory condition also made Imperial Assault a very strategic game, but one that happens to have a completely different sort of brain burn than an X-Wing duel. Rather than jockeying ships around a free-form space, Imperial Assault presents an easy-to-read board state with a grid-based map. This well-defined game state opens up a wide variety of tactics, allowing you to play your squad to the strengths of each map and objective set, as well as to the weaknesses of your opponent’s forces. In a galaxy far, far away, X-Wing is poker, while Imperial Assault is chess.
It’s also hard to compare miniatures games without addressing the craft nature of the hobby. X-Wing comes pre-painted, so having Imperial Assault unpainted seemingly runs counter to all of the above logic, yet there may be a way in which this decision became a major factor in the game’s success. Keep in mind Games Workshop, with estimates that only 20% of its customer base actually plays its games, and it will become evident that a huge market exists for crafting and modeling of miniatures lines. Imperial Assault needed to establish a critical mass of players before any in-store play would take off, and in switching to unpainted miniatures, FFG both kept the price low while also giving X-Wing players with that crafting itch an added reason to pick up a second Star Wars game.
Tournaments for Imperial Assault are still on the smaller side, but the game is no slouch: at one local store in 2016, an X-Wing Regional pulled in 42 players vice Imperial Assault’s 17. The game has passed the infant mortality threshold, though, and is no longer the side game of an X-Wing community, but one which has its own genuine following. With its sales tracked as a board game product, ICv2 ranks Imperial Assault among the top 10 sellers, ensuring that FFG will be supporting both Campaign and Skirmish play for a long time to come. And those X-Wing players? Now they’re playing Destiny on the side.