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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Imperial Assault: The Beauty of Options

by | published Monday, April 17, 2017

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.


  • Matt M.

    Matt has been writing about board games since 2009, having contributed to MTV, Wired, the Escapist, and many other notable sites. Nowadays, Matt enjoys playing games with his daughter, gaming on the competitive X-Wing circuit, and taking in the occasional video game. Twice per year, Matt helps run the Tabletop department at Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East and South. You can follow his musings on Twitter @MattMorganMDP.

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