A million years ago, we discussed Descent. It’s a great way to get together and throw some dice around. HOWEVER, if you want more than a 4 hour session, you’re going to encounter a handful of problems. The first is that you can’t help but notice a balance issue with the game once players start getting good equipment. Players go first, monsters go second. You’ll have a board with 12 monsters on it, and the players will figure out a way to kill 9 or 10 of them in the first turn, leaving the dungeon master with a mere handful that won’t be able to do much damage to the players. (Indeed, there’s a card that allows the dungeon master to cause the players to attack themselves and this will become your number one way to soften them up.) Now, of course, this is fun for the players, less fun for the dungeon master… and it becomes even more of a big deal if you’re playing Road to Legends (the version of the game that turns a 4 hour session into a 4 month one). Well, this creates a balance issue that is really tough to house rule back into something fun for everybody.
Well, with some tweaking, they’ve finally fixed the problems and reskinned it with some familiar faces. The game is called Star Wars – Imperial Assault and, whew.
Here’s the main fix to the Descent rules: instead of the players taking their turn then the dungeon master taking his turn, the players pick which one of the players will go, then the dungeon (er, space?) master will pick which one of his creatures will go. Will you pick the storm troopers or the officer? Well, you’ll pick the creatures that will have the best advantage, right? If the players pick off two of your stormtroopers with their first guy, use the officer. If they snipe the officer, use the stormtroopers… and, meanwhile, the scenario is ticking. (Our first session had a group of rebels attacking a base and we had six turns to destroy four consoles… we destroyed 3 and damaged the fourth and if we had seven turns, we could have pulled it off. But, instead, we failed.)
More than that, the fighting mechanics have improved somewhat. Instead of having the attacker roll for whether they’ll hit, the attacker rolls for how much damage s/he does. The defender then rolls the armor die to see how much damage their armor deflects. Heavy armor can potentially deflect more damage, but light armor can potentially dodge the attack entirely. (This makes the dreaded X from a potential irritant to a fun mechanic.)
Now, here are the downsides: The base game is about $70. That ain’t bad for a board game with this much depth (you’ve probably paid almost that much for videogames that didn’t have one tenth the hours of the storyline let alone the replayability)… but if you want to get Han Solo? That’ll cost you ten bucks. Chewbacca? Ten more. IG-88? Get another tenner out of your wallet. So the base game is $70, but the extras pretty much double that (and you’ll want the extras after you play the first game). So you’ll feel their hand reaching for your wallet as soon as you start. That’s kinda irritating.
Additionally, Descent’s setup time was relatively quick and painless compared to this. It took 5 minutes to set up a map that took up the majority of the card table. For this? Every piece of the map is unique, so it’ll take you five minutes to set up a map the size of a dinner plate. (So play it with people that you enjoy shooting the bull with because there’s a lot of downtime between maps.)
All that to say: if you’re familiar with Descent, know that this is Descent with Star Wars characters. If you hated Descent, you won’t start loving this. If you loved Descent and wished it was more sci-fi, this is what you’ve been waiting for. But the fundamental mechanics of the game are pretty identical. If you’ve played Descent, it’ll take you five minutes to figure out the differences. One of the criticisms I’ve seen is that they could take this exact same game and reskin it and call it “Gears of War The Board Game” or reskin it again and call it “Halo The Board Game” and it’d be just as apt for each play experience. That’s probably true but… hey. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to get with friends and throw some dice around?
You could do a lot worse than this one.
So… what are you playing?