How to Crush a Cardboard Rebellion

A story and sort-of review of one epic game of Star Wars: Rebellion

The Empire prepares for war

Star Wars: Rebellion has been — for me — a singular experience in boardgaming. In removing the lid, you’ve opened a science fiction toolbox and found the implements necessary to build something grand.

With no specific intentions, Rian and I essentially made a reverse “Empire Strikes Back” the other night. We sat down on either side of the table. I controlled the noble Empire, and he the rapacious Rebellion, bent on disrupting the beautiful galactic order my Imperial troops had worked so hard to create. We read the rules, made contact with a self-described Rebellion Expert playing a different game at another table, and set out.

Star Wars: Rebellion is, at its core, a very simple game. The player controlling the Rebellion secretly hides their base on one of the planets depicted on the huge board, and the player controlling the Empire spends the next 3-ish hours attempting to find and destroy it. If they do find and destroy it, they win. If the Rebel player can hold out for enough turns, they win. It’s taut, tense, and terrific.

Our first game moved slowly at first as we sussed out the rules (and occasionally ran to our resident expert for help). In the blink of an eye, though, two hours of our lives were gone, and we were entranced. It was time to bring this story to an end.

Using a long-range probe droid, I discovered that his hidden Rebel base was on Tatooine (if there’s a bright center to the universe, he was hiding on the planet that it’s farthest from). Coincidentally, I happened to be in the middle of constructing a glorious Death Star in orbit around it. “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” I chortled in my joy.

Construction begins on the Death Star

When he realized that his cover was blown, Rian sent Han Solo to rally the troops to Tatooine for what was sure to be a grand final battle. What he didn’t know was that Boba Fett had been tracking a bounty to Tatooine, and upon discovering Solo, captured him and took him to Rodia, where Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader waited to witness Han Solo get frozen in carbonite.

That moment is etched in my mind forever. As Rian was mulling over his decision, the possibility that we would be creating a scenario in which I could capture Han Solo and freeze him in carbonite was eating me up inside. “Send Solo to Tatooine,” I telepathically projected toward his side of the table. “It is your destiny.”

Rian was not nearly as pleased as I that his character was in my clutches and immobilized, even if it meant that we were recreating movie scenes in a boardgame. The rebels attempted to mount a daring rescue, with Chewbacca providing enough misdirection to allow Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi to sneak onto Rodia and rescue their friend.

While they were stranded on Rodia, however, the Empire completed construction of their Death Star, and convened all their considerable power on Tatooine to crush the Rebellion and destroy their base. It was time for them to witness the power of this fully operational battle station.

The Death Star is complete

After a devastating space battle saw ship after ship go down before the might of the Death Star, a group of AT-ATs and stormtroopers landed on the planet and wiped out the rebel ground forces, ending the campaign in favor of the Empire. The galaxy joined me in rejoicing in my victory.

The final battle field

I can’t think of another game that has provided an experience like that. No session of Ticket to Ride has found my wife and I imagining stories of high adventure in the building of transcontinental railroads. Even games that are ostensibly about storytelling haven’t drawn me in the way Star Wars: Rebellion drew me and Rian in that night.

We can’t wait to play again.