May the fourth be with you! In case you’ve missed it, today is Star Wars day and I thought I should honour that by reviewing a themed game. So let’s go back to a time of galactic unrest. The Empire has the galaxy in a firm grip, with Emperor Palpatine and his loyal servant Darth Vader spreading terror everywhere. But a small band of Rebels are fighting for freedom for the galaxy, and with the Force on their side they might even stand a chance…
Which side will you choose in this struggle of Empire vs Rebellion?
The core mechanic of Star Wars: Empire vs Rebellion is the same as in the classic card game Blackjack – getting as close to a given number without going over. In Empire vs Rebellion however, it is not simply to aim for 21 as the target changes throughout the game. Added to this core is the use of strategy cards as well as card powers. It is an easy game to learn, but it does involve a fair bit of strategy with the cards (but it’s still light). It is strictly a two player game, and takes about an hour to play. So first, let’s look at the different components of the game and then move onto actual gameplay.
- Event cards – These are the cards that determines the number you need to aim for. In the bottom left corner there is a number in a circle. This is the Object Value and exactly what you’re trying to hit. Next to it is a collection of hexagons – the Capacity. You cannot have more cards than this in play at the same time. In the upper right hand corner there are two numbers in circles. The bigger one in the white circle is the amount of victory points you receive for winning the Event. The red one is the number of resource tokens you will receive for winning (more on those later). Several of the Event cards also have an Effect box in the bottom right corner. These effects may be pertinent to the struggle for the Event or affect the winner or loser at the end. Each of the Event cards are actual events from the three original Star Wars movies where the Empire and the Rebellion clashed in some way, with nice pictures from the films. There are 24 different Event cards, and you won’t go through them all in one game. So that makes for some nice diversity and replayability.
- Resource cards – These are simply the cards you play to try to win the Event. You draw these from your Resource Deck and place in front of you. There are 24 Resource Cards for each faction. Each Resource card has a Resource Value ranging from 2-5. This is what you’re trying to match to the Object Value of the current Event. The Resource cards each also have a Power. These powers don’t change with the value of the card, and are generally same for both factions with only the art differing. To utilise this power you turn the card 90 degrees to show that it has been exhausted. If you are unfamiliar with card games that work this way, this action is called tapping. A tapped card has to be untapped for its power to be used again, and the same goes for this game. So, the different type of Resource cards and their powers are as follow:
- Recon lets you look at the top 2 cards of either your own or you opponent’s Resource deck and discard one.
- Diplomacy lets you discard the Diplomacy card or another of your played Resource cards.
- Military lets you discard one of your opponents Resource cards.
- The Force lets you exhaust either one of your own, or one of your opponent’s, Resource cards. You do not however get to use its power.
- Characters are special. There are eight of these cards for each faction. At the start of the game your will have four of them in your Resource deck, and four in your Reserve. Each character has a Resource Value of 6 when “ready”, but only a value of 1 when exhausted. They all have different powers, that also differ between the factions. But in terms of placing and using Characters they work the same as other Resource cards. They also have the same card back so you won’t be able to tell them apart in your deck.
- Strategy cards – There are 5 Strategy cards for each faction. Again, the strategies for both sides are identical. During each round both sides pick a strategy for that round and keep it a secret til the end. This of course colours the way you choose to play your Resource cards. Maybe you want to lose, or maybe it’s enough to be two away from the Objective value to win.
- Influence tokens – There are 16 influence tokens in the game. These are simply used to untap a Resource card, or as this game puts it “ready an exhausted Resource card”.
- Balance token – This is simply an oversized cardboard coin with the Alliance Starbird (the symbol of the Rebellion) on one side, and the Imperial Crest on the other. You flip it at the start of the game and it is used to indicate who goes first, as well as settle eventual ties. Whoever has the least victory points at the start of a new round will have their symbol face up on the Balance token for the new round.
At the beginning of the game you separate the deck into Empire and Rebellion, as well as Events. Each faction then separates their deck into smaller sections with regular Resource cards, Character cards, and Strategy. Four of the Character cards for each faction are then shuffled into the corresponding Resource deck, and the remaining four are put into a Reserve. Each player gains two Influence tokens, and the Balance token is flipped to see who starts the first round. The game can now begin.
There are three phases to each round of the game: Planning, Struggle, and Dominance. It may sound complicated at first with all these different phases and steps, but it really isn’t. There’s just names for everything and dividing it like this makes gameplay easier to follow. So let’s just go through each phase:
- Planning – During the Planning phase a new Event is revealed. Once this is face up on the table the two sides pick their Strategy for the round and places it face down in front of them. Their opponent will of course not know what strategy has been chosen. You cannot choose a strategy card you’ve already used (but more on that soon).
- Struggle – This is the main phase of the game, where you will play and use your Resource cards. Each turn you can choose one action to take of the following:
- Play a card – simply flip the top card of your Resource deck and add it to your play area face up. You cannot do this if you have reached the Event’s capacity. If you have no cards in your play area you have to do this.
- Use a power – if you have “ready” cards in your play area you can use one of their powers. When you’ve done this you turn your card 90 degrees clockwise, and it has now been “exhausted” (or tapped). To exhaust a Resource card that you own you have to use its power if possible (this is only really important for Characters). You can however exhaust a card with a power that can not be used for some reason. If a power causes a card from either faction to be discarded, that card is placed face up in a discard pile next to that faction’s resource pile.
- Spend influence – pay a influence token (which is returned to the supply) and untap one of your Resource cards. You turn it back up and it is now ready to be used on your next turn.
- Pass – you simple do nothing except saying you pass. If you have passed you can still keep playing on your next turn. The round ends when both sides pass right after each other.
- Dominance – This is the last phase, which has three steps:
- Reveal strategies – each side simply flips their Strategy cards face up. The strategy has to be used.
- Determine victory – then Victory is determined based on the combined Resource Value of each side as well as the Strategy cards (which could add resource value, or flip the whole system on its head). If a player goes over the Object Value they do not resolve their strategy. In the case of a tie, the face up side of the balance token determines the victor. The player who won takes the Event cards and places it in their player area, in view of the other player (so that you both know the current amount of VP you both have). The victor also receives the amount of influence tokens indicated on the Event card. Any potential effects of the Event is also resolved, such as extra rewards.
- Clean up – Each player gathers their resource cards (unused, discarded, and active) and shuffle them into a new resource deck. The balance token is set showing the face of the faction with the least victory points. The players also discard their used strategy cards (face up). If they have now used up all five strategy cards they take the strategy discard pile and shuffle it. It can now be used for the next round.
And so the game continues with another round. It all ends when one side has reached seven victory points! So will there be a New Republic or will the Emperor reign for many years to come?
This is actually a so called reskin (or re-theme) of an older Fantasy Flight game called Cold War: CIA vs KGB (link to BGG entry here) which obviously had a completely different theme. Some changes were made for this Star Wars version though, but I can’t tell you exactly which ones since I have not tried Cold War. A lot of people seem to think that the original theme suited the game play better. I can obviously neither agree or disagree since I have not tried the original. The Star Wars theme works well enough, and I got it solely based on theme anyway. I wanted a small and easy Star Wars game that wasn’t strictly for children or basically just Star Wars themed tic-tac-toe. And I definitely got what I wanted.
It’s a good card game that turned out to be more strategic than I first thought it would be, which is a good thing. Of course it’s not heavy strategy whatsoever, but you still have to think about what your opponent might be able to do, use your Strategy card to your advantage, and push your luck a bit. The game doesn’t end just because one side exceeds the object value, as you can try to use for example Diplomacy to discard cards. But eventually you will run out of influence tokens, or get stuck with no helpful power. I do wish the game was slightly more assymetric, with at least the Strategy cards being different depending on the side you’re on. I do appreciate that the powers of the Character cards do differ and also adhere to the general style of the side their from. The Empire tends to be quite aggressive, whereas the Rebels work more to boost their own ranks.
I must also note that the game does take about an hour to play, which is also something you might not first expect. I didn’t even look at the expected play time (which does say 60 minutes), and just jumped in. I am pretty sure we played for about an hour and I won almost every round (the Empire is strong after all). If it would’ve been more even it definitely could’ve taken much longer. Granted, I have only played it properly once so far (as I only bought it last week), and the first time takes longer since you have to get into it. When both sides have gotten properly used to the gameplay and maybe even can keep track of used cards, the game will be faster. But I think I will always allot for an hour of play in the future.
The game looks good. Nothing spectacular, but good component quality with thick tokens and decent card stock. The art is pretty good too with stills from the movies. It would’ve been nice with different pictures for the different value of Resource cards. But there are not enough of them to really make that big of a difference. I do really like the art on the card backs though, especially the Rebellion ones (even though I think I prefer to play the Imperial side).
If you want a simple Star Wars themed game to play with your fellow geeks (and you don’t already own Cold War), I do recommend this one. It doesn’t require nearly the same kind of commitment that most other Star Wars games do, nor does it depend on any actual Star Wars knowledge (unlike trivia games). So anyone who liked card games and is at least a casual Star Wars fan should enjoy playing Empire vs Rebellion.
- Title: Star Wars: Empire vs. Rebellion
- Designers: Sébastien Gigaudaut, David Rakoto, Nikki Valens
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Players: 2 (yup, a strictly two player game)
- Time: 60 min
- Type: cards
- Size: small
- Release year: 2014