Imperial Assault: Class Decks that Keep Campaigns Fun
In the board game Imperial Assault, Rebel heroes campaign together against the might of the Imperium. As a veteran of 7 full Imperial Assault Campaigns as both Imperial baddie and Rebel hero – 3 Core, 2 Hoth, 2 Twin Shadows, a couple of Bespin missions – I know the class deck chosen by the Imperial games master (GM) shapes half or more of how the game is played, and this influence is magnified as Agenda cards make the class deck more potent.
Like it or not the Imperial player is the most influential at the table and like many GMs I chose the class deck blindly my first couple of times through. As I progressed I began choosing much more carefully. I think a GMs progression in awareness and focus is remarkably similar to that of a Team Leader or Classroom Teacher. It looks something like this:
- Rookie: Self and Survival Oriented Please, please let me get through this session without anybody getting hurt, angry, or storming out of the room. If someone did storm out you may not know why because you’re so busy trying to remember how things are supposed to work. You read the manual multiple times but contact time is different, really different. Oh, look at that, time’s up, gotta go. Er, can we finish this later…?
- Intermediate: Procedure Oriented OK, I got this. Not much downtime consulting the manual and basic decisions are automatic. Can provide a stream of challenges and, damn it, I know how to win! People may not always leave happy but no mid-session “How much longer will this run do you think?” and people come back for the next session. There might be a lot of clockwatching but sessions are predictable in length and offer a uniform experience.
- Veteran: People and Outcome Oriented The choices I make two days in advance can drastically improve the future experience for everyone once things get started so that I can enjoy the moment along with my people. I’m focussed on getting and then keeping everyone engaged, interested, and excited. This, in turn, makes my job meaningful and enjoyable. Sessions fly by and always seem to end early even if it’s late. People hang around to talk after. The Holy Grail of coop gaming.
The veteran GM knows players, win or lose, need enough positive reinforcement to make success feel attainable next time around. Defeats should feel like learning experiences, not the precursor to the next failure. It is a hobby about games after all.
That’s why I know now to avoid decks like Subversive Tactics, choosing any of the other ones instead.
I did not miss the strain you to death! Most character special abilities require strain so once you are strained out it is no fun at all. – Mark (AKA Davith “Hawkbat” Elso), Core & Hoth Veteran
This aptly named deck is a joy killer. It offers little to the Imperial GM except the constant opportunity to stifle their players. It focuses on taking away options and turns a lot of the Imperial decisions into the rote and automatic dishing out of strain, or the odd reaction after a hero rests. Putting Bleed on players with Savage Weaponry, this decks only attachment, just compounds the problem.
Weary Target = Weary Players When filled up with strain Heroes can’t do the things that make them heroic and fun to play. Heroes are forced to rest more often to clear the strain. In game terms I understand this deck represents an effective and valid strategy; however, I guarantee novice, intermediate, and most veteran players aren’t coming to your game sessions to use their actions to rest and clear strain while looking wistfully at their cool abilities. For me, this deck got old three missions into a full campaign and feedback from the players was pretty clear – Don’t play that class again!
This class deck will allow veteran players to avoid being wounded as soon and to show off how well they can shed strain with surges and other tricks, if they develop order-of-activation and player coordination into an art form. Executioner, Oppression, and No Quarter cards can present an interesting challenge for the Imperial player. In short, veteran players can beat this deck, but are they having fun doing it? I know that I don’t as the Imperial player.
Military Might is another base set class deck. Riot Grenades aside, this deck buffs Imperial troops by improving survivability and makes troops hit harder. It’s fun! Now, this deck will wound the heroes more quickly and frequently. What this deck doesn’t do, however, is nerf the heroes cool combos. And that’s a good thing.
The Stormtrooper buffs were annoying but nothing like the strain deck which really sucked a lot of the fun out. – Duncan (AKA Saska “Unstable” Teft), Core & Hoth Campaign Veteran
Yes, players will groan when faced with this near unkillable Snowtroopers combo built with the Military Might deck but they’ll still be able to outrun, out-activate, and in the later campaign, just plain kill what the Imperial player throws in their way.
The cards below are the starter cards from each Imperial class deck released before the Jabba’s Realm expansion. You can get an idea of the purpose of the decks from these. Edit: With Jabba’s Realm now in hand the focus of the two new class decks is on buffing Imperial villains and buffing Mercs with hero Loku-like powers. Both decks allow people who have bought deeply into the system (i.e. Me!) to get their figure packs into the game more often. Sweet!
One of these not like the others is. Strong the Dark Side is but hated it will make you. Choose wisely.
What are your thoughts on playing with or against the Imperial Class decks? Any favourites? Any that you hate?
Other key posts on Imperial Assault are:
Imperial Assault: How to Tweak a Campaign to Make it Better
Imperial Assault: The Emperor reveals the power of the pesky white defense die
Imperial Assault: Jabba’s Realm Class Decks, Fun for Everyone?
Nice post! Admittedly I didn’t go too deep into Imperial Assault, but your Rookie/Intermediate/Veteran classification got me thinking about the elusive ‘right’ level of familiarity with rules. I think it’s different for board games than it is for RPGs (and Imperial Assault is right in the middle of these).
I think an RPG works best if everyone knows the rules cold, then you can get on with the story which is where the challenge should be in an RPG. And then the game flows quickly. So for me, I want to play the same RPG a lot once you’ve got over the rules hump.
For board games by the time you know the rules well you often also know the strategies and tactics cold too and the game is dead to you. Board games don’t usually approach an RPG for repeatable play. Of course some board games have enormous strategic and tactical depth that can be mined long after mastering the rules – e.g. chess, go. But that’s a problem too, because it’s hard to find players at a similar level. With so many games now, almost the only time you have an even match is when everyone is hitting the same game for the first time. Always in rule learning mode, which is good and bad…
Totally agree about the importance of GM preparation. As you got deeper into Imperial Assault, did you find that you were able to maintain the necessary tension? I.e. did the players ever feel that they were really at risk of dying or was there some other source of tension that did the job? Or was it more about just wanting to play out the story?
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Thanks taking the time to comment and the good thoughts! Your points about RPG Vs. Board Game mastery are incisive.
I’d say that what kept the campaign going was the RPG elements of levelling a character up, forwarding the overall Rebel cause, and the sense of anticipation wondering, “What’s going to happen tonight?” as each IA mission put the Rebels in novel situations. The Hoth campaign had a lot of cool tricks up its sleeve. Sometimes heroes had to run for their lives, defend, attack, kill every Imperial figure on the board, or just plain hide. Cameos by R2D2, C3PO, Vader, Lando, and Leia didn’t hurt the narrative either.
The board game rules of IA provided the structure and allowed the players to plan with some precision. As you say, once players have rules mastered they can get on with the business of having a narrative game flow quickly. Tension was maintained the majority of the time by having to solve the ‘puzzle’ of each of the missions and by working toward rewards granted by doing well (not necessarily winning) during missions.
There’s no real risk of dying in IA; however, you can get wounded or ‘flipped’ during a mission and this limits what you can do. It was interesting to see the dynamic where some players volunteered to take it on the chin so that others could fulfill mission objectives. I think at one point someone actually said, “I’ll hold them off while you crack the safe!”
There is a skirmish mode of IA that dispenses with the campaign framework, the GM, and anything but a very, very limited narrative. It’s a hand-management, deck construction, miniatures game that’s a fully tried and tested major tournament ready game. Fantasy Flight runs tournaments for literally thousands of players all around the world. It’s that airtight a system. If you went to one of those tourneys in the “rule learning mode” you identified you’d get creamed. IA campaign on the other hand allows for players of all experience and ability levels to participate.
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