Review: Rise of the Empire (Rebellion Expansion)

When I’m not working on my Star Wars RPG campaigns, I find the time for tabletop games once in a while.  One of my very favorite games is Star Wars Rebellion, by Fantasy Flight Games.  It’s such a fantastic simulation game surrounding the civil war we all know and love.  When I purchased the game I thought it was going to be like Risk, but with a Star Wars spin.  Boy was I wrong!  What makes it great is that both sides, Imperial and Rebel, have entirely different winning conditions, feel, abilities, missions, objectives, and units.  If you play the Rebel side, you need to either hold out long enough, or increase your allies across the galaxy enough to overthrow the Empire.  If you’re the Imperials, your job is to destroy the Rebel base, which the Rebels must attempt to keep hidden or mobile long enough to win.  The Imperials will gradually overrun the board with military might, and the Rebels will try and sabotage the Empire’s efforts as they sneak around.  It really, successfully recreates the simulation of the what the Galactic Civil War is like in the Star Wars universe.  If you wondered if Rebellion was simply an elaborate game of Risk or Axis and Allies, you would be mistaken like I was.

So back in May Fantasy Flight Games announced a new expansion for the game called Rise of the Empire.  The idea behind the expansion is to roll the clock back a little bit to the era seen in the film, Rogue One.  It introduces new Rebel and Imperial leaders, new units, new missions, and new rules to make the game feel more like the very beginning of the war between the Alliance and the Empire.  And I have to say after playing it through, it does this beautifully and is a great, cheap addition to the game.  So this is a quick review of the expansion and what you can expect!  (This article assumes the reader has a somewhat basic understanding of the Rebellion core game. Check out a strategy guide here for Empire and Rebels)

The new units in Rise of the Empire


The Rise of the Empire expansion retails for $39.95, but you can usually find it for less if you look.  It comes with eight new units for the game, four for each side.  The Rebels get a Nebulon-B Frigate, U-Wing, Rebel Vanguard (Rocket Launcher Soldier), and a Golan Arms Turret (the ones from Empire Strikes Back).  The Imperials get an Interdictor Cruiser, TIE Striker, Shield Bunker, and Assault Tanks.  Some of the more interesting abilities of these new units: the Shield Bunker makes any Death Star above it protected from any attacks, and the Interdictor prevents any Rebel units from retreating in combat.

The expansion has you add to, or replace, several elements of the core game (will talk about that more in a moment), and it works to give the game the feel of the Rogue One time frame.  The Death Star is not yet operational, and the Alliance is not yet engaging in obvious, public displays of rebellion.  This works because the game shifts the starting units you have, including the Imperials, who do not get a Death Star until after Round 3.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that change in the new expansion.

Rebel Objective Cards

The new expansion adds a few new objective cards for the Rebel side.  Because most types of activities that a Rebel player would perform exist regardless of the year in the war, most of them stay the same.  The game does, however, add some into the mix.  Honestly, these cards don’t have any specific Rogue One feel to them, but rather they add some flair.  For example, one card lets you attempt a certain action, and if you pull it off, you can remove any Objective Card from your hand and still get Reputation for it.  This would let you get rid of a pesky Objective Card that you won’t be able to pull off otherwise.  The Objective Cards, for the most part in the expansion, are along this line.

Mission Cards

This is where the game really turns into Rogue One, as Mission Cards are the primary method of manipulating the game and the game board.  For example, on the Imperial side, Orson Krennic has a mission called “Secure the Plans.”  This allows you, in a remote system, to place a marker in the system preventing the Rebels from using the Death Star Plans card.  Krennic also has his Death Troopers in this game who have a mission called “Draw Them Out” forcing the Rebel player to place a chosen leader in the system the Imperial player indicates, allowing you to possibly capture him/her.  Jabba the Hutt, a new Imperial leader in the game, has a mission called “Make an Example,” which if successful, can kill a Rebel leader.

On the Imperial Project Cards, there are a few additions like “Single Reactor Ignition” which lets you destroy all the Rebel ground troops in a system with a Death Star, without destroying the entire system.

On the Rebel side, one mission called “Assault” takes Baze Malbus and lets him destroy up to three stormtroopers in one attack.  “Secret Mission” uses Cassian Andor to look through your mission deck and pick any two missions you see.  “Behind Enemy Lines” lets you move units from your Rebel Base space into any system you attempt the mission in.  And of course, Jyn Erso gets a mission called “Heist,” and if it is successful, allows her to remove new target markers from any system, or draw new objective cards if placed in a system with a Death Star.  Not to be undone, Saw Gerrera has a “Prepare for Battle” mission.  This one lets him return all leaders that were assigned to the mission back to the Leader pool to use twice in that round.  You can also look at the top four cards of the tactic deck and reorder them as you prep for the next conflict.

Action Cards

Action cards have all been added to support the new leaders of course.  They all have fairly fun things on them to do that are indicative of the leader.  Jabba the Hutt can place bounties on Rebel leaders, while Orson Krennic can create a secret facility on any system, gaining possibly a Shield Bunker to protect a Death Star under construction.  Krennic’s Death Troopers can “Sweep the Area” allowing them to catch a Rebel leader in any system you have a Probe Droid card for.

The Rebels get similar action cards like Jyn or Chirrut who can automatically gain loyalty in a subjugated system.  Cassian can also use a “He Means Well” card to add a K2-SO ring to a leader to help with missions.  “Under the Radar” lets Saw reorganize the top of the Probe Droid deck.

Advanced Tactic Cards

The Tactic Cards of the game, the ones used when ground or space combat has commenced, have completely changed.  In fact, the expansion completely replaces the cards and the old ones in the core game are not used.  They are also used completely differently.  The previous Tactic Cards were used in the middle of combat, allowing you to add damage, or block damage, for the most part.  The Advanced Tactic Cards, part of what the game calls “Cinematic Combat,” are used before the combat starts only.  The Imperials and Rebels each have a different deck for each theater, rather than a shared deck.  Because you play them before combat starts, they affect the overall round of combat, rather than a single moment.  Also you don’t draw them randomly.  You get to choose any card to play before fighting starts, and you must play a card.  Many cards also have two different abilities. To use one of them, you also must have a specific unit engaged in the combat, signified by an icon on the cards.

For example, Imperials can get “501st Support,” automatically destroying a ground personnel unit before fighting starts if you have a Stormtrooper unit.  Or “Armored Patrol,” which lets you prevent hits because you have the tanks involved.  “Target the Generator” lets the AT-AT destroy any ground structure, and “Superlaser Blast” lets you use a Death Star to do five damage to any capital ship, just like in Return of the Jedi.

Rebels get their fair share of fun, cinematic Advanced Tactic Cards like “Outrun Them” that lets you cancel the Imperial’s Tactic Card.  “Ion Blast” lets you use the Ion Cannon from the core game to deal one damage to any capital ship, and damage can’t be blocked for that ship during the round.  “Tow Cables” lets your Snowspeeders deal 4 damage before fighting starts to AT-ATs or AT-STs.  Another fun one is “Planetary Shield,” which lets you block damage to your ground troops, and deflect them to the Shield Generator.

So, overall, I have to say, if you love Rebellion, and are looking for a fun way to spice it up, this expansion is definitely worth it.  It changed the game enough where, each time you play, you can decide to play with the Rise of the Empire rules, stick with the core rules, or a combination of both.  It adds enough new leaders, cards, and abilities, that you can introduce new strategies and moments you’ve never had, even if you’ve played a lot of games.  I think it’s worth the buying price if you’re a fan already, and would make a fairly inexpensive Christmas gift if you have a family member or friend that already has Rebellion.

I have had fun with my initial play through of Rise of the Empire, and I’m looking forward to playing even more.

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Scott Alden

Scott Alden

Scott is a full-time IT Manager living in Lawrence, KS. (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Just outside Kansas City for those who don't know.) Scott is a veteran of several role playing, table top miniatures, video, and board games, starting with the Atari 2600 when he was 6, and the classic red box Dungeons and Dragons game when he was 12. After a long hiatus away from the hobby, Scott has recently picked up gaming once again, and is running two different campaigns in Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny lines. He is an avid X-Wing miniatures player, as well as Armada, Imperial Assault, Space Hulk, and Rebellion. (His family is obviously a Star Wars family, right?) Scott is married to his high school sweetheart, and has 2 children in middle school, both Black Belts in Krav Maga martial arts.
Scott Alden

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