Imperial Assault: How to Tweak a Campaign to Make it Better
Last time we looked at campaign play for the board game Imperial Assault and Imperial class decks that keep campaigns fun. The conclusion was that some Imperial class cards are joy killers. The sweet spot is a set-up where the Imperial and Rebel forces are balanced. In a perfect campaign every mission should reward good play and then ride on the last activation and die roll of the game. We can tweak campaigns in subtle ways to make sure they play balanced and enjoyable.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Empire is mighty and the Rebel’s task a monumental one but we found two intangibles that were skewing the game too much in the Empire’s favor.
- First, the Emperor has foreseen the proceedings and knows where and when events will trigger. GMs know every Rebel mission objective before the Rebels even know there’s a mission. Knowledge, and the Dark Side, is power.
- Second, the Empire gets at least four activations to follow through on a plan (i.e. wound the hero that activates first) while the Rebels have to coordinate an overall plan across four separate heroes, without having one player take over and ‘quarterback’ the whole thing.
These intangibles add plot, tension, and enjoyment to the game and really play up the Mighty Empire Vs. The Underdog Rebellion theme; however, we felt we needed to rebalance things a little to make it more enjoyable for everyone. Here are some issues which, if resolved, will put things back in balance. Fantasy Flight baked some solutions into the updated rules for the new Jabba’s Realm expansion. These updates are noted here.
1. It felt like Rebel heroes were taking too long to get kitted up. In the last campaign we started heroes with 1 experience point (xp) which they had to spend before playing the first mission. Besides, kitted up heroes are fun!
- 1 xp hero class cards are not super-powerful but immediately make the Rebel characters more fun to play and more likely to do well in early missions. This, in turn, translates into greater rewards for the Rebels – more credits and better gear to play with.
- In the long game this also allows heroes to bank early xp rewards so that the awesome 3 and 4 xp cards are attainable sooner. If they’re lucky they might end up with a three xp card after the second mission.
- In the Hoth campaign we just finished this worked out well. The sides were very evenly matched with many missions coming down to the last die roll. The Twin Shadows and Bespin mini-expansions take this approach by jumping into shortened campaigns with tricked out heroes from the beginning. This is a milder version of that approach.
2. Side missions that came later in the campaign were too difficult for our heroes. Many of the side missions take place on smaller maps. With the Empire able to deploy hard-hitting, elite troops more often there was nowhere for the Rebels to hide or rest. At threat level 5 side missions turned into chores. Consider trying:
- No elite Imperial troops, unless the side mission states otherwise. Elite E-Web Engineers, Royal Guard, and Stormtroopers with attachments can wound heroes at an alarming rate. Often, Rebels don’t stand a chance in side missions at close quarters. The narrative reads that the heavy hitters aren’t deployed for side missions, they’re too busy doing their Master’s other story mission bidding.
- Knocking back the threat level by one on side missions after the mid-way point of campaigns. There’s a big difference between 4 and 5 threat, often enough to give the Rebels a better chance.
3. The game rewards the Imperial player for hoarding influence cards. Some missions are more important than others and the savvy Imperial player will allocate resources so. A side mission where Imperials already flood the board that has minimal rewards is not worthy of using a precious influence card. Saving them up for key or final missions pays greater dividends. This can skew the decisive prelude and finale badly towards the Imperial player. How about:
- Limiting the number of Influence cards the Imperial player can have in hand and on the table to, say, 4. As in the examples below, Influence cards are either powerful one use cards or even more powerful play on the table cards. Limiting Imperial hand size will force the Imperial player to use cards in lesser missions thus spreading their impact more widely. This is the way the game was intended to be played.
- Jabba’s Realm has instituted a 4 card hand limit. You may be wise to preemptively backdate it for Core, Hoth, Bespin, and Twin Shadows campaigns as well.
Finally, while not a game balance issue we found that all the expansions were adding a cumulative unpredictable impact.
4. Increasingly, random selection of side missions caused a lack of campaign focus. With access to more expansions and figure packs an Arkham Horror style expansion overload is creeping in but we’re unwilling to limit hero and Empire troop choice to just one or two expansions. In result, this Hoth campaign saw us go back and forth from Tatooine to Hoth enough times to catch our death of cold, and get sunburn besides. The main campaign had cohesion but side missions seemed like a series of random, unconnected events.
- Hand picking a very limited side mission deck in keeping with the overall campaign location or theme is the answer here. Then, if you want random, blindly choose from this streamlined deck. While it may take some of the narrative away it will tightly focus the overall story line and keep up much-needed story cohesion.
- With the 5 available side missions in the Hoth campaign I’d suggest including the 4 individual Hero missions and then one or two others; perhaps chosen to include a character or unit from the expansion packs that everyone would like to see in action. Are you really happy with all your character packs sitting idly by? Who doesn’t want to see Han Solo, Skywalker, Chewie, or his Wookiee Warrior buddies in action?
- Jabba’s Realm has only 4 side mission slots, one less than Hoth and they happen earlier in the campaign. Kills two birds with one stone.
Don’t include all the above suggestions at the same time or things will get silly!
Hand picking one or two tweaks can redress some of the issues you might be experiencing as you work your way through campaigns. If you put in a tweak and it’s making a mess of things, take it back out again. Likewise, don’t be afraid to put in a tweak mid-campaign if one side is running away with things. Campaigns are significant investments in time and energy and it’s important that everyone get the most out of the experience. GMs should be open with players before putting in tweaks to make sure everyone sees the sense of it.
Remember, the role for the Imperial GM is providing a challenge for your players. The Empire should still revel in its victories! But make sure the Ewoks get a chance to do their dance as well.
What do you think? Should the Rebels stop whining and just get on with it? Or do you think the game’s balanced without any tweaks?