Assault on Hoth!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today we’re going retro, as I showcase one of the classic Star Wars games of the 1980s! Lord Vader may start his landing, because we’re launching an Assault on Hoth!

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

This game hails from 1988, and was one of a quartet of actual boardgames put out by West End Games while they held the Star Wars licence. Much like Escape from the Death Star, I have vivid memories of trying to play this with my brother but, being four years old at the time, the finer nuances of tabletop wargaming were somewhat beyond me…

Reading through the rulebook now, Assault on Hoth is very clearly a tabletop wargame in the mould of such things as Runewars or Battlelore from Fantasy Flight Games, where each player commands an army (in this case, of cardboard stand-ups) and attempts to secure an objective as they each fight over a hex-based map. There are Imperial units, and there are Rebel units, and the Imperials are trying to storm the Rebels and destroy the shield generator, while the Rebels are just trying to escape from the planet.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

The game is played quite simply, in one respect, as activation is taken care of through a deck of Action cards. Over the course of the game, these cards are continually flipped over, and reshuffled, allowing the players to move and/or fire with their units. There are also two Action cards that allow players to draw an Event card; these cards hold the keys to Rebel victory, as there are a number of ‘Transport Away!’ events that, if you accumulate five of them, will win you the game. The other Events are reinforcements for both sides, allowing the war in the tundra to continue.

The Rebel player can also win by wiping out all Imperial units on the board, which I suppose is a useful backup plan, given that you’d otherwise have to just cycle through the Action deck continually, hoping to draw five ‘Transport Away!’ cards.

So, how does combat work? Well, I’m glad you asked.

WEG is of course famous for the Star Wars RPG they published during the 1980s and 90s, which was a d6 system. Most of their other games also leant heavily on the d6, and Assault on Hoth is no different. If an Action card allows you to attack with one of your units, the card will stipulate a Fire Strength, which denotes the amount of Fire Dice you roll. These are specialist d6 dice that feature a Vader helmet on two sides, a lightsaber on another two sides, and blank faces on the remaining two sides. Vader helmets only matter for the Imperial player, and lightsabers only matter for the Rebel player. There is a chart on the board that shows both the Fire Strength of each unit in the game, as well as an armour value for that unit. If the number of successes you rolled on the Fire Dice equals or exceeds the armour of your target, then that unit is destroyed, and removed from the board.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

Something that is interesting here, however, is that range can modify your shots. The board is divided up into hexes and ‘macrohexes’, groups of seven hexes that can affect your ability to fire at targets. Basically, you select your target, then count the number of macrohexes between the two units, and reduce the fire strength by that number. For instance, a Heavy Trooper shooting at a Light Trooper two macrohexes away would have his fire strength of 4 reduced by 2, meaning he would only roll 2 fire dice. This is still possible, as a Light Trooper only has an armour value of 1, but there are times when you cannot roll the number of successes to equal your target’s armour.

Terrain also makes a feature, marked out by dark blue patches of rough rocky trenches and the like. If you fire at a unit that is on rough terrain, the fire strength is also reduced by 1.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

So we’ve got all the classic hallmarks of a tabletop wargame, from terrain and cover to armour modifiers and even specialty dice. There are also cinematic moments, where the Rebels can fire harpoons at Walkers and the like, and the dramatic reveal of the Luke Skywalker Hero card, where the Rebel player can reveal that Luke was riding in one of the five starting snowpeeders, and thereafter use the Force to aid in his attacks.

However, for all that, the game is very straightforward. The rules actually state that ‘Assault on Hoth is not a complicated game’, which is no doubt meant to be in its favour, though I can imagine that some people might be turned off from that. While there can be an incredible depth to playing the game at first, it can also quickly evolve into a much more mundane, waiting game to see whether you pull that fifth ‘Transports Away!’ event card, of if you manage to park your units in the right place on the map to just pick off any Imperials who happen to wander too close to the Shield Generator.

The main thing this game has going for it, almost thirty years after its initial release, is that it is a wonderfully thematic recreation of the first half hour or so of Empire Strikes Back, and can be tremendous fun for the right pair of Star Wars enthusiasts to sit down and battle for an hour or so!

The game is incredibly expensive on ebay right now, and of the four WEG games, I think has always commanded the higher price on the secondary market. While I always thought Star Warriors was the more popular game, clearly Assault on Hoth has got something going for it after all this time!

It’s worth noting that there was an “expansion” for the game that WEG released through their RPG supplements over the years, that used the Assault on Hoth board game to depict the conflict between the role-playing Rebels and the dread Charon in Otherspace II: Invasion. A new deck of Action and Event cards was provided to depict the conflict, essentially providing a new way to play the game.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

Much like Escape from the Death Star, this game is a classic of Star Wars gaming history, and one that is always of interest for me, despite never figuring out how to play it all those decades ago!

Birthday Week Game Day Extra!

It’s birthday week here on spalanz.com, and time for a bit of game day extra, as I take a look at some more nostalgia from my childhood: The Real Ghostbusters: The Game!

Ghostbusters retro games

Oh, this one’s hilarious! Dating from 1989, the game is a tie-in to the cartoon series of the same name (more on that tomorrow!) You play one of the four Ghostbusters, or Janine or Slimer, and travel around the board trying to trap ghosts – once all the ghosts are trapped, the winner is the person who had the most.

Ghostbusters retro games

Along the way, there are mechanics for player interaction where you can attempt to “spook” your opponents – basically by playing rock/paper/scissors – to take their kit cards. Without all three pieces of kit (proton pack, proton gun, trap), you can’t trap ghosts and so cannot win the game. When you come to trap ghosts, the “bust-o-meter” is spun to determine the strength of your stream: if it’s higher than the ghost’s slime value (listed on the side of the board), you trap it. That’s pretty much all there is to it, though Action cards do allow you to interact with the game a little more, such as moving to ghosts to trap them etc.

I had this game from new, and seem to remember trying to get my brother to play it with me back in the day. I found it in the attic when I moved a few years ago, along with another awesome retro game that will be featured here no doubt eventually, and convinced my regular gaming buddy Tony to play, but it didn’t really stand up to the test of time.

Something I wasn’t all that impressed by was just how easy it is to knock somebody out of the game entirely, by winning just one round of rock/paper/scissors. Given your ability in the game is based entirely on something so arbitrary is just bizarre, I thought – it feels more luck-based than any kind of dice game, somehow! Maybe I’m just not good at rock/paper/scissors, though?

At any rate, it was fun to revisit the past, but I can’t say I’d recommend hunting down a copy on ebay anytime soon!

The Original d6

Hey everybody!
After all of the Star Wars excitement of the past weekend, it’s time for a very special game day today – it’s a blog that I’ve been ruminating over for close to two years, in fact! Let me take you back in time, to the late 1980s, and the original Star Wars Roleplaying Game from West End Games!

Star Wars RPG

This bad boy dates back to 1987, and it still gives me chills to pick up any of the books produced to support the run. I may as well tell you now, this blog will be quite heavily biased in the game’s favour!

The game system is based on West End Games’ d6 Roleplaying System, originally developed for a Ghostbusters RPG. The system is fairly straightforward to use – the core rulebook features a number of templates for characters to use from the off, or you could also create your own character from scratch. Your character has six attributes – dexterity, knowledge, mechanical, perception, strength and technical – along with a number of skills that are grouped under each attribute. These attributes all have a code against them that shows the number of six-sided dice (d6) you roll when making a test involving that attribute, often along with a modifier that would be applied to the final result. When rolling for tests, you need to equal or exceed the opposed result in order to succeed at that test.

Star Wars RPG
My own character sheet from my one and only foray into the WEG system!

That’s pretty much all there is to it. There are some rules for the Force, though as this was in a time where the original trilogy was the only thing around for fans of the franchise, there wasn’t a lot to go on and so the rulebook doesn’t spend a lot of time on it. Interestingly, though, the rules state that you can learn a Force skill from a character who is willing to teach you – implying that anyone can use the mystical energy field! Something important about this system, however, is its categorization of Jedi powers into three groups: control, sense and alter. These are so often used nowadays in Star Wars gaming, it’s interesting to note that this is where that categorization started!

Of course, the main focus of roleplaying games in the Star Wars universe is combat, which is divided into action segments. During each segment, a player can use one skill or attribute, or move – the latter usually having an adverse affect on the dice rolling. Initiative is handled weirdly – weirdly, in comparison to other systems – in that players roll together when they’re doing something that will affect each other, and whoever has the higher result is deemed to have initiative and thus gets to have their action happen. I can’t think of another system that I’ve played that doesn’t have Initiative on the stat line, anyway!

The rules are otherwise fairly simple, and the core rulebook provides a solitaire choose your own adventure-style game to get you familar with them before you play, which I think is really nice! WEG later published two full-length solitaire adventure modules, written by none other than Troy Denning (author of Star by Star, among others!)

The rulebook features a fairly comprehensive GM section, including advice on everything you could need to run an adventure. It also has a short adventure included, “Rebel Breakout”, which gets you into the feel for how WEG adventures work, broken into a series of encounters within larger episodes. These are often broken up with useful sidebars with information you might want to use, and also blocks of text you can read aloud as GM to set the feel. Along with an extensive bank of character templates is a series of adventure ideas you can use to populate your own games!

Star Wars RPG

As I said before, the West End Games line features a whole raft of supporting material, from sourcebooks to adventure modules that you can use as preconstructed adventures, either to play as a stand-alone experience, or to slip into an ongoing adventure. In the early days, they also produced the above Campaign Pack, which came in a number of components – a GM screen, an adventure book, rules upgrades, and a fold-out map of a starship. The adventure book features advice for running a campaign as well as a short adventure, similar to the book included with the Gamemaster Kit, which features the Bissillirus Campaign. I wanted to mention this specifically because of the enormous production value of the product – the book fully fleshes-out the Trax Sector in a manner that would become commonplace for further WEG content, as well as providing some advice on building Rebel cells presented as in-universe advice from General Airen Cracken.

This brings me on to an extremely huge point about West End Games’ books – they effectively created the expanded universe with this enormous wealth of content, from creating new worlds to filling-out background on existing worlds. They also started the trend of providing names and backstories for all of the extras and bit-players in the movies – who’d have thought this guy, who was little more than set-dressing for Return of the Jedi, would become so important to the EU, as none other than the head of Alliance Intelligence, Airen Cracken himself!

General Cracken
No, not Lando – the guy in the background!

Oh yes, their service to Star Wars lore simply cannot be understated! In addition to providing the backstory, however, they also created the lore through the Star Wars Adventure Journal – a quarterly “magazine” that featured all sorts of stuff, from campaign settings to short fiction. I’ve mentioned this before, of course, back when I read some of that fiction (such as Command Decision), and while the Journal only ran to fifteen issues, it nevertheless has a whole host of amazing stuff to enjoy.

Returning to the subject of fleshing out existing stuff, I want to talk a bit about perhaps one of the more famous adventure modules WEG produced: Tatooine Manhunt!

Star Wars RPG

This was published in 1988, and I believe was the first full-length adventure module they produced. The Ralph McQuarrie cover art is another hallmark of the line, along with the fold-out map (double-sided – the reverse has the city of Mos Eisley itself, with local landmarks labelled).

The adventure follows a band of rebels (the players) aboard Kwenn Space Station who, learning that the Clone Wars veteran Adar Tallon has been discovered to be alive and well and living on Tatooine, and that the Galactic Empire has put a bounty on his head, travel to the desert world in an attempt to rescue him from the Emperor’s clutches.

The book introduces us to several bounty hunters – the cover art is misleading as, while it represents the blueprint for Vader’s bounty hunters in Empire Strikes Back, the hunters featured in the module are entirely new characters. Notably, we have the first appearance of Jodo Kast, a Boba Fett impersonator who would go on to have a fairly detailed history in Star Wars. WEG used him in several other books as a Boba Fett stand-in, and he has crossed over into both novels (the short story Side Trip, by Timothy Zahn and Michael A Stackpole, features Grand Admiral Thrawn using the personal of Kast) and comics (Twin Engines of Destruction saw the then-canon death of Kast, at the hands of none other than Boba Fett himself). Adar Tallon would also go on to a fairly interesting career in the lore, and also made it into comics for the Republic series, Dreadnoughts of Rendili.

I barely got to play with this system while in college – West End Games lost the licence to Wizards of the Coast in 1998, who produced three editions of the RPG, latterly Saga Edition, which I’ve already covered. But d6 West End Games will always hold that special place in my heart, both for the enormous impact it had on the Star Wars universe, and also for having gotten me interested not only just in Star Wars gaming, but in creating my own stories within the galaxy far, far away.

I’m only scratching the surface of the amazing source of Star Wars lore that the West End Games stuff supplies, and will likely be showcasing more of these books as time goes on. It’s become something of a Christmas tradition for me to reacquaint myself with one module (last year, it was none other than Tatooine Manhunt!) so I’m sure I’ll be sharing the wealth in the future!

Easter 2016! part one

Hey everybody!
I’ve mentioned it before, but Easter is my absolutely favourite time of year. It’s nothing religious, for I’m not a religious person – rather, it’s a combination of chocolate, time off work, and some very wonderful memories! See, Easter was the time of year when I first discovered the Star Wars expanded universe, when my mate Dave pointed me in the direction of Heir to the Empire and said, “go read that”. What an amazing time! Between that and Crimson Empire, I was totally sold on the EU, and have made it my mission to make every Easter as Star Wars-filled as I possibly can.

As well as re-watching the original trilogy every year, I usually find myself slipping back into some kind of reading program, which I mentioned in one of my very first blog entries here on spalanz.com! I’ve recently re-read a lot of those posts, which kinda sounds a bit vain now I mention it, but it got me back into the mood like nothing else. I’ve already started, anyway, by reading the awesome A New Dawn (well worth picking up!) and have continued this spirit with The Force Unleashed graphic novels!

The Force Unleashed

Back in the mid-2000s, a new video game was launched as the next chapter of the Star Wars saga. The game was released in 2008, and spawned a whole media crossover event much like Shadows of the Empire back in the 1990s – having never played the game (despite owning the DS version for a while), I’ve enjoyed both the novel and graphic novel versions, as well as the Miniatures line and RPG supplement. But today, I’m talking comics…

The story follows Starkiller, Vader’s secret apprentice, as he fulfils missions for his master, namely hunting down and destroying Jedi. His first target is General Rahm Kota, a Jedi Master who survived the Clone Wars due to his mistrust of clone troopers – being surrounded by his own militia, Order 66 kinda just passed the guy by. Starkiller catches up to him over Nar Shaddaa and, after a fairly huge duel, manages to defeat him – though not before Kota senses he will himself be a part of the apprentice’s future.

Starkiller has been trained by Vader with the intention of one day toppling the Emperor, so to prepare him further for this, he is sent after a member of the Jedi Council. Shaak Ti has been hiding on Felucia following the conclusion of the Clone Wars. The planet is so rich in the Force that she is effectively hidden from any prying eyes, but not from Starkiller. Shaak Ti sends her apprentice, Maris Brood, into the Felucian jungle while she confronts Starkiller alone at the aptly-named Abyss – the maw of a Sarlacc monster! Shaak Ti is clearly powerful in the Force, but Starkiller uses his instinctual rage and manages to push her into the pit.

Upon his return to Vader’s side, the Emperor has discovered Starkiller’s existence, and forces Vader to kill him. Vader, however, saves his body and manages to somehow bring him back to life, whereupon he gives him a new mission – round up the Emperor’s enemies into a cohesive rebellion that will distract the Emperor’s spies long enough for Vader to strike his master down, thus ruling the galaxy with Starkiller at his side. It’s a fairly crazy scheme, but Starkiller goes along with it, and determines to find out if General Kota indeed still lives, to find out what his parting words were.

Starkiller finds Kota as a blind, drunk derelict slumming in Cloud City. He convinces Kota to join his cause following his defeat of the Emperor’s Shadow Guard – huge, black-armoured Force-sensitive killers. Together, they travel to Kashyyyk in an attempt to find Bail Organa, who has also been attempting to create a rebellion – and had in fact been searching for Kota to help. They only find Organa’s daughter Leia there, and manage to evade the Imperial presence on the Wookiee home planet and get Leia to safety. Kota surmises that Bail, having failed to recruit him, will have gone after Shaak Ti instead, so Starkiller returns to Felucia where the planet has begun to slip into the Dark Side now that Shaak Ti has gone. Starkiller finds Bail Organa being held hostage by Shaak Ti’s almost-deranged apprentice Maris Brood, and the two fight – Maris bringing out a Felucian Rancor at one point! She is defeated, however, and while Starkiller may have dissuaded her from following her dark path, she nevertheless flees into the wilderness.

With Bail on board, Starkiller travels to Corellia to meet with other senators dissatisfied with the Emperor’s rule. Together with Garm bel Iblis and Mon Mothma, the Rebel Alliance is about to be formed when Vader arrives to capture them. Starkiller faces off against his erstwhile master, and is defeated. The senators and Kota are taken to the still under-construction Death Star at the Outer Rim, where they are to be tortured by the Emperor himself. Starkiller attempts to rescue them, and while he manages to distract the Emperor and Vader long enough to allow the senators to flee, ultimately the Emperor kills the secret apprentice, revealing that he knew about Vader’s training all along. However, the two Dark Lords now have a significant problem on their hands, as they have unwittingly allowed Starkiller to become the galvanising martyr to the rebellion’s cause.

I really like this story! While its episodic nature belies its origins as a video game, with each vignette clearly forming a level of the game, it’s nevertheless a beautifully wrought pastiche of the prequels and original-trilogy, through its use of classic locations such as Cloud City as well as fleshing out places such as Felucia and Raxus Prime. The premise for the story is that Vader has trained the apprentice through fear and brutality, and as a result Starkiller is basically out of control of his emotions, allowing him to do all kinds of over-the-top stuff like pull Star Destroyers out of the skies and the like. Taken in the spirit that it is meant, the story is a lot of fun – not unlike the IG-88 tale from Tales of the Bounty Hunters, actually.

I’m one of these people who grew up with the Zahn ideas of the Corellian Treaty forming the rebellion, and I’ve always been a bit put-out by the notion that they were manipulated into doing so by the Emperor – and I find the involvement of the secret apprentice to be a little too close to the worst kind of fan-fiction at times, the kind where hugely significant plot threads are re-written so as to include the author’s pet character. But as I said before, taken in the spirit of the thing, it’s easy to overlook that.

There’s also an entirely gratuitous love story almost grafted-on. Juno Eclipse serves as Starkiller’s pilot for his missions for Vader, something that always makes me curious – is piloting that difficult that it’s easier to get someone to do it for you? Anyway, throughout the comic she serves mostly to provide cleavage – at one point, entirely unnecessary butt-cleavage – that leaves me feeling a little bit dirty. I’m not a video gamer, of course, but I get the impression that she’s created to appeal to the overly-machismo crowd and has little further function than just set-dressing. Which is unfortunate, because Star Wars actually has some really kickass women in the mythos, so I feel this has been a really missed opportunity.

I love the way Cloud City and Felucia are woven into this story, and in actual fact, the Felucian episodes have inspired me with my own fan fiction when I wrote the short story Chasing Shadows a couple of years ago. Indeed, the end of that story was written to almost tie into The Force Unleashed, as Vader learns Shaak Ti yet lives, so then sends his apprentice after her. So it has certainly been influential for me!

The Force Unleashed II

This one is a bit of a let-down, for me. It’s essentially a Boba Fett story, and while there have been Boba Fett stories in the past that are fairly decent, Enemy of the Empire for instance, this story makes him almost too human to be the fearsome character the films intend him to be. The basic premise is that Vader has created clones of Starkiller, and due to an accelerated ageing process, they have been going insane. They’re also convinced they’re really Starkiller, and are obsessed with tracking down Juno Eclipse. Juno and Kota now appear to be fully-fledged rebels, in charge of some portion of the fleet, which was an interesting move, as I’d have expected to see more “movie rebels” involved at such a high level. Anyway.

Fett tracks the Starkiller-clone to Cato Neimoidia, another nice throwback to the prequels, where his trail of destruction knows no bounds. He somehow finds a mechanic who has refitted vessels with new transponder codes for the Alliance, which allows him to find Juno and he takes her captive. Fett delivers Juno to Vader on Kamino, where somehow Starkiller (the real one? A clone?) and Kota turn up and, following a confusing fight, Juno manages to defeat Vader and she and Starkiller are reunited. Fett feels like he can’t kill Starkiller, and thus deliver on his contract, because the former secret apprentice is making out with Juno. And thus the story ends, with Vader a hostage of the rebels on Dantooine.

After the first story, this one really falls flat to me. I just, I don’t know what the point of it was. The first one has a nicely driven narrative to it, the second one feels just all over the place and a little bit too much like it’s just cashing in. It’s unfortunate, because even though the clone thing had kinda been overdone in the Star Wars expanded universe, there was some potential here for another story that serves to further tie the prequels and original trilogy together, as we see the showdown on Kamino and whatnot. Ultimately, however, this story becomes the sort of thing that Disney has essentially saved us Star Wars fans from.

Unlike the first one, however, I haven’t yet read the novel for TFU2, and I do know that the comic takes a very prescribed look at the events rather than presenting the whole story. So that may be worth looking into at a later date, whereupon I’ll doubtless come here and compare!

I recently read this interview with the game developer, and comic author Haden Blackman, about what a third installment would have looked like. The idea of Vader and Starkiller teaming up to go against the Emperor sounds like it walks that fine line of could-be-amazing, could-be-awful. I think I would like it if Vader ultimately killed Starkiller at the end, once and for all, as otherwise it just gets too messy with continuity and stuff. Though obviously, I’m talking about a pre-Disney continuity here! Suffice it to say, though, the idea sounds interesting…

In addition to watching A New Hope on Friday, I also cracked out this bad boy once again!

Escape from the Death Star

Escape from the Death Star wowed me last year as being a truly amazing gaming experience, especially if you watch the movie first! It’s definitely not easy, in fact the reliance on luck can sometimes make it soul-crushing, but I was particularly pleased this time when I managed to escape from the battle station and win! Was not expecting that, as Luke kept making ham-fisted rolls that got him trapped by stormtroopers for most of the game – as it turned out, Leia both disabled the tractor beam and was first onto the Falcon, and the game ended with Han leaping clear of his 8 pursuing troopers! What a finish!

I’m not sure if I’d put this game in my top ten, but for nostalgia purposes (I have such strong memories of trying to figure out how to play this with my brother) it’s a winner, every time!

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My world-famous pasta al tonno! #GoodFriday

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My Friday ended with my world-famous pasta al tonno, and some painting. More on the latter in tomorrow’s update blog, of course!! Though, if you follow me on instagram, you’ll know that I’ve returned to some old favourites this week, in an attempt to get them finished…

Whatever you’re up to over the weekend, I hope you’re having an awesome time of it! Stay tuned for more exciting Star Wars updates here, anyway!

Star Wars games!

Hey folks!

Thought I’d share a little something else with you all here on this most exciting of days, and a small celebration of all the Star Wars games I’ve featured here in the past year-ish of blogging!

Star Wars LCG

X-Wing

Escape from the Death Star

Star Wars RPG: Saga Edition

Make sure to come back tomorrow for something else on this theme!

Star Wars Armada

Escape from the Death Star!

Hey everybody!

Tuesday means only one thing here at spalanz.com, and today we’re going retro! If you follow me on twitter, you’ll already have an idea of what I’m talking about (and if you don’t, why not?!)

Escape from the Death Star is a co-operative game from 1990, published by the now-defunct West End Games. I had it as a Christmas present when I was 6 or 7, though looking back, I think I was probably a bit too young for it, so it went on the shelf (and eventually, the attic). The reason for this is that the game is a co-operative RPG-like adventure game, with a fair amount of bookkeeping to do as your turn progresses.

Let’s take a look, anyway!

The game follows the 20-odd minute sequence from when Han, Luke and Chewie break Leia out from the detention block of the Death Star in A New Hope, in their efforts to return to the Falcon and flee the space station. The game represents this by its foldout map/board, and a colour-coded series of card decks that describe the encounters the heroes have.

Escape from the Death Star

It’s tempting to look at this and think it a straight get from A to B style of game, having encounters along the way. While that is essentially true, there are a number of obstacles in the way beyond just the encounter cards, which can both help and hinder the players. Foremost among these is the need to disable the tractor beam that is holding the ship. There are four “terminal” spots on the board, each having one card in its deck. Only one of these will release the tractor beam; the other three can help you, but you won’t win the game unless you’ve found the beam and disabled it.

The cards spread through the other decks are made up of three types:

Escape from the Death Star

Encounters with these cards are the meat of the game, and provide the main roleplaying element, as you make skill checks to gain items or sneak past enemies. Help and Risk cards are generally beneficial, though Risk cards are, well, riskier than Help cards. Hazard cards generally represent stormtroopers pursuing you through the station, which I’ll explain more in a minute.

The arrows on the bottom-right of the cards describe how you can move following your encounter. You must always move in one of the directions on the card, which adds an extra level of theme to the game as you try to plot your movement around a station that you don’t actually know your way around.

Escape from the Death Star

The four heroes take turns in the above order, and have character sheets that represent their stats. Typical RPG-style stats, these, that are very similar to the d6 RPG system that West End Games published during this time. During the game, a lot of the encounters you have will require a RPG-style skill test:

Escape from the Death Star

So in the Silent Chamber encounter above, Han needs to make a Perception check, so he rolls two dice and compares it to his stat: you need to roll equal-to or less-than the attribute value in order to succeed. Han’s Perception value is 6, and he’s rolled a 9, so he has failed the check, and must follow the directions on the card. In this case, he must face Vader! Characters also have a number of Force Points, which vary depending on who you play (Luke, as the Jedi-in-training, has 8, while Han only has 1). Force Points can be spent to decrease your dice result, potentially bringing it down enough that you can pass. However, every time you spend a Force Point, Vader is aware of it, and his track also moves (more in a bit)!

Escape from the Death Star

Stormtroopers are pursuing you through the station on every turn, and at the beginning of your turn you need to make a check for how many are behind you. The number of troopers pursuing you is tracked in the top box of your hero sheet – Leia has five troops behind her, for example. So the hero rolls three dice and compares this result to the number in pursuit: as per a normal skill check, if the number is equal-to or lower-than the number of troopers, they score a hit, and you lose one stamina. You can then fire back, which is a Blaster skill check. Each character also has a Fire Rate on the sheet, which describes how many times you can make the Blaster check when returning fire. For every success, you defeat one of the troopers on your back. If you ever have 14 or more after you, then you cannot move on your turn, though you still have your action phase.

But what’s this about facing Vader?

Escape from the Death Star

There are three charts also involved in the game, which represent the Vader Points track, and the status of both the tractor beam, and the droids. Heroes can use droid points to help on skills tests, representing the behind-the-scenes help they provided during the movie, but if the droids are ever Found, these points cannot be spent.

The Vader track acts as a sort of timer for the game, as failing certain skill tests will increase the track. In addition, calling on the help of Obi-Wan will move the track up, as the Dark Lord senses the old Jedi’s presence. If the track ever reaches space 19, it’s game over!

Each hero has an Obi-Wan box at the bottom of his sheet, which is struck through when he is used, representing the limited number of times he can be called upon to help. In addition to using him to deactivate the tractor beam (rather than trying to find it yourselves), his primary use is to duel Vader – if you’ve already called upon the Jedi Master and are required to do so again but can’t, you’re captured! Every hero needs to make it to the Falcon to escape, so if even one is defeated, the game is over!

Escape from the Death Star

It’s actually a really fun game, and has a fair amount of strategy involved as you try to move through the station and deal with the encounters with your limited resources. The RPG-lite feel to the game is also a significant factor, as you have the opportunity to essentially level-up and increase your attribute values following successful skill tests.

Having read a couple of reviews, it seems this game will only hold a strong appeal to a certain type of player, such as one who loves the theme. Most of this post has been coloured by the fact that I’m an enormous Star Wars fan, of course, but even if I were only acquainted with the movies and little else, I imagine I could still get a lot out of this game as it moves along: I don’t feel you need to be a total SW junkie to enjoy how this game plays out.

There is a real sense of movement as you progress across the board, which I feel works well considering the linear progression you appear to have. There is a great deal of strategy involved as you choose how and when to spend Force Points, when to call upon Obi-Wan, etc. Even choosing your movement can be somewhat strategic – should you always move forward, or should you avoid certain areas? The decks are loosely ranked from technical to service, military, general, security and command, getting nastier as they go: the odds of running into Vader or Tarkin in the command sector are significant. Military decks will have some useful hardware in the armouries, but you may find more stormtroopers than you’d like. Sometimes, therefore, it might be better to move back than forward. Especially if you find yourself on a Vader space, where you have to roll a d6 and consult a chart: 1-3 will allow you to push back the Vader track, but rolling a 6 will require you to face off against him. If you’ve already called upon Obi-Wan, is it worth the risk when the track is at 17 or 18?

Escape from the Death Star

I mentioned earlier the fact that West End Games also published the Star Wars RPG when this was released. Well, they also published three other boardgames during their tenure at the helm of Star Wars gaming, Escape from the Death Star being the fourth and final such adventure. West End Games’ material is so intimately bound-up with my love of this franchise that I have no doubt I’ll be taking a look at these others on future game days.

West End Games

Until next time, may the Force be with you!