The crescendo of hype leading up to the release of The Force Awakens (a wave we here at Strange Assembly have taken part in) has included Star Wars branded versions of pretty much every product imaginable. Tabletop gaming has (thankfully) not been immune to this phenomenon, with a variety of specialty and mass market Star Wars games released in 2015, with more scheduled for 2016. Some of them are new games, some of them are re-skins of existing games, and some of them are pretty obviously terrible – but some of them are pretty good!
One of the games I’m looking at today falls in the first category, one falls in the second, and – lucky for me – neither of them falls into the third. Loopin’ Chewie and Risk: Star Wars Edition are both available in mass market stores, but both have roots in games that have some real following among more serious hobby gamers – Loopin’ Louie and The Queen’s Gambit.
Loopin’ Chewie is close to a straight-up re-skin of Loopin’ Louie. A purely dexterity game, the main draw of Loopin’ Chewie is that the motor at the center of the game will flies Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon around. Each player is attempting to protect their own base and cadre of stormtroopers from the menacing Wookie. This is accomplished with a lever. Hit the lever and the right time, and the Falcon will pop up and over the stormtroopers. Depending on how the spacecraft is hit, it will go a little bit over the troopers, fly way up to come down at some indeterminate point in the future, or (for maximum entertainment value) possibly do some flips in the process. Failing to keep Chewie at bay will result in a stormtrooper being knocked down, and the last player with a trooper left wins.
Loopin’ Chewie is firmly in the kids’ game camp, but it’s done very well at my house in that role. My five-year-old has loved it, and while the two-year-old doesn’t understand what’s going on and can’t really play, they still have a lot of fun watching Chewie fly around and mashing the lever. But what about Loopin’ Chewie compared to Loopin’ Louie? Other than the attraction of the Star Wars license, Loopin’ Chewie is, while great for kids in its own right, pretty much inferior to the original, which permitted four players (instead of three), features a Louie figure that’s better done than Chewie, and with retails for less than the Star Wars version. So you’ll have to decide whether your kids will get that much more of a kick out of Star Wars.
While Loopin’ Chewie is a re-skin of an existing game, Risk: Star Wars Edition is not. Indeed, while a name like “Risk Star Wars” may lead one to believe that this is Risk with a Star Wars theme, it has pretty much nothing in common with Risk beyond the presence of five six-sided dice (which are not used in the same way as Risk dice). (There have been Risk Star Wars games in the past that hewed to the original Risk model – this just isn’t one of them). Rather, the closest inspiration for Risk: Star Wars Edition is probably The Queen’s Gambit, a classic (2000) original design Star Wars game set during The Phantom Menace. Risk: Star Wars Edition, however, is not a re-skin of that game, but more of an “inspired by” (each game has three designers; Craig Van Ness worked on both).
Risk: Star Wars Edition is a two-player game depicting the climax of Return of the Jedi, with one player controlling the Rebel Alliance and the other player then Empire (it can be played with four players, but it is then a 2-on-2 team game). Like the movie, Risk: Star Wars Edition features three distinct, related, and simultaneous conflicts – the Rebel’s efforts to sabotage the shield generator on Endor, the space battle around the second Death Star, and the throne room duel between Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the Emperor (The Queen’s Gambit featured three interlocking battlefields (the epic duel against Darth Maul, the droid/Gungan battle on the plains of Naboo, and Anakin’s efforts in space to destroy the droid control ship).
Each turn each player will select three cards to be played from hand, which will drive the actions that player gets to take that turn. In the throne room, Luke tries to kill or redeem Vader, while the Emperor zaps Luke every now and then. On Endor, the Rebels must race to destroy the shield generator, while the Empire deploys Stormtrooper reinforcements to make this task more difficult. In space, the Rebel and Imperial fleets seek to destroy each other by moving and attacking with Starfighters, including the TIE-spamming Executor Super Star Destroyer (with Empire’s fully armed and operational battle station taking shots as well). Each card will give the player two or three options spread across these zones of conflict, and the players must manage their needs on the battlefield based on the cards they have drawn.
The game is, ultimately, won or lost in the space battle – the Empire wins if it wipes out the Rebel fleet, while the Rebels win if they destroy the Death Star. However, the Rebels cannot even attempt to destroy the Death Star until they have destroyed the shield generator. The players must balance the need to destroy the shield generator (or delay its destruction) with the need to maintain a viable tactical position in space to destroy the Death Star (or prevent its destruction). At the same time, defeating Luke or Vader will repeat significant bonus card plays for the victor.
Risk: Star Wars Edition is a light and fast game (it actually plays in the advertised 45 minutes or less), with lots of dice-rolling. It still, however, features actual strategy and tactics, making this a great game either casual gamers or for serious gamers who want some light fun. Additionally, Risk: Star Wars Edition has some great components for its price point, with swarms of little TIE Fighter, B-Wing, X-Wing, and A-Wing miniatures to deploy in the space battle.
On the downside, the rulebook is pretty lacking in clarity. If you pick up Risk: Star Wars Edition, you should definitely check out this thread on BoardGameGeek, which has some clarifications from one of the designers (backed up by Hasbro customer support) – without those, the rules have often been taken in such a way that stacks the deck in favor of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. For the gameplay itself, I found the Luke/Vader/Emperor duel to be something of a third wheel – you can ignore it and still win, and I am not sure if the cards invested to win the duel are worth the bonus cards that win produces.
Note that there is also a Black Series version of Risk: Star Wars Edition. This version is functionally identical, but includes upgraded components – a thicker board and tokens, better card stock and, probably most significantly, actual miniatures for the Death Star (otherwise represented by an image on the board), the Millennium Falcon and the Executor (these ships otherwise being represented by tokens). The components in the Black Series version are really cool, but at a $50 price point instead of a $30 MSRP, I give the nod to the base game as better bang for your buck.