Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Star Wars: Assault On The Death Star - The Movies Aren't The Only Thing In 3D

Sorry, all, for the delays in getting reviews back up; being out of town and remodeling my house has taken a toll. It's done with now, so I'll be back in the swing of things starting with this oldie but marginally goodie!

Well, since Lucasarts in its infinite wisdom is going to re-release the Star Wars movies in 3D, I figured to honor that triumphant achievement I figured I'd hop in the Wayback Machine and review this old-school Ameritrash non-classic. Note that the bit about the re-release is total sarcasm.

This game really looks neat and screams 1990's Ameritrash, complete with a X-Wing that shoots ball bearings, totally random spinner-based gameplay, and an endgame that has a tiny bit of strategy but overall is 20% skill and 80% sheer luck. I should love this game, but honestly, it's really not a tremendous bunch of fun. It's clearly targeted at the eight to twelve year old age range, which again, I should totally relate to, but there's just not enough game in here to really have me wanting to play it unless my kid wants to play.

This game, for as mediocre as it is, has some of the neatest bits ever. It has a pseudo-pinball quality to it that makes it fun enough to not burn it after an inital play and release its essence back into the force, but the gameplay is so massively underwhelming that this is one that only the kids will want to play repeatedly. This is not to mention that every time you want to play, you have to plan for fifteen minutes of assembly since the game is pretty novel with regard to the fact that almost all of the contents of the box need to be assembled into a large playfield. It takes a while, to be sure, and if you're not careful you can damage the bits, so it's not quick although it is pretty simple.

The concept of this game is that you play as what I will collectively call "The Heroes", meaning Chewie, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and the droids. How the droids can deal a deathblow to the Death Star I'll never know, but you can play with them. Anyhow, the cool thing is that this game is actually two games in one, in a sense, as there's two parts to the game. The first part has your avatars walking a linear path, driven by a spinner dial, to the docking hangar and placing Tie Fighters on the board due to events on the dial.

Some events allow you to take shots at the Ties with a little steel ball launched by a plastic and cardboard X-Wing. The second half of the game begins when your pawn gets to the docking bay, and then it's all shooting, with the goal being clearing a path to the Thermal Vent, which I have colloquially dubbed, "The Glory Hole", which when hit launches the Dark Lord of the Sith, Vader, into deep space. Somehow firing the "Money Shot" into the "Glory Hole" and launching a little helmet-headed dude sounds a little perverse, at least to me.

When you open the box, you'll find a friggin Corellian freighter load of plastic and cardboard. The artwork is actually pretty decent on everything, and has the same aesthetic as the sets of the movies had. The main inner box has the parts printed onto the sides, which you punch out, and then the box is repurposed as the game board upper deck.

Then there's the plastic Death Star Trench lower deck with a removable cardboard top that the upper deck locks into via cardboard bridge. This bottom section is blow-molded plastic and acts as the target field for the endgame. This lower deck has spots for a bunch of plastic trap doors that you can hit with the steel balls, and it empties caught balls into a little trough on the side of the lower deck. Finally, there's a bunch of Tie Fighter chits, there's cardboard standies and bases, the spinner assembly, the steel ball "proton torpedoes", and of course, the cardboard and plastic X-Wing used to launch those torpedoes.

There's also some stickers to apply to some of the plastics, but this is pretty minor so I saved it for last. In short, there's a lot of stuff in the box, and all of it is pretty high-quality. I'm not a fan of spinners, so if I had to pick something that was really pretty crappy, that's the one. It can stick and be very stiff to spin because after a while, and so I'd have to say that gluing the back of the spinner in place is the best solution to solve this particular gripe, which I've done, and it works well so far.

Setting up, as I said, involves assembling about 8 pieces of cardboard and attaching them to the upper deck to create the total playfield. Once you've got that done, you'll need to install the eight or so little trap doors, which is no biggie. After that, you'll have to put the cardboard cover on the plastic base, which again, is no biggie, and add the Darth Vader track to the end of the plastic base. All in all, it'll take you about 10 minutes or so to assemble it, and that's being slow and careful.

Once you're done with the assembly, choose a standie as a pawn, set it on the Rebel Base start, and then set the Darth Vader's Ship standie on the start space of the Vader's Track at the end of the board. Finally, place the Leia standie in the slot to block the Glory Hole and then you're ready to take down an impenatrable battle station.

Gameplay is truly as basic as possible. In the first section of the game, you spin the spinner and depending on where it lands, you take an action. Most spaces will have you move your pawn a couple of spaces or to the front of the pack, but a couple do other things. One forces you to add a Tie standie to the upper deck as a target to shoot at and then take a shot with the X-Wing, and one has you take a free shot. The last one, which is a small sliver on the spinner field has you move Darth Vader's ship, which has about ten spaces, and if Vader gets there before you get a Money Shot into the Glory Hole, all players lose.

The one interesting and/or strategic part of the game is that if your pawn lands on a space that has an image of a Tie, you have to place a Tie standie on the upper deck without taking a shot at it, up to five Ties. If there are already 5 Ties there, you have to raise a Tie trap door in the lower trench area for each you couldn't place.

The interesting part, as I mentioned, is that if you get to shoot these upper deck Ties, when you kill one you get a Tie token which can be used in the endgame to buy extra torpedoes. This is critical, because you normally only get one shot per turn, but a minimum of two Tie trap doors come back every turn when you get to the endgame, so it's critical to play these at the proper time.

Once a player's pawn makes it to the end of the Rebel track and reaches the Docking Bay space, the endgame begins. The Leia standie is removed from the bottom of the lower trench so that a player may subsequently torpedo the ol' Glory Hole. Players who have not made it to the Docking Bay still continue to play as normal until they reach the Docking Bay, but if they happen to have a stray torpedo nail the Glory Hole, they still win.

Players who are at the Docking Bay, however, have a far better shot. On a player's turn, they are given one torpedo to fire, and if they trade in any Tie tokens they've previously earned, they get extra torpedos for each. Once you've determined your torpedo allowance, you must spin the spinner, but this time you ignore all the icons and specials and only look to the number printed on the outside band. This is the number of Ties you need to flip up in the lower trench. These, essentially guarantee that your shot will be captured by the Ties you hit, blocking a clean shot at Vader. If you happen to have five torpedoes, you're in luck because there are only 4 Ties to contend with at most, and the last shot, if well placed, can take out Vader and destroy the Death Star.

The hard part is that each time the a player in the Docking Bay is up, they have to spin the spinner and add Tie defenders to the lower trench. The minimum is two, so if you're very lucky on your turn you may be able to pull off a win, provided most or all of the Ties are shot down. The reason is that there are two distinct paths to the Glory Hole, and thus you may raise Tie trap doors on one side, leaving the other free of defense.

Really, though, the game is no longer really "loseable" if all players are at the Docking Bay because Vader's Ship is no longer moving when you spin his icon, and this takes a little bit of tenseness away. We've houseruled it that if Vader comes up, the ship still moves and you add the allotted Ties on top of it, making it much harder, and a little more fun.

In short, it's a decent little distraction with great bits, but it's a bit on the simple side for anyone who isn't planning to play with a child, a hardcore Ameritrash fan, a dexterity game junkie, or a complete devotee of Star Wars.

What Makes The Force Strong With This One:
- Great production value makes this a neat game to look at
- Shooting stuff is always fun, I don't care who you are
- Reasonably priced on Ebay; you can get it for under $20.00 with shipping
- This is the definition of Ameritrash
- Anything letting you talk about "slinging a money shot in the ol' glory hole" rocks

Why Meesa Think Thissa Meestake:
- Fun but repetitive gameplay can get old pretty fast
- Setup and teardown takes too long and can damage the bits if you're not careful
- Not for small children due to .25 inch ball bearings being included

While this game is a neat little bit of Star Wars history, and it's really pretty fun the first few times, the fact that it really is just an excuse to shoot little balls from an X-Wing at Darth Vader knocks this down a notch or three in my "Book Of Coolness." I think this is great for a kid who digs Star Wars, and it's a good way to spend a half hour of quality time with the kids. I got this specifically because I am indoctrinating my kid into a little Star Wars fangirl, not to mention the cutest little shooting enthusiast you've ever seen. For me, it was a no-brainer.

2.25/5 Stars

I'd have put more up here, but it's been out of print for 13 years or so and thus it can only be found on Ebay or the Boardgamegeek.com Marketplace:

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