Let’s start with the rancor in the room: did the new faction bidding system work? For the unfamiliar, in the previous four tournaments players bid probe cards for the privilege of playing their preferred. Bids for the Rebels meant allowing the Empire to draw extra cards, while bids for the Empire meant forgoing probe card draws for the first few turns. Initially promising, over time this mechanism proved inadequate. A skilled Empire player could bid high enough that they never draw a probe card and still win reliably. This was most evident in 2019 when the Rebels only won 30% of the total games played. Last year, this number dropped to just 22%. Many of our top players had suggestions on alternatives that could fix the balance issue and make bidding fairer, and we tested five variations. Assistant GM Alex Gregorio’s suggestion got the nod: bid starting Rebel influence.
In an attempt to make the game more accessible to new players, I specified that players bid for the privilege of being the Empire. So, a bid of 1 means that you’ll play the Empire with the Rebels starting at 13 on the influence track instead of 14. There were many concerns that this would remove granularity from the bidding process, but I wanted something that would have a true impact on the game while also being easy for any player to understand.
And . . . yes! It succeeded on both counts. There were 20 games played in the tournament this year. In seven, the final bid was 0. The Empire won 3 and the Rebels won 4 of those games. In eleven, the final bid was 1. The Empire won 5 of those games, and the Rebels won 6. And in two games, the final bid was a whopping 2! The Empire still won 1 of those games, while the Rebels took the other one. 20 games is hardly a significant sample size, but with roughly 50:50 results across all bidding levels I am satisfied that this bidding system is working as intended. There is room for discussion if the game should be house ruled to start the Rebels at 13, and then use some other bidding mechanism to choose sides, but for now I intend to keep things as they are.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the tournament! For the second year in a row, 19 players embarked on their epic reenactment of the Galactic Civil War. The mulligan round drew 14 players, 2 more than last year. While the tournament default in the preliminary rounds was the Advanced setup of the base game, two tables opted for the Rise of the Empire (RotE) expansion while one teaching game stuck with Basic learn-to-play setup. At 5 tables, the Empire player bid 1 for the privilege, and the Rebels won 3 of those games. The remaining two tables were played with a bid of 0, and the Rebels won both (including the teaching game).
Like last year, Round 1 featured 10 players. Three of them were new players who came to the demo and then spent a few hours in Open Gaming trying it out before the tournament, which was awesome to see! All five of the Round 1 games used the Advanced setup. Two games had a final bid of 0 and split the wins between both sides. Two had a final bid of 1, and again the wins were split between the sides. And one game had a bid of 2, and the Empire still pulled off the win. Unfortunately, this year also broke another streak: one game in Round 1 had to be adjudicated. This is a very difficult game to adjudicate and it is not something I relish doing. I was happy to avoid it for a few years, but it was bound to return at some point.
After the Mulligan and Round 1, 11 winners advanced to Round 2 on Thursday morning. Only 9 showed up, so the simplest approach was to randomly assign two players to a “play-in” game, while the other 7 advanced straight to the quarterfinals. Last year’s finalist Andrew Drummond and frequent competitor Alfred Schnabel drew the short straw. They opted for the Rise of the Empire expansion, and Andrew received the Empire with a bid of 0. Over the course of the game, Andrew successfully used Exploit Weakness twice on Alfred’s captured leader, hampering his ability to score any objectives. On turn 4, Andrew found and destroyed the Rebel base on Yavin with the Rebel influence marker still at 11.
The other three Quarterfinal matches began while Andrew and Alfred’s game was going to keep the event moving and minimize the time players spent waiting for their matches. Table 1 saw defending champion Ty Hansen face David Amidon with the base game setup. David received the Empire with a bid of 1, and Ty made the bold move to hide the Rebel base on Cato Neimoidia. Ty never moved it, and David was unable to find and destroy it before the game ended on turn 7.
At table 2, Michael See played the Empire against Alex Gregorio’s rebels with a bid of 0 (and the RotE expansion) in a rematch from last year’s Quarterfinal. The game got off to a quick start as the Empire used Display of Power and Planetary Conquest to deny Rebel access to Mon Cal cruisers. However, Princess Leia used Our Most Desperate Hour to search out Regional Aid, and with Mon Mothma’s assistance they reestablished the Rebel presence in the galaxy. From there, the Rebels built up their defenses on their hidden base on Yavin, and ultimately the Empire was unable to crack the shell before the game ended on turn 9.
Table 3 saw Geoff Allbert face 2019 runner-up Eric Stein. Geoff took the Empire with a bid of 1 using the base game. Eric set up shop on Tatooine and successfully defended the system until the game ended on Turn 7. And at Table 4 I faced the winner of the play-in game, in this case Andrew Drummond, in a rematch from last year’s Semifinal. Because a full game had to finish before this table could start playing, all of the other Quarterfinals were finished or wrapping up as we started. The Semifinal game on the other half of the bracket started up, while the other semifinalist waited on Table 4. More on that later.
Last year, I narrowly lost as the Rebels to Andrew in an epic match, so this year I bid aggressively and took the Empire at 2. The Rebels started with Bothawui, Naboo, and Ryloth loyal, and I assumed that meant that they would hide the base far away. However, the Empire did not have Rodia, and I opted to place the Death Star Under Construction on Dantooine to eliminate that possibility, so Andrew made the smart play to place the base on Tatooine. In retrospect, I should have realized this sooner and made a beeline for Tatooine, but instead I took my time checking every corner of the galaxy. I was certain it was on Tatooine by turn 6, but I had few good ways to get units there. My Planetary Conquest won the ground battle, but I was unable to get a powerful enough fleet into position to win in space. After losing my closest fleet to a bold attack in turn 7, I determined there was no way to get another fleet into position before time would elapse, and I conceded.
For those keeping score at home, the Rebels won ALL four of the Quarterfinal games off bids of 0, 1, and 2 for the Empire. By the time my and Andrew’s Quarterfinal game finished, the other Semifinal was already done. This was another rematch: last year’s Semifinal between Ty Hansen and Alex Gregorio. Ty received the Empire with a bid of 0 and placed the Death Star under Construction on Tatooine. Alex actually destroyed the Death Star before it was finished, and then flew off to Coruscant to score Heart of the Empire. However, Ty remained as unflappable as ever. He located the Rebel Base on Dagobah and destroyed it on turn 6 with the Rebel influence on 11.
That left the other Semifinal between Andrew Drummond and Eric Stein. Andrew received the Empire with a bid of 1 and placed the Death Star under Construction on Endor. Andrew began the game with Saleucami subjugated but without control over Corellia, while Eric started with Kashyyk, Mon Calamari, and Naboo. Eric anticipated that Andrew would quickly subjugate Mon Calamari to deny cruiser production, so he sneakily hid the Rebel base on Kessel.
During the first command phase, Eric opted to Sabotage Saleucami and deny a forward deployment space. Andrew interpreted this as a tell about where the Rebel base was, and unexpectedly moved to Kessel! This move astonished everyone, but the Rebels were able to repel the initial force and relocate to a safer location. But the action didn’t stop there. Eric recruited Chewbacca as his first new leader, while Andrew grabbed Boba Fett. Chewie attempted to sabotage a system, but was swiftly captured by Fett, and then on turn 3 the Emperor lured the Wookie to the Dark Side. The Rebels managed to score their own victories here and there, including a Confrontation with General Tagge on Bespin that led to his death. Along the way, Eric scored Defend the People, one of the most difficult Rebel Objectives to achieve. Still Andrew continued to spread across the galaxy and eventually located the new Rebel Base on Malastare. Eric held it as long as he could, then relocated the base once more. With the Influence Marker on 8 at the beginning of turn 7, Andrew had to find and destroy the Rebel base this turn to win. And he did, locating it on Hoth and securing a place in the Final for the second year in a row.
As usual, I have a detailed narrative write-up of the Final posted on BoardGameGeek. The short version is that Andrew won the bid to play as the Empire for 1. Ty placed the rebel base on Nal Hutta, while the Death Star began construction on Endor. The Empire did not have control over Saleucami while the Rebels held Mon Calamari, and Ty was able to quickly amass 3 Mon Cal cruisers and 2 Nebulon Frigates in production after a turn 1 Trade Relations on Utapau. However, Ty’s logistical successes were tempered by bad dice rolls as his initial Rebel fleet was completely wiped out in an attack over Rodia. Throughout the game, Ty struggled to score objectives but managed to hide the Rebel base location from Andrew for quite some time. Andrew’s starting fleet on Mandalore moved to Saleucami, then Toydaria, then attacked Bothawui before retreating to Tatooine, flying right past the Rebel Base.
This did allow the Empire to set up a Secret Facility on Tatooine, then amass a large number of troops with double Imperial Might, before stumbling across the Rebel Base on Nal Hutta. Ty was able to weather the first two attacks, but on turn 8 he made a fatal mistake and used most of his fleet to attack the large Imperial fleet over Bothawui. The Rise of the Empire expansion gives a slight advantage to the attacker, and his plan was probably to strike, inflict some damage, and then retreat, or hope that Andrew would send a leader and pin his forces down in Bothawui. Unfortunately for Ty, the leader Andrew sent was Admiral Piett, and his action card Keep them from Escaping made it impossible for the Rebels to retreat. With the Rebel Base only defended by a lone X-Wing, Admiral Ozzel attacked with a Star Destroyer from Kessel to snag victory.
Congratulations Andrew on a hard-fought and well-earned victory, and many thanks to all of the competitors for making this tournament a success. I hope to see all of you again next year, though hopefully with slightly shorter game lengths and fewer adjudications.
For those who are curious, here are some interesting data points from this year’s tournament. In 20 games, the Rebel base was only moved in three of them, and the Empire ended up winning all of those games. Rebel “turtling” strategies seem to be working out better, at least in the preliminary rounds. Initial Rebel Base placements followed some familiar trends, with a couple exciting twists. The most popular initial placement was Dantooine at 35% of the total. Tatooine was second at 20%, then Yavin and Cato Neimoidia were each chosen twice, and Dagobah, Ilum, Kessel, Mon Calamari, and Nal Hutta round out the list at 1 each. When the base was moved, the destinations were Hoth, Nal Hutta, and Ryloth, as well as an intermediate step at Malastare in the Semifinal.
Unfortunately, not all of the players fully completed their scoresheets, so my data on Death Star Under Construction locations and mission deck selection is incomplete. From what I have, Tatooine, Dantooine, and Endor were the heavy favorites for the DSUC. In the expansion games, the Empire player universally selected the expansion mission deck, while the Rebels nearly always selected the Base game deck.
Finally, this year was a quiet one for Imperial Death Stars. Only two systems were destroyed in the entire tournament, and only in the preliminary rounds: Geonosis and Dantooine. The latter was the game-ending blow, which means this year’s Grand Moff Tarkin memorial award goes to Alfred Schnabel. Have a great year, and may the Force be with you!