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Hands-on with Star Wars: Rebellion the board game

We play the new three-hour-long Star Wars board game so you don't have to. (But you probably should.)

Dave Cheng/CNET

Cards on the table (hah), I'm a seasoned board gamer. I own more than one fake lightsaber. So if you told that there was a three-hour-long epic Star Wars board game, I'd be on it like white on a Stormtrooper.

Anyway, there's a three-hour-long epic Star Wars board game.

It's from Fantasy Flight Games, which picked up the license to Star Wars a few years ago and has released half a dozen tabletop games since. They're all good, focusing on different aspects of the Star Wars universe. There's everything from entire fleets duking it out in space to rag-tag groups on do-or-die missions. Star Wars: Rebellion, like the late-'90s PC game it's loosely based on, does it all.

Two to four players take up the role of either the Rebel Alliance or the Empire, load up the enormous board with gorgeous miniatures, and settle in to fight for control of the galaxy.

The Empire strikes back. And front, and sides...

The Rebel Alliance feels outgunned, outmanned and outnumbered. This, simply put, is because it is. The game is deliberately asymmetric, and players will lose in a straight-up fight against the Empire every time. Luckily, the rebels don't fight fair.

Both sides use characters to complete objectives or move troops around the galaxy. It's all based on colour-coded skills (use your diplomacy skill to swing public opinion on a planet; use your space combat in, well, space combat), but it results in hugely thematic moments, like Obi Wan on a rescue mission, or the Emperor seducing a rebel character to the Dark Side.

Rebellion is a long game, make no mistake about it. But it never feels slow, because both sides are playing against their own ticking clocks. Rebels win if they can destabilise the Empire's regime by completing secret missions. Even if they accomplish none of these objectives, the rebels will still inch closer to victory every turn.

On the other hand, every turn the Empire learns a little more about where the secret rebel base is located. They'll win if they find the base and eradicate the rebel scum once and for all. The stakes are continually rising, and every round I played ended in a climactic final confrontation.

Dave Cheng/CNET

I've got a good feeling about this

The best thing about playing Rebellion is that it feels like Star Wars. The fun of the game is not in a straight retelling of the story, but in the rising tension, the despair when you're staring down the barrel of a Super Star Destroyer and the drama of a plucky hero on a desperate mission. You can practically hear the orchestral cues.

Rebellion isn't a difficult game, but it is a complex one. You're swimming in options, and that breeds lots of rules. Once you get your bearings, though, it's very smooth to play. Getting to that point can prove difficult, but it's worth putting in the time to wield the Empire's iron fist or scrape through by the skin of your rebellious teeth.

After all, how many games let you blow up an entire planet with a superlaser? Or, for that matter, take sweet revenge by defying the odds and taking out a Death Star with your one remaining X-wing?

Star Wars: Rebellion is available for $100 (around AU$135 or £70, converted) on the Fantasy Flight Games website, on Amazon or through most board game retailers.