Nathanael Green
United States
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Paul Klee, "Tod und Feuer" (1940)
This article is part of my Star Wars Board Game Retrospective. To see other articles in this series and get notified of new ones, check out the Geeklist.

The Queen's Gambit: Gameplay

Today we're looking at The Queen's Gambit, a 2000 game published by Hasbro, and Risk: Star Wars Edition, a 2015 re-imagining of the former game.

As an aside, you'll note in the top right corner of the cover that this is an "Avalon Hill" game. When we last saw Avalon Hill back in the Freedom in the Galaxy episode, they were the leading company in the hobby. By the turn of the millennium, however, the venerable game publisher had been bought out and was little more than a brand that Hasbro occasionally slapped on their more complex games.

The Queen's Gambit, which allows the combatants to fight through the climactic moments of The Phantom Menace, is now a "grail game" for many collectors and players, and regularly goes for upwards of $300 on eBay.

Here you can see why - The Queen's Gambit is a lavish production of a sort seldom seen nowadays, a true extravaganza. A three-part, three-story board filled to the brim with 155 plastic miniatures. Setting up and playing this game is a life event, a celebration of the one redeeming sequence of Episode I.

But the appeal doesn't end with the looks. The gameplay is solid and engaging too.

The game is made up of 4 sub-games, each of them representing one aspect of the Battle of Naboo. Theed Palace is the center of the conflict- in order to win, the Queen's forces have to detain the Trade Federation viceroys by having a majority of figures in the throne room on the top floor. The Trade Federation, on the other hand, has to kill all but two of the Queen's figures in the palace to win.

Image credit: Vincent de Wildt

Each player has a hand of order cards, which are drawn in any combination from two decks, each of which focuses on different combination of the sub-games. Each round, you choose 4 cards from your hand and arrange them in a stack in front of you. Then, you and the other player will take turns flipping over the top card of your stack and executing one of the orders on it. Each card gives you two choices of which sub games you will take actions in, allowing players a degree of tactical flexibility with which to respond to the other player's moves during the round. For instance, one of the Trade Federation player's cards might say, "Attack with Darth Maul OR Attack with 3 Battle Droids in the Palace." Killing various important units or characters can give you bonus orders, which are free extra cards to play that you draw off the top of either deck and set aside for the next round.

The board on my right contains two other sub games - the Jedi duel and Anakin's attack on the control ship.

Image credit: Chris Traini

The Jedi duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Darth Maul provides the opportunity to get bonus order cards for killing opponents. Also, once one side has been completely wiped out, the survivor(s) of the duel is free to enter Theed Palace and assist in the assault on the throne room!

Image credit: Todd Sweet

The other sub-game on this side of the board is Anakin's attack on the control ship. Anakin has to dodge five waves of vulture droids in order to get to the control ship, with each subsequent wave being harder to dodge. You do this by rolling 2d6, taking the sum of the dice, and comparing that number to the table of the wave in front of you. If that number doesn't show a vulture droid, Anakin passes through the wave. Otherwise he stays where he is.

The Naboo player MUST destroy the control ship in order to win. When the control ship is destroyed, all droid figures are removed from the other theaters of battle.

The Trade Federation player can impede his progress by playing additional wave cards on top of the current wave. If this happens then Anakin has to pass through all of the wave cards in front of him before he can move on to the next spot on the track.

The final sub-game is the Battle of Grassy Plains, a simplified war game that plays similarly to the *Commands & Colors* series.

This is mostly a way to earn bonus order cards by eliminating enemy units, but the Trade Federation player can also use certain order cards to move figures from the battlefield into Theed Palace - something that is easier to do when he's winning on the battlefield.

Image credit: Chris Traini

The Gungan Shield is critical to this battle. Only Battle droids can move through the shield, but once one of the shield generator beasts is taken down, the shield goes with it, and the Trade Federation's artillery is free to mow down the Gungans.

In the one session I played, the battle against Darth Maul ended canonically, and now Obi-Wan is free to enter the fray in the palace. This is one of the things that's so cool about The Queen's Gambit - the different theaters of action are very well enmeshed with each other, and the outcome of one can turn the tide in another. Once one of the force users gets into the palace, they can absolutely wreck the opposition. They move 12 spaces and can split their three dice across multiple attacks over the course of their movement, potentially killing 3 enemies in a single activation.

Our game was a close match, but Obi-Wan swung the game in favor of the Queen's forces. As you can see on the left I did manage to exterminate most of the Gungans, though, which is a win in my book.

Perhaps this summary of the game has been a little too mechanical and matter-of-fact, but I'll get a bit more analytical when I look at it in comparison to the next game...

Risk: Star Wars Edition - Gameplay and Comparative Analysis with The Queen's Gambit

Risk: Star Wars Edition is a late-2015 re-imagining of The Queen's Gambit that changes the setting to the Battle of Endor. There are two versions of the game that were put out with different price points - more on that later. For now, just remember that all of the photos you see during the gameplay rundown are of the Black Series edition.

Here you see the Black Series Edition set up and ready to play. The game uses the same core mechanics as The Queens Gambit - You have multiple theaters of battle, and you create a stack of cards that allow you to take actions in those different theaters. However, in Risk: Star Wars Edition there are only three theaters, rather than four. The storming of Theed Palace has no equivalent here, but the the central battlefield is the equivalent of the Grassy Plains battle in QG, the assault on the shield generator is the equivalent of Anakin's run on the control ship, and the Jedi duel is, obviously enough, the equivalent of the Jedi duel.

You might be saying to yourself, "This doesn't sound like Risk...?" - and you're right, it's not Risk at all. Presumably they stuck the brand on it to capitalize on name recognition. It has about as much to do with Risk as Kylo Ren on the cover has to do with Endor.

The space battle is the central part of this game. In order for the Empire to win, they have to wipe out ALL of the Rebel forces in space. To win as the Rebels, on the other hand, all you have to do is destroy the Death Star.

The empire's 3 orders are TIE fighters, Executor, and Death Star. The TIE Fighter order can be used to move a group of TIEs then attack an adjacent sector. Alternatively, you an use a TIE order to deploy 4 TIEs in the same space as the Executor and then attack with them immediately. The Executor order is used to move the Executor and attack with it. TIES can only deploy from the Executor, meaning that if it goes down no more ties can be deployed - this makes it the priority target for the Rebels in the early game.

"Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive."

The Death Star order, obviously enough, fires the Death Star, giving you a chance to obliterate something. At first, the Death Star can only target Rebel fleet markers, which carry much of the Rebel fleet at the start of the game. However, once the Rebel fleet markers are all gone, the Death Star can target sectors on the board, destroying all ships within them.

A Y-Wing squadron makes its attack run.

The Rebels' 4 orders for the space battle each correspond to a type of fighter or the Millenium Falcon, allowing those ships to move or attack. The stats vary slightly by ship - and here the Falcon is of particular note. As awesome as the Falcon is in the movies, it's sadly pretty useless here. The sectors are so generously large that being able to move 2 is only very situationally useful, and 2 dice is just puny. In fact, it's worse than useless, it's a liability, since your opponent gets 2 bonus cards for destroying it. In general, Risk: Star Wars Edition fails at the little thematic touches - it feels perfunctory and mechanical in many places, where most of the chrome in The Queen's Gambit hits home (ie. the hidden deployment of the queen).

I mentioned before "all" the Rebels have to do is roll a single 6 against the Death Star. Before you can even attempt to do that, however...

...the shield generator down on the moon has to be taken care of first. To do this, the Rebel player can play an Endor order and roll 5 dice. Each space has a target number on it, and each die that at least meets that number can be spent to move into that space.

The Empire, however, can play their own Endor order to impede the Rebel strike team's progress. When he does so, he puts Stormtrooper minis on the three closest unoccupied spaces in front of the Rebels. When a Stormtrooper is on a space, it increases that space's target value by one.

So, in the example shown here, the Rebels could spend the 4 and the 5 they rolled to move ahead two spaces, removing those Stormtroopers. The other dice are not usable.

The Imperial strategy here is usually to wait until your opponent gets up into the 3+ spaces before you start dropping Stormtroopers - it's just not worth it to do it earlier. The higher up the track you go, the greater the percentage of potential successes that are blocked by the +1 modifier.

Like the Anakin sub-game in The Queen's Gambit, the Endor track is my least favorite part of the game. Neither sub-game is particularly interesting, nor do they have much player agency, but both of them are mandatory for one side to win. You can employ tactics as cleverly as you like in the center board, but if you roll poorly on this track you are simply not going to win.

The third and final sub-game of Risk: Star Wars Edition is the duel between Luke and Darth Vader. In this sub-game, you're basically rolling four dice against your opponent's life total, hitting on 4+. The spatial aspect of The Queen's Gambit's Jedi duel is dropped here.

There are three possible outcomes to the duel. The first is that Vader kills Luke, in which case the Empire gets 4 bonus cards.

The second is that Luke kills Vader. The Rebels get 3 bonus cards for this, but there's a twist - the Emperor is still alive, and can still deal damage to Luke (potentially killing him for the bonus) with force lightning, which just deals a straight 2 damage rather than rolling dice.

The third outcome, and the ideal one for the Rebels, is that Luke redeems Vader by getting him down to 3 health or below and playing the special "Vader Redeemed" order. Vader then chucks the Emperor down a conveniently located bottomless shaft and the Rebels get 5 bonus cards.

Now, there's a problem here. This sub-game is completely ignorable. Why? Let's get technical -

Vader has 12 health, and when you spend a card to have Luke attack him you are spending a card to roll 4d6, hitting on 4 and up. Now, even if you roll ideally, you will still have to spend three cards to deal enough damage to get him below the redemption threshold and another card to redeem him. In that IDEAL case, you're spending 4 cards to get 5 bonus cards. However, since the most LIKELY outcome is two hits per attack, on average you're going to have to spend 6 cards to get 5 cards back. On the other side, Luke has 13 health, so for the Empire, ideal rolls will have you spending 5 cards to get 4 cards back.

Sure, there's something to be said for getting uninterrupted turns, but your opponent is essentially getting two uninterrupted turns whenever you waste a card on this distraction. So essentially, this sub-game is completely extraneous, and if your opponent puts cards into it there's nothing to worry about. I suppose if you and your opponent both put cards into the duel the net card gain could be greater, as winning the duel is zero sum - but that net gain only really exists if your opponent actually tries to win it as well - so again, the solution here is to ignore it .

In The Queen's Gambit both the Jedi duel and the Battle of Grassy Plains are also technically ignorable as you could hypothetically win the game while never putting a card into them - but their outcomes swing the situation in the palace so drastically that you realistically can't afford to ignore them. If Naboo loses the ground battle then the Trade Federation can disgorge a near endless stream of battle droids into the palace - and if you lose the Jedi duel then you have to deal with an insanely powerful unit (or two!) running amok in the palace. With the exception of the Anakin sub-game, all of the sub-games of The Queen's Gambit feel equally well-developed and interesting. These two factors, the interconnectedness and equal weight of the sub-games, are what make The Queen's Gambit such a great game, especially in contrast to Risk: Star Wars Edition.

So to sum up the game's mechanisms, Risk: Star Wars Edition has at its heart a fairly neat and fun little light wargame that is wedged between two minigames, one tedious but mandatory, the other extraneous, and neither of which are connected to the core of the game very well.

While we're on the topic of criticism, let's take a look at the rulebook. Some parts, like this general outline of gameplay, are straightforward enough, but other parts are maddeningly vague. Does the Empire get bonus cards from blowing up Rebel fleet markers with the Death Star? Does the Empire get bonus cards from clearing sectors with the Death Star? Can Rebel fleet markers be attacked with TIE fighters or the Executor? Can TIE fighters attack immediately after deploying? None of the answers can be found in the rulebook.

These questions were posed to Hasbro, and one set of answers was given, but later, the questions were posed to one of the designers, and a completely different set of answers were given!

Really, this would have never flown coming from a smaller publisher- but Hasbro is big enough to get away with having a "we don't care, we don't have to" phone company attitude.

While the game balance was called into question early after release, with the Rebels winning the vast majority of games, the latter set of rule clarifications mentioned above have buffed the Empire to the point where the game feels pretty well balanced.

Despite all of this criticism, Risk: Star Wars Edition is a fun enough way to spend an hour. Most people I've introduced it to have enjoyed fairly well for what it is, and there's a lot to be said for that moment of tension when you finally make your attack run on the Death Star. But ultimately, it's fun enough. It's hard not to feel like it's an experience that I'm settling for because The Queen's Gambit costs literally ten times what it does. It's an entertaining distraction, not an epic experience in the same way The Queen's Gambit is.

Postscript: The Black Series Edition vs The Standard Edition

Now let's take a look at edition differences. Hasbro put out two versions of Risk: Star Wars edition - the standard edition, whose cover you saw at the beginning of this section, and the Black Series edition, which you see here

Opening the box, we find that the lid opens on a cardboard hinge at the back, which is already torn and sure to break off eventually.

There's a foam insert to hold the center board and Rebel Fleet markers.

Lifting the foam layer reveals the rest of the insert. The foam layer also serves to prevent the cards and bits from getting strewn out of place, which it does very effectively.

Here's a look at the standard edition and the Black Series edition side by side. The Black Series has: better card stock and better cardboard quality, with glossy highlights and embossing in places; translucent dice; a better box insert; and finally, miniatures, rather than cardboard tokens, for the Falcon, the Executor, Stormtroopers, and the Death Star .

My only real complaint about the Black Series version is that the Rebel Fleet markers are even smaller than those in the regular version. It's difficult to fit 5 X-Wings on one of these markers even in the regular version, but with the Black Series it's pretty much impossible.

Here's another, closer look at the component differences. The starfighter miniatures are one of the few constants between the editions.

Here's a look at card back differences...

...and front. Note the glossy highlights and embossed textures on the Black Series edition.

Finally, let's look at the main boards from both versions. Note that the Black series version has one fold as opposed to four, and has warped considerably less due to its thicker, better quality cardboard. It also features less prominent branding.

You can really see the reflective sheen and embossing on the Black Series edition's board in this shot.

Overall, the Black Series version has a dramatically improved box and components - but also retails at $50 to the standard version's $30. In practice however the Black Series goes for about $25 on Amazon and the standard version for $15. At those prices I would choose the Black Series any day of the week. While the other touches are nice, the board is the main draw for me as it makes the difference in playability. While the standard edition's cheap cardboard and four folds mean that it warps and buckles easily, the Black Series edition sits flat every time.


Thanks again for reading everyone!

Be sure to check out the Geeklist for the Star Wars Board Game Retrospective!

The Standard Edition of Risk: Star Wars Edition that I bought for the purposes of comparison with the Black Series edition has since been donated to Cincinnati's Play Library, where it continues to be enjoyed by kids today. The Play Library is a great little nonprofit where your old games and toys can find new life. Consider thinking about them this holiday season.

Also, special thanks to Chad Brozik, who let me play and photograph his copy of The Queen's Gambit for this review.

Happy Holidays everyone, and may the Force be with you!
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