Everyone might agree that Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film, but for me Cloud City was always the least interesting place in the whole canon. A generic sci-fi floating city headed by a more jocular and more corruptible version of Han didn't fire my imagination. Nor did it fit with the techno-junk aesthetic that unified so much of the franchise so brilliantly. Finding the latest Imperial Assault expansion was set there was something of a disappointment.
Opening the box offered further unfortunate surprises. Apparently Cloud City's Wing Guards and Ugnaut scavengers belong to the Scum faction. Inevitably there were campaign missions using local characters - Lando, Bossk and a new Imperial spy called Agent Blaise - which were represented by tokens instead of figures. Naturally, you could pay extra to buy them as mini expansions. I know this is par for the course in IA but c'mon, three figures?
Dig deeper, however, and things start to look brighter. Like everyone else the first thing I do when opening up IA expansions is dig to the bottom and find the figures. And they're a delight. FFG are on a real upward trend when it comes to model quality and these are a cut above anything else I've seen so far, well posed and detailed. If you do get the Lando and Bossk figures you'll find they are particularly good, full of movement and character.
Same goes for the new tiles that come with the expansion. While I'm not convinced that the game really needs much in the way of new board pieces, what we get are printed with quality art, evocative of the lazy luxuries of the Cloud City environs. There's even a carbonite freezing chamber from which you can, quite literally, rescue Han in one of the new skirmish missions.
That highlight aside, the base expansion is a mixed bag in terms of skirmish additions. The Wing Guards are just generic troopers for the setting. Ugnauts are a bit more entertaining with the ability to raise up irritating junk droid reinforcements on the fly but still nothing special. If you're happy using the supplied tokens for Lando and Bossk you'll find them more interesting and colourful. Lando lives up to his description of "charming gambler" with a couple of dice-switching abilities. Bossk, on the other hand, is a combat terror with some big stats and an unfortunate tendency to gun down everything in his path, friend or foe.
Campaign wise, however, the Bespin Gambit is a triumph. It comes with a six mission campaign, fitted snugly into a choose your own adventure style narrative arc. This is a neat idea that adds hugely to both replay value and atmosphere. Plus if, like me, you found the base game campaign intimidatingly long, here's a way to play some interconnected sessions over just a few short nights.
Whichever campaign you want to play, you'll also benefit from the new characters in the box. Previous expansion characters have had an unfortunate tendency to look a lot like the ones in the base game. This one adds some much more novel concepts. One is a stealth Jedi which looks and sounds odd, especially with his oxymoronic "shrouded lightsaber". In play, though, he proves more interesting with his abilities to hide and create force illusions, even if they do mostly boil down to combat buffs.
The other is a hammer-headed Ithorian spy. Everything about this character stands out from his suitably freakish-looking miniature to his abilities, one of which allows him to misdirect weak enemy figures into attacking their colleagues. This is not only vastly entertaining but adds to the strategy in the game, with both sides trying to create or diffuse situations where this potentially devastating power can be used to maximum effect.
So, however you feel about Cloud City as a place, the message from this expansion seems to be clear. Campaign-focussed players will have a blast with this. Skirmish-focussed players, on the other hand can pick up the character expansions and be done with it. Unless they fancy the lure of a short campaign, that is. Now, who's taking bets on the next boxed expansion being full of Ewoks?