Let's start with an admission: Empire Strikes Back isn't my favourite Star Wars film. Return of the Jedi is. And my favourite scene in Return of the Jedi is the beginning, in Jabba's palace and on to the Pit of Carkoon. I like it because of all the things in Star Wars it's by far the most alien and esoteric of all and because it's full of huge, slobbering monsters. So getting hold of the Jabba's Realm expansion for Imperial Assault was like getting to play with my childhood Star Wars figures all over again.
Much of the important stuff is right there in the box. There's a tile for the Pit of Carkoon festooned with gleefully horrid Sarlacc art. There's a massive Rancor figure which doesn't fit together at all well without copious amounts of pressure and hot water. There are Gamorrean guards and sail barge tiles and all sorts of other scum and villany all tied together by a full length campaign. So it's got the same number of missions as the one in the original box.
There are omissions, too, as you've come to expect from Imperial Assault. Even the expansions benefit from expansions. The boxes's namesake, Jabba himself, is a separate purchase. You may also want the Imperial Captain Terro, who shows up in a lot of scenarios, as well as Jedi Luke and some Alliance Rangers, who show up less. There are cardboard tokens for you to use if you don't have the figures. Several well known characters like Bib Fortuna don't put in an appearance at all.
Instead we get a bunch of new Rebel characters for players to use in this, or any other, campaign. They're a cracking bunch, which do a fine job of filling in the small holes in the existing line of of heroes. We have a genuine tank, capable of soaking and healing massive damage. There's a Mandalorian Swiss army knife, fast and capable of building flexibly depending on your needs. Rounding up the trio is a Rodian gunslinger, laying down light but frequent fire even has he dashes round the board.
You'll get to play with these guys in a fun, full-length campaign that throws in some novel toys without breaking what makes the game fun. There are some cracking missions on offer. One sees the players joining in a hunt for a wild Rancor. There are several that use separate sail barge boards and let figures move between the barges and the landscape beneath. Indeed they're good enough that it's almost a shame there's no option for a shorter, small-box length campaign. The commitment required will be offputting to some players.
The Imperial player gets two new classes including the bounty-focused Hutt Mercenaries. This lets the Imperial player gain bonuses against heroes on whom they've put a bounty. It's a thematic idea that increases the social elements of the game. And as you might expect, it's scum like bounty hunters that get a big boost in this big box. There's a slew of new figures for the mercenaries faction, making them a much more viable choice in skirmish.
One of the most interesting things about this range of expansions is how they evolve the skirmish game. There's even a 4-player skirmish scenario. Of particular note is the expanded range of command cards that anchor on figure traits. Indeed there are some that can be used with multiple traits for maximum flexibility. This is a great idea: previously, building a command deck felt like an annoying afterthought to your list. And certain cards came up time and time again. There's now a greater range of powerful cards, usable in a much greater range of situations. It's bought a lot of fun uncertainty back into command card play without breaking the game.
Alliance Rangers and Jabba serve distinctive roles, as a long ranger sniper unit and scum support respectively. But it's telling that one of the expansion figures, the Jedi version of Luke, is a re-implementation of an existing character. He doesn't even have a separate character card for skirmish. Anyone who wants to use Jedi Luke in a game can just stand in the Luke figure from the base set. So what's the deal here?
Aside from being a neat figure, the stats perhaps hint at it being a solution to the long-standing problem in skirmish of multiple cannon fodder troops working better than costly heroes. This version is more expensive. But he's got a lot of health and has the ability to deflect range attacks back at their source. It'll be interesting to see whether there will be more re-designs of existing iconic characters, aimed at making them better in skirmish. It'd be fun to see Lando in his Jabba's guard uniform, for instance, or even Leia as the bounty hunter Boushh.
If you want an expansion to Imperial Assault, it's hard to see how you could go wrong with this. It expands on every aspect of the game with great components and novel ideas. And even if you do think Empire Strikes Back is the best film, it's hard to ignore how iconic Jabba has become. The question is: do you really need another full-length expansion? My only wish is that it was easier to get this material into shorter doses.