That summer introduced me to what was to become my first true boardgame love and, sadly, one of my shortest. It first came to my attention from a TV commercial heralding its release, in what was probably the final instance of my first hearing about a new product from someplace other than the Internet. A game where you could control the most iconic characters from the Star Wars films and have them battle it out? Detailed components and cards that you used to manage your characters’ stats and abilities?? Star Wars miniatures?!? Yes, please! I speak of course, of Star Wars: Imperial Assault Epic Duels. One 30-second commercial was all it took; I decided then and there that I wanted that game. A quick trip to the mall, and it was mine. This was also one of the last times in my life I deliberately went to the mall to purchase anything. Again, I have the Internet for that now.
I remember the feeling of getting home that day, anxious to try out my new game. I was able to tear my best friend away from Dark Age of Camelot (a popular MMORPG at the time, before the coming of WoW) and convince him and my girlfriend to try it out with me. I don’t remember exactly how those first few games went – who played which characters (I think my best friend chose Mace Windu for the first game and I chose Darth Maul or Vader), who won, or even if anyone else besides me even enjoyed the game, but I thought it was great! We played it a few more times that summer, but the demands of school, work, and other social activities, not to mention a painful breakup with aforementioned girlfriend eventually pushed Epic Duels into a drawer somewhere, and I never played it again. (College was a great experience for me, but those years remain an anomaly in the sense of hardly doing anything gaming-related during that time).
Somewhere along the line, I misplaced my copy of Epic Duels, possibly during one my moves during college. I occasionally wondered where it was, but didn’t give it much thought for a year or so, again with school, work, and non-gaming-related social life occupying practically all of my time. Sometime in 2004, on a random trip to a mall (seriously though, I rarely go to malls anymore), I saw a stack of them at a Kay B Toy Store on clearance for five bucks each. In what has become one of the only moments of my life that I wish I could go back and change, I decided not to buy one – or twenty; new copies of Epic Duels go for $150+ these days when you can find one. I briefly considered getting one but decided that while I had fun with it, I just didn’t have much time for games with everything else I had going on. Again, it was a strange time in my life.
As the years went on, I came to regret my decision that day. The popularity of Epic Duels had grown to achieve cult status, and I chided myself numerous times for not plunking down a measly five bucks for a game that I had remembered as bringing me so much enjoyment during the brief time that I had played it. But that was back in the days before being introduced to hobbyist board games; back then, Axis & Allies was the pinnacle of my boardgaming experience, and vanilla RISK would usually be the game of choice on those rare occasions when my friends and I would choose to play a board game. We eventually graduated to Axis and Allies: Pacific when one of my friends acquired a copy, and it saw its fair share of plays; it’s probably obvious that the concept of “deep” boardgames existing that were about anything other than “dudes on a map” fighting each other for world domination, one parcel at a time, was completely foreign to us.
Better games have come and gone since then. Nowadays, I could justify dropping $150 on a copy of a long-lost game if I really wanted to get it, but at this point, I suspect my response at being reunited with Epic Duels would be similar to how I felt about finally getting a chance to play Space Hulk over a decade since first seeing those awesome pictures on the Hirst Arts website: a decent game, but not one I want to spend much time with when there are so many better options available. No, better to let my memories of playing Epic Duels remain fond ones rather than risk disappointment by coming back to it so many years later.
I realize I could have gotten into WOTC’s Star Wars miniatures game if I wanted to find something to fill the gap left by Epic Duels, but for various reasons, I never did. A big reason was that while the paint jobs on the Epic Duels minis were about the level of quality that one would expect from mass-produced prepaints (that is to say, mediocre), the entire package was a one-time $20 purchase, and everything there was to get was included in the box. A starter set for WOTC’s game was probably around the same range – with an unlimited amount that you could spend afterwards building your collection. I’m not knocking it for those who enjoy the chase and the collecting aspect, and it’s possible the game was even pretty good in its own right, but I wasn’t enthused at the prospect of easily spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a collection of low-quality miniatures.
The popularity of Star Wars continues to grow, and there are few places where this juggernaut IP doesn’t have a presence, board games and miniatures games being no exception. I enjoy the pace and thrilling dogfights of X-Wing Miniatures. I’m looking forward to getting into Armada and engaging in fleet-level space battles between Rebels and Imperials. And it appears that Fantasy Flight will soon have another winner on their hands with Star Wars: Rebellion, in which players participate in the events set during the timeline of the original trilogy, in a similar epic storytelling vein as Twilight Imperium and War of the Ring.
So many options for great Star Wars games, yet none of them provides the same experience as the game that I got back in the summer of 2002. I had thought that Epic Duels was my last hope for a skirmish-level miniatures game pitting iconic Star Wars characters against each other. But I have realized that there is another…