Back in 1999, the world was abuzz with the release of the first Star Wars movie in a very long time: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Looking back, that movie really wasn’t very good. However, in addition to spawning a whole new line of toys and accessories, it gave us the board game dice fest that we call Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit.
The Queen’s Gambit puts the players on opposing sides of the climax of The Phantom Menace. The players of the Trade Federation will battle the Naboo players for control of the palace throne room. Does The Queen’s Gambit have what it takes to be a hit at your gaming table? Or does it deserve to be banished to a galaxy far, far away. Read on to find out!
Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit is a thematic game for 2-4 players that takes about 2 hours to play. The Queen’s Gambit plays best with 2 players.
First, the bad news. Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit is out of print. It was produced at the height of the movie mania in 2000. Being out of print, it’s really hard to find a copy. You can buy one second hand, but you better be prepared to spend a pretty penny. With that out of the way though, let’s get on to the good stuff.
In The Queen’s Gambit, one player takes on the role of the Naboo/Gungan, trying to capture the two viceroys of the Trade Federation player. The game has 4 different theaters of battle, and players must choose wisely where they will direct their forces each turn. Neglect one area too long and a player may soon regret it. But more on that later.
The main play of the game is made of of combat between some 150 Star Wars miniatures. Players will move minis and roll dice on their turn in the attempt to destroy their enemy’s forces. Each player has a specific victory condition that, once achieved, will crown them the victor. The rules are fairly easy to grasp and the turns will go by quickly.
This is any area where The Queen’s Gambit really shines as a lot of great components comes with this game. First, you get over 150 miniatures to play with. Unfortunately they are made of a soft, colored plastic, so they aren’t as detailed or high quality as your are probably used to today. But for being produced over a decade ago, I think they still work really well. You have a lot of droids (both battle and destroyer), Gungans, palace guards (along with a few heroes), a trio of Jedi/Sith and a few other miscellaneous figures to work with (Battle Tanks and Fambas to say the least). When the game is fully setup, it’s pretty awe inspiring.
Also coming with the game are number of different card decks that help the players choose their actions each turn. They feature artwork from the movies and are laid out more functionally then artistic. But they work well for what they need to do.
The game also comes with a few sets of dice that have custom stickers on each side (applied by the player). These are rolled to determine the outcomes of battles. They will feature various outcomes such as hit, miss, defense and counter-attack.
Finally the game has 2 main boards and a 3 level, 3D palace board. Avalon Hill did an excellent job crafting these boards. They are thematic, well designed and just look awesome. The 3 level palace was a fanatics idea and, once setup, is a lot of fun to play with. However I do with it was a tad sturdier, as it can rock a bit of hit. The games boards are divided up into the game’s 4 theaters of war: The Plains of Naboo, The Space Battle, The Reactor Control Room and The Palace. Each of these areas have their own figures and rules that will affect the game. Players must decide each turn in which theater to act. All-in-all, it’s not wonder this game is still highly sought after. The components really help sell this one.
How to Play:
If there is one criticism of The Queen’s Gambit is that the game play isn’t very deep. It’s essentially a dice fest. You will do a LOT of rolling in this game. You aren’t going to find deep, strategic game play here, but it’s also not as simple as something like Risk. The game is filled with some tough decisions each turn (more on that later).
Each game round is divided up into 3 phases:
1. Planning: Each player will choose 4 cards to play that turn from their hand of 10 cards. Each card will note what figures a player can activate on that particular turn.
2. Action: This is where the majority of the game happens. Starting with the first player, players will alternate playing cards from their 4 chosen cards (in order). Each card will allow a player to use certain figures in a specific theater of battle. Most figures will move and attack on their turn. The board has hexes to control movement and dice are rolled to determine hits. The game play is fairly easy to grasp and only takes a turn or two to get into the flow.
3. Draw: Each player draw 2 cards from their 2 different decks, bringing their hand back up two 10 cards.
And that’s all there is to it. The Naboo player wins when they shut down the droid control ship and have a majority in the palace throne room. The Trade Federation player wins when he destroys all but 2 of the Naboo palace figures.
Let me start by saying I love playing this game. It is an incredible amount of fun and have never regretted bringing it to the table. I enjoy it so much that I would buy another copy if it were re-released today with higher quality components. That’s not to say that it’s current components detract from the quality, but after 10 years and a lot of plays, they are showing some wear.
I would love to see this game have the painted, detailed miniatures that come with a lot of games today. I wish it came with some higher quality cards designed a bit more creatively. I’d like to see some molded dice instead of dice with stickers. But even without all those wishes, I still love this game. It is just so much fun. Especially as a Star Wars fan, I’m hard pressed to think of a better game in that universe (Although X-Wing minis could take that crown).
While true, you won’t have the deep level strategic game play of other war games, but there are still a lot of hard choices to be made each turn. The Queen’s Gambit has 4 different theaters of battle going on simultaneously. To give you an idea of how the game plays, let me talk about why you can’t ignore any of those areas.
The Plains of Naboo: This area is a giant blood bath and probably has the least impact on the game. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have any. When a group of soldiers gets destroyed here, the killing player gains a bonus card for the next round. As only 4 cards are played a round, this can have a huge impact. Ignore this area and your opponent will be activating a lot more troops than you each turn.
The Starfield: Ok, I’ll admit, this area is the most boring. It involves Anakin trying to get to the Droid Control Ship. The controlling player rolls two dice and hopes a blocked number doesn’t come up. Succeed and he moves one step closer. Make it all the way to the ship and ever droid in the game shuts down. A Naboo player can’t ignore this area and expect to win. A Trade Federation player can play here to increase the amount of successful roll required by Anakin. Letting Anakin easily walk into the Droid Control Ship is a quick way for the Trade Federation player to lose.
The Generator Core: 2 Jedi and a Sith fighting it out in the iconic battle from The Phantom Menace. What’s not to love. This is probably the area players will concentrate on first in the game. As once either the Jedi or Sith have been killed, the survivor can move into the palace and start slaughtering their enemies. It’s no surprised that the palace guards and battlebots fall quickly to the powerful Jedi/Sith. Most players won’t want to ignore this area as the Jedi/Sith are so cool. But ones that do will find themselves quickly over matched in the rest of the palace. The Jedi/Sith are just so powerful. One Jedi can easily take out 3 droids a turn.
The Palace: And this is where the game is won or lost. The Naboo player has a finite number of palace guards. When they all die, it’s game over. Conversely, the droid player can bring in reinforcements from the Plains of Naboo. There is no reason to ignore this area, as that’s where the game is won. But a player can’t solo focus his efforts here, as noted above.
And that’s what I love about this game. 4 separate areas that play differently, each with their own importance. While I might want to activate my palace guards 4 times in one turn, doing so might cause the Trade Federation player to activate Darth Maul 4 times without a response from me. There is an ebb and flow in this game. You can’t ignore one area for too long. I love how well each area is balanced in this game. I think even one of the 4 areas could be made into a game, so it’s pretty amazing that this game has all 4.
The turns in The Queen’s Gambit go by very quickly and the combat with the miniatures is incredibly fun. Over a hundred figures will probably die before the end of the game. This means there will be a lot of battle taking place. So yes, it’s a dice fest, but sometimes that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for.
I should also point out that there is a decent amount of luck in this game. From being only able to activate troops based on the cards in your hand to rolling dice for hits. If you hate luck in your games, you’ll want to steer clear of The Queen’s Gambit. However, if that doesn’t bother you than this game is worth every minute of the two hours it takes to play.
Even with all of the luck involved, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the game is balanced. I know with some heavily thematic games (I refuse to use the word “Ameritrash”, it needs to go away forever), once side can be heavily favored at times during the games. Not so with The Queen’s Gambit. I found the game to be very well balanced throughout the game. In one game, Darth Maul got killed quickly and the Jedi started carving up battlebots in the palace. By concentrating on The Plains of Naboo for a while, the Trade Federation player was able to get enough bonus cards to offset the rampaging Jedi. I love a game that plays evenly and will come down to the very wire to determine a winner.
It’s rare to see a licensed game, partially a movie based one, that plays this well. I don’t have a whole lot to gripe about with The Queen’s Gambit. If you are a Star Wars fan, or even just a miniatures fan, try and find a copy if you can.
By now you have probably figured out that I love this game. I really do wish they would make a reprint with some updated components. My copy is starting to show some wear and I’d love to see it with some high quality, painted minis.
But even still, this game is a lot of fun to play. The rules are very easy to learn and the turns go by quickly so downtime is minimal. I really enjoy the hard decisions a player has to make during the game. I almost always find myself wishing I had more actions as I just can’t get enough turns in each theater of battle.
In The Queen’s Gambit, combat is intense and very enjoyable. The sheer quantity of miniatures in this game make it a sight to behold. In addition to that, the decision to go with a 3D palace adds a lot to the “coolness factor”. For its time, I can’t think of a game with better components. If this game were to be made today, I can only imagine how great it would look.
Even if you thought The Phantom Menace was a pile of garbage, you will still thoroughly enjoy The Queen’s Gambit. If you can find a copy, or if you have some deep pockets, pick up this game today. It will have a long lasting place in your gaming collection.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, I wish you luck. It’s about $200 on the second hand market.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A ton of fun with a great Star Wars theme. What’s not to like? Highly recommended.
• Quality of the components aren’t as good compared to today’s standards
• Luck based game play