Saturday, December 28, 2013

Star Wars: The Card Game Review




            About once every half-decade the twin suns of Tatooine align, the intellectual property gurus of Coruscant hold council, and a Star Wars game graces the tables of the world.  In the context of card games, the two most recent and prominent have been Decipher's Star Wars CCG, a game that struck a chord in the hearts of many fans, and Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars TCG, which had a more lukewarm reception. The newest addition is Star Wars: The Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games, and so far I have enjoyed it immensely.

The Game - Brief Summary of Cool Aspects

            Star Wars: The Card Game (SWLCG) follows the standard Living Card Game format from FFG - there are no randomized boosters, but instead a fixed $15 dollar addition every 1-2 months featuring a playset of all new cards to the game. It is asymmetrical, meaning that each player will have both a Light side and Dark side deck looking to fulfill a unique win objective. Light Side can include the Jedi, Smugglers/Spies, and the Rebel Alliance, while the Dark Side has the Sith, Scum/Villiany, and the Imperial Navy.  Both Light and Dark sides have two decks at the table; an Objective deck and a Command Deck. The Objective Deck is comprised of 10 'Objective' cards, of which only three are active at any one time, that provide effects and resources for playing cards from the Command Deck. The Command Deck holds events, enhancements, characters, and other types of cards. The Light Side player seeks to destroy three Dark Side objectives to win the game, while the Dark Side player works to advance the 'Death Star dial' to twelve. At a minimum, the Death Star advances by one each turn the Dark Side player takes, setting an appropriate tenseness to the game.

            Packed within the game are various different struggles and encounters beyond the expected space dogfights and epic lightsaber duels. As an example, players may seek to hold the balance of the force by 'committing' their characters to the path of a Jedi or Sith, granting the player special abilities at a personal cost for the character committed. Further, before every space battle or cantina duel each player has to fight to claim the 'edge' - the ability to fire the first blaster-shot. Below you can see that each card has a number of white circles to the left, which represent its value in the edge battle. The edge is fought by placing cards face down into your 'edge stack' never to be returned, introducing a bluffing element to the game that would otherwise be absent. Is that third face-down card going to win me the edge, potentially winning me the battle, or am I just trying to get you to waste more of your useful cards?


A Mandalorian, a Trandoshan, and a Sith Lord walk into a bar...

            Deck-building in SWLCG is more streamlined than many other card games. Instead of agonizing over 45 to 60 individual cards, each card in your objective deck is keyed to five specific cards that must go into your command deck. This makes building a deck much simpler for a new player, but no less strategic. Want to use the fearsome bounty hunter Bossk? He'll be dragging his less impressive lizard-cousins along with him. Looking to recruit the cunning Dash Rendar into your smuggling ring? He'll be bringing some lackluster friends to the party. This refreshing take on deck creation manages to add some depth to the hard decisions a veteran player must make, while at the same time making the process easier for a new player.

Pros and Cons

Pros -  First and most obvious, it's Star Wars. If you're a fan of Star Wars, it's going to scratch a certain itch if it doesn't outright suck. Second and more importantly - it's Star Wars done well. The new 'pod based' method of deck building, asymmetric play, introduction of a bluffing bid war, and the sheer importance of every single turn would make it an addicting game even without the Star Wars theme, though it just happens to be uniquely qualified for it (for the most part - see cons.) Third, the game is well balanced and the learning curve is only moderate (for the most part - see cons.) Rounds are often relatively close, sometimes incredibly epic, and rarely soul-crushingly one-sided. While there is some learning curve to the game, it's nowhere near as steep as FFGs other darling Netrunner.

My wife, who isn't a fan of games with unnecessarily steep learning curves, liked playing this one enough to want her own set! It arrived today.

Cons - For a thematic purist, there may be a few logical gaps. There is no distinction between space or vehicular combat and units, meaning Vader can leap from the surface of a planet into space and slice an X-Wing in half. Personally, I just don't care enough for it to hinder my enjoyment, but there are the margins that cringe. While the game is mostly balanced, Sith enjoy some noticeable dark-side dominance, though this has already improved with recent releases. Finally, the learning curve is surmountable, but present. It will take more than one game to get the mechanics and elements of a turn down.

Conclusion

            SWLCG is a very enjoyable, tactically fulfilling game worthy of the Star Wars legacy with a moderate learning curve surmountable by anyone with LCG or TCG experience. If you enjoy both card games and Star Wars, you'll probably love it as much as I do. If  you enjoy Star Wars but haven't played a card game before, this would be a fine place to start. If you enjoy Star Wars but have a set aversion to card games, the unique deck-building mechanics may be enough to sway you, but it's an uphill battle. If you hate Star Wars and card games...why have you read this far?

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Click here to listen to Eric Lang talk about Star Wars LCG on The Nerd Nighters!