In the over abundant world of card games it’s difficult to choose a card game to play. Perhaps you’ve not played any and don’t know where to begin, or like me, perhaps you’ve invested heavily in Netrunner and aren’t entirely sure your bank would be pleased about you taking on another game. I was a bit unsure about Star Wars: The Card Game before I bought it, but I continued to think about it, and eventually had to grab a core set to see if it would satiate me. I’m pleased to say, after two weeks of playing it, I’m thinking of retiring from Netrunner.
Let’s start with rules before we carry on with my adoration for the game though. As ever the rulebook with Star Wars: The Card Game is not the best way to learn. Whilst it’s probably the best written I’ve seen so far from a card game, I can’t help but think back to nearly a year ago when Richard and I tried to pick up and play the game but utterly fail. Thankfully the rules work great in tandem with the tutorial from Team Covenant and so you can quickly get to grips with the couple of Star Wars specific mechanics involved.
The basics of the game sees two players (more with expansions, but we’re just focusing on Core Set for now) go against each other, one Dark side, one Light. The players both have one Objective Deck and one Command Deck with which to beat the enemy with. The Objective Deck contains your objective cards which provide resources but also a bonus or a detriment to your opponent. Your Command Deck on the other hand, has your famous characters, your infamous spaceships, your deadly weapons and spontaneous events to get the battle in favour of your side.
Now, the objective of the game? For the Dark Side you want to get the Death Star dial to 12. Every time the Dark side player starts their turn, they increase the dial by one, so the game automatically gets a timer. If the player manages to destroy a Light side objective, the dial increases by the amount of Light side objectives you’ve destroyed, so one for one, two for two etc etc. All the Light side has to do is destroy three Dark side objectives. The game immediately ends if either of these conditions are met or if any deck runs out (with that player losing).
So the game starts by picking three objectives out of four drawn from your deck of eight objective cards. A deck normally has a minimum of ten objective cards, but the core set suggests you use only eight during your early games. You then pick three to use and place them face down, while the left over card gets put at the bottom of your Objective deck, basically to be never seen again. Before players unveil their objectives they draw six cards from their Command deck and have the choice to mulligan once. Interestingly, the mulligan rule is optional but I can’t see how you’d enforce that without being someone I wouldn’t want to play card games with. Anyway, once all those steps are completed, the Dark side player begins to unveil their Objective cards one by one and resolving any abilities if able. Then the Light side does the same. Play then begins with the Dark side.
A game turn has six phases starting with Balance of the force. At the start of the Dark side player’s turn they get to increase the Death Star dial by one. If the Balance of the Force is with them then it increases by two. If it’s the Light side player’s turn then nothing happens unless they have the Balance of the Force on their side. In which case they get to do one point of damage to an objective. We then go to the Refresh stage, which allows players to remove one focus from each focused card. Focusing a card usually grants a resource per focus token or an ability or when a character battles out on the front line.
Resource cards can provide the amount of resources shown, if you focus that many times. You don’t have to use all it can provide BUT whilst a card is focused you cannot gain any further resources from it. So if you need to add an extra card mid turn but your three resource card already has one focus token on it then you’re out of luck. Since you can only remove one focus token from each card on your own refresh phase, spending resources can be very tactical.
Now let’s go back to the phases, after you refresh is your draw phase. You have the option to discard one card but that’s it. You then draw up to your reserve value which is normally six but can be changed by cards or objectives. After this the set up phase is done and we move to deployment. Here you can bring out locations, vehicles and characters to the fold, paying resources according to the card’s cost listed in it’s top left corner. The majority of the time this is the only phase you can bring out non event cards and with limited resources you need to choose carefully who to bring out. We then move to the conflict phase which is where you do battle.
Let’s talk about battles, because they are a little different to the norm. Those objective cards I mentioned earlier, well they have health and the characters and vehicles you play will be attacking them directly in the Conflict phase. You can only attack an objective once per turn but you can attack all three separately in one turn. Attacks are always against objectives and you have to declare which you’re attacking with which cards. Then the opposing player can declare defenders before an Edge battle begins.
So the Edge battle is a bit terrifying at first, but once you get the swing of it you’re well away. Starting with the attacker players can add cards face down to their Edge pile until both players pass consecutively. The cards are then revealed and the force pips on them are added up. The player with the highest number wins the Edge battle. Not only can you add any card in your deck there are also specific Fate cards which can only be added into an Edge battle. Each of these have a different effect that takes place in rank order, but it’s really the non fate cards that are important. You see, all the cards used in an Edge battle are used solely for the amount of force pips on them and are then discarded. So do you use Yoda to boost you to victory or do you save him to put into battle?
The victor of the Edge battle gains the all important initiative, allowing their choice as the first unit to act. They also get to use the white icons on their unit and vehicles cards which can really make the difference in a battle. Once a card has acted in the battle it becomes focused which stops it being able to defend since it won’t get refreshed until your next turn. This is where the strategy comes in because if you spend cards in the Edge battle while attacking you won’t have many or any cards for an Edge battle while defending. Likewise any units used for attacking are unable to defend. It’s all about picking your battles efficiently while damaging objectives effectively.
The last stage after Conflict is the Force Struggle. This is where you can commit units or vehicles to the force. The upside of having the force gives you the benefit during the first phase, either increasing the Death Star dial by two if you’re the Dark side or managing to do one damage to an objective if you’re the Light side. The downside is whenever you focus to attack in a Conflict you focus two tokens instead of just the one. This isn’t too bad for your stronger more recognisable characters who have the trait Elite. This allows them to remove two focus tokens in the Refresh phase but for your more expendable grunts will be caught short. As with Edge battles its all about the force pips on a card which determine the total of the Force struggle. The higher number wins and in a tie the defender prevails.
So that’s the rules. The core set comes with enough cards to build four decks, Sith, Jedi, Rebel Alliance and Imperial Navy. So far there are 12 Force Packs available and three Deluxe Expansions, with the Deluxe Expansions providing a lot more cards for the remaining two factions Scum & Villainy and Smugglers and Spies (think Boba Fett vs Han Solo). The way deck building works is unique in that you pick at least ten objectives to make your Objective deck and then with each objective comes five cards which go into your Command Deck. You can’t swap the odd card out meaning choice of objective is important. You can have a maximum of two of the same Objective sets allowing for a better chance to get your Vader card out. Overall it’s quite refreshing not to have to pick apart and analyse individual cards but a set of them. I will say the core set seems to skimp a bit on allowing for customisation and it is a disappointment you have to purchase additional boxes to make use of the two unexplored factions.
Okay, so that’s all the things you need to know about the game and what I’ve accidentally done is wrote 1600 words on the rules when really I should have summarised it down a bit more. I didn’t though and that’s because I LOVE this game. Like all card games there’s a lot to get your head around at first but the fact it’s Star Wars can make it a bit more accessible once the mechanics have clicked.
The game timing is immediately something that will become apparent when you start playing. The Light side is on a constant timer that can be slightly slowed but never stopped. This keeps pushing the Light side player to be aggressive but you soon learn that over committing can be incredibly punishing. Thus the tempo of the game is forged. It’s up to the good and honest to pick apart holes in the corrupt defenses, crippling units as they go with haste and a very focused attack. Meanwhile the Dark side player has the option to just sit back and defend. The need for aggression isn’t always there and I’ve played games where I’ve had control of the Force and unit superiority to allow me to just sit back and win. Like many card games the sway of the game is in constant motion and you’re safest at the end of your turn before your opponent can resupply their cards and potentially their reinforcements.
The way you go through cards in this game is also a bit of a departure from the status quo as Edge battles will see you need to play cards to gain a strong foothold in a battle. Getting to go first and destroying an enemy unit before they can attack or focusing them so they can’t is incredibly important, even more so for the Light side. Whereas in Doomtown you have the same draw mechanic in the fact you could discard one card to then draw up to your correct amount, in Star Wars I never felt a hand was completely useless. There’s some duff hands and occasionally cards you won’t need will turn up, yes that happens in all games but dumping them in Edge battles solves that problem. And then we throw in the fact that not only can you go through them quickly but that you need to manage them effectively and you get this whole different feeling from playing. Card management is crucial to success and having an OK card that could help in the future means you need a cost benefit analysis immediately because it is burning up a hole in your hand limit.
I’ve spoken a lot about the mechanics but that’s not Star Wars’ only strength. The art is stunning. Fantasy Flight could have settle for film shots and I wouldn’t have minded that much, but they didn’t. They made some beautiful art and have even added even more beautiful scenes we didn’t see in the films. Each card is more beautiful than the last and, from what I’ve seen from the other LCGs, wipes the floor with them.
Now I’m a massive Star Wars fan so obviously I’ve been gushing about the game since I started this review, but I think even players unfamiliar with the universe could enjoy the game. It’s certainly a lot simpler and accessible than Netrunner, it has a varied and awesome cast of characters and vehicles to attack with and the countdown of the Death Star dial forces you to think quickly. The core set in comparison to other games feels a little light in the amount of cards given which is perhaps more Fantasy Flight trying to convince you to combine two factions together (which is used a lot during tournament play) but I would have liked a bit more before I invested in expansions.
I am in love with this game, so I have absolutely no problem recommending it. I read a review a long time ago that was really indifferent to this game, stating that it didn’t provide anything new over Netrunner. Strategically I’d say Netrunner remains the best, but I don’t think that can ever discount the enjoyment to be found in Star Wars: The Card Game. It’s not the most generous of core sets and I think you do have to spend a bit of money buying some expansions before you can get the fullest flavour of the game. That theme though. Bringing down Darth Vader and equipping his lightsabre to tackle some annoying snowspeeders doesn’t make complete sense, but it’s fun as anything. If you’re a big Star Wars fan then I think you’ll find a lot of enjoyment here. And if you’re not? Well there’s always this year’s Episode 7 to get you into it.