Star Wars: The Card Game
STAR WARS: THE CARD GAME
“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire.”
This is a story about conflict. This is a story about control for the galaxy in an epic battle between virtue, good, corruption, and evil…At least, it’s supposed to be. Instead, the story…my story…morphed into how I learned to get over what I thought card games could do and learn to accept a game for what it is, not what I thought it was supposed to be.
This story—coming to you almost ten years too late—is about how a strategic card game changed how I think about games. I am no stranger to Fantasy Flight Games Living Card Game (LCGs) format. I believe, if memory serves, I’ve played dang near all of them: from Game of Thrones to Netrunner to The Legend of the Five Rings. I’ve played cooperative ones such as Arkham Horror and Lord of the Rings. I’ve played competitive ones such as Star Wars: The Card Game.
Published in 2012, Eric M. Lang’s Star Wars: The Card Game remains one of the inaugural card games within the Living Card Game framework. As I’ve been reviewing all things Star Wars lately (Star Wars: Rebellion, Outer Rim), I decided to track down a copy (which was not easy) of the core set and give it a go for a review.
Star Wars: The Card Game is an asymmetrical strategic card game for two or more players (provided you purchase The Balance of the Force expansion for 2 v 2 and 1 v all gameplay modes). One player plays the Light Side, while the other plays the Dark Side. Each side of the table functions relatively the same; however, the win conditions make them vastly distinct.
Honestly, when I saw Star Wars: The Card Game for the first time, I wasn’t impressed. As a longtime fan of the franchise and watching a few review videos, the game looked about as fun as watching paint dry during monsoon season. The game looked like a mess. The gameplay didn’t appear thematic enough for me, but the coup de grace lacked scenarios or narrative (akin to Netrunner: Terminal Directive or Lord of the Rings LCG).
I won’t be going through specifics in gameplay. Still, there are two aspects I would like to mention as being influential and eloquent in their design. Before moving on, to circumvent nasty comments, I refer to the two aspects as influential as they are the first time I’ve seen them in any game I’ve played. There may be other games that “did it first,” but, for me, these things made Star Wars: The Card Game stand out. Okay? The two things that challenged my traditions, thoughts, and beliefs about how strategic card games work are:
1. Focus tokens
Since the inception of Magic: The Gathering, the idea of turning a card sideways to use an ability or show the card is not able to trigger, Star Wars: The Card Game gets rid of the clunk of turning and un-turning cards over and over. Instead, cards receive focus tokens. These tokens, for all intense and purposes, reflect the exact mechanism. At the start of a player’s turn, they can remove one focus token from each card. This means that if a card has multiple focus tokens (acquired through numerous card effects), it will take even longer to be ready. Brilliant! Slowing down your opponent's forces by placing focus tokens on them is one of many exciting strategies to deck build around. Not only does this provide a 3-dimensional visual (the tokens), but it eliminates the overused idea of turning a card 90 degrees to use it. Brilliant!
2. The combat is not really in the combat. It’s in the edge battles.
Whenever a player initiates conflict (combat), before resolution, they engage in an “edge battle”—a sort of bluffing mini-game with cards played in turn order from each player’s hand. If you win the edge battle, you get the jump on your opponent and are allowed to strike first, which, depending on the circumstance, can make or break an entire conflict. The edge battle adds an extra layer of complexity, sure, but it allows players equal footing in combat. The edge battle, depending on the board state, can be huge.
Star Wars: The Card Game is not flawless. The game balance can vastly swing from turn to turn, the theme is not strong (you could use the mechanisms and gameplay with almost any theme); also, players will tire of the core game after a few games and are forced to either put the game on the shelf to collect dust or begin buying all the expansion packs for new deckbuilding possibilities!
I wanted to hate this game. I wanted to prove myself right. I wanted to be better than such an inferior game. I mean, how dare they take my beloved Star Wars and develop a rubbish game within its lore. But, at the end of the day, I’ve had a ton of fun playing the game, buying some expansions, and deck building around particular themes.