Star Wars represents my third attempt at one of Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games. My first was a copy of Game of Thrones that I scored in a math trade. I tried most of one two-player game, and it was not much to my taste at all. I found the strategy more daunting than the effort I was prepared to expend, and I’m not a big fan of the source material in the first place. So into the trade pile it went. Then I tried my hand at the very unusual Lord of the Rings card game. I’m a big fan of those books, but after a brief flash of enthusiasm, that one left me cold as well. It felt mired in process, and all too often the cooperative nature rendered the game an utter slog.
I’m told that both games are quite good if you are willing to expend the effort (and money) to invest in a little deck-building and exploration, but neither one offered enough to make me care to take that leap. So I don’t know what possessed me to take a stab at the new Star Wars card game. I mean, I am a bigger Star Wars fan than most. I have read up on a lot of the extended universe, and I’m even a fan of the prequel trilogy. Still, I should have had a bad feeling about it, just because of prior experience. But it turns out that Star Wars is probably the perfect LCG for my tastes, and I’m now so interested in the game that I sold some other games to purchase a second core set and the first Force pack.
I’m not sure how much of the actual gameplay is all that unique, but what’s there is a lot of fun. Players take the role of the light side or the dark side. Each side has units, events, enhancements, all that good stuff. There are also a separate deck of objectives for each side. Aside from providing most of the resources that allow you to play cards, they also serve as a target for your opponent. The light side will win if they can destroy three dark side objectives. The dark side will emerge victorious if they can get their Death Star dial all the way to 12, and since it advances at least one level every turn, time is on their side. There are six factions altogether, although only four (Jedi, Rebels, Sith, and Imperial Navy) are fully represented in the core set. A future set will flesh out the other two factions, which will largely consist of the scruffy-lookin’ nerf herders like smugglers and bounty hunters. Each of those factions get a small taste in the core set, but not enough to really matter.
Most of that is standard CCG/LCG material, but perhaps the most unusual aspect of the game is the deckbuilding system. Each objective is tied to five specific cards. You pick your objectives to include, and each objectives card set goes into your deck. That means that instead of choosing fifty cards to put in your game, you choose 10 cards and you get all of the cards that come with them. I’m not sure how experienced deckbuilders will feel about this. It definitely doesn’t offer the same level of control that you can get from a normal card-by-card build. You’ll be forced to include less amazing cards to get the ones you like, and that will be frustrating for min-maxers. But for a lot of us, deckbuilding is the most intimidating part of getting into this genre. Star Wars has removed a lot of that barrier, and the game is much less daunting as a result. Not that it’s any easier to make a good deck, but it definitely feels a lot less like work.
In fact, a lot of the design choices in Star Wars feel designed to make the game more like a game and less like a hassle. One choice that I really like is the way you just draw up to your hand limit at the beginning of every turn. It means you can burn cards doing this or that, and you’ll be able to replace them. Worrying about not having enough cards or hitting a hand limit isn’t a problem here. I also like the “edge battles,” which are simply a blind bid for initiative before combat. There’s a lot of stuff that can go right or wrong in those moments, and usually your only option is to just hope it goes well. Some will find it too random, but I like how swingy it is. The game is simply more dynamic than the other LCG’s I’ve played. It’s more concerned with being quick and exciting than it is with being strategic and nuanced.
When Fantasy Flight first got the Star Wars license, I was worried. Star Wars did not feel like a good fit for the FFG design philosophy, which has always been rather mechanical and complex. That’s not a bad thing exactly, but Star Wars should be quick and fun above all else. Thankfully, this game is just that. It feels as much like Star Wars as a card game could. I like the asymmetrical goals. I love how the game can swing back and forth and yet always seem to come down to the wire. And I am truly impressed at the artwork. I had expected movie stills, but these are all new illustrations, and they look terrific. It gives the game a freshness that stills wouldn’t have brought.
Designer Eric Lang mentioned in an interview that Star Wars is the first LCG to really explore what makes the format different from the classic collectible model. I’d submit that Lord of the Rings did more to that end, but it is true that the objective-based deckbuilding wouldn’t work at all in a random distribution model. We’ll see where the game can go from here. As with all LCGs, a lot of what we see in the core set is promise more than results. It’s tough to do much deckbuilding with just one core set, and it’s silly to include a single objective for each of the other two factions, since that isn’t really enough to use. The apparent drive to make the game more accessible may unravel as they continue to release expansion sets. If I am able, I’d like to check back in after a year or so and see where the game is then.
But for right now, I think that Star Wars is highly promising. I definitely want to hang on and see where it goes for at least a couple of cycles. What’s there now has proven to be one of the best two-player experiences I’ve gotten in a long time, and I think it’ll only get better with a bigger pool of cards. I’m excited to see new locales and even eras added to the set. The LCG model means that they could even release stuff from the Expanded Universe and the prequel trilogy, and purists would be able to give it a pass. But me? I’d love to have that stuff too. I want to dig into this one bigtime. Like the Millenium Falcon, she’s got it where it counts.
Nate Owens is a weekly columnist for Fortress: Ameritrash. He drinks too much coffee and likes the Star Wars prequels. You can read more of his mental illness at The Rumpus Room.