Monday, 21 January 2013

Star Wars the Card Game - First Impressions

Monday, January 21, 2013

Share it Please

Welcome back padawans, I hope you've spent your time practicing with your learners sabers and meditating on the meaning of the Force. Our first lesson of the day will be about the new Star Wars the (Living) Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games.

As you might remember it was first revealed two years ago when FFG got the Star Wars licens for card games, miniature games and roleplaying games (not board games, alas). Back then it was announced as a full on cooperative experience which sounded very similar to their Lord of the Rings the Card Game which had been released earlier that year. Personally I thought it sounded pretty cool to team up together against the Empire, but at the same time I could certainly understand the people who felt a little disappointed that it would be a "LotR re-theme" and that you wouldn't be able to wield the might of the Imperial Fleet yourself. I felt I could go for it either way, although I must admit to having felt a bit wary of collecting a second cooperative LCG.

Anyway, this all soon changed when, in the beginning of 2012, FFG announced that great changes had been made and the Star Wars LCG was now going to be a two player competitive game. I think this was probably a better decision although some part of me was sad to see the co-op aspect of the game go (for now). Still I wasn't entirely on board yet, perhaps mostly because of the damage the prequals and the "modern Star Wars" had done to my enthusiasm for the setting.

Luckily FFG really know what they're doing and as I became more and more excited about X-Wing and the new roleplaying game, I started to become excited about the card game as well. The previews were interesting and the cards looked gorgeous. What finally pushed me over the edge was the very slick tutorial video released in early December. It goes through, step by step, the entire gameplay and the resource management and the different strategic levels really made me pay attention. I was going to get this game.

Here we are a month and a bit later and I've just played my first three games of the Star Wars LCG. In the core set you get two Light Side (LS) and two Dark Side (DS) decks as well as parts of a third for each. The Light Side factions are Rebel Alliance, Jedi and Smugglers and Spies while the Dark Side has Imperial Navy, Sith and Scum and Villains. The latter on each side don't make up a complete deck but will be fleshed out as expansions are released. I was a little sad to learn this as the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars setting has always appealed to me greatly!

So we sat down and I handed Anders the four available decks so he could make his pick and, just as I had foreseen, he chose the Imperial Navy deck. An easy guess seeing as Anders plays imps in X-Wing as well. Hehe! To make this as thematic as possible I took the corresponding LS deck: the Rebel Alliance!

The Devastator is part of the Imperial Navy faction.

Gameplay is fast and you can often get fairly powerful units out even in the first turn, if you really squeeze your resources dry. This combined with the fact that you draw back up to your full hand of six cards the beginning of your turn creates a game that is full on action from turn one. In our first game the Imperial Navy got the early lead as Anders managed to play a couple of cheaper units while I still had none. However, what I did get was Trench Run - a special enhancement card that allows the LS player to attack the Death Star dial, that is used as a game timer, as if it was an objective. I thought this sounded cool and played it on my first turn.

I think Anders might have destroyed one of my objectives before I managed to get a unit out, Red 2 - an X-Wing. I used it to chip away at the Death Star but it was slow going and I didn't have much to use as defense. Then as the dial was around seven or eight I drew to Y-Wings! Woo! Just what was needed to put some hurt on that moon, I mean space station. Units in this game can do three kinds of damage and just because something is good at killing other units, like the X-Wing, doesn't mean it's very good at destroying objectives. Y-Wings, being bombers, are quite the opposite and with a proper escort or some fancy maneuvering they can really tear a target apart.

In the final round my small squadron accelerated to attack speed and plunged down into that trench! Unfortunately for the Imperials the Star Destroyer Devastator had been waylaid by a Rebel feint and wasn't available to defend the Death Star (meaning it was Exhausted). This meant that that it was all down to some TIE fighters to defend the station, but it wasn't enough and the Y-Wings blew the Death Star into smithereens! Yay, Rebel victory!

My trench run...

We decided to immediately play again with the same decks and this time I got a couple of units out early, both Leia Organa and Mon Mothma. Two great cards, but not the most powerful when it comes to attack and defence. However, thanks to some shielding from other cards they survived the first few turns intact. On the Imperial side Anders played some TIEs and some Stormtroopers that I couldn't really stop with my two leading ladies. Again the imps managed to destroy an objective before I could get the ball rolling.

However, when it rains it pours and when I finally got a slew of units in my hand I had been able to build up a lot of resources and suddenly I had A-Wings, Y-Wings and X-Wings backed up by Home One and some engineers. Even with the Devastator on his side this still proved too much for the Imperials and the Rebels won by destroying three objectives.

Hmm... so that's two for two for the Light Side so far. Still, we were (are!) still learning and Anders kept forgetting that you can play any cards into Edge Battles. For our third game I decided to switch to the Jedi deck to see how it played, while Anders still kept at it with the Imperial Navy.

This was a fairly short game as I, in a great stroke of luck, drew just the right cards and just the right objectives to be able to play Luke Skywalker with Shii-Cho Training and Jedi Lightsaber, meaning I had a monster of a unit out on turn one that could both be offensive and defensive. Luke made short work of the Stormtroopers and Death Star troopers that Anders played and started putting heavy damage on a DS objective where one of my cards was held captive (yes, you can capture enemies and hold them at your secret base!). Anders kept throwing weaker troops at Luke to slow him down but they kept being chopped into tiny little bits.

It was only after the Devastator entered play that Luke had to be careful. However he was still able to avoid its attacks while attacking the objective during my turn. When I destroyed it I discovered that the captured unit was none other than Yoda! Adding him to my hand he, a Jedi in Hiding and a Believer in the Old Ways soon joined Luke and even the mighty Star Destroyer failed to slow their onslaught. The game ended in a fairly easy victory for the Jedi.

These three games might have sounded a little one-sided when described by me post play, but I'd say that only the third one felt like it was over before it really begun. In the first game the Rebels managed to turn defeat into victory, the second seemed fairly even while the third was... well, Luke happened.

I had a great time with the game and Anders enjoyed it enough to order his own core set today, even though it didn't go very well this time around. It plays quickly while still retaining a decent amount of tactical depth. I was unsure what to make of the Edge Battles where you basically blind bid cards against each other as you try to win the Edge. However, this proved to be a fun little mechanic as it provided some great poker-like moments of bluffing as well as the ability to turn a loosing battle into a partial victory.

The resource mechanic is clever as well as it allows you to get your more expensive units out pretty quickly but that will probably leave your with very few resources for a turn or two. Since you usually spend a lot of your cards in Edge Battles but then get to draw up to your hand limit of six at the start of each turn also helps keep the pace high and you won't spend many turns without something worthwhile to play. If you prefer your games to be slower and allow you to gradually build up a force to then attack your opponent with you might be disappointed. In the Star Wars LCG units come and go as they get destroyed and you need to keep the pressure on from the start.

There is also something called the Force Struggle where you can commit units to the the dark or light side of the force. The winner gets at bonus during his refresh phase and some cards change depending on which side is currently winning. However, commiting units to the force means that they become Exhausted for a longer period of time if they also take part in battles.

A lot has been said about what some people think are theme inconsistensies/implausabilities in reviews and forums. The fact that a Rancor could destroy a Star Destroyer or Palpatines Force Lightning could destroy an X-Wing. The original cooperative iteration of this game included a space and land theater of war but as that mechanic disappeared another level of abstraction has been applied and as long as you don't take the cards literally I think it works fine.

Speaking of theme, the art on the cards is simply fantastic! FFG made a great choice in that they aren't using stills from the films but rather art that on many occasion copies the films. This allows them not only to capture the iconic moments we're all familiar with, but also to seamlessly include things from the expanded universe. Additionally I've personally always thought that photos in any kind of board/card/roleplaying game rarely works and simply looks cheap. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that it's not only all new art from FFG but they are re-using some really famous older stuff like Ralph Mquarrie's original concept art. Very cool!

Finally let's talk deck building. As far as I know this is the first time a card game such as this has gone the route of "pod deck building" that is to say, you don't pick and choose every card you want to include individually, but instead as pre-determined Objective Sets consisting of one objective and five other cards. While I'm a fan of deck building I've never really been too invested in it for one simple reason, none of my friends have been into it. And building decks only for myself doesn't feel like fun. Even building decks for them to play with doesn't feel fun. However, this more accessible way of creating decks might change a few things for my gaming friends.

An Objective Set.

While I can see how hardcore card gamers frown on the idea of pod deck building I think this is not really a game for them. I think it is a lighter card game than A Game of Thrones or Android: Netrunner but that is certainly not a bad thing! While I'm going to get Netrunner as well, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one in my group of friends who will, let alone creating decks for it or think about strategies. Star Wars on the other hand is different, I could see it catching on with at least a few of my friends and it would be great fun to try the multiplayer rules that will be included in the first deluxe expansion!

So yeah... my first impressions are very positive! It looks great, it plays quickly with lots of different tactical options and it has a robust resource mechanic and interesting battles. If you are a seasoned card gamer it might feel a bit light (but that again could be because it's completely new) but for regular gamers or people who like card games but don't play them exclusively it seems to have well blended mix of ingredients! I'm looking forward to my next play and once I've got a few more games under my belt I think I'll start experimenting with some easy deck building.

My suggestion is to try it out if you like Star Wars and aren't adverse to card games. Odds are that you will enjoy it.

May the Force be with you!

2 kommentarer :

  1. How long time does it take to play?

  2. @Kosta - Like I said it plays quickly. Our first game might have lasted an hour between referncing rules and reading the cards. But the third time it was more like 20-30 minutes.


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