Jedi Knights: Early Impressions
by Chris Cieslik
As I'm sure everyone knows by now(Unless you've been living under a rock--and I'm talkin a BIG rock here), Decipher's highly-promoted new CCG, Jedi Knights was released a week and a half ago. Some of you probably already have bought some cards, others debating whether or not to delve into another card game, and then there's the skeptics saying "I'm not spending money on Young Jedi with CG". What I'm here to do is to share my experiences with the game so far, and what I think about its future.
I've been following JK since the first announcements on the Decipher site last year--I was anxious to find a new game to play on the side at least, because at the time SW:CCG was mostly dead in my immediate area, and Magic is, well...Magic, and I wanted to play something else. So I checked in with the site, through the delays, and finally they announced a solid release date. I had the priviledge of getting demo decks to show people the game before it came out, and I loved the game from the start, as did my friends. I enhanced the decks with some of the cards from the site, and I even created a couple of my own to balance out the two sides and make for fun demo games. I helped the local ST:CCG Ambassador, Tom Langberg demo the game at SW States for Mass, and the people that got to play between their games seemed to like it. Everyone was impressed with the images--even on the demo decks. The following weekend, I got to attend a prerelease party out in Clifton Park, NY at Gamers Guild. My thanks go out to the store for participating in the event, it was a lot of fun. They decided to hold a sealed deck tournament of sorts, with a starter and four boosters for each person. It was a decent sized crowd(About 20), and most of them liked the game after playing it. Some people had some problems understanding the rules, but with a little explanation, they got it pretty well(Even my dad played--and he'd never played a CCG before!). Everyone once again was impressed with the card art, though slightly disappointed with the foils. I went 12(+32) (We were using the old differential system), and wound up taking home a third of a box of First Day, as did one of my friends that came with me. All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I'm glad Decipher gave us the chance to play the game a little early.
Jedi Knights is at first glance a pretty simple game. To start, both players choose their respective 'Hero'(At this point Luke, Han, Vader, or Tarkin), around which their deck is based. At all times, there is a system and a matching site(Like Tatooine and Mos Eisley) on the table. There aren't any individual turns--instead both players switch off taking actions(One player deploys, then the other...etc, until they both pass, same with declaring attacks). Both sides fight for control of space and ground, and at the end of two turns the side with the higher power total at the site(Doubled if their hero is still there!) wins, at which point they move on to the next planet(All surviving characters from both sides go into reserve for the Final Battle). Every game is fought using the same 4 planets(But the sites differ)--the objective being either to win the first 3 sites(And the game, immediately), or to win at least one of the first three, and the 'Final Battle'--an all-out fight to the death on the fourth planet(Battles happen consecutively in the Final Battle until one player is totally out of forces on the ground). For a more detailed overview of gameplay, check out Decipher's gameplay tutorials, or the on-line version of the rulebook.
After playing a few games of Jedi Knights, you'll quickly realize that while the gameplay is quite simple to learn, there is a lot of subtle strategy involved in being successful as either the Alliance or the Empire. At each planet, you have to evaluate exactly what you're going to need to win, and try to bait your opponent into thinking he's done the same. And sometimes, even lure the opposing side into deploying more than they need to win the planet, effectively sending some of their best cards to the theme pile to wait while you wreak havoc on planets 2 and 3. A lot of the strategy is in outmaneuvering your opponent--drawing out their high force cards so that you can get initiative in the late battles, or dropping the first planet intentionally because you're holding three copies ofThey Came From Behind. Card drawing is very important, and cards like Pick Up Some Power Converters and That's No Moon are probably going to be staples in most competitive decks. The most important card drawing mechanism though, is weapons fire. All destiny draws come to hand, and you have the added effect of picking off opposing characters (Unlike SW:CCG, 'hit' characters here are always immediately lost). A deck without a decent number of weapons simply won't work, both because you won't be drawing any cards, and because your opponent will be picking off your characters one by one with his weapons.
One of the best things about Jedi Knights that I can see is that it won't take a huge cash commitment to play, either for fun, or competitively. Since Decipher has placed the rare version of the hero cards in the fixed starters along with the theme version, it allows the players to make good decks without needing to buy excessive amounts of cards. The game is playable out of the starters, though a dozen or so boosters are probably necessary to make a truly playable deck, for friendly play, or just to learn the game. For competitive play, one display box of boosters seems to be enough to construct at least a good light and dark deck. At 2 of each starter, and 2 display boxes of boosters, I have what I would call competitive decks for each of the 4 themes. I'm sure if I went out and traded more cards, or bought a lot more packs I could improve my decks a little, but since so much of winning/losing is in the actual gameplay as opposed to the number of rares in your deck, I don't think it would matter a whole lot.
Multiplayer! Yes...JK was designed from the start to allow 2 vs. 2(And eventually more) play. I've only played a couple multiplayer games, but they're a lot of fun. It takes a good team effort to pull off things right though, and a lot of communication (You're allowed to look at each others' hands, and such). The game plays basically the same way, except you only spend one turn at each site. The final battles get real large, and wind up being a lot of fun--one of our games had 6 ships on each side in space, and over a dozen characters apiece! The multiplayer playability is a big plus in my book--its just plain old fun.
Decipher has also set up the usual sanctioned tournament support for Jedi Knights--with the addition of multiplayer tournaments(Not 100% sure how these will work just yet). In addition to this, they have created a 'League Kit' for retailers that want to provide a weekly playing time for their Jedi Knights players. League play sounds like it will be a lot of fun, and hopefully will bolster the number of players for the game. I know that I, for one, will be running a JK league as soon as the kits are ready to go.
With all the tactical options available, I find the game a lot of fun to play. It flows pretty smoothly, and rules issues don't come up that often. Decipher designed the rules to make timing questions basically non-existent, and I've yet to come across an rules question that was a serious problem. All things considered, I think Decipher has done a pretty good job with this game, and hopefully it will gain a good sized playerbase--I'd love to see it as big as SW:CCG.