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An Overview Of The Star Wars Card Game
Posted by Erik on May 24, 2013 at 10:28 PM CST |
In the Star Wars gaming community, video games get most of the attention.  Sadly, we're about to experience a temporary drought of Star Wars video games — though there's reason to believe that some very cool things are coming down the pipe in the future.

In the meantime, this is a great opportunity for you to explore other forms of Star Wars gaming!

I've been fielding a lot of questions on the Star Wars Card Game and the X-Wing Miniatures games produced by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), so I've decided to present these articles in a "question & answer" format.



Let's cut to the chase.  Is this game any good?  Why should I bother with it?

In short, yes.  It's fun, it's easy to learn, and it's not going to turn into a money sink.

As we've seen before, slapping the Star Wars label on a game isn't enough to make it good.  A game needs to be able to stand on its own legs independent of its franchise label.  However, it also needs to incorporate that franchise in such a way that fans feel a connection.

Fantasy Flight Games accomplishes both.  It's created a truly fun game that honors the Star Wars name.

Let's not jump ahead too far though.  I'll come back to the "why should I bother with it" question near the end of the overview.


Who is Fantasy Flight Games, and why have I never heard of them before?

If you haven't heard of Fantasy Flight Games ( or "FFG"), it's probably because you're not familiar with the current "tabletop" games market (card games, miniatures, roleplaying games, etc.).

FFG has been around since 1995, and they're known for handling some very big licenses, such as Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Warhammer, Netrunner, and more.  More importantly, they've built a reputation of producing high quality games for each of these licenses.

We've got some interviews lined up for future ForceCast episodes with some of the minds behind the game, and we're about to launch a new Star Wars gaming podcast. So stay tuned for more coverage of the Fantasy Flight Star Wars products.


What is a "living card game"?

Those of you familiar with trading card games in the past probably remember the term "CCG," or "collectible card game."  Over time, this evolved to "TCG," or "trading card game." 

These games involved purchasing small packs of cards, generally containing from nine to fifteen cards per pack, then selecting individual cards to include in a 60-card deck.  Cards had different abilities that would affect the game, and the more powerful cards were rare.  This fed into the "collectible" nature of the cards, as the more powerful and rare cards became more expensive to find.

FFG has coined the phrase "living card game," or "LCG."  The main difference between an LCG and a CCG is that in an LCG, the game functions in much the same way, but the cards are not collectible.  The player still creates a customized deck based on the cards he has, but when he purchases the game, every box comes with the entire selection cards from that set.  No card is more rare than another.

This is a big benefit to your wallet.  But I'll come back to that in a moment.


How does this differ from other card games like Magic: The Gathering

First and foremost, when you purchase the game (or an expansion), you get that entire set of cards.  So you're not buying hundreds of small packs for $3.99 trying to fill in your collection or get the more powerful cards.  For the price you might pay for a single Magic card on eBay, you could buy the entire core set of Star Wars cards.  That's a huge benefit!

Deck building is much simpler.  The cards are broken up into six-card "objective sets," and you include ten (or more) of these in a deck.  So instead of narrowing down 60 individual cards, you're choosing 10 sets.  This makes deck building much easier for new players while still allowing veteran players a lot of strategic flexibility.

Another big difference is the "draw mechanic," or how you get new cards into your hand.  In most card games, you draw one card per turn.  In the Star Wars Card Game, you always begin your turn with six cards.  So if you play all your cards in one turn, you draw six new cards the next turn.  This means that your opening hand, while still important, no longer determines the entire game.


How does it compare to the previous Star Wars card games from Decipher and Wizards of the Coast?

I played the Decipher game extensively up to the Jabba's Palace expansion.  Though I loved the game, I found that its reliance upon location led to many games where the two players were doing different things at different places on the table, and it often became a race for Force drain.  Sometimes there wasn't much player interaction. Still, despite its complexity, I thought it was a great game.

I tried the Wizards of the Coast game and didn't care much for it.  The location system was simpler than in Decipher's game, but the overall game mechanics just didn't do it for me.

With the Star Wars Card Game by FFG, I find it's much more interactive.  All battles take place in one arena, whether the units be characters, vehicles, or ships.  The pace of the game is much faster too, as players cycle through their decks more rapidly.

Overall, while I still love the Decipher game, this new one by FFG has game mechanics that are simpler and more stable.



How does the game work?

I don't want to make this a tutorial, but here's the basic idea...

One player is the Light Side, and one is the Dark Side.  Light Side players can play as Jedi, the Rebel Alliance, Smugglers & Spies, or any combination of the three.  The Dark Side has Sith, the Imperial Navy, and Scum & Villainy. 

Each team has a 10-card "objective deck" and a 50-card "play deck."  Each side has three objectives in play at any given time.  The objectives, along with some other cards, provide resources to put other cards into play.

The Dark Side has a Death Star dial numbering from 0 to 12.  This dial increases in value once per turn, and when it hits 12, the Dark Side wins.  Of course, the Dark Side can move the dial by other means as well, such as by destroying Light Side objectives.

The Light Side's goal is to destroy three of the Dark Side's objectives before the Death Star reaches 12.  If they do, they win.

Most of the game is centered around battle.  Units do not directly attack one another.  Instead, a player declares certain units will attack an objective.  The defending player then chooses whether to engage his own units as defenders.  The battle then plays out with damage being assigned to both units and objectives as applicable.

Unlike with other card games, there are two additional things going on that add a bit more Star Wars flavor to the game.  The first is that the "Balance of the Force" can either reside with the Light Side or Dark Side player.  That player advances their win condition each turn by either advancing the Death Star (for the Dark Side) or automatically damaging an opponent's objective (for the Light Side).

Finally, there's another factor called the "Edge Battle," which represents the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of politicians, saboteurs, and other more subtle forces.  This adds a very interesting element of wagering and bluffing.  Each normal battle has an edge battle phase, and the winner of the edge battle has a significant benefit of striking first and potentially doing much more damage.


This seems complicated.  How hard is it to learn?

It's actually one of the easier deck-building card games I've ever played.  There is a small learning curve, but it's very manageable.  You'll feel comfortable with the game by the second time you play it.

That being said, watching a game is easier than reading about it.  Fantasy Flight Games has some great video tutorials (scroll down) that only take a few minutes to watch and that explain the game in very easy terms.


Wait...  So a Wampa can destroy a Y-Wing?  Obi-Wan can defeat a Star Destroyer?

Technically, yes.  And I know the physics don't entirely make sense, but don't get wrapped up in that.  The game mechanic works well.

Besides, this isn't supposed to literally represent Obi-Wan destroying a Star Destroyer with his lightsaber.  It's supposed to represent different characters and ships having an effect on the battle.

For example, Obi-Wan's disabling of the tractor beam allowed the Falcon to escape in A New Hope.  In the example above, you could argue that he snuck aboard and disabled the Star Destroyer from the inside.  Or influenced the captain from afar using the Force, causing the captain to make a critical tactical mistake.  He's not literally destroying it, but he's contributing to its destruction.

Likewise, a Wampa could have infiltrated a hangar on Hoth, and in the process of wreaking general havoc, damage a Y-Wing in such a way as to render it useless for the upcoming battle.

Star Wars has always been about overcoming the odds and about the intersecting destinies of various people and events.  So look at it that way.  Not only does it provide for a simplified battle system, it stays true to the spirit of Star Wars.


What do I need to get started?

All you need is the "core set," which is the big square box you may have already seen in stores.  It retails for about $40, but you can find it cheaper online.  It includes everything you need to play, including a full set of the cards.

If you want to play competitively, you may choose to pick up a second core set.  This will give you two of each objective set, which is the maximum you may include in a deck.

The expansions, or "Force Packs," are $15 a piece.  Unlike the core set, they come with two of each objective set for that pack.  So far, these have been coming out about once a month.  The first two from the "Hoth cycle" have already been released — "The Desolation of Hoth" and "Search for Skywalker" — and the remaining four will be released over the next several months.


How much is this going to cost me?

You and a friend can enjoy the game for $40 (or less) and never have to pay another cent.  Another $30 will get you the two Force Packs.

If you want to play competitively, you'll want a second core set and one of each of the Force Packs.  In other words, $110 (or less online) will get you two of everything currently available.

Compare that to a single, quarterly expansion of Magic: The Gathering, where you could buy two full boxes of booster packs totaling almost $250 and still not get a full set of just that expansion.


So once again, why should I try this?

Because...
  • It integrates the Star Wars brand wonderfully, making use of characters, vehicles, and locations in a way relevant to the game itself.

  • Even if you remove the Star Wars brand, it's still a great game design.

  • It's easy to learn.

  • It's inexpensive, even if you want to play competitively.

  • It's fun!


It's nice to participate in a social Star Wars activity with other fans, as many of you know.  While I love the video games as much as the next fan, there's something very rewarding about sitting across a table from another Star Wars fan and playing a game set in that universe.

The Star Wars Card Game is not only a lot of fun, it's also a great way to actively share your love of Star Wars with someone else.


Where can I learn more?

As I mentioned above, Fantasy Flight Games has some excellent video tutorials that provide a great overview of the game.

If you're looking for other players, check your local gaming store, or check out the Fantasy Flight Forums to look for other players in your area.

...and of course, keep checking back here at TheForce.net and listening to The ForceCast.  We'll be bringing you more about the card game, as well as the X-Wing Miniatures game and the upcoming Edge of the Empire roleplaying game in our soon-to-launch Star Wars gaming podcast!
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