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Power of the Dark Side

A Review of the new Star Wars Trading Card Game expansion, The Empire Strikes Back
By Aaron Brogdon (A.K.A. Bacabachaui)

Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, has long held the title of being the most beloved film of the series. Players of the Star Wars Trading Card Game who have been eager to get their hands on Episode V based cards will have their chance this November with the release of the 210 card expansion named for the film it is based on, The Empire Strikes Back. Wizards of the Coast has done it again by artfully adding intense new strategy and game mechanics that will challenge even the most experienced players, while at the same time opening it up to new players with the game’s natural appeal and easy style.

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned

The Empire Strikes Back expansion seems to reflect the movie its based on more closely than any previous expansion. Between the thematic elements included in the cards and the exciting images that make this the best looking classic expansion to date, you’ll find yourself replaying scenes in your mind as well as on the table when you play each card.

The creative use of new unit, mission, and battle cards introduce new game concepts to the Star Wars TCG including controlling your opponents characters and leaving units tapped throughout turns to gain significant advantages. There are also new abilities, a new card type called Location, and a new way for the dark side to win the game.

A more concise and easier to read rulebook also arrives with this expansion. Modifications include the five new keyword abilities introduced since the previous rulebook and rules surrounding the new Location card type. In addition, the turn order at the start of each turn has been modified: Each player now draws a card at the start of his or her own build step, instead of before the build step begins.

I Saw a City in the Clouds

Location cards are described in the ESB rulebook as representing “special places and fields of battle in the Star Wars universe”. They can be compared to Battle or Mission cards that have a effect lasting the entire game unless replaced or discarded, but they are also much more than that. Locations are deployed to a specific arena and there are Character, Ground, and Space location cards with Dark Side, Light Side, and neutral affiliations. There can only be one location in an arena at one time and they are deployed during the build step. To replace a Location already in an arena, you must pay a build cost equal to build cost of the one already in that arena, even if it means overbuilding the new Location. Although both Dark and Light decks will benefit from Locations, the Dark Side has a clear advantage in Location choices and strategy.

A sure to be popular Dark Side Character arena Location card is Dark Cave. Each time a Light Side Character attacks, the Dark Side player places a “corruption counter” on Dark Cave. At the start of each battle step, the Dark Side player may choose to remove these counters, and for the remainder of that turn they gain control of a Light Side Character with a build cost equal to or less than the number of counters removed. Another Dark Side Character arena Location, Carbon Freezing Chamber, forces the Light side to either pay 3 force at the start of each battle step, or return one of their Character units from the arena or build zone to their hand.

Many Jedi decks will benefit from Yoda’s Hut, a Light Side Character arena Location that causes each player to get an extra build point for each Jedi Character in any arena. Dagobah System, a Space arena Location, causes the Light Side to gain 2 Force each time his or her build step starts.

Both Light and Dark decks will benefit from neutral locations like Belly of the Beast, a Character Location which allows the player of that location to tap a Character unit each turn before the battle step starts. Other Location cards do 2 dice of damage to each unit in their respective arenas each turn, allowing players to slowly wipe out an opponent’s forces without ever stepping foot into that arena. Neutral Location cards also give options for additional card drawing, reversal of Ground and Space battle steps, and rerolling of build point dice.

That Armor is Too Strong For Blasters

Each expansion of the Star Wars TCG has introduced one or more new abilities and game concepts. The Empire Strikes Back expansion continues this tradition with three new additions; Armor, Enhance, and Disrupt.

Armor is the anti-thesis of Accuracy. A unit with Armor can only be hit on a die roll of 5 or more, and is thus harder to destroy. This ability goes hand in hand with The Empire Strikes Back and plenty of units come with it built in such as Star Destroyers, AT-AT’s, and even Characters. Battle and Location cards can also give units Armor.

The Enhance ability is found on many unit and battle cards. It is not an independent ability but instead gives a player the option to enhance abilities or effects at a higher cost. An example of how Enhance works can be found in the Dark Side Battle card Hanging Around, which allows you to choose between paying 2 force to reduce a unit’s power by 3, or paying 2 more force and reducing it by 6 instead. The advantages of Enhance are numerous and give a player many more options in battle with fewer cards slots taken up in their deck.

A glimpse of the Disrupt feature was seen in the ESB preview cards Yoda (F) and Darth Vader (G). Besides these, many other unit and battle cards come with Disrupt. Disrupt can be played in response to a battle card played by your opponent and cancels the effect of that Battle card. Any Battle card can be disrupted, including battle cards that disrupt. Disrupt can be played back and forth until one player runs out of resources to disrupt. Some of the Disrupt features come with a relatively expensive cost, such as those that require you to tap or discard a unit, discard your hand, or pay high force. Despite being expensive, disrupting a Battle card at the right time can have a major effect on winning or losing a game and can shut down many strategies.

What is Thy Bidding, My Master?

It will be hard to imagine any Light Side deck without plenty of Jedi due to a new 8 build cost Dark Side Mission card called Emperor’s Bidding, which reads: “When the turn ends, if your opponent has no Jedi in any area, you win the game.” Both similar and different to the Light Side’s Jedi Council Quorum, this Mission is also simultaneously easier and harder to pull off. Since many Light Side decks are full of Jedi, the Dark Side will need to perform some fancy maneuvers to set up this game winning kill.

The Light Side will not necessarily be forced to include Jedi in their decks to counter the Emperor’s Bidding, thanks to two versatile cards that offer new strategies of their own. The Battle card R2-D2’s Heroism reads: “Pay 2 Force, Discard R2-D2 from any arena.. Retreat all of your units. You can’t lose the game this turn.” The 1 Build Cost Mission Card Hope of Another makes one of your Characters a Jedi until the game ends. This means that even characters like Leia, Padme, Chewbacca, Han, or even Jar Jar can hold the title of Jedi for a game.

Set Your Course For the Hoth System

The added strategy, deck options, and themes that the Empire Strikes Back expansion brings to the Star Wars TCG are too numerous to be counted.

Imperial decks will benefit from new versions of Darth Vader, walker pilots, Stormtroopers, Snowtroopers, and other characters with the Imperial subtype. Rebel decks get a boost with multiple copies of Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Han Solo, and an array of speeder pilots with the Rebel subtype. New character arrivals include the highly anticipated expanded universe Dark Side character Mara Jade and the neutral Lando Calrissian.

Light Side players can quickly simulate Luke’s training on Dagobah with the Mission card, Yoda’s Training, which allows a player for 4 build points to search their deck for up to three copies of a Jedi Character already in an arena and stack them under that Jedi. Yoda (G) can also stack under any Jedi Padawan as an extra card above the 4 card stack limit. If Luke Skywalker (I)-which has the ability to evade damage equal to the number of cards in his stack-is on top, he will have 90 speed, 9 Power, and 8 Health with the ability to Pay 2 Force to Evade 5 damage.

Luke will need to mind what he has learned when facing powerful new versions of Darth Vader. Two of these come with Armor and one of them has the ability to pay any amount of force to evade an equal amount of damage.

In the Ground arena, the battle of Hoth can be replayed over and over again with multiple versions of Imperial Walkers and Rebel Snowspeeders with a host of abilities and strategic advantages. Wedge’s Snowspeeder will be a force to reckon with since if he damages a unit, all other ground units on the light side get Accuracy 3 against that damaged unit until end of turn. This strategy may prove to be useless against the AT-AT Assault Group which has 10 power, 12 Health, and the ability to take a maximum of 2 damage at a time.

Imperial Star Destroyers including Vader’s flagship Executor will be facing off in space with new versions of the Millennium Falcon and Luke’s X-Wing. Executor packs a heavy 10 power punch while giving all Imperial units and extra 2 power. One version of the Millennium Falcon can attack units in the Character arena. The first space creatures are found in the form of the Space Slug and Mynock. Hopefully the creature pilot version of Han Solo brings a spacesuit if he plans on piloting these creatures, or he may find himself worse off than being frozen in carbonite.

27 October 2003

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