By Lawrence Bubba Beasley ("Bubba the Genius")
September 16, 2002
In the last five years, I have become a very big fan of Robert De Niro, his quiet intensity in Ronin and Heat, and his sense of comic timing in Analyze This and Meet the Parents. As enjoyable as they are, his films are still an unusual place to find insight into the Star Wars Trading Card Game. But consider The Score, directed by Yoda himself, Frank Oz. In the film, Robert De Niro plays Nick, a veteran safecracker who is reluctantly working one last job with a young, ambitious stranger. About midway through the film, the newcomer asks Nick if he ever took a "long shot," a risky job for a big payoff. Nick responds very bluntly:
"I never took long shots. I'm gonna say something to you: you're smart, you're talented, and you know a few things, but talent means nothing in this game if you don't make the right choices. There's plenty of talented people out there who never see the light of day anymore. Last thing: it takes discipline. Because this whole game is one big long shot, and if you don't have the discipline to stay away from the 'fliers' - or from the gambles, or whatever else you want to call a stupid move - then, my friend, I'm afraid to say, one day you will go down. It's inevitable."
We could all learn a lot from Nick; his philosophy of playing it safe can be applied to many aspects of our lives, from driving to investing. But when I apply it to the SWTCG, I discover three simple rules of thumb that can help improve one's play in the long run:
First, don't rely on lucky draws. You could build into your deck battle cards that only work well with specific units or in specific situations, but the odds are slim that you will draw the card when you actually need it. Instead, use battle cards that may be less powerful, but can be used in almost any situation.
The ultimate hope is this: you can play very well with any hand your deck gives you. Certainly, you may never see a "killer" deck that wipes out your opponent in one turn, but you may also avoid those hands that give you a defeat in the first turn. You want your worst-case scenario to be pretty good, even if that weakens your best-case scenario. Given enough games, you will eventually see something resembling a worst-case scenario, so be prepared.
Second, don't rely on lucky rolls. Consider a card like the Geonosian Figher, which has critical hit 1 and power 2. With so few attack dice, the odds of rolling a critical hit on any single roll are about 3 in 10. Since it only has 2 health, it runs a very good risk of being destroyed before rolling a six. Do not overvalue a card like this by assuming you'll get lucky and roll sixes early. Either avoid using this card, or load your deck with other cards that either augment its power or extend its lifespan.
Clearly, these other cards will probably not violate the first rule of thumb, since they are useful in almost any situation. You almost always need more attack dice or fewer damage counters.
Finally, don't rely on a surplus of the resources of build points, Force points, and time. When you're deciding what to build this turn, don't spend your build points on the optimistic assumption that you will have 5 or 6 build points next turn; the next roll for build points will likely disappoint you. Do not spend Force points early in a turn, hoping that your Jedi characters will not need them. If your opponent is smart - and you should assume that she is - she will notice your Jedi's weakness and exploit it. And do not save your battle cards and mission cards each turn in the hope that they will become even more useful the next time around. The game will not last forever, and you will kick yourself if those very useful cards are still in your hand as your opponent overwhelms your forces.
The purpose of all three of these rules is to remind you that the SWTCG involves quite a bit of random chance. Each turn entails at least two draws from randomly shuffled decks and several rolls of multiple dice; each game involves several of these turns; and each tournament requires winning many of these games. The overwhelming power of chance certainly doesn't mean your decisions are irrelevant; just ask anyone who plays competitive poker or bridge. However, it does mean it is foolish to rely on good fortune. If you are going to succeed in the long term - winning game after game - you will have to make your own luck. In the language of The Score, it means avoiding long shots. Don't rely on the game handing you the cards, dice rolls, and resources you need to win. Don't assume chance will win the game for you. Rather, use chance to your advantage and play the odds. Play as if the most likely event will actually happen, because it usually will.