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There Aren't Enough Rogues and Scoundrels In Your Life
Wizards of the Coast teases us with an ad in the latest Star Wars Insider
By Len Fowler (A.K.A. RedneckJedi)

It's that "third" of the year again... when Star War Trading Card Game (SW:TCG) players get a little antsy... a little excited... a little giddy. It's bad enough that we're gearing up for the new tournament season, but on top of that, we start hungering for information, new information, any information we can get our hands on. "Information for what," you ask? Why, the next expansion to be released from Wizards of the Coast for the SW:TCG, that is!

Boba Fett (C) PreviewRoughly every March, June and November, Wizards blesses us with new cards to enhance the playability of our ever-evolving game. Starting with the A Hew Hope (ANH) expansion a year ago, they began including a hard-to-find rare preview card for the next expansion to come. Thanks to the internet and a rabid on-line community for the SW:TCG, usually everyone finds out within a week what the preview card is and the name of the next expansion. With the December release of the Empire Strikes Back (ESB) expansion, the preview card was the first original trilogy Boba Fett (Version "C"), to herald in the next expansion: Rogues and Scoundrels (RaS). The card also introduced one of the two new game mechanics: Bounty.

By the end of January, the only other official signs telling us another expansion was coming were a featured article on the Wizards of the Coast official website and a general solicitation posted by on-line distributors. Thanks to these sources, we now have a scheduled release date (March 17th, 2004, though this may have changed to a later date), the number of cards in the set (105), that it will be booster packs only (no starter sets) and the name of the second game mechanic: Upkeep. SW:TCG players familiar with the Magic: The Gathering TCG were already speculating on what "Upkeep" might mean for the game. Then the February 2004 issue of the Star Wars Insider magazine contained a shocking surprise: A full page ad for the RaS expansion, replete with partial images of 6 never-before-seen cards and an explanation (reminder text for you TCG'ers) of the Upkeep mechanic!

The on-line community shouts a "hoorah!" and with whetted appetites, we can't wait for more. However, an equally shocking surprise awaits someone who chooses to investigate the ad's web link. Remember the aforementioned lack of content about RaS on Wizards' official website? It's up to the fan-base to speculate and spread the word on what we have until more official information is released.

In their favor, I'll let Wizards tell you a little bit about the RaS expansion from the ad:

THEY MAY BE SCUM... BUT THEY'RE YOUR SCUM.
Light side, dark side -- it doesn't matter to the mercenary army of Neutral cards you'll run into in the Rogues and Scoundrels expansion. This new 105-card set introduces fearless and inventive characters with the ability to collect a Bounty after taking down a target. Hire them to fight on your side and continue the epic struggle.

What did we learn just from that, kiddies? Two things. "Army of Neutral cards" is the first thing. That means tournament-legal SW:TCG decks, Light Side or Dark Side, will have the option to contain many, or perhaps any, of the cards from this expansion. The next thing we learn is "the ability to collect a Bounty after taking down a target." So, we'll "earn" something in the game if a unit with this ability causes another unit to be removed from the game. The typical "currency" in the SW:TCG is either Build Points or units of Force. However, it's possible that the Bounty could be a trigger for some kind of game effect.

Continuing on, here's a transcript of the two items of interest that Wizards shows us about the RaS expansion from the ad (or open up your handy Star Wars Insider and follow along):

The first item is an image of all three booster packs. They show Han Solo, Boba Fett, and, presumably, Greedo. A cry goes out, "Han Solo?!? He's no mercenary, he fought for the Rebellion!" Ah, but prior to A New Hope in the Expanded Universe (EU), he could be considered one. Han is the epitome of a rogue and scoundrel!

Han Solo (A) Preview The Battle of Yavin SW:TCG expansion's first version of Han Solo (Version "A" and the preview card in the ANH expansion) was a Neutral version that could be put in either a Light Side or Dark Side deck. Also, Han Solo (C) requires a mandatory loss of a build point each turn while he's in play. It offset his low build cost, but it cost you to keep him in play over time. This reflected his allegiances prior to being intimately involved with Luke, Leia and the Rebellion. Taking into account the image of Greedo on one pack, Boba Fett on the other, and Han's attire on his package, it appears that this expansion includes content from at least A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Another tantalizing clue about the content of this set comes from the other image, which I'll address later.

The other item is the image of 5 Bounty Hunters from The Empire Strikes Back and the 6 never-before-seen cards from the set. The 5 Bounty Hunters are shown on the cards, so that's a wash. However, there is no complete card visible, leaving much to the imagination. Here's what's visible for each Character card from left to right:

Rogue's Gallery
Bossk - Trandoshan Bounty Hunter - Neutral, Build 9, Power 8, (remainder of stats obscured)
  • Upkeep: Pay 1 (text obscured) tap this unit.
  • Armor
  • Bounty: (text obscured)
Dengar - Corellian Bounty Hunter - Neutral, Build 7, Speed 50, (remainder of stats obscured)
  • Upkeep: Put 1 damage counter on Dengar.
  • Armor
  • Bounty: Remove all damage counters (text obscured)
Boba Fett - Bounty Hunter - Neutral Build 5, Speed 50, Power 5 (Health stat obscured)
  • Upkeep: Pay 1 build point, discard 1 card from your hand, or tap this unit. (Pay Upkeep when your build step starts.)
  • Armor
  • Bounty: Tap one of your opponent's (text obscured) Characters (text obscured)
IG-88 - Assassin Droid Bounty Hunter - Neutral, Build 8 (remainder of stats obscured)
  • (All game text obscured)
Zuckuss - Gand Bounty Hunter - Neutral, Build 4, (remainder of stats obscured)
  • Upkeep: (text obscured) 1 build point, or tap this unit.
  • Armor
  • Bounty: (text obscured)
4-LOM - Droid Bounty Hunter - Build 5, (remainder of stats obscured)
  • Upkeep: (text obscured) discard 1 card from (text obscured)
  • Armor
  • Bounty: Tap on of your opponent's (text obscured) Characters (text obscured)

We get the low-down on the Upkeep mechanic. We have to do something to/for a unit card while it's in play. The majority of the Bounty Hunters with Upkeep are straightforward… pay (sacrifice) a little something in order to keep the unit untapped when your build step starts. (For those not familiar with the game, a unit must be untapped, generally, in order to attack an opponent's unit in the game.) The interesting one, though, is Dengar. The only Upkeep cost he has is to put a damage counter on him. Depending on his Health stat, he could end up with enough damage to remove him from the game over a series of turns. However, his Bounty ability appears to remove all damage from himself, should the damage he causes remove another Character unit from play.

From these cards alone, there has been a fair amount of discussion about the viability of Bounty Hunter decks. In this gamer's opinion, the early view doesn't support it at all. It will cost quite a bit to keep a group of Bounty Hunters in play, if they all have the Upkeep mechanic. Boba Fett (C) is an exception, so perhaps other versions of these Bounty Hunters won't require an Upkeep cost. At some point, 3 to 4 of these Bounty Hunters in play will cost you dearly over numerous turns of battle in the Character arena. Also, the game itself classically doesn't support high build cost Characters that can't prevent damage to themselves. The primary choices of Characters are those with damage prevention abilities to maintain their longevity in the game. All of the Bounty Hunters shown, save one, have the Armor ability that makes them more difficult to damage, but damage will be done to them over time. Otherwise, the Characters used are those with "utilities" that gain you an advantage besides an outright attack, or "swarm" Characters that have a low build cost, and wins due to strength in numbers with smaller attacks.

I feel these particular Bounty Hunter Characters should make good support Characters for the primary attacking Characters used today. That was their role in the movies, and that will do nicely in the game. I will be pleasantly surprised to see if someone builds a tournament-worthy deck based around Bounty Hunters. Consider that a challenge! Anything's possible, and even though I don't feel like it's viable, I'll at least give it shot.

So, the lack of Bounty Hunters in the ESB set should be more than made up for in RaS. But it still remains to be seen. A total of 7 cards have been spoiled as far as the name goes, and if Han and Greedo are in the set, then that's a total of 9. That leaves 96 cards of various types and abilities that the Wizards' R&D team could dream up for us to use, abuse, and refuse. What else might they have in store for us? We can speculate a little bit more.

Remember that "tantalizing clue" I mentioned that was also in the ad? Each set release is represented by a symbol placed near the lower left corner (as you would hold it to read it) on each card. I didn't immediately recognize the symbol shown on the Dengar and Boba Fett cards, but I remember seeing it before and had a faint recollection. A quick trip to the official Star Wars website confirmed that recollection. The symbol is that of the Black Sun organization! It was never mentioned or referenced in any of the movies. It is purely EU. Black Sun was mentioned prominently, and I believe introduced, in the Shadows of the Empire (SOTE) "multimedia event" that centered on the book of the same name. There was a video game, action figures and soundtrack created for it, and it was referenced in a number of books published afterwards. Needless to say, this small symbol, and Wizards' willingness to include EU material in the SW:TCG, opens up all kinds of possibilities for unit cards in the game! Right off the bat we can consider the Bounty Hunters' starships, SOTE Characters (I saw a convention photo of a fan-made costume of Prince Xizor that was right on the money) and vehicles, as well as possible references to books such as Tales of the Bounty Hunters and Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. The Black Sun organization "existed for hundreds of years" prior to SOTE. I could go on and on with EU possibilities, but I figure Wizards will stick with the time period around the A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back eras.

Of course, all this "inclusion of EU material" is conjecture, and the Black Sun symbol could be a red herring. Maybe they just needed a symbol to represent neutrality and used that one. Until the set comes out in its entirety, we can't be sure. That's what we know so far, so stay tuned for more information as we get it. When we learn something through our channels or other on-line sources, we'll pass it along to you!

24 February 2004

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