TF.N Review of The Phantom Menace
By Len "RedneckJedi" Fowler
Last week, among The Phantom Menace cards previewed, there were also tantalizing tidbits regarding the Jedi, Podracing, the Trade Federation and the denizens of Naboo. Wizards of the Coast packed this set with numerous themes and gameplay opportunities!
"Wesa goin' underwater, okeyday?"
Many in the Star Wars Trading Card Game community wondered how water elements could be translated into what has classically been considered the "land-based" battleground of the Ground arena. Wizards breaks that paradigm by specifically including the term "Aquatic" in the subtype of cards that would be considered primarily water-based. How does that affect the game? Does it have negative effects on non-Aquatic Ground units? Not at all. It's simply a component of an existing environment. However, there are benefits for some of the Aquatic units! Each of the Aquatic Creatures from Naboo deploys for 1 fewer build counter as long as you have an Aquatic Location in an arena. This alleviates the heavy 10 build cost of the massive Sando Aqua Monster.
When the Trade Federation invaded Naboo, we learned there was a cultural barrier, mostly due to unfamiliarity, between the Naboo and the Gungans. Were it not for the Droid armies searching the waters of Naboo, the Gungans might very well have allowed the Trade Federation to maintain their hold on the Naboo. This "cultural barrier" is immediately recognized in the game... the Gungans, save Jar Jar Binks, are all Neutral. The shield-generating Fambaa Shield Beast, the multi-attacking Gungan Catapult and other Gungan units may all serve the Light Side... or the Dark Side. It's quite possible that the Gungans have the best synergy of all the units in any set to date.
The Naboo weren't left out either. Their combat speeders are represented, as well as Captain Panaka, who gives each of your Naboo units 2 abilities as long as he's in the Character arena. Ric Oliť and his pilot comrades can now boost your Starfighters with the helpful Lucky ability. Ric's "dual piloting" role is also conveyed in his piloting ability. For you long-time gamers, you know you just can't resist giving another Naboo-themed deck a try.
"As you know, our blockade is perfectly legal."
And it certainly can be! The Trade Federation gets a big boost in this set. Our preview article showed the build cost reduction Nute Gunray (C) provides your Trade Federation units. Now let's have a peek at some of the muscle his ability helps facilitate.
Each of the primary Trade Federation vehicles is represented in the set. Access to a number of these units can be put readily in hand when deploying the Trade Federation MTT and the C-9979. Each allows you to draw 3 specific kinds of Trade Federation units, allowing you to build up your hand and increase draw probabilities in your deck. Also helping you out in the drawing aspect of the game is Nute's cowering sidekick, Rune Haako. You can tap him to draw 2 cards and discard 2 cards from your hand, unless one of those cards is a Trade Federation card. If it is, then you only have to discard that one card. Combined with the ability to retreat himself during battle, he can certainly come in handy for card cycling, especially in a Trade Federation-themed deck.
Ever notice that the previous incarnations of the Blockade ships did very little blockading? Well, the Blockade Battleship certainly lives up to its name. While it's in the Space arena, your opponent can't retreat any of their units! At 8 Power and 8 Health, it won't be leaving the Space arena anytime soon either. "Not blockading enough," you say? How about a little 2 build Mission that halts moving any cards to or from the build zone, and prohibits the use of Battle cards for a turn?
Finally, one of the things the Trade Federation is known for is its prolific use of Droids. One of the problems with Droids is that while they're deadly in numbers, they're somewhat costly to put into battle. Thanks to a handy Trade Federation Location, when coupled with Nute Gunray (C), you can build Trade Federation Droids for a handsome 2 fewer build counters. How's that for a Droid factory?
"Very fast. Very dangerous."
Podracing was an interesting and exciting diversion in The Phantom Menace, and the same can be said for how it is reproduced in the game. We've seen the speed and abilities of Anakin's Podracer, and young Anakin himself only improves on the design. However, his primary concern in the race is also his primary concern in the game. Sebulba's Podracer is also available, as is its Pilot. Whereas Anakin's racing style is predominantly skill and quickness, Sebulba's is swift and destructive.
These may come in handy when the Podracing Course is in play. This Location mandates that at the end of the Ground battle step, if more than 2 units are in the Ground arena, the slowest unit in that arena is immediately discarded! If there's a tie for slowest speed, the controller of the Location chooses which unit is discarded. Trade Federation Control Cores and Planetary Ion Cannons had better beware, should they decide to "enter the race". Two fast Ground units versus a single slow one means strength in speedy numbers will prevail. And to also keep you on your speedy toes, there's a Mission that provides a card draw and Force bonus to the controller of the fastest unit in the Ground arena at the end of the Ground arena battle.
"Have you ever encountered a Jedi Knight before, sir?"
Any decent Star Wars card game must contain Jedi, and we get quite a variety of them. Qui-Gon Jinn's protective nature is represented in the set, as well as his Jedi Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. From the Expanded Universe we get the Dark Woman, a mysterious Jedi Master who secretly trained numerous Jedi, who has 4 inexpensive Force-activated abilities! A'Sharad Hett assists his Tusken brethren as a Light Side Jedi whose damage is unpreventable. Perhaps the best Jedi in the set is Quinlan Vos, a Jedi Master with an excellent Evade and the ability to use any Battle cards from the top 3 cards of your deck at the start of the Character battle step! Ki-Adi-Mundi gets a second version as a Jedi Knight, and Yaddle makes her first appearance in a utility capacity. Both of these Jedi are also Council Members, so you have a couple more options for that Jedi Council Quorum deck you've been tweaking.
"We'll let fate decide."
Lastly, there's the set's new mechanic, "Lucky." At first glance, this ability seems kind of weak. However, being able to change the outcome of your dice roll is huge in a game relying heavily on dice rolls doing damage for you, or against you. Critical Hit becomes a bigger factor when you can reroll one of your own misses, or even a hit, to try to gain that precious extra point or more of damage. The same goes for Critical Hit being rolled against you. Just imagine Luke's X-wing (B) attacking the Death Star, one or the other having Lucky 3 due to Unconventional Maneuvers! You can nearly guarantee Luke's X-wing makes "the big hit" on the "big gun", or you can completely foul Luke's shot by making him reroll those first hits.
The Phantom Menace truly offers numerous ways to change your (or your opponent's) luck using the cards offered up. Whether you use the Gungan army's teamwork to smash your opponent's Ground forces, fast units to win Podraces, a host of Jedi abilities to overwhelm or surprise your opponent's Characters, or the new starships at your command, be assured you'll need more than just a few hours to wrap your head around the possibilities. Prepare the Light Side as the Dark Side takes its first steps toward ruling the galaxy!
27 June 2004