Hall or Nothing Productions Ltd: NinjaDorg's Star Wars: The Card Game Review

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NinjaDorg's Star Wars: The Card Game Review

I was definitely one of those looking forward to a cooperative Star Wars game, especially after how successfully Fantasy Flight handled The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  Early reports on the game play of the cooperative Star Wars card game were positive too and I was eager to see how it played out.  My group will play competitive games no hassle, but it’s great to have the option to play cooperative games with less gamer-y friends and family and maybe to have a solo option for when the family is tucked up in bed.  So when I found out it was no longer a coop game I was initially disappointed.  But the only previous Star Wars board games I played were Star Wars Monotony and Star Warriors (which I just recently e-Bayed), and the notion of playing a cool, up to date, and still supported game in the Star Wars universe was very appealing.

After reading the rules the game seemed fairly dense, but clean and concise, although it took me a while to process all the obligatory new terminology.  My initial worries:

1. Familiar Objectives – the objectives looked very much like the stories in the Call of Cthulhu LCG, and the rules overall lent a heavy sense of the Game of Thrones LCG.
2. Edge Battles – they seemed overly long and complex for what they are, i.e. giving one side the Edge in the forthcoming battle.  I also wasn’t excited about potentially playing an entire hand of cards to resolve the Edge before one single battle.
3. Focussing – I was dubious about how adding focus tokens to represent exhausting cards would work out when tapping/exhausting seems so much easier.
4. Theme – yes, I know Darth Vader is going to have kick ass stats compared to regular Trooper, but will the overall feel of the game give a sense of the Star Wars universe?

Sam and I geared up for a two player war and the decks were Light Side (LS): Jedi – myself - and Dark Side (DS): Dark Jedi – Sam - so we shuffled up and set to it.  The first couple of turns took an age as we tried to process all the new mechanics and asked a bunch of ‘what if?’ questions and rules look ups that wouldn’t necessarily affect our immediate game, but that we wanted straight in our heads.  Deciding to ‘trust our feelings’ we just played on and let the game emerge by itself through the card play, agreeing that we wouldn’t put too much truck in who won or lost because this was our first ‘test’ game.

Boy, did that feeling soon go!  As the Jedi I was up against it from the get go – the general feeling is that the good guys are up against it.  The ticking counter of the Death Star dial suggests that the Dark Side (DS) will inevitably win in - at most - 12 turns (potentially less if they play well) and that the Light Side has to play all out and pull no punches just to survive.  The Jedi desperately need to destroy 3 DS Objectives.  Sam quickly tapped out his resources and brought in some basic troops, then applied Dark Jedi units to commit to the Force and as I played down a couple of lesser Jedi I foolishly considered that I didn’t have the resources to do the same, so I let the Balance of the Force slip inexorably towards the Dark Side, meaning the Death Star dial advanced twice every turn.  I never managed to reclaim the Balance of the Force, which meant I would only have 6 turns to win...

I straight away concentrated my Jedi forces on attacking the Dark Side Objectives.

I love the Objectives!

These are really thematic story implementations of the power of each side of the Force, so you can strike at for example the Council of the Sith or Cruel Interrogations Objectives and you’ll need to inflict 5 damage to defeat one.  And as long as each of these are in play you get a cool bonus effect, e.g. card draw, or certain cards cost less to play, or the Cruel Interrogations Objective for example immediately captures one of the Light Side player’s cards (from hand) and must be destroyed for said captive to be released.

So you can prioritise the Objectives based on their difficulty and game effect, adding a deeper ongoing strategy level in how you approach your enemy.  Whilst the DS player can sit back and build his armies and ships it also behoves him to attack the LS objectives too, which helps advance the Death Star dial even faster and forces the LS player to consider defending his own play area instead of constantly going on the attack, thus delaying the game and leading ever close to that inevitable Dark Side victory.  Sam’s Dark Jedi didn’t hold back in this regard and as I focussed all my units on the offensive he plucked some low hanging fruit by sending in fighters in to destroy my home bases on Tatooine and other noteworthy Star Wars locations.

As my two Unopposed Twi’lek Loyalist Jedi attacked at the heart of the Empire in Coruscant Sam played some vicious response Events such as Intimidating Presence and Force Choke to cripple one Jedi with Focus tokens (so THIS is why you don’t exhaust/tap cards – you can be a lot more exhausted in this way) and damage the other.  But the damage had already been done and one of the DS objectives was nearly destroyed.  Quickly realising how deadly unopposed attacks could be Sam pulled his forces back from the offensive and even those who were committed to the Dark Side of the Force came to defend the Empire.

To step up the attack I brought in more resource generating cards and more powerful units such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and re-launched my attacks.  This time Sam was ready and sent his units to defend, thus instigating our first Edge Battle...

I love Edge Battles!

Getting the Edge is crucial in unlocking the much needed extra character icons you benefit from in the ensuing battle.  The fact that you draw back to 6 cards at the start of your turn means you can afford to throw in more of the cards that you feel you need to in order to win, but you also have to be prepared for up to three potential edge battles during each player's turn.  Poker-faced, we played our cards face down in stacks and I visibly winced as Sam kept adding cards to his stack against my own measly one card Edge Stack.  Eventually he also passed and we revealed our Edge Stacks to compare our total number of Force icons.  But my one card played was a Twist of Fate, a nasty little Fate card cancelling all of his mega Force cards and starting a brand new Edge Battle instead!  This time I played some big Force cards into the stack and won the Edge.  Obi Wan attacked and destroyed the first DS objective and a cheer went up throughout the galaxy.

But had it been in vain?  Emperor Palpatine cast down his Force Lightning event on an exhausted Ben Kenobi and annihilated him utterly.  And then the Empire struck back against my undefended objectives and destroyed one for themselves.  The Death Star dial advanced yet again and I wondered at leaving my bases so badly unprotected.

At which point Luke’s own Red Five X-Wing Fighter swooped in to save the day.  Delivering a huge payload of damage to my next DS Objective after another hard fought Edge Battle I managed to take down another DS Objective, but at cost.  The Emperor countered by showing up in person with his henchmen and attacking and destroying another of my own LS Objectives, advancing the Death Star dial twice this time, and in Spinal Tap fashion reaching all the way up to 11.  At the start of his next turn, Sam would win the game automatically.

It all came down to a certain Luke Skywalker and his fearless band of Freedom Fighters.  Before I could begin my final assault the Emperor played an event attack on one of my brave yet feeble units, the Believer in the Old Ways.  But Luke deflected the damage with his lightsaber and took out an evil Nightsister instead.  Then the assault began: as Emperor Palpatine confidently moved to intercept my encroaching forces I played an old and true Jedi Mind Trick and diverted him away.  The final imperial Objective was undefended!  As Skywalker and friends moved in the chances of victory were as slim as launching proton torpedoes into an exhaust vent to destroy an entire Death Star.  So, a dead cert then.  As the Council of the Sith exploded in a shower of sparks and flame the Jedi rejoiced in victory!

Interestingly we swapped roles for the next game and it came down to the absolute wire again, with Luke turning up for a last second attack on the third DS Objective.  I’d grown extremely cocky because due to a bad run of cards, Sam had been unable to play much of anything on the Jedi side.  Meanwhile I had lined up Vader, the Emperor, a Coruscant Defence Fleet and a bunch of Imperial Guards.

The Jedis attacked my Empire with the awesome Capital Ship Redemption and I was more focussed on being able to destroy the Redemption than in defending myself properly.  I sent everything at it and won the Edge just to watch the Redemption go down in flames.  Only to then have Luke sneak in the back and destroy the third and final Objective resulting in another close to the bone LS victory.

It was late but I was determined to see if I could steal a Dark Side win, so we played on again until well after midnight.  I also was very curious to see if the Heart of the Empire Dark Jedi Objective was as awesome as it appeared to be.  It generates 3 Resources per turn instead of the usual 1, and requires 10 damage to defeat instead it of the usual 5, but if you lose it you lose the game, so you have to defend it at all costs.

By now we’d both wised up to the Edge battling, and a rough idea of the overall tactics and strategic play, even down to the ’faking fear’ at big Edge stacks whilst knowing you’d played a cheeky Twist of Fate.  After a gruelling, protracted battle it came very close once more, with the Heart of the Empire almost in ruins and massive casualties on both teams, even to the point where we’d nearly played through our whole card decks from aggressive Edge Battling (you lose if you run out of cards).

This time Luke Skywalker had been destroyed by Force Lightning and Ben Kenobi and his allies were struggling to make the final push to their objectives.  As Vader fired up his very own personal Light Saber and dedicated himself to the Force, the Balance of the Force tipped towards the Dark Side and with a roar of inevitability the Death Star came online.  It’s opening salvo was the destruction of Tatooine, and the rest of the galaxy would follow...

The thematic implementation is simply brilliant.  Desperately sending a band of freedom fighters up against the Empire’s most elite units in the vain hope that you can twist fate to your advantage and somehow get the Edge against your enemy to bring balance to the Force?  Sign me the hell up.  The heroes and villains feel exactly as heroic and villainous as you expect them too, and there are other great surprises in the decks too, with brilliant references to and quotes from the movies.  It was after 1am and I still wanted another shot at the game afterwards.  I absolutely cannot wait to see how the Empire Vs Rebel decks play out too, and every permutation thereof, that’s before we even get to the Smugglers, Spies and Bounty Hunters.  There are even fricking Scout Walkers in there for goodness’ sake.  It’s been nearly thirty years since the foot ‘fell off’ my own Scout Walker toy and this is potentially the happiest I’ve felt in the Star Wars universe since before then.  So glad they chose the original setting for this game too, although I honestly would not be opposed to a Trade Vs Republic version too.

Other notes:

1. C3P0 sucks – exactly like he does in the movies!  His effect is largely a joke, but one of our stand out moments was when Sam – bravely going against our usual tactic of sacrificing him for edge battles or event cancellation – committed Threepio to the Force, making him all that stood in the way of Darth Vader and galactic domination!  I destroyed him with a Force attack in the next turn, but it was a valiant stance from the erstwhile super-camp, useless golden butler.
2. R2D2 rocks - exactly like he does in the movies!  Not the flying Superman version from the prequels, the nippy, resourceful little tub of nuts and bolts from the originals.  1 resource per turn might not be much but it adds up and makes him a genuinely great little card.
3. In a desperate Edge Battle a Jedi Believer in the Old Ways ran up to the Emperor and wounded him with a Light Saber before being mowed down by overwhelming forces.  It had a small effect on the long term game but was a great cinematic moment which had us both invested quite heavily in the fate of one brave little unit.
4. The artwork is once again utterly fantastic, and at least on a par with The Lord of the Rings LCG.  This is the best route FFG could have gone imho, with art versions of these awesome iconic characters and moments along with great new interesting characters, ships and events from the 'Expanded Universe' too.

How does it compare to LOTR: LCG?

Well, these two games could easily sit comfortably next to each other as they both fulfil very different purposes.  SW is currently a 2 player versus game, but there is easily scope for multiplayer battles, and even potentially a cooperative translation too, though that may require much more of an overhaul.

Currently I could not be happier with this game, and cannot wait for the next opportunity to play it!


Macca said...

Great review, thanks. I just picked this game up today and having not had a chance to play it was reading through some threads on BGG.

This post does a GREAT job of talking through the experience and cinematic style.
Can't wait to get a game in now.

Ninjadorg said...

Thanks Macca - it's a great little game, and I think it will only improve even more with expansions. Feel free to let us know how you get on once you crack your first game. :)