I’m still so much in love with the Star Wars LCG, but for today’s game day I thought it might be an interesting idea to take a look at the LCG’s two predecessors, the CCG (from Decipher), and the TCG (from Wizards of the Coast), and maybe throw in a dash of conjecture for how a possible new card game could look.
Decipher published the Collectible Card Game between 1995 and 2001. The game works by players battling for control of central locations, which will give them the opportunity to “Force drain” their opponent – that is, deplete their deck. The game is purely card-based, and everything you need to play it is contained within your 60-card deck.
You play cards by generating Force from the locations depending on how many icons are on your side of the table, then use these to play cards to contest locations and so on. The number of icons you have on your side allows you to draw, face down, cards from your deck to then “spend” to deploy cards from your hand – these “resource cards” then go to the bottom of your deck to be recycled.
There were a host of sets released over the six year run, taking in the entirety of the original trilogy and episode one – it is thanks to Decipher that we have the names of many of the background characters in the films, or the previously unnamed “Commander #1” type roles. The game used movie stills for its artwork, which can seem limiting at first, but they ended up paying for models to pose as Expanded Universe characters, such as Shannon McRandle to pose as Mara Jade in several cards.
The game was a huge success, second only to Magic (and sometimes surpassing it) during its run, and has a tremendous following even now. Player committees have produced sets that encompass everything from the new sequel trilogy to the Darth Bane novels, and organising tournaments. It’s quite something, really, to think that the game has been officially finished for more than 20 years but is still going strong.
It’s mentioned in the video above, but the rules are complex. I mean, some games can be difficult to wrap your head around at the first play through, but this one is really, really deep. Even a game like Magic, which can lead to some very complicated interactions, seems to be pretty straightforward by comparison. I’ve seen articles online that call it an “open world” game, and it seems like Decipher basically churned out the cards and players were able to decide upon their own strategy for the win, from traditional space fleet combat to moisture farming. Seems a bit baffling to me, but at the same time, I think it’s really quite indicative of these kinds of older games, which were designed for gamer nerds and almost didn’t try to appeal to the mass market back then. Games could be quirky and weird, and you could make it your own, which I suppose is one of the reasons why it endures to this day.
I never played it, as the game was dead shortly after I really stepped off the cliff edge into Star Wars fandom, so it kinda passed me by, really.
It wasn’t long, however, before the game was replaced by Wizards of the Coast – within a year, WotC produced the Trading Card Game, launched with a set to coincide with Attack of the Clones. Over the course of just three years, there were expansions for the card game that covered all six movies, and delving a fair bit into the expanded universe, as well. We were once again using movie stills, though, so EU stuff was principally realised from video game stills, though Mara Jade was once again featured by a model.
This game has the distinction of being designed by none other than Richard Garfield, who came up with Magic and Netrunner. The game splits play into three arenas – space, ground and character. One person plays as the Light Side, and the other as the Dark Side, and the object of the game is to control two of these three arenas, fighting your opponent to clear his units out of an arena to move in. You generate Build points, which you use to play cards, and Force points, which you use when battling your opponent, but there is also dice rolling involved, leading to a fairly complex game.
At the start of the game, you get 30 build points to get started, thereafter you get d6 build points at the start of each round. When you build a card, you play it face down and allocate your points accordingly, so you don’t necessarily have to wait to play your important stuff, but instead get to work towards stuff from the get-go. That’s kinda interesting, to me. Each unit has three main stats: speed, attack and hit points. Speed is a bit like initiative, and tells you who gets to go first in combat; attack tells you how many d6 to roll, and everybody hits on 4+; and hit points are self-explanatory. Often, units will have abilities which require you to pay a certain amount of Force points to activate.
You also get Location cards, which are built like Units and play into one of the three arenas, granting your units there a global effect of some sort, and there are Battle cards, which are like event cards which you pay for with Force points, and grant you a temporary effect for a single battle round. In addition, Mission cards are built but have a one-time effect, and Equipment cards that you build onto units, and there are rules for Stacking characters on top of each other if, for instance, you have multiple versions of the same character. It’s quite a complex system, like I said, with the dice element and whatnot.
Indeed, both of these card games feel fairly unique in terms of their game play, and with the amount of rules both have generated over the course of their respective runs, it seems fairly dense to try to get into either game. I’ve read that the CCG was once considered one of the most difficult card games to play, actually.
I never played the TCG, either, although I did wind up with quite a lot of product for it, between various starter sets and the like, then shortly after I started work, and began collecting the Miniatures game, I dropped a lot of money on this, picking up a massive amount on the secondary market. I bought booster boxes of almost all ten sets, bought singles wherever I could find them, just because I wanted to collect the game. It’s now confined to a binder in my attic, though I still don’t have a complete collection.
I think the TCG solved the problem of C-3PO fighting a Star Destroyer quite well, splitting the game into the three arenas. The CCG reminds me a lot of Call of Cthulhu in that you’re fighting over a central run of cards, but I do like that implementation as well, and I think it has a lot of the hallmarks of the LCG in terms of players deploying units to contest dominance in a slightly abstract manner.
This brings me on to my thoughts for the future of Star Wars games in card form!
One of the big issues for me when it comes to any kind of Star Wars game is mixing eras. So having Princess Leia fight Darth Maul, for instance, just seems wrong. These games didn’t really police that, and it was really up to players to determine how wonky games could look. The LCG manages it the best way, in my mind, by limiting itself to the Original Trilogy timeframe, but that does mean that a massive chunk of Star Wars history is being missed out. A possible way around this, I suppose, is to have some kind of era mechanic, so the Empire could never fight the Old Republic, but that creates marketing issues, as you end up producing content for smaller sub-groups of your player base. Something that comes to mind, though, is making campaign boxes like Marvel Champions has, and theming these around specific battles. Maybe producing two small-scale boxes per expansion season, such as Battle of Endor for the OT guys, and Battle of Naboo for the Prequel lovers, could work?
Of course, you could also just take the line used by other games, and leave it up to the fans to police themselves…
I used to be all over having a co-op Star Wars game, something along the lines of the original design for the LCG, where you’re the Rebels fighting an encounter deck of the Empire, but I actually don’t think that is really what Star Wars is about. It’s kinda made for PvP play, so I am now favouring the more competitive style, even though it’s not guaranteed that I’d be able to play such a thing!
I think having units fighting over objectives does make sense, but rather than having your own objective deck that is being attacked as per the LCG, I think something more along the lines of the CCG might be nice, where both sides are trying to control a key location or something (which you play from your deck). These types of cards could grant you bonuses for successfully defending it, or could work against you if you lose control of it, and maybe you have to attempt to re-gain control later on. Actually, maybe that’s where scenario play could come in, and the game has a set of Story cards like Call of Cthulhu, but the set is, for instance, Battle of Hoth, and you get more of these per expansion season. So it becomes a bit like Arkham Horror but for opposing players, with an encounter deck that unfolds from round to round, or something?
I’m just typing the first thing that comes into my head at this point!!
I do like those sorts of games though, like 40k Conquest, where you’re not simply duking it out but you’re fighting for control of something. I think that could work well in Star Wars as well, because it solves the problem of Lando trying to fight an AT-AT or something, as well – you’re not directly fighting each other, but instead you’re committing your strength to a cause. The AT-AT might be a physical presence at the objective, but Lando might be working behind the scenes charming the officer in charge to blindside them. Of something.
Actually, the more I think about it, the Conquest LCG could work well re-skinned for Star Wars…