It’s post 49!

Hey everybody! Welcome to my blog! Another Saturday is here, so it’s time for some more ramblings from me ūüôā

I’ve got another week off coming up, so there’ll be lots of excitement to come! But first, a brief look at the exciting things that have been happening in the past week!

Empire and Rebellion

Yes, some completely unexpected news here from Fantasy Flight Games, who announced the standalone Star Wars card game on Thursday. Essentially a re-skin of the old Cold War: CIAvsKGB card game, it uses movie stills rather than original artwork. I quite like Cold War, as it’s a nice, quick game that is really fun. It’s also pretty cheap (I picked Cold War up for under a tenner), so it’s hard to say no, really.

SW01-cardfan-03

SW01-cardfan-02

The big and unexpected news this week came on Friday, when they announced Wave Five for the X-Wing miniatures game, but you can read all about that here.

Moving away from Fantasy Flight now, there’s another game that I’ve been looking forward to for over twelve months now that has finally had some exciting news – I’m talking about Fallen, by Watchtower Games. A Kickstarter project, I backed this game back in June last year and was absolutely overjoyed to see it funded to the extent that it was (598%, in case you’re wondering). At the time, it was estimated to have a December release date, then that was pushed back to February this year, then it was “summer”, but finally things seem to have firmed up again. It seems that the company, for whom Fallen is their first game, has taken an almost OCD-like approach to making sure the game is absolutely perfect. Fine by me, as I wouldn’t want a sub-par quality game, but it just seemed to get a bit ridiculous what they were doing. JUST GIVE ME MY GAME, ALREADY! So after weeks and weeks and weeks of email updates telling us that the card quality just wasn’t quite right, or the inlay wasn’t sufficient, or whatever, we finally had the email I’ve been waiting for on Friday – the game is being sent off to the printer! At last! I’ve backed this game as much as I could afford, as I was crazy-excited to get it in my hot little hands, so I’m now really excited. Only two or three more months to wait!

I haven’t mentioned my Star Wars reading of late. I’ve been reading the Jedi Academy trilogy by Kevin J Anderson, one of the earliest trilogies of Star Wars novels that I read. I have got to say, however, that I’ve not been enjoying it as much as I did when I first read it all those years ago. Primarily I suppose because it reads a bit too simplistically for me. Especially after the Zahn trilogy. While George Lucas had always said that he made the Star Wars movies “for young people”, the Jedi Academy trilogy seems to be aimed at an even younger demographic than George intended, I feel. When read in this respect, I suppose it’s not too bad, but otherwise, I do feel that it unfortunately misses the mark. Which is a shame, because I’m pretty sure I used to really like this trilogy!

The storyline follows Luke as he attempts to rebuild the Jedi Order following the resurrection of Palpatine and the discovery of more Force users during the Dark Empire shenanigans. He finds a remarkably high number of Force users in a short period of time, considering they were supposed to have been wiped out, and establishes a base on Yavin IV. Soon, however, he discovers the long-dormant power of Exar Kun slumbering within the temples, and when an extremely powerful student named Kyp Durron arrives for training, things take a turn for the worse. Kun seduces Kyp to the Dark Side, and with his help he incapacitates Luke and goes on a rampage against the Empire. Han eventually talks him out of it and everything seems to be resolved by the end. In the course of these events, Han also stumbles across a secret Imperial weapons-development facility near Kessel, guarded by Admiral Daala, a protege of Grand Moff Tarkin and the only female flag officer in the fleet. Daala goes on a rampage of her own before realising her outdated tactics are ineffective and she basically rides off into the sunset (though she will reappear later…) Leia has her own storyline where she tries to bond with her children, is given more and more responsibility in the government until an ailing Mon Mothma makes her the new Chief of State of the New Republic. And Lando goes to a blob race. I’m not joking.

Jedi Academy Trilogy

The events of the trilogy are actually really important, and it’s almost required reading for any Star Wars expanded universe fan if you want to know more about what happens later in the saga. However, I just don’t like the execution! Luke seems to be paralyzed by fear – while it’s likely that he would embark on training an entire Order of new Jedi single-handedly with some trepidation, I don’t think the hero of the original trilogy would be this down about it all. Leia is also reduced to being some sort of caricature – gone is the strong leader we saw in the films, this is a Leia who can’t do anything without her husband. I also thought we got a bit too much, I dunno, kiddie-time, as she tries to connect with her twins (who are now aged 2) and whatnot. While this sort of stuff is all necessary for character and whatnot, it’s not really what Star Wars is all about. I get the impression that, if Anderson had still had Vader to write as well, we’d see the Dark Lord as he struggles with oiling the joints of his mechanical legs, or something equally mundane. Star Wars shouldn’t be mundane, but we get too much of it here.

Kyp Durron…ah, what can I say? While every Star Wars author at this period seems intent on adding their own characters firmly into the storyline, most of the time this never really comes off. Tim Zahn’s additions of Mara and Karrde, Thrawn and Pellaeon just work, but there are others that just, well, don’t. Kyp Durron really rubs me up the wrong way, in a similar fashion to Corran Horn, who I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. Kyp is a teenager who has spent most of his life in the spice mines of Kessel, and when he declares some kind of aptitude for the Force he is tested by Luke and discovered to be absolutely amazing. Kyp turns to the Dark Side, flies around blowing stuff up, then it’s decided that actually, no, he didn’t turn to the Dark Side, but after a brief apology and some time spent looking more sullen than penitent, he is completely forgiven and, within the space of a few more pages, makes it to full Jedi Knight status well before any of the other students at the academy, who have been studying there longer. Basically, the impression I have is that Anderson loves Kyp Durron, and wants to put him into every kind of situation where he can show off just how awesome he is. The thing with him turning to the Dark Side feels like it was done just because Vader was a cool villain and Kyp needs to be cool, in a shimmery black cloak and crap. But then, no, he needs to be a Jedi so – I know, why don’t we say that it was actually Exar Kun who had such a powerful control over him, it wasn’t really Kyp doing all that bad stuff. So, uh, is Kyp so immensely weak that he can be controlled in such a way? Because, during Dark Apprentice, Kyp seemed to be pretty much in control of his own thoughts to me. Meh. It’s basically one of the worst Mary Sue characters in the universe. There are plenty more, of course – Bria Tharen instantly springs to mind – but perhaps the very worst part was the way Han was made to be his best friend/surrogate father. That just wasn’t the Han Solo we all know and love, no matter how much fatherhood might have softened him.

I feel that there is a way for authors to integrate their own characters into the saga with the movie characters, but this is definitely not it. If we look at Zahn’s books, we get to know these new characters on their own first, before we see them with the others. Plus, these characters aren’t perfect people, they have flaws – even Grand Admiral Thrawn needs to take time to think things through, for goodness sake! Xizor is another good example, from Shadows of the Empire. We see him within his own organization, we then see him with Vader and the Emperor, and it just feels natural, to the extent that we almost feel like we’ve known about Xizor and Black Sun forever.

But…Lando at the blob races… I just… urgh.

Anyhow!

I feel like my literary criticism is being a bit too harsh lately. First Dark Empire, now this, right?! I’m always really interested to see what other people think about these things, so please leave comments whether you agree or disagree with me!

I’m also currently in the thick of writing the next in my series of short stories set in the GFFA, which I hope to make available here tomorrow. I’ve spent seven and a half hours writing it today (according to the file properties tab), though it has largely been gestating for the past couple of days. I have some finishing touches I want to put to it tomorrow, but then it’ll be posted – as a sneak preview, it’s about an assassin…

 

He’s Calling Again!

Hey folks! Welcome back! It’s Tuesday, which can only mean one thing – yep, that’s right, time for me to put another of my favourite board games on show! This week sees the turn of another of Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games (LCG), The Call of Cthulhu!

Call of Cthulhu LCG

Somewhat¬†based on the HP Lovecraft short story of the same name, it is a card game for two players, where you control factions from the Cthulhu mythos as you struggle to win stories – the first person to win three stories wins the game. Now, you may have discovered, in reading these blogs over the past few weeks, that I am something of a Lovecraft nerd, and furthermore, I really enjoy board games based on Lovecraft’s work. However, I did hesitate a bit about doing a blog on this game, because I’m hardly an expert at it (my stats on boardgamegeek tell me I’ve only actually played it nine times, although that is more than I’ve played the Star Wars LCG…) But, I really like this game. And this is my blog, so I’m just gonna talk about whatever I want! So anyway.

There are eight mythos factions that you can play – seven in the base game, and the eighth released in a deluxe expansion after the fact. As described in the Star Wars blog linked earlier, a LCG is released in waves of six-pack cycles – for Call of Cthulhu, these are called Asylum packs, fittingly. Call of Cthulhu became the first Fantasy Flight LCG to stop releasing small pack expansions back in October 2012, instead moving to the release of one deluxe expansion every four months. While initially, fans of the game feared that this move would spell the end of the game, so far those fears have proven unfounded, as four deluxe expansions have been released since the announcement, with a fifth recently added to the upcoming list, and no end in sight. Anyhow.

The eight factions are roughly divisible between good and evil, reflected in a couple of in-game mechanics such as cards with ‘Heroic’ or ‘Villainous’ traits. However, this is not really a balanced universe, much like Lovecraft’s own work, where the boundaries between good and evil are so very blurry. The Agency and Miskatonic University are both pretty obvious good-side factions, and the four Mythos factions of Cthulhu, Hastur, Shub-Niggurath and Yog Sothoth, are all very much on the evil side. The other two, The Syndicate and The Order of the Silver Twilight, are much greyer. Silver Twilight is ostensibly a good faction, but that is a nebulous connection. Syndicate is even more so.

Call of Cthulhu LCG

Whenever I play, I tend to include Silver Twilight as often as possible because I love the whole secret-society thing. For illustrative purposes here, I’m playing Silver Twilight/Hastur vs Cthulhu/Shub-Niggurath ¬†– deckbuilding in this game is encouraged to mix two factions, though as much as possible good and evil factions are separated – Heroic and Villainous cards cannot be on the same side at the same time, but that doesn’t preclude a Miskatonic/Yog Sothoth deck, for instance.

I play all of the Fantasy Flight LCGs (when I get the opportunity!), and something I particularly enjoy is seeing the similarities and differences between them all. Here, something that is really innovative, I find, is the resourcing system. In most games, resources are built up automatically each round, and are often kept track of with tokens. Here, however, the very cards in your deck become resources! Each card has the faction symbol on the top and the bottom – at the start of your turn, you can choose a card from your hand to convert into a resource, removing it from the game and placing it upside-down under one of three face-down cards that form your domains (seen at the bottom of the picture, above). Players can sometimes gain more domains in the course of the game, but generally they have three, in each of which they place cards to build up their economy. Card costs, printed on the top left of the card, must be met by the number of cards in a single domain. It’s really quite ingenious, and can lead to some pretty agonizing decisions over the course of a game – you’re almost encouraged to “waste” space in your deck by putting in cards for the express purpose of resources, or else you’ll find you have to use precious cards as resources in order to play the game. Fantasy Flight have very recently put together a very astute pair of articles on this precise gameplay dilemma, as it appears to be something that new players really struggle to cope with – here’s part one, and part two¬†is here.

Call of Cthulhu LCG

As well as faction cards, there are also neutral cards that can find their way into any deck. Something that I found early on was that each faction is definitely good at something, sometimes to the exclusion of anything else. Neutral cards can therefore help to bulk out your strategy by adding in some of the blanks.

As I said above, the game is played by two players fighting over story cards, which are arrayed on a small board across the centre of the table. Each story card has four “struggles” along the side of it, and the person who has the most matching icons at each of the four struggles triggers specific effects. Players commit characters to story struggles by ‘exhausting’ them, which basically means turning the card on its side. During the Terror struggle, the person who loses must drive one of his characters insane, removing them from that story. During the Combat struggle, the person who loses must choose one of his characters to take a wound, which more often than not destroys that character. The winner at the Arcane struggle can ready a character, and the winner of the Investigation struggle can immediately add a success token to the story card. After this, the characters remaining at that story have their skill values tallied, and the person with the most skill adds a success token to that story. If you have successfully driven off all of your opponent’s characters, or if no opposing characters were committed, you get to place an additional success token. Stories need five successes to be won, but as you can see, you can potentially place three successes in one round.

Call of Cthulhu LCG

Once a story card has been won, the victor has the option of triggering the one-time effect on that card. These effects range from universally beneficial to universally damaging, so a player can choose not to trigger them if he so wishes. In a nutshell, that is how the game works, so it’s really quite straightforward, but as one of the longest-running LCGs in Fantasy Flight’s stable, there have been a whole slew of new mechanics released since the base game came out in 2009. All sorts of tricks can be played to skew the advantage to your side, such as the card shown attached to the central story, above – forcing three additional terror struggles to be resolved at that story each round!

Something that I really like is the addition of the Conspiracy cards. Basically personalised Story cards, you can see one of these in the previous picture of the Hastur/Silver Twilight play area. Conspiracy cards are played in addition to the Story card lineup, and each player can have one in play at any time, so there can potentially be five cards to be fought for. While the main Story deck has one of each struggle, Conspiracy cards are often skewed towards the faction to which they belong, so Miskatonic University, which isn’t very good at surviving Terror struggles but excels at Investigation struggles, have Conspiracy cards with additional Investigation struggles in place of Terror struggles, etc. Conspiracy cards count towards your Story cards for victory, so you could theoretically win the game by winning three of your own Conspiracies!

Call of Cthulhu LCG

On the face of it, it is such a simple game – throw characters at stories, resolve conflicts, and try to win those stories. However, perhaps because of its longevity, there are now so many little bits and pieces going on that you have a truly immersive experience when you play this game. That said, the game has always had subtlety from very beginning, and this has only been amplified over time, to create one of the greatest of all card games. Perhaps because of that depth, however, it doesn’t find its way to the table for me all that often. I stress again, it’s not a difficult game, it’s just a complex game (there is a distinction there, trust me!) But as such, it doesn’t lend itself well to “fancy a quick and easy game?” situations. Which is a shame, because it is an unjustly neglected masterpiece of the LCG world. Aside from the fact that the art on these cards can be absolutely amazing at times, I often find myself building decks just for the sheer joy of seeing how all the cards could possibly interact, unsure precisely when I’m going to get to play it again.

Call of Cthulhu LCG

There is so much that I like about this game, I just cannot recommend it enough! It’s just wonderful! I have to say, as well, I really applaud the direction that Fantasy Flight has taken with the distribution model. While I didn’t hate the asylum packs, it can mean a massive gaming budget each month with so much new stuff coming out. As it is, the deluxe expansions they have released have really drawn together a much more thematic feel to them. In two broad categories, we have so far seen a pattern of two boxes each devoted to a specific faction, followed then by a more thematic box with a spread of cards for each faction. While I would definitely recommend picking up the asylum packs if you can pick them up, you can really have an awesome time just with the base game and the deluxe boxes – heck, you can have an amazing gaming experience with just the base game!

Call of Cthulhu LCG

Buy it from amazon:
Call of Cthulhu LCG
Secrets of Arkham Рcards for all 7 factions, plus a new Story deck
The Order of the Silver Twilight – adds the game’s 8th faction
The Shifting Sands Рan asylum pack that adds a third Story deck
Seekers of Knowledge Рfocusing on Miskatonic University
The Key and the Gate Рfocusing on Yog Sothoth
Terror in Venice Рthe pleasures of the Carnevale!
Denizens of the Underworld Рfocusing on The Syndicate
The Sleeper Below – focusing on Cthulhu

Game News and More!

It’s Saturday, so where would your day be without a visit to my blog? Where, indeed! As you may have guessed from my recent postings, this past week has been a bit hectic because of Wednesday’s exam, but now that’s finished, I’ve got my four months off, so I’m hoping to get back onto something approaching awesomeness, and I’ll be sharing it all with you! Yes, you are lucky.

Something I’m particularly excited about is my upcoming writing project. Remember last month, I wrote a short story set in the Star Wars universe, and promised more to come? Well, I’ve got lots of ideas kicking around at the minute, and on Thursday night (or, more accurately, Friday morning, as I couldn’t sleep) I started to write the next installment there. It’s something that I’m really looking forward to moving on with, so will be sharing as and when I’ve written them ūüôā

It feels really weird to have the time to write, now!

I’ve not been reading much lately, because of the revision schedule I had, but I have finally made it to a couple of short stories in the last few days. First of all, on Thursday I got the new Star Wars Insider magazine, which has a short story set just before – and then during – the end of Return of the Jedi. It has the distinction of being the very first new-canon story, and features a squadron of B-wing pilots. A slightly inauspicious start, as io9 put it, but it was enjoyable all the same, so I’m looking forward to the conclusion next issue.

Haggopian

Secondly, I read the short story Cement Surroundings, by Brian Lumley, which can be found in the second¬†volume of his work set in the Lovecraft/Cthulhu mythos. I’ve wanted to read Cement Surroundings for a long time now – amazon tells me I’ve had the book for eighteen months, already – as it is the first appearance in the mythos of the Ancient One, Shudde M’ell, whom fans of Arkham Horror and related games will know only too well! This story is the first set within the mythos that I have read that was not written by HP Lovecraft, but I have to say, I really liked it! Not as flowery – or as ‘gothic’, I suppose – as Lovecraft himself, Lumley’s style is a bit more direct, albeit with similar Lovecraftian turns of phrase. The situation similarly harkens back to the baroque prince: an elder scholar-type returns from an expedition abroad with a dark secret of having uncovered something untoward, and is slowly unhinged by the experience. In this case, he has discovered the burrowing Cthonians, offspring of Shudde M’ell, and is swallowed up into the earth from his house in the desolate North Yorkshire moors. The narrator, an author we are told, later disappears in similar circumstances, and the story ends with a short police report that writes off the experiences as mere publicity for what is supposed to be the author-narrator’s latest work. It is a whole lot better than I’ve described it, anyway, so I can definitely recommend you check it out if you get the chance! I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lumley’s work soon, I think.

Cthonians

I got really excited on Monday, because it was the festa della repubblica, the Italian National Day. Perhaps what was more exciting for me, though, was having my tweet favourited by Dante!!!

I’ve had something of a love affair with Italy since my mid-to-late teens, and finally getting to go there last year was just immense. I’m hoping to go back soon, though that will of course depend on funds! You can bet there’ll be a blog coming out of that, anyway! I’ve been off-and-on trying to learn the language for years, as well, and while I think I got away with it when I went to Milan, I’m hoping to put more of an effort in for when I go again.

This week has seen some really exciting game news, as well. First of all, we got the news on Monday that the nightmare decks for Khazad-dum are available. This may or may not mean much to you, but anyway. Lord of the Rings LCG is, like, my absolute favourite card game in the universe. When I get the time, I’m planning to write a blog just basically praising it to infinity and back. Without going into too much detail just now, suffice it to say that the nightmare decks alter the original game play quite a lot, but I was part of the beta test for Fantasy Flight Games for these decks, so I’m particularly looking forward to getting the ‘real’ ones!

That news was followed on Tuesday by the announcement of the sixth expansion pack in the Ring Maker cycle for the same Lord of the Rings game. Earlier this year, The Voice of Isengard was released, which really got my year off with a bang because we finally got a Saruman card for the game! In case you’re wondering, Saruman is my favourite character from Lord of the Rings. Anyhow. The model for this game is they release a deluxe expansion, then a cycle of six smaller packs that use specific cards from that deluxe box to function. All of this will become clearer soon, if you’re floundering, so don’t panic! I can’t wait to share my love of this game though!

There was big news on Thursday when the next deluxe expansion for the Star Wars LCG was announced, too! This is the first ‘proper’ deluxe box for this game, though I suppose it follows the model established by Edge of Darkness last year by expanding two of the game’s factions, while providing cards for the other four also. I’d been hoping we’d see more thematic expansions, rather than factional ones, but they may be working on a Call of Cthulhu-style model of giving us factional boxes then thematic ones. I don’t know. Anyway, even though I don’t play this game, as I’ve already said, I get excited when I see what’s coming up for it as if I were a keen player, so that was big news for me!

Finally, yesterday brought us news (though I only saw it this morning) of the next cycle for the A Game of Thrones LCG. This is, I believe, the longest-running of the LCGs from Fantasy Flight Games. Along with the core box and six deluxe boxes that each expands one of the game’s great families, we’re currently in the middle of the eleventh cycle of chapter packs for this game, with the twelfth cycle being announced yesterday. Pretty phenomenal, really! Part of me was wondering if they would put the game on hiatus while GRRM writes the sixth novel, but they keep churning out the expansions, and the game has a thriving meta from all accounts, so fair play! The new cycle does look pretty exciting, if I’m honest – though not because of the Arryns finally making it in. I really like this idea of supporting high-cost characters, so I’m intrigued to see where that goes.

There was also an announcement about the next expansion for Android: Netrunner, yet another LCG that I buy into. Set in the dystopian future of megacorporations and cyberhackers, it’s a really good game, though I do have to be in the mood for it. Fantasy Flight have also announced a new LCG that will be coming out this summer, I’m guessing it’ll most likely be around GenCon as was Netrunner, set in the Warhammer 40k universe. I’m not a 40k fan – despite having spent ¬£90 last year on the Horus Heresy boardgame – so wasn’t overly thrilled when they announced it. In fact, they stopped producing the existing Warhammer: Invasion LCG in order to make room for this, so I’m kinda annoyed by it, but it does look interesting enough, so I might pick up a core set and give it a whirl. It looks very similar to a game called High Command that my mate Tony has, from what I’ve skim-read in previews, and that’s enjoyable enough. But anyway, we’ll see I guess! They gave us another preview of that this week, which is why I’m going on about it now, in case you’re wondering!

I suppose I should keep an open mind, anyway, as I wasn’t overly fussed on Netrunner when that first came out, but it took a game for me to see that it was actually enjoyable, so I’m prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. Which I’m sure you’re very thrilled to know!

Speaking of gaming – check out the above tweet! It appeared in my feed on Friday from @LoveArchaeology, and really made me laugh! Who remembers the original GameBoy? It’s now a museum piece! Crikey!

 

 

Star Wars gaming

Hey everybody!

For my coming-of-age blog, I’m going to (possibly) start something of a miniseries that showcases two of my passions where they coalesce, Star Wars and tabletop gaming. There is a rich tradition here, of course, but I’m going to start in media res, as it were, and talk about one of the newest games to hit the shelves: the Star Wars LCG!

Star Wars LCG

First of all, a brief and vague history for you. Card games have been around for ages, of course, and collectible card games became really popular in the 90s, it seemed, with that juggernaut of them all, Magic the Gathering. I’ve never played Magic, and have never really felt a need to explore it. A lot of the mechanics of that game, though, were taken up by other games and have now become somewhat staples of card game play. There have, of course, been hundreds of collectible card games, where you buy packs of cards in a sort of blind-buy format, never knowing what you’re going to get in that particular booster. A collecting system usually also features some sort of gradient of rarity, making some cards very difficult to get hold of. Simple economics, and all that, to drive sales. However, as the 90s turned into the 00s, many folks became burned-out on the whole thing, and many are the shoeboxes-under-beds full of cards long regretted. Then a company comes along that reinvigorates the whole genre. Rather than a CCG, they make a LCG, or living card game. Gone is the blind-buy trauma, instead you get a fixed pack of 60 cards every month that continues to expand the game. That company? Fantasy Flight Games. Wonderful people, with (currently) five living card games (and one dead card game, and one embryonic card game). Fantasy Flight currently hold the licence to make Star Wars games, and at the end of 2012 they brought us Star Wars: The Card Game.

I really like this game, but I haven’t yet found anyone who shares my enthusiasm. Consequently, I have only played it five times since its release, and while I have continued to buy the expansions, I have yet to play with any of the new cards. That fact, however, does not stop me from appreciating the growth of the game, nor does it put me off wanting to blog about it!

All CCGs and their derivatives function in vaguely the same way – you build a deck of cards, often of a predetermined size, then use that deck in combat against someone else. Some games favour group play, some one-on-one; FFG produced the first fully co-operative game in 2011, Lord of the Rings, which is possibly my favourite of the lot, and will be the subject of a future blog. Star Wars went through some initial design changes until it became the one-vs-one game we have today, though a further expansion has added the option of multiplayer in certain circumstances. However, the deckbuilding process is a common theme to all such games, and Star Wars caused the most ripples with its innovative take on the process.

See, most games allow you to build a deck according to certain restrictions, notably faction alignment and so forth, and restrictions of size, but otherwise you’re free to build this deck on a card-by-card basis. Star Wars radically alters that by using an “objective set” (or pod) system, whereby you choose at least ten objective cards, which are linked to a pod of five other cards; your objective cards thus determine your deck. I remember the furor this generated on the official forums prior to the game’s release, as veteran deckbuilders complained mostly about the “hand-holding” approach this brought to the game. However, since its release, and with the remove of nearly eighteen months of gameplay (if you’re lucky, of course!), popular opinion has largely turned around and people are now appreciating the increased level of skill required to build a functioning deck when your choices are focused in this way.

Star Wars LCG

The cards in Star Wars come in a variety of types. Shown above are examples from the Imperial Navy faction. Clockwise from the top, we have Units (characters and vehicles, mostly); Objective cards; Event cards; Enhancement cards; Unit card again, and Fate cards. Another of the early criticisms was that Unit cards encompassed both characters and vehicles, which has led to the oft-quoted example of a Rancor monster battling a Super Star Destroyer. A lot of this stemmed from the fact that previous iterations of a Star Wars card game had ‘arenas of combat’, where ground-based forces were played in one arena, and spaceships were in another. In this game, however, your unit cards are meant to represent your might on the field of battle, making the game more a battle of wills than a direct-combat style of game. For the record, I have no problem with this manner of implementation – after all, it’s a game.

Star Wars LCG

Objective sets are six-card sets, as I explained. These sets can come with any sort of cards within them, not necessarily one of each type. Shown above is the set ‘Agent of the Emperor’, from the latest (at time of writing) expansion pack, Lure of the Dark Side. This is perhaps not the most indicative of sets, but it nevertheless demonstrates some of the synergy that is seen between the cards – something that was doubted quite strongly by the early critics. Many of the sets come with cards that would perhaps naturally have been put into players’ decks anyway, and do not “force you to take a chump card if you want a stronger card in your deck” and waste deck space.

So what do all these cards do?

Star Wars LCG affiliations

The game has six factions: Jedi, Rebel Alliance, Smugglers and Spies, Sith, Imperial Navy, and Scum and Villainy. Further, the first three are Light-side affiliated, and the last three are Dark-side affiliated. You are allowed to mix factions, but not affiliations. The economy of the game is based on resources, and each faction card provides one resource (the small bundle of boxes with a “1” on the right hand side of the card). Objective cards also provide at least one resource, and in order to play a card of a specific faction, you must pay with at least one resource from that faction. Common deckbuilding wisdom, then, is to have a deck skewed towards one particular faction, with a secondary faction “splashed” in – as you will have three objectives at any one time available to provide your resources, it’s more expedient to use the splashed faction’s card.

Star Wars LCG

The play area, shown for an all-Jedi player above, shows the typical layout of a game in progress, with the objectives on the right, the play area in the centre, enhancement cards top left, and the deck and discard pile in the bottom left.

The object of the game is different for each player. The Light-side player must damage three of his opponent’s objectives in order to win, while the Dark-side player must advance the Death Star dial to 12.

Star Wars LCG

This dial can be advanced in many ways, most easily at the beginning of each turn for the Dark-side player. The more objectives the Dark-side player destroys, however, the more clicks he can advance the dial by. Furthermore, there is a ‘Force struggle’ phase that I shall get onto shortly, and if the Force is with the Dark side, the dial also advances more per turn. The Dark-side player always goes first, so the pressure is really on from the first moment for the Light-side player, but there are a few tricks that can be employed to succeed. Perhaps the best among them is the Rebel Alliance enhancement card Trench Run, which allows the Light-side player to target the Death Star dial itself as if it were an objective: should the dial be destroyed, the Light side will win.

Star Wars LCG

The game really favours aggressive gameplay from the start. Unlike most card games I’ve played, where you need to amass resources and often don’t get to play your good cards until the mid-game point, Star Wars doesn’t really have a lot of expensive cards – Luke Skywalker, for instance, costs 4 resources, which is usually the minimum you’ll have available to you. If you draw him in your opening hand, you can play him in round one!

There are a lot of things going on in this game, and it can sometimes appear a bit strange at first play. I feel that certainly has been one of the main barriers when I’ve tried to introduce other people to it, but unfortunately nobody has been willing to stick it out yet. For one, you don’t collect resources at the beginning of your turn, but instead you always have your resources “on”. When you use them, you place a focus token (those red things like a target to the bottom left of the DS dial in the above picture) on them. Then, at the beginning of your turn, you refresh these cards by removing one token from them.

A lot of cards – such as Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar in the above picture of Rebel cards – have the focus symbol on them. There are three types of attack in the game: unit attacks, objective attacks, and focus attacks. On your turn, you declare your attack on your opponent’s objective by focusing the units you are going to use for that attack, and then begin an ‘Edge battle’. RPG players will know how important Initiative is for determining attack order, and the Edge battle is like rolling for Initiative there. You play any number of cards you like face down, one after another, until you both decide to pass. Then, you simultaneously reveal them. The number of white pips that are along the top left edge of the card are added up, and the winner ‘has the edge’ for that battle. The Fate cards shown earlier are only played during Edge battles, and can radically alter their outcome, sometimes forcing you to swap Edge stacks with your opponent, sometimes cancelling the battle altogether and forcing a new one. Whoever wins the edge strikes first, which is important because some characters have icons that are bordered in black and some in white (both Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar are in white only, you’ll note) – white icons only take effect if you won the Edge battle, otherwise a unit can potentially be useless.

Unit attacks deal damage to participating units only; focus attacks allow you to place a focus token on your opponent’s card, and objective attacks deal one point of damage to an opponent’s objective. Unit attack damage is assigned by the defending player, but keywords like Targeted Strike allow the offending player to determine who will be damaged by the attack – useful if you want to wipe out a specific unit. Focus damage is used to make it more difficult for your opponent to use cards, either for their resources or in battle – unless a card has the Elite keyword, only one focus token will be removed. (Furthermore, if that unit is committed to the Force – explained shortly – you place two focus tokens on it to use it, making it even more difficult to bring it back into the game).

Once the damage has been dealt to units, the person with the most surviving units is declared the victor – if that was the offensive player, one point of objective damage is dealt in addition to any blast damage units triggered. Furthermore, if you have one attacking unit left, with no defenders in your opponent’s area, the attack is considered unopposed, and you can do one extra point of objective damage. Objectives can only be attacked once per round, but damaged potentially multiple times. Once one fight is over, you can then declare another attack if you have unfocused units. If no further attack is declared, the Force struggle then begins. Players have the opportunity to commit one unit to the Force each round. The pips on the left of the cards that determine Edge battle results also determine their strength in the Force, and the person with the highest number of pips on Force-committed characters in this phase wins the Force struggle. As shown in the Jedi player’s play area in the picture above, Yoda is committed to the Force as he has the card placed under him. Mentioned earlier, if the Dark-side player has the Force with him, at the start of his next turn he moves the Death Star dial one extra point. If the Force is with the Light-side player, however, he can deal one point of damage to one of his opponent’s objectives at the start of his next turn.

Star Wars LCG

 

It is a fairly simple game, ¬†in theory, but with a lot of tricks that you can get up to that will alter the flow of the game. Each faction additionally has a distinctive feel, with what I suppose you could call a distinctive trait to them. For instance, a lot of the Sith cards concentrate on burying your opponent under focus tokens, “locking down” the game while the dial creeps inexorably up to 12. The Imperial Navy is all about the damage, with event cards that allow you to destroy one of your opponent’s objectives straight off (the Death Star superlaser strikes!).

The core set comes with four fully-playable factions, and one objective set for each of Smugglers and Spies, and Scum and Villainy. The deluxe expansion box Edge of Darkness was released a few months after the core set, and fleshed out these two so that they were on a par with the core factions. I quite like the fringe elements of Star Wars, so was particularly pleased to see this box come out.

Star Wars LCG

While I’ve only ever played the Jedi faction in my short history of actually playing this game, I think my favourite faction would have to be Scum and Villainy. Let’s get this out here right now: I am not a Boba Fett fan. Indeed, I feel he has been overused to the extent that all of his original mystique and stuff is completely blown away. Chances are, if I see him crop up in fiction now, I get annoyed. But I am a big Jabba the Hutt fan, and I like the criminal underworld feel of it all. To that, I can add the fact that Scum and Villainy have perhaps the best (certainly, in my view) theme of all six factions: the capture mechanic.

Star Wars LCG

Representative of collecting bounties, I suppose, there are all sorts of cards that allow the S&V player to capture cards, which allows you to take an opponent’s unit and place it under your own card, usually an objective (demonstrated in the above shot of the play area, where the captured Jedi unit is held at the ‘Jabba’s Reach’ objective). Captured cards can be rescued by destroying the objective, whereupon the cards return to their owner’s hand.

To date, there has been one complete cycle of small, ‘Force pack’ expansions, and two deluxe expansions – the aforementioned Edge of Darkness, and the multiplayer Balance of the Force.

Star Wars LCG Hoth Cycle

The Hoth cycle is the first cycle of six packs, and deals (unsurprisingly) with the Battle of Hoth. There is a really nice area-control implementation here, where certain card effects feed off the number of Hoth objectives you control. The main factions to benefit from this are of course the Rebels and the Imperials, as we see key units and equipment enter the game. However, a nice subtheme emerges in the Scum and Villainy faction, where we get to see more Bounty Hunters and such. The whole cycle is a lot of fun, and deepens the strategy already there in the core set.

Star Wars LCG Balance of the Force

The Balance of the Force box adds the multiplayer element, where two or three players take on one other player. Because of the perils that might be associated with playing normal decks in this situation, the box gives us the first two Challenge Decks, which I suppose could easily be called overpowered decks, but are only thus to give you a chance against up to three opponents! For the Dark-side player, there’s ‘Jerjerrod’s Task’, which sees you effectively take on the mantle of Moff Jerjerrod from Return of the Jedi and attempt to build the second Death Star.¬†He does this by getting enough resources to bring out the Death Star II ¬†card, at which he must then capture each Light-side player’s faction card. For the Light side, ‘The Hunt for Skywalker’ has nine double-sided objective cards, all of which have a common front but different stuff on the back. The Dark-side players are attempting to find Luke Skywalker, which they do when they have revealed the ‘Return to Tatooine’ objective card. Objectives are revealed when they have been damaged to the point they would ordinarily have been destroyed. If they destroy Luke Skywalker, they win; the Light-side player is basically trying to avoid detection, and plays until the Dark-side players run out of cards in their deck (for this reason, deckbuilding is limited to ten objective cards, or fifty-card decks).

As I said, I’ve only played this game five times, and all these times were around the release of the core box, so I’ve never had the experience of Balance of the Force, which came out last autumn. However, the challenge decks look like fun additions, and I would dearly like one day to try out The Hunt for Skywalker! (Please leave a comment if you’d like to ease my pain and play this game with me!)


 

So yeah, I really like the Star Wars LCG. I mean, I like card games, and I like Star Wars, so it’s kind of a no-brainer, but the mechanics and all the rest of it make it a really good game anyway, in my opinion. It’s significantly different from other games that you feel like you’re having a great experience – playing Warhammer Invasion and A Game of Thrones and Call of Cthulhu, while they’re all really great games, they can tend to be a bit samey. Star Wars LCG stirs things up a lot.

Another good point in its favour is its use of original art for the cards. Previous Star Wars card games have used movie stills, which can tend to be a bit boring. Original art allows the EU to be brought into the game with greater ease, and allows for such awesome stuff as the Smugglers and Spies cards shown earlier, where we can see Han winning the Falcon from Lando. Great stuff!

Even if you only buy the core set, I would definitely recommend you check this game out. I think that’s also part of the beauty of this game: with the core set, casual gamers or non-gamer Star Wars fans have got a really great game right out of the box. You have four fully-playable decks right there, and you can have a lot of fun with swapping out some pods for others. A smart move on FFG’s part, the pod structure makes¬†the game appealing to people who want to open a box and play a game, and not spend hours beforehand constructing the perfect deck. Also, the game will run to a maximum of twelve rounds, which can be over in under half an hour, so you aren’t going to be tied down for the whole evening playing one game. If you want such icons as Chewbacca, Lando, or Jabba, you’ll have to pick up the Edge of Darkness box, which gives you six fully playable decks and enough customizing options to keep you occupied for a long time.¬†The Force packs keep the game constantly evolving, with more stuff coming out all the time. They’re by no means required to play, but they definitely add some spice if you’re getting used to the core set’s offerings. Balance of the Force is probably most appealing if you have a larger group, though it does have cards that can be used by each faction in one-on-one play also.

But I definitely recommend people check this game out!

Street Fighter!

Street Fighter deck-building game
Street Fighter deck-building game

Well, good people of the internet, it’s finally here! It’s nearly two months since I nearly burst several blood vessels in my excitement over the discovery of a Street Fighter card game, and lo! it has finally arrived in my hot little hands this very day! Oh, I am very excited!¬†The game is published by Cryptozoic, who have done quite a few deck-builders now, including the popular DC game, and 3012, one of their early efforts that I feel is greatly overlooked.

A deck-building game? I hear you cry. Well, yes – a card game where you basically build your deck as you play the game. I think it was Dominion that started the trend, and my own game collection includes quite a few of these, such as Thunderstone and Marvel Legendary. Each game is broadly the same principle – you start off with a basic hand of cards, which you use to buy better cards, and thus the game moves on. There are often many twists, as it can otherwise be a pretty boring thing (one of the biggest criticisms of Dominion, from what I’ve heard). Thunderstone, for example, involves some dungeon-delving, and both the DC and Marvel games involve powering-up your deck in order to take on super villains and win the game. While there are very few games that I could say I dislike, the whole deck-building genre is something that I can usually take or leave.

However, Street Fighter!

As a kid, I was never all that into video games, but Street Fighter was one of these cult events that I can always make an exception for! Not that I played it that much, but still, it was a part of my childhood that I fondly remember Рahhh! The Street Fighter card game was therefore an insta-buy for me, and when I got home this afternoon to find it waiting on my doormat, oh, the joy begins!

Gameplay set-up
Gameplay set-up

The game is played very similar to the DC game, as both use the ‘Cerberus Engine’ (a game engine is just another name for the mechanics). You have a starting hand of fairly weak cards, with additional cards available to purchase, some (like the Kick cards) are in a stack to the side and available until that stack runs out; the rest form the ‘main deck’, and comprise Heroes, Villains, Equipment and Superpowers. Unlike in DC, Location cards form a ‘Stage’ deck, also to the side. This deck effectively replaces the Super Villains in the DC game, and acts as a sort of timer, that tracks the game’s progress. There are 14 oversized Super Hero cards, as in DC, but the neat little twist here is that, once the players have chosen their Super Hero for the game, the remainder act as ‘Stage Bosses’, which you must defeat in order to gain the current Location in the Stage deck – when the Stage deck runs out, the game is over. Also unlike DC, the Super Heroes don’t have a printed ability to use throughout the game, but instead a ‘Counter Attack’, which is resolved when you’re defeating the Super Hero in its Stage Boss appearance (and is analogous to the First Appearance – Attack that the DC Super Villains have). I thought that was pretty cool, anyway! Each location corresponds to a level in the video game, and the card art uses the same graphics that the video game used for the backdrop to the fighting. Nice!

Street Fighter deck building game

While the Super Heroes don’t have any printed abilities of their own, there is a new type of card added to this game, ‘Ultra’ cards. These are similar to the characters’ special moves in the video game, and at the beginning of the game are placed under the Super Hero card. As the game progresses, you have the option of buying the Ultra card as you would a card from the main deck lineup. Some cards in the main deck have either attacks, which allow you to attack other players, or defense, which allows you to defend against attacks from other players or from the Stage Bosses. Ultra cards, however, have both attacks and defenses, and can be used for either purpose.

At the end of the game, you total the amount of victory points you have (starter cards are worth 0, and weakness cards are worth -1; all other cards are worth at least one point, and some have special conditions that increase their worth depending on the amount of specific types of cards you have), and the person with the most points is declared the winner. It’s really that simple!

I do enjoy the DC game, and have frequently played it solo to try to get the best possible score, or to defeat the Super Villains in a set amount of turns. Most deck building games can be played in this way, though very few are all that satisfying. Street Fighter, however, begs to be played with more players, due to the amount of attack cards.

I was always a fan of Vega
I was always a fan of Vega

I do love Street Fighter. I tried this game out solo earlier today to get a feel for it, and that level of interactivity was something that was definitely missing from the game. However, I can definitely see how this game would be awesome with more players!


Street Fighter Blanka promo

But let’s talk about promo cards for a minute. Many companies produce promo cards to promote their games at organized play events, and Cryptozoic is one of them. However, while that is a very noble cause, and a wonderful idea, promo cards often become so sought-after that it can become a serious problem. And Cryptozoic promo cards are some of the very worst for this. For the DC game, they produced a promo Super Hero, Martian Manhunter. I don’t go to game events, as I can’t justify the travel expenses. So instead I spent more money buying the promo card on the aftermarket than I had done on the game itself. An expansion for DC was released this year, Heroes Unite, which has two promos associated with it. I was one of the lucky ones to get my copy shipped with one, but spent as much as I’d spent on the game buying the second promo card. It becomes an untenable situation, and one that has, time and again, made me question whether I can continue to support the publisher’s games.

See, I’m an obsessive completist, as many gamers are, and cannot abide to think of having an ‘incomplete’ game. And this is where the problem lies. One of my favourite publishers, Flying Frog Productions, insist that they would never produce a promo that altered the gameplay of any of their products,¬†so have produced maybe a handful that are strictly alternate-art cards for their games, which often ship with their web-exclusive mini expansions. I have no problem in supporting a company by buying their content directly from them, especially if I’m going to get a nice little promo into the bargain! My favourite publisher, Fantasy Flight Games, produce alternate cards as promos for game events, but never produce actual promo cards. And this is how it should be, in my view. Promo cards should not be additional content, but variants to the main game. Yes, you can play DC without Martian Manhunter, but that doesn’t stop the fact that there are more heroes out there that you can play with if you’re willing to part with the money. You can play Street Fighter without Blanka, but that doesn’t stop the fact that he’s out there, and can be yours for more than the price of the actual base game itself.

It’s time game companies stopped supporting this shady aftermarket by producing what are essentially mini expansions as promo material. Anything game-changing deserves to have a wider audience than just for those with wallets big enough to pay the exorbitant prices eBay sellers charge. Take a stand with me!

(Yes, I’ve purposefully stayed away from mentioning Wizards of the Coast, who are perhaps the very worst offenders for promos. All I will say on this subject is – thank goodness the Star Wars game license no longer resides with them!)

But enough of my rant. I’m off to write some more essay. I’ll end with a quote from a favourite web personality of mine: Until next time – play more games!

 

Street Fighter deck building game
Enjoy a bit of Chun-Li!