by Bill Yankosky (aka yodaman)
I’m old enough to have seen the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters as a child when they were initially released and have been a Star Wars fan ever since. I have played Star Wars: Destiny since it first came out in 2016 and have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to contribute articles about the game to I Rebel’s website. Before that, however, for years my main game was another Star Wars game produced by FFG; Star Wars: The Card Game aka the Star Wars LCG. JediGeekGirl has invited me to write some articles recapping the history of the Star Wars LCG so this article will serve as an introduction to the game for those of you who are unfamiliar with it and some thoughts about the early days of that game.
I actually discovered the Star Wars LCG by pure chance (or perhaps it was just Destiny :D) in early 2013 shortly after the game’s release. After George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, I regularly perused the internet to find out information about the upcoming sequel trilogy. One day, while looking for articles, I ended up at TheForce.net and noticed they had an article about the new Star Wars Card Game. A friend and I had regularly played the Decipher Star Wars CCG in casual settings for years. When that game ended after Decipher lost the license, we tried out the Star Wars TCG put out by Wizards of the Coast, but really didn’t get into it at all. But, the new Star Wars card game from FFG seemed intriguing so I decided to check it out and see if I could convince my friend to try it. Once we started playing the Star Wars LCG, my friend and I were hooked. The only downside was we live in a pretty rural area of North Carolina and the closest gaming stores are about an hour away so we mainly played at my kitchen table for years.
Released in late 2012, Star Wars: The Card Game was actually the first Star Wars card game produced by FFG and it is categorized as a competitive Living Card Game (LCG). For those who have not been exposed to the LCG model, it is important to note that it is different from the more familiar collectible card game (CCG) model used in games like Star Wars: Destiny, the original Decipher Star Wars CCG and the Star Wars TCG by Wizards of the Coast because for an LCG there really is no collectability aspect. Products for an LCG always include a fixed set of cards and by buying that product you get every available card and have full playsets without having to purchase anything else. There is no chasing of rare or legendary cards since every card in a product effectively has the same rarity.
LCGs have usually been introduced with a Core Set of base cards followed by a series of cycles of individual packs and/or deluxe expansions. Typically the individual packs will release at regular intervals such as once a month and the game and meta” will evolve over time as new cards are added regularly. Every so often, deluxe expansions are released which give a larger influx of cards at one time. For someone like me, with family obligations and responsibilities, the LCG model is appealing. The release schedule makes it much easier to plan for the costs involved with keeping up with a game so it is much less of a burden financially over the course of a year than playing something like Star Wars: Destiny. Even though I loved the Decipher game, my friend had more disposable income than I did at the time and I felt outgunned in nearly every game we played because the card pool I had available was nowhere near as extensive or deep as his. Playing an LCG makes it a bit easier to level the playing field competitively since everyone has access to the same pool of cards and for me, that was another appealing aspect of the LCG model.
Not surprisingly, the Star Wars LCG is a battle between Light Side and Dark Side and for the most part has only involved elements from the Original Trilogy era. Each player picks a side to play. The Light Side consists of 3 affiliations; Jedi, Rebel Alliance, and Smuggler and Spies. The Dark Side also consists of 3 affiliations, Sith, Imperial Navy, and Scum and Villainy. While many cards match a specific affiliation, there are some cards that are Neutral. Players choose one of the affiliations to be their main affiliation and can either build a deck just using cards from that or also include cards from the other ones as well. There is a resource match requirement for playing cards from a specific affiliation which has to be factored in when deckbuilding and gameplay. For example, in order to play a Jedi card that costs 2, a player must spend 2 resources total, but at least 1 of the resources must be a Jedi resource.
The Star Wars LCG is admittedly quirky and has some features that aren’t common in most card games. One aspect that admittedly turned many avid gamers off is the use of objective sets for building decks. Decks have to include a minimum of 10 objective sets and each objective set comes with a set of 6 cards that must be played together. You can’t use more than 2 copies of an objective set and some objective sets are actually limited to 1 per deck. Each objective set consists of one objective, which goes into a specific deck called the Objective deck and 5 other cards that go into a separate deck called the Command deck. The objective set system means you cannot pick individual cards to be in your deck. If you want to include a powerful unit like Darth Vader from the Core Set, you have to use all cards in his objective set, Fall of the Jedi. While objective sets provide a restriction on deckbuilding that prevents people from just using “all the best cards”, they provide an interesting internal balancing mechanic since the existence of a powerful card in a set is often balanced by the existence of less powerful and often more situational cards. I’ve always found that balancing act and deckbuilding restriction fascinating even though I know that aspect turned people away from the game.
For gameplay, the Star Wars LCG has a built-in timer in the form of the Death Star Dial, which starts at a value of 1 when the game begins with the Dark Side player’s turn. In order for the Dark Side to win the game, the Death Star Dial needs to reach 12. The Death Star Dial increases throughout the game as different things happen. Each time the Dark Side player’s turn begins, the Dial increases by 1 if the Balance token is with the Light Side and 2 if the Balance token is with the Dark Side. Whenever the Dark Side player destroys a Light Side objective, the Death Star dial also increases by an amount related to the number of objectives that have been destroyed. The first time the Dark Side player destroys an objective, the Death Star Dial increases by 1. The second time, it increases by 2 and so on. An interesting aspect of the game though is the win conditions are asymmetric. In order for the Light Side to win the game, the Light Side player must just destroy 3 Dark Side objectives before the Death Star Dial gets to 12.
The game begins with players choosing 4 cards from their objective decks, putting 3 of the 4 into play and putting the other on the bottom of their objective deck. They then draw 6 cards from their Command decks and can either choose to keep them all or mulligan them all to draw a new hand of 6. Cards that go in the Command deck include units, enhancements, events, missions and fate cards. All of these cards have a number of force icons on them ranging from 0 to 5 which come into play during conflict and when competing for the Balance token. Other than fate cards, which serve a specific purpose during conflicts, all cards have an associated cost. Units also have an associated health/damage capacity value as well as combat icons. The standard combat icons are unit damage, objective damage and tactics. Unit and objective damage are pretty much as you would expect and allow a unit to deal damage to a unit or objective. Tactics are a way to prevent your opponent’s units from using any of their combat icons and are a powerful tool in the game.
One of the best parts of the game, in my opinion, is what happens during the conflict phase of the game. This is when units from both sides actually engage with each other at an objective. Being able to strike first is a crucial part of any engagement since you could potentially use one of your own units with tactics to prevent a power opponent’s unit from using any of its combat icons. After both players have decided which of their units will fight during an engagement, players conduct an Edge Battle to determine which player will get to strike first. For an edge battle, players alternate placing cards from their hand face-down until both players pass consecutively. The cards are flipped over and the number of force icons on cards placed in each player’s edge stack are totaled. The player who bid the most force icons wins and in the case of a tie, the defending player wins. It is during the Edge Battle that fate cards are used. Fate cards have additional effects beyond any force icons that appear on them. The fate card Heat of Battle, for example, lets you immediately deal a damage to an enemy unit when you resolve it and before any units actually get to use their combat icons. Twist of Fate is one of the most powerful fate cards ever printed in the game and it appeared in the Core Set and has been a staple ever since. It cancels the edge battle, discards the cards from the edge stack and forces players to start a new edge battle using whatever cards they still have left in their hands. Many well-laid plans in Star Wars LCG games have been foiled by a well-timed Twist of Fate.
So let’s talk a bit about the initial Core Set for the Star Wars LCG. The box includes 18 Light Side sets and 18 Dark Side sets. Following the standard practice for most FFG card games, in order to get 2 copies of each objective set, you need to have 2 copies of the Core Set. The Core set is a bit odd in that it contained 7 different objective sets for Jedi, Rebel, Sith and Navy, but only 1 different objective set for Smugglers and Scum. Each side also got 3 Neutral objective sets, some of which were limited to 1 per deck. Dark side was widely believed to have been more powerful in the Core Set. In particular, the Sith Affiliation got 3 objective sets the formed the backbone of many top-tier Dark Side decks for years to come. Those were:
This set includes the powerful main in Darth Vader along with Force Choke, a 0 cost event deals 1 damage to a non-vehicle enemy unit to synergize with Vader’s ability and the fate card Heat of Battle to do more damage.
This set, while lacking in force icons, provides ways to get great card draw for the Dark Side and has the staple fate card, Twist of Fate.
This set comes with Emperor Palpatine who can recur Sith events and prevent opponents from using their best units with his multiple tactics. The objective itself gives a way to discount Sith events. It also includes one of the best 2 cost units in the game, the Emperor’s Royal Guard which can protect Dark Side Characters by allowing damage to be assigned to them instead, and an event that can just destroy an enemy unit that had been focused in Force Lightning.
In order to play higher cost characters and events, another popular dark side objective set was found in the Navy options:
This objective was used to generate lots of resources and get cheap units out. The objective itself can generate 2 resources. Admiral Motti costs 3 but generates 2 resources and he has an ability to remove focus tokens from a unit early each turn. There is also another 1 cost unit in this set that generates 1 resource a turn. The set also includes a great card to help close out games for the Dark Side, Orbital Bombardment, an expensive enhancement that gives every unit an extra objective damage icon when striking and making it easier for the Dark Side player to blow up objectives and increase the Death Star dial….
The Light Side, while a bit behind, did have a few cards that saw play for quite a while and had an impact on the game:
The main unit in the Jedi Set, A Hero’s Journey. He has the ability to strike and then free up at the end of the turn so he could also defend. The set he come in also includes some enhancement tools to help the Light Side deal damage to both objectives and units. Jedi Lightsaber gives a Force User or Force Sensitive unit an extra unit damage and objective damage icon. Trust Your Feelings lets you move a focus token from the unit it’s attached to onto the enhancement itself, which gives a unit the capability of resolving its combat icons more than once a turn.
Copies of this event were found in two Rebel sets, namely The Defense of Yavin 4 and Mobilize the Squadron. While only one copy can be played per turn, it deals 2 damage to an enemy unit or objective. It is easy to just think about using it to damage objectives since ultimately Light Side needs to destroy objectives to win, but often Rebel Assault has more value by dealing damage to a potential problem defender and clearing the way for your own Light Side units to do far more than 2 objective damage.
The only Smuggler Set included in the Core Set comes with a few tricks to help the Light Side get the upper hand. The objective lets you move a damage from it to an enemy unit. Han Solo is the main in this set and whenever he attacks or defends, he gets to deal 1 damage to an enemy unit. Swindled is a very effective 1 cost event that can be used to return an enemy unit that costs 2 or lower to your opponent’s hand and leave you with one less defender to worry about. Although Smugglers would shine as the game progressed when it finally got more objective sets, Han’s set gave a glimpse of what was to come for the Light Side in terms of tricks.
Ultimately, the 36 objective sets released in the Core Set were just the start and FFG released 289 sets total for the Star Wars LCG before officially ending support for the game in 2018. As has happened with other games, there is a player-led committee, the Star Wars LCG Council, that has worked to keep the game alive for its small, but loyal community. For years I created regular content in support of the game through my Yoda’s Hut Youtube Channel which featured recorded gameplay videos from both organized events and casual play along with commentary for the games provided by myself and another member of the Star Wars LCG Community. Because of my involvement with content creation, I was nominated to be on the Star Wars LCG Council and have been a member of it since the beginning. Fan-made cards have been introduced to the game and different formats including limited constructed and draft have been explored and well-received by players. We organize online events for players a few times a year (people play the game via Skype using physical cards) and currently are in the top cut of our Spring 2020 tourney which started with 26 players from around the world. The Force is still with us.
If you’re interested in learning more about the game and what’s going on with it, you can check out these resources:
- Star Wars LCG Council Facebook page – the official page of the Star Wars LCG Council.
- Star Wars (LCG) Facebook page – this community-led Facebook page has been around since the start.
- Cardgamedb SW LCG General Discussion Forum – This is where the community really started and the Star Wars LCG boards are still active, especially when things such as the online tourney are going on
- Yoda’s Hut Youtube Channel – As mentioned before, you can find literally hundreds of Star Wars LCG gameplay videos with recorded commentary on my Youtube Channel.
- Frozen In Carbonite – Another member of the Star Wars LCG Council, Darthbs, has had his Youtube channel around in various forms throughout the years.
- Also, many years ago Team Covenant did an introductory gameplay video and they also have many older recorded games with commentary on their Youtube channel as well.
Thanks to I Rebel for allowing me to contribute this first in a series of articles about one of my favorite games of all time, the Star Wars LCG. Thanks to everyone for reading.
May the Force Be With You!