How Can SWLCG Survive and Thrive?

We’re living in maybe the best time there has ever been to be a Star Wars fan. This is particularly true when it comes to tabletop games. Besides all the miniatures games, we have not one, but two “collectible” card games. SW Destiny has undeniably taken the world by storm and it may only be a matter of time before it gives X-Wing Miniatures a run for its money. Star Wars The Card Game (aka, Star Wars The Living Card Game, or LCG), however, has been around longer than Destiny, but hasn’t ever really caught on. It’s a great game, and probably my favorite from the Fantasy Flight catalogue of SW games. I enjoy it a lot, but there are definitely ways that it needs to be improved or even fundamentally changed for it to continue on.

Citing the recent release of the second edition of A Game of Thrones The Card Game (also a living card game), I’ve frequently said that “Star Wars LCG 2nd Edition” is just Star Wars Destiny. I don’t foresee FFG trying to make an improved edition of SWLCG. Whether they could make these changes within the confines of the current edition, I kind of doubt, but let’s get started on where I think things should go.

Objective Sets

One of the things that sets SWLCG apart from all the other LCG’s out there, like the aforementioned Game of Thrones, Netrunner, and Warhammer 40K Conquest (RIP), as well as traditional CCG’s, is the Objective Set system. This is a really unique way of grouping cards together thematically and functionally that requires you to have the whole set of six cards in your deck even if you only want one of them. The Objective card itself is similar in some ways to the Plot cards from AGoT, except that while they provide your side with Resources they’re also the primary target of your enemy’s attacks. Think of it like the rebels attacking a strategic imperial base that provides weapons and combatants. The base helps the empire and it’s the target for the rebels. As an aside, the term “objective” is kind of misleading as it makes it sound like it has some goal that the owner is meant to achieve rather than simply protecting it.

The Objective card from each set goes into a deck of Objectives that is separate from the rest of the cards, which are collectively grouped as the Command deck. If we assume we have sixty (60) cards in total (a typical number for a thematic card game), then that means we have ten (10) Objective sets (six cards in each set), an Objective deck of ten cards, and a Command deck of 50 cards. Again, you have to have the entire Objective set in your deck even if all you want is one card from it. They have built in synergies which makes even a garbage card work well in combination, but those garbage cards take up valuable space.

Deckbuilding in Magic: The Gathering, and other CCG’s, requires you to weigh the cost/risk analysis of having particular cards in your deck. A card may be good in combination, but maybe it’s trash outside of that very specific situation. In that case, unless you plan to build around that card combo, you may decide that card doesn’t fulfill enough roles in enough circumstances to warrant having it, especially when you could use that space for another card that is more utilitarian. The decision described above is completely removed from Star Wars LCG. People that have been playing CCGs for the last twenty-odd years want to be able to have as much flexibility as possible when deckbuilding. On the other hand, for people just starting out, the cost/risk decision is removed and if you want a good card like Luke Skywalker, then you have to take the rest of the cards that go with him, regardless of their usefulness.

I do like how the cards tie together thematically, but at the same time, I think that reliance upon having every card from a set taking up space creates a less interesting environment. Decks are essentially predictable. At the start of the game, you lay out three Objectives. Once all three are out, the opponent knows what at least 15 of your 50 cards are. You’re usually allowed to have two copies of a single Objective set in your deck, so it’s possible they know what 30 of them are! At that point, it just comes down to who can implement their strategies sooner or better and what their still-hidden Objectives are.

If there was a way to break the Command deck free from the Objective set requirement, I think we’d have a whole new game. The question becomes if they decided to make that a fundamental design change, would future packs be less synergistic in both theme and mechanic?

The Death Star Dial

Another way that this game differs dramatically from others like it is a built-in timer, represented by a Death Star dial. The dial goes from 0 to 12, ticking up at least once at the beginning of the Dark Side player’s turn, and when it reaches 12, the Dark Side player wins. This forces the Light Side player to be more aggressive (yes, I know, the light side of the force shouldn’t be aggressive, but hell, the rebels are super aggressive) as they need to simply destroy three Dark Side Objectives in order to win. The inevitable victory for the Dark Side doesn’t mean they can get complacent, though, or at least they shouldn’t. For each Light Side Objective destroyed by the Dark Side player, they get to tick up the DS dial per the number of destroyed objectives (1 tick for 1, 2 ticks for 2, and 3 ticks for 3).

This mechanic makes for some very interesting tactical differences between the two sides, even if the core strategic mechanic (attack enemy Objectives) is the same. The Death Star certainly works as an imposing piece on the board, but using that as their timer has painted the designers into a corner. Specifically, having the Death Star as the timer sets the game in a very specific point in time, namely, during the Galactic Civil War (original trilogy era). Even though we do get some bleed-through from other eras thanks to Rebels (Ahsoka being a prime example), we are kept from having proper prequel/Clone Wars or sequel/Force Awakens characters, ships, and events.

I think the inevitability of the Dark Side’s victory is a great flavor and mechanical component, so I wouldn’t want to see them do away with it. Rather, I’d like to see them change the flavor from “hurry up or the Death Star will blow up the rebel base!” to “stand up against the Dark Side before it consumes the galaxy.” It’s a small change, and really, the mechanical piece, the DS dial itself, could still be used. It’d really just be a matter of saying that the Dark Side will win, whether we’re talking about the Galactic Empire, the First Order, the Sith, or the Separatists, unless the Light Side steps up and stops them.

It’s true that some people might cry foul about having characters like Qui-Gon fighting alongside Luke Skywalker against Tarkin and Kylo Ren, but FFG has already thrown caution to the wind by having that be one of the primary bullet points for Destiny. Personally, I don’t see the problem. It’s a game. We’re not sticking to the story in each play session. Dash Rendar doesn’t kill Motti and a Loth Cat doesn’t destroy the Death Star. Why worry about mixing things up when it would only make it more interesting? There could be some very thematic and interesting card interactions between Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Kylo Ren. Just as an example, if Anakin is in play, the opponent could play Vader, destroying Anakin. The Dark Side player might also have Kylo Ren, but he can’t come out while Vader is in play. If Vader dies in combat, then Kylo might deploy as a reaction or for free.

Streamline Turn Phases

The consensus that I’ve heard everywhere, from local players to the World Championships, is that the game is really all about timing and remembering your triggers. One of the things that makes the game more difficult to get a firm grasp of comes down to the turn phases and the timing of actions. In the main rule book, they do have a flowchart that shows the various windows in which you can play reactive cards, but it is definitely not as clear as it could be. Magic has multiple phases as well, during which you may or may not be able to play certain cards or have certain effects trigger. Here, though, it seems to create greater confusion than is necessary.

I’ll certainly admit that it may simply be a matter of playing enough until you get to the point at which you remember your windows, but something needs to change here. Having the game be built on timing and triggers is fine, but then they need to do something either about making the action windows less complicated or explaining the timing of them better.

Just one portion of the action windows

It also doesn’t help that the most effective strategies in the game revolve around controlling the extent to which the opponent is able to make their triggers fire at their appointed times. Sith or Navy control decks have long dominated in one form or another. Dominating decks is nothing new to card games and that in itself isn’t a problem. The problem becomes that games are the most fun when the players are interacting with each other, and control decks take away that level of interaction by limiting what players are even capable of doing. These may seem like two separate topics (turn phases versus dominating decks), but when the cornerstone of the dominating decks is exploiting the game’s primary mechanics, it becomes a problem.

This is a much harder issue to come up with a solid solution for. In fact, there may not be anything to necessarily fix. All that may really be needed is some better clarification and explanation of the action windows so that when you have a card that references a phase it’s easier to remember when it’s supposed to fire. Of course, having numerous cards that are dependent on exact timing may just require spending more time refining tactics and getting to know your deck. This issue may just come down to needing the rulebook to be refined to include further clarifications aside from just the tacked-on card errata, restriction lists, and expansion rules.

While the above are certainly not the only ways that Star Wars The Card Game could be improved, they are definitely my top three. Freeing the Command deck from Objective obligation is definitely something that could be tested with the current cards. Changing the theme of the Dark Side timer and expanding the eras is, unfortunately, not something that could easily be done with the current crop of sets. The timing issue will, sadly, still be an issue. About the only thing that you could do to deal with timing is to make a blanket house rule that says reactions can be played at any time that isn’t spelled out by the card, rather than having players study the flowchart.

What do you think would make for a better LCG experience? Have you given it a shot at all yet? If not, what’s kept you from it? Let us know in the comments below.

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