The Star Wars Customizable Card Game Part 2: History and Gameplay
By Scott Johnson
Many of you probably remember when Pokemon card craze first burst onto the scene, right? Well, the Star Wars CCG was an important precursor to this. The 1990s brought the advent of an innovative type of card game where players selected a number of specific cards from a wide variety of choices to create a customized deck to designed to play one-on-one against an opponent. This new CCG as it came to be known, drew the interests of both collectors and competitive gamers alike. Cards could either be acquired by purchasing packs of randomized cards or ready-made starter decks that typically contained a simplified deck that could be a starting point for beginner players to immediately jump into the game and play against a friend while later swapping out cards from the deck to design their own personal strategies. By trading, you could efficiently acquire particular cards you wanted for you deck or simply for your collection. The first collectable card game, Magic: The Gathering, was so popular, stores couldn’t keep enough in stock. Numerous other franchises followed with their own card games trying to capitalize on the growing fad. In December 1995, Decipher released its own Star Wars CCG which instantaneously became one of the top CCGs on the market, second only behind Magic and at certain points even outselling Magic.
Many players were drawn into the Star Wars CCG ironically not knowing much about Star Wars. Some were former Magic players while others like me didn’t have access to see the original films which wouldn’t appear in theaters again until the Special Edition in 1997 but wanted a way to discover the universe. The game became a great entry point for new Star Wars fans since you had no need of prior knowledge about the franchise to pick up the game and learned a lot about Star Wars simply by playing it. Longtime fans loved it as well due to the cinematic nature of the game in which you could reenact scenarios from the film like blowing up the Death Star or taking down the shield generator on Hoth as they were portrayed in the films or their own off-screen adventures with lesser-known characters.
Although it did have its drawbacks in having a steep learning curve and in-depth rules, the open-world gameplay offered endless possibilities to focus on when deckbuilding including quirky strategies such as moisture farming, tibanna gas mining, bounty hunting, and smuggling in addition to the more traditional Imperial space fleet or Rebel strike-team deck designs. The choices were entirely up to the player to decide how they wanted to experience their Star Wars adventure since the game offered a variety of cards to make dozens of decks competitively viable.
Playing the Star Wars CCG in some ways felt more like a tabletop miniatures game than a card game and this is one of the reasons for its success. Games consisted of one player playing as the light side against another player playing as the dark side. Each card in the game was denoted by the back of the card as either light side or dark side although many cards had a light side equivalent to keep the game balanced. Certain characters such as Lando Calrissian had both a light side and a dark side “persona” which they could use to swap loyalty and steal a player from the opponent’s side. The main idea of the game was to deploy locations which generated force for you to use to pay to deploy or move starships, characters, and vehicles to those locations in order to control them or battle opponents to deplete or “mill” the opponent out of “life force” cards. The game provided a multitude of ways to create your own battle scenarios with your favorite characters, starships, and locations and each new expansion provided new strategies that left the game feeling fresh.
It even included mini game events such as sabacc, dejarik, podracing, and senatorial political battles. Objective cards entered the format in the 1998 Special Edition expansion which sped the game up considerably allowing players to quickly deploy a number of cards out of their deck and onto the table at the start of the game. Objectives simulated dozens of events from the movies such as blowing up the Death Star, rescuing Princess Leia from captivity on the Death Star or at Jabba’s Palace for light side players or hunting down the Jedi, finding the Rebel’s secret base for dark side characters.
Over the years the Star Wars CCG would add 11 expansion sets and several more special sets to the game’s original base set. One of the special sets, Reflections II, consists of cards almost entirely from expanded universe. It was this set that brought many people I knew who played the game to become interested in the EU and served as a gateway to introduce them to the books and comics that those cards were inspired from. In future articles I will discuss key aspects and interesting tidbits of EU lore from each expansion.
Shortly after the Episode I expansions, Decipher, Inc. relinquished the Star Wars card game license to Wizards of the Coast who went on produce their own short-lived Star Wars TCG. In gratitude to fans of the game, Decipher, Inc. donated over $1 million in product and promo materials to establish the Star Wars CCG Players Committee which is comprised of volunteers (some of whom are former Decipher employees) to continue the legacy of the game by organizing tournaments and developing new “virtual cards expansions” distributed online for free to print out and expand the card pool keeping the game meta competitive and fresh. In the years prior to the de-canonization of the EU, the Players Committee used inspiration from the EU such as The Force Unleashed and The Clone Wars to create cards for these virtual expansion sets. At present, the game still has a very active player base and the Players Committee still holds events and maintains https://www.starwarsccg.org/ which has a wealth of additional information about the game, including a complete card list of all expansions, and resources for how you can get started playing either in-person or on the GEMP online version of the game at https://gemp.starwarsccg.org/gemp-swccg/. I recommend picking up the Death Star II preconstructed starter decks or either the Premiere or Empire Strikes Back two-player introductory games for new players to try out.