A titan of an IP enters the collectible card game industry in a post-pandemic world; what's it about, and why should you care?
One of the biggest releases in the tabletop industry is a release of a new expandable card game, and the next big one is on the horizon. Star Wars: Unlimited brings the timeless sci-fi franchise to the tabletop, complete with iconic characters, stylized aesthetics, and modern game design. It is sure to please kids and adults, collectors and players, and franchise fans.
I am a Star Wars buff myself, so I have been watching the rollout of news surrounding this game for several months now with great interest. I cut my teeth on card games growing up and really value a tight game that offers poignant decision-making and exciting moments. Unsurprisingly, Star Wars: Unlimited fell under my scrutiny, and I am hoping it meets (or, knock on wood, exceeds) my expectations.
This all begs the questions: What do we know about SWU so far, and why should we care about this game?
Who is Unlimited for?
SWU is published by Fantasy Flight Games, known for some of the most prolific non-collectible card games from the past 15 years. These games were released in what was called a “core set”, a large box that looked like a board game that contained a smattering of cards that gave players a taste of the wide variety of intricate mechanics found within the few hundred cards contained within. These games were often riddled with theme and story, bound within dense rules text on each card and lurking behind an imposing set of two or even three rulebooks. Fantasy Flight targeted existing board gamers and longtime card gamers with these engrossing titles; these games were, in a word, “complicated.”
Star Wars: Unlimited appears to flip the old Fantasy Flight script. The core rules of the game are easy to describe in a few paragraphs, favoring simple decisions. The flow of the game is simple, much like Magic: the Gathering or Lorcana, but the text on cards gives them strategic dimension. These form a recipe for a game with a low-to-moderate learning curve; most everyone who sets out to learn the game should not have a problem doing so.
The card text is not overly simplified, however, unlike other competitor games like Lorcana or Pokemon. Furthermore, it looks like gameplay will involve more than “play my favorite characters”. With this in mind, I wouldn’t go much younger than 10 years old for even experienced game-playing kids; I think you will have the most success playing this with your kids if they are in 7th grade or older.
What is the game like?
The basic framework of the game is a combination of tried-and-true elements. Certainly not what I would call innovative, but I also don’t think a collectible game with widespread appeal should be charting new territory.
Players build a deck from their collection of cards that centers around a “Leader”. This card represents that omnipresent character that shapes the fate of the galaxy in the movies and shows, and likewise will shape how you build your deck and which cards you opt to include. Each player also has a “Base”, a recognizable location that serves as your opponent’s win condition. Do enough damage to an opponent’s base and you will knock them out of the game.
Gameplay is a revolving door of fast-paced actions. Players can take a single action on their turn, such as playing a card or attacking with a character. Then it is back to your opponent to respond, and you continue to alternate. After each player has done all that they wish to do, the phase ends, and so players reset their play areas and draw into new cards for the next phase. This reads as very interactive on paper, ping-ponging back and forth to exploit an opening or surprise your opponent with an ambush.
Importantly, the game seems to support multiplayer games, which is notable because the most popular format of Magic the Gathering is the multiplayer format Commander. I suspect this will be a mainstay of casual games and friend groups, with temporary allegiances being formed and subsequently broken as play spins around the table.
Most of the interaction in the game comes on the back of Units, cards that represent soldiers, vehicles, starships, and characters. Ground units are deployed in the Ground Arena, and Space units are deployed in the Space Arena. Intuitively, units can only interact with other units in the same arena. I imagine most decks will want a balance between ships and soldiers so as to not leave a vulnerable opening for opponents to exploit; if I can’t take out your squadron of TIE fighters, there’s nothing to stop them from raining lasers on my base.
What if I just enjoy collecting the cards?
SWU is a collectible card game, meaning the primary way to purchase cards are in randomized booster packs. You are already familiar with how this works, and you know if you enjoy it or not. Some gamers feel the random card pulls limit their ability to play the exact decks they enjoy; conversely, the excitement of cracking a rare or valuable card is undeniably infectious.
Fantasy Flight has already described in detail the kinds of card treatments and pull rates we can expect from the initial release. The Cliffs Notes version is this: Each pack has a guaranteed Rare or Legendary card, as well as a foil card that could be any rarity. Cards might have an additional fancier treatment called a Hyperspace variant that extends the art to full bleed, which could be in any pack. Both foil and Hyperspace cards should be sought after.
The chase-iest of chase cards in a set will likely be the Showcase Leaders. These feature entirely new artwork, again full-bleed, and serve as the gorgeous centerpiece to your deck. Who wouldn’t want one?
The math behind the pull rates should result in sought-after cards being reasonably scarce, ensuring the value of cards being maintained after a set’s release. It also means that many boxes will have to be opened to get the “cardboard bling”, meaning attaining singles should be relatively affordable for those looking to fill out their decks with specific cards.
The art style is notable as well. Long-time tabletop fans know that Fantasy Flight has a deep archive of photo-realistic artwork for Star Wars, but SWU features comic-book-esque illustrations that are eye-catching and refreshing. Instantly you will recognize that SWU artwork is different from any other source; I’m quite pleased to see a departure from the otherwise saturated markets of anime card games and Star Wars merchandise.
When does SWU come out?
We are expecting the first release to hit shelves in March of 2024. The organized play program appears to be pretty robust, mimicking the most successful card games on the market. We will definitely have a wave of release events and hope to add Star Wars: Unlimited meetups to our in-store calendar. We are already hearing lots of interested members of our community ask about hosting games in our store. All this bodes well for Star Wars: Unlimited and playing in an established community in 2024 and beyond.
Overall, I am quite impressed with the package that Fantasy Flight has pulled together, and I am quite optimistic for both the fun of the game and the momentum of the community moving forward.
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