Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game Review

Fantasy Flight Games is widely known for its popular Living Card Games (or LCGs) genre such as Marvel Champions and Arkham Horror: The Card Game that give you all the thrill of deckbuilding and battling that you’d expect out of a traditional collectible card game like Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon, but without the hassle of buying booster packs to get that one card you need to complete a deck. Instead, there’s a mandatory core set and a number of optional themed expansions and character packs that contain the same cards for everyone, leading to a more consistent experience for all players.

Fantasy Flight’s latest card game takes a slight detour from the standard LCG fare and is instead a standalone deckbuilding experience set in the Star Wars universe, aptly named Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game (see it on Amazon). Designed specifically for two player head-to-head combat, Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game allows you to take control of the Empire or the Rebel Alliance to strategically recruit allies and accumulate resources with the ultimate goal of destroying a number of your opponent’s bases.

What makes Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game different from other preconstructed card games is that each player starts with the same base set of ten cards and assembles their deck during the course of the game. This means every game can be wildly different from the last depending on which cards are available, as well as your overall strategy.

What’s in the Box

Inside the rather compact box you’ll find two 10-card starter decks – one for the Rebel Alliance and one for the Empire. Each deck serves as a basic structure to get you started that you’ll look to enhance during gameplay. Both decks feature identical card effects, with the only difference being alternate artwork to fit their chosen faction.

There is also a shared deck of 90 Galaxy cards that feature Rebel, Empire, and neutral cards that both players will draw through during the course of the game. This deck contains the majority of cards both players will seek to acquire to bolster their decks. Additionally, there’s another smaller shared deck of 10 Outer Rim Pilot cards that can be used in the early game to accumulate more resources – more on that later.

Each faction also includes 10 Base cards spanning a number of iconic locations from throughout the Star Wars universe including Tatooine, Endor, Hoth, Alderaan, Coruscant, Mustafar, Yavin 4, and the Death Star. Aside from their mandatory starting location, each player can choose which bases they want to use during the game, depending on their overall strategy. These additional bases are kept secret from the opponent, often leading to a bit of surprise in the latter parts of the game.

The last few items in the box include the Balance of the Force track, two reference cards, 50 damage counters, 20 resource counters, and a Force marker. All in all, it’s a fairly light box in terms of components which makes for easy setup and teardown.

Rules and How to Play

The goal of Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game is simple – destroy all of your enemy’s bases before they destroy yours. This is accomplished through strategic deckbuilding and combat using the allies and resources you’ve accumulated during the game.

Each player begins by choosing their faction, either the Rebel Alliance or the Empire, and gathering their 10-card starter deck and corresponding bases. As previously mentioned, the starter decks feature identical card effects, with the only difference being the artwork. This gives both players an identical starting point and allows them to build in the direction they see fit, while taking into account factors such as available cards and their opponent’s strategy.

The goal is simple – destroy all of your enemy’s bases before they destroy yours.

After both players have their starter decks and bases, the Galaxy deck is shuffled and the top six cards are revealed to create the Galaxy Row. This shared space features cards from both factions – as well as neutral cards – that players can acquire if they have the appropriate number of resources. The Outer Rim Pilot deck is also placed near Galaxy Row as an additional source of allies that both players can add to their decks.

The Balance of the Force Track is also set up next to Galaxy Row in reach of both players. This small folding track indicates which player is currently more attuned with the Force at any given moment during the game. This is important as certain cards gain additional effects if you currently have the Force on your faction’s side. To begin the game, the Rebel player starts with the Force all the way on their side. Lastly, the purple damage counters and yellow resource counters are placed off to the side within reach of both players.

Each player draws five cards from their deck to create their starting hand. Since the Rebel players begin with the Force, the Empire always takes the first turn of the game. Players also agree on the total number of bases that must be defeated in order to claim victory (the recommended number of bases is four). And with that, you’re ready to play.

There are two main types of cards players will encounter in the Galaxy Deck: standard unit cards that feature characters or vehicles and capital ships. The artwork on the cards is beautifully detailed and includes over 100 iconic characters such as Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Boba Fett, Grand Moff Tarkin, Cassian Andor, and many, many more.

All cards have a cost, indicated by a yellow number in the top left corner, that must be paid in resources. Below the cost are numbers accompanied by three unique icons that indicate attack power, resource generation, and Force generation. Most cards only feature one or two, but more powerful characters can include all three. Capital ships also feature their total health in a purple circle near the bottom of the card, similar to bases. These cards are important as they act as a line of defense between your currently active base and your opponent’s forces.

The center of the card features the unit or capital ship’s name with its unique effect printed below. Many of the card effects are cleverly thematic to the character itself, like Boba Fett drawing a card as an extra “reward” when bounty hunting a card in Galaxy Row, or the Jawas being able to “scavenge” cards from the Galaxy Row’s discard pile as if they were available to purchase.

On the bottom of each unit card is a reward for defeating it, as well as its health, printed upside down. This is intentional, as cards in Galaxy Row are oriented towards the faction that they belong to. For example, Rebel cards will always face the Rebel player as they can’t be added to the Empire player’s deck. However, the reward and health total for that specific card face the Empire player so they can easily read the information if they decide they want to attack that specific unit.

Many of the card effects are cleverly thematic to the character itself.

During each turn, you can perform a number of actions as frequently as you’d like and in any order. These actions include: playing a card from your hand, spending resources to purchase a card from Galaxy Row, using an ability on one of your cards, committing units to an attack on the opposing player or one of their cards in Galaxy Row, and finally, resolve an attack.

Cards in your deck don’t have any “mana” cost to play and are discarded at the end of each turn, so you’re encouraged to play everything in your hand, if possible. Early cards generate resources when played that you can use to purchase more powerful cards from Galaxy Row. Once acquired, these cards are added to your discard pile. When your deck runs out, you shuffle your discard pile to create a new deck. Early on, you’ll be shuffling every couple turns or so, but as you add to your deck you’ll have more to draw through.

Some cards in your deck have attack values that you can use to directly attack your opponent’s base, while other cards will generate Force for your faction, allowing you to move the Force marker one space closer to your faction’s side. While the Force is all the way on your side, you’ll gain an additional resource each turn that you can use to acquire more units and capital ships from Galaxy Row. Certain cards gain additional benefits from having the Force on your faction’s side, so it’s important to always keep an eye on its current location during the game. The Balance of the Force track creates a small metagame of tug of war between you and your opponent that adds an interesting dynamic to the overall game.

If you choose to commit your units to an attack, you can either choose to attack your opponent, or one of their cards in Galaxy Row. If you choose to attack your opponent, you must always attack their Capital ship if they have one before engaging with their current base. Alternatively, you can attack one of their cards in Galaxy Row. As long as your unit’s attack is higher than the unit’s health in Galaxy Row, it is defeated. Not only can you gain the reward printed on the card, but it also removes a potentially beneficial card from your opponent’s overall pool of cards that they might want to add to their deck. This creates some interesting strategy as you’re racing to purchase the best cards for your deck before your opponent potentially sabotages your plans.

The Balance of the Force track creates a small metagame of tug of war between you and your opponent.

At the end of each turn, you must discard all remaining cards in your hand, as well as any units you committed to attacks during your turn and any unspent resources. The only cards that remain in your play area are any remaining Capital ships and your current base. Then, you draw five new cards from your deck and pass the turn to your opponent. The limited availability of units and resources creates a “use it or lose it” mentality that’s very different from many other competitive card games and also keeps the game moving at a steady clip.

Play continues back and forth until one of the players’ bases are defeated. The player who initiated the attack claims the base as a reward, while the opposing player chooses a new base to deploy from their deck of base cards. Each base is vastly different from the others, with some featuring higher overall health and a slightly weaker effect versus lower health and a more powerful effect that can help you in the moment. This creates a level of variability that can shift the overall tempo of the game and potentially help you make up some ground if you are behind. Once all of a given player’s bases are defeated (usually four, but you can play up to 10 if you want a much longer game), then the game is finished and a victor is declared.

For your first game, it’s recommended that you play to three bases and use a preset deck of five bases to choose from during gameplay. These preselected bases feature effects that are a bit simpler to understand for your first game, and the slightly reduced base count ensures your first game can be completed quickly. My first playthrough took about an hour, but subsequent games went much smoother as I became more familiar with the rules. Most of my later games were completed in about 45 minutes, despite having higher base counts.

Despite being fairly quick games, there’s definitely some pacing issues. Because the deckbuilding experience is akin to a light engine building game like Splendor, the early turns feel a bit like you’re going through the motions. The fact that both players have identical starting decks doesn’t help to differentiate the gameplay early on, either. Things really ramp up after the second base falls, though, and it really feels like an all-out war is happening. I found playing to four bases felt the best, as you really got to feel powerful and savor it a bit before the game ends, unlike other engine builders that end just as you’re reaching your full potential.

Most of my later games were completed in about 45 minutes, despite having higher base counts.

As with most card games, your experience is very dependent on card draw. However, since you’re essentially drawing from two decks (your own deck and the shared Galaxy deck), things can quickly begin to snowball if luck isn’t in your favor. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate some of the RNG you’ll encounter with your own deck. One of the keywords featured on some of the cards is Exile, which allows you to permanently remove one of your cards from the game. While this may seem counterintuitive in a game centered around building a deck, the concept of “thinning” your deck ensures that each card you draw is more impactful.

However, Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game’s biggest design issue lies within Galaxy Row itself. The idea of a shared pool of cards to draft from is unique, but if one player doesn’t get their faction cards to show up for an extended period of time, it can feel oppressive. Not only is your opponent strengthening their deck, they can basically ignore Galaxy Row and start attacking your base while you’re stuck waiting for meaningful cards to show up. They can effectively lock you out of progressing your deck by not purchasing any additional cards and forcing you to defeat their faction cards to (hopefully) make space for your own while they continue piling on the damage to your base. Not to mention, getting some of your faction’s most powerful cards (such as Darth Vader for the Empire or Luke Skywalker for the Rebels) early on can really swing the game in your favor, while leaving your opponent feeling helpless if they don’t have access to any of their heavy hitters yet.

The fact that Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game is a self-contained experience is both a blessing and a curse. Having a complete game with so many iconic characters all in one box is great as you don’t have to keep up with ongoing expansions and character packs, but with only 30 unique cards per faction in the Galaxy deck (in addition to the 30 neutral cards), games can sometimes feel a bit predictable. Despite all the characters and locations in this box, there’s still so much left to explore in the vast Star Wars galaxy that could be added in the future. I’d love to see new factions such as the Republic and Separatists from the prequels, or the Resistance and First Order from the sequels.

If you find things getting stale after a while, Fantasy Flight Games includes some additional game modes and optional rules to spice things up in the back of the rulebook. For instance, you can play with all 10 bases for an extended game, or implement a rule that allows you to “pay off” neutral faction cards that show up in Galaxy Row, allowing you to cycle in better cards without needing to add the card to your deck if you don’t want it. There’s even a 4-player variant that allows you to battle it out between two teams, although it requires an additional copy of the game.

Where to Buy

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