The design and layout of the Star Wars CCG was very realistic and interesting, capturing the look and feel of the franchise at the time.
Before Wizards of the Coast clamped down on the use of the term CCG, or collectible card game, many CCGs flooded the market in search of a piece of Magic the Gathering's glory. Very few of these card games brought anything new to the table (though there were some notably good CCGs during this time). One game stands out in my mind as being the best of the lot, and that is Decipher's Star Wars CCG (Customizable Card Game). Other than Magic the Gathering itself, I hold this game as being the best CCG of the time, and one of the best of all time.
The Star Wars CCG Introductory Two-Player Boxed Set had everything you needed to play a great game with your friends.
Even with its faults, the game had an uncanny ability to produce thematic gameplay, telling a story with each card played. Unlike many CCGs of its time, the game borrows very few, if any ideas from Magic the Gathering. Your resources were represented by drawing cards faced down from the deck, into a "Force Pile", based on the number of Force Icons you controlled on the board. Force is spent to play cards from your hand, placing these faced-down supply of Force cards into your "Used Pile" to be recirculated into your deck later. So you draw cards and pay "Force" to play them. And most of them are either characters with abilities or cards with abilities. That's about where the similarities with Magic the Gathering end.
Decipher's Achievement in Story Telling With Cards
What I love about the design of the Star Wars CCG is the thematic, storytelling brought on by the cards themselves during gameplay. In this game, the card's game text often represents the character of the cards themselves. Magic the Gathering is rather good at this as well, but Star Wars CCG takes this to a greater level. One player plays as the The Dark Side (Empire), the other as the Light Side (Rebels), so each player uses totally different cards. The Dark Side and Light Side cards adhere to the lore quite well, with the Dark Side being more overtly powerful, having the best large star ships and weapons, and the Light Side featuring (potentially) the best characters, pilots, and smaller ships.
This game captures many details that other games of its kind don't often attempt, but does so in a way that is not overly cumbersome for the player. In the game, planets have a distance between each other, so your ships have from one planet or system to another (some being faster at doing this than others). Locations within a planet is also featured in this game, so battles can take place among the stars or within notable areas featured in the movies. Vehicles can transport your heroes from one location to another. Weapons are used to take out enemy targets in combat. You "Draw Destiny" to get the edge in battles involving force users (and those attuned to the force). The rules attempted, I believe successfully, to create a Star Wars adventure with every game.
The game was very ambitious in what it allowed players to do. A memorable card, "Attack Run", sought to recreate the epic scene from the first film by allowing the Rebel player to attempt to blow up the Death Star. The Dagobah expansion introduced Jedi Tests cards, enabling players to attempt to complete Luke's rigorous Jedi training, using different characters if you'd like. Likewise, the Dark Side has its own cards like these, where you can attempt to blow up an entire planet using the Death Star or freeze a hero in carbonite at Cloud City. One would think that including these concepts within the game would be too clunky, but they were woven rather seamlessly into the game quite well. When my friends and I would discuss a game afterwords, it felt like we were telling a story more than recapping gameplay.
Star Wars CCG Wasn't Perfect, But It Was Perfectly Imperfect
When it came to deck building, Star Wars CCG could be challenging. As with most CCGs and TCGs, Star Wars CCG had its fair share of broken cards. One that comes to mind is the Trooper Assault card, a card that I was brutally introduced to at the one and only tournament I attended back in the day. There may be strategic ways around that card, but it decked me rather quickly. Other cards gave you insane card advantage, and so on, but overall I would say Star Wars CCG was far more balanced than Magic the Gathering.
Star Wars CCG featured a rather strange way of attempting balance. Cards often had abilities that matched the theme of the card, sometimes to its detriment. Some cards are so specific in the situation that they could be used in that they were dubbed "silver bullets"; that is cards that solve a problem brought on by other, questionably overpowered cards. Many cards would mention other cards by name within the game text, making their application quite limited in most every situation. The only reason someone would use these cards would be to hose what their opponent is specifically trying to do with their deck build. That doesn't fly well in many gaming circles unless the group is made up of Timmys and sweat lords.
So I would imagine local meta scenes were full of arms races, where players would stock their deck with silver bullet cards to cancel each other's key strategies. Or, perhaps these cards were ignored entirely, as they are so specific that you may find yourself never having a use for most of the time you draw them. But I never ascended to high levels of play but was quite a casual player, despite playing often. And it has been many years, so my brain is a potato these days, but that's how I remember it.
Star Wars CCG featured a great many iterations of the same characters, offering a variety of game text. This is the Empire Strikes Back version of Princess Leia.
Why Star Wars CCG Belongs In Your Collection
If you're like me, you probably collect everything Star Wars (within budget, that is). You maybe even suffer through some of Disney's 'missteps' with the franchise, eagerly awaiting the next hit show or game. My wife and I collect Star Wars Black Series, Star Wars Helmets, the more common action figures, and statues (including our prized possession, the life-sized Grogu from Sideshow). But why should you collect, or at least own a set of the old Decipher Star Wars cards? They're not really worth that much money. They can easily be purchased on eBay. What's the big deal?
Well, my wife and I collect Star Wars stuff that we find interesting, not necessarily because of value. I don't feel like, in most cases, buying Star Wars collectibles purely for their value is a good approach to collecting. There are much better ways to invest your money for the future, ways that don't require you to keep your investments in perfect, unscratched condition. We, of course, keep our collectibles in such conditions because we want them to be in good condition. And the products we sell on here are shipped with this in mind. Like I've said before, collecting because it's fun, collecting what you like because you like it, that's the key. What brings you joy? Collect it.
The Star Wars CCG is a classic, highly entertaining game that, from what I can tell, will never come around again. Decipher has moved on to other projects, and there have been several Star Wars card games released since this gem was first brought out back in 1995. The Star Wars licensing seems to be well within Fantasy Flight's grasp (and they are doing some pretty awesome games with it). There still remains an online following for the game, with players playing the game virtually via Tabletop Simulator, and other such platforms. This is one of those games that you should snatch up while it's still available before it becomes lost to time.
- Jay C. Shepherd
- Content Creator
- Jay is a graphic designer, board game enthusiast, and professional wrestling fan who loves all things 80's, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and of course, video games. He is one of the rare few that believes that one can be a Trekkie and Star Wars fan at the same time.