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Anatomy of Failure: Star Wars CCG

 
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angelfromanotherpin
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Joined: 07 Mar 2008
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 12:52 am    Post subject: Anatomy of Failure: Star Wars CCG Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List



December 1995

A NEW FAIL

It is a dark time for collectible card games. The pioneer
MAGIC: THE GATHERING is stagnating as both a game
and as a product. Riding its coat-tails, thirty-eight new
CCGs have entered the market this year.

Most of them hilarious crap.

Players and retailers alike are awaiting the arrival of a
titanic IP on the CCG scene. Its name alone will save
guarantee short-term financial success, but will it escape
the pitfalls of rushed production and poorly-understood
design principles that afflict so many of its brethren?

No.
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 3:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

In my B5CCG AoF thread, I said I was going to get to this game if no one beat me to it, so here it is. This game had a seriously parabolic arc to it. It started off as an incredible pointless mess, became a really pretty good but byzantine game, and then plummeted into shitastrophe and then demise. Let's start with the first part.


Bullshit #1: The Original Game is a Pile of WTF
There's no getting around it, this game spent literal years as a pile of rando crap. The first six sets (Premiere, A New Hope, Hoth, Dagobah, Cloud City, and Jabba's Palace), taking us into early 1998, have a gameplay flow that could be described as aimless.


Not that kind of aimless.

Let me talk a bit about some of the core mechanics.
1. One player had a light side deck, and the other had a dark side deck. In a tournament you'd bring one of each and play two rounds against each opponent, which wasn't a bad way to handle it. Light and Dark cards had different backs and didn't mix at all.

2. You won the game by completely depleting your opponent's deck and hand.

3. There were location cards, and those locations had light and dark side icons. Those icons gave their respective player game currency, and allowed that player to deploy forces there, but also made them vulnerable to drain there.

4. Drain was an abstract mechanic representing 'winning,' and when one player drained another, it milled some cards from their deck/hand. You could only drain where you had forces and your opponent had none, so one of the key objectives of the combat mechanic was removing enemy forces to enable your own drains.

4. The other baseline way to mill your opponent's deck was to win fights in a big way. The more you won a fight by, the more damage your opponent took, and if they couldn't (or wouldn't) satisfy all the damage by removing their units, they lost cards to make up the difference.

This created a kind of interesting tension, where you wanted to spread your forces out so you could drain at many locations, but you also wanted to concentrate your forces so you would win fights big and not lose them big.

But here's the thing. Until mid-1998, that was basically the entire game. People would try to draw the good characters, and put them places, and win fights, and there was no rhyme or reason to it. The incentives and mechanisms for doing Star Wars things in Star Wars places were almost non-existent, and in some cases anti-existent. Some examples:
Click here to see the hidden message (It might contain spoilers)

You weren't fighting over strategic or thematic goals, you were fighting over whichever locations players happened to have put in their decks because they had slightly advantageous rules text.


Hey look, the incentive is to not blow it up.

Bullshit #2: Spam, Spam, Spam
This era of the game was also characterized by spamming certain cards. The game had no limit on how many copies of a card you could put in a deck, and some cards got very irritating when they dropped over and over and over again.
Click here to see the hidden message (It might contain spoilers)


Bullshit #3: Elaborate Inconsequential Subsystems
Early on, this game had no discipline at all when it came to creating new subsystems, which usually involved a seemingly innocuous piece of text that actually pointed to a bloated chunk of text in the latest version of the rulebook. What was worse was that most of these subsystems were almost completely pointless.
e.g. Undercover
Click here to see the hidden message (It might contain spoilers)
It's a lot of text for a mechanic I never saw used or contemplated using, and there were a lot of effects in the same vein. You could fly the Falcon into an asteroid field to try to outrun capital ships, but the circumstances under which you would want to were so narrow as to be completely negligible.

Special Mention: 'Humor'
The writers of the game were clearly having some fun with it. Sometimes this was actually amusing.


More often it was infuriating.

Unwritten text: slow gameplay to a crawl.


The Star Wars CCG was born at the end of 1995 and died at the end of 2001. For ~1/3 of its lifetime, it languished as a thing that could be played, but was only a confused parasite on its IP, theme and mechanics badly dissociated. That would change with the transformative seventh set, the Special Edition.
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JonSetanta
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 3:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I still have my Empire deck. Tons of star destroyers and space ships, some blank-ability named characters, etc.
The guns all attach to the mooks making this the first printing of the game.

The cards are worth jack shit on the market.
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2017 4:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The Design Strikes Back

I don't know who at Decipher was responsible for turning this game around, but they did a heroic job. Did the game still have problems? Absolutely. But a lot of the biggest issues got addressed, and the play experience improved dramatically.

Anti-Bullshit #1: Objectives
When the game first came out, each player only got to start with one location card in play. The Special Edition rulebook let you start with an Objective instead. And you did, because they were great! Objectives might be my favorite CCG thing ever. Let's look at an example.

An Objective is a double-sided card. It starts with its 'zero' side face-up.

The zero side puts a number of cards into play, has some sort of effects, and includes a condition that will flip the card to its reverse side.

This particular card puts into play a prison location, a Leia imprisoned there, the location you have to get Leia to, and associated docking bays that make getting from the Death Star to Yavin 4 pretty easy. Its effects are to prevent you from putting certain cards on the Death Star, to make cards that release prisoners uncounterable, to prevent you from playing a Nabrun Leids, a teleport-effect card that would trivialize the rescue operation, and to remove itself from play if Leia is removed as a battle casualty.

To flip the card you have to move Leia to her destination, but as a prisoner she can't leave by herself, and trying would most likely result in her being removed as a casualty and scrapping the objective. So you have to put together a team, send them in to get her, and then fight their way out again. In short, exactly the kind of thematic Star Wars gameplay that was missing previously. Also, the Dark Side player has a strong incentive to make the rescue as difficult as possible, because the reward on the other side is crazy go nuts.


I'm not going to go into the details; it's a series of combat buffs that will make the Dark Side player's life very difficult.

Here's a very popular Dark Side objective that also addresses some of the spam plays.

Thematically, this punishes your opponent for not having Obi-Wan or Luke (or a version of Leia) where you can easily send Vader to get them, and rewards you for getting them with Vader. It's pretty awesome. But it also hoses Sense and Alter, and self-destructs if you play Scanning Crew (a spam card that would also be pretty unfair in this situation).

Objectives reshaped the entire game. Previously, a deck had been about exploiting particular card interactions; now they were about playing variations on cool moments from the source material. You'd show up with a Jedi Training deck and a Death Star deck, and your opponent would show up with a Hidden Base deck and a Carbonite Freezing deck, and you'd get some really interesting interactions. Sometimes you'd get a directly opposed match, like a Death Star/Blow up the Death Star clash, and things would be fraught.

They even started to print more support for stormtroopers.


So all was well, right? Well, mostly.


Anti-Bullshit #2 + Bullshit #4: Ban No Ban & the Arcane References
The Magic bans of '94 must have been really unpopular. I remember the old L5R ad that boasted 'Zero Banned, Zero Restricted.' Anyway, Decipher had a firm commitment to never explicitly banning any SWCCG cards, no matter how stupid or bad for the game they were. Instead, they implicitly banned those cards with effects on other cards.

In the Death Star II set, they introduced Starting Interrupts. Now you could start the game with either a Location or Objective, and a Starting Interrupt in addition. The original Starting Interrupts just searched your deck for some Effects and put them in play.


And at the same time, cards like this showed up.

Oh look, it's a card with a small but meaningful effect that also happens to hard counter two of the most notorious spam cards in the game. If you showed up with a traditional package of 10-15 of either of those, they became blank and you lost super hard. The opportunity cost to playing Your Insight Serves You Well was so low that anyone who hated the cards it blanked (spoiler: almost everyone) could drop it in and create an environment where Scanning Crew and 3720 To 1 weren't banned, but might as well have been.

What the fuck, right? It's like the worst of both worlds. The people who'd have been mad about an outright ban weren't fooled by the 'stealth' ban, they got mad anyway. Also, it clogged the design space for some of the otherwise best sets with cards whose only real purpose was fixing previous bad cards, allowing those bad cards to project their badness forward in time.

Finally, it was very off-putting to new players. If you got into the game after Death Star II dropped, you might never know that Insert Odds decks, or Scaninator decks, or other similar nonsense, ever existed. And you'd be better off for not knowing. But you'd also be mystified by the prolific references to old weird cards that nobody seemed to play. SWCCG was never the most accessible game, and the not-ban cards made it worse.

I mean, the most important thing was that the stupidest cards stopped being played and the less-stupid but still abusable cards were much reduced in their abuse. It was a worthy goal that was accomplished in a dumb way.

In a similar vein, they also refused to explicitly errata cards. When it turned out that the Rescue the Princess objective was overly vulnerable to losing Leia and self-destructing, they printed this:

About half that text is errata for another card.


Before the Dark Times, Before the Prequels
The year 2000 was the height of the game. The environment was diverse and robust; and play was thoughtful, thematic, and exciting. It wasn't perfect, but it was a good time. The Death Star II set had swept away the last remnants of the old stupidity, and the Reflections II set did a very creditable job of introducing popular Extended Universe elements without getting stupid over everything.

Strong, but not fanboy overpowered.

Then the Phantom Menace ruined everything. Predictable, really.
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"Now that we've determined that up to π angels can dance on the head of a pin, how do we determine the specific number (or fraction) of angels dancing?"
"What if angels from another pin engage them in melee combat?"
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Zaranthan
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 7:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I imagine there were at least a few incidents of some poor newbie buying a couple Scanning Crews because they look good and "this guy was selling them super cheap!" only to later realize what Your Insight actually does.
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