By Rodger Moss
It's funny to me how much the collectable card game or customizable card game (CCG)/trading card game (TCG} hobby has changed over the last twenty or so years (that was 1997). At this point, it's time to check my gray hair count. Magic the Gathering (MTG) was four years old. The gaming community just began dealing with the CCG/TCG boom that MTG had created. There was Star Wars, Vampire the Eternal Struggle, even Alien vs. Predator CCG. Hundreds of card games flooded the market. It was an odd time to be a gamer. Every property you could imagine got the cardboard treatment. Thinking back on this period in time, I thought we as geeks could take a trip down 90's memory lane by revisiting some of the forgotten card games of the past, most of which I played. Let's discuss the good, the bad, and the 'Just...No.” games of the past in the CCG/TCG hobby. A 'Just...No.' example that immediately comes to mind is Decipher's game Boy Crazy. That's right, they made a card game where the object was to find the perfect boy to date.
For me, the cardboard crack started not with Magic the Gathering as most players. My addiction began with one of the most successful games of all times. A game that outsold MTG at it's height...Star Wars CCG. It was Christmas 1996 and I was fully dependent on Star Wars CCG. The prequels were still a few years away. More than anything, I wanted a way to play out the battles I saw in the movies. I owned West Ends Star Wars RPG third edition but I could not get my friends to take the plunge into my realm of nerdom. On Christmas my whole family gathered at my grandmother's house. We exchanged presents which took time as I have a large family. I remembering this particular Christmas being knee deep in socks and jeans when this small, rectangular box was thrusted at me.
It was too small to be a shirt, another pair of pants, yet too big to be socks or underwear. I shook it for a second, listing to the strange sounds that came from this mysteriously shaped block. It was definitely not candy or a puzzle. I checked the tag, it was from my cousin, Mike. This made me excited, I knew it had to be good. At this point, I was all in. Was it dice? Mike knew how badly I need a set. Maybe it was a new six button controller for my Sega. Finally I would rule the street fighter matches. I ripped the gift open with no regard for the wrapping paper or the funny little bow on top. I saw 'Star Wars' from the first rip and I knew something good was coming. After another 10 seconds I had my present fully unwrapped. I ran my eyes over the box. There was Luke and Vader. The Star Wars Customizable Card Game introductory two player box. At first I was confused. What the hell was a customizable card game? After lunch, Mike and I headed to the spare room and slowly learned how to play a game that would forever change my life. I'll touch base more on that later, lets dig into the Star Wars CCG for a little while.
The Star Wars Customizable Card Game was published by Decipher games from 1995-2001. It was desgined by Tom Branlich, Rollie Tesh, and Jerry Darcy. The game had 12 expansions, covering the original trilogy of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and the prequileThe Phantom Menece. Unlike every other card game, 2 sixty card decks were required to play in a tournement of Light Side and Dark Side. This made it impossible to play against your deck, which was something unseen in the CCG/TCG hobby at this time.
“The action of the game occurs at various "Location" cards (both interstellar and planet-bound) familiar from the Star Wars Universe. Locations can be deployed as the game progresses; furthermore, most locations come in both Dark and Light-side flavors, and an on-the-table location can be "converted" (changed to the other side) at any time. Most locations affect game play in some way; all also provide "Force icons," which represent the amount of "Force" a player can activate per turn.
Force is the game's resource, similar to "mana" from Magic however, it is executed quite differently and is the game's defining trait. Each unit of "Force" is simply a card from the top of a player's deck, placed off to one side in the "Force Pile." When used to deploy something, each unit of Force is placed on another pile, the "Used Pile," which then cycles back to the bottom of the deck. Unused Force remains in the Force Pile, and can be conserved for the next turn or drawn into hand. The objective of the game is to force the opponent to discard all of their Life Force (consisting of Reserve Deck, Force pile and Used pile). This is accomplished via "Force Drains" (forcing the opponent to discard cards by controlling, unopposed, a location with their Force Icons on it), battling opposing characters, and resolving certain climactic situations (for instance, freezing a character in carbonite, winning a pod race, dueling a Jedi).
The game system also features "Destiny draws," which represents the elements of chance, uncertainty, luck, random chance and the Force. Each card has a destiny number, from 0 to 7, at the top-right corner (except locations, which count as destiny 0), and rather than using dice for generating random numbers, players "draw destiny" from the top of their deck, revealing the top card and using its destiny number as the result. This is used for a variety of purposes, from determining weapon hits to mandatory losses your opponent incurred to resolving whether a character passes a Jedi Test. The drawn Destiny card goes to the Used Pile and is recycled into the deck. Through this system, a skillful player can legally count cards, remembering where the high-destiny cards are in the deck. Finally, the stronger (or rarer) cards generally had lower Destiny values (though there were exceptions); as a result, less-experienced (or economically challenged) players are more likely to find that "The Force is with them."
While Decipher oversaw the game, no card was ever banned from tournament play. Instead, when a card or strategy was deemed abusive or too powerful, Decipher chose to release "magic bullets," new cards which were specifically designed to counter the offending strategy. In some cases, Decipher also used errata, modifications to game text of a card that supersede the actual printed version. The use of errata also contributes to a steep learning curve, since players need to be aware of the current meta-game at all times.” “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars_Customizable_Card_Game”
As a strong tournament scene from local game stores all the way to a national championship held yearly, the Star Wars Customizable Card Game was a force to be reckoned with. Having hundreds of deck stratagies and new mechanics it seemed that this game would never go away. For many years this was the case. Then something happened, Star Wars got a new trilogy. Decipher held the rights for the first movie of the prequel trilogy and then it was over. Not because the game sales had dipped or the product was lacking in quality, but because there was one thing that even Decipher could not compete with. Wizards of the Coast, now owned by Hasbro (who had the rights to toys - the big money maker for Lucas), wanted the rights. It's reported that Decipher offered more money than it cost to make Episode I.
With that, the game came to an end. For many it was the end of a hobby, for some just an era. For me, I had long stepped away from the Star Wars Customizable Card Game and card games in general. The game can still be played online and new product is released by the SWCCG Player committee. They even host a national championship tournament every year.
For my friends and I, the Star Wars CCG was our first (but not the last CCG). We would spend countless afternoons and summer nights stopping sith lords or squashing a rebellion. We lived the movies, fought with our heros and villians, as well as created new chapters in a saga that touched all of our lives.
In 2004, Decipher tried to have lighting strike twice when they released Wars TCG. This was a game that used the same rules but reskinned for a sci-fi futuristic earth. The game had quite a bit of buzz when it was announced, however in April of 2005, the game was put on hold. Not long after, Decipher closed it's doors. Thus leaving a lasting legacy of games Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings just to name a few.
In November of 1997, I went to my first Star Wars Customizable Card Game tournament. Keep in mind I had never changed my deck from the two player set. I mean, why would I? Both decks came with Luke and Vader. I had also kicked the crap out of all my freinds, so I was certain there was no way I could lose. When I first walked into Games Craft Hobbies and Stuff, I was in awe of all the CCG/TCG which lay crammed into a retooled book shelf. I was further stunned by the four different sets of Star Wars expansions. I finally understood what cutomizable stood for in CCG upon viewing the black, blue, white, and red packs. The universe was indeed at my finger tips. Upon picking up a pack, which featured a bounty hunter, I read Cloud City at the bottom. I then knew the game had changed. I had just enough money in my pocket to cover entry into the tournament as well as buy lunch that day. This was the first pack of any card game I ever bought and inside was Bobba Fett.
I got creamed, losing every round I played. I even got the dreaded last round bye. The TO Chuck Kallenbach played with me that last round. He taught me more about this deep and complex game. At the end of the tournament prizes were handed out, and as you can imagine, I didn't win a damn thing.
Something happend after the prizes were handed out which forever set the way I personally treat new players. There was one card every player wanted in the Star Wars Customizable Card Game. That card was Premire Vader, an over powered card that was going for fifty dollars at the time. Every player at the tournament opened their winnings, hoping to find that one card. Not taking any other rares or “good” cards out of the prize pool, just the Vader, they handed me the entire pool. I went from 129 cards to over 500 faster than Han made the Kessle run. When I refused to take the cards, the only thing asked of me was to come back next month and win a round. The next month came and that is exactly what I did.
Thank you Decipher, for the Star Wars Customizable Card Game along with all of the wonderful memories that came with it. This game had an everlasting impact on not only my childchood, but also how I see myself as a gamer today.
Next Week: We will take a look at the Overpower CCG