Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game—that’s gotta be a cash grab, right? Deckbuilders are immensely popular these days, and Star Wars is…well, Star Wars. Slap the two together, headline the thing with a generic (if accurate) title, and extract money from devoted fans who can’t help but buy anything Star Wars-related from board game publisher Fantasy Flight (I’m categorically not talking about myself here, of course).
As it turns out, no. Star Wars: TDG is not a soulless exercise in marketing. It’s a fantastic little two-player card brawler I feel confident in recommending to anyone who likes both card games and Star Wars. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it’s my favorite Star Wars game in years.
When Rio Grande Games released Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion 15 years ago, it introduced a hugely influential new mechanic to tabletop games. “Deckbuilding,” in this context, refers not to building a deck of cards before play, as one might do in, say, Magic: The Gathering. Here, building your deck is the game.
In a deckbuilding game, players start with identical decks of low-powered, resource-generating cards, and they use those cards to buy ever-more powerful cards. Purchased cards go into a player’s discard pile and are eventually cycled back into play. In time, decks are refined into beautiful, efficient machines. Start with nothing; build a combo-riffic deck in a cool 30 minutes or so—it’s very satisfying.
Fast-forward a few years to the release of Star Realms, an Ars-favorite deckbuilder from 2014. In this game, you don’t go for points like you do in Dominion—you go for the jugular. In addition to generating resources, your cards generate attack power, which you use to directly attack your opponent, à la Magic. This twist injected direct conflict into a genre that is often derisively (or affectionately, depending on your proclivities) referred to as “multiplayer solitaire.”
That’s all here in Star Wars: TDG, and at first glance, the game looks suspiciously similar to Star Realms—enough to raise questions about whether it’s a simple reskin. The game certainly takes a ton of inspiration from Star Realms, but from where I’m sitting, Star Wars: TDG has one-upped it.
A row at the galaxy row
On your turn, you play the five cards that make up your hand each round, and you use the resources from those cards to purchase new cards from a central six-card “galaxy row.” These cards belong to either the Empire or the Rebels, and you can only buy cards from your faction (in addition to any of the game’s neutral cards). You can buy as many of these cards as you can afford, and any purchased cards are immediately replenished from the “galaxy deck.” Cards can be either units—everything from X-wings to Darth Vader himself—or “capital ships,” which act as blockers for your planetary bases.
The bases are what the game is all about. They act as your life pool, and when you attack your opponent, you’re attacking their current base. When a base is destroyed, its owner picks a new one from a small selection of other bases. Destroy three bases to win the game.