This cardgame uses the same basic rules engine as Decipher's own Star Wars CCG that they had previously created. However, by the end of its run the game had become rather clunk and overburdened with excess rules, not to mention that some of the rules for the game had been somewhat awkward from the get go, so there was a real hope that the rules for WARS would be an improvement over the original. In this regard, the game does not disappoint at all. Where Star Wars was overburdened clunky, this game has made itself much more easy to play. Strange and esoteric bits of the original game have been chopped out. Combat has been made into something that is not only easier to do, but far more fun to do. The layout of the cards has been improved so that important information, like the actual statistics of the cards you are playing, is easily legible and not shoved into the corner of the card. Parts of the game that were redundant (every card having both a “power” and “attack” trait) have been simplified. The cardbacks have been all made the same so players have far more options with building decks. The rules are in fact, better in every single way they have been changed.
That isn't to say the rules however, are easy. The WARS cardgame is still a ridiculously complicated game, that is far less easy to understand for newcomers than your typical cardgame. The game functions like this: players play planets, and places on those planets, and then play characters, starships, weapons, and vehicles on them. When a player has someone occupying that site or planet, they “control” it, and they can drain cosmic rift energy from their opponent (this is really the strangest holdover from the game's origin's as Star Wars. Where Star Wars was a cosmic battle between the light and dark sides of the force, who drain each other of their spiritual energy across the cosmos, its far harder to actually envision whats going on with the draining of your opponents power in WARS), which removes cards from their deck. Unlike games like Magic the Gathering where you have a life total or some other way of measuring your imminent defeat, WARS is fairly elegant in that it uses your deck as a resource in the game. Every card you draw actually puts you one step closer to losing, just as ever defeat on the battlefield does. Because of this decks are very strictly 60 cards, because anything over or under that radically changes the nature of the game.
WARS, unlike Star Wars, also supports the draft format now, which is both a keen move to make more money by decipher, as drafting is a really big money maker for trading card game companies, and also provides a format for players who don't have the money to sink into a game to get all the fanciest cards to still win tournaments.
Sadly though, the game isn't meant for more than two players, something fans had been hoping for from WARS since its announcement, and this was really quite a let down. Fans have tried to make multiplayer formats (myself included) but they are always just a tad bit awkward.
THE RARE DISTRIBUTION
Speaking of disappointments, lets get this one out of the way: The distribution of Rare cards in this WARS set was messed up. Some rares were ridiculously hard to find, while others were far too easy. It made it frustrating for collectors, as people could go through boxes and boxes without finding a copy of the rare they wanted. This was even worse if you wanted four of a card, which was the maximum number of copies of a card you could put in a deck. This bothers fans of WARS to this day.
We talked before about how Decipher tried to prove that its art was going to be better than Magic the Gathering's, by showing off some truly stellar pieces of work. Lets be clear right off here: the art in WARS is phenomenal, and frankly is ridiculously impressive for a company that was mainly known for cropping film stills for card pictures. There is art here I would frame on my wall and not feel an ounce of shame for, because it is utterly beautiful.
However, Decipher's goal for the art was to consistently outdo Magic, and while I'd say that the top level quality art definitely does, not all of the art does, and instead is basically about as good as Magic's art. Which isn't to say its bad, but when you're competing against the crown prince of cardgames, people expect you to outplay them by spades rather then just a bit. Decipher's team did a fantastic job, but in the end it didn't stand out as much as they needed it to.
But the images we did get: Samurai jetpacking around, soldiers charging into battle, fully realized cultures with their own totally distinctive styles, spaceships that manage to look completely different from each other and not like rip offs of any one else's space ships, aliens that look unique as well.... Its pretty amazing. The art team for WARS created an entire universe in pictures in a way that was above and beyond the call of duty. They had to sell us on this universe, and make that universe a place we believed could exist, where all of the people who lived in it could really do everything they were supposed to, and they did it. Every single culture in WARS is instantly recognizable, and visually unique and consistent. This could have been a hodgepodge, and they could have shrugged and said they were just getting into the flow of things, but the art team hit the ground running. If the art doesn't all reach the artistic quality it needs to, its only because they valued consistency more, and frankly they made the right call. Playing WARS, no card looks out of place or out of line.
Visually, this is basically perfect.
The WARS designers tried to get several different types of flavor text on the cards (flavor text is non-rules based text meant to show you parts of the world around the cards you are playing) and they did a pretty good job of it. There are funny cards, serious cards, cards with quotes from famous people on them, cards with quotes from fictional people within the WARS universe, simple cards that tell you details about what the thing on a card is... Its a pretty bang up job yet again. Personally, I'm not as much a fan of the “real world quotes from famous people” cards, as I always just want more information on the setting or jokes, and they're not my favorite, but I guess other people like them, so it works well.
The Packaging looks great, and looks great on a shelf even now. The packs of cards are aesthetically pleasing, and the art department yet again proves they really earned their paychecks.
The starter decks, or pre-made decks of cards you can play right off the shelf, come with rulebooks that explain the rules of the game much better than the old Star Wars rulebooks did, and even has some really nice artistic touches, like the example game they show in the book having robot hands holding the cards. The rules are still really complicated of course, but you can only change the Star Wars CCG rules so much before you're not adapting the game anymore.
One really weird thing is the inclusion of cards who only are available in the starter decks, like Kujiko Torako. In one way it makes sense you wouldn't want cards that are in the starter decks to show up in booster packs if you know you could just buy the deck to get them... But it also means you have to buy the deck to get a copy of the cards. If you want multiple copies of the card in a deck you're building, you have to buy more than one of the starter deck. Its just... Weird.
Unfortunately, a lot of retailers refused to carry WARS. While the game apparently sold really well upon its release, and beat Decipher's inside estimates, when a lot of retailers refused to carry the game its hard to tell what those estimates were. Taking a chance on a new game based on an old game that isn't using a big name like Star Wars to sell itself is dangerous, and small game stores might not want to take that risk. To those of them that did, we salute you.
The WARS TCG release was overall a success. The game sold well, the cards looked great, everything really is in place. If things can continue from here, the game should do well. While the game isn't a massive hit, its not like every kid on the playground knew what WARS was, it has a chance right now, everything we've been shown, all these stories, all these cards, all that beautiful art... It has come to this, and its actually pretty great. The game still has hurdles to jump, namely the game's own complexity, retailers hesitancy, keeping the fanbase expanding, and keeping Decipher itself stable...
...And of course we all know what happens in the end.
But that isn't yet. For now, we're happy. This game is going to go on, we're going to get more stories, more cards, and there are whispers of a movie. The daydream that the staff at WARS had of a rift that sunk into our own universe has become reality, and a new age begins, even if it is tragically and beautifully short.
But this isn't the only property trying to build something new after losing a Star Wars license, oh no.... The people at Bioware studios are hard at work on what we'll be covering next.