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Subject: A Really Great Game with a Really Horrible Name rss

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Aaron Natera
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Introduction to WARS TCG
As harsh as it may sound, I have to say that “WARS” has to be about the worst name for a game Decipher’s team could have ever come up with. Why? Try entering “WARS” into any search engine. For example in Google I got 212,000,000 results covering every war from the fall of Babylon to Nazis invading Poland, but NOTHING on this game. Next try searching for “WARS Decipher” and considering how Decipher produced not one, but three Star “Wars” CCG’s, you will find more info on how Ewoks groom each other than on this game. Try searching for cards on Ebay and you’ll have the same problem, or better yet, try to find this thing on Board Game Geek! (Hint: You have to put “TCG” on the end.) The fact that you have to get creative in your search criteria just to find it means the designers didn’t get creative enough when they named it!

Something else I find a bit odd is that I understand they hired a lot of talent to create the back story, write fiction, develop the races, and even produce a soundtrack! Yes that’s right a soundtrack. Why? I have no clue. It’s about as necessary for the game as it would be for a box of Hamburger helper to come with a CD of “music to cook by.” (Seems like money that could have been spent on other things like coming up with a better name.)

Notice that these two complaints really have nothing to do with the game itself. I also realize it’s a CCG that’s out of print, with a dead player community, limited card pool, and the core mechanics are copied from a previous Star Wars game with a still vibrant player base. So why get into WARS TCG? 2 Reasons:

1. Because the game is fantastic brilliant fun that feels more like board game than a card game.
2. It’s incredibly mind numbingly cheap.
Most of how this game works will be familiar to players of Decipher’s original Star Wars CCG, but I’ll highlight some of the differences latter. (These differences I think actually make WARS TCG the better game.)

Highlights on the game play and two really cool ideas!
The object of the game is pretty simple, reduce your opponent’s energy (represented by cards) to zero and you win. And here is the first of two totally elegant concepts that really make this game shine. Your draw deck of cards IS your energy:

1. You figure out how much energy you generate each turn, and count that number of cards off the top of your deck into an “Activated Energy” pile.
2. When you need to spend energy you move cards off the activated pile into a “Used” pile.
3. At the end of your turn the Used pile gets recycled under your draw deck.

It’s so simple but works so smoothly! There are no counters or beads to fiddle with, and nothing to track on paper. You can visually watch your energy flow as it’s used, and gauge how much your opponent has left. For example if you see them stockpiling a heap of activated energy turn after turn you know eventually a big royal smack down is coming. This also allows for a whole slew of cool card effects manipulating both players energy flow in various ways. Everything you want to do costs energy, from deploying units to moving them, it’s not free. (Usually.)

Energy is generated off the locations you play to the table. (You get to start off with 1) And your characters, vehicles, spaceships, and weapons all play to specific locations. This is really where the “board game” experience comes from. The locations feel like fixed spaces on a board. Your units travel between these locations, fight battles, and attempt to control them. It’s obviously abstract, but doesn’t seem that way. If I want to battle my opponent over on another planet, first I have to load my guys on a ship, fly to their planet, and drop to the surface. It adds a sense of realism like I’m playing with miniatures and not cards.

So why do you bother playing units or battling? In any game of conflict there has to be a reason for the conflict or an objective that provides the motivation. The reason in this game is called “Draining.” You see each location provides energy for both players. If you have units at a location your opponent does not you can “Drain” him of the energy generated at that location. They have to discard an equal number of cards off their draw deck, activated or used pile, or from their hand. If you discard from your energy you don’t know what you’re giving up, if you do it from your hand it’s painful to have to make the tough choices on what you want to keep! Drains are usually small, 2 or 3 cards, but if your opponent spreads out, drains of 5 or 6 start hitting and you can see how quickly your energy can get reduced to zero. So to stop the drains you get your characters to the same locations as your opponent’s characters and presto! Time to battle each other.

Which brings me to the second of 2 brilliant game design concepts: “Destiny Draws.” Every card in the game has a number in the upper right corner called a destiny number. This can range from 0 to 7. Drawing destiny simply means that you reveal the top card of your draw deck and display the destiny number. You ignore everything else about the card. This simple little mechanic is so fantastic I am at a loss as to why it isn’t imitated in other card games. It adds a random element without any dice. So for example, a battle is eventually going to come down to adding up the power and comparing the totals, but if you have enough tactics in play you get to add a destiny draw to your power. Sometimes that’s enough to change the outcome of a battle. Or if you fire a weapon you might be required compare a unit’s defense to a destiny draw to see if you hit it or not. Again, a very simple, yet elegant mechanic that has a million uses in the game.

What makes this so much fun to play?
"Fun" is pretty subjective, but for me a good game gives the player a lot of decisions about what to do, and those decisions will make or break your strategy. In WARS TCG everything is a decision. Where is the best place to deploy your units? How spread out should you get? Should you draw cards or build up energy? What should you lose when you are drained? Which units should you take as casualties in a battle? Throw in all the game text options available, the randomness of destinies, and every game is a surprise. I really have a lot of fun playing.

A second factor is that I tend to prefer games with a large amount of player interaction. Though players alternate in turns I never feel like I’m not in the game. You constantly watch your opponent and try to adjust your plans for your next turn. The draining and battling keep both players in direct conflict for much of the game.

Lots of Variety and lots of Theme.
The universe of WARs contains 5 factions:

1. Earthers: Humans from Earth. They roll around in giant metal balls and shoot green lasers out of their chests. (No joke.)
2. Gongens: Asian humans that left Earth and took over Mars and for some reason renamed it “Gongen.”
3. Mavericks: Part human part machine cyborgs, and pretty much insane.
4. The Shi: Floating 3-eyed blue gray squishy yet noble looking Aliens.
5. The Quay: Gross looking monster aliens that hate everyone and want to kill you.

Each faction has a different flavor of play and different strengths and weaknesses. I’ve so far played about 20 times and have only used 3 of the 5 factions. Plus you can mix multiple factions together so I have a ways to go before I run out of options.

The Card art is quite good and the card design is really really good. (Decipher’s cards are always the best looking!) Every faction has its own design and color, but the layout is exactly the same so there is no confusion.

Cheap!
Did I mention this was cheap??? I’m talking I picked up two starter boxes for $1.99 each! That’s 24 starters for 4 bones! And $9 for a 36 pack booster box. How can this be better? I spent less than $20 and had a ton of cards for two people. And this is a really solid game! If you like CCG’s and you have someone to play with, pick this up!

How is it different than Decipher’s Star Wars CCG?
The Star Wars CCG is gigantic with loads of rules, expansions, cards, and now even virtual cards. On the other hand WARS TCG has 2 sets. So if you are going by sheer volume, Star Wars wins out. Or since Boba Fett, Darth Vader, X wing fighters, and other uber cool icons of Science Fiction like Jar Jar Binks are missing from the WARS TCG, again Star Wars wins out. I guess I just feel like even though WARS TCG might be missing the fancy Star Wars wrapping paper it is at its core a better more refined game. Even though there are fewer cards, it had the potential for endless development. The differences are subtle, but important. (If you’ve never played Star Wars CCG you probably will not care about this part.)

• Decipher took the experience learned from their previous games and as a result game text is more clearly written, verbiage is consistent, and when its effects are triggered is more carefully defined.
• Star Wars has 2 sides, Dark and Light. Both have their unique qualities, but WARS has 5 factions. Because you can mix and match them it opens a lot more possibilities. You may see how an Earther combo could be used with a Quay unit. In WARS it’s no problem, once they hit the table your different factions can mingle freely.
• In WARS, units cost not only energy, but also require a certain amount of “Support” icons specific to its faction. Since large powerful units require more support icons, it takes time to get the support on the table. This has a subtle effect of creating a gradual power creep with regard unit strength. It creates balance and avoids an early beatdown by one side.
• Battle destiny draws and attrition occur before power is totaled. Attrition is an easier concept to grasp in this order, and over all losses are now referred to as “Casualties”.
• Ship movement between sectors is simplified. There is no “Hyperspeed,” you just move.
• Vehicles and Ships now have a “Capacity” rating showing how many other units they can carry. Units have a “Size” rating that shows how much capacity they take up.
• Players are limited to 4 of any specific card in a deck. The strategic possibilities are still available, but there is no risk of dealing with something like 30 of the same rare powerful card your opponent bought off e-bay.

Conclusion
I find it very sad that the game didn’t make it past one expansion. It’s a shame. The game is solid, the setting is cool, and its lots of fun. And perhaps most importantly, its way way way cheap to get into!
Does it have a future? Lets not kid ourselves….probably not. But if Decipher or some venture capitalist wanted to resurrect this property it would be great! I’m sure all the art/files/layouts/etc, are sitting in some back room somewhere. (Along with the unreleased Edge of a Sword expansion.) I could see it as a reboot with the living Card Game model similar to something like “A Game of Thrones.” Do a boxed set with 4 decks representing a mix of the 5 factions, create some multiplayer variants, and then follow it up with small chapter packs to tell a story. (I believe the old CCG booster pack model is too expensive and not very viable anymore.) Maybe with a reboot they could even start introducing new races! However if this fantasy nutcase dream ever became reality they would have to do one simple but necessary thing…

…CHANGE THE NAME!!!
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Bill
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Good review -- Hill's wholesalegaming has an excellent $20 sale for a couple of booster boxes and a set of all the starters. I picked this up a while ago but have yet to play. Your review is pushing me towards playing.
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Heath Gray
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It is just a rehash of the Star Wars system. I remember when the line to get into the pre-release at Gencon went down two hall ways.
 
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Aaron Natera
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True it uses the same core game "engine", but please see my section on "How is it different than Decipher’s Star Wars CCG?"
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Dan Wells
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It's not only different than Star Wars, it's a significant refinement of the Star Wars engine. WARS has my vote for one of the best CCG designs of all time, and I very frequently pull out my old cards to play. With a better name and some better support, this could have gone a lot further than it did.
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Dan Dedeaux
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I, too, bought a couple boxes of starters about a year ago (very cheap!). Never played it, though. Haven't even opened them. I think that needs to change!

Thanks for the review.
 
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Aaron Tubb
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Nice review. Star Wars CCG was one of the best CCGs ever made, but I think WARS has several great things going for it that Star Wars never had:

-Because a deck doesn't have to have cards belonging to only one faction, it is much more draft-friendly.

-The rare "Mains" are not required. (remember all those interrupts that only do something if you have Vader, or Luke, or whoever?). You also don't feel like there are specific cards you "should" be playing with.

-Starter decks are all complete preconstructed decks, ready to play.

-The game was made using all the stuff Decipher had learned from previous Star Wars sets and balancing efforts. (e.g. Weapons in WARS are actually good, though common weapons were fairly worthless in the earlier Star Wars sets.)

-The main set has sites and sectors for a variety of planets.

Plus, lots of rules were streamlined, like ship carrying capacity and docking bay transit.
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David Jablonovsky
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I guess this will never be released again. Why?
- It wasn't that interesting first time around
- The world is a much different place now

How to make it work:
- Get that Star Wars license or any other interesting sci-fi franchize... or please make the races and units less cheesy and more interesting, make us care about the characters, don't make them generic
- LCG but for a small price - see Star Realms
- or Make it digital free to play game - see Hearthstone
 
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Cody Baker
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BGG was a different place 6 years ago also.
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