Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser
STAR WARS: EPIC DUELS (Hasbro, 2-6 players, 30-45 minutes; $19.95)
Star Wars: Epic Duels has been getting quite a bit of discussion on various internet gaming forums and the reaction has been mostly positive. The designers of the game are Craig Van Ness and Rob Daviau, the two folks responsible for most of the new Avalon Hill releases, as well as the Clash of the Light Sabers game (featured in the Summer 1999 GA REPORT). I’ve been rather impressed byEpic Duels their work so figured this game was worth a closer look. I scooped up a copy at the local Toys R Us for $19.95. Yes, I fully realize that the game may well be blown out later in the year at ridiculously low prices, but I just couldn’t wait!
Of course, the intent of this release was to capitalize on the Star Wars: Episode 2 movie. Fortunately, this game has a bit more to it than many of the past movie tie-in games. Yes, it is light and would be considered a “beer and pretzels” game, but it is still fun to play and not without some decisions. The really neat thing about the game, though, are the dozens of rubbery plastic miniatures representing the various characters from the Star Wars sagas. As a bonus, these miniatures are also painted, albeit not very well, but this still saves one from having to play the game with bland, unpainted figures or from taking the time and effort to paint them yourself.
The game can either be played in teams of good versus evil, or as a free-for-all with everyone attempting to be the “last man (or woman) standing”, bashing each other without regard to their inner convictions. I’ve played both ways and much prefer the team version.
Each player selects a major character (Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, etc.) and takes the appropriate chart and miniature. Each major character also is teamed with one or more minor characters and these figures are also taken. My one real complaint with the miniatures is that many minor characters are the same (storm troopers, Crimson Guard, etc.) and the only way to differentiate between them are by tiny, almost imperceptible, notches on the base of the pieces. Sadly, these notches are not painted to distinguish them from the base of the figures, making it difficult to discern the identity and ownership of each particular figure. Fortunately, this is easily corrected with a small dab of paint on the notches.
In addition to the character chart and miniatures, each player also gets a card deck that matches the identity of the character they have chosen. This card deck contains cards for both the major and minor characters under a player’s control and provides the means by which a player attacks, defends and performs special actions.
There are two double-sided battle boards included in the game, each with various obstacles that can hinder movement and be used by players as shields. Thus, players can fight a wide variety of different battles using the various boards and characters. The boards themselves are a bit bland and rather thin, but are still functional. Still, it would have been neat had 3D obstacles been included. Oh, well … for twenty bucks, theStar Wars entire package is still reasonable.
Players begin the game by placing their characters on the pre-designated locations on the battle boards. Game play itself is quite simple and follows a few phases:
1) Roll the die and move. The die will allow a player to move one or all of his characters up to a certain number of spaces, depending upon the actual number rolled. Movement is orthogonally only, but subsequent attacks may also be made diagonally.
2) Perform actions. Following movement, a player may perform two actions from the following list of possible actions:
a) Draw a card. A player may draw a card from his deck. Players begin the game with four cards and can possess a maximum of ten cards. Having a healthy supply of cards is vital in order to successfully attack, defend and perform special actions. A player with only a few cards remaining can be an easy target for his opponents. Trust me!
b) Play a card. A player may play a card to attack an opponent or perform a special action. Attacking is quite easy. First, a player’s character must be adjacent to an enemy character (diagonal is permissible) or have a direct line of sight to that character IF in possession of a ‘ranged’ weapon (mostly some sort of gun). The character announces which character is attacking and the target of his attack. He plays an attack card (picturing the attacking character) face-down to the table. The player being attacked may now play a defense card matching the target in an effort to deflect the blow or minimize the damage. After cards have been played, the attack card is revealed and any difference between its attack value and the defense value of the card played by the target is the damage inflicted on the target. If the defender’s card has a value equal to or greater than the attacker’s value, no damage is done (even to the attacker). Any damage inflicted on the defender is marked on that character’s chart.
If a character’s wounds reach the character’s listed maximum, that character is slain and his figure removed from the board. If the slain character was a major character, that player is out of the game IF the match was a “free-for-all”. If, however, it was a team match, the player can continue the struggle with his minor characters.
Some attack cards also have special actions that go along with the attack. These are performed after any damage is inflicted. Some of these powers can be significant and, indeed, quite deadly, with damage approaching the double-digits! Watch out for Anakin’s Anger, Boba Fett’s Thermal Device or Yoda’s “Force Lift”!
There are also “Special” cards which are not necessarily attack related. These are played during a player’s turn and usually allow the player to perform some sort of clever action that is outside the realm of the normal rules. These can include drawing extra cards, teleporting to another space, etc. Many of these are also quite dramatic.
c) Healing a Character. Finally, if a player has lost all of his minor characters, he may play a minor character card to heal one point of damage to his major character. The converse is also true (if playing a “team” match): the player may play a card of a slain major character to heal a point of damage to a minor character. Healing is a slow process as only one point is healed for each card played. It can work but you must usually get the wounded character out of harm’s way first so that he won’t be the target of subsequent attacks during this lengthy healing process.
Once a player has performed his two actions, his turn is complete and play passes to the next player. In a team match, players alternate their seating so that the turns will follow a “good – evil – good – evil” sequence. Play continues until ALL of the major characters of one side are eliminated. In a “free-for-all” match, play continues until there is only one major character surviving the carnage.
Clearly, the game is designed to play quickly. It’s not terribly deep, so excessive thought over each move or card play is really unwarranted and can bog the game down. The main thrust of the game is to move, attack and attempt to do as much damage as possible. Sure, you have to manage your hand properly and conserve some defense cards to mitigate possible damage, but “bash your opponents” seems to be the rule of the day.
Luck of the draw can be a bit overwhelming and render you virtually impotent. In the games I’ve played, I’ve seen several players have the misfortune of possessing a handful of cards for their deceased character, making it impossible for them to do anything constructive with their surviving character – especially if he was not yet wounded! This bad luck can be minimized by players dividing their character deck into two stacks, one for each of their major and minor characters. This adds another decision into the game as you then must decide on which deck to draw from when choosing a card. I’m not quite sure, however, that this is really necessary in a game that is clearly intended to be fairly light and quick.
Although Star Wars: Epic Duels should have wide appeal for children and teen-agers, it is not torture for adults. Indeed, we’ve had fun every time we’ve played. It’s “miniatures-light”, without the dreadful measuring and moving process and endless series of dice rolls and chart consultations. I can see this one being played at least several times a year when folks are in the mood for a “smash-’em-up” type encounter. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
Fall 2002 GA Report Articles