A Review of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (A Cooperative Game from the Pandemic System): Part I: Unboxing, Solo Play, Differences From Other Pandemics, and First Impressions

Didn’t we just go to Target last week to get Horizons of Spirit Island? Yes, we did: see here! While we were at Target picking up Horizons of Spirit Island, we asked about Star Wars: The Clone Wars. They said they had it in back, but it was under some palettes so I needed to come back. That was fine with me: I was too busy playing Horizons of Spirit Island! … see last week.

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Well, a week went by and they still hadn’t put out the Star Wars: The Clone Wars game, so I had to hunt around Tucson and I found it at another Target across town: see above!

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Horizons of Spirit Island was a cheap game from Target ($29.99), whereas Star Wars: The Clone Wars was significantly more expensive at $59.99! Target “usually” has some kind of sale for board games: in this case, I got it for $10 off (any Toy purchase over $50 was $10 cheaper). And then the Target card gets you another 5% off, so it ended up being about $47.99 of so: that price is significant, because GameNerdz and other discount online game shops have the game listed for $47.99 as well!

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So, if you do a little bit of work (waiting for sale or looking online), you can probably pick this up for about $48. Interestingly, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is obviously NOT a Target exclusive, because I can order it now from online shops. GameNerdz has it on pre-order as coming out on October 7th, so you can either order it there or go to your local Target (as opposed to Horizons of Spirit Island, which is absolutely a Target exclusive).

What is Star Wars: The Clone Wars?

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a cooperative game for 1-5 players in the Pandemic System (see the little Pandemic logo in the lower left corner?). This means that Star Wars: The Clone Wars shares a lot of DNA with the original Pandemic. In this case, though, I think a better comparison would be to compare this to World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, another game in the Pandemic System: see our full review here.

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I originally thought that the Star Wars: The Clone Wars Pandemic game would just be a “slight re-skin” on the World of Warcraft Pandemic game. Although these two are probably the “closest” relatives of all the games in Pandemic world, there are still enough changes to differentiate the two.

Unboxing and Components

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The box is an odd shape: it feels thick and thin at the same time.

But in general, the components look really nice, especially since this is a mass market game! The miniatures are especially nice!

Gameplay

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To play, each player takes the role of the one of the main Heroes from Star Wars: see below.

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Note that each player has a special power that’s unique to their Star Wars hero!

To win, the Heroes have to take down of one four Villains:

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Players choose a Villain at the start of the game, and each Villain comes with their own Villain deck!

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Each Villain has its own special deck!

That means each Villain has a unique play style!! The game recommends starting with Asajj Ventress:

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Like Pandemic, “bad things” come out on the board as the game progresses. In this case, it’s Droids! Droids are invading the system!

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Like Pandemic, they slowly accrete on the planets, as a few Droids get added to the board at the end of each player’s turn:

If a fourth Droid would hit a planet, you get a Blockade there: There’s no spill out to adjacent planets. (The Blockades are more like the Abominations in Wrath of the Lich King than disease cubes from base Pandemic).

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A Blockade on a Location means you must fight the Blockages before you fight anything else on the space!

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To get rid of enemies on a planet (Droids, Villain, or Blockades), you have to roll the big 12-sided die! Every circle/star is a success and does 1 damage to the enemies. Blockades need two damage to take them out, Droids need one damage to take them out, and Villains vary. The explosions are how many hits the Hero takes!

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How do Heroes measure hits? The number of Scout cards in a Hero’s hand is how many hits they have! Above, Obi-Wan Kenobi has 3 Hits: so taking one hit would mean he’s have to get rid of one Scout card, dropping his hand to two cards.

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You can also use Scout cards to help you do more damage: if you exhaust some fight cards of the same type, you can do more damage than you rolled.  (Above, you could either exhaust 1 purple card to do an extra damage or two red cards to do an extra 2 damage).  You can also exhaust Armor Scout cards (below) to reduce damage to yourself, or move further on a turn by exhausting blue fly cards.

Like base Pandemic, every hero gets 4 actions on their turn: they can do any of the following as many times as they like:

  1. Fly (move 1 planet)
  2. Attack (roll die and add supporting Scout cards if desired)
  3. Reinforce (draw one Scout card and “heal”: hand size is how many hit points you have)
  4. Attempt Mission (droll die and add proper type of Scout cards if desired)

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Missions are very much like Attacking, but usually much more difficult!  You roll the die still, but every shortcoming needs to be supplemented from your Scout cards.  For example, to complete the mission “Battle of Kashyyyk” above, you need to generate 5 successes .. if you don’t have enough successes, you can exhaust the red Scout Cards to generate more!  (If another player is with you on the space, they can exhaust Red cards too to help!!!) 

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Players can’t win the game until they have completed ALL of their missions AND had the FINALE with the Villain!  Once players complete their final mission, the Villain immediately flips to the FINALE side (see above) which sets the criteria to beat the final Villain!  Above, we need to travel to Sullust and generate 10 successes with die, red Scouts, and blue Scouts!! If we can do that, we win in a final battle!!!

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How do players lose?  If the Threat (see above) ever gets to the last space, everyone loses!  Basically, every time a resource runs out, the Threat track goes up.  Need to place two Droids and the Droid supply is empty? The Thread track goes up by two!  Need a Blockade and the supply is empty?  Threat goes up by one!  Basically, the Threat track represents the players being overwhelmed.  Some Villains, like Asajj Ventress, also can cause the Threat to skyrocket!!

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Gameplay is pretty straight-forward: A Hero acts (4 actions), A Villain reveals a card (which causes some bad news), some Droids invade (Droids populate the map), then move to the next Hero!  Repeat until the players defeat the Villain in the final battle or the players lose because the Threat overwhelms them! 

Rulebook

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The rulebook is nice and readable: it has the components up front (and they are labelled!!) and the set-up right inside on the next two pages!

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I love it when the set-up is one two adjacent pages with a picture AND directions! It makes it so easy to set-up!

This rulebook is pretty good.  I think it’s slightly better than the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King rulebook.   The font is big, it’s easy to read, and there are annotated pictures everywhere showing what the text explains.

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My major complaint is that they wasted the last page of the rule book: see “A Few Issues” below.

In general, pretty good rulebook.

Differences from Other Pandemics

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There are certainly differences between Star Wars: The Clone Wars and other Pandemics!

  1. The number of cards in your hand is your hit points. (This is new to Pandemic from what I’ve seen!)
  2. You can exhaust cards to use their special type or ability: you don’t discard them (well, you do discard Ally cards when you use them).  You replenish cards at the start of your turn.
  3. Players don’t automatically draw two “good news” (Scout) cards at the end of their turns! Players must use the Replenish action to get new Scout cards!  (Since you exhaust cards rather than discard, this isn’t that big a deal)
  4. The Missions feel more like a quest than the “quests” from Wrath of the Lich King: you have to go to specific planets and do specific things to complete the missions.
  5. Each Villain has unique powers and a unique special deck which changes up gameplay
  6. There are no outbreaks: an overrun of Droids just brings out a Blockade
  7. There’s a finale!! A final battle which is very cinematic!

Although Star Wars: The Clone Wars is different from most Pandemics, I would say it shared the most DNA with World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Pandemic.  Even so, it still feels different from that too.

Solo Play

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Thank for for following Saunders’ Law and having a solo mode!  The Solo mode is very quickly described (see above from the rulebook).  The solo player simply alternates between two characters as if it were a two player game: it’s very simple and it works.  

I was hopeful that I could play just one character (to reduce context switching between characters), but the game really needs at least two characters to help each other. Several of the missions needed both heroes to complete them. It’s clear that needing multiple players to complete missions is an element that will really foster cooperation: I look forward to exploring this when we get this to the table with multiple players.

The context switching didn’t cause any problems: I had fun alternating between the characters. I learned all the rules (there are some differences between these rules and other Pandemic rules, so I had to get those down) as a solo player, and I look forward to playing this cooperatively. This was fun as a solo game! And as always, the solo mode is usually the best to learn the game!

Pick-Up and Deliver Game

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Would it be weird to tell you this version made think of Pandemic as a pick-up and deliver game? The missions that come out in the game explicitly make you go to different planets and “deliver” a can of Whoop-Ass! For example, In the Witches of Mist, you are “picking-up” a clue, then “delivering” your forces to another planet.

It’s really the Missions that reinforced this idea: you don’t know what Missions you will get at the start of the game, but you go roaming the galaxy “Accomplishing Missions” .. this feels a little like pick-up and deliver. In most cases, you have to pick-up the proper type of Scout cards (along the way) before you deliver them to the planet.

If you think about it, you can almost reframe the base Pandemic game as a pick-up and deliver. Almost. Look, I said “almost”, okay? (I mean, Pandemic Season 2 is absolutely pick-up and deliver).

Yet Another Star Wars Board Game

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I had lunch today with my friend: his wife adores Star Wars!! I showed him a picture of the game and he groaned “Not another Star Wars board game?!? They usually suck because it feels like they are just taking advantage of the license!” I had a similar reaction when I first heard about Star Wars: The Clone Wars Pandemic game … but on a different axis. I groaned “Not another Pandemic game?!? They usually suck as they just re-skin it slightly! They are just taking advantage of the the name!”

Here’s the thing: it’s good on both axes! It’s a good Star Wars game AND it’s a good Pandemic game! As a Star Wars game, each Villain has very different feel and each character feels like they are part of the Star Wars universe.

For Example: My first character was Yoda, (see above) and his special power was to move another player up to two Planets!  This felt kinda thematic: Yoda is all about helping others, and has no problem moving large objects!  

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The Villains all felt very different too: they each had their own deck to make them play very differently!  For example, when Asajj Ventress was the Villain (see above), she would tend to move around a lot moving towards the missions!  She caused the threat to skyrocket when she was around!

The game tried hard to stay on theme with the Villains and Heroes: which makes sense. If I want to play a Star Wars game, I want to immerse myself in the mythology and play one of the Heroes and battle one of the Villains!  I think they did a pretty good job of allowing the game to to stay in the mythology of Star Wars, but take advantage of the years and years of refinement of the Pandemic system.

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Probably the best refinement of the Pandemic system is the unique deck per Villain: it makes each game very different but still acknowledges that each Villain has its own strengths and weaknesses.  See below as Asajj Ventress has her own special abilities AND her own deck!

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Adding further to the idea of each Villain being special, there’s a notion of a “Finale!”  Once you complete your final mission, you have one final battle with the Villain (which is very Villain specific)!  You flip the Villain’s card after you complete your last mission!!! And what happens???

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See above as we have to take the final battle to Asajj Ventress on her planet!  It feels big and epic!  It feels cinematic!  Arguably, the base game of Pandemic always just “ends” when you cure the last disease … it can be a lackluster ending. Here, you have a cinematic last battle!  We saw some of this cinematic last battle in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, but that  final battle was always essentially the same.  Here, the final battle takes a very different shape depending on the Villain!

The Star Wars game is thematic, and you can play in the mythos of Star Wars.  The Pandemic game has been further refined to have more thematic and cinematic moments.  Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a good Star Wars game AND a good Pandemic game!

Some Issues

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As much as I liked the game, there were some issues. A simple cosmetic one is that the backs of the decks are completely unlabelled. Do you know which ones are Missions? Squad cards? Invasion cards? Sure, once you get them arranged you can figure them out by context, but seriously, we can’t label them? This game is already text heavy and it was a little annoying.

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A more generic issue was how “generic” the board looked. It’s cool that a lot of Star Wars planets are on the board, but the board looks kind of boring. At least World of Warcraft had some color and “map” underneath to make it feel a little more thematic. Given all the thematic elements in the game, this board just feels … anti-climactic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very functional, but … I wanted more?

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A bigger issue is that some of the Villains needed more exposition.  For example, Asajj Ventress can be defeated and go off the board!  That’s VERY UNCLEAR until you kind of grok what the cards are doing.  In fact, I think the card above has a misprint: I think it’s supposed to say “Ventress Off board” below the horizontal line.  This whole on/off board is NOT described anywhere in the rulebook.

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… which makes the last page of the rulebook even more frustrating!  It’s all wasted space!   (Not that I feel giving credit is wasted space, it could have been smaller).  They could have used that space to discuss more of the  Asajj Ventress rules and other exceptional rules that come out for each Villain!!!

These are minor issues, but issues nonetheless.

Conclusion

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If you were worried “Oh no, it’s a yet another crappy Star Wars Board game” or “Oh no, it’s yet another Pandemic clone” (pun not intended), worry no more! Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a a good game! It’s also just different enough to co-exist with other versions of Pandemic in your collection. While you probably don’t need both World of Warcraft: Wratch of the Lich King Pandemic and Star Wars: The Clone Wars Pandemic (they are the two closest cousins in the Pandemic family), they are just different enough that you could justify having both. I would give a slight edge to Star Wars: The Clone Wars over World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King because of the variety of heroes and villains and immersion into the Star Wars mythos. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is just ever so slightly simpler and perhaps just a bit more accessible.

The solo game was fun (playing two characters) and I look forward to play this with a full group! My group is coming over Wednesday to give it a try! Be on the lookout for Part II once we get it played cooperatively!

2 thoughts on “A Review of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (A Cooperative Game from the Pandemic System): Part I: Unboxing, Solo Play, Differences From Other Pandemics, and First Impressions

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