The upcoming trading card game Star Wars: Unlimited is off to a promising start, if the two starter decks I tried out are any indication. It has you step into the role of an iconic Star Wars character, battle it out on the ground and in space, and use all manner of weapons, vehicles, and allies to destroy the opponent’s base to claim victory. Unlimited sets itself apart from the Big Three card games – Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the Pokemon Trading Card Game – by constantly bouncing back and forth between each player, creating a fun rhythm that keeps you on your toes. But while the Force is strong with its gameplay, its artwork doesn’t exactly have a high Midichlorian count.
Developer Fantasy Flight Games gave us an early look at this new Star Wars TCG by sending over a box full of cards and accessories, from art sleeves to playmats, which we’ll showcase below. We’ll also give you our first impressions of Unlimited after playing a few rounds with the Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader starter decks.
Star Wars: Unlimited – Spark of Rebellion Preview
How Star Wars: Unlimited Stands Apart From the Crowd
The first thing that became obvious about Star Wars: Unlimited is it was clearly designed by people who are longtime TCG players, with numerous rules and mechanics that reduce common criticisms of other games in order to amp up the fun and strategy. For example, you start each match with two resources to spend, rather than having to build up from nothing in games like in Magic. Speaking of resources, any card can become the resource used to pay card costs, rather than having dedicated resource cards such as lands or energy, so there’s no chance of getting “mana screwed/flooded.” What a relief!
The biggest departure from your typical TCG is how both players effectively take their turns in the same round, called the Action Phase. Each player takes one action at a time, back and forth, until both players pass, not unlike Legends of Runeterra. Then, the Regroup Phase has both players draw two cards, put down another resource, and ready up their cards for another round of battle.
Only taking one action at a time took a lot of getting used to, and my opponent, a Magic veteran, often tried to play additional actions out of habit. It’s nearly impossible to carry out a strict plan for your turn because your opponent’s next action can (and often will) disrupt your line of play by destroying your units, bolstering their defenses, or using game-changing abilities. You’re forced to constantly think on your toes and pivot to a new plan based on the ever-changing board state. There’s no way to interrupt your opponent with a counter-spell or trap card, so it all comes down to trying to outmaneuver them – in that sense, it’s not unlike a game of chess where one piece is moved at a time, slowly building an advantage until you can lock up the win.
Another unique aspect of Unlimited is the dual battlefield, which is split between ground and space. Characters and land vehicles are played on the ground, while X-Wings, Tie Fighters, and other spaceships are placed on the space side of the board. Units of one type can only attack other units in the same zone, so a ground unit can attack opposing ground units but not space units. However, a small number of cards can interact with the other zone, such as a Tie Bomber hitting ground units with a bombing run. Matches have you constantly fighting a war on two fronts, and paying attention to both is key. If you leave one zone uncontested, then your opponent will be free to build a huge force and blast your base with reckless abandon. Pretty much every Star Wars movie has an exciting dogfight in space alongside an epic confrontation on land, and Unlimited does a great job indulging both fantasies.
Star Wars: Unlimited Luke and Vader Two-Player Starter Set
Star Wars Icons Lead the Charge
Easily the most exciting part of playing Star Wars: Unlimited is utilizing your Leader card in various ways. Each player is represented by a Leader, an iconic Star Wars character that starts the game off the board that has the ability to use a minor power to influence the game, such as Luke Skywalker giving his allies shields or Darth Vader dishing out a bit of damage. But once you have a certain number of resources, you can activate your Leader and have them take the field. Leaders don’t have “summoning sickness” like regular cards. They can immediately start attacking and make use of powerful abilities that can instantly change the tide of battle.
When Darth Vader is played late in a match, it feels like Darth Vader showing up. He has big stats and a strong ability that lets him decimate the opponent’s board. And if you equip him with his signature red lightsaber, then he gets to unleash another instance of damage. When you play him, it feels like the end of Rogue One where Vader showed up and absolutely annihilated the rebel soldiers.
Luke is definitely the less flashy of the two starter deck Leaders, but his shields will absorb all damage from one attack, and you are able to continually re-generate them, so they can make your units stubbornly difficult to get rid of. That’s not a bad thing to have in a game that’s essentially a war of attrition, where you must whittle down your opponent’s 30 HP over the course of the game. Once the Leaders show up, it effectively signals the endgame has begun, and matches only tend to last a few turns after that. Luke can be played on turn six and Vader on seven, so most of our games ended on turn nine or ten, which usually took about 20 or 30 minutes. The games went by just quick enough that when we were done playing, it was hard not to want to jump back into another one.
The starter decks were packed with classic Star Wars characters, mostly from A New Hope, so at times it felt like we were re-enacting iconic scenes, such as Luke looking on in horror as Vader cuts down Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Pretty much every card has spot-on flavor, with Obi-Wan granting a stat boost to another character after he’s struck down, and the “I Am Your Father” event card forcing your opponent to make a tough choice that can completely change the course of the game. Your decisions feel like they have a huge impact, making each passing turn feel more and more exciting until the dust settles and a winner is declared.
Star Wars: Unlimited’s “Thermal Exhaust Port”
While my first impression of Star Wars: Unlimited TCG is largely positive, there is one aspect that left me wanting. The artwork, while serviceable, looks subpar, especially when compared to other popular card games (or even FFG’s previous Star Wars effort, Star Wars: Destiny). It’s hard to flip through a pack of Pokémon or Disney’s Lorcana without being impressed by the artwork, but the same can’t be said for Unlimited with its flat colors and odd-looking faces. It seems like they tried to go for a comic book-y art style, and in some cases it works well – mainly with spaceships and vehicles – but it ends up looking rather unfortunate when characters are depicted.
That said, it’s not all bad. There are several different art styles, so if anime Han Solo isn’t doing it for you, then perhaps a more photorealistic Luke Skywalker will. But no matter which way you slice it with your lightsaber, the art we’ve seen so far from Star Wars: Unlimited is missing that vitally important wow factor.
The layout of the cards is mostly well-executed, with the various icons, attributes, and stats displayed well, except for the event cards. The design of event cards threw us for a loop because the art box is on the bottom and the text is up top.
I appreciate the designers tried something different, and it does serve to make event cards immediately recognizable, but it just didn’t work. Aside from looking strange, it made quickly scanning your hand awkward because the card information was in different places. I know Luke did some training under Yoda while upside down, but I prefer everything to be right-side up.
One aspect of Star Wars: Unlimited without flaw is the custom accessories made for the game (take a peek in the slideshow gallery below). The art sleeves sporting Luke and Vader are gorgeous and shuffle well. The Star Wars: Unlimited premium deck boxes are tailoed specifically for the game, with a slot for your Leader card on the front and a spot for your deck and game tokens on the inside. The red two-deck version puts everything you need to play the game in one compact and attractive container, and the black single-deck box looks immaculate with Vader.
Star Wars: Unlimited Accessories
Overall Thoughts on Star Wars: Unlimited
The gameplay for Star Wars: Unlimited is a breath of fresh air for a longtime TCG player like me. It’s designed in a way that alleviates the pain points these games often have, making matches feel exciting and full of interesting decisions. Between battling on land and in space, acting on the fly to counter your opponent, and deciding when to have your powerful Leader take the field and make a splash, it definitely hits the Star Wars sweet spot. Apart from misgivings about some of the artwork, I’m very impressed with how enjoyable it was to pilot the starter decks and am eager to try out the full game with constructed decks when Star Wars: Unlimited releases on March 8, 2024.