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Michael Mikaelian

Rulebook: Part One

One in a Million

This spring, SWTCG will see the release of Revenge of the Sith -- and with it, a new rulebook. Michael Mikaelian continues his coverage of exactly what this rulebook will contain, what's been added, what's been changed -- this week looking at unique units.

One of the biggest design challenges the original Star Wars TCG rules presented to Wizards of the Coast R&D was the unique unit. Star Wars is all about the characters—even the Millennium Falcon is one of a kind. Star Wars fans picking up the TCG for the first time might have trouble accepting the concept of a "mirror universe" in which each player is allowed their own copy of each unique character. That's something that might fly in science fiction or comic book games, but Star Wars is (at its core) fantasy. There are no mirror universes in Star Wars. (Though on a related note, Magic: the Gathering today introduced their own version of a magic mirror.)

While both players can control their own copy of a unique unit, they both can't battle with it. Controlling a unique character more appropriately represents that character's influence. Some might feel this challenges the notion that the game doesn't have a mirror universe; this too was in the Star Wars Guru discussion group's thoughts, as you'll see below.

Unique Units on the Stack

Unique units add just as much dimension as they do difficulty to the Star Wars TCG. Stacking unique units is one of the greatest TCG innovations of the new millennium, but also a bit complicated to explain. Bidding for contested units—those you and your opponent each control in battle—is necessary to keep Anakin Skywalker from battling Darth Vader. And then there's the conundrum of what to do when you control two copies of the same unique unit (specifically one of yours and one of your opponent's); the rules tell you to discard the one you deployed most recently (which would always be yours). It all makes perfect sense in a math-geek sort of way once you take it all in, but getting to that point requires a solid foundation of rules.

The stacking rules were already pretty tight, but a couple of nips and tucks were required to make them airtight. The first came with General Stacking Rule #2: "A stack can’t have more than 4 cards in it." Some players were confused by how this interacted with the Location card Jedi Temple. What did you do if Jedi Temple was replaced after you built a Jedi stack containing five or more cards? Does the unit still get +10/+1/+1 for each card in the stack, or is +30/+3/+3 the maximum? Do you discard all but four cards from the stack?

This rule was an example of what the group dubbed a "law": It didn't tell you how the game worked; it merely informed you of an illegal game situation. And that's no help when that situation arises through legal means. To fix this, General Stacking Rule #2 was changed to read: "You can’t add to a stack that already has 4 cards in it." This seemingly simple change wipes out any question of how Jedi Temple and the stacking rules interact. The size of a stack is technically unlimited; only the means of adding to it have been redefined.

Multiple Unique Units Outside the Stack

The dilemma of multiple copies of the same unit—outside a stack—was another unique challenge (pun intended). One considered solution to multiple and contested units was to never allow two unique units with the same name to be in play at the same time. (Anti-mirror universe hardliners take note: this applied to units on both sides of the table.)

There were three versions: auto-kill, auto-bid, and auto-denial:

  • The auto-kill version would discard a unit when another unit with the same name enters play—even if the same player does not control the two cards.
  • The auto-bid version would force the contention bid that happens at the beginning of battle to happen when the unit enters play instead—even if the same player controls the two cards—but in this case, the loser is discarded.
  • Auto-denial disallowed a second copy of a unique unit to be played if one was already in play—creating a race to be the first to play Vader or Anakin, or Lando, or Fett, and so on.

Ultimately, all of those solutions were dropped in favor of the current system, with one exception. While contested unit rules remain the same, duplicate unique units controlled by the same player now offer more options. Before, you could have only one copy of a particular unique unit. If you did have two, you had to discard the one you deployed most recently. Of course, if one of those two belonged to your opponent, then the one you deployed most recently would always be yours. A common way this can happen is with Han's Promise.

Han's Promise is just one example of the several cards that puts units into play. Because these cards don't check to see if the unit is already in play, it can easily cause you to have two of the same unit. Some players might have been inspired by the duplicate rule to discard the unit they paid build points for, since that was the one they deployed last. The copy put in play by Han's Promise was not, by definition, deployed. If that were the case for both units—if you didn't deploy either one—did you get to keep both of them? Clearly, this was a problem.

The answer to this dilemma could have simply been to change the word "deployed" to "gained control of". But then a card like Second Wave would still be a problem: What if two Luke's X-wings come into play at the same time? The final solution put an end to the technicalities, definitions and confusion. Similar to the proposed auto-bid solution to contested units, a player who controls two copies of a unique unit has two choices: either discard the one with the lower build cost; or, pay Force equal to the difference in build costs, and then discard either one.

Ironically, these kinds of problems were not, er, unique to uniques. Check back next time to see what a difference one little word can make when it comes to the Pilot ability.

Thoughts or comments? Visit the message board thread for this article here.