Manufacturer Milton Bradley/Hasbro
Year 2002
Designer Craig Van Ness / Rob Daviau
Star Wars Epic Duels Box

Star Wars Epic Duels


The best of the new games that have been released following Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

Background

After the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the folks over at Hasbro released The Queen's Gambit, giving it the full "Avalon Hill treatment", (lots of colorful plastic bits), and it has been fairly well received by the snobbish Euro-game buying public. Considering the drek that is most of the Star Wars gaming oevre, (especially on the computer gaming front), it has to be considered a success, (though I'm not at all certain that it was a financial success for Hasbro). Now with Episode II out, (and Avalon Hill banished to the recesses of Wizards of the Coast's development plans), Hasbro has given us Star Wars Epic Duels and Star Wars Jedi Unleashed. Jedi Unleashed appears to keep the Star Wars poor game legacy intact, but Epic Duels appears to be another success.

Epic Duels allows players to matchup characters from all of the films in head-to-head or team combats. The game comes with twelve main characters, (Luke, Han, Darth, Emperor Palpatine, Bobba Fett, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Darth Maul, Jengo Fett, Annakin Skywalker and Count Dooku), and each main character has an associated minor character, (or characters).

Jump to my opinions

The Gameplay

The game comes with two double sided boards, representing locations from the movies where the battles will take place. The boards are overlaid with a square grid, and are marked to show where main characters will begin any game played on this board. For the most part, the boards are nearly irrelevant to the gameplay, as very few impose any significant restrictions or benefits during the play. There are certain places where a character can hide, or areas that can't be moved through, but these are few and far between. Players choose their characters, and take the appropriate player mat for that character. These show the characters, and have damage boxes to record how many hits a character can take before they are dead. In addition, the mats show which characters are equipped with blasters, allowing ranged fire. After each main character has been placed onto their spot on the board, the players then place their minor characters adjacent to their main character, and the game is on.

Each major character has its own unique deck of cards, which contain three types of cards: Combat, Special Combat, and Special. In addition, within each major character's deck, there are cards for that character's minor character(s). Each card shows a still from the movies containing either the major or minor character, and this determines which character can use the card. Combat cards show an attack value and a defense value. Special Combat cards generally contain either an attack value or a defense value, and in addition, they usually have special text information that allows for various bonus effects. Special cards contain only effect text, many of which are very powerful.

On a player's turn, the player rolls a die. This die will either show a number, or a number and the word "ALL". If the "ALL" comes up, then the player may move each character that number of spaces, (no diagonal moves), and if just a number comes up the player may move one character that many spaces. After moving any characters, a player gets two actions per turn. The possible actions are to draw a card, play a card, or discard a card for healing purposes. Draw a card actions are just that, a player draws a card from the character's deck. Discard a card for healing can only be done if the card is a minor character's card and that minor character has already been eliminated from the game, so it doesn't happen all that often, and it's not particularly useful, as it only heals on hit point of damage.

Play a card actions are where the action is. If a character is adjacent to an enemy character, (including diagonally), then the character can attack the enemy character. If the player's character shows a blaster symbol on the character's player mat, then that character can attack any character that is in a square on a straight line from the attacker, and that isn't blocked by another character or terrain feature. Attacks are handled by the attacker playing a card face down. The defending character can then play a card to attempt to block the attack. The attackers attack number is compared to the defenders defense value, and the defender takes a number of hit points equal to the attack value - the defense value. If the defender has take enough damage to reach their maximum allowable damage, that character is dead and removed from the board.

Special cards can also be played by using a play a card action, and in that case, the special conditions on the card are carried out.

The Scoring

Scoring? We don't need no stinking scoring! When your main character is destroyed, you are out. Last one standing wins. You can also play team battles, in which case these rules are modified a bit, or you can play "Master Play" where each player gets two characters, and a player isn't out until all of their main characters are dead.

Why this game is so great

Star Wars Epic Duels is a great game due to the fact that it is simple and subtle at the same time. The rules are very simple, yet the special cards and special combat cards make the play much more complex. Each character's deck does a very good job of translating the uniqueness of that character, as we've seen them in the movies, to the gameplay. Darth Maul has "Sith Speed" and "Super Sith Speed", which can be played as attacks, yet don't cost an action, allowing many attacks per turn. Darth Vader can throw things with the Force, choke minor characters, and deal 20 points of damage, (enough to kill any character), if his attack isn't blocked. Han Solo is pretty weak, but Chewbacca is very strong, and they can try to hide at a distance and use their blasters, (and Chewie's Bowcaster, attack value 11), to take down their opponents. Yoda is the master of the Force, and can throw his enemies to the ground, (requiring someone to discard three cards to get the throwee back up), or can look at a player's hand and choose a card to discard. The Emperor can shoot his Force Lightning at anyone, and can make a character discard their entire hand. Some characters have strong attacking cards but poor defensive cards, some the opposite, and some are balanced. The uniqueness of the characters will also provide more replayability, as I suspect it will take quite some time to discern all of the strategies to pursue within each deck.

The painted plastic figures are pretty cool all by themselves, there are lots of them, and the entire production is well worth the $20 it is going for. The game has already sprouted variants, home brewed characters and decks, maps, etc. I suspect this game will have a very long playing life. Games are short, fast furious and fun with lots of "Oh NO!" and head-slapping going on, (and the chance to quote your favorite character's line as you lay waste your enemies).

Why others don't agree

Well it's certainly not Euphrat & Tigris. In spite of my discussion of it's depth, it is still a simple game. If you loathe Star Wars, you probably won't want to play this very often. If you can't stand luck, you won't like it either, as it is card driven, and a bad starting hand can see you wiped out before you can even get rolling. that being said, I have read or heard very few negative comments about Epic Duels. Perhaps this is due to lowered expectations. People expect a Star Wars game from Milton Bradley to be pretty sucky, (Star Wars Jedi Unleashed for example), so they are pleasantly surprised to find that there is a real game there.

Most of the complaints I have heard concern poor quality control, (missing figures or cards, or in my case bonus player mats; I got two to four of each character's mats), and poor design of some of the minor character figures. The Clone Troopers, Storm Troopers, Battle Droids and Royal Guard figures are only distinguishable from each other by little depressions cut out of the base of the figures, requiring players to count these depressions to determine which Clone Trooper just took three damage points, or more significantly, which of the four Clone Troopers on the board belong to which player. A bit of paint or marker will easily take care of this problem however.

Recap

Strategy: 6
Complexity: 2
Fun: 9
Overall: 8

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