Review – Star Wars: The Clone Wars
"General Kenobi, I've been expecting you..." - Pandemic
Now that there’s been 13 versions of Pandemic, it’s about time we got a Star Wars edition. Z-Man Games made an excellent choice in choosing the Clone Wars as the specific era of Star Wars. I’m sure the Galactic Civil War was tempting, but the Clone Wars fits the Pandemic style better than any other era. So the theme is looking good, but how is the gameplay?
Know this: Star Wars: The Clone Wars is Star Wars Pandemic. It borrows the game’s basic flow, rules, and mechanics. While it does add a decent chunk of its own flavor, it’s still Pandemic, for better or worse (usually for better)… However, this also feels like a standalone Star Wars The Clone Wars game. The theme and the game are a match made on Naboo (think more the wedding concluding Attack of the Clones, not the argument on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith).
To begin the game, players will choose which of the 6 Jedi they want to play as and which of the 4 villains they wish to play against. Each Jedi has a special power (surprise) and a special miniature (surprise!). Players will run around the galaxy, remove droids from planets before they get occupied (outbreak from OG Pandemic), and use their cards to complete missions in order to activate the villain’s finale.
Battling is a new mechanic. Rather than just automatically removing droids from planets, players roll a d12 and count up the success pips on the die. For each success, the player deals a damage, which can count towards battle droids, blockades, or villains. Additionally, players can exhaust their red or purple cards (but not both) to add to the damage total in case of a poor roll (success on the die varies between 1 and 3). Also on the die are some damage icons, indicating how much damage the Jedi took while engaging in battle. It’s nice that you’re guaranteed to do at least 1 damage, and it’s also a great mechanic that you can add damage via your cards (and subtract damage). The random dice factor suits the nature of battles, but it deviates from the OG Pandemic gameplay.
So, instead of trading cards and curing diseases, players will complete missions. Missions are attempted at the mission planet (specified on the mission card). Each mission has a couple icons on it, telling the players which cards they can use to help them complete the mission. Players can also attempt missions together. If players do this, only 1 player rolls the dice, but all Jedi on the planet may exhaust their cards to aid the mission.
Let’s talk about these cards for a minute. I really like that, unlike the OG Pandemic, these cards are exhausted when used instead of discarded (you only discard cards for damage taken). The cards all do different things when exhausted: ships give you extra movement, spec ops and fighters can increase damage output, and vehicles decrease damage taken. The icing on the cake? Every single card has a specific name and picture. Every ship is different, every clone is different, and every vehicle is different. The powers remain the same, but the no-card-is-the-same really helps you feel like a Jedi leading your army around the galaxy, and it makes it sting a little more when you take damage and 1 of your troopers goes down (they’re not just a number; they have names!).
The components for this game are really great. It’s super fun seeing all the Jedi and villain miniatures running around the board. The different molds for the battle droids are fantastically thematic and make up for the fact that there’s no super battle droids, droidekas, and commando battle droids. The aforementioned cards are also wonderful.
Now, for some dark sides. You don’t get the same feeling of accomplishment that you get with the original Pandemic. You can’t plan to maximize every move because you don’t know for sure what will happen when you attack droids, and you don’t need to trade or build research stations. I also wish you could adjust the difficulty in ways other than increasing the number of mission cards. When you have to make a game longer in order to make it more challenging, it becomes a flaw in the game design. Why not implement something like Horrified’s wonderfully exciting multiple-villain mechanic?
However, the story and theme of Star Wars: The Clone Wars makes up for these deficiencies if you’re a Star Wars fan. Every card is a specific character or vehicle from The Clone Wars TV show and every mission and villain finale is taken straight from the show. Star Wars: The Clone Wars also adds the strategic element of allowing players to build a tableau of bonus abilities with the cards. Instead of just holding almost-useless cards in hand, players can now exhaust cards to help their character perform better on the battlefield.
Is Star Wars: The Clone Wars better than Pandemic? For this Star Wars fan, the answer is yes. Is it better than my all-time favorite (non-legacy, of course) version of Pandemic, Pandemic: Fall of Rome? No, it’s not. However, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here, amassing your squad, running around the galaxy, and fighting baddies.
Z-Man Games (Asmodee North America) kindly provided a review copy.
The Bottom Line
Pandemic for Star Wars fans with thematic gameplay and miniatures that pay proper homage to The Clone Wars.