RockyMountainNavy, 3 November 2022
Pandemic by designer Matt Leacock is perhaps the most famous cooperative boardgame in modern times. So what happens when Pandemic meets the Star Wars franchise? Star Wars: The Clone Wars – A Pandemic System Game—a cooperative (read “team”) adventure WARGAME from Z-Man Games—get you.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” – Darth Vader, Star Wars
Yes, I’m going there: Star Wars: The Clone Wars – A Pandemic System Game is a WARGAME. I am sure there are some hardcore Grognards out there who automatically will insist that Star Wars: The Clone Wars is not, could not, and never will be called a wargame. They will point to the lack of hexes, the use of plastic minis, and the absence of a Combat Results Table to say “Nope!” While Star Wars: The Clone Wars may not focus on armies and offense/defense/movement factors, it nonetheless represents the battle of Light and Dark forces just like so many wargames do. In many ways, the Pandemic-series of games have always been a kind of team-play States of Siege wargame; players control forces that need to repel an enemy onslaught and break/push back/survive a seemingly endless invading horde (1). This was very clearly the case in the wargame Pandemic: Fall of Rome where players control Roman Legions in defense of the Roman Empire against invading barbarian hordes (2). What makes Star Wars: The Clone Wars an “Adventure Wargame” is the addition of very light roleplaying game elements and missions. Indeed, it is those roleplaying and mission elements of the design that makes Star War: The Clone Wars stand out as a unique Adventure Wargame.
I previously discussed the concept of “Adventure Wargames” over on my personal blog. To summarize, I see Adventure Wargames as games that combine elements of roleplaying games and boardgames into a conflict-oriented wargame. While it is easy to say Star Wars: The Clone Wars is not a skirmish wargame and therefore should not even be considered as a potential Adventure Wargame, the reality is that the focus on individual Jedi Generals and Villains makes it play more like a skirmish wargame than a grand galactic battle. When all is considered, I firmly believe that Star Wars: The Clone Wars – A Pandemic System Game is an excellent example of how to make an Adventure Wargame out of a cooperative boardgame system.
This is how Z-Man Games describes Star War: The Clone Wars:
“Traverse the Star Wars galaxy with your fellow Jedi as you battle the droid armies of Count Dooku and the Separatist Alliance. Utilizing the familiar team based mechanics of the Pandemic System, Star Wars™: The Clone Wars, a game by Z-Man Games and Asmodee, drops you into the heart of this galactic conflict. Move from planet to planet fighting battle droids, slipping past blockades, completing missions, and facing off against legendary villains.”
Let me again be clear: regardless of the rules legacy Star Wars: The Clone Wars – A Pandemic System Game is an Adventure WARGAME. In this game you have two sides in battle represented by miniature plastic figures played out on a board representing a far-away galaxy of conflict. Unlike so many “common” wargames, players don’t move military units but instead each play a different Jedi General supported by the clone forces of the Grand Army of the Republic in the fight against the spreading droid hordes led by an evil Sith villain. Like any Pandemic game, the players in Star Wars: The Clone Wars are characters with different/unique powers that are best used together to accomplish missions. This is the pseudo-role playing element of the Adventure Wargame design. As Z-Man Games explains:
“Team up with your friends as legendary Jedi, each with their own unique mastery of the Force to assist in not only combat, but in traversing the galaxy and completing missions. Play as heroes of the Clone Wars saga such as Anakin Skywalker™, Ahsoka Tano™, Obi-Wan Kenobi™, Mace Windu™, Yoda™, Aayla Secura™, and Luminara Undula™ as you fight off the Separatists while they attempt to gain control of more and more planets.”
To win the Jedi player(s) need to complete a number of missions (varied for difficulty/challenge) and then defeat the Villain before the Threat Level—visibly represented by the droid army swarming and blockading planets—rises too high. This is really the “adventure” part of the Adventure Wargame as players must accomplish more than just combat to win. As each player is a Jedi General, various Squad Cards representing clone military forces and allies can be attached to the player characters to boost their powers. Again, Z-Man Games provides the dramatic sell-lines:
“As droids close in and blockades take hold, roll dice and combine the results with Squad Cards and special Jedi abilities to complete essential missions and fight back the onslaught of enemies. Missions take place on individual planets and require a combination of dice rolls and teamwork to complete. Eventually, you’ll find yourself face to face with an iconic villain unique to the scenario. You’ll face Darth Maul, General Grievous, Asajj Ventress, and Count Dooku. If you can defeat your foe, then the war is yours.”
Players of Star Wars: The Clone Wars plays will quickly discover the this game, while a member of the Pandemic family of games, plays a bit different. Each turn is divided into four steps executed in order: Ready Cards, Do 4 Actions, Activate Villain, and Invade Planets. Unlike other Pandemic games, in Star Wars: The Clone Wars there are only four actions: Fly, Reinforce, Attack, and Attempt Mission. While this may look like a simplification of the game system, the missions that must be completed (Attempt Mission action) more than compensate for the fewer actions to choose from.
|Pandemic||Pandemic: Fall of Rome||Star Wars: The Clone Wars|
|Shuttle Flight||Recruit Army||Attempt Mission|
|Build a Research Station||Battle|
|Share Knowledge||Forge Alliance|
|Dicover a Cure||Enlist Barbarians|
Star Wars: The Clone Wars uses cards but not only in a set-collection manner like Pandemic. In addition to Planet Cards used to determine droid invasions, Squad Cards are used and come in different “suits”: Ally, Armor, Assault, Stealth, and Transport. Each Jedi General can build an “army” of up to seven Squad Cards. Squad Cards are exhausted or discarded to trigger their effect. The players must leverage their unique powers (a Free Action tied to the character) and assembled Squad Cards to assist the group in getting to the right place at the right time with the right skills/tools to slow or stop the Separatist forces, face down the Villain, and save the galaxy. There is an element of combat (i.e the conflict element of Adventure Wargames) in two of the normal actions (Attack and Attempt Mission).
“If you only knew the power of the dark side.” – Darth Vader, Star Wars
The point where Star Wars: The Clone Wars is perhaps the most different from Pandemic is the appearance of Villains. In this Star Wars-themed version of Pandemic, Villains interfere in the accomplishment of missions just like in any good roleplaying game. Once the required number of missions are complete, the Jedi player(s) must face the Villain in a finale. This is a highly thematic game element that builds a strong narrative which reinforces the “adventure” element of this Adventure Wargame.
“The Force is strong with this one.”- Darth Vader, Star Wars
If you read my blog post you will see that I had originally placed an earlier Pandemic wargame, Pandemic: Fall of Rome, on my Adventure Wargames spectrum but dropped it. My reasoning was that the characters were not really “characters” but more properly roles or archetypes and thus too generic to get at the roleplaying game aspect of an Adventure Wargame.
|Pandemic||Pandemic: Fall of Rome||Star Wars: The Clone Wars|
|Contingency Planner (Saves Event Cards)||Consul (Adds forces)||Aayla Secura (Free moves)|
|Dispatcher (Moves other players)||Magister Militum (Reduces losses)||Ahsoka Tano (Damages at a distance)|
|Medic (Removes disease)||Mercator (Shares cards)||Anakin Skywalker (Use other suits as Attack)|
|Operations Expert (Builds)||Praefectus Classis (Free moves)||Luminara Unduli (Share forces)|
|Quarantine Specialist (Prevents spread)||Praefectus Fabrum (Builds)||Mace Windu (Move enemy)|
|Researcher (Shares cards)||Regina Foederata (Moves forces)||Obi-Wan Kenobi (Access Squad Cards)|
|Scientist (Removes for less)||Vestalis (Accesses Events)||Yoda (Move others)|
Given the seven Jedi Generals in Star Wars: The Clone Wars are individual personalities I am (somewhat) comfortable placing this latest Pandemic implementation on my Adventure Wargames spectrum (seen far above). I will admit that the lack of character generation rules, seemingly a required aspect of my Adventure Wargame category, is not part of Star Wars: The Clone Wars but even lacking that component the game has so much else going for it that I feel it definitely belongs “inside” the Adventure Wargame zone.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” – Star Wars
From a commercial hobby gaming perspective, the combination of a Pandemic-like game system with the Star Wars license is a slam-dunk winning marketing combination. Indeed, combining game systems and the Star Wars franchise into an Adventure Wargame seems to be the modus operandi of Z-Man Games and Asmodee/Fantasy Flight Games. Much like Star Wars: X-Wing leveraged Wings of Glory, or Star Wars: Imperial Assault leverages Descent, so does Star Wars: The Clone Wars leverage Pandemic.
While Star Wars: The Clone Wars is rooted in Pandemic, it incorporates several new game mechanisms. Those new game mechanisms help make the game interesting to play. Most important, however, is what doesn’t change from Pandemic—the cooperative game play. I think (hope?) many wargamers will enjoy the chance to play a team wargame. Most wargames are player-versus-player by design. To be able to fight alongside—not against—a fellow wargame player is a different experience and rewarding in its own special way. Playing this way does require a different mindset/approach to wargaming. In the picture below of a two-player game of Star Wars: The Clone Wars you might be able to make out the fact we were sitting across from each other in a somewhat adversarial manner like many wargames. In retrospect we should have both been seated along the same side of the table to play the game, both literally and figuratively, side-by-side in the cooperative manner as it is intended.
The ability to “take on the role” of a Jedi General on a team fighting to defeat the Separatists is what makes Star Wars: The Clone Wars a game that should be part of a wargamer’s collection. But as I have been trying to communicate since the beginning of this post, this is not just a wargame, it is an adventure that players participate in together from a near-first person perspective. Like any wargame, players will need a strategy to focus their efforts to maneuver and choose where and how to fight in a manner to advance their mission objectives to reach and win the Boss Battle. The difference in this wargame from many others is that players fight as a team, winning or dying together.
Let me close by also observing that the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself found Star Wars: The Clone Wars to be very enjoyable. Indeed, we agree the game is better than we expected. Given the tie-in to Star Wars I kinda expected Z-Man Games and Asmodee to heavily promote the game. If they have been doing so I am totally missing it. Which is a shame because, wargamer or not, this cooperative game is a great adventure of fun on the tabletop.
“Stand together, die together. Let your death be the final word in the story of rebellion.” – Emperor Palpatine, The Rise of Skywalker
(1) “The States of Siege Series was first published by Victory Point Games. It began with Israeli Independence: The First Arab-Israeli War. State of Siege is a collection of solitaire games in which the player is the commander of a desperate situation. Surrounded by enemies in every direction, your decisions regarding your scarce military, political and economic resources decide the game. The games share a set of characteristics: a series of tracks converging on an area. Each track can contain an enemy force, either real or abstract. A deck of cards instructs the players to activate units on tracks for movement and provides the players a number of action points, which are spent from a menu of options. Players will engage the forces to attempt to stop them from reaching the end point of the track, which usually signals defeat. If the player can reach the fixed endpoint (usually the end of the deck of cards), victory points are summed up to determine the level of victory.” (“Series: States of Siege” courtesy BoardGameGeek)
(2) “Combining the cooperative gameplay of the original game with innovative new mechanisms, this game takes players back in history to the time of the world’s greatest empire: Rome. A weakened military has left the borders open to invasion from countless tribes such as the Anglo-Saxons, Goths, Vandals, and Huns. As you march through the Roman Empire, you must recruit armies, fortify cities, forge alliances, and face off against the invading hordes in battle. Includes a solitaire mode in which the player takes on the burden of being the Emperor and commands three different roles to try to protect the city from the invading hordes. Players who want a more difficult game can try the Roma Caput Mundi challenge by adding more Revolt cards to the deck; they must also respect the law in Rome that Roman legions are not allowed in the city.” (Game: Pandemic – Family / Pandemic: Fall of Rome courtesy BoardGameGeek)
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