Star Wars: Unlimited posted an interview with three of the game’s designers. Danny Schaefer, Tyler Parrott, and Jeremy Zwirn shared insight about the game’s first set, Spark of Rebellion, which will be released on March 8, 2024. Schaefer, Parrot, and Zwirn previously shared their deckbuilding tips. In the new Q&A, they delve deeper into design and development.
Deckbuilding Tips for Star Wars Unlimited
Can you share some insights into the design and development process of “Star Wars: Unlimited”? For example, how do you determine the “theme” of a set’s design? What were your goals (both personally and as a team) for creating the first set, “Spark of Rebellion”?
Schaefer: The design started (over three years ago) with the core idea of making a fun and accessible Star Wars TCG. Jim Cartwright and I dove into an R&D process where we tested numerous different mechanics and iterations, eventually coalescing on some core ideas: decks built around a leader, space and ground arenas, the resource system, etc. Jeremy and Tyler joined as we designed and developed “Spark of Rebellion.” For the first set, we really wanted to create the perfect introduction to the game: lots of iconic characters and moments showing off the cool things the game is capable of without being too intimidating.
Parrott: Whenever we concept a new set, we usually start with mechanics, because we can’t have a game without mechanics. That said, our design team is made up of “Star Wars” fans, so very often coming up with the mechanics coincides with finding a theme of “Star Wars” that would match it. For instance, we knew we wanted our third set to have a specific theme (TBA) and one of the mechanics we wanted to introduce in the first year (also TBA) matches that theme really effectively, so it was an easy expansion to concept. We don’t consider a set’s concept “complete” or “ready to pitch” until both the question of mechanics and theme are answered, and when the design team is confident that the relationship between the two is strong.
Zwirn: One way to choose a theme for a set is to focus on one era of “Star Wars.” Since “Spark of Rebellion” is the inaugural set for Star Wars: Unlimited, we felt it was natural to focus on the era of the inaugural movie, “Star Wars: A New Hope.” You’ll find many iconic Rebels and Imperials in this set, and several memorable events from the Galactic Civil War. Some other goals for the first set were: to make a great entry point to the game, fast and fun gameplay, and exceptional draft and sealed play.
What is the most exciting thing about Star Wars: Unlimited to you? What’s most exciting about the first set specifically?
Schaefer: What excites me about Unlimited is that it truly feels like a “Star Wars” game for everyone. Between playtesting and now demoing the game at Gen Con and Spiel, I’ve seen all types of players try the game and love it. From casual gamers to competitive players to collectors to pure “Star Wars” fans, there’s something here for all types of fans to enjoy. And the first set in particular really captures that, showing off a wide variety of themes while still feeling focused and fun.
Parrott: Personally, a huge amount of my excitement comes from the fact that we get to play in the whole “Star Wars” sandbox. I’ve been a “Star Wars” fan since I was five years old, so there’s a lot of “Star Wars” that I’m a fan of, and can’t wait to get to highlight the unique corners of the IP that I think are fun. But it’s not just my own fandom that I’m excited to celebrate, because everyone’s relationship with “Star Wars” is unique. I’m looking forward to seeing how excited players will be when they see their favorite part of the franchise represented in the game. For “Spark of Rebellion,” there’s a set of characters that haven’t been previewed yet that I was personally excited to include, despite the fact that they’re mostly not that well known in the larger franchise. I think they turned out really well, and I can’t wait to talk about them when they get previewed!
Zwirn: There are many exciting things about Star Wars: Unlimited, but one of my favorites is the open-ended deckbuilding. I love to build decks, and this game gives players a tremendous amount of flexibility to customize. Choosing which of the many leaders to play is a fun decision, and then which of several bases to pair them with can result in very different decks, even with the same leader. Then the 50 (or more) cards you include in your deck let you craft something that is uniquely you. Just in the first set alone the possibilities are nearly unlimited.
What were some of the challenges involved in designing Star Wars: Unlimited? How did you overcome them?
Schaefer: The biggest strength of Unlimited was also its biggest challenge: designing a game that appeals to such a broad audience of players isn’t easy. The key was building the core game system around mechanics that are easy to learn and understand, but create possibilities for deep strategy. The resource system is a good example: it’s very simple to grasp the concept of putting a card from your hand facedown as a resource, but deciding which card to choose has huge strategic implications. The back-and-forth actions are similar. The concept makes sense to most players almost immediately, but figuring out the tactical implications of how to sequence your actions takes a lot of experience.
Parrott: Oh, there was only one overwhelming challenge in designing Star Wars: Unlimited (to my mind), and that was trying to make a diverse metagame with a single set. We wanted our game to have as many equally-competitive deck archetypes out the gate as possible, so that as many people as possible could feel like their preferred play style would be viable. Trying to create a diverse metagame out of only 256 cards proved to be very challenging, but I feel very optimistic about where we landed!
Zwirn: One challenge was how to best implement leaders, one of the most integral mechanics of Star Wars: Unlimited. Leaders are central to the game and have many factors to consider: they begin the game in play, they have multiple abilities, they can be deployed as a powerful unit, and they’re memorable “Star Wars” characters. We went through many iterations of leaders, some of which were fairly complex, before refining them to the version you see today.
Lots of people are familiar with trading card games these days. From your own perspective, what makes Star Wars: Unlimited stand out amongst the crowd?
Schaefer: On the gameplay side, this is one of the smoothest and most interactive TCGs you’ll find. All of our designers are longtime TCG players, and we brought that experience with us as we designed the game, identifying what we find the most fun in other games and the areas where we could improve things. The resource system will feel familiar to many players, but without the frustration of games where you don’t draw your resources and are stuck unable to play your cards. The back-and-forth action system means both players stay engaged — you’re never just sitting there while your opponent spends five minutes playing out their turn. And the combat creates interesting choices of where and when to attack while putting the power in the hands of the player doing the attacking, rather than the defender.
Beyond the gameplay itself, we have a ton of cool cosmetic upgrades to cards so opening packs is super fun and exciting. And it’s “Star Wars”! Who doesn’t want to crack open a booster pack and see a foil version of Darth Vader or the Millennium Falcon with gorgeous art?
Parrott: Star Wars: Unlimited is unique, I think, in that it gives players noticeably more agency during the game than other TCGs do. The fact that the core game system allows players to sculpt their hand (by drawing two cards a turn, and by turning any card into a resource) means that it’s very hard for a player not to have something to do on their turn. Often times players have many options for which card to play or which unit to attack with, and knowing how to sequence their cards matters a lot to a game’s result. It makes this game skill-testing in a way that can be very rewarding for people who want to invest a lot of practice into the game.
But beyond just the high degrees of agency that this game provides, it also has a very dynamic metagame that encourages creative deckbuilding and adjustment, as well as — of course — the fact that it’s Star Wars!
Zwirn: Star Wars: Unlimited has a blend of interesting mechanics, such as the leader/base pairing, dual arenas, back-and-forth actions, and a skillful resource system, which makes the game feel unique. It’s truly a game that’s easy to learn and hard to master.
What is your favorite part of the game and/or its first set that you helped design? What are you most proud of?
Schaefer: There are too many to list — I really do love so many things about this game. To pick one element I haven’t talked about as much, I’m very proud of the aspect system in Unlimited. The philosophical and mechanical identities of the six aspects allow content from all parts of Star Wars to fit together more or less seamlessly. And the choice of which aspect to play creates compelling deckbuilding choices in both limited and constructed play. I particularly love the variety opened up by getting to choose which base to pair with your leader.
Parrott: As the member of the design team who’s most focused on thematic representation, I’m extremely proud of the character list we came up with for the first set (as well as all the upcoming sets). I think we’ve done a fantastic job of presenting a diverse cast of leaders, and we’ve included a very exciting mix of fan-favorite and deep-cut characters at all rarities (leader and unit). Additionally, I feel we did a great job making the philosophies and mechanics of the six aspects feel natural and distinct from one another. The four legendary namesake events are something that I really wanted to include to help people understand the mechanical color pie at a glance, and I think we did a great job making all of them communicative and powerful.
Zwirn: It’s difficult to choose one part. I had a lot of fun designing the Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader starter decks. We wanted them to be a great introduction to the game, thematic, dynamic, and, most importantly, fun. They have iconic characters, powerful cards, and playsets of each exclusive card. I think they’re a fantastic way for players to learn the game and have plenty of depth for many hours of enjoyment!
Of the cards we have revealed so far, which one is your favorite, and why? If you can’t choose one, then pick a leader, a unit, an event, and/or an upgrade.
Schaefer: It’s a close call between two cards: Leia Organa and the Millennium Falcon. Leia is a clean, elegant design that’s deceptively simple. Hiding behind a brief, straightforward “When Played” ability are layers of options and strategic depth. In some games, she’s an efficient round one play to get your aggressive deck off to a fast start. In others, you hold her for several rounds until the key moment when she exhausts a key enemy unit. And both options require precise timing and sequencing to maximize. The Falcon looks very different from Leia in many ways, with multiple abilities that interact in more complex ways. But it captures a similar feeling: a card with a variety of uses, that can be useful whether you’re on the attack or playing defense, and providing numerous opportunities to make skill-testing decisions. It’s no surprise that many of my decks include the Cunning and Heroism aspects!
Parrott: I’ll highlight a few favorites:
My personal favorite card is Takedown. It’s a card concept I’ve wanted to include in a “Star Wars” game since “Battlefront II” came out; the idea of translating a literal attack move from a video game into a “Tactic” card in the card game has always appealed to me, and it’s one of the most fundamental attacks in that game.
The card I’m the most proud of is Grand Admiral Thrawn. There have been Thrawn cards in other “Star Wars” card games that I felt perfectly captured the feeling of tactical brilliance and unknown capabilities, and I wanted our first Thrawn leader to hit on all of those same emotional notes. By providing the Thrawn player with additional hidden information about what their opponent is drawing, as well as having a very powerful exhaustion effect that the opponent can’t predict, this design perfectly nails what I wanted out of a Thrawn leader.
My favorite card to play with is “Spark of Rebellion.” Hand disruption is an effect I like to have in any game, so I knew it would be a card I liked, but the moment we renamed it to “Spark of Rebellion,” and gave it the “Spectre” trait so it could play easily in Hera decks, what was already a fun and powerful card gained a very memorable and exciting identity.
Zwirn: I have a lot of favorites, but the card I’m most proud of is I Am Your Father. I designed it as a wacky card that I thought would immediately get cut as too weird for the game, but we tried playtesting with it and some players loved it. Really loved it. Being at Gen Con earlier this year and hearing so many players say “nooooooo!” is something I’ll never forget!
Are there any additional thoughts about Star Wars: Unlimited and/or the first set, “Spark of Rebellion,” that you would like to share?
Schaefer: Just want to say again how excited I am for “Spark of Rebellion” to be released and for all of you to play it! We’ve had so much fun designing the cards and building decks, but I know there are plenty of surprises in store when it’s finally out in the wild.
Parrott: I’m exceedingly proud of Star Wars: Unlimited and “Spark of Rebellion,” and it only turned out as well as it did because of the team’s strong collaborative spirit and diverse perspectives. We could never have made something this fun without everyone who contributed to it.
Zwirn: I’m very grateful to be able to work on such an amazing game. It’s a pleasure to see the reactions to the game as more cards continue to be previewed. The game will only have one initial launch, and I can’t wait to be a part of that memorable day in March!