I’ll apologize now—Star Wars has entered our collective consciousness, so it’s hard to write without throwing in a Star Wars reference or two here and there. There are a lot of Star Wars games; some good, some bad, a bit of both. For every excellent game there’s one that screams “danger Will Robinson!” So, let’s aim to misbehave as I walk you through how to play Star Wars Rivals. Engage!
Rivals is a collectible game where each player will pick three characters on either the light side or the dark side of the force and 12 locations from the Star Wars Universe to battle over. Personally, I can’t wait until the Wall-E and Dalek packs are released.
To start the game, each player will draw a hand of three cards from their deck comprised of the specific cards dedicated to each of their characters. One of the players will take the Higher Ground token and the prismatic die.
Each round plays out in the following manner.
• Starting with the player with the higher ground token, each player will place one character at a time on one of the 3 locations. Instead of participating in the galactic battle a character can also go full dad-bod (sorry Daimyo) Boba Fett (or Luke Skywalker for old school fans) and hang out in their bacta tank to remove all -1 influence tokens.
• Roll the die to see which areas are going to be contested this round. The inverted V symbol means just the highest value area (or areas if there’s a tie)
• Each player selects an action card to play and then starting with the higher ground player, takes their action.
• Score the locations by summing the total influence at that location with ties going to the player with the higher ground. You must have at least 1 influence to score a location. The player that scored the area takes it to their score pile.
At the end of the round, remove the -1 tokens from the characters in their bacta tanks, refill your hand to three cards, and pass the higher ground token to the other player, which is sure I’m something Anakin wishes happened in Episode III.
There are also some characters that have Mission cards that can be used as an action card or played from their hand for points. Play continues until all locations have been scored. Once the location deck runs out all remaining locations in play will be scored until it’s game over man.
Rivals is basically a quick-playing area-control game. The card play and the bacta tank add a layer of strategy that makes this an enjoyable game rather than devolving down to Ro Sham Bo with cool toys. With the die roll already telling you what’s going to score this round, you can focus on select areas and use cards to apply negative influence tokens or move characters/tokens around. The Premier set (core box) includes Darth Vader (6), Asajj Ventress (3), Luke (4), and Commander Cody (5) plus troopers for each group (2) which is balanced at 11 influence per team.
Having to decide when to bacta your thing up or keep trying to score areas with potentially less influential characters is a key decision in Rivals. I also like how some cards allow you to feint; you may just choose to throw a unit at a location it can’t win just to apply negative effects to different enemies in the future. This ability to burn a turn damaging your opponent for a future advantage makes this game deeper than its single-sheet rule flyer would suggest.
In one game, I had gone all-in on a zone against Vader and when that zone was rolled on the die, I played a card to reduce my opponent’s influence for the next turn, with plans to win the area and use Cody’s mission card to bank four extra points. My opponent had the higher ground, so their card played first and Vader made me discard my entire hand, including my mission card, to the discard pile. I went from thinking I had bulls-eyed a whomp rat in Beggar’s Canyon for nine points to feeling very disappointed. Those sorts of interactions make me want to play more and experience those wild mood swings. Additionally, with turns and games being fast, it’s easy to get a rematch, either with the same teams or with players trying new combinations of characters.
The figures are going to get the Instagram love but Funko made each component feel very Star Wars with Sabaac-like action cards and the prismatic die. The die could’ve easily been a regular cube (and it is in the booster boxes) but they went the extra mile with something that looks alien without getting all face-sucker weird. At the same time people who sleeve cards are going to mutter “dank farik” to themselves looking at the action cards. There’s themed phrasing on all the cards that show a love of the source material. The chibi style art will either work for you or not, but judge them not by their size because that’s what Yoda would say. I found the art made farmer Luke look a little weathered which would be realistic unless his X-34 speeder had some powerful UV deflecting shields. Which is doubtful, but I bet that came standard on the XP-38.
Ultimately, Rivals is a collectible game where you need to buy blind boosters to randomly expand the collection. The boosters are packaged for Light side or Dark side which is nice if players gravitate to one side or the other. There are some hologram figures (translucent blue miniatures that I thought were force ghosts at first) that allow for a larger hand size. My personal preference is LCG over CCG so I’m not in love with this business model; I find it more predatory to get people to buy more to get their favorite or rare characters instead of just making everything available and bring people in one pack at a time like Marvel Champions. Having gotten a chance to play with some booster characters (Hologram Ahsoka (4), Rey (4), Count Dooku (5), and Stormtrooper Commander (2)), I found that some characters just feel more powerful than others. But even the stormtrooper commander has some cool abilities that can really shift a round. And if the current roster doesn’t have your favorites, it’s called Series 1 so this could easily get out of hand.
Unfortunately, the base game does get repetitive after a few plays so this is a game that really needs some expansions to have legs, unlike that other bisected anti-hero Deadpool.
For a quick filler game, Star Wars Rivals is a slick little area-majority game with fun playing pieces. The gameplay is light and accessible, so it’s good for non-gamers and kids, potentially giving it a broad audience. Unfortunately, that same audience is being exposed to a collectible model which may frustrate some casual gamers as a $20 game turns into a lifestyle game (*waves at Marvel United*). There appears to be a lot of potential with adding expansions, but only having the Premier set won’t hold most gamers’ attention very long. However, even with expansions, I don’t see this becoming the next Magic: The Gathering or even Marvel United.
Final Score: 3 Stars – Star Wars Rivals is accessible, slick, and strategic with replayability being limited only by your budget/self-control.
• Premiere set is really just an appetizer
• Potential is hidden behind blind booster packs
• May not be perfectly balanced
• Think of the card sleever in your life when they open Star Wars Rivals