What would have been, Decipher and Star Wars

Back when Decktech was still the place that Star Wars players hung out, I posted an article about what could have been if Decipher had not lost the license.  When this article was posted, the first generation of Clone Wars cartoons had just finished, Revenge of the Sith had only been out around a year, Star Wars boxes were not as tough to find and the price was much lower and we were still learning about Reflections Gold.

Posted July 2, 2006, enjoy this blast from the past article in all it’s glory.

What might have been?  That’s what many of the players in the Star Wars community say when talking about Decipher and the fact that they lost the Star Wars license in 2001.  What might have been is something that has been brought up many times the past five years, but has anyone really given this an actual look.  Does anyone know what really would have been?  I want to take a look at this a little deeper.  I recently have been emailing a former Decipher employee that worked on designing new products for the Star Wars game.  He gave me a lot of information that changed what I thought would have happened with the game and I’m going to share that with everyone.

Decipher loses the Star Wars license:  Sometime during 2000 and on into 2001, Decipher was in talks with George Lucas’s company regarding the state of the Star Wars card game license.  During this time, Decipher and Wizards of the Coast got into a bidding war.  Wizards with an unlimited supply of money and backing by Hasbro made any form of offer by Decipher look minimal.  Lucas also knew that WOTC makes Magic the Gathering and that it has lasted for over 15 years.  Lucas decided to go with WOTC and therefore Decipher was going to lose the license.  If Decipher wanted to get all they could money wise out of this game, that meant that they had to pump out as many sets as possible.  Usually there were two sets made a year with some extra things like Anthologies or Enhanced sets, in 2001, Reflections 2, Tatooine, Coruscant, Reflections 3 and Theed Palace were all released.  This pushed 5 sets out all at the same time without the needed play testing, pushing stronger than normal decks into the tournament scene and almost killing the game before it was going to die.  This pushed many of the players away and because of a shorter print run and the fact that many players had already quit and were not going to buy these cards; these later sets are worth more money as people have had to re-buy them now on the back market.  (Which it’s interesting because most of these boxes go at normal retail now, some a little higher, but I paid 150 for a box of Reflections 3 when it first came out and that was from a distributor.  To buy them now is close to the normal retail price.) 

Reflections Gold:  Decipher was also planning on selling what is come to be known as Reflections Gold right after Theed Palace’s release.  Decipher tried their best at getting this out before the end of the year and asked both WOTC and Lucas if they could still sell these cards if they could get them out in January or February of 2002 and were turned down.  Decipher then asked if they could sell an online version of them where players could print them off and glue either the image and text or just text over existing cards, again they were turned down.  Decipher then went on to say that they wanted to give these to the players as a final gift, again they were not able to get them out as they were not even all the way through production when the clock struck Jan 1st 2002.  Reflections Gold looked to be an interesting set that combined more Red cards sort of like the cards that were combined first off in Reflections 2 and then in Coruscant and Theed.  These have been leaked on the internet and you can find them if you look hard enough.  They usually are in PDF form.

What Could Have Been?  This is where we stray from what actually happened and look what would have happened if Decipher had kept the license.  Decipher was already working full steam on Lord of the Rings and had started spending most of their game testing time on this game.  It was also starting to look at re-doing the Star Trek game and did release their new version in December 2002.  Both of these games would have caused Decipher to have to hire on more people to be able to keep up with all of their games going on at the same time.  Otherwise there would have been large delays. 

So now Decipher only has to release two key sets a year with one Reflections set, one enhanced and one anthology a year.  So we are going to go over each year with a look at what would have happened if they had signed another 7 year contract. 

News from a Former Employee:  I have recently been talking with a former Decipher employee that mentioned that Reflections IV, V and VI were in production at the time that Decipher learned they had lost the license.  This shifted the production schedule and therefore had to push through concepts and ideas quicker than expected.  It also meant that Reflections Gold was not originally in the plans.  He had images of what the box would look like for Reflections V but as of right now, he has not shown those to me though and I’m hoping he will eventually.  He has said that this was the only box that had gone into design and that it looked great. Each of these reflections sets would have expanded on the movies 4, 5 and 6 respectively and would have only contained images and ideas from those movies.  Reflections 3 would also have been different with only slightly focusing on Episode 1 themes.  More on this later as we get further into each year. 

Star Wars Version 2.0:  Decipher has a habit of starting their games over and there were lots of rumors of this happening with the Star Wars game.  There was a lot of speculation that the game would re-start with a 2.0 version if the game had not been cancelled.  For the sake of this article, we are not going to even think about this as it would have destroyed the game more than them losing the license, mainly because the PC would not have been formed.

2000:  Episode 1 would have been out for a year at this time and Young Jedi was still being pushed and doing okay.  Decipher was spending time trying to get the Star Wars license to stay with them so this year would basically be the same.  Instead of losing it though, they retain the license and therefore don’t have to start working and pushing out other sets so quickly. 

2001:  Reflections 2 is still released in January with the focus still being on the Expanded Universe. Everything in this set stays the same.  This Reflections schedule will stay the same as Reflections 1 was also released in Jan.  April and November are Decipher’s normal release times for their full sets.  Tatooine is released in April to a division in players as people aren’t really happy with Episode 1 cards but other people really like the set and enjoy playing with Maul with Vader.  4th Anthology comes out in June with an anthology that looks at the next three sets with 2 promos for each of those three sets.  These sets will come out each year.  November is the release of Coruscant.  This set will be much more balanced with a full amount of play testing time.  This set still sees more people leaving the game as senators are the new problem area for players as they don’t like the idea.  December sees a new Enhanced set focusing on A New Hope with WB packs inside.  These cards will take a closer look at the planet of Tatooine. 

The problem that Decipher is starting to face at this point is that card games in general are losing popularity. Not only that but their LOTR game is actually doing well, but would it be doing so well if all the Star Wars players didn’t stop playing SW and pick up LOTR?  LOTR only lasted as long as SW players could actually stomach the game.  Part of it to is that most of the really good players in the world were growing up and didn’t have the time for the game anymore.  Most of us were going off to college and starting to date and do things we didn’t do before.  I know that I didn’t play for five years while I was in college.  I was more interested in dating, getting married and graduating school.  Once I was almost done with school SW became important to me again.  I believe that this was the case for a lot of us SW players and if Decipher had kept the license would it have been profitable or would they have lost their pants over it? 

2002:  Reflections 3 introduces Defensive shields at a broader scale.  It also becomes the supposed Skywalkers set covering the Skywalker family with some pictures from Episode 2 which will cover Anakin and Padme’s wedding.  Theed Palace is introduced in April with a better balanced gameplay.  November sees the first set from Episode 2 Attack of the Clones.  This set contains the first Anakin Skywalker character card.  Of course Episode 2 will cover 3 full sets of cards but that will only take a year and a half to put out.  This means that there will be an extra year and a half before Episode 3 comes out.  The Enhanced set will be Hoth and will likely do the same sort of thing that the Players Committee did with its Hoth V cards, it will also come with WB Hoth packs.

2003:  Reflections 4 is out and takes a look back at Episode 4.  The next three Reflections sets as well as Enhanced are the only sets that look back at Episodes 4-6 as there are only around 10 cards with each new full set that contains non-episode 1 cards.  The next two full sets are released and finish off the Attack of Clones movie.  The first set introduces Clones for the first time.  It also introduces Jango Fett and Count Dooku as well as new senators.  The last set contains many strong droids and puts many new Jedi in the light side’s arsenal. Enhanced Dagobah comes out this year with new versions of ships and bounty hunters, again following the same sort of thing the PC has done with the V sets. 

2004:  Reflections 5 is out with the set based on Episode 5.  With Attack of the Clones covered, Decipher has to find something new to cover.  This gives the Expanded Universe their own 2 sets this year, the first time the EU has been covered since Reflections 2.  The first full set of the year looks at the different books written by Timothy Zahn and many of the other Star Wars writers including many of the cards that cover the X-Wing stories.  Because there isn’t enough time to finish all the artwork and Lucas’s request, the two different Ewok Adventures movies were used to add new cards to the Endor planet.  Both Caravan of Courage and Battle of Endor are covered.  This also goes along with the re-release of these two movies together.  This makes fans of Ewok decks very happy.  Because most of the cards from these two movies are light side characters and cards, many of the dark side cards in the set are from the books.   The next set of the year goes with the Extended Universe again, this time covering the first season of the Clone Wars cartoon that was on Cartoon Network. This gives the Dark Side a new Dark Jedi as well as introducing some new robots that continue to make Theed and Coruscant robots stronger.  This set is unique as it will be the first set with animation scenes for the full set.  The Enhanced set this year is enhanced Special Edition that comes with a starter and 5 new cards in each pack.  Decipher didn’t have enough SE packs to be able to do this set and that’s why starters were used. 

2005:  The game is bringing in new fans and gamers as the gaming market is starting to look up again as VS gains steam and there are more gamers in shops.  It also is gaining attention with the final movie coming out and the success of the Clone Wars Cartoon bringing in a new generation of Star Wars fans.  Reflections 6 covers movie number 6, finishing off the final movie of the original trilogy.  The fist set of the year is the first set from Revenge of the Sith.  This set covers the first part of the movie, the space fight.  The second set that comes out this year will follow the turn of Anakin and the destruction of the Jedi order.  The Enhanced set this year is a combined DS2/Endor set that contains 12 card light side or dark side cards with either a DS2 Light or Dark starter and one pack of Endor in each.  These 24 new cards help with building the Death Star for Dark side and help the light side destroy the bunker and the DS if it is built.

2006:  Reflections 7 covers Episode 1 with new cards that cover the themes from the three sets from the first movie.  The final set from Episode 3 covers Anakin turning into Vader.  This set contains a version of dark side training turning Anakin into Vader.  This set will also have the strongest Vader/Anakin character card, right before he gets himself smoked by Obi.  This set is the end of an era, knowing that there will not be anymore Star Wars movies and all us Star Wars fans can look forward to are EU TV shows and books.  This year there is no second set this year.  Instead Decipher releases four Enhanced sets that cover Tatooine, Coruscant, TheedPalace and the first set from Episode 2.  These are the same size as the Jabba’s and Cloud City Enhanced sets.

2007:  With the movies over and the contract with Lucas almost over, Decipher has to make a choice, do they spend money to continue making the game or do they let it go.  The best bet is to let it go.  This would be the final year that the game is made unless Lucas lowers the cost.  Because of this, Decipher decides it is time to blow out all of their cards.  This brings about Reflections 8 and Reflections 9 covering Star Wars Episodes 2 and 3 respectably.  This also meant that Decipher does an Enhanced edition that covers the rest of the remaining sets.  About this time people have playing and the game has turned into a collectible game more so than a playable one.

It appears better that Decipher actually lost the license.  Sure it would have been great to have playable characters and cards from EP 2 and 3 but right now appears to be the best time for the game and if the license hadn’t of been lost, many of those that had left the game probably wouldn’t be coming back to it, they would have just left because of how bad a job Decipher was doing. 

Having the PC has helped keep this game around for almost five full years.  They have come out with 11 sets over that time and have around 2 others almost all the way planned out.   If you go by Decipher time, they would have only of had 10 full sets out and around 10-15 smaller additions.  Though the PC doesn’t have the ability to give us all EP 2 and 3 cards, they have been able to give us new cards for free.  Often times having to pay for new cards was reason enough for players to quite.  Now the only thing you have to pay for is to simply get all the older cards you might have missed.  The PC has luckily given us all the V cards for free.  In the future, they should charge $5-10 dollars to have unlimited downloads of each new set.  This would give them some extra money to be able to provide better and more tournaments for us the players. 

While Decipher could have done some really good things with this game, the chances of that happening are really low.  Decipher has been on the downswing ever since losing the SW license and must have been going that way before losing the license, otherwise, Lucas (you would think) would have left the license in their hands.  Plus if not for WOTC getting the game, there wouldn’t be Star Wars mini’s. 



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