The Phantom Menace: Design Notes
I'll admit, I was a bit nervous about having to design a SW:TCG expansion set for The Phantom Menace time period. For one, many people consider this to be—er, how shall I put this—the “low point” of the Star Wars universe, film-wise. (Personally, I enjoyed The Phantom Menace, more so than Attack of the Clones. However, I think I'm in the minority there.) Second of all, we borrowed heavily from The Phantom Menace when we made the Attack of the Clones set, especially in the Ground and Space arenas. This was mostly due to the fact that we needed to have the set done around December or so, and Lucasfilm would not be finished with all of the effects shots (including Ground and Space units we would've liked to have used) until just before the film was released.
The good news was that some of the best Expanded Universe material is set in this time period. In fact, for a while we wanted to call the set Republic instead of The Phantom Menace, but Lucasfilm insisted on The Phantom Menace (and rightly so, I think). So, plundering the Expanded Universe and using the best of what was left out of Attack of the Clones basically set the tone for The Phantom Menace set.
From the get go, I knew I wanted to highlight the major factional themes presented in the movie. So, the Gungans and Trade Federation were natural themes to introduce in this set. Well, introduce isn’t exactly correct, as the Trade Federation already has a substantial presence in the Attack of the Clones and Sith Rising sets. However, I wanted to give players some interesting cards that could go into a Trade Federation-themed deck.
An obvious place to start was with the leaders of the Trade Federation: Nute Gunray (C) and Rune Haako (A). Clearly, these Neimoidians are not brawlers, and the previous versions of Nute have been satisfyingly annoying, a trait I wanted to preserve for them in The Phantom Menace. Paying 1 less build is a nice “boss” feature; plus, I like the flavor of granting your other Trade Federation units Intercept, because it allows you to use these units to protect Nute. (“I want destroyer droids up here at once!!!”) Rune, on the other hand, has never had a card of his own, and I wanted to create a nice utility unit for the Trade Federation decks; also, his Retreat ability is supposed to capture his cowardice.
Finally, after the success of the Asteroid cards in Rogues and Scoundrels, I knew I wanted to give the Trade Federation a similar chain of units. It was a natural enough fit: the C-9979 transports carried the Trade Federation MTTs and the Trade Federation AATs, while the MTTs carried a ton of droids, including Trade Federation STAPs. Of course these Trade Federation units all go to your hand and not directly into play, but they do count toward winning their arenas, so I imagine they'll all see some play.
I must admit I have a soft place in my heart for the Gungans, and wanted them to be a major part of The Phantom Menace set. I absolutely loved the shot in the movie where the Gungans riding Kaadus emerge from the fog—I knew I had to make a card for that particular scene.
It is somewhat unfortunate that their spokesman in the films, Jar-Jar, is a bit of a goofball, because the rest of the Gungans are pretty badass guys. I liked their whole biotech theme—their city, Otoh Gunga, their anti-droid plasma balls, and how they had tamed the local fauna to be their beasts of burden (and would then attach shield generators to them!). Also, if you think about it, the Gungans were unbelievably brave to go out and meet the Trade Federation army head on—purely as a diversionary force, knowing that they would all probably be killed.
There was some controversy when I said that I thought the Gungans should be neutral. However, I think that if the Trade Federation had gone to the Gungans first and told them, “We are going to take over the surface of the planet and wipe out the Naboo. Would you like to help?” the Gungans may well have agreed to, or certainly would at least not have minded. Also, I thought that mechanically it could be interesting to have Gungans played on either side. Boss Nass (A), Otoh Gunga, and Captain Tarpals (A) are the obvious backbones of the Gungan theme. However, there are quite a few interesting Gungan units to discover, many of which play well in combination with other Gungans (Fambaa Shield Beast, Gungan Battle Wagon, etc.).
The Podracing scenes were some of the most exciting moments from The Phantom Menace, and I knew that I wanted to include a few cards dedicated to podracers in this set. Well, what do podracers do? For one thing, they are FAST. Making Anakin’s and Sebulba’s podracers the fastest things ever in Ground seemed like a good idea. I also wanted Sebulba's Podracer (A) and Sebulba (A) himself to capture his use of dirty tricks, thus he is one of the few non-Jedi units that has Deflect. To round out the podracing theme, I also included 1 Mission (Podrace) and 1 Location (Podracing Course) that definitely reward the use of podracers in Ground.
I also knew from early on that the set would include many of the amazing creatures that Lucasfilm put into the movie. The hard part was that many of these creatures clearly just live underwater. I wanted a mechanic to link the Sando Aqua Monster, Opee Sea Killer, and Colo Claw Fish. This became the Aquatic mechanic; at first, these creatures could not attack unless you had an Aquatic Location in play. While more flavorful, this SW:TCG version of Magic: the Gathering’s Islandhome proved to be too much of a burden in playtesting. Either the units were really bad if you didn’t have an Aquatic Location, or they were amazing when you did. So, I tweaked the Aquatic mechanic to what you see now.
Currently, it gives a nice bonus if you have an Aquatic Location in play, but the units are not crippled if you don’t. Look for more Aquatic Locations to be introduced in the future.
The Gungans have their fair share of domesticated creatures, and while I don’t think the Eopie is a great card, I do like sprinkling some “vanilla” units into every set. Who knows, maybe some Creature Swarm deck will be bashing people with Eopies :).
More Expanded Universe
Some of the best Expanded Universe material is set in The Phantom Menace time period, and I highly recommend the Dark Horse comics in this period for any Star Wars fan. I borrowed heavily from the Republic, Prelude to Rebellion, Outlander, Emissaries to Malastare, and Darkness lines, among others, to find such great characters as the pychometric Quinlan Vos (A), the mysterious Dark Woman (A) and my favorite Expanded Universe character, Vilmarh Grahrk (A). If you are familiar with these characters, you'll see how I tried to capture some of their flavor in their cards. A special guest star for this set was Durge (A), who technically was not introduced until the Clone Wars cartoon, but makes an appearance here. (His card mechanics are meant to reflect his super regenerative abilities.)
And once again, we were fortunate enough to get outstanding CGI work by our Johnathan Hill.
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