Force-Powered Decks: The History of the Young Jedi Card Game

While short-lived, Decipher's Phantom Menace-themed game remains a fan favorite.

Continuing my jaunt through the varied history of Star Wars card games brings us to the first game connected to the prequel merchandising blitz. While Decipher was seeing plenty of success with their Star Wars Customizable Card Game (CCG), they weren’t content to rest on their laurels. With Pokémon on the scene and card games seeing a sudden deluge of new competitors, Decipher branched out with an all new Star Wars game: Young Jedi.

A New Beginning

Young Jedi released back in 1999, soon after the very first Star Wars Celebration event. Those in attendance had the opportunity to snag some exclusive cards, the first boosters, and get some hands-on time with the new card game before everyone else. This marked Decipher’s second officially licensed Star Wars card game. Unlike the original CCG, which focused on events from the original trilogy and some of the Expanded Universe material, Young Jedi put the focus entirely on Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Obviously, with a new Star Wars film coming to theaters, Decipher was anxious to capitalize on it and bring even more people into their gaming world. The basic idea behind Young Jedi was fairly simple: present a more accessible game to all age ranges. The first CCG hit in 1995 and did amazingly well, giving even Magic: The Gathering a run for their money. By the time Young Jedi came out, Pokemon was on the scene and already on its way to becoming a tabletop gaming juggernaut with kids and teens.

Decipher needed to compete and the hard truth is, the Star Wars CCG was WAY too complicated to tap into the younger market. While players lauded the CCG for the depth of strategy it offered, it also proved a fairly strong deterrent for newcomers and younger Star Wars fans; especially with a new film on the horizon to bring in new audiences. Thus, Young Jedi was born. The game took a far simpler approach to battles and play time was meant to be quick and easy to get into.

Simplified Gameplay

Decks were constructed based around a colored dot system and players were limited to only ten cards from each group. With only six dot colors, however, the maximum amount of cards wound up around 60. Other than that, there weren’t any specific limitations to how big or small you wanted the deck to be. Characters were the focus of the battles, where you would add on weapons, bonuses, and other stats to affect the outcome of a fight. Each character had its own damage value and once they were defeated, that’s how many cards you lost from your deck.

If you ran out of playable cards, you lost the game. The only other way to win was by capturing a majority of the battleground planets in play. The game’s final expansion, Boonta Eve Podrace, added a third option to win, but it wasn’t as commonly used since it came so late in the game’s life cycle. Young Jedi was designed to be fast paced, allowing for quick matches one after another (if you wanted), as opposed to the main CCG which could drag on for well over an hour at times.

It was crafted this way in order to crack into the valuable Pokémon market and be something of a direct competitor, leveraging the Star Wars brand in its favor. It was also intended to be a stepping-stone for gamers. Its simpler approach to gameplay was meant to introduce players to Decipher’s particular brand of card games. Ultimately, the goal was to transition Young Jedi gamers (as they grew older and more refined in their gaming tastes) to the more challenging CCG. In this way they could grow their fan base while still offering gamers something new to enjoy.

Sadly, however, Young Jedi was short-lived and this transitioning idea was never fully realized. The game came to a close in 2001, but within that time frame Decipher released a total of eight expansions to the core game:

Menace of Darth Maul
The Jedi Council
Battle of Naboo
Enhanced Menace of Darth Maul
Duel of the Fates
Enhanced Battle of Naboo
Young Jedi Reflections
Boonta Eve Podrace

The early expansions added about 140 cards each to the game, while the latter ones varied between 60-100. The “Enhanced” expansions were literally just a handful of cards meant to augment previous expansions (an expansion to the expansions if you will). That’s a ridiculous amount of extra cards/content in such a short amount of time. If you were big into this game you weren’t lacking for new material.

Current Legacy

For the three years it was around, Decipher supported it like crazy and hosted annual Championship Tournaments (as they did for the CCG as well) for fans to compete in. By all accounts Young Jedi was doing as well as could be expected. Despite stiff competition from Pokémon and being centered solely around one film, it sold pretty well (mostly due to the the amount of support being thrown at it).

In 2001 the game stopped printing as Decipher lost the license to publish Star Wars games. As I mentioned previously in my discussion about the original Star Wars CCG, a specific reason has never really been given for the “sudden” cancellation of the games’ license. The most likely reason being that the Star Wars brand was attempting to unify more things around the prequel trilogy. As such, giving the license over to Wizards of the Coast, which was owned by the Star Wars toy developers (Hasbro), made more sense.

Gaming fans were a little upset, especially as Young Jedi just seemed to be hitting its stride and feeling like a stronger game. The Player’s Committee was formed soon after Decipher closed up shop on these games in order to provide some continued support for fans and gamers. A few “virtual” cards were released, though the licensing issues meant they couldn’t create any NEW cards for use. Instead, the virtual cards merely changed the text on existing cards, which could alter how you played.

While the original CCG still has a great deal of support from the Player’s Committee, with new packs being “released” and a variety of options to play online even today, Young Jedi stopped getting support back in 2003. Its short life span meant they weren’t able to develop a stable enough fan base justify continued support; so if you missed out on this game…you really missed it.

The only options available to you now are finding local fans/groups of players, perhaps even finding some used decks and introducing them into your circle of (nerdy) friends. Tracking down the cards isn’t all that difficult either. Heading to local conventions will undoubtedly unearth some Young Jedi decks and boosters for decent prices, and even a quick search on eBay will land you unopened booster pack boxes and sealed starter decks for only a few bucks.

Young Jedi may not have been around for long, but it formed another important step in the surprisingly varied history of card games from the galaxy far, far away. Finding people to play with might be a tad difficult these days, but avid collectors should have no problems tracking these cards down and adding them to their shelves. This game might not add a ton of value to your overall collection, but if cards/games are a big part of your focus, it’s nice to know this stepping stone in Star Wars card history isn’t hard to find.

Jordan Maison is an artist, writer, father, and avid Star Wars fan who tries to intersect all of those at every possible junction. To hear him talk about more nerdy things and his art, you can follow him on Twitter @JordanMaison or Cinelinx where he serves as editor in chief.