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Star Wars™: Unlimited is very nearly here! As we count down the days to this game’s highly-anticipated launch, we wanted to share some more insights from the designers! This time, we asked the team’s newer designers to share their thoughts. 

So, without further ado, here’s some Q&A from game designers MJ Cutts, John Leo, Joe O’Neil, and Ryan Serrano! 

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Tell our readers about yourself! When did you join FFG? What are your interests/hobbies (other than tabletop games, of course)?

MJ: Hi hello! My name’s MJ Cutts (they/them), and I’m the youngest, most reckless designer on Star Wars: Unlimited. I joined the FFG team around April 2023 along with my fellow newcomers. I have just been having the time of my life working on the best job I’ve ever had, with the most dedicated, friendly team I’ve ever worked with. Outside of work and tabletop, I love rock climbing, cooking—currently on a homemade bazlama kick—and watching musicals with my partner.

John: I joined FFG in April of 2023, coming off a career in development for tabletop games and accessories. Outside of gaming, I’m a published poet, with my second book coming out next spring. I have two cats (big surprise) and am the Star Wars: Unlimited team’s resident movie buff.

Joe: I joined FFG in April 2023 with all the other new designers. I love lots of video and card games; I’m really into fighting games, action RPGs and other TCGs, both as a collector and as a player. Outside of games I really like drawing and spending time with my wife and golden retriever.

Ryan: Hi, readers! I joined the Star Wars: Unlimited team at FFG in May 2023 as the final game designer and was appointed “rules admiral” after asking way too many questions about rules minutiae. Outside of games, I’m a big Russian literature geek and just started getting into making my own electronic music. I also run my own trivia night here in Minneapolis!

What’s your experience with card games, whether it’s designing them, playing them, teaching them, etc.? How has that experience helped you design for Star Wars: Unlimited?

MJ: I’ve played TCGs for about 7 years for limited play and multiplayer formats, and I used to help manage a game store with the most delightful card game community and want to try engaging more with that soon. As for design experience, before this I was almost exclusively a tabletop RPG designer! My experience on RPGs predisposes me towards flexible, evocative card abilities; a great card ability should both be able to tell a strong story on its own, and to be easily played in a way that twists the meaning of that story in fun and surprising ways. Our Obi-Wan Kenobi from Spark of Rebellion, for example, has a When Defeated ability that tells a strong story about how his death pushes Luke forward in his journey. But that ability is also flexible, because how he’s defeated can be hilariously unexpected…if anyone even can defeat him after being give a lightsaber or two.

John: I came up through the community of FFG’s longest-running Living Card Game. I have been playing it for a decade and still enjoy the game as a fan. It taught me a lot about designing toward theme, toward a robust experience which pays respect to the source material while being its own distinct game.

Joe: I got into trading card games when I was 6 and never looked back, still playing some of the same games today. I started collecting and playing cards, got deeper into the game and loved how much creative expression they allow. I love making weird combo decks and crashing them into the top meta decks to see what I can make break through. I’ve tried taking this philosophy into Star Wars: Unlimited to make sure there are always creative ways to build decks that feel fun and unique. Any card game will develop a list of “best” decks, but if you can take a deck of your own against them that feels like it’s doing something exciting and different, I’ll feel successful as a designer.

Ryan: I come from a big family of classic card game players and would spend hours as a kid inventing new kinds of trick-taking games. On the TCG side, I’ve been active in the competitive scenes for a couple different games, and I get a lot of inspiration from how those games design their cards to emphasize what makes their game unique. I actually was working on my own LCG when I got hired by FFG, though I shouldn’t talk too much about that, in case I end up importing some of my ideas from that project into future Star Wars: Unlimited sets!

What is the most exciting thing about Star Wars: Unlimited to you? What’s most exciting about a set you worked on (as much as you can share, at least)?

MJ: Star Wars: Unlimited feels effortless to teach. This is a game that doesn’t make me tense up with caution before showing someone how to play for the first time, and there are very few rules exceptions or “gotcha” interrupts to confuse and frustrate someone before they can understand what’s going on.

Beyond my excitement to show players the game, everyone knows the best part of Star Wars: that obscure background character that only you and I know the name of, since they only appeared in that book only you and I read. For those characters that I know better than the rest of the team (including some very cool additions in years 2 and 3), being able to guide us on how to make those characters feel special and true to themselves has been very rewarding.

John: I grew up on Star Wars. I spent a lot of hours in elementary school poring over the visual dictionaries of each movie. That’s not unique to me; it’s been so special to take these characters who mean so much to people, and to try to interpret them artfully and respectfully.

Joe: Just how much fun this game is. At both a simple level teaching new players and at its highest level playing against our most skilled designers, I always have such a good time playing. I’m working on a future set that has mechanics which let you set up combos and then execute for big impact, and it always feels so satisfying when it can be pulled off.

Ryan: Honestly, one of the most exciting things to me about Star Wars: Unlimited is how many leaders we release in each set. There are so many leaders running around! Everyone seems to have their own favorite Star Wars character, and this game having a lot of leaders means we have space as designers to shine a spotlight in a lot of different places. It also helps prevent the meta from becoming stale, as players always have plenty of options to pivot to if they want to take a break from their favorite deck. The sets I’m leading won’t come out for a while, so I’m afraid I can’t say very much about them, but I will say there are some specific leader designs I am extremely excited to share.

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What were some of the challenges you faced while designing for Star Wars: Unlimited? How did you overcome them? 

MJ: Assembling and maintaining a card pool can feel a bit like playing Jenga in the backseat of a speeding car. Development has lots of unforeseen challenges—balance changes, color swaps, redesigns, and more—and when these things change, they cause knock-on effects in places you can’t always predict. This can create fun problems to solve, but fun problems are still problems! My solution so far has been a mountain of spreadsheets, and it seems to be working out.

John: The things that make this game special are also the biggest challenges. Fans love these characters. In a way, they feel a deep bond with these characters. In that sense, there’s a lot of pressure to get them right at the design level.

Joe: The greatest difficulties have been balancing the various needs of the greater card pool with relatively few tools. You have to make sure each color has enough tools to function in each format. Cards should play well with their own set’s mechanics but not be so siloed that you can’t put them in decks that have cards from all the sets too. It’s a delicate balancing act and a fun puzzle, but it is challenging.

Ryan: I have a tendency to want to design every card top-down with cool thematic synergies, especially for an IP like Star Wars, which means my first drafts can be…over-designed. It’s been challenging at times to balance the need to streamline cards to keep down a set’s overall complexity with the desire to keep that theme I know Star Wars fans will want to see! It’s helpful to know I can focus a card’s design on feeling thematic in one specific way for one aspect of that character, knowing that we’re planning more versions of that character down the line. One of the things I love about our uniqueness rule is that we don’t have to worry about making one version of a character so strong that future versions of that character will never see play.

Which deckbuilding aspect is your favorite to design cards for, and why? Which one is your favorite to play with?

MJ: Aggression is a tough cookie to work with because its design space is a bit narrow in Spark of Rebellion, but that means it’s a very dynamic color with room to grow. More than any other color, I enjoy going to our designer chat to ask, “Is this idea red?” and spark a good conversation.

As for when I’m playing, I love value, I love big numbers, I love Command. There’s no better feeling than putting so many XP tokens on a unit that it goes off the side of the table (no, I will not use dice to save room!). There’s a point where a good deck leaves the sphere of “card game” and enters the world of “cruel parody” when C-3PO hits a base for 20 damage, but I’ve seen it happen and I’m a happier person for it.

John: Through and through, I am a control player. If there is a viable control deck in a format, I am playing it. That means I’m playing Vigilance. Full stop.

Joe: Cunning is my favorite to design for. It has so many fun and interesting tools to play with that it feels like you’re designing a Rube Goldberg machine that the players get to assemble. I love playing with Vigilance. There are fewer things more satisfying to me in this game than stacking a bunch of upgrades on 1 or 2 units and swinging at the base for massive damage.

Ryan: I love designing Aggression cards because it’s such an interesting challenge to keep the red card pool growing in new ways. Aggression likes to get what it wants right away, which can tend towards a repetitive design space, but I’ve had a lot of fun coming up with new archetypes to explore everything Aggression can do. 

My favorite aspect to play with is Cunning because I primarily play “glass cannon” decks that try to squeak out a win in a very tight window. Cunning has a wide variety of cards that give small tempo advantages, and piloting a victory out of what seems like a no-win scenario is very satisfying.

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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.

MJ: Force Throw! This card is wildly thematic, ripping a card out of someone’s hand and throwing it at them. It’s also a fun card to play since it puts your opponent in the hotseat, asking them not only what to get rid of, but how much damage they’re willing to take. As if those two reasons weren’t enough, this card is also going to find tons of cool, new decks to have a home in as we release more cards every year. It’s awesome now, and it’ll be awesome later, too.

John: Takedown. It has a great ability. You get to defeat a unit. Defeating units is great. If I defeat all the units then I’m winning, right?

Joe: My favorite is the card Cunning. It can do so many different things that are all so strong. It can give you a +4 so you hit like a truck, it can exhaust and bounce the entire enemy board, it can get rid of pesky events in an opponent’s hand. It’s fantastic!

Ryan: As a big fan of the underworld elements of Star Wars, I’d have to say my favorite Spark of Rebellion card is Pirated Starfighter. Self-bounce in the early game to repeat a useful When Played effect, or bounce a damaged unit late-game that my opponent has just lined up to defeat, then bring it right back into play. Add to that some great stats for a 2-cost unit in space and you’ve got a solid card that still makes it into a lot of my decks. Plus, pulling off a big move with it makes you feel sneaky, underhanded, and, well, Cunning!

Are there any additional thoughts about Star Wars: Unlimited that you would like to share?

MJ: Star Wars has a big galaxy to cover! We’re years into development but there’s still so many characters that deserve their time in the spotlight. If there’s anything in Star Wars that you love and want to see in the game, I can almost guarantee that we love it and want to see it in the game too.

John: Above everything, this game is fun. See you at prerelease!

Joe: All of us designers are so excited to be working on a game like this. When you join a project partway through development, you don’t know if it will necessarily click with you, but all of us have been thrilled with the game so far and where it’s going.

Ryan: Just want to give a massive “thank you” to all the folks reading this and engaging with a game that’s not even out yet! Your enthusiasm is infectious, and it makes all of us on the design side even more energized to make this game the best it can be. There are some really fun things in the pipeline right now, and we can’t wait to share them all with you!

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