I think the first thing I put in the Rebel section of our Season 4 planning document (more on this in a later article) was “Yoda Redux”. Some of the committee members thought Yoda was fine as he was and that people would warm up to him as a roleplayer, but thankfully Derek joined me on my crusade to overhaul Yoda into a proper tier 1 figure. Yoda had been designed and released before I had joined the committee, and when the changes for Season 3.1 were being decided, we wanted to only make minor changes to avoid changing too much right before the online Regionals at the end of March. But now that that tournament had passed by, I felt like we could take our foot off the brakes and make real changes backed up by playtesting to bring Yoda up to snuff.
The first thing we did was go back to the source material and try to figure out what Yoda from the original trilogy was all about, and how we could reflect that in card form. I also felt like all of his previous abilities were very subtle and small and things that we had already seen on other cards, and he lacked a centerpiece ability that made people pay attention, like Jabba’s Order Hit or Palpatine’s Emperor ability, something big and flashy and unique to just him but something that still fit into Yoda’s ethos. The words that kept popping into my mind for Yoda were “knowledge and defense, never attack”, and for Derek they were “wars not make one great”.
Derek came up with a version of Yoda that included a suite of new abilities, one of which was an upgrade to Mind Muddle which essentially worked like a stronger Force Choke at range 4, based on feedback that Yoda wasn’t contributing enough in the late game as a 5 point figure, and we playtested it. Late in the game, Derek’s Yoda walked up to my heavily damaged Diala who I had tried to retreat into a corner, and he killed her. Just reached out with the Force and murdered her. I remember having a strong reaction that it just wasn’t right for Yoda’s character, not that he wouldn’t kill anyone if he needed to defend himself, but that he wouldn’t just proactively walk up and use the Force to kill or maim someone that was no longer a threat to him.
After the playtest session with Derek, I kept trying to think of how we could have a Yoda that dealt damage without feeling aggressive or like the one instigating the fight. I was actually inspired by the picture that Derek used in his mockup for his Yoda card, which showed Yoda about to deflect Force Lightning back at Palpatine in one of the Prequel movies. At first I thought about giving Yoda an ability similar to Han’s Return Fire, but I wasn’t sure how it should work if it’s not an attack. Then I thought of Jedi Luke’s Deflect ability and how it would be cool if we could combine the two, and that would be a much more thematic way for Yoda to deal damage, as it would only happen reactively when he or an adjacent friendly figure was being attacked, and didn’t require Yoda to perform an attack himself.
The Committee talked through several versions of Force Deflection. At first it dealt damage to the defender equal to the damage suffered, then we capped that at 4, then it just became a set amount of damage and strain. We played around with it triggering on declare and after the attack resolves, making it his Command card, and whether it should also reflect non-attack abilities that target, which was just too difficult to get the wording right in a reasonable amount of words. Finally I came up with the effect that everyone seemed to like, which was dealing X damage to the attacker based on the number of attack dice rolled. This created a degree of predictability for the opponent, and especially punished figures that were abusing Focus and cards like Tools for the Job to create 3 and 4 dice attack pools, something that would also get punished later by the new Iron Will card that was developed later on. Some committee members were worried that it would be too difficult for Yoda to keep up with his Jedi companions and protect them with his ability, but in playtesting we found it worked really well to allow Rebel Force Users to be just a little more aggressive with their round 1 positioning, and made opponents rethink whether they wanted to take that long range shot across the map that would otherwise have gone completely unpunished and involved 0 risk to their attacking figure. It also turned Yoda into a sort of moving home base for any Rebel figure to park next to once they had taken some damage.
Everyone seemed to like the new Force Deflection ability once it’s usefulness was demonstrated in playtesting, but to me Yoda was still far from finished. The only things that remained constant about Yoda during this redesign process was his 3 speed, command card and Focusing Force Users, but everything else was in flux, including his points cost. At 5 points I kept finding it difficult to justify bringing Yoda when Gideon and 3PO cost the same amount of points and provided double the Focus and movement points and an extra activation
I kept coming back to the idea of Yoda being able to move objects like objectives and terminals, something we’ve never seen in the game before and that also perfectly fit into the feats we’ve seen from Yoda onscreen. This was a version of Yoda that I submitted that I thought would actually be strong at 5 points and felt like it could be a viable replacement for Gideon & 3PO in a Rebel Force Users list. But Chris and several other committee members commented that they liked the abilities that we already had on the original Yoda and just wanted to see how Yoda would do at 4 points instead of 5, and have Mind Muddle replaced by Force Deflection as the more powerful and thematic ability.
To compensate for making him cheaper and giving him an upgraded ability, we also removed his defensive bonuses that made him very hard to kill but let him keep his 9 Health (He’s 900 years old after all) to help ensure that he would get to use Force Deflection at least one time if he got targeted early on. We also converted as many of his abilities as we could to only being able to target Rebel figures, so that we could remove the ability that prevented him from being played in other factions which was taking up valuable word real estate in the text box. In that same vein of conserving words, we decided to remove his attack type and pool, but I argued that we did not need to include the Non-Combatant ability that 3PO has because the only card that can allow a figure without a specified attack type to perform an attack is the card Improvised Weapons, which I felt was fine for Yoda to use, as though he were hurling stones at an opponent with the Force.
Finally, I pushed hard for removing the Leader trait. Mostly it didn’t fit with me thematically that Yoda, as a hermit who never left Dagobah and only ever taught a single Rebel, but never led Rebel troops into battle or interacted with anyone in the Galactic Civil War besides Luke, would be considered a leader. He was certainly a mentor, but so was Obi-Wan to Luke, and Obi-Wan is not a leader in Imperial Assault. If we were designing Grand Master Yoda as he was during the Clone Wars, he would certainly have the leader trait, but that is a very different character from a different era. And then from a gameplay perspective, we found that being able to attach On a Diplomatic Mission to Yoda was not only thematically a disconnect, it was also very problematic on a figure that generates all of its value without ever attacking and is itself very punishing to attack.
So far I’ve been very happy with this incarnation of Yoda every time I’ve had a chance to play with him in Season 3. Even when I completely forget to use Wisdom and Calming Presence, I always feel like I’m getting my 4 points out of him. Really it was thanks to everyone on the committee working together, coming up with and critiquing a ton of new ideas and playtesting with them to actually see how they played out, all while staying committed to the thematic core of Yoda from the original trilogy. As you can see we left a ton of stuff on the cutting room floor and polished this Yoda down to a much tighter and more developed version that still kept a lot of the whimsy and support options that the original had.
I did tell you it was going to be a long story, but there you have it, that’s Yoda version 3.2. I hope you enjoyed reading this and I hope you’re all enjoying playing with this version of Yoda in season 3. Happy May the Fourth Everyone. Next week I’ll be talking about how the committee currently play tests the cards we create to make sure they’re fun and not completely busted.