Season 5 Preview: Discard Pile Dilemmas

Being able to manipulate and reuse cards from the discard pile is a design space that many games inevitably find themselves exploring, as it’s a powerful and exciting ability to entice players with. For Season 5, we’ve been looking at how to give players more meaningful and accessible ways to interact with both their discard piles as well as their opponent’s discard piles. And a character that’s been waiting for a long time to join the IACP roster has the perfect flavor for interacting with discard piles.

Doctor Aphra is a character featured in the more recent Marvel Star Wars comic books who was introduced in Darth Vader’s comic along side her dark yet faithful counterparts, BT-1 and 0-0-0, who she was responsible for unearthing as a rogue archaeologist. While originally a supporting character to Darth Vader, her character’s popularity quickly exploded and she now headlines in her very own multi-year Star Wars comic book series. What better a character to explore reckless discard-based effects than a rogue archaeologist?

Doctor Aphra brings two powerful abilities to the table in a 4 point package, a perfect cost for maneuvering tight underground spaces as well as filling small 4-point holes in your 40 point skirmish list. Her first ability represents her strong, though very perilous connection to the droids 0-0-0 and BT-1. If you have committed 9 more points to bringing both figures in your list (as well an elite Jawa in Scum or Temporary Alliance to bring Aphra into Empire), she can use her ability to provide both of them with a free move during her activation to allow them to come to her aid or perhaps go forth and deliver some light-hearted pain and mayhem.

But Doctor Aphra is quite capable on her own, and doesn’t need her droids with her to provide value or get things done. Her Excavation ability allows her to choose a card in either player’s discard pile that costs 1 point or less, with the exception of Take Initiative, and allow her player to play that card again until her next activation while it’s still in the discard pile. The card is then returned to the game box if it gets reused to prevent multiple reuses. This lets her get an extra Command card worth of value each round, as well as double up on powerful 0 and 1 point effects that can normally only be used once per game due to being limited to 1 copy in the deck. She can also “borrow” those powerful effects from your opponent’s discard pile if they’ve had luckier draws than you (or maybe if you’ve been milling them with strain).

And if you’re sad to see that there aren’t any official Aphra miniatures available close to IA’s scale, check out skullforge studios website. They have a great figure named “Professor Moxie” that makes a perfect proxy for a Doctor Aphra figure, even though it’s technically not the real thing (wink).

Of course you’ll want to fill up your discard pile with strong cards for Aphra to play with Excavate as soon as round 1, and what may have been your discarded trash can become Aphra’s treasure. Aphra’s 0 cost Command card rewards you for digging through your deck and hand and discarding cards to be Excavated. Whenever you discard a card from your hand or deck, whether it be through something like Black Market, Zillo Technique, an opponent’s intelligence leak, or just strain, you can play Aphra’s card from your hand and she will pay you nicely in VPs equal to the value of the card you lost +1. So if you lost your precious 3 point card to the discard pile without even getting to play it, you can at least be compensated by Doctor Aphra with 4 VPs. The more powerful the card you lost to the discard, the more powerful her Command card becomes. And that’s not all. Should you lose Aphra’s card to a discard effect, you’ll still get a nice shiny 1 VP, even if Aphra is no longer in the battle!

Guarding the Grave

While the discard pile as a design space is rife with opportunities for fun and interesting effects, it can also become dangerous and unbalanced if allowed to go unchecked, as traditional safeguards and counters tend to send cards to the discard, which is not very effective against strategies that can reuse cards from the discard pile multiple times. Imperial Assault has certainly dipped its toe into the discard pile before IACP was formed with successful strategies like Leia recycling powerful Command cards into the deck like Son of Skywalker and On the Lam, Shared Experience providing repeatable Zillo fodder for Jet Troopers, and Rebel Graffiti providing streams of VPs for Sabine players. IACP has also dabbled in the discard pile with cards like Knowledge and Defense for Force Users and Jyn Erso’s command card. Doctor Aphra is just the most recent card to interact with and manipulate the discard pile, which is otherwise very difficult to counter.

Until now, only one card has been introduced to the game that is intended as a countermeasure to powerful discard-based effects, the awkward Fool Me Once. This card’s narrow timing and intense strain cost have made it a less than usable answer to discard-based strategies, not to mention how bad it is if your opponent isn’t using their discard pile at all. We realized that if we wanted to keep using the discard pile as a design space for new cards, we needed to give players ways to meaningfully interact with discard-based strategies that was accessible to all armies, otherwise players might start to feel powerless against their opponent’s discard pile. This card needed to also not be completely useless against non-discard strategies, have the right timing to catch the discard abilities that mattered, but also not be so oppressive to discard-based abilities as to completely shut them out of the game altogether.

This new Command card is intended to give players a much needed tool to fight against the value that can be generated from the discard pile, at least for one turn. Using the timing format that has already been created by FFG with cards like Signal Jammer and Second Chance, Rest in Peace comes down at the start of a round and protects both players discard piles (commonly referred to in many other games as graveyards) from any effects that would choose, re-draw or play those cards for that round. Then at the end of the round, Rest in Peace is discarded, and the player that played it gets to replace it by drawing a Command card from their deck.

While this does provide just 1 round of respite from the opponent’s discard pile effects, 1 round can be a long time in games that often last no longer than 3-4 rounds. Playing this on round 2 after your opponent has tutored for Knowledge and Defense with Channel the Force, or discarded Shared Experience to Rule by Fear, now during the most explosive round in the game, for each extra surge they roll, or droid or vehicle figure you defeat during that round, they lose an extra usage of those cards. Your opponent’s Sabine can’t play Rebel Graffiti that round without it being her last use, and might give you a chance to defeat her before she can start using it again on the next round. And when the dust from that round settles, you get a free Command card at the end of the round to replace the Rest in Peace you discarded. And this effect applies to both players, so you must time its use carefully if you have also brought cards that interact with the discard pile.

It’s important to note that not all cards that reference the discard pile are stopped by this card. Certain cards that reference cards in the discard pile without actually manipulating them like Escalating Hostility, Kanan’s Protect the Old Ways, and Ezra’s Learn by Example are not affected by this card because of how they are worded. Fool Me Once is also not affected since it does not “choose, play, or re-draw” cards from the discard pile. Since it might be confusing at first glance which cards this card’s wording shuts down, here is a list of the current cards in the game that are stopped by Rest in Peace:

  • Rebel Graffiti
  • Data Theft
  • Targeting Network (2nd effect)
  • Shared Experience (2nd effect)
  • Leia Organa (Military Efficiency)
  • Knowledge and Defense (IACP, 2nd effect)
  • Built on Hope (2nd effect)
  • Doctor Aphra (Excavate)
The top row’s discard-based effects are stopped by Rest in Peace, while the bottom row of cards is not stopped from referencing cards in the discard pile since they do not move, re-draw or replay those cards.

At 0 points Rest in Peace is both extremely easy to fit into any command deck, is active from the start of the round to the end, and because it draws a card the round after its played, the downside is lessened if its played against an opponent with no abilities that interact with their discard pile. But by delaying the card draw by a turn, there is enough downside to the card to prevent it from being a no-brainer staple that has to be played in every deck. There is a legitimate cost to being down a Command card for an entire turn if you aren’t shutting any of your opponent’s abilities down with it. This ensures that players that want this kind of insurance against discard piles aren’t punished too hard when the effect isn’t needed, while players that don’t care about discard piles (or want to maximally abuse their own discard pile) and want to use their 0 point slots on other cards don’t feel like they’re making a mistake for not including the card.

I am very excited to finally get to reveal these cards to all of you. Doctor Aphra is a character I’ve been a fan of since her debut in 2015, and a card concept that I submitted early on in 2020, but had to be cut from Season 4 for space. And introducing solid graveyard hate to the game is something that’s been in the works since before the Knowledge and Defense rebalance that preceded Season 4, but we’ve had to wait until Season 5 to finally release it to players who have been waiting for a way to interact with powerful discard pile strategies. Ultimately I’m glad both of these cards got more time in the design queue for discussions, tweaks and refinements by the steering committee to maximize their potential for success in the IACP metagame.

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