We interrupt your regularly-scheduled individual issue reviews of the All-New All-Different Marvel Now to bring you the latest installment of … Super-Blog Team-Up!
As you can see from the logo above, this edition of Super-Blog Team-Up celebrates the return of Star Wars! Today, all across the Internet, a ragtag group of bloggers have joined together to blog and podcast about the greatest space opera of them all!
It is impossible to overstate the impact Star Wars had on pop culture, kicking off a whole new era of cinematic spectaculars, and incidentally saving Marvel Comics and the whole comics industry along the way. The Original Trilogy came along at the turning of the tide for my adolescence — I saw Star Wars as kid, with my dad at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and six years later saw Return of the Jedi as a date film with the woman who would become my wife. Star Wars bracketed my transition from child to adult (or at least as adult as a fifty-odd-year-old guy with a comics blog can be!)
I loved the original pictures, but the years that followed would not be kind. I didn’t care for the prequels, and I resent that I can’t easily share the first films with my kids in unaltered form (not that they’ve shown much interest, frankly). Aside from dabbling in the surprisingly-good Clone Wars via Netflix, Star Wars has been in a long dry spell for me, but of course with a new movie on the horizon, my nostalgia has been reawakened for the series, so it was perhaps inevitable that I looked favorably upon an odd little app that debuted several months ago …
Star Wars Card Trader is a free digital trading card application for iPhone and Android. It offers several hundred different virtual Star Wars trading cards that are distributed through a bewildering array of collectable packs within the app. The app uses a virtual currency scheme, but Topps is generous with free currency — my card collection numbers in the thousands, and I don’t think I’ve spent more than ten bucks all year (and needn’t have spent at all — basic currency rewards and advertising incentives can keep you going indefinitely with this thing).
I was never a trading card guy. Cards never appealed to me the way comics do — in my view, you can’t do much more with cards than to own them and organize them. At least comics offer reading value. So, too, have I always resisted products with built-in rarities, and card sets, with their blind packaging and chase cards, fall squarely into that category. Finally, I hate waste and I hate sprawl, and hauling around legions of card boxes filled with duplicate cards seems to me the worst kind of pursuit.
very cool, but too much for me
But there are people who love card collecting, obviously, and I say these things not to cast shade on my card collecting friends, but to set the stage for why I’ve come to so enjoy this digital trading card app. For me, it addresses every issue I had with collecting cards — it’s free, it’s compact, it’s organized, it’s filled with endless content, and it’s Star Wars.
The only problem is that it isn’t real.
The app is real, but the cards are not. At least, they aren’t real in the physical sense. While the cards may look real on your phone, they exist only as digital images on your screen, backstopped on a Topps server someplace. Digital comics, at least, are usually available somewhere as something you can hold in your hand. These Topps cards, for the most part, don’t exist in the real world at all. There’s no gold standard tethering these things to reality. There aren’t even Midi-chlorians!
And yet the hunt to collect full sets of these things still drives a healthy daily user base of (by my estimation) about 70K players, enough of whom spend real money on this app to keep Topps busy releasing an endless and confusing string of core sets, inserts, and variants, with new releases coming every day! It is becoming too much of a good thing, to be honest.
But more about that later. First, the app.
Star Wars Card Trader is a free download for your smartphone, and there’s no harm in checking it out for yourself, but in a nutshell … the app gives you daily free currency awards, which are spent in a store to purchase packs of cards. Card packs vary by contents, quantity, and price, and are sorted by rarity. Base rarities are white, blue, red, yellow, and gold; on top of this there are variant colors and a storm of special inserts. The base cards are all photographs of characters and creatures from the six (and soon seven) Star Wars films and animated series, while the inserts cover everything under the sun, from concept art to weapons to locations to comic book covers that will be familiar to the Bronze Age comics fans that read this blog.
The reverse of each card has a slug of text about the character, and a notice of how many copies of that card have been “printed,” running from the millions for base white cards, to 100 or fewer for some of the very rare inserts.
The most common way to get cards is to open packs, and Topps has done a good job here, with a little sound effect and flourish when you open a pack, and a burst of laser fire and device vibration when you uncover a card that is new-to-you … a fine digital approximation of ripping open a real pack of cards, sorting through them, and going “Got it … got it … got it … AH HA!”
There are also torturous achievement-based means of collecting certain rare cards, by assembling parts of other sets, or following blueprints, or melding or shredding the cards you’ve already got, but to be honest I can’t be bothered. I mean, look at these instructions, and tell me they make the vaguest sense:
No, I’ve stuck to basic goals, gradually filling out a complete set of White, Blue, Red, and Yellow cards (the most commonly available), and a few Golds, along with some keen inserts. One of may favorite sets, as you can well imagine, was the 1977 retro set, a reproduction of original physical cards of the day, some of which are just so damn cool:
I also chased down some so-bad-it’s-good art from an old Empire Strikes Back set …
… along with some artsy original pieces that Topps has created just for their card sets.
Even the covers of the sets are cool. I never did get a single variant from this Women of Star Wars pack, but I loved the cover …
Alas, not every card is a work of art. This Skiff Guards card belongs in the Photoshop Crime Hall of Shame …
… but for the most part, I’ve been well-pleased with the app, especially for the price. It gives me a Star Wars fix a couple times a day, and has even engaged me a bit with trading.
Ah, yes, trading … you can’t have trading cards without the trading part, and here the app also delivers, albeit awkwardly. There are various text feeds within the app where players will post their needs and offers, and there is a painfully slow and awkward interface where you can propose and counter-propose trade offers to each other. It is a laborious process, with far too many clicks, and trades are limited to nine cards on a side at a time, but it is better than nothing. Just.
And it was trading that led me down the rabbit hole with this thing.
It doesn’t take more than a couple months of dedicated use to put together a basic set of cards with this app. Chasing down every insert and variant is basically impossible, so when my core colors were complete, I figured that I was done with the app. This made me sad, because I still wanted my Star Wars fix … but I was unwilling to flush the major bucks and time into the app that collecting inserts would require.
And so … I went to the Dark Side. I became a Hoarder!
We are getting into weird territory here, but stay with me.
When I first downloaded the app, the community seemed about split between those who Hoarded, and those who didn’t. It was the marvelous kind of nerd skirmish that our tribe does so well. On one side, the group who thought it was cool to compile lots (and I mean LOTS) of the same card through trade, and on the other, the group who felt this was contrary to the intent of the app (by artificially reducing the number of cards in circulation, and maybe by letting players pile up positive trade ratings through frivolous transactions). Nowadays, hoarding has been more-or-less legitimized by Topps through promotions that invite you to “shred” vast numbers of duplicate cards to qualify for rare variants, but you will still find a trader here and there with NO HOARDERS! in their trade offers.
Of course, this only encourages me.
I had hit the wall with casual collection, but I didn’t want to give up the app, so as I said, I became a Hoarder. Of digital cards. That don’t exist. A behavior that made me a pariah to some. This is awesome!
It was simple enough. I love Admiral Ackbar. I had a bunch of Admiral Ackbar cards. I thought … what if I had ALL of the Admiral Ackbars?
one of these things is WAY MORE than the others …
Yeah, that’s never going to happen. There are millions of White Ackbars out there. But I decided to make a dent by getting as many as I could.
This is deeply stupid behavior. Like I said, the trading process is arduous, and is capped at exchanging nine cards at a time. Calculating the time I have invested in building my collection up to nearly three thousand Admiral Ackbars, nine cards at a time, is left as an exercise for the reader.
Here’s the crazy thing. I am not King of the Digital Ackbars. Not even close. I know this because the Hoarding market for Admiral Ackbar is very, very tight. In examining other players card collections for potential trades, I see stacks and stacks of Plo Koons and IG-88s and Padmes … but I see very few Ackbars. Other collectors — thousands of them, in my fevered imagination — have been getting to the Ackbars before me. I have nearly three thousand of these bastards, even if all they are is a little number on an image, but it is not enough.
For awhile I hoped that I would be able to get an Ackbar Monument card when Topps inevitably announced shred time for the Mon Calamari, but I am seeing that weird dream recede in the distance. Based on past Hoarding challenges, it will take 5000 or more Ackbars just to get in the ballpark for that award, and I am never going to get there.
And so, with regret, I have been winding down my participation in Star Wars Card Trader, which is fine … it got me through the year and right up to the introduction of the movie. That’s great!
one of my final Admiral Ackbar trades …
But there is possibly an epilogue to this saga.
I told you that I haven’t chased the rare cards, but one of the rare cards chased me.
Sitting on the can one day, I “bought” a package of non-existent rare “mint black press” embossed Star Wars trading cards, that were neither really pressed or embossed. And out of nowhere I Iucked into a black General Grievous.
I don’t give a bucket of warm Rancor piss about General Grievous, mint, pressed, black, or otherwise … but this is the rarest card in my collection. It is one of the rarest cards in the whole set, with only 100 in circulation. This particular card is one sixth of a complete mint set, and the crazy guy who gets one of each of the six will unlock another nonexistent virtual reward when the last of the cards has been released.
For the effort and expense involved, you’d expect at least a handshake from C-3PO, but no … all that hunting for cards will just earn you another card!
(And did I mention that all the cards in this app, whether part of your collection or not, are always free to view via the trading interface?)
But I digress.
Here I am with this immensely sought-after card and no means or desire to collect the rest of the set. What am I do to with it? If I could trade it for 5000 Ackbars, I would … but the app doesn’t permit easy transactions on that scale. I could try to trade it for nine very rare inserts, but I’m really not that interested.
Or a clever fellow could truly turn to the Dark Side … at eBay.
Now, I’m not saying I did it, because that would be a violation of the app’s terms and requirements, but I see that quite a few little Greedos have taken to listing their digital cards on eBay for sale outside of the app. I gather that payment is accepted via eBay, with a card trading transaction via the app to follow. And I see that mint black General Grievous cards are listing for around thirty bucks a pop, which is about what it will cost to buy a couple tickets to The Force Awakens.
Hmm. This is very tempting …
May The Force Be With You. Enjoy The Force Awakens … and before you go, be sure to check out these other great Star Wars Super Blog Team-Up articles!
- Mystery V-Log: My Personal Star Wars History
- Superhero Satellite: Star Wars Episode 7 The Toys Awaken
- Bronze Age Babies: Season of the Force
- Between The Pages: A Long Time Ago, In A Bookstore Far, Far Away …
- The Retroist: Star Wars Book And Record
- The Crapbox Of Son Of Cthulhu: Growing Up Star Wars
NEXT MONTH: #155 Marvel Puzzle Quest