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Matter of Time: Emanations

by Charlie Plaine, Second Edition Lead Designer

4th February 2013

When Matter of Time releases on Friday, February 22, it will add a new Ritual to Second Edition - the first since their debut in Peak Performance.

Wait, don't kill me. It's not what you think. Seriously. Deep breaths. Find your happy place, take a deep breath or two, then come back. Fair warning: this is a long article about design history and philosophy. If that doesn't interest you, skip down to the last two paragraphs to read about the new card. Otherwise, keep reading - but stay calm!

We're making another Ritual because the Design Team believes in the idea behind these cards, i.e. a set of cards that regulate the game and are interesting meta choices. Do you have problems with mass downloading in your area? Pack a Klingon Tea Ceremony. Opponent's rigging your dilemma pile too much? Shuffle it up with an Alvera Tree Ritual. Is someone annoying you by playing the same event over and over? Stock an Emanations in your deck and make it a lot more difficult. (Oh, that's the new one by the way.)

When Rituals were designed, they were non-unique events that were both zero (0) cost and gave you a "free" card draw for precisely that reason, i.e., to make them more attractive to play. Of course, Brad also wanted to bring back the "big" dilemmas from Necessary Evil and having six (6) events you could play would do exactly that. Unfortunately, they proved to just be too good as non-unique event so the Rules Team acted to make them unique.

But even that decision (which was opposed by some internally) left Design with problems developing the Ritual concept further. Even being made unique, it was felt that adding more Rituals would harm the game; after all, each Ritual effectively lowered the minimum deck size by one (1). You couldn't add too many more of them before people could do bad things.

But more importantly, there was very little incentive to not run the Rituals; you could simply drop one of each Ritual into your deck and they wouldn't get in your way. There was no downside, and thus no choices. I am a firm believer that choices are one of the most essential components of a fun game. I want players to have to make choices when building decks and while playing the game, because having to choose can inspire creativity and lead to interesting things. (Of course, you can have too many choices in a game too, but that's a topic for another day.)

Thus, we were faced with a problem: how could we keep making Rituals that were interesting, meta regulating choices; without flooding the game with them and degenerating deck construction? The solution was our own bit of "time travel" and going back to reinvent the wheel. Design and Rules went back to the drawing board and examined each piece of the "Ritual mechanic," asking ourselves why it was there and if it needed to be there. In the end, we came up with a new template for our new Rituals, and also to retroactively apply to the existing ones.

Here's the new Ritual wording:

Ritual. (When you play this event, if you do not command a Ritual, draw a card. Cards you own cannot destroy this event.)

Let's take a look at the last sentence of the parenthetical text: Cards you own cannot destroy this event. This replaces the old text that removed Rituals from the game when you lost command of them, which our Rules Committee felt was overly complex and filled with the potential for weird interactions. We also felt we could preserve the idea and keep it simple by prohibiting players from destroying their own Rituals, ensuring they were still out of reach of cards like Chakotay (Bridge Between Two Crews) and Navaar (Experienced Gift). Of course, you can now remove your own Rituals from the game or return them to your hand or to your deck, each of which open up some interesting game text options.

The more important change is the first line, limiting players to a "free" card draw only for the first Ritual played. This is the change I'm most excited about because it brings back the choice. I can still include all of the Rituals in my deck, but only one of them is "free" - the others won't cost me any counters, but they don't replace themselves in my hand. That means I have to decide if I'm willing to accept that risk in order to run all three (3) Rituals, or if I'd rather focus on just one. After all, with three (3) copies of Emanations in my deck, I can play one and get rid of the other copies with Optimism.

A lot of people didn't like Rituals because they felt they were a slippery slope; the Second Edition version of the often disliked [Ref] mechanic in First Edition. I agree that, before the changes, they had the potential to be something players felt obligated to include. Now, with the updated "mechanic," I'm excited about Rituals and the new design space that has been opened up. Choices about which Rituals to include will be based on player's experiences and their local play groups, making them vital tools instead of "obligations." It's exciting!

Oh, maybe I should mention the new ritual; Emanations. There are a lot of events and interrupts in Second Edition that are very powerful, especially when they can be played over and over and over again. Some of them, especially those involving points, automatically remove themselves from the game. However, most just end up in the discard pile. Emanations provides a weapon against such recursion by sending events and interrupts that would go back into hand to the bottom of the deck. There are still ways to get those cards back, but it requires a little more work. After all, we want to make things harder, not make them impossible.

So the next time you see an opponent add Bajor to their deck to take advantage of the [Baj] recursion specialty, drop an Emanations and make them work a little harder to recur their events. Of course, the problem of idly adding in a second HQ is a different one to talk about another day...

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