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Homefront IV: Full Conversion

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

12th August 2013

Camping Trip

Backwards compatible cards are one of the most controversial things that Decipher implemented when they created Second Edition, and something we always think about when we start planning and designing new expansions. A lot of people liked the fact that there were new cards made available for First Edition throughout the first eighteen (18) Second Edition expansions. Others disliked the backwards compatible (1EC) cards, finding them difficult to collect or the template difference jarring and unappealing. The First Edition design team has been slowly "converting" these cards to appear on proper First Edition templates and attempting to address the mechanical and aesthetic differences while preserving the intent of the cards.

When Homefront IV releases on Friday, August 16, 2012, First Edition players will find fourteen (14) new missions on 1E templates that are converted from their Second Edition sources. For those of you mathematically impaired or lazy (as I am want to be) that means that over half the missions in the expansion have the little grey bar in the bottom left corner. Over the years, we've learned some tricks for helping this conversion process and developed special rules for how and why we can convert cards from 2E to 1E and added a new trick to our toolbox for Homefront IV.

How To Convert Your Mission
The third expansion of Second Edition, Call to Arms, introduced the concept of modal missions. A modal mission, like the 2E Camping Trip (to the right), provides an alternate set of requirements that appear in the mission's game text. Usually, this alternate set of requirements represents a different point of view of the mission's story, or even an entirely different story based on the same location. However, when it comes time to convert a modal missions, we run into problems because First Edition templates don't offer the same space for game text as their successors.

(As a side note, having worked on design for both 1E and 2E, missions are one of the card types I'm most conflicted about. I love the extended art of First Edition template missions, but equally crave the extended game play space of the Second Edition template. #designerworldproblems)

Thus, we needed to develop ways to handle modal missions in First Edition when we sought out to convert them. And this is something we've discussed for a long time, going all the way back to early design for Straight and Steady. We were having an extended discussion about the space line, time lines, and how the [SF] icon would relate to missions. This discussion eventually spilled over into how to handle converting missions like Investigate Stalled Ship and what we could do with modal requirements. We came up with three potential solutions:

  1. Double-sided missions. Put Requirement Set A on one side, Requirement Set B on the other side, and allow you to seed either side face up. Possibly allow a card-based or rules-based way to flip over the mission as needed.
  2. Different requirements on my side and opponent's side. Much like had been done before, the two side's sets of requirements (mine vs. opponents) could be different.
  3. Off-load requirements onto a verb. Create an incident or objective that could seed on the location, and would allow solving the mission with different requirements.

The discussion was intense and went on for some time before we found a fourth solution; one that was the simplest and most expedient: we punted. We deferred. We made it someone else's problem. But as it turns out, we'd eventually implement two of the three solutions in later expansions, although not on modal missions. Option #2 would become the asymmetric missions that appeared in Engage, and we'd make a verb to change the requirements of Avert Solar Implosion in The Sky's the Limit. And allow me to burst your bubble right now: no, we aren't introducing double sided missions in Homefront IV. But, we did find a similar solution that we are introducing and that gives us great options for the future.

Mission: Persona
We are officially introducing the idea of "mission personas" to First Edition, and one of the root causes of making this change is the conversion of a modal mission, Study Rare Phenomenon. But before we go too far down the discussion of that mission and how it ended up converted, a brief run-down of how these new "mission personas" will work:

First, and most importantly, missions can not be persona swapped. Ever. If you seed Version A of Planet X, you're stuck with Version A of Planet X for the game and can't ever change it to Version B. Secondly, all of the different versions of Planet X are the same place, even if their titles are different. Much like I can't use both Explore Typhon Expanse and Explore Typhon Expanse II, I can't use both Version A and Version B of Planet X. Finally, if I seed Version A of Planet X and my opponent seeds Version B, they are a shared mission; only one of us will get to solve the mission.

Study Rare Phenomenon

There are more details and subtleties which will be explored in an article from our First Edition Rules Master, Jon Carter [pfti] later this week. But this new rule boils down to stuff that's already existed in the game for a long time, just streamlined and codified into something unified. If you have questions, you can ask about them on our Gameplay (1E) forum and members of the community will be happy to help you! (And don't forget to check out Jon's article!)

That brings us back to Study Rare Phenomenon, which takes full advantage of this new technology and appears as two missions in First Edition. The original mission provides a CUNNING requirement for Federation and Non-Aligned crews, while giving the Dominion a STRENGTH-based option in the game text. The CUNNING version (with a Bajoran icon swapped in for a Non-Aligned icon) appears in Homefront IV as Study Rare Phenomenon, a proper conversion. The Dominon's version shares the location, Compression anomaly, but appears on a new mission: Attack at Rare Phenomenon. Two missions that share a location, but are distinct - a perfect use of the new "mission persona" technology and a new way to convert a modal mission.

Why a New Rule?
You might be asking yourself, "Self, why go to all this trouble? Aren't there other perfectly valid ways to convert the mission that doesn't require a new rule and taking up two slots in an expansion?" Well, those are good questions. Let me try and give you an answer or two:

1. We needed "mission persona" technology.
Sooner or later, design is going to need to be able to repeat mission locations. I can tell you first hand that this is something we've already wanted to do. In fact, I'd argue this is something that is already happening - after all, both Observe Ritual and Deliver Ancient Artifact represent Vulcan. When we removed the Starfleet homeworld status of Earth (Espionage Mission), it was done knowing (or at least strongly believing) that we'd make another Earth someday. Since it was something we wanted to do anyway, it seemed like a smart decision.

2. It simplifies the rules.
This is a tricky one, because we always assume that "simplifying" First Edition's behemoth glossary involves making it smaller. And that's a good goal and it's usually true, but it's deceptive in its simplicity. Our general philosophy is to make the rules smarter and more streamlined, even if they take up more space. As an example, consider the self-controlling rules; instead of being lumped into an entry for a specific card, now they are all collected in one place. This "mission persona" rule allows us to do something similar, and eliminate special exceptions from the Conversion Rules as well.

Attack at Rare Phenomenon

3. Affiliation icons on missions are important.
Obviously. But let me ask you this: out of Bajoran, Federation, and Dominion, which affiliation would you name as most in need of new missions? When we were working on Homefront IV, we quickly determined the answer was Dominion. Study Rare Phenomenon was on our list of missions to convert, but it was a Federation mission in an environment where that's just about the last affiliation that needs a new mission. We wanted to find a way to make this a Dominion mission, not only to help that affiliation, but because it foreshadows the upcoming DS9 block quite nicely.

At first, we simply made it a standard mission: put both sets of requirements (separated by a big red OR) and all three affiliation icons on the mission and call it done. But it didn't feel right - why would the Dominion study a rare phenomenon? We have rules about keeping titles for conversions so couldn't change the title, and didn't feel we could stretch the story here in order to keep it as a "simple" conversion.

As we looked for other solutions, we first thought about making it an asymmetric mission. That was interesting, but didn't quite work out right. First of all, asymmetric missions usually have game text on the opposite side that give you a reason to turn them around with Trilithium Weapon. In this case, we would have had to invent something or be faced with a tough decision: which set of requirements would "lose out"? Again, the name of the mission strongly suggests that the Dominion requirements would be on the opponent's side. But that would make it very difficult for the Dominion to use the mission, since they'd have to earn an Artifact before being able to attempt. And given that we wanted to make more Dominion missions, this felt like the wrong approach. Next, we considered making a verb that could seed or play on the mission, but that ended up being a clunky solution that made using the mission too expensive for Dominion players.

Finally, with the help of the Rules Committee, we agreed to implement "mission personas" and the solution became obvious: split the mission in two. Strictly speaking, we could have just made Attack at Rare Phenomenon and left Study Rare Phenomenon unconverted; had we been unable to come to an agreement on "mission personas" that is likely what we would have done. But fortunately, we were able to find a solution that made sense and gave us a lot of room for the future. Not to mention a nice mission for both Dominion players and Bajoran/Federation players.

Quick aside: Why did we change the icon on the mission from Non-Aligned to Bajoran? Mostly because we feel like we made too many NA missions in the TNG block, but also because it makes more sense. The Defiant was operated by a crew of Bajoran and Federation officers and wasn't playing host to any alien scientists or anything. Swapping the icon to Bajoran lets us give them a nice new mission, avoid making another NA mission, and make better thematic sense. Win!

So with the advent of Homefront IV, the new tool of "mission personas" will be available to future design teams. It's not something to be used recklessly or hastily, but it is something that we can lean on when it makes sense or makes for interesting game play. After all, isn't it one of design's jobs to make sure the game is fun and full of interesting choices? That's probably a discussion for another day, but I for one am glad that we have another tool to use when converting missions to First Edition. Hopefully, you will enjoy using these missions in your deck once Homefront IV releases on Friday, August 16th!

Charlie is the current Chairman of the Continuing Committee, and is happy to help contribute to the life and longevity of First Edition. Homefront IV is Charlie's seventh First Edition expansion as a designer. If you would like to discuss this article, you can do so on the Article Discussions forum!

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