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Hindsight: Second Edition

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

23rd January 2014

Welcome back to Hindsight, my weekly series where I take a look back at previous expansions for the Star Trek: Customizable Card Games with a fresh eye. My goal is examine the decisions made in each of these expansions using modern eyes and design sensibilities in order to learn from those decisions. As mentioned in the announcement article, this is not an attempt to create a new game. Instead, I’m looking to better understand the games and how they can be improved in the modern era by studying its history.

This week, we jump to the start of “a whole new universe” with the 2E debut product, Second Edition. Decipher was able to leverage eight (8) years of experience with First Edition in their designs for Second Edition, creating a different but still familiar game in which fans could experience the Star Trek universe. Yet even though it is an entirely separate game engine, Second Edition has its roots with First Edition and is still evolving from those roots today.

Second Edition (Second Edition)
Released December 18, 2002
415 Cards (121 Common, 121 Uncommon, 121 Rare, 52 Starter)

Card Types Introduced
Dilemma, Equipment, Event, Interrupt, Mission, Personnel, Ship

Affiliations and Sub-Affiliations Introduced
Bajoran, Cardassian, Federation ([DS9]), Federation ([E]), Federation ([TNG]), Klingon, Non-Aligned, Romulan

Etana Jol (Ktarian Operative)

Lessons Learned
1. Second Edition isn’t the same game as First Edition. Here’s an example: quite a few of the personnel in Second Edition have card drawing abilities that are excellent in First Edition, where card draws are at a premium. But in Second Edition, the ability to draw cards - especially during the Order phase - is much less valuable. There are obviously situations when it can be useful, but it’s much less so in 2E than it is in 1E because of the built in rule allowing players to draw cards in Second Edition. I recall hearing once that early 2E design overvalued card drawing for this reason (and, as we'll see in later expansions, Order phase drawing becomes much less frequent.)

I’m sure a big reason for this was the backwards compatibility initiative, where many of the Second Edition cards would be marked as being legal for First Edition play. As a business decision, this was a brilliant move; I am sure this helped generate extra sales of Second Edition that it wouldn't have had otherwise. I doubt that anyone anticipated the strong dislike many First Edition players would hold for the backwards compatible cards.

I’m not passing judgement against the early designers for having lingering First Edition concerns in their designs. At the time, I am certain these were the correct decisions; however, these articles are about looking back; and, in hindsight, I wish there had been a cleaner break between the two games. It would take until 2009’s This Side of Paradise to end the First Edition compatible cards, at which point business decisions no longer mattered and both games were being supported. I can say with certainty that no longer having to consider First Edition concerns in Second Edition design has been a boon. Although, as a side note, I will say that we do still concern ourselves creatively between the two editions.

2. The fine line between mission solving and interaction.
Second Edition made the decision to remove battle interaction from the core rules, and instead place all of the battle options onto cards. There are significant advantages to this decision, and it reduces overhead and complexity for new players. Of course, this makes battle interaction significantly more difficult to accomplish, and thus makes Second Edition carry very little appeal for players that enjoy that interaction as their primary way to play the game.

The problem with interaction as it debuted in Second Edition was that it was too resource intensive, and thus too difficult. The only reward for battle was to deny resources to the opponent, but this cost both a significant investment of your own resources (the cards to initiate battle) and in time (your personnel/ships being stopped). And especially in this era of the game, it was fairly easy for a player to rebuild a crew and rejoin the game, meaning you would trade counters and time for very little (if any) gain. And while it’s true that there were other forms of interaction (capture) that could be more valuable, and there were cards to make it less costly (Damage dilemmas) to interact, in general it “wasn't worth it.” Some would argue that it still isn't, although I think a lot more options and tools are now available.

Precise Attack

I think that addressing the ease of battle in First Edition was a necessity for Second Edition, and even now I can’t conceive of a better solution. I do know that this issue left a “sour taste” in many people’s mouths after trying First Edition, and kept them from giving it a second try. Perhaps battle could have been left out of the game entirely until a later date? But that wouldn't have been any sweeter to players familiar with battle in First Edition. I think this one was a necessary evil (no pun intended). It is something we continue to struggle with, in order to find a balance between mission solving and interactive strategies.

3. Affiliation definition is important.
This is a different kind of point than I've outlined so far, in that it is something that Second Edition did well that I feel has slowly been lost over the past few years. Each of the six main affiliations and sub-affiliations introduced in this expansion had mechanical and thematic differences that set them apart. In general, this has been one of the strengths of Second Edition and I believe it’s something that’s vital to the game’s health and its renewed growth. Bajorans had access to different tricks and mechanics than Cardassians, which were different than Klingons, and so forth. Where mechanics overlapped, they had different costs and flavor or frequency. In short, the affiliations felt different when you played them.

In fact, it was this point (and the realization that it was something Second Edition had drifted away from in recent years) that inspired the principles that would become Phase II Design. And this would also prompt me to wonder what else we could learn from a look back through the games’ histories, which would lead to this article series. I hope that we can continue to find things to improve upon as we progress through the years.

Good Stuff
Second Edition was designed to specifically address some of the “problems” with First Edition, and managed to do so quite successfully. Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Cost system.
With its built in cost system (and the rules that shape it), Second Edition has the ability to create cards with variable complexity and power and cost them appropriately. With a fixed amount of resources each turn, it doesn't have the ability to “gate” things like in other games (i.e. you can play a card that costs 4 on every turn) with costs, but it does allow cards to be built on a sliding power level.

2. Sub-affiliations.
The ability to divide affiliations into sub-affiliations (such as [TNG] and [DS9] in Second Edition) has been one of the greatest tools available in Second Edition design, especially as the game has grown. This provides a natural way to divide larger affiliations (like the Federation) in both a mechanical and flavorful way.

3. Fixed attribute scale.
By creating a fixed attribute scale, especially for personnel, and clearly defining the values for each attribute, Second Edition would be able to avoid power creep and make attributes matter more in game play. The rule that each mission would require an attribute as well made this even more important, and a key difference between the editions.

Conclusion
With all of the experience of First Edition behind them, Second Edition was able to avoid many of the “issues” that long plagued its predecessor. But as different as the two games are, and have become, Second Edition was very much an evolution instead of a revolution.

And now I've looked back at the introductions of both First Edition and Second Edition. I want to thank everyone for their feedback on the first version of this article. I hope that this series can continue to grow and evolve as it goes on, and I will do my best to make adjustments and tweaks to the series as I progress through it. I know that I can’t hit up everything that everyone wants me to talk about, but know that I am reading and I do appreciate your feedback - keep it up! And don’t forget to share stories with us about your memories from playing in this era, and what the game was like in that time.

Next week, I'll talk about the first ever expansion for one of the games as I return to First Edition to take a look at Alternate Universe.


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