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Hindsight: Energize

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

6th February 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 to 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.

After our look back at 2E's introduction in Second Edition, today we take a look at that game's first expansion: Energize. Aside from the introduction of the Maquis, an affiliation that still plays either very well or very poorly today, Energize provided much needed enhancement to the game after its initial debut.

Energize (Second Edition)
Released May 21, 2003
180 Cards (60 Common, 60 Uncommon, 60 Rare

Card Types Introduced
None

Affiliations and Sub-Affiliations Introduced
Maquis

M'vil

Lessons Learned
1. Disruption is difficult to balance.
Disruption is a kind of interaction in which you attack the player's hand or deck, instead of attacking their resources in play (battle or capture), named because you "disrupt" their resources before they get the chance to play them. When Second Edition was introduced (in the product of the same name), there was very little disruption and the vast majority of the interaction was "on the table." But disruption is an important strategy for a card game, and it is very popular with certain types of players, so it was a natural choice to introduce in an expansion. Introducing it as a signature mechanic of The Maquis was also a natural choice, as it was a good marriage of flavor (terrorism) and mechanic (disruption). But disruption is an extremely difficult strategy for a card game to balance, and it's one that is still struggled with today.

If disruption is so difficult, then why is it so important to have in a card game? As mentioned above, it's a strategy that is very popular with some types of players and you want to be able to give those players decks that cater to their play styles. But more than that, disruption is a way to give decks a different way to deal with the threats they face. Especially in a game with as many affiliations and sub-affiliations as exist in Second Edition, there need to be different ways to do similar things. When you have access to mechanics that attack the hand or the deck, you allow some affiliations to deal with problems in a different way than simply re-skinning event destruction or interrupt prevention.

But it's a very, very, dangerous set of mechanics to design and have in the game. Brad has told me often, and even quite recently, that the Maquis are "either broken or weak" and I believe this is in large part due to the nature of disruption mechanics. When disruption is too easy or too effective, players feel pressured to use it in every deck, or to build decks specifically to avoid the disruption strategies, and that kind of "deck vs. anti-deck" game state is boring and a serious threat to a game's health. On the other hand, when disruption is too weak or too difficult, players ignore it completely and the affiliations that use it are relegated to the bottom of competitive play. It's an extremely fine line to walk, but one that design should continue to strive to find. Disruptive strategies do have an important place in the game and their existence pushes decks in healthy directions. Design just needs to always be aware of the difficulty in designing and implementing these strategies, and be careful that power level adjustments are appropriate.

2. Make your mechanics mesh.
Every affiliation and sub-affiliation is going to have a number of different mechanics in their "toolbox," and most of those mechanics will overlap with other affiliations and sub-affiliations. But it's important that, for the post part, the mechanics each affiliation and sub-affiliation has work well together; or, at the very least, don't conflict. I feel like the Maquis, as introduced in Energize, have great flavor, but have a key mismatch in their implementation and it starts and ends with For the Cause.

Starting with a few of the missions in Second Edition, it was planted that [Maq] personnel could not attempt missions in the Demilitarized Zone. This meant that when it came time to introduce the Maquis as a sub-affiliation, they would need a way to get around that restriction; For the Cause was that mechanic. The designers did a good job of making it accessible and recoverable, but in hindsight, it's a poor match of mechanics. For the Cause replaces the requirements of the DMZ missions with Leadership, Security, Treachery, and Strength>36; however, the average Strength of the [Maq] personnel in Energize is 5.33. Players needed an average of seven (7) personnel to complete any of the missions they are designed to attempt, and since the designers had set an upper bound of nine (9) for mission attempts, this meant Maquis were extremely vulnerable. In fact, even to this day, most [Maq] decks don't use For the Cause, instead using other missions for their personnel to complete.

It's vital that flavor matches mechanics (as much as possible) and that different affiliations and sub-affiliations have different mechanics, but it's equally vital that these mechanics align. Bajorans, for example, have mechanics that seem to contract each other - referencing and playing out of the discard pile versus removing cards from the discard pile for effects. However, these two mechanics actually mesh well, because you need to have cards in your discard pile in order to remove them. They provide an interesting intersection where one card (that puts cards in the discard pile) can serve both mechanics. Unfortunately, the Maquis' mechanic from Energize just makes them extremely difficult to play.

For the Cause

Good Stuff
1. Dilemma manipulation.
I believe that Unexpected Difficulties is one of the best cards that has ever been made in the history of Second Edition, and it made its debut in Energize. Though there were only a handful of cards in this expansion that "manipulated" dilemmas, they provided a much needed tool for decks and gave players a way to reduce the "bad feel" of a poor random draw. And though it is possible to have too much dilemma manipulation (as we'll see in later expansions), the introduction of this mechanic was a boon for Second Edition.

2. Affiliation development.
In spite of the difficulties with the debut of the Maquis, I feel Energize was a very solid expansion. The designers were able to address some of the issues with game play after the release of Second Edition and develop the affiliations (and their mechanics) with new tools. The fact that Energize was one of the first expansions to sell out and become unavailable supports my belief that this was a solid and effective, if not overly powerful or splashy, expansion, and one that solidly developed the mechanics of the game's affiliations and sub-affiliations.

Conclusion
Though the Maquis had a flavorful introduction in Energize, they missed on their mechanics and failed to make a splash. I wish I could say this is the only time in the history of Second Edition this happened, but it's a mistake that has been repeated more than once. In spite of their problems here, the Maquis have remained a fun and occasionally competitive sub-affiliation, even if one that is difficult for design to balance and for players to play. Aside from the Maquis, Energize is a solid expansion that developed Second Edition in interesting ways, built of the foundations of the base set, and set up a long future for the game.

Don't forget to join the discussions that are ongoing on our forums, where players are discussing their favorite (and least favorite) parts of these expansions and sharing memories about these eras of the game. These articles are intentionally limited in scope, and I am eager to read what else people think was done well (or not so well) in Energize and the other expansions. Keep the comments and feedback coming, and these articles will continue to evolve as time goes on.

Next week, we return to First Edition and see what the troublesome Q has been up to as we take a look at the much maligned Q Continuum expansion.


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