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Strategy Articles

Phase II and the Discard Pile

by Charlie Plaine, Return to Grace Lead Designer

26th February 2014

In the announcement article for Return to Grace, I discussed the three major principles of Phase II design. These principles are:

1. Create new and powerful cards.
2. Make affiliations matter.
3. Dial up game speed, i.e. help games finish more quickly.

The point with the largest implications for the long-term health of the game is #2: making the affiliations and sub-affiliations matter. Each affiliation and sub-affiliation needs mechanics that distinguish them from the others. In some cases, this means unique mechanics (such as Interlink for the Borg); in other cases, it means they have different degrees of access to shared mechanics. As we were designing and developing Return to Grace, we took the opportunity to apply Phase II methodology to the discard pile; specifically, allocating access (or lack thereof) to the different affiliations and sub-affiliations.

In this article, we're going to look at every affiliation and sub-affiliation in the game and talk about what kinds of access to the discard pile they might get as part of Phase II design. Keep in mind as you read that the "affiliation guide" is a living document, and can (and will) be adjusted over time. For example, while we have established a few examples of these concepts in Return to Grace, a lot of the affiliations and sub-affiliations don't have any cards in this expansion. This means there is room for future designers to adjust or expand on the themes outlined here. As another example, if design realizes that one of the affiliations needs particular access to something in the discard pile, we can alter the guide to give that access. It's something that can always be adjusted as the needs of the game evolve, but that will guide design as we move forward.


The Discard Pile
It's a fact that a number of cards that reference or work in/on the discard pile already exist in the game, and that's okay. The central idea of Phase II isn't to create a sandbox that includes everything that already exists in the game - doing so would be unrealistic, as the "sandboxes" would have to be so large as to be useless. Instead, Phase II is about defining what these affiliations and sub-affiliations can do moving forward; building a sandbox in which future design can play.

In addition, there will always be some functions and some abilities that are generically available to all affiliations and sub-affiliations (although usually at an increased cost). For example, all affiliations can use Feast on the Dying to get cards back from their discard pile, or use Tapestry to get back all of their discarded personnel. These cards aren't going to be "taken away" or otherwise "fixed," they are just part of the game. The ability to get personnel back is "fundamental" and thus available to anyone, and there will always be functions like this that will be universally available.

Bajoran [Baj]
The Bajorans are the kings and queens of the discard pile, with the ability to reference and recover any card. Downloading and card drawing will be minimal, and instead the Bajorans will replicate these functions via discard pile access. In addition to reference and recovery, Bajorans (especially Treachery Bajorans) have the ability to use the discard pile as a resource, i.e. removing cards in the discard pile to generate effects. These two functions play somewhat at odds, yet still have some synergy, so it will be interesting design space to continue to explore.

Return to Grace not only offers new Bajoran cards that reference and access the discard pile, but provides new ways to fill up the discard pile to enable those tricks. As far as Phase II is concerned, Bajorans will have the best and the most access to the discard pile of all affiliations and sub-affiliations.

Borg [Bor]
The Borg look at everything as a resource, and have the ability to optimize those resources. Borg access to the discard pile is open, but they have to trade cards; i.e. exchange a number of cards in the discard pile with a number of cards in their deck. Most recovery for Borg will be to the deck, with limited ability to bring Drones directly into hand or into play.

There are no Borg cards that reference the discard pile in Return to Grace. Future cards are likely to be in the same vein as Observation Drone.


Cardassian [Car]
The Cardassian "feel" is one of waste and inefficency; Cardassians will pay any cost now to get an immediate gain, regardless of the long-term consequences. More often than not, this is represented by a discard strategy, as represented with cards like The Pillage of Bajor and The Central Command. Because this discarding is part of the cost of using these abilities, giving any access to the discard pile to the Cardassian player would make this a false cost; therefore, Cardassians have no access to the their discard pile. However, there is a bit of a "superiority" feeling to Cardassians, and they do have some ability to reference other player's discard piles in order to advance their cause.

Return to Grace features Vengar, a non-unique Cardassian that can enter play at a slight discount if any of your opponents have "wasted" an interrupt on you (if they have an interrupt in their discard pile). It might not be something you can predict, but the opportunity to save a counter later in the game can be very valuable to the Cardassians, and captures the right feel for this affiliation. This isn't a theme we expect to explore a lot of as part of Phase II, but it is something they can access as we move forward.

Dominion [Dom]
The Dominion as an affiliation doesn't care about anything that's already happened, focusing their efforts on controlling and dominating what is in play. As such, they have no access to their own discard pile.

However, we did find an interesting way to give them a discard pile related card in Clandestine Kidnapping. This card came about because we made the decision to give Dominion capturing as a tertiary mechanic, meaning it would be something they could do occasionally but wouldn't really be a major theme of the affiliation. The ability to capture an opponent's personnel out of the discard pile gave us a way to give them Capture power (helping out Changeling Infiltrator) and give them a card in a "discard pile matters" expansion.

Deep Space 9 [DS9]
As a "hybrid" sub-affiliation (one that is made up of several different affiliations), this will be a very difficult sub-affiliation for design to assign a unique identity. So much of their definition will be inherited from their "parent" affiliations; in this case, Bajoran and Federation. Because the Bajorans are such a major part of of this sub-affiliation, all of Deep Space 9's access to the discard pile will come from their Bajoran cards. 

Clandestine Kidnapping

DS9-Earth [DS9-E]
If Deep Space 9 decks based out of Mouth of the Wormhole (Deep Space 9) are going to have access to the discard pile from their Bajoran cards, then the [DS9] Federation sub-affiliation should not have access to the discard pile. This will also make sure that Earth (Home of Starfleet Command) decks are distinct from decks based out of the station. 

Ferengi [Fer]
The Ferengi are all about material goods, past, present and future. This means that the Ferengi can access and reference equipment not only in their discard pile, but in thier opponent's discard piles as well. Prak, the Ferengi card in Return to Grace, grants the Ferengi the ability to get a "free" equipment from any player's discard pile. If your opponent hits you with an early Grav-Plating Trap, then you can play a Penk to take their discarded Emergency Transporter Unit and use it for your own. Or, if you like more certianty in your decks, you can discard a Ferengi Computer with Gaila (Arms Dealer) to spend additional counters, and then use one of them to play Prak and get that equipment right back. Quite a profit for the Ferengi.

To Rule in Hell
Khan decks are brand new, and thus have a lot of unexplored design space. They have strong mechanical needs requiring access to the discard pile, specifically to recover a ship with Joaquin (Superhuman Lieutenant). We will allow this sub-affiliation access to this discard pile for mechanical reasons (such as Waken Superior Sleeper) as this deck type continues to evolve.

Klingon [Kli]
The Klingons are storytellers, spinning grand tales of past glory; however, they believe that a warrior, once dead, departs his body and leaves behind nothing more than an empty shell. Mechanically, this means the Klingons will be able to reference almost anything in their discard pile, but will not have any ability to recover cards.

This referencing goes back to cards like The Promise in Second Edition, and continues in Return to Grace with Leskit (Embittered Warrior). Leskit grows more cunning and stronger with each past victory, as he tells the tales of his conquests. This card is one of my favorites in this expansion because it's a perfect marriage of flavor and mechanics; the textbook example of what Phase II design is meant to be.

Julian Bashir (Nostalgic Doctor)

Maquis [Maq]
Similarly to Khan decks, Maquis decks have some very limited access to their discard pile for mechanical reasons; specifically, the ability to recover For the Cause. But in addition, the Maquis represent the downtrodden, the defeated, and the abandonded people of the Demilitarized Zone. This manifests itself in the ability to recover personnel from the discard pile. Access to verbs (other than For the Cause) is prohibited.

Non-Aligned [NA]
Phase II is primarly about giving definition to the aligned affiliations and sub-affiliations, both mechanically and flavorfully. Non-Aligned cards should help to fill in gaps, or feature abilities to which every affiliation or sub-affiliation has access. Access to the discard pile should be allocated on an affiliation and sub-affiliation basis, and should not appear on most Non-Aligned cards.

Relativity is an affiliation defined by "the past," and the past is mechanically represented by the discard pile. (Although the discard pile doesn't always mean "the past," it is one of the more common mechanical/flavor intersections.) The ability to access the past, such as with cards like Temporal Transporters, will be represented by the ability to both reference and recover [Fed] personnel in the discard pile. As this sub-affiliations develops, we expect to see more cards that reference personnel in the discard pile. There is also an exception granted to this sub-affiliation to recover Temporal cards, although this will be used judiciously if at all.

Romulan [Rom]
The Romulans are long-term thinkers and strategic planners, with layers upon layers upon layers of plots and schemes. They are not ones to dwell on past efforts and mistakes, instead preferring to move from one plan to the next. However, sometimes when you've gone from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C, you need to cycle back to Plan A; this gives the Romulans some small access to events in their discard pile. This is a tricky mechanical area, because the ability to recurr events has been central to some of the game's most broken decks.

Return to Grace features a single Romulan event that introduces a new mechanic to reflect this ability. It's a "test" of this idea, a toe in the water, so to speak. We'd like to give the Romulans some ability to access events in their discard pile, and feel that as long as we proceed with caution this can be something good for the game.


Starfleet [SF]
Starfleet represents the early days of space exploration when starships were key to scientific and military advancement. Although this design space is not explored in Return to Grace (as Starfleet has no affiliated cards in this expansion), we have allocated the ability to reference and recover ships from the discard pile to this affiliation.

Terok Nor [TN]
Much like Deep Space 9, Terok Nor is a "hybrid" affiliation that inherits some of its mechanics from its parent affiliations: Bajoran, Cardassian, and Dominion. Since neither Cardassian nor Dominion have much access to the discard pile, any access this sub-affiliation does get will come from its Bajoran cards. This will be interesting if design pursues the Dissident discard mechanic for this sub-affiliation; since Jake Sisko (Reporter Behind the Lines) mills (discards from the top of deck) blindly, the ability to recover some cards from the discard pile might be invaluable.

The Next Generation [TNG]
Crews from Federation are all about exploration, moving forward and exploring beyond the next frontier. While they have a healthy respect for their past, they don't often dwell on it; this means they have no access to the discard pile. TNG especially is the best affiliation at death prevention, i.e. "doctors" such as Bevery Crusher (Chief Medical Officer) and Katherine Pulaski (Chief Medical Officer), reducing the need for the sub-affiliation to access the discard pile.

Fun fact, though: we found a small "loophole" that would give this sub-affiliation a "discard pile matters" card in Return to Grace, but she did not make the final cut. Her card just wasn't working too well, and we didn't want to put out an inferior card; we're confident this card will get its day in the sun in the future.

The Original Series [TOS]
The Original Series sub-affiliation is a very unusual case, in that they have access to any ability in the form of an upgrade. This sub-affiliation's signature mechanic is the ability to pay extra for their personnel in order to generate an effect. In theory, this means that they can recover cards in their discard pile, or reference or remove cards in any player's discard pile, as long as the player is willing to pay the additional cost.


Voyager [Voy]
The crew of Voyager (and Equinox) are stranded on the far side of the galaxy, making access and recovery of cards in their discard pile difficult. From a flavor point of view, it's difficult to reference something that happened several hundred (or thousand) light years behind you. However, mechanically, this sub-affiliation has been given access to interrupts from the discard pile. This is a largely unexplored area of design, but one that we're looking forward to exploring more as Phase II proceeds.

This has just been a very high level overview of how a mechanical concept, access to the discard pile, has been split up as part of the Phase II design initiative. The goal behind this process was to divide the mechanics in a way that respect both the flavors of the affiliations and sub-affilaitions as well as the mechanical needs of the game.

As we continue to design under Phase II, and develop more and more affiliations and sub-affiliations, we will continue to do similar divisions for most of Second Edition's mechanics. Hopefully this article will be the first in a series as we share our thoughts and our plans with you, illustrating how we can divide and allocate mechanics in a way that makes a stronger and more fun Second Edition. Much of the groundwork of this has been laid with the work done in Return to Grace, and we're excited for you to see these cards. We can't wait to hear how they play in your tournaments so we can continue to evolve the game through Phase II.

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