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Hindsight: Call to Arms

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

26th 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.

In previous editions of Hindsight, we've looked at Second Edition and Energize. While the third expansion for Second Edition would begin to evolve the game's mechanics, in both complexity and power, and diversifying the number and types of decks available, the expansion isn't without issues and several of them design still has to struggle against even today.

Call to Arms (Second Edition)
Released September 10, 2003
208 Cards (60 Common, 60 Uncommon, 60 Rare, 28 Starter

Affiliations and Sub-Affiliations Introduced:
Borg, Dominion, Terok Nor

Gomtuu Shock Wave

Lessons Learned
1. Requirements must be balanced.
The diversity of the affiliations and sub-affiliations in Second Edition is one of its strengths, but it can make design more difficult. The diversity of skills and attributes across the affiliations means that some dilemma requirements can "lock out" an affiliation from being able to pass certain dilemmas (at least without significant help), and this difficulty can keep some of these affiliations from seeing competitive play. To compensate for this, dilemmas almost always have alternate requirements, providing multiple paths for players to overcome the dilemma. In fact, prior to Call to Arms, every dilemma in the game that had skill or attribute requirements offered differing options. Unfortunately, Call to Arms broke this rule with the introduction of Gomtuu Shock Wave.

For those that are unaware, Gomtuu Shock Wave is a dilemma that requires Integrity in both of its optional requirements. It's an especially good dilemma because it stops the entire crew and, since it's a Damage marker, does not go under the mission. It has appeared in over two-hundred eighty (280) decks in the last half year, and a big part of its popularity is because it's devastating against so many affiliations. There are affiliations that are light on the required skills of Diplomacy and Telepathy (Borg), and affiliations that have very low Integrity (Cardassian, Ferengi, Romulan), and that makes it very difficult for these affiliations to pass this dilemma.

This isn't to say that design should not make powerful dilemmas, or dilemmas that combo well with other kinds of dilemmas. Even affiliations that have a wealth of Diplomacy and higher than average Integrity (Bajoran, Next Generation) can fall victim to Gomtuu when properly filtered. We (design) should always make good dilemmas with powerful effects, but we need to maintain balance when we do. Crafting requirements that favor a subset of affiliations to the detriment of others can make dilemmas overly powerful, and do great harm to the playability of some decks. There should always be balance.

2. Always think about the long term.
It's impossible for game designers to consider every possible place their games can go, when initially designing the game. Trying to do so would either lead to "analysis paralysis," where so much time is spent planning that the game never gets released, or introducing so much complexity that the game is impossible to learn. Instead, initial design is about creating a solid foundation of rules and mechanics and tools upon which future design can evolve. It's like building a house: first you draft a set of blueprints, and then you build the house. Later, it might be expanded or remodeled, but only if the foundation is solid.

But it's still important for design to do some planning for the future, and to think of the long term health of the game. For example, look at the sub-division of the Federation in Second Edition. Even though the game debuted with just three such divisions ([DS9], [E], and [TNG]), the structure used left space open for future subdivisions ([Maq], and later [Voy] and [TOS]). However, I think there was a lack of foresight when Call to Arms introduced the [TN] sub-affiliations with Mouth of the Wormhole (Terok Nor). As originally created, this headquarters represents the six (6) episode story arc from the start of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's sixth season, and only those episodes. While they are a key and important story, that's an extremely limited pool from which to draw source material. Modern design has experimented with expanding this card pool, but the results have been mixed, and [TN] continues to struggle to find an identity.

It's easy to look back now and say, "that card pool wasn't diverse enough" when creating a sub-affiliation. And the original designers would eventually give [TN] its own sub-theme in the subsequent expansion, Necessary Evil. I can't know what it was like to be in their shoes, but I wish they had been more willing to give more definition to each affiliation, sub-affiliation, or headquarters in order to allow for future expansion. Especially as we work on [TN] for Project Martha, we have been struggling more and more with this and likely will until the "right answer" is discovered.

Mouth of the Wormhole

Good Stuff
1. Dilemma development.
Second Edition had a few weapons against mega teaming, i.e. attempting missions with a massive crew; in fact, most early expansions and several later expansions would continue to add new weapons to this toolbox. Energize provided a weapon against multiple attempts, but it's really in Call to Arms when dilemmas started to really be different. Skeleton Crew is a powerful weapon against micro-teaming, Secret Identity allows players to scan an attempting crew and pick off a dangerous threat, and Overwhelmed put a cost on passing dilemmas. And of course, powerful stoppers like the previously mentioned Gomtuu Shock Wave and Rogue Borg Ambush are still played frequently today.

2. Effective affiliation debuts.
The Borg, lead by the Borg Queen, made an immediate splash on competitive play when they debuted in Call to Arms. While they managed to feel different than most other affiliations, with their own strengths and weaknesses, they played within the same mechanical framework of the rules. (This will be a topic of much discussion when Hindsight: First Contact is posted for First Edition. Meanwhile, the Dominion made less of an immediate splash on the competitive scene, but arrived with a new mechanic - Infiltration - that remains an ever present threat in modern game play. Add to that fact that the Dominion can field a nice solver, and it's hard to argue they were a failure. When contrasted to the disappointing debut of the Maquis in the previous expansion, the Borg and the Dominion made an effective entrance to the 2E stage in this one.

Expansion Stories
While this article series is about looking back at these expansions from a designer's point of view, it's also part of the celebration of the games' 20th anniversary. I'd like to feature stories from players about the expansions we'll be looking at. If you'd like to submit stores, you can do so via email (cplaine@gmail.com) or private message (to MidnightLich). I'm looking for players to share stories or memories tied into the release (or nearly after) of specific expansions, from stories about finding and opening product, to stores about games played in release tournaments. I'd like to add one or two to each Hindsight article as we move forward.

Conclusion
Call to Arms is the first time that Second Edition really began to trend upwards in power, providing incredibly useful cards and two affiliations with unique feels and/or mechanics. Many of the cards in this expansion are still frequently used in decks today, and although some are overly problematic, this was a good expansion at the time of its debut, and remains so today. It's a solid entry point for players mechanically, but lacks "star power" for those players, which is unfortunate given that it is one of the physical products still in decent supply.

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 Call to Arms 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 take a look and the first few supplemental products, culminating with the Fajo Collection.


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