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Hindsight: Fractured Time and Reflections 2.0

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

26th March 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 this week's installment, we take a look at two of Second Edition's smaller expansions, Fractured Time and Reflections 2.0. In my memory, this was the game's "golden era" - sales were up, the future looked bright, and the game was as fun as it had ever been. In Columbus, we were playing weekly league nights and having tournaments every other Saturday. It was a good time for Trek, and these two expansions added a lot to the game, although they weren't perfect either. Let's take a look:

James T. Kirk (Living Legend)

Fractured Time (Second Edition) and Reflections 2.0 (Second Edition)
Released October 13, 2004 and December 8, 2004
40 Cards (40 Premium) and 61 Cards (61 Premium)

Affiliations and Sub-Affiliations Introduced:
None

Mechanics Introduced:
AU/Past/Future Icons, Decay

1. Even the smallest thing will affect everything to come.
While Fractured Time was not the first expansion to feature a card using the now infamous phrase of "prevent... and overcome," it certianly has the most infamous one in the form of James T. Kirk (Living Legend).  Those of you expecting me to talk about how evil "prevent... and overcome" is as a design tool are going to be disappointed. "Prevent... and overcome" is just a tool, and it's a powerful tool that can offer some dynamic gameplay.

The lesson here isn't about "prevent... and overcome," but rather about how everything we do as designers has an effect on everything to come. Now, the following is a gross oversimplification of things, but let's look beyond Fractured Time and see how the introduction of Living Legend shaped the development of Second Edition. With Living Legend in the mix, it became very dangerous to use dilemmas that had requirements (because Kirk could prevent them, even if the crew failed). This pushed design into making more dilemmas without requirements, and in general, this meant dilemmas that did not require a skill. Prior to Fractured Time, there was no expansion with less than 50% skill dilemmas; from Fractured Time through What You Leave Behind, there would only be two (2) expansions to exceed 50% skill dilemmas.

With more dilemmas without requirements in the game, designers felt as if they could add more skill gaining, and with the proliferation of non-skill dilemmas, Living Legend became less useable. In Genesis, design would introduce James T. Kirk (Original Thinker), and this card could "prevent... and overcome" any dilemma. Eventually, this would lead to design giving the "prevent... and overcome" mechanic to other affiliations as well as [Fed], to the point where we felt we had to put a stop to creating new cards with the "prevent... and overcome" technology to control power creep. Thus, the introduction of a simple card using a powerful (but useful) tool shaped the future of the game to a somewhat negative place, one with rampant skill gaining and dilemma prevention. (Again, this is a gross oversimplification.) It's important to remember that everying design does now will affect the future. It's impossible to know exactly how, but there will be an effect. Design must be aware of this effect, and carefully consider how the cards they write could impact future opportunities.

Note: In order to do research on the dilemma trends, I compiled a bunch of data about skill dilemmas vs. non-skill dilemmas in all of the Second Edition expansions to date. I made a chart; the blue areas of each bar are the percentage of skill dilemmas, while the red areas are non-skill dilemmas. It's interesting to see the trends over time, so I thought I would upload and share the chart with all of you.

Guidance of the Council

2. There can be too much of a good thing.
This point is related to the previous one, but in regards to another mechanic that is much-maligned in recent times: downloading. Downloading wasn't new in Reflections 2.0, but it did start to become very powerful and very prevalant with that expansion. As a thought experiment, I thought of as many "big" downloading cards as I could; either cards that downloaded a lot of cards, downloaded and did something with cards, or provided repeatable downloading. Half of the top 10 cards on my list originated in Reflections 2.0: Bustling With Activity, Guidance of the Council, Quintessence, Jean-Luc Picard (Vintner) and Alexander Rozhenko (K'mtar). That is a lot of powerful downloading cards in a single expansion.

There is a saying that your greatest weakness is your greatest strength taken too far, and in the case of downloading I think this is very true. Downloading is a useful mechanic with a lot of flexibility. It can be used to smooth out decks and to create interesting game play. But this can backfire when it can be used to ensure access to card combinations and enable strategies that extend game time.

A deck with access to a lot of reliable downloading can be larger and still just as smooth and reliable as a more standard size deck, without the same weaknesses as the smaller decks. As decks get larger, strategies like milling and discard become more difficult to play. Games tend to get longer and longer, resulting in a messier tournament scene with more and more modified wins. None of these things are inherently bad: every strategy should have strengths and weaknesses, and the OP structure supports games going to time. And none of these things can be exclusively laid at the feet of downloading. But there's no doubt that rampant downloading altered the face of the game, if only to eventually sour players and designers alike on the mechanic. (As a side note, anyone who doubts the power of downloading should look at which "big deck" affiliation was represented in the 2012 season versus the 2013 season. Once Quintessence was errated, players moved from Borg to Romulans as the download heavy deck type.)

It's important that we remember the lesson is that too much of a mechanic is the problem, not the mechanic itself. I love downloading, and I know it has a place in the future of Second Edition. Design just needs to be aware what downloading does to the game, and how it affects the decks players build. It had also become a bit of a "crutch" for design as the go-to tool for a new mechanic, sub-affiliation, or team. We can (and will) continue to use downloading as we move forward, just in a more measured and judicious way. This will not only preserve design space, but make the mechanic seem more special when it is used.

Good Stuff
1. Temporal icons.
I believe the "splitting" of the [Pa] icon into three "era" icons - alternate universe ([AU]), future ([Fut]) and past ([Pa]) was one of the best decisions ever made by Decipher. It was fortunate that only one card - Jake Sisko (Temporal Anchor) - existed at the time that would "break" the pattern. Speaking of Jake, it was bold of Decipher to errata that card to make their new idea work. I think we could remember this lesson, and not be afraid to make a change to an existing card (or small number of cards) to support a new idea. It's important to factor in the risk versus reward and the investment before doing so, but it's always good to keep an open mind and consider options.

2. Cards that help shape deck design.
There are a lot of different kinds of players, and these players play for different reasons. Some players enjoy tuning and tweaking a deck to make it perfectly balanced; others go the "kitchen sink" route and put tons of tools into their builds, adjusting as necessary. There are also players that span the entire spectrum of skill levels, from great builders to poor players and every combination in between. It's important to cater to all of these player types, and Reflections 2.0 introduces one of my favorite tools for this: build-around-me cards.

Temporal Test Subject

As the name would suggest, a build-around-me card is a card that helps shape and define the deck. For example: Jean-Luc Picard (Vintner) is a build-around-me card. Vintner pushes the player to use Biology missions and [TNG] personnel and provides strong clues as to the nature of the deck. While not all of these cards are as powerful as the others, they did help define a new and different deck type for players that aren't strong deck builders, while still providing useful tools for players of a more competitive nature.

Expansion Stories
I'd like to feature stories from players about Second Edition expansions. If you'd like to submit stories, 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 stories about games played in release tournaments. The next few articles for Second Edition will be on Strange New WorldsTo Boldly GoDangerous Missions, and Genesis.

The Survey Says
You'll notice a survey at the bottom of this article, and I'd appreciate you taking the time to participate. This is something new. I'm trying to collect your feedback on the expansions as we go through them, and six (6) seems like a good number to use. I thought it would be easier to break up the expansions into chunks instead of waiting until the end. So take a few minutes and tell us what you think of the first six (6) Second Edition expansions - the results will appear in a future Hindsight article.

Conclusion
Fractured Time and Reflections 2.0 were the expansions that saved Second Edition. I had a brief conversation with former Second Edition Lead Designer Brad DeFruiter [Brad] before writing this article, and he reaffirmed his belief that Tragic Turn saved the game. Prior to the release, rumors at Decipher were that they were going to end STCCG, but the sales of Necessary Evil and Fractured Time convinced them otherwise. I'm glad that the game was saved, and that we are here today to reap the benefits of that decision. And now that we are not driven by sales, we can learn the lessons from a hindsight review of these expansions and their escalations of mechanical power. Still, I'm glad that these expansions did what they did and ensured the game would survive.

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 Fractured Time and Reflections 2.0 and the other expansions. Keep the comments and feedback coming, and these articles will continue to evolve as time goes on.

Next week, we journey to the Mouth of the Wormhole and look at First Edition's introduction of Sisko and company in Deep Space 9. Thanks for reading, and never forget why we play.


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