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Hindsight: Strange New Worlds

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

17th April 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.

This week, we're getting in touch with our greedy side as we take a look at Strange New Worlds, the Second Edition expansion that saw the proper introduction of the Ferengi. The Ferengi affiliation ([Fer]) had first appeared in Call to Arms (on the Dissident Quark and Rom), but arrives with their own headquarters, mechanics, and suite of cards in Strange New Worlds. This was the start of a tumultious time for Trek, beginning a "dark period" where no news and no product would be available for quite awhile. 

Brunt (FCA Liquidator)

Strange New Worlds (Second Edition)
Released May 13, 2005
120 Cards (40 Common, 40 Uncommon, 40 Rare)

Affiliations and Sub-Affiliations Introduced:

Mechanics Introduced:

1. Powerful effects should be tied to affiliations.
It's a wonderful thing when affiliations get powerful cards and effects. These types of things, especially when tied to an affiliation's flavor, give the affiliations distinction. But it's not so good when these effects are only loosely tied to the affiliation, and one of the classic examples comes from Strange New Worlds: Brunt (FCA Liquidator). Brunt fits very well into the Ferengi's theme of "competing" - if you have more events in your core than I do, I can "destroy" one of yours. For the Ferengi, he's a fine card; the problem comes in how easily he can be used by everyone else.

One of Second Edition's greatest strengths is also one of its weaknesses: the ability to easily mix and match your headquarters. It was extremely common to see decks adding in Ferenginar as a second headquarters simply to use three copies of Brunt for event destruction. I suspect a lot of the headquarters "hate" that would come after Strange New Worlds is because of how easy (and common) it was to use this card in any deck.

It's great to have powerful affiliated cards; Phase II design is all about making new and powerful cards for the different affiliations and sub-affiliations. But it's important that these powerful effects are on cards that are more closely tied to the affiliations; and the more powerful the effect, the deeper the tie needs to be. Brunt is flavorful and powerful, but he's incredibly easy to splash into other decks. If he were a more deeply affiliated card, either requiring only Ferenginar or more [Fer] cards in play, that kind of splash would have been a lot more difficult to do. (And it would have made it easier to make similarly powered cards for other affiliations.)

Note: While doing research on the history of dual-HQ decks splashing Ferengi for Brunt, I found an old website that used to be run by Michael Keller, Matt Kirk, and myself: The Unofficial Guide to Decipher's Organized Play. Interestingly enough, there are deck lists from that era on the blog, including Caleb Grace's 2007 World Championship winning deck (or at least his Day 2 version). Worth a read if you're interested in that era of the game! I remember making this website because Decipher didn't have the IT people to create a similar page on their site, so we made this one as an alternative.

Quark (True Ferengi)

2. Don't define an identity based on the lack of something central to the game.
The Ferengi were introduced with a signature "hording" mechanic, based on their homeworld of Ferenginar. Their cards would allow them to store cards under their headquarters, either for later access or to provide bonuses. This, in and of itself, was an interesting way to give the Ferengi an identity as an affiliation... but wait, there was more!

Our "little green men" friends were also given a theme of competition. Cards like Veiled Threat and Taar (Bristling DaiMon) got better based on how many different ways you (as the Ferengi player) were ahead of your opponent. These kind of "scaling" mechanics are interesting, and there are types of players that enjoy building decks to maximize the effectiveness of such cards. However, they tend to be ignored by more competitive players as unreliable. 

I think the combination of these two mechanics contribute to yet another identity for the Ferengi: being skill dense, but attribute light. I suspect was the idea that the Ferengi's hording mechanic and their competition mechanic would be able to compensate for their lower attributes (and especially in combination with their better than average skill density). Unfortunately, I think this meant Ferengi were virtually ignored in high level play (except to splash Brunt) once people gave them an initial try.

In a game where skills and attributes are the primary way to win the game, it's just not a wise decision to give an affiliation an identity based on the lack of one of those things. I think there is a lot of design space for designers to play with regarding skills and attributes that don't involve denying them to the game's affiliations or sub-affiliations. That's an important less to remember.

Good Stuff
1. Headquarters with game text.
Ferenginar (Financial Hub) sees the start of a run of headquarters that feature special game text aside from their normal reporting ability. While it wasn't new in Strange New Worlds (Deep Space 9 and Athos IV both had special game text), this expansion did introduce the idea of an affiliation's signature mechanic being defined on its headquarters. This technology would be used for every subsequent headquarters introduced by Decipher, and is something design has kept in its back pocket ever since the formation of the CC. Though we've only just used it with Bajor (Blessed of the Prophets), it is something we might revisit as we proceed through Phase II, and it originated in this expansion.

2. Archive foils & Archive portrait cards.
Strange New Worlds was the first expansion to include a parallel foil subset (eighteen of the expansions cards) that were included in the packs. On top of these "archieve" foils were two ultra rare "archive portrait" cards. These were on special templates with extended art, and served as previews for the next two expansions. These cards were very popular and highly sought after. While they were no doubt included in order to drive sales, they served as excellent previews for upcoming expansions. That is something I wish we could replicate today.

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 To Boldly GoDangerous Missions, and Genesis.

The Survey Says
In our last installment, I asked you to vote on which of the first six (6) expansions had the best art, best cards, and biggest impact on the game. We also asked which of those expansions was your favorite. Today, we're pleased to share those results with you!


What do you think of the results? Any surprises? Let us know! We'll do another survey like this later in the year!

Strange New Worlds was one of the last expansions released before Decipher faced the fallout from their embezzlement scandal; it would be over a year from this expansion's release before Second Edition players would see another release. Many designers and employees of Deicpher would be let go, including those that worked on Second Edition. It was a sad time for those people, and a sad time for the game.

Speaking of the expansion itself, many players had been looking forward to the introduction of the Ferengi in Second Edition. They arrived with some fun and innovative mechanics, but were very ineffective at the competitive level. Many players tried them, but then left them sit because of significant problems competing in missions; most appearance of "team orange" came from Brunt appearing in other decks. Their performance (or underperformanc) would lead to design experimenting with the affiliation - perhaps causing trouble down the road. But that's a conversation for a later article.

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 Strange New Worlds and the other expansions. Keep the comments and feedback coming, and these articles will continue to evolve as time goes on.

One final note: in order to avoid conflicting with the Road to Worlds First Edition deck analysis articles, Hindsight will be moving to Thursdays. So next week, check us out on Thursday as we join the Alpha Quadrant preparing for an invasion by the Dominion as that affiliation makes their First Edition debut in The Dominion. Thanks for reading!

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