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Hindsight: The Dominion

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

1st May 2014

 

Welcome 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 game and how it can be improved in the modern era by studying its history.

Operate Wormhole Relays

With the station establish at the mouth of the wormhole, and the crew of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine introduced in the Deep Space 9, introducing their major adversaries was the next logical step for Decipher's rollout of First Edition. The Dominon, the multi-species threat from beyond the Bajoran Wormhole, would make their debut in the titular expansion, The Dominion.

The Dominion (First Edition)
Released January 20th, 1999
134 Cards (40 Common, 40 Uncommon, 50 Rare) + 4 Preview Cards

Card Types Introduced
None

Mechanics Introduced
Infiltration, Referee ([Ref]) Cards

Affiliations Introduced
Dominion

Lessons Learned
1. Fix the problem, not the symtpoms.
Decipher had a bedrock policy of no-bans (other than Raise the Stakes), minimal errata, and solving their problems with cards. As a whole, this isn't a bad philosophy and can work really well for a card game. If a particular mechanic, affiliation, or strategy is doing well, then you can address that with new cards in subsequent expansions. Too much Federation being played? Make a dilemma that hammers the Federation a little bit. Errata can be reserved for things that break the game, or mistakes that weren't caught until after printing. And the idea of never banning a card is admirable, but it does limit one's options in how to address problems.

(Speaking of Raise the Stakes, keep in mind that at the time, Decipher pretty much had to ban the card; as an ante card, it technically turned the CCG into a form of gambling, which was a hot button topic. If you're not familiar with the idea of ante, it was a marbles-like quality to many early CCGs in which a particular card would be "wagered" at the start of a game, with the winner taking both cards. Magic had quite a few and they were all banned from organized play. Aside from ante being incredibly disliked by players who wanted to actually keep their cards, the gambling aspect forced companies to ban these cards quickly.)

Unfortunately, this rigid policy left Decipher in a position where cards and anti-cards (i.e. magic bullets) escalated, culminating with the [Ref] icon introduced in The Dominion. And while true this mechanic wouldn't become manifest until Q the Referee in The Trouble with Tribbles, Decipher was clearly laying the groundwork for this mechanic here. I feel this is where Decipher's rigid policies painted their design team into a corner, and things began to escalate. Rather than address strategies with an errata or ban, a Referee card would be created that punished the strategy, often with incredible severity. Players then became obligated to stock the [Ref] cards in their deck, which led to Decipher packing them with "extra" functionality to justify their use, and a viscious cycle would begin that the game is still struggling with today.

In the end, the [Ref] mechanic was addressing the symptoms of the problem and not the root problems themselves. Sometimes you can (and should) address problems with new cards, but other times you might need to look at a rules change, an errata, or in the worst cases, a ban. Decipher's rigid mentality about "it's all on the cards" was good in theory, but ultimately did more damage to the game than it did good. Ironically, it was this absolute mentally that would - eventually - lead to the creation of OTF. The Continuing Committee would come to realize that we didn't need to limit ourselves to only new cards, or only errata, or only bans, etc. and had the ability to use every tool in our toolbox to create a healthy state for the game.

Founder Leader (The Dominion)

Honorable Mentions
1. Not realizing the Dominion's potential.
I belive that The Dominion failed to really deliver a unique and compelling experience for  their titular affilation, which is unfortunate. To Decipher's credit, all of the affiliations introduced prior to the evil Dominon had unique characteristics that made them feel somewhat different from each other, but I never got the sense that the Dominion felt as "cool" as they could have. While all their characteristic races were represented - Changelings, Jem'Hadar, and Vorta - they didn't really provide that menacing trifecta feeling viewers had come to associate with the Dominion.

Expansion Stories
I'd like to feature stories from players about First 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 First Edition will be on Blaze of GloryRules of Acquisition, and The Trouble With Tribbles.

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!

Conclusion
Many players consider this era of the game, up until the next expansion - Blaze of Glory - to be the game's  golden age, and it's hard to disagree. But within that golden age "block", I think The Dominion is the weakest entry. While the expansion did a good job of evolving the mechanics and themes laid down in Deep Space 9, and did introduce some new mechanics, it started a downward spiral of "magic bullets" and introduced the [Ref] mechanic. Perhaps I am unfairly judging the expansion based on that mechanic alone, as I did not play in this era of the game, so I urge those of you that did to share stories and comments on the forums letting me know what you enjoyed about this expansion, and how it affected the game when it was released.

I wish that Decipher had been willing to bend their policies and make real changes to the game where they were desperately needed. If I can take away any lesson, I hope that it is we can not be afraid to do what's best for the health of the game. Bans and errata may not be popular, but if they improve the quality of the game for the majority of players then that's what we need to do. I'm not advocating being reckless with such power, but I do think it is power we must not be afraid to use.

Next week, we return to Second Edition as that edition ventures back to the 22nd-century and the early days of humanity's space exploration in To Boldly Go, featuring the introduction of the Starfleet affiliation! As always, thank you for reading and for your kind feedback and constructive criticism!


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