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Hindsight: To Boldly Go

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

8th May 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 jump back in time to the 22nd century and take a look at the Second Edition debut of the Starfleet affiliation in To Boldly Go. This expansion came at the end of a year and a half break, when rumors circulated and many doubted the future of the game. Spoilers were released well in advance of the actual cards, but it was glorious when they first were released. Starfleet continued the trend of new headquarters missions being introduced with special text, and pushed the game in a new direction with their arrival.  

Earth (Humanity's Home)

To Boldy Go (Second Edition)
Released August 18, 2006
120 Cards (40 Common, 40 Uncommon, 40 Rare)

Affiliations and Sub-Affiliations Introduced:
Starfleet

Mechanics Introduced:
Headquarters Related Dilemmas, Replicate

1. Protect affiliation identity as much as possible.
Starfleet, as a new affiliation, came with their own new headquarters mission: Earth (Humanity's Home). Continuing the trend established with the Ferengi in the previous expansion, this new HQ comes with special text that goes a long way to defining Starfleet's identity. For those of you unaware, this card's text say: "When you complete a space mission, if no other space mission has been completed, score 10 points." 

While I don't have official stats, I'd wager that at the time of To Boldly Go's release, 95% of decks solved a planet mission, then another planet mission, and finally a space mission. Space dilemmas tended to be nastier than planet dilemmas, and a ship with Range 8 meant that you could go to a mission, to home, and back with a single ship. It was the defacto way to play Second Edition, and thus going "space first" was a perfect theme for a new affiliation. Starfleet was young and rough out of the gate, but the race for space first made for interesting games, even if P-P-S was still the norm.

Unfortunately, this identity would remain special for exactly one more expansion, until the introduction of Necessary Execution in Captain's Log. Necessary Execution would alter the way people played Second Edition, making almost every deck - to this day - attempt a space mission first. This would have been fine if that characteristic hadn't just been defined as one of the signature mechanics of Starfleet! In short, Decipher followed up a successful introduction of an affiliation with a unique mechanic with a card that made that mechanic the standard for the game. This means that design would struggle (and still does, somewhat) to find an identity for Starfleet for the next several years.

It's perfectly fine for there to be "splash" of affiliation mechanics into other affiliations; with so many affiliations and so few mechanics, it's inevitable. Bajorans aren't the only ones that get discard pile access - they just have the best. The Cardassians aren't the only ones that Capture, they're just the best at it. It would have been fine for other affiliations and sub-affiliations to get some access to "space first" technology. But creating an incredibly powerful dilemma that would force the game into the same direction as Starfleet's identifying mechanic devalued not only the affiliation, but the mechanic itself. This is something design needs to be  very aware of as we expand and redefine affiliations and sub-affiliations moving forward.

Cardassian Processing

2. Make sure deck/dilemma integration is "worth it".
To Boldly Go introduced the idea of dilemmas that had specific ties to one's deck; the cycle that appeared in this expansion tied to headquarters missions. It wasn't entirely new ground, as dilemmas had previously existed that wanted you to play events in your deck, but this expansion took it a step further. I think one could argue this is the lowest of the low hanging fruit, that the inclusion of dilemmas that "boosted" based on a headquarters mission was automatic if one was playing with that HQ; but that's okay. Sometimes the low-hanging fruit is tasty and it will certianly work.

I think the problem with this idea was its initial implementation. But put succinctly, with the exception of Cardassian Processing, these dilemmas were not very good. Either they had requirements that were far too easy, effects that were too unrelaible, or effects that were just not worth their use. There were also wild swings in power and difficulty on these dilemmas, although I do think most of them were very well on theme for their associated affiliations.

The biggest downside of these dilemmas is that I think it scared the designers off from exploring more of the space available in deck/dilemma pile integration; it wouldn't really be tried again until TCC's own Favor the Bold. (Yes, I know there are more dilemmas like this in In a Mirror Darkly - I wrote them. But they were about finishing off this cycle instead of innovating new ways to connect the two halves of the deck.

Good Stuff
1. Replicate.
Replicate is a much maligned mechanic that made its debut in To Boldly Go. Replicate allows a player to pay an additional cost to an event in order to keep that event in their hand instead of discarding the event normally. There is a lot of potential design space in this mechanic, and even if it wasn't optimally used in this expansion, it's a good mechanic. It's introduction did come with a lot of confusion and animosity that design - and the mechanic - has struggled to overcome in the past few years.

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 Dangerous Missions, Captain's LogGenesis, and These Are the Voyages.

Conclusion
To Boldly Go was an expansion designed during one of the "darkest" periods of Second Edition's history. Many people thought that the game would never recover from the gap of over a year between this expansion and its predecessor; the lack of any information from Decipher itself only exacerbated the rumors. During this time, Decipher laid off almost all their design staff and this expansion was crafted with a minimal team; in that context, it's remarkable work. Even aside from that, there are many good cards here that are still popular today. It think that it's unfortunate that so much of the groundwork laid here would be torn down in later expansions. Still, without To Boldly Go, the game would have died in 2007 and we should all be grateful it did not..

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 To Boldly Go and the other expansions. Keep the comments and feedback coming, and these articles will continue to evolve as time goes on.

Next week, join guest writer Jason Drake (Wambundu) as he sharpens his blades, arms his weapons, and raises his shields as battle changes forever with Blaze of Glory. Shine up your latinum and study up on the rules, and thanks for reading!


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