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Hindsight: Captain's Log

by Keith Morris, Second Edition Assistant Designer

5th June 2014

Editor's note: Welcome back to Hindsight, our weekly series where we take a look back at previous expansions for the Star Trek: Customizable Card Games with a fresh eye. Our 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, we’m looking to better understand the games and how they can be improved in the modern era by studying its history.

Let's join Keith Morris [Foreman] as he takes a look at the debut of the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager and takes a look at Captain's Log.

Caretaker's Array

Captain's Log (Second Edition)
Released October 27, 2006
120 Cards (39 Common, 41 Uncommon, 40 Rare)

Affiliations and Sub-Affiliations Introduced:
Voyager

Mechanics Introduced:
No Headquarters decks, Alternate Win conditions

1. The carrot or the stick.
When a designer wants to create a shift in the metagame, they have two options. Create a card that rewards a player for doing something you want them to do (a carrot), or create a card that punishes a player for doing something you don’t want them to do (a stick).

As Charlie mentioned in his look back at To Boldly Go, there had been a long tradition of attempting planet missions first. Decipher tried to shake this up by making the Starfleet affiliation’s headquarters create a race to complete the first space mission. The bonus 10 points created a carrot for the player playing Starfleet to get a space mission done quickly.

Since I wasn’t playing 2E at the time, I can’t be sure how effective this was at shaking up the planet first strategy, but I think the fact that Necessary Execution was created shows that the new headquarters didn’t have the meta impact Decipher wanted. I think there is a simple reason why: it didn’t affect games that it wasn’t played in. This leads to a very important lesson in Trek design: if you want to change the way only some games play out, you can use a carrot. If you want to change the way most game plays out, you probably need to use a stick. If Decipher had known this ahead of time, maybe they wouldn’t have tied up so much of the affiliation flavor of Starfleet in attempting space first when what they really wanted was everyone to do it.

An Issue of Trust

2. Don't punish players for doing things you want them to do.
Probably the worst card in the expansion is An Issue of Trust. The problem is that this card punishes players for using personnel with Honor or Treachery as a skill. Unfortunately, that basically means it punishes them for using the major heroes and villains in the Star Trek universe. This dilemma was definitely a mistake.

3. Learn from past mistakes.
One of the best places to look for design lessons is by looking at the cards in an expansion that have been given errata. Captain’s Log has five cards with errata as of the writing of this article. Every time a card gets errata, it should teach designers about something to avoid in the future. Here’s a quick list and the lesson to be learned from each:

Finding Our Way - Repetitive downloading is bad for a few reasons. It creates a lot of shuffling, which uses up time that the players could be playing the game - and it makes games repetitive. Part of the point of playing a CCG is that there is going to be some randomness, and you are going to have to adapt to the cards drawn.

Fifth (Neonatal Drone) - Did I mention repetitive downloading is bad?

Lyndsay Ballard (Back from the Dead) - Always profread ;)

Thon - Make sure you think of all the ways a card could be used that you didn’t intend.

U.S.S. Enterprise E (Flagship of the Federation) - Make sure that, if you want something to be a cost for using a cards ability, that it is written as part of the cost instead of the effect.

Good Stuff

1. Feeling is important.
Probably the most important thing in designing any game is making the players feel something while they play. While creating the Voyager sub-affiliation, the designers captured the feeling of the show in two ways. By making the deck operate with no headquarters mission to hide from opponent’s battle decks, they captured the feeling of vulnerability that the crew must have felt being lost in unknown space with no one to depend on but each other. 

They also tried to capture the feeling of the crew’s unique situation by giving Voyager an alternate win condition, with The Long Journey Home. Alternate win conditions can be a great way to give an affiliation a different feel and, while it is hard to balance them, I think Decipher did a pretty good job on this one. Sure, you have to complete four missions, but that is offset a bit by making your opponent’s planet dilemmas dead draws. Besides, alternate win conditions should be a little bit challenging, that way the player can feel a sense of accomplishment when they pull it off.

2. Risk vs. Reward
At the time of the release, some dilemmas that were popular were ones that hurt players for using multiple headquarters. These dilemmas were acceptable against decks with only one headquarters, but packed quite a punch against dual headquarters decks. This made them appear in many dilemma piles. I’m a big believer that part of the fun of a CCG is trying to balance the cost vs. the reward of using certain cards. The fact that players could report personnel straight to Voyager (Home Away from Home) changed the cost of using these dual-hq hate dilemmas. In fact, the risk of them being dilemmas that did nothing at all when drawn against Voyager pushed many of them out of use. Making powerful cards more risky to use is one of the best tools a designer has for shaking up the way players play the game.

Chakotay (Bridge Between Two Crews)

3. Carrotsticks.
Chakotay (Bridge Between Two Crews) is a good example of a card that is both a stick and a carrot. First of all, he was a carrot for Voyager decks to play with events. This is good because it rewards Voyager players for doing something they probably should be doing anyway. Because the U.S.S. Voyager was designed to act as both a ship for attempting missions and a place to report your personnel, if you made a deck of 90% personnel, you could end up with the problem of having nine personnel on Voyager, and a handful of others that you wouldn’t want to play for fear of hitting something like Restricted Area. This is essentially the opposite of An Issue of Trust, it rewarded players for doing something they should be doing. At the same time, Chakotay also acted as a small stick to players who used dilemma piles that concentrated on just stopping personnel to maybe consider adding a few kill based dilemmas.

Expansion Stories

This story comes from the author: Keith Morris:

I had been a 1e player for along time, but drifted away when the rules baggage became too unwieldy. When I heard Second Edition was coming out, my brother Mark and I bought a couple of starters to check it out. We found the gameplay to be rather boring and non-interactive and moved on to other games.

Fast forward to 2004. I had just gotten married, and moved to Hamilton, Ontario, leaving my regular group of gamers back in Edmonton. With use of the internet, I found some guys playing my game of choice at the time; Decipher’s WARS CCG. I was just getting to know the new guys, when it was announced that it was going ‘on hiatus’. So, I found myself in search of a new game. A few of the guys I had played WARS with mentioned giving Trek a shot. As a CCG addict looking for a new supply of cardboard crack, I decided it to give it a try.

I don’t remember much about the first tournament, but I learned the ropes of the game with a borrowed TNG deck that I think was just a simple speed solver with few tricks. Some of the guys gave me some free commons/uncommons from the new expansion (Captain’s Log) and I decided to buy a few packs. Using pretty much just the cards from Captain’s Log, I came back next week and went undefeated.

Since then I’ve been a big fan of playing Voyager.

We'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 Genesis, These Are the Voyages, and In a Mirror, Darkly.

Conclusion
Overall, Captain's Log was a well designed expansion. The solution of how to create an affiliation with no headquarters mission was solved fairly creatively, and in a way that gave Voyager its own feel. The expansion wasn’t perfect though. An Issue of Trust shows how powerful a dilemma can be for shaping the metagame, and can actually hurt deck diversity if designers aren’t careful.

Editor's note: Thanks Keith. Next week, I will return to take the reigns and look at the First Edition debut of the Original Series as we examine The Trouble with Tribbles.

 


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