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Nothing Is As It Seems

by Charlie Plaine, Balance of Terror Lead Designer

29th August 2014

O'BRIEN FOUNDER: Let me ask you a question. How many changelings do you think are here on Earth right at this moment?
SISKO: I'm not going to play any guessing games with you.
O'BRIEN FOUNDER: Ah. What if I were to tell you that there are only four on this entire planet. Not counting Constable Odo of course. Think of it. Just four of us, and look at the havoc we've wrought.
SISKO: How do I know you're telling me the truth?
O'BRIEN FOUNDER: Four is more than enough. We're smarter than solids. We're better than you. And most importantly, we do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it's your fear that will destroy you.
SISKO: Are you finished?
O'BRIEN FOUNDER: Finished? We've barely begun. I'll be seeing you.

The galaxy is in great peril; threats abound from all sides - don't trust anyone. Nobody is who they appear. We are beset on all sides with imposters, infiltrators, and invaders; even our friends may not be who they seem. These feelings of paranoia and isolation were a major motivation for our design on Balance of Terror, for which today we are proud to announce the release as we explore these timeless questions. Balance of Terror, the 31st Second Edition expansion, is coming on September 12th, 2014, and will be released online and free at trekcc.org. Balance of Terror will then become legal in all constructed formats one week later on September 19th, 2014. Balance of Terror continues the "Phase II" era of design and gives fresh identities to Terok Nor and Deep Space Nine Earth, yet still offers new and different cards for all players - and aims to keep you on your toes.

The Weak Will Perish

Balance of Terror is an expansion that explores the feelings of paranoia, oppression, mistrust, and devastation. Mechanically, many of these aspects are made manifest in the expansion's "dilemmas matter" theme. Not only does the expansion feature loads of new dilemmas, it features a host of cards that interact with dilemmas and a new way to use dilemmas to win the game. But before we get too far into those specifics, I'd like to take a few minutes to introduce to the Balance of Terror design team:

Charles Plaine [MidnightLich], Lead Designer
Designer Profile: Charles Plaine
Balance of Terror is my twelth Second Edition design, and my fifth as a lead. Much like with the previous "Phase II" project, I took the role of Lead Designer for this expansion because I felt it was important to make sure this expansion continued to execute well on the "Phase II" ideas. I did some design, but spent most of the time providing guidance to the team on the overall vision.

Tyler Fultz [DJstormtrooper], Assistant Designer
Designer Profile: Tyler Fultz
Tyler took this opportunity to stretch out his design muscles again (versus his Rules Master muscles), joining this expansion's team - his second. Tyler constantly pushed the team to make powerful, aggressive cards, but was willing and able to listen to concerns and back off to get the cards into great shape. His influence is all over this expansion, and while his Rules Master duties will keep him busy, I'm sure this isn't the last of Tyler's excellent designs we've seen.

Mark Morris [BaronMorrath], Assistant Designer
Designer Profile: Mark Morris
Mark, the winner of Make it So 2011, returns for his second design with Balance of Terror. Mark shows a natural instinct for what makes a good card, and is willing to be patient and take the time to suss out the details of both his own ideas, and those of others. His contributions to this expansion are significant and resulted in quite a few of my favorite cards. I'm confident Mark will continue to make his influence known on Second Edition's future.

As always, I would be negligent if I failed to mention the hard work of the dozens of volunteers that work on Second Edition. Kudos to all of our play testers, rules guys, creative team members, our Art team, and the man that keeps us all on track; Second Edition Brand Manager, Nick Yankovic (nickyank). All of our volunteers do so much work and all deserve significant recognition for making this game thrive.

If you appreciate the hard work of all of our volunteers and enjoy having this website available as a hub for our community, we encourage you to make a donation to our operating costs today. Without the support of our community, this site wouldn't exist!

Phase II: Going Strong
Balance of Terror is the second expansion of the new design era we're calling "Phase II," with Return to Grace being the first. As mentioned previously, "Phase II" is a shift in design philsophy that manifests itself in three ways, briefly explained below. If you'd like to read more about Phase II's design philosophy, I wrote quite a bit more about it in the Return to Grace announcement article

1. Create new and powerful cards. Don't be afraid to make powerful new cards. Trust in our experience and the testers, and in the process that exists to deal with cards that are too powerful. Be fearless, but not reckless. 

2. Make affiliations matter. Give each affiliation an identity other than the color of the borders. Allocate mechanics, strengths, and weaknesses in a way that makes flavorful sense. 

3. Dial back game speed. Strive for clean, simple, and efficient cards that favor solvers over interactive decks, without ruining the potential for interaction.

In the course of the design and development of Balance of Terror, we continued to work along all three of these goals. We strove to continue the progress we'd made on each, and to find new ways to simplify and enhance the process. It's an ongoing process of evolution. As we learned from the release of Return to Grace, we adapted and made changes to this expansion's development process in order to continually improve what "Phase II" stands for. For example:

Don't forsake "star power." One of the big complaints about Return to Grace was the focus on background and no-name characters and the lack of well known, major characters - i.e. "star power." We took that lesson to heart, and while you'll still find new and background characters in Balance of Terror, you'll also find familar and big name faces, like Benjamin Sisko and Founder Leader.

Flare of Rage

Make sure generic verbs feel generic. Another big complaint from the previous expansion was that some of the generic cards - in particular, Self-Replicating Roadblock - were cards that "felt" as if they belonged to a particilar affiliation or sub-affiliation, yet were open to any deck. We are going to need to make generic cards and [NA] cards, but we need to make sure that those cards are more than just effects that are open to everyone; we need to make sure they feel generic.

You'll also find things that we didn't do in Balance of Terror - such as new versions of existing headquarters. That's not to say we didn't experiment with any, but we want to make sure we aren't doing things just for the sake of doing them, or to check off a box on some imaginary check list. That's just as importat to the life and livelyhood of the game as any other aspect of "Phase II."

Don't Dilemmas Always Matter?
The dilemma pile is one of the best aspects of the design of Second Edition, and the primary form of player interaction - so of course, dilemmas and the dilemma pile always matters. But beyond their existance, it's possible to make them matter in different ways to different players and in different situations, and this is the design space we sought to explore in Balance of Terror with the "dilemmas matter" theme. 

We sat down and talked about our favorite dilemma piles of old, and the dilemma piles that were popular today. We made lists of cards and piles we wanted to help and those we wanted to hurt, and eventually set out to make cards to do just that. Not all of them would make it to see print, but quite of a few of them did. One of the dilemmas piles the entire team was keen to help was the Persistent pile, and that culminated in a pair of cards like Flare of Rage.

Flare of Rage (and it's counterpart) are new dilemmas that work with Persistent dilemmas without directly requiring you to use the Persistent text. We've tried to incentivise returning dilemmas before (and will again), but we wanted to try something different. These two dilemmas are both strong on their own, but their discount text (reducing their cost for each previously used Persistent dilemma) make them excellent choices in any dilemma pile already using Persistent dilemmas. The fact that Flare of Rage removes two personnel from the game (so that they can't be saved from death or unstopped) is icing on the cake.

Of course, that's not the only dilemma pile we wanted to help. Inside the pages of Balance of Terror you'll find a new Consume dilemma, a new riff on Brothers, a space version of a planet favorite, a dilemma that helps both Khan decks and one of my favorite dilemmas of all time - Overwhelmed. And last but not least, a brand new dilemma keyword - Species 8472, as shown on this expansions promo card, The Weak Will Perish. But this isn't the place to talk about that...

If you're curious how we landed on "dilemmas matter," well it all started with our focus on [TN] and [DS9] [E]. Much like Return to Grace was centered around the Bajoran and Cardassian affiliations, Balance of Terror started as an expansion centered around the Terok Nor and Deep Space Nine Earth sub-affiliations. As we worked on each of these two sub-affiliations (and they required a significant amount more than either [Baj] or [Car] had), we ended up giving each one a dilemma-related mechanic. It didn't take long to make the intuitive leap that that theme could extend across the whole expansion. Ironically, one of those two factions would end up getting a completely different mechanic before design was through.

Martial Law
If you had asked me before starting the design on this project which of the two sub-affiliations would be the "problem," I would never have guessed DS9 Earth. However, I would have been wrong; I think we spent more time designing different themes for this sub-affiliation than we did for Bajoran, Cardassian, and Terok Nor combined. One of the problems we faced, for both DS9 Earth and Terok Nor, is that these are "joint" sub-affiliations. For example, DS9 Earth has elements of [Fed] [DS9], [Fed] [E], and just plain [Fed] mechanics/flavor to capture. In addition, DS9 Earth has to be mindful of the overlap between itself and Mouth of the Wormhole (DS9) - each needs to feel different, while having so many common elements.

Benjamin Sisko

We went back and forth on mechanics for DS9 Earth in a process that I know was frustrating for the design team. I was working on a flavor and feel, and thus instinctual level, while my colleagues were working on a mechanical level. We started with a dilemma-based mechanic that was just going to be too clunky, then moved through several different iterations of a more "militaristic" mechanic. Throughout, I kept complaining that the mechanics we would come up with didn't "feel" right for this sub-affiliation. DS9 Earth was the "down and dirty" section of the Federation, the sub-affiliation that would do what needed to be done to get things done. After all, DS9 was the show that gave us the Dominion War and Section 31 - the dark underbelly of the Federation. Yet they were still a Federation sub-affiliation, and couldn't simply abandon the Federation ideals (that would be the role of the Maquis). In the end, flavor would lead to the answer: Paranoia.

You'll notice that the DS9 Earth cards in Balance of Terror lean heavily on the "Homefront" / "Paradise Lost" story line, and for good reason: they perfectly capture the flavor we were looking for. When times get tough, sometimes you have to make sacrifices; but if you make too many sacrifices, you lose your identity. This would be the birthplace of the Paranoia mechanic (and the second new keyword in the expansion). Each Paranoia event gives you a significant bonus, but at a significant cost - what is known in game circles as a drawback. This mechanic will be fun for a lot of players that like to "min/max" (to borrow an RPG term) - minimize the drawback and maximize the bonus. It should give a nice, unique feel to players of DS9 Earth decks moving forward. Of course, Paranoia can do more for you too, like help keep you on your guard: consider Benjamin Sisko (Acting Head of Starfleet Security), who provides a significant attribute boost to your Security officers while a Paranoia event is in play. Just be careful not to get too bogged down by the Paranoia that you can't do anything!

But don't worry - if you're not a fan of all this Paranoia and political machination, we have some other goodies for you to look forward to; after all, there are some other characters that are long overdue for some attention. And since this sub-affiliation is related to the [E] icon as much as it is the [DS9] icon, we went out of our way to find some Next Generation stories to throw into the mix: the Second Edition debut of the Bluegills (and the third and final new keyword in Balance of Terror). Gregory Quinn is one such personnel, an infested Admiral that sports the [E] icon... though he doesn't tell you too much about the overall mechanics of the Bluegills. That will have to wait for another day.

Control the Station, Control the Wormhole
While Terok Nor is even more of a complicated"joint" sub-affilaiton than DS9 Earth (having to mix Bajoran, Cardassian, and Dominion flavors and mechanics, even before considering Dissidents), it didn't have nearly as much trouble finding its mechanical identity. After a brief detour exploring an expansion of the card pool (which we liked and will save for a rainy day), we settled on a new and unique tactic for this sub-affilation that already had precedent: attacking the dilemma pile.

It all started with a little-known and underused card from Raise the StakesTenuous Alliance. This event lets you remove dilemmas from an opponent's dilemma pile equal to the cost of one of your [TN] personnel (and removing the same number of dilemmas from your own pile). It's an untargeted, unfocused removal, but dollar-for-dollar it can be one of the most effective removal cards in the game. It sparked the idea that this mechanic - dilemma removal - could be a unique niche for this sub-affiliation to claim. Dilemma removal isn't new to Second Edition - cards like Ohhhh! Nothing Happened and Gem have been univerally available for years. But in the era of tight, focused, and most importantly - small - dilemma piles, having a sub-affiliaiton that could be a meta answer to such piles seemed like a great choice.

Founder Leader

Terok Nor's dilemma removal, like Tenuous Alliance, is unfocused. You don't get to pick the damage you do, you just care about inflicting damage. Once you've done some damage to the opponent's dilemma pile, you will start to be able to reap the rewards. [TN] gets access to a new interrupt that allows your personnel to gain from a dilemma that has been removed from the game. (Note that this particular interrupt, like many of the [TN] cards in Balance of Terror, doesn't care how those cards get removed from the game... an opponent's Hard Time can suddenly give you a boost.) Sometimes these bonuses are incredibly simple, like the new Founder Leader, who simply comes into play at a discount once a dilemma has been removed from the game. Of course, as a higher cost [TN] personnel, she subsequently lets you put on more pressure with Tenuous Alliance - all in all, a neat package.

Of course, the question remains - what about the Dissidents? I'm sad to say that they did not survive the expansion's development, and are left behind on the cutting room floor - almost. There are two cards in Balance of Terror that will fit perfectly in a [TN] Dissident deck, including arguably the most powerful anti-download card we've ever made. The other is a new version of an old favorite, thirty expansions in the making - Morn! Much like his original version, this Morn gives you a benefit if he's hanging out at Quark's with the right kind of people; while he doesn't give you card draws, you can start discarding the opponent's deck as early as turn 1. So take heart; while the Dissidents didn't get as much love as they probably deserved, they do get some.

Finding Balance
Balance of Terror seeks to give an identity to two of the Second Edition headquarters that have most needed one, and to inject new life and power into dilemma piles. Along the way, there are cards for a wide variety of decks and even a few one-off cards that don't have much to do with dilemmas at all, just for a little extra splash. We are proud of this expansion and the cards it contains, and have high hopes for how it will impact the landscape of Second Edition play. When Balance of Terror releases, we hope that players of all motivations and experiences levels will find something that calls to them among the forty-five (45) cards within. Balance of Terror releases on Friday, September 12, 2014 and will be legal one week later on September 19th!

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