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The Road Less Travelled

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

22nd June 2015

Every story needs heroes, and Star Trek has never been afraid to have a wide and diverse cast of characters. But even the mightiest heroes need support, and even the most fearsome villains have those they work with. In the far flung reaches of the Delta Quadrant, the heroes of the U.S.S. Voyager carve a path back home, supported by the unsung heroes of their crew. And they'll need every ally they can get, because the hordes of the Borg Collective threaten them at every turn. It's with these stories, and the stories of heroes of all shapes and sizes, that Lower Decks begins. Today we're overjoyed to announce that Lower Decks, the thirty-fourth Second Edition expansion, will be released next Friday, July 3rd, 2015. Lower Decks will bring forty-two (42) new virtual cards to players all across the world, and will be legal for constructed play one week after its release, on Friday, July 10th, 2015.

Alsuran Sector

Lower Decks, at its core, is about solving missions - either doing it quickly, or doing it in new and interesting ways. Both Voyager and the Borg, the two affiliations getting a refresh in this expansion, focus on mission solving from different angles. Along the way, there are cards that reward you for using interrupts in new and clever ways. But before we jump across the galaxy to the Delta Quadrant, I'd like to introduce you to the team that helped create Lower Decks:

Charles Plaine [MidnightLich], Lead Designer
Designer Profile: Charles Plaine
Lower Decks is my fifteenth Second Edition design and my eighth as a lead designer. Up to and including this expansion, I have been leading expansions out of necessity more than anything, because we didn't have too many people that had met our criteria for leading an expansion. (After this point, that will be changing!) I did a bit more design work on this project than I have on the past due to the smaller (and changing) nature of the design team.

Mark Morris [BaronMorrath], Assistant Designer
Designer Profile: Mark Morris
Mark signed on to Lower Decks as his third full expansion. As a veteran designer, his insights were invaluable for making many of the cards you'll see in Lower Decks. The majority of his work was on the Voyager-themed cards, but he was a huge contribution to the expansion as a whole. 

Though there are only two names listed on the official credits, there were several more people that were key players in this expansion's design. For a variety of reasons, they requested to be officially anonymous on the design's credits. I hope that they will participate in many of the forum discussions, because each of them did high quality work that they should be proud of, and they have my thanks.

But designers tend to get all of the credit as we introduce new expansions, and I think that's really not the way it aught to be. Design is important, but I would be completely and selfishly remiss 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!

Voyaging Home
Let me admit something to you: back when Phase II was just an idea, just some thoughts I had about the future, I knew what Voyager's role would be in that future. I kept an open mind as we started design meetings for the project that would become Lower Decks, but in my gut I knew where Voyager would end up: four space missions. We talked about a lot of different options, including giving them a focus on low point missions. We explored the Pathfinder Project, giving Voyager a "get home" mechanic. I think, in the end, we realized we were fighting against Voyager's nature - Voyager wanted to be about space missions, and we just needed to embrace that. I find myself often designing by instinct, and I'm very glad that I let my logical half do the work of exploring options for Voyager. But I'm equally glad that Voyager ended up where I long ago thought it would: dealing with space missions.

But there was a big problem with the four space route: including a planet. Almost every deck that uses The Long Journey Home runs four space missions and a planet mission, including my own version that I enjoy playing. And the problem with including a planet is that it gives you an "out" - I probably actually solved four space missions in less than half of my games. It's almost always going to be easier, unless you are way ahead, to solve S-S-P for the win than to try and go S-S-S-S. And to me, that was a flaw of the design - we should encourage and reward Voyager for going the four space route, but in exchange, they should have to commit to that route. And in the end, that's exactly what we did, and it all starts with a new mission: Alsuran Sector (Utilize Abandoned Relay Station).

Divide and Conquer

This mission offers some interesting trade-offs from the existing version of this mechanic, The Long Journey Home. Most notably, as a mission, there is no way for your opponent to prevent or destroy your victory condition. Given how frequently I see text that prevents The Long Journey Home from new and aspiring designers, there is clearly a desire for such an ability, but doing so violates several fundamental design rules. Instead, Alsuran Sector goes a different route, and since you rarely get something for nothing in Second Edition, your invulnerable victory condition comes at a cost: no planet missions. And to be clear, you can't even command a planet mission, which means you don't get an "out." If you play this mission, and the host of cards that come with it, you are committing yourself to doing four space missions to win the game. But that's not so bad, really: think of all the dilemmas you won't have to face, like Divide and...

I'm Gonna Let You Finish
Let me interrupt myself for a moment to talk about interrupts. You might have noticed there's been a bit of a pattern to our Phase II expansions so far in that they all have a "something matters" theme running through them. We wanted to make sure we had a way to offer thematic cards for players that weren't interested in the main two affiliations the expansion focused on, so if you weren't a fan of Bajorans or Cardassians, you could still enjoy the "discard pile matters" cards in Return to GraceLower Decks started out no differently, and we decided early on that it would be intersting to make the theme "interrupts matter." So we explored a lot of design space for interrupts, made a lot of interrupts, and made lots of cards for affiliations that cared about interrupts. We really challenged ourselves and made lots of interesting interrupt cards of which I am quite proud.

But as we were developing Lower Decks, we found ourselves cutting more and more of the "interrupts matter" cards. You see, we'd fallen into a common design trap of making interesting cards for the sake of being interesting, and not making interesting cards because they inspire players to do fun and new things. Designers have to be careful not to challenge themselves at the cost of the game their designing, and we had a bit of that going on with our "interrupt matters" cards. So while there are still some cards that care about interrupts, it ended up more of a splash than a subtheme. (And if you're curious why Lower Decks is forty-two cards instead of the forty-five you might expect, this is a big part of why.)

But even as a sub-theme, there are still cards that carw about interrupts. 

... Conquer. For three (3) cost, this dilemma potentially provides a significant wall as long as you have managed to get interrupts in your discard pile. The easiest way to do so is by playing them, but we're sure some of the more creative of you will find ways to get them into your discard pile more quickly. In any case, if you're willing to commit to solving four space missions in your Voyager deck, you'll get a lot of new toys for your trouble and avoid all the game's planet dilemmas!

Go Speed Solver, Go!
Solving missions is the absolute core of the game, so it always gets a lot of attention. But over the past five or so years, the pendulum of game speed has swung quite far into the "interactive" camp. One of our Phase II mandates was to speed up the game, to make turns go faster and to promote faster, more traditional solver style decks. It's tricky to do this without ramping up into insane bonus counters, free personnel, and mass downloading, but focusing on mission solving is a great start. By and large, Phase II has been in the C+ to B- range in terms of speeding games up, so we made it a bit of priority for Lower Decks. And one of the best ways to promote solving missions is to make good missions, such as Orlitus Cluster (Astronomical Survey). This might only be a thirty-point mission, but it has fairly simple requirements and it grants all of your "weenies" (personnel that cost 1 or less) an attribute bump. After all, if you want to speed things up, giving some small bonuses to playing cheaper personnel isn't a bad strategy. Rise to the Occasion is an interrupt that lets your personnel gain a skill from a weenie personnel present, giving you even more benefit to playing those low cost, backbone personnel.


Of course, there are other ways to promote mission solving. You can create efficient cards, such as the latest version of Kathryn Janeway (Mindful Keeper). Not only is she a lower cost personnel herself (though not quite a weenie), this version of Janeway can trade multiple weenies for a single stop. And given that her whole flock appears along side her in Lower Decks, you can make some very efficient personnel trades with this one card. Even the Borg and the Klingons get in on the action, with cards like Isotope Drone and Kamok - after all, the only thing better than a personnel who costs 1 is a personnel that costs nothing!

Speaking of Kamok, we're giving some much overdue love to the Delta Quadrant Klingons in Lower Decks. The Delta Quadrant icon doesn't appear on cards quite as much as the Gamma Quadrant icon did in Strange Bedfellows, but this is definitely a "Delta Quadrant" set. Not only will you get Kamok, but two of his friends and a brand new mission - Kelsid II - that should put [DQ] Klingons back in the game, but more on that one another day.

And speaking of games, are you ready for some Tsunkatse? After teasing the theme for years as league promos, we've chosen to deliver on the mechanic here in Lower Decks, and reward you for stacking strong personnel on the bottom of your deck. Much like in the show, there are two different ways to play Tsunkatse - Blue Matches and Red Matches - each with their own rewards. And of course, if you have Penk (Unscrupulous Promoter) around, it's even easier to play Tsunkatse. Just don't spend so much time watching the matches you don't see bigger threats...

They Will Be Coming
And whenever you put the terms "Delta Quadrant" and "threat" together, thoughts invariably turn towards the Borg. As a long-time favorite and power affiliation, it was a daunting proposition to develop a theme for the Collective that wouldn't push Borg over the top into dangerous power levels. Assimilation in particular, as a major theme for the affiliation, is a very powerful strategy that could easily be tipped too far. We had to search for more subtle ways to reward assimilation decks, because like it or not, it is a very signature mechanic for the Borg. Compromised Tactics is one such card, a dilemma that will allow the Borg to turn the skills on their assimilated drones into weapons. Imagine a Borg Deck that assimilates Ptol or William Ross, and it's easy to imagine how powerful Compromised Tactics can become.

But we still wanted to give the Borg an identity for Phase II and I'm happy to say we found one that is both a flavor and mechanical match: mega-teaming! If you're not familiar with the term, mega-teaming involves attempting missions with more than nine (9) personnel. The "rule of 9" was established from the very beginning of Second Edition with cards like Pinned Down, Limited Welcome, and Explosive Decompression. We have decided there is a lot of design space in promoting mega-teaming, and that the Borg are a great fit for some of that design space. Lower Decks sets the stage by giving the Borg - no matter which flavor you enjoy - powerful rewards for sending hordes of Drones on your mission attempts.

Consider Overrun. This low-cost event allows a horde of  Borg (as long as you have ten or more) to turn random selections into stops of your choice. If you attempt with twelve [Bor] personnel, and your opponent plays a Pinned Down, you can choose to stop the three least important personnel of your crew instead of risking your Borg Queen being stopped randomly. Overrun won't help you with opponent's choice options, but it certainly blunts the impact of some of the cards that punish mega-teaming. Of course, if you attempt with twelve [Bor] personnel and your opponent isn't running those dilemmas, Overrun gets even better. Combined with some of the new missions and the new Borg personnel in Lower Decks, and you have a nice, thematic package that can fit into most Borg decks.


Friends In Low/High Places
Lower Decks brings focus to the Delta Quadrant, to solving missions (and doing so quickly), and to one of the game's most interesting card types. With forty-two (42) new cards, this expansion will give a strong identity to Voyager decks moving forward and a very thematic one for Borg decks to explore. With Continentals imminent and Worlds not too far off, we can't wait to see how Lower Decks shapes things up when it releases on Friday, July 3rd!

Bonus: What Brad Would See
Since I haven't put together one of these in awhile, I thought it would be fun to give you a list of things that Brad would see, were he to look at Lower Decks. Enjoy!

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