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Put to the Screws

by Steven Slaby, World Champion Card Designer

24th June 2015

It's spoiler time.

This card's story begins Sunday, October 20th, 2013. After getting lucky enough to win both the 1E and 2E World Championships and the associated design-a-card prizes, I thought it would be cool to bring some of the flavor of each winning deck to the other game. A 12 Space Borg deck won me 1E, so I started trying to capture Space's feeling in 2E.


Slow down your opponents movement across space. How to replicate this effect in a game where movement isn't linear? Should this still be a mission?

[S] Space
no points, no requirements
"All non-headquarters missions are span +1."

Or maybe an event:

"Plays on a non-headquarters mission (limit one per mission). This mission is span +2."

I quickly realized that trying to do this, by increasing span, is inherently flawed. Sometimes it will slow people down as desired. At other times, it will achieve nothing at all. And at its worst, it might leave ships stranded, especially when damaged and/or at high-span missions. I wanted something more consistent. Maybe:

[S] Space
[AQ], no points, no requirements
When a ship is about to move from another [AQ] mission using range, you may PAY SOME COST to make that ship move to this mission instead.
Span 2

After discussing this concept with my fellow players Sunday night, I gave up on the idea. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't pursue it any further. I don't think any version worth playing would have survived playtesting. And after seeing Crippling Strike in action, I wouldn't like having created anything remotely similar.

Over the next year I exchanged messages with Charlie, whose feedback started out continental-drift slow, but ended up very detailed and helpful. I moved past ideas that wouldn't work within the current design philosophies, or wouldn't make sense as a single card, while trying to establish some core properties of what I wanted to create:

1) The card should be played, both sides of the table. Let me elaborate: many former world champion's cards add a very unique effect to the game. These cards enrich the game as a whole, but are of use to a very narrow range of decks or situations. The 1E card that I currently have in testing would fit this category, but for 2E I wanted to create a card with the potential for widespread use.

2) The card should capture a key element of my personal play style, both to better represent me, and to create something that I would enjoy using myself. This includes: large scale downloading, lots of events in core, dilemmas with strong effects, skill tracking.

Repetitive downloading doesn't mesh with current design philosophy. And I quickly realized that I didn't want to create a card that promotes large cores, because that would also promote counter strategies, which would probably end up making the game less enjoyable for me. Thus I started working on dilemmas. (And moved through the usual stages of inexperienced designers, like the "I win" card. I'll spare you the details.)

Early this year I started focusing on skill-based filters. Personal Duty and An Issue of Trust see widespread use, while others, like Coolant Leak or Picking Up the Pieces, are hardly ever played.

An Issue of Trust

One problem all of these dilemmas share is that several factions and deck types have one "defining" skill that is found on the majority of their decent personnel. As a consequence, dilemmas that hit these skills are stronger than others. In turn, several factions have received "magic bullet" personnel specifically to compete against Personal Duty & An Issue of Trust, which creates an issue on its own: Now the presence (or absence) of these personnel becomes critical.

Also, skill tracking for these dilemmas feels very static, you just keep a running count of Leadership/Officer and Honor/Treachery. No need to bother with the details. Likewise, your opponent will often try to minimize these particular skills when building a deck or selecting a team. I wanted something more flexible, more dynamic. One of my favorite dilemmas when it comes to skill tracking, The Clown: Bitter Medicine, feels very different. It requires perfect information to be used for maximum effect. Perhaps you counted your opponent's 5 Physics, but didn't notice his 7 Programming? But despite its flexibility, The Clown: Bitter Medicine shares the first issue, with no way to avoid even one particular skill, some factions will simply get screwed, whereas against others it will feel overcosted even when used perfectly.

Furthermore, many dilemmas feel very static during their execution. Usually, choice on dilemmas is limited to one player. Android: Netrunner (a brilliant LCG reboot of the 90's Netrunner CCG) has recently taught me that a game is at its best where both players have meaningful choices.

After some thinking on these points, I came up with the following effect:

Your opponent names two different skills. Chose one of the named skills. If you have two or more personnel who have that skill, randomly select all but one of those personnel to be stopped.

This effect gives both players a meaningful choice. Sometimes it will be beneficial to stop more personnel just to keep certain other skills or abilities around. Existing "magic bullet" personnel will also work against this (if a corresponding skill is named and chosen), but aren't required because you can always just choose the other skill. Also, it is not strictly better than existing filters (when naming the same skills), because stopping happens only for one of the two skills.

I submitted this design together with a range of costs and a list of possible adjustments for playtesting, and today I'm proud to say that the effect passed playtesting unchanged!

At this point, all that remained was to pick a story (title, image, and lore). I thought the effect might be a good fit for a Q story, but wasn't settled on anything, so I was glad to accept suggestions from the creative team. The first one was Q indeed, but after some creative differences on the details we started exploring different options. When Matt sent me their third suggestion, I was immediately sold. After all, First Contact has always been my favorite piece of Trek!

At the upcoming European Continentals I will, in fact, be Screwing with you:

Put to the Screws

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