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A Tale of Three Faces

by Charlie Plaine, Face of the Enemy Designer

1st November 2015

Juliet, of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet fame, once mused about names.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Well, it turns out that while the young Capulet's views might be romantic, they don't have a lot to do with card design. Today I'm going to tell you the story of a cycle of three cards in Face of the Enemy that almost weren't. These three counsuls spent a lot of time very poorly rated in testing, and found themselves on the chopping block. It was only a last minute change of story - giving the cards another name - that saved them. In fact, they went from the top of the cut list to some of our favorite cards in Face of the Enemy.

Origin Story
As Tyler explained in his overview of Face of the Enemy, we wanted to do "ship characteristics matter" as a theme for the expansion. We spent a lot of time brainstorming on what characteristics we could use, which affiliations would care about which types, and how to make this expansion feel different from the last ship-themed expansion, Tacking Into the Wind. One of the characteristics we locked onto was the cost of a ship, especially since we were trying to promote big ships. After all, in general, a greater cost means a bigger ship. So with that idea in mind, Tyler put a cycle of three personnel into the design file:

[Fed] 3 •William Ross (Fleet Commander)
[Cmd] [DS9] Human
•Diplomacy •Leadership •Officer •Security
Admiral. Commander: U.S.S. Sao Paulo. This personnel adds the cost of a staffed [Fed] ship you command to his attributes.
[INTEGRITY 2] [CUNNING 2] [STRENGTH 2]

[Kli] 3 •Martok (Fleet Commander)
[Cmd] Klingon
•2 Honor •Leadership •Navigation •Officer
Commander: I.K.S. Rotarran. General This personnel adds the cost of a staffed [Kli] ship you command to his attributes.
[INTEGRITY 2] [CUNNING 2] [STRENGTH 2]

[Rom] 3 •Velal (Fleet Commander)
[Cmd] Romulan
•Diplomacy •Leadership •Officer •Security
Commander: Rovaran. General. This personnel adds the cost of a staffed [Rom] ship you command to his attributes.
[INTEGRITY 2] [CUNNING 2] [STRENGTH 2]

Now, let me be clear that there was nothing wrong with these personnel. They certainly helped promote the use of higher cost ships. Each of the three affiliations could easily field a 7-cost ship to make these personnel 9-9-9 attributes. However, I wasn't excited about these cards, and to the best of my recollection, neither was the rest of the team. But this was Tyler's expansion, and these cards did do what we wanted them to do, and none of us could really articulate a good objection to them. So they stayed in the file for quite a while, but got very little feedback.

Jump to a few months later. Tyler is now busy working on his next project, Project Chrichton, and isn't attending the design team meetings for Face of the Enemy regularly. He's still very active on the forums and reviewing changes, but he's not participating in the discussions on our Skype calls. In one of our later meetings, we're discussing potential cuts to the expansion. For those of you that don't know, often design teams put more cards in a file than they plan to release. It's inevitable that some cards won't work out, or will need more testing, or will be better suited to a different project. It's much easier to cut down cards that it is to scramble to fill holes. So as we're finishing up development of Face of the Enemy, we are over-sized and need to cut cards. Different designers propose different cuts, but Nathan, Ben and I are all nominating this trio to be cut.

Tyler said he liked the work these were doing and asked us to find a way to keep them in the file, if possible. So we made some tweaks to clean them up, make them a little more powerful, and continued discussing. We also spent time trying to figure out why we didn't like these cards, since they were mechanically relevant. We realized that we didn't like the flavor. There are already versions of Ross, Martok, and Velal; in particular, the version of Ross is very popular. The existing versions of Martok were already 8-5-8 personnel, so this new version was almost always going to be worse, or only slightly better. In addition, these three personnel just didn't offer much in the skill department.

So we'd identified the issue, and it was one of flavor. We realized we could just make these three generic characters and let the excellent Second Edition Creative Team find story for them, but that felt wrong. These cards were a cycle, and cycles want to be connected not only mechanically, but in their flavor as well. Ross, Martok and Velal provided a great Federation, Klingon and Romulan trio that could care about ships - could we find another similar trio? As it turns out, we could:

St. John Talbot Korrd Caithlin Dar

In addition to new "names," these characters got some final mechanical tweaks. We removed the references to specific affiliations in their game text, as well as allowed their bonuses to activate from an opponent's ship so that any ship at their mission will give them attributes. After all, Sybok didn't care who's ship came to "rescue" them, why should they? We also changed their skills to fit their characters better and provide a little more skill balance to the expansion after all. Finally, we tweaked their attributes slightly so they had a single, slightly stronger (and affiliation themed) attribute - Integrity for the Federation, Strength for the Klingons, and Cunning for the Romulans.

It was amazing how just changing the names and stories around changed our opinions on these cards. Three out of the four designers were ready to cut these cards because they didn't feel right, even though they were in the right mechanical space for Face of the Enemy. But once we changed the story and found a way to make these cards something else, all of our attitudes changed instantly. Some of us thought the cards went from the bottom of the expansion to the middle, and others though they were now favorite cards. But either way, it's clear that the "name" mattered. So, with all due respect to Shakespeare and his tragic heroine, I have to politely disagree. When designing cards, there's quite a lot in the name. The right name and story can turn a poor card into a great one.


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