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Point/Counterpoint: The Future of Backwards Compatible Cards

by Department of First Edition

2nd May 2016

Today, we seek to revisit the question of backwards compatible cards. Internally, our Department of First Edition has been discussing the issue of these cards and if they should continue to be legal in 1E games. There are arguments in favor of keeping the cards, and in favor of severing the link. We have decided to ask you, the players and fans of the game around the world, your opinion on the issue and move in the direction you select.

The Status Quo
First, let me explain our current policy, i.e. the status quo. Backwards compatible cards are legal for play in all First Edition events (unless otherwise prohibited, for example those on the OTF Ban List). Any such card that has been converted is considered to be an errata, as if the 1E template version was being used. We regularly convert cards in nearly all of our First Edition expansions, focusing on those that are thematically relevant, mechanically complex, or popular.

We’re asking you to help decide if we should continue this status quo; or, if we should sever the link between 1E and 2E and remove the use of backwards compatible cards from First Edition.

In order to help each of you make an informed choice, we called on several volunteers and players to draft arguments both for and against this decision. You can read the arguments in favor of removing 1EC cards from the game below. The arguments against removing them appear after that, followed by a survey for you to vote and comment. In addition, we encourage you to read and discuss the situations and your choice in this article’s discussion thread.

A data set was generated to assist in discussion and preparation of this article. We have made that data set public via Google Sheets for you to view and analyze. Anyone can access the data set via this link: Backwards Compatible Cards in Use.


 

Arguments Against Backwards Compatible Cards

 

When Decipher discontinued First Edition (1E) in favor of Second Edition (2E), they created ‘backwards compatible’ (BC) cards as an incentive for 1E players to buy into the new 2E game. However, many 1E players, including those in this community, did not want the expense or effort to start collecting another game or just didn’t like the look of the new cards. This created a divide in the 1E community – those that did use 2EBC cards (often this would be the players that would play both editions) and those that didn’t use 2EBC cards. This problem still exists today, and even if someone chooses not to use 2EBC cards themselves, they may still face an opponent who does. Should we unburden 1E of the excess baggage that 2EBC represents and move on to a new era with a unified card pool?

Excess Baggage
2EBC cards have never been a perfect fit in 1E. In fact, they require special ‘conversion rules’ (above and beyond the normal rules of the game) in order to make them work. The 2EBC cards were primarily designed for 2E, and adding the ‘BC’ icon was a secondary consideration. The application of the ‘BC’ icon was done with less and less care and consideration over time, as 2E expansions contained BC cards that were noticeably overpowered or broken in 1E, some that were seriously underpowered, or some that just didn’t work at all.

One of the most obvious differences about 2E cards is visual: the different card templates and skill repertoire. Interpretation of many of these changes require knowledge of the 'conversion rules’ and are not immediately intuitive:

 

 

The differing visual look can also be jarring – a spaceline of 11 missions on a 1E template and one solitary mission on a 2E template sticks out like a sore thumb! The cards also use language in very different ways. Understanding language on dilemmas for example: when is a dilemma a wall that goes back under the mission, and does failing to meet an “unless” condition on a 2EBC dilemma stop everybody?

Aesthetics aside, even with the conversion rules there are a number of gameplay problems inherent in mixing 2E and 1E cards together due to the differing naming conventions used in the two games. For example, Jonathan Archer (Covetous Commander) is the matching commander of James Tiberius Kirk’s I.S.S. Enterprise, Benjamin Sisko (Outlaw) is a version of the same persona as the Alpha Quadrant’s ‘Benjamin Sisko’ and not the Mirror Universe’s ‘Mr. Sisko’, etc. In addition, many BC cards were just duplications of existing 1E cards with the same image and small gameplay tweaks (see Sirol, Tamarith or Letek for examples). In the similar case of Telok, the main difference was extra gametext that was open to abuse as Telok could be made to re-enter play on multiple occasions in 1E.

But these aspects aside, the biggest obstacle is the knowledge of these cards needed. They represent a barrier to entry for both new and returning players. For new players, it is undoubtedly easier to pick up the game if all the available cards are visually consistent, are not “subsets” of expansions from another game, and don’t need any extra rules to interpret and use them correctly. For returning players, they represent an additional universe of unknown dilemmas and gameplay trickery that a 2E-savvy opponent could unleash upon an unsuspecting “old school” 1E player – and that’s on top of a wealth of new virtual cards they may be unfamiliar with (but at least the new 1E format cards are tested for use in a balanced 1E environment).

Convert or Die?
Since the CC began making new 1E template expansions with Life From Lifelessness, there has been a mandate to convert 2EBC cards onto the 1E template. One thing this has achieved is to take overpowered 2E mechanics (for example, ways to cheat past dilemmas using the old version of Dominion Hierarchy, or excessive and easy bonus points for escorting a captive using the old version of Labor Camp) and tamed this functionality to better fit with a balanced 1E environment. While these cards have been largely well received, the process of getting through all the 2EBC cards is slow, with only about 30% of cards converted over the last 5 years. Would a further 10 years to complete this process be tolerable, or have we effectively reached (or are we nearing) a tipping point?

While there may be a long term objective to convert all cards, within the design of each expansion, converting a 2EBC card is not a sufficient reason for doing so in and of itself. The designers should never feel compelled to do so if it doesn’t fit with the set or have a specific gameplay need, and it shouldn’t become a box-ticking exercise where every expansion has to contain X number of conversions regardless. Equally, we don’t want to place limits on the creativity of the designers. For example, if it is decided in the future to do a version of B-4 on a 1E template, the designers might do better to create a card from scratch, rather than limiting themselves to converting the 2E version, and finding a way to shoehorn the 2E ‘Intelligence’ skill onto a Non-Aligned personnel!

Is there any point spending valuable resources on unused (or infrequently used) 2EBC cards? Looking at deck statistics, there are over 100 2EBC cards which have never featured in any 1E decklist. Every card converted requires a lot of work from various departments of the CC. Converting a 2EBC card can potentially take the place of a more interesting new card. (We don’t want a repetition of the converted dilemmas seen in recent blocks that were widely considered to be too weak for the 1E environment.) Removing 2EBC will reduce the burden on Art (needing to find an exact image match with the original) and on Design and Playtest teams (not needing to worry about hundreds of potentially unwanted interactions with as-yet-unconverted 2EBC cards). Also, some conversions turn a personnel’s ability into a special download – which could mean 2 slots used just to convert the functionality of one personnel. Removing 2EBC would open up space for more “new” cards in a regular expansion!

In some cases, the opportunity for a conversion may not arise for some time. For example, the Fortune wasn’t converted in The Next Generation in favor of reprinting the universal Mercenary Raider from 1994! That seems to indicate that it didn’t have a place in 1E and perhaps not all cards need to be converted. If it does ever receive a conversion in the future, it either won’t fit with the existing 1E Mercenary Raiders gang, or it will have to wait until TNG falls under the spotlight again, and Design have exhausted other material to the point where they want to re-vamp that “Stone of Gol” crew. Is that a desirable outcome, or should we just remove this dead wood now?

By now, the majority of the useful 2EBC cards have been converted. Some still remain, notably Starfleet affiliation cards - but many of these will be converted soon with mirror universe Starfleet on the horizon, and an Enterprise-era block beyond that. As such, one “final push” to convert say an expansion’s worth of the remaining useful 2EBC cards looks achievable. No-one wants to rob players of their favorite 2EBC cards overnight, so we can ask the community for input on what they want converted – but let’s have those favorite 2EBC personnel, ships, and mechanics on fully tested cards designed to work in the 1E environment! Then the remaining cards, the ones that aren’t used or worth the effort of conversion, can simply be discarded to simplify the game.

This doesn’t shut the door on converting others in future, from time to time, should there still be 2EBC mechanics and personnel that would be a good fit in 1E. Much like 1E will occasionally draw inspiration from non-BC cards in 2E and produce a “pseudo-conversion”, if it could benefit 1E. And the door is slowly shutting on the 2EBC universe anyway, as the existing conversion procedure effectively removes these old 2EBC versions as part of the process.

By far the easiest and simplest step that 1E can take to improve the accessibility of the game is to simply remove all 2EBC cards from 1E. The 2E cards don’t suddenly become worthless as they can still be used in the game they were originally designed for (or used as backing for virtual cards). There would no longer be a huge list of 2EBC cards and conversion rules constantly hanging over the designers, rules, or the players, and the effort spent on converting increasingly insignificant cards from 2E can be better spent on other things. This problem has gone on too long and it is time to make a decision: Should we remove these legacy cards, taken from a different game with a different format, with their own set of rules, where many of the best cards have already been converted and the remaining cards are used in a decreasing proportion of 1E decks? Should we remove this barrier to entry? Yes!

 


 

 

Arguments for Backwards Compatible Cards

 

A Short History Lesson
Decipher introduced the Star Trek CCG (what we now know as First Edition) twenty-two (22) years ago on 11/10/1994 with the release of the 363 card Premiere expansion. As one of the first such games on the market, it had and immediate and addictive effect on many players. Players quickly built Romulan decks based on Treachery and Archaeology, Federation mission solvers, and more, making history as they did. From today’s perspective, the Premiere expansion appears to be primitive and at times unbalanced, but both it and the game are beloved and have been a significant part of many players lives ever since.

Fast forward eight (8) years to 4/17/2002. The Motion Pictures was the last full 1E template expansion released by Decipher. Many players were devastated to see the game they loved and had played for most of a decade come to an end, to be replaced by the new Second Edition game. The first expansion of the new edition of the game, Second Edition, was released later that year on 12/18/2002, and many of the 1E players that gave it a chance found they had received a pleasant treat. From the Star Trek CCG Second Edition Rulebook:

“In the lower left corner of some cards, you’ll see a First Edition Compatible indicator like the one shown here. These cards may be mixed with cards from the First Edition of Star Trek CCG and played under the older, First Edition rules.”

Decipher might not have been releasing any more First Edition expansions, but as part of Second Edition they would continue to release new cards for 1E. In fact, Second Edition alone included 200 new 1EC cards. And each time Decipher released a new Second Edition expansion, they added more 1EC cards to 1E players. In total, Decipher’s 2E expansions combined to add seven hundred fifty-four (754) new cards with new gameplay to First Edition.

The Continuing Committee added forty-five (45) additional 1EB cards to the First Edition card pool before they released their first 1E template virtual expansion, Chain of Command on 11/6/2009, followed by the first full 1E virtual expansion released by the Continuing Committee, Life from Lifelessness, on 6/11/2010.

For almost 8 years, from the release of the last full Decipher 1E expansion in 2002 to the first full Continuing Committee virtual 1E expansion in 2010, the primary source of new cards for the 1E game were the 799 2EBC cards that came out in Second Edition expansions. 1EC cards kept the First Edition game many players loved fresh and alive during an otherwise tough period for First Edition. This feeling of nostalgia is important for many players, and one strong, if sentimental, reason to keep them part of the game.

Pros and Cons
But it’s true that not everyone in the community shares a fondness for 1EC cards. There are reasons to keep these cards as part of First Edition, as outlined below:

The most fundamental reason to retain 1EC cards for First Edition is inertia: the cards are already part of the game and the rules. According to Decipher’s official rules, backwards compatible cards are part of the 1E game. It is true there is a visual difference, but that should not be reason to bar their use. In addition, since all of the cards for both editions are printable, accessibility is no longer a concern. The vast majority of the backwards compatible cards that were problematic, either due to their unusual wording or problematic interactions, have already been converted. There is simply no overwhelming reason to remove a significant number of available and legal cards that are doing no harm.

Many have argued that backwards compatible cards add a lot of complexity to First Edition, but is that really true? Do backwards compatible cards add more complexity than the other components of First Edition? From a rules perspective, First Edition is a complex game. The Borg affiliation plays differently from any other affiliation and has its own special set of rules. There are special rules for Tribbles, special rules for the Q Flash, and yes, special rules for backwards compatible cards. So it is true that backwards compatible cards add complexity to the game, but the flip side of the complexity coin is richness and diversity.

There is a significant amount of backwards compatible cards yet to be converted – five hundred and sixty-two (562). However, the additional rules required for these unconverted cards is only two and a half pages. This is a relatively low cards to rules ratio when compared to other rules components of First Edition, such as those demanded by the Borg affiliation.

Longevity or tradition are also reasons to keep the status quo. Consider that First Edition has existed for twenty-two (22) years, and that backwards compatible cards have been part of the game for fourteen (14) years. This means that backwards compatible cards have been part of the game more than half of its life! Additionally, during eight (8) of those years, backwards compatible cards were almost the only source of new First Edition content available. As of the release of Crossover, there are just shy of eight-hundred (799) backwards compatible cards as part of First Edition. A total of five-hundred and sixty-two (562) have yet to be converted. That means that there are almost seven (7) expansions the size of Crossover worth of backwards compatible cards for players to use and explore.

Backwards compatible cards have made significant and positive contributions to First Edition gameplay, and to the personal enjoyment of many players over the past fourteen (14) years.

Backwards compatible cards have played a significant role in many First Edition deck designs, including those designed for and played competitively for the past decade. First Edition decks from Trek Masters, Nationals and Worlds have included backwards compatible cards.

A Final Thought
One of the central concepts in Star Trek is the philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC). In the Star Trek universe, we have people from diverse species, races, and value systems all working together for the common good. Star Trek shows us that diversity isn’t a weakness, it is a strength. Anyone who has been to a First Edition tournament can’t help but notice that diversity is also a part of our community. First Edition players don’t look the same, don’t behave the same way, approach deck design and game play differently, and we have different personal tastes and preferences. Some players love the Borg and some don’t, while other players like Tribbles and some find them an annoyance. This is also true about backwards compatible cards: some players enjoy using 2EBC cards, and some don’t.

Just because a player personally doesn’t like the Borg does not mean that the Borg should be removed from First Edition. Doing so would prevent those players who enjoy the Borg from playing them in 1E. Likewise, players that enjoy using Tribbles should be allowed to do so, even though there are others that would welcome their removal. Therefore, just because some players dislike the existence and allowance of backwards compatible cards in First Edition should not be grounds for their removal. Doing so would prevent those players that find value in those cards, or even enjoy their use, from having the ability to do so. IDIC says that diversity makes us better. In this, as in all things, we should be inclusive not exclusive.

 


 

 

Time to Vote
We are asking for all interested players and visitors to the site to participate in this decision. The results of this vote will determine how the Department of First Edition proceeds in regards to backwards compatible cards. Once again, if you would like access to the data set prepared for this discussion, it can be found at http://tinyurl.com/1EBCData.

 

A vote for the status quo means that we continue on the same course we’ve been on for the past several years. Backwards compatible cards will remain a full and legal part of the game, and the design team will convert them when and where it makes sense to do so. In order to allow for changes in the community and the game state, we would revisit this issue in about three (3) years.

A vote against the status quo means that we should move to begin severing the link between editions via backwards compatible cards. The volunteers of the First Edition teams will begin to identify key cards both for their own internal plans, and that the community enjoys, and prioritize their conversion. This may take the form of a single, final expansion of conversions or it may be done more gradually, but it will result in the removal of backwards compatible cards from First Edition.

We hope that you will read the arguments outline above and discuss this issue with your peers and fellow players on the forum. When you’re ready, you can vote on this issue below, as well as leave additional comments for the First Edition staff to review. We will leave this poll open for three (3) weeks, until May 23rd, 2016. Shortly after the survey is closed, we will publish the results.

 

 

 

Contributions to this article were made by KazonPADD, Maelwys, MidnightLich, tomek, and Zef'no.


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