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Design Spotlight: First Edition Borg

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

6th November 2017

""The Borg are the ultimate user. They're unlike any threat your Federation has ever faced. They're not interested in political conquest, wealth, or power as you know it. They're simply interested in your ship, its technology. They've identified it as something they can consume."" - Q, "Q Who"

Oh, boy; it’s Borg week! I’ve been wary of this article since Maggie’s original pitch to revive the Spotlight Series. While the Borg are an affiliation in First Edition by definition, they don’t behave like any other affiliation in the game. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that is despise the Borg in 1E. However, I’ll do my best to provide a level-headed analysis of the Collective in this article.

At a Glance
Here's a quick look at the Borg affiliation:

Borg [Bor]
Nouns 78 Cards (3 Facilities, 64 Personnel, 11 Ships)
Missions 0
First Appearance First Contact (1997)
Recent Appearance Broken Bow (2017)
Signature Skill Computer Skill
Attack Restriction ALL (Attacking only allowed w/a card))
Appears In Enterprise, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Movies
Doesn't Appear In TOS

Borg Queen (Voyager)

If I had to sum up the Borg’s strengths in a single word, it would be “different.” The Borg Collective simply doesn’t play the game the same way as any other affiliation, and it from these differences that so many Borg advantages derive. Of course, all of the Borg-specific rules also give Borg players a meta advantage; many of their opponents don’t know how to play against them. Though I thought I’d mention that, it isn’t really a strength of the affiliation.

Mechanically, the Borg’s biggest advantage comes from their ability to defeat - or ignore - dilemmas. Borg don’t care about gender; so all of the gender-related dilemmas do nothing against a Borg player. Likewise, Borg don’t care about points; that means your The Higher… The Fewer won’t matter. Right there, that’s a big swath of dilemmas. Add in the Borg’s access to amazing skill sharing, and a lot of skill-based dilemmas do little or nothing against Borg. And finally, the Collective can Adapt past anything else they can’t naturally pass.

Borg are, by far, the best downloaders in the game. As they should be, since they originated the mechanic. Downloading-on-demand is powerful by any measure, but mostly because of its reliability. This gives them access to most of their tools when they need it, and allows most Borg decks to be played “on a script.”

The Borg use Objectives to target missions instead of attempting missions directly. Objectives provide some small benefits, such as allowing them to avoid Mission Debriefing. However, their strength comes from the fact missions are solved via probing. The mission requirements themselves don’t matter, just the outcome of the probe. A small advantage, but not a trivial one to be sure.

Finally, the Borg are the unequivocal masters of assimilation; they will take your personnel and use them as part of their Collective. Assimilation tends to be resource intensive but has the potential to be incredibly disruptive. This is one of my favorite mechanics in the game, because it’s how an affiliation’s signature mechanic should be: powerful, but requiring investment. Specifics of power level aside, this mechanic is a model for other affiliation-themed mechanics in the future.

If the strengths of the Borg were summed up with “different,” the weaknesses would be summed up with “complicated.” The Borg are not an easy affiliation to play, in no small part due to how different they are from other affiliations. There is no less than sixteen Borg-specific rules and exceptions that need to be learned to play Borg, and that’s a high barrier to entry in a game that already has a high one.

Similarly, the “script” style of play can come with a high complexity cost; particularly if your opponent provides any kind of disruption. If a Borg deck goes “off the rails,” it can cause several turns of delay to a player before they can get back on course. And while I’ve sung the praises of Borg downloading and deck manipulation power, it is prone to error in all but the most expert hands. Tracking the course of a good probe card is difficult in most cases, and can lead to a “bad” probe at a terribly inconvenient time.

And since I gave you a meta strength, let me give you a meta weakness, based on my own experience. The ability to play Borg is exponentially more difficult if your opponent also knows how to play Borg. There’s a logic to this; a Borg player will know exactly how to disrupt another Borg player. Another recent meta weakness of the Borg is the introduction of the single personnel download limit in OTF play. Borg can circumvent this via downloading to hand, but the days of downloading mass amounts of drones into play are over, at least in OTF.

They Will Be Coming

Looking Ahead
My personal dislike of the Borg aside, they are an affiliation that’s tricky to design. In most cases, they have strong strengths and minimal weaknesses and it can be dangerous to add new tools to decks in that region. Additions tend to be small, and carefully measured. However, I do believe there is some cool design space left for the Borg.

For example, I know that Dan Hamman [SirDan], one of our more prolific designers, has long been wanting to create a functional [TNG] Borg deck. By limiting a Borg deck’s resources, you can inspire creativity on the part of both designers and players. Mark Rosewater, the head designer for Magic, says that “restrictions breed creativity.” Limiting by property logo is one such limitation; I think a Borg Dissident deck (think “Unimatrix Zero”) would also be quite fun.

I think that the best path forward for Borg is finding ways to keep their unique feel and flavor, but eliminate unnecessary complexity. There is a lot of overhead involved in playing Borg, and I believe that much of it can be transformed. For example, consider how the Borg ignore gender. Currently, that is a rule in the glossary that a Borg player (and his or her opponent) need to know. Imagine that, instead of that rule, there were an Adapt: Gender Identity card that allowed Borg to ignore gender. Not only would you eliminate a rule, but you would add interesting choices for Borg players.

I hope that I’ve kept my vehement dislike for First Edition Borg out of this article, and have been able to guide you through the affiliation. Overcoming a personal bias is one of the most difficult things a human attempts to do, and I hope I’ve had some success here. The Borg were a terrifying nemesis introduced in The Next Generation, and they have a lot of that flavor going for them in 1E. I think that if those of us that work on the game can reduce the Borg’s overhead, they will have a fun future in the game for all.

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