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First Edition has a New Rulebook!

by James Heaney, Rules Nerd

16th November 2018

The Good Old Days

One of the unsung ingredients of the Star Trek CCG’s success was its rulebook.

Released in 1994, the Premiere Rulebook was a masterwork. It contained a concise, effective explanation of a game that (as players soon learned) was dizzingly deep with strategic complexity. The complete text clocked in at just over 8,200 words.

For those of you who don’t normally think in word counts: that’s real dang short. The Premiere Rulebook is shorter than Herman Melville’s classic short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener” (9,700 words), shorter than the rules for the board game Diplomacy (10,000 words), and just a bit longer than Flannery O’Connor’s breezy “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” (6,400 words). Even the Star Trek CCG Second Edition Rulebook, expressly designed to be a simple and straightforward game, had to go just over 10,000 words to get the job done. (Today’s 2E Rulebook is 13,000.) (For that matter, this article is 2,000 words by itself!)

Premiere Rulebook, Movement Diagram

The Premiere Rulebook got in, did its thing, and got out. It deployed diagrams and illustration for maximum effect on every page. It used sidebars to explain and clarify concepts that didn't quite "fit in." It even took a page at the end to make up some "Advanced Rules Variants" nobody was asking for and is the only version of the rulebook to discuss TrekSense. It’s a supremely clean, confident set of rules for a game that, frankly, nobody could have imagined just two or three years prior to its release.

With rules like that, no wonder people picked up Star Trek in such numbers. No wonder Trek survived while virtually every other CCG from that era (except Magic: the Gathering) has long since died off. No wonder the "PAQ" Era is remembered so fondly.

...no wonder so many people stopped playing later.

After all, Decipher soon began whittling away at the strong foundations Rollie Tesh and Tom Braunlich had given the game. The rules began to grow and sprout new appendages, like the AU icon, the Q Continuum side deck, and (much later) the dreaded Tribbles and Troubles. Clarifications and specific rulings were stuffed into the rules willy-nilly, without consideration of their impact on the wider architecture of the game. Stuff like “matching commander” had to be retrofitted to fit with cards that hadn’t been designed with those concepts in mind. Card types multiplied, often for marketing reasons. Problems in the card environment led to increasingly bizarre rules revisions, because errata and bans were not on the table.

The Bad Old Days

By August 2000, the deterioration in the game’s rules environment was obvious. The final Rulebook released by Decipher, the Trouble With Tribbles Rulebook (aka Rulebook 1.7) had more or less given up. Sure, it was short, but it didn’t even pretend to explain the actual rules of the game to new players. It was more of a loose introduction… pockmarked with bold text referring players to the already-infamous Glossary.

1.7 Rulebook stating flagrantly obsolete thing

The Glossary had been introduced in the Deep Space Nine rulebook to explain a handful of key terms in greater detail. It did not remain so modest. By August 2000, it was an impenetrable 77,000-word monster, full of bizarre legalistic text and not a single picture to explain—even the game’s own icons were encoded in arcane little brackets, like [AU ] and [Dom ]. By 2002, Decipher gave up altogether on the pretense that the Star Trek CCG had an actual, instructive rulebook that was in any way practical for teaching new players. The Rulebook was never even updated to explain basic modern concepts like downloading, and nobody ever so much as bothered to delete the “Delta Quadrant interim rules” once Voyager came out.

The Glossary had by then long since been declared the “comprehensive” source for the game’s rules, and players proudly spoke of their ability to understand the Glossary’s weirder bits. To some extent, the game stopped being a competition of Star Trek deckbuilding and gameplay, and instead became a competition to exploit and debate the Glossary’s endless Talmudic decrees.

The game died.

No one was surprised.

The amazing thing, though, is that it didn’t stay dead. It continued to be played by small groups around the world, all of which adopted their own set of house rules to deal with the game’s profound degeneracy. It took almost a decade, but the game was finally revived by the Continuing Committee. A bold reform of the rules, dubbed Official Tournament Format, repaired the game’s foundations, and players old and new began to start playing more of what was (by now) called First Edition.

But the Rulebook was never revised. Rulebook 1.7 remained the only “official” First Edition rulebook for 18 years. It was widely believed that it was simply too hard to fix.

This was a fair belief. Between the Rulebook, the Glossary, the Current Rulings Document, and the (often bizarre) 2EBC Conversion Rules, the game now had 110,631 words of binding rulestext. To be an effective player, you needed to be familiar with all of it. Nobody could just hand you a copy of the Glossary with "just the important parts" highlighted to teach you the game. You just had to plow through and learn it all, or hope for a good teacher.

First Edition had started out with rules shorter than a Herman Melville short story. They were now longer than Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban... and not nearly as fun.

Get Me Rewrite!

Back in 2013, I found this very frustrating. I agreed with the conventional wisdom that a new rulebook was impossible. But I was unhappy at my job and I have always liked testing conventional wisdom. So I decided to start writing a new, comprehensive rulebook for the OTF era... and just see how far I got before I crashed into a wall.

Over the next year, I crashed into a lot of walls. Fortunately, with a little work, I kept finding ways to get around them. Chris "Komitadji" Mead helped out with some brilliant graphical illustrations of the spaceline (see below). In the end, I had a new, comprehensive Rulebook.

Spaceline graphic by Komitadji

With my project a surprise success, I sent it to the CC and posted it on my personal website.

The CC approval process took four years. One of those years was entirely my fault, as I was working on another project. But, at last, the word came down: the Rules Committee and the Brand Manager have signed off! Upload it to the CC website!

Release Notes

Today, I am pleased to officially unveil for you the Star Trek Customizable Card Game, First Edition Complete Rulebook, version 2.0.5, approved and official!

Complete Rulebook 2.0 covers all the generally applicable rules of the game. If you read this Rulebook all the way through and understand it, you shouldn't ever have to use the Glossary except to look up particular weird cards. It even covers obscure rules rabbit holes like "how's the cumulative rule work, for real?" and "what can a stopped card do?" However, it does this in sidebars (inspired by the Premiere Rulebook), so new players won't get distracted by a bunch of twisty rules logic. Since the rulebook is online now, you can open and close any sidebar with a click, when you need it.

I wasn't able to get the text all the way down to 8,200 words, because the game is legitimately bigger than it used to be. The new Complete Rulebook is just about 24,000 words long... which is still a huge improvement on 110,631! (There's another 20,000 words in the sidebars for those who have questions or want to delve deep.) Once you've read those words, you should be pretty much good to go for your first game of OTF Complete!

However, that's still a lot to expect of a new player. I decided to create a Basic Version of the Complete Rulebook, something that new players could pick up and read in order to learn the "important" rules and start playing TNG Block Remastered right away. The finished Basic Rulebook 2.0.5 is simply an abridged edition of the Complete Rulebook, covering all the important things but leaving out the more "fringe" parts of the game, such as Sites, Artifacts, and the Mirror Quadrant. Clocking in at just 10,000 words, it's perfect for sharing with your newbie friends.

And when your friends play the game and love it and want to learn more? You're not going to make them read the entire Complete Rulebook now that they already know most of it, are you? No, of course not! So give 'em the Advanced Rulebook 2.0.5 instead! The Advanced Rulebook is nothing more than the rest of the rules, presented in an easy-to-read format for people who already know the Basic Rules. The Basic and Advanced Rulebooks have all the same text as the Complete Rulebook, just presented in an easier format for people who want to learn the game in stages.

1.7 Rulebook stating flagrantly obsolete thing

Prefer PDFs to all these newfangled web documents? No problem! Just hit Print --> Save As PDF in your browser (or Share --> Print on Android), and the whole document will rearrange itself for easier reading in the PDF format! All sidebars will expand and reposition themselves for reading on good old classic paper. (In some browsers, you'll have to do print preview twice before it will work. It's your browser's fault, sorry.) Or you can just go get PDF copies of all versions of the rulebook directly from my website, which has the necessary links.

The Future of 1E Rules

Rulebook 2.0.5 doesn't bring us back to the Glory Days of 1E Rules, when the Rules were the Rulebook and the Rulebook was short. The Rules Committee was prepared to approve this new Rulebook as a useful guide (much like the Dilemma Resolution Guide), but they aren't certain that it's bulletproof. This Rulebook should help you avoid the Glossary a lot more in your daily life, but, in the event of a dispute, the Glossary remains the Official Source of Truth in 1E. If the Rulebook and the Glossary ever conflict, the Glossary is correct. (But tell us about the conflict so we can fix it!) The Rulebook will be updated (at least) annually, on the first Monday in January, in order to keep it in sync with the Glossary (which is currently updated on the same schedule).

Will the Glossary always reign supreme? Will it always be a novel-length adventure? We'll see. Suffice to say that there's a lot of good complexity in 1E... and then there are a lot of interesting ideas, like Sites, that were badly implemented and ended up adding some bad complexity -- complexity that did more to enhance people's rules-memorization and debating skills than they did to improve the game's feeling of immersion. The framers of OTF shored up the foundations of the game, but there's still a lot of restoration work to be done on the first and second stories. It's tricky work, too, since rules renovations must not take away fun toys from players (like the old Cybernetics skill) without giving them something just as fun back in return (like Cybernetics Expertise) -- and it's hard to keep all the cards in the game working when the underlying rules shift around.

The advent of a new Rulebook is a big step in the right direction. With the hope of more to come in the future, it's still great to see Rulebook 1.7 going away today (if you don't have a shredder available for your copies, I suggest a bonfire), and I know I speak for the whole 1E team when I say that we hope you find Rulebook 2.0.5 a help to you, your playgroups, and especially to new players in your area.

See you on the spaceline!

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