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The Birth (and Death) of a Rules Proposal

by James Heaney, First Edition Rules Master

24th April 2020

In the monthly rules update on April 6th, the Rules Committee reminded you that counter-attacks can only take place at the same location as the original attack. The article was running long, though, so we didn't tell you why. I still wanted to explain, not just because the original update was so cryptic, but because I thought the full story was an interesting look behind the curtain of the Rules Committee. So here's what went down.

If your opponent attacks you, during your next turn, you may initiate counter-attacks against your opponent's cards only at the same location as the original attack. You may not counter-attack your opponent's cards at any other locations. You may initiate regular attacks anywhere, of course, but you will have to follow affiliation attack restrictions and have a leader or Defense drone.

Time To Reconsider

In the original game, there was no concept of counter-attacks. You could return fire, but, to attack again next turn, you'd still need a leader. And if it was your Federation ships that got attacked, you could return fire during the initial battle, but that was it. You got no follow-up. Decipher added counter-attacks in in the First Contact expansion. We believe this was mainly to allow the new Borg affiliation to respond to attacks. However, counter-attacks only worked at the same location, and that limitation remains on the books today.

Several years ago, former Rules Committee member Matt Zinno suggested removing this limitation. This would allow players to counter-attack anywhere the turn after they were attacked. (They could also launch normal attacks, of course, but would require leaders for that.) Zinno was hoping to give defending players greater flexibility to respond to an opponent's aggression. We all liked the idea, partly because it removed one of the STCCG's many weird, arbitrary, hard-to-remember rules from the game. We didn't do anything with it, though, because we weren't certain what effect it would have on the game, and, at the time, we had no way of collecting data.

Last June, we were trying to develop a relationship with Playtesting, so that we could start collecting data about proposals. We remembered this proposal, we all still liked it, so we brought it back. Then-Rules Master Jon Carter submitted "remove the counter-attack location restriction" to testers as the R.C.'s first-ever attempt to do playtesting.

When we submitted it, several playtesters reacted with shock: they had no idea this was a rule to begin with! We heard stories from playtesters about how whole games would have turned out differently if they'd known about this rule.

At that moment, we realized that this may be one of those rules (like the disguise rule) that many groups didn't follow, because they didn't know about it. But we decided to keep our mouths shut until testing was finished. Why remind players of a rule we wanted to get rid of anyway?

When I became Rules Manager in February, this proposal was still in Playtesting, and it fell to me to build a consensus about what to do about it. Unfortunately, at just about that time, the feedback from testers took a sudden, sharp turn for the worse.

For the most part, the change was accomplishing just what Matt Zinno had hoped: defenders were getting more flexibility against aggression. Not everyone loved it, because when has a change ever received universal acclaim? It appeared to be accomplishing what we hoped it would accomplish, and it got a weird rule out of the game. Pretty good.

But it also made Borg decks much stronger.

One of the key ways to disrupt a Borg deck is to battle it, since Borg can't probe to complete (most) objectives at locations where they just battled. This is costly but can slow the Borg down long enough to pull out a win. Unfortunately, by allowing Borg defenders to respond to these "pings" by counter-attacking anywhere, Borg battle decks gained tremendous flexibility in their response, too, and could bring massive firepower to bear on opponents who often hadn't even done any damage. And Borg battle decks are already good enough to be on the watch list. With this boost, they became just too darned good. We could have added a "Borg exception" to our proposal, but there is zero appetite in Rules for creating new "special rules" for Borg -- they've got plenty of those already!

So we have pulled this proposal from Playtesting for now. If Battle Borg ever become less powerful, we may revisit this rule, because we found it a positive change in several ways.

But, for now, in case you forgot, here's your reminder: you can only counter-attack at the same location as the original attack.


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