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Ahead of Her Time

by Richard New, All Our Yesterdays Lead Designer

21st August 2020

“But she was right. Peace was the way.”

“She was right, but at the wrong time. With the A-bomb, and the V2 rockets to carry them, Germany captured the world.”

– James T. Kirk and Spock, “City on the Edge of Forever” Star Trek

There have been many great episodes of Star Trek, but maybe none so revered as “City on the Edge of Forever,” the Harlan Ellison-penned story of perhaps Kirk’s greatest love. History tells us that it was a hard episode to bring to the screen. And I can tell you for a fact that it’s a hard episode to try to make into game form.

“You expect to eat for free or something? You got to listen to Goody Two-Shoes.”

– Homeless Man, “City on the Edge of Forever” Star Trek

One of the first things I wanted to bring to All Our Yesterdays was a long-noodled, half-baked idea to use dual-sided missions as a method to represent time travel and changes to the timeline. From time to time on the Designer’s Whiteboard, Charlie, and Brad before him, used to post "Designer Tests." Just a little challenge to the Design department. Sometimes with an objective in mind, but often just to stretch our design muscles. In December of 2011 Brad asked for a time travel mechanic. I responded with a dual-sided mission with the keyword Time Location. It flipped when complete, became the opponent’s mission, and only flipped back over when the mission was complete again, creating an otherwise irreversible effect on the game.

Fast forward to Bruce design. I resurrected the idea (a little more refined) as it fit perfectly with the interaction mandate. Instead of attacking the opponent, capturing their personnel, or taking command of their cards, we would offer a brand new way of interacting: giving an opponent an additional task to perform within the built-in structure of mission attempts. To save game text, we let overcome dilemmas from the primary attempt stay beneath and inflated attribute requirements on the secondary side for a 20 point boon (as well as turning off the game text). I figured the hardest part would be balancing those attribute requirements with an unknown number of dilemmas that would presumably be beneath. I was wrong.

Let’s rewind again. This time it’s December of 2004. The game is still produced by Decipher in a physical form and Reflections 2.0 has just been released. The goal of that set was to shake up mission selection; and it succeeded. Cards like Jean-Luc Picard (Vintner) were released for each affiliation, requiring a specific mission selection for a huge jumpstart. Their text read, “When you play this personnel, if each of your non-headquarters missions…” The personnel required that your missions had a skill, had an icon, or even lacked an icon.

And now, by handing an opponent an unplanned sixth mission, I was asking to mess with players’ curated mission selections. Now, at first I wasn’t that worried. It seemed unfortunate, but I figured that by the time a player's Temporal mission was complete, the Reflections 2.0 personnel would have seen the light of day. Either that, or the deck the Temporal missions opposed had more severe problems than time travel. But then we saw Sphere 117 (Renegade Borg Sphere) from Unity. Using the same basic word structure as the Reflections 2.0 personnel, it removed Drone from your Drones and added Dissident. This was a requirement of the deck. Without it, every natural Dissident Borg would blank, becoming expensive sets of attributes. My Temporal missions would shut down this deck and inconvenience others.

Before throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I do try to see if there is an easy solution. Here, I suppose we could have asked for mass errata to be “missions you own” instead of “your missions.” This has the benefit of probably more closely reflecting the true intention of the cards, but that’s a lot of distasteful errata to be considered seriously. We tried short-circuiting the problem by not giving command of it to the opponent and having text allowing an opponent to attempt it. Playtesters didn’t like the idea of attempting another player's mission. Although I was pretty sure there wasn’t a rule issue (Change of Venue had just seen errata due to an unintended interaction that allowed “mission stealing”), I definitely felt the thin ice beneath our feet. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d had to lose something I believed in and definitely won’t be my last. But the death knell was Mendak (Duplicitous Admiral), which let a player attempt both sides, presumably double-dipping on points with the same dilemmas.

There were ways to cut off that unintended consequence too, but there comes a point where all the game text addenda are more objectionable than the loss of the gameplay. Luckily, in times like that, deflating expectations can also save goals. Nathan suggested something more like Smuggling Run. Maybe it was enough to draw the opponent away from their focus for a turn. One of the nice things about this solution was that there was much less to balance. Just game text and how many turns an opponent would leave it on before stopping by. It would also allow a player to draw an opponent to their mission where they could perform more interaction. Finally, it allowed us to focus on the abilities and find something that would truly get an opponent’s attention.

“He has passed into what was.”

– The Guardian of Forever, “City on the Edge of Forever” Star Trek

1930 Earth Gateway

The first of today’s spoilers is Gateway/1930 Earth. Gateway represents McCoy’s flight through the Guardian of Forever in a drug-induced panic. But then he emerges on Earth in the 30s. What happens, gameplay-wise, when he goes back and saves Edith Keeler from dying?

As the opening quote of the article lays out, Edith brought about the future earlier than expected. What if we translated that to bring mid or late game mechanics out early? We experimented with paying the cost of “lose 5 points” cards with the mission, but with so many early point generation cards, that didn’t really make the most sense.

Next, we tried making a more direct translation, shuffling killed personnel back into the deck, giving them the chance at a second life. That proved to be too conditional. If the opponent wasn’t playing a kill pile, it might not be worth it. Finally, we hit on bringing personnel from the discard pile back into play. Those that were supposed to be dead were now walking around. Yes, it could still be used to counteract kills, but now you could use it offensively, seeding your discard pile to get a free personnel each turn.

I really like where the card ended up, even though it lost the feel of bringing the mid game into the early game. Luckily, that impression comes in the form of the woman herself: Edith Keeler (Must Die).

“I’m Edith Keeler. You can start by cleaning up down here.”

– Edith Keeler, “City on the Edge of Forever” Star Trek

Edith Keeler

Edith always had gametext that was functionally similar to her current wording, but it took almost every iteration (and massive patience from the playtesters) to finally say what we wanted to say. (Seriously, the number of times I mistakenly allowed Artifacts to be played early…) I'd like to shout out Daniel “Danny” Giddings specifically, who did a tremendous job listening to our intentions and made a suggestion that ended up pretty close to this final wording: “When you play a card, you may reduce its cost using the game text of your missions as if they were complete.”

You might ask yourself: what does that even mean? Well, there are eight (8) missions that, while complete, reduce the costs of cards you play. The list includes:

What I love is that Edith enables war, fear, espionage, torture, manipulation, and greed. It’s not a great fit for her high Integrity and skill set, which is why the opponent’s ability to kill her is contingent upon her making those horrors of the game come to life. If you want to use her to reinforce a Bajoran or [TOS] deck… I’m sure Kirk would appreciate it, at least. But if you want to use her to make the future happen early, she’ll see more love in a Klingon, Dominion, Cardassian, or Ferengi deck, which perfectly fits the story. I’m truly excited to see where Edith pops up across the table from me.

“Time has resumed its shape. All is as was before. Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway.”

– The Guardian of Forever, “City on the Edge of Forever” Star Trek

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