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A Private Little War: Official Rules Supplement

by James Heaney, First Edition Rules Master

16th October 2020


Lt. McGivers

Happy release day! After many months of hard work, A Private Little War has broken out on spacelines everywhere! And, along with 63 new cards, we're also getting two changes to the rules! One change is tiny. The other is not!

You can read the changes in the PDF Rules Supplement. You can also find the big change on the Private Little War expansion cover sheet -- just like back in the days when Decipher announced all its important rule changes through cover sheets included in the box!

The cards won't be legal until next Friday. However, like all rule changes, this rules supplement takes effect immediately.

A Private Little War: Two Changes

The Little Change: "Beloved"

Lt. McGivers's lore mentions her romantic involvement with Khan Noonien Singh, the new Khan included in the new set. It then refers to her "beloved Khan". But that wording identifies Khan, the original card from The Motion Pictures.

We tweaked the romantic partners rule to make sure this made McGivers romantic partners with both versions of Khan. After all, she was married to both versions of Khan. Besides, "beloved" is already a synonym for "imzadi"!

The Big Change: Universal Mission Theft

Geological Survey

Probe Alpha Quadrant System

For many years, all ❖ universal missions have been "stealable" -- attemptable and solvable by either player, assuming the skill and affiliation requirements were met.

As of today's change to the OTF Rules, a ❖ universal mission is only stealable if more than one copy of that mission is in play. If I seed one (and only one) copy of Geological Survey, and you don't, then my Geological Survey isn't stealable. However, if I seed one copy of Probe Alpha Quadrant System, and you also seed a copy of Probe Alpha Quadrant System, then both are stealable!

Staggering Uniqueness

This rule change started life as a card, which the Private Little War sent to playtesting with the title "Staggering Uniqueness." Staggering Uniqueness tried to make the game's many universal missions playable again, since they have mostly been in binders due to players' fear of mission theft. It used one of my favorite Trek quotes as its lore: "In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that... and perhaps more... only one of each of us."

However, testing data questioned the wisdom of making this its own card (at the cost of a seed slot), and Rules questioned the wisdom of making a card to override an already-strange rule with an even stranger exception.

History Lesson

Further research by the Rules Committee revealed the strange history of this rule. The reason we had it for so long is thanks to Fair Play, Decipher's anti-mission stealing card, which only protected "unique" missions. Why the limited protection? 

Fair Play

Most people today think it was for power-level reasons -- that Decipher was concerned about players using multiple copies of ❖ universal missions abusively. But that doesn't really track. Most universal missions are weak, even in multiple. Besides, if Decipher was really worried about players using these missions in multiple, why did it keep making universal missions clearly designed to be used in multiple during this time? Besides, if Decipher were worried about multiples-abuse, Big D could have limited the Fair Play exclusion to ❖ universal missions seeded in multiple. Did it really consign all these missions to the binder because it didn't have space on Fair Play to protect them? A bit more research revealed a likelier answer.

In 1999, the game didn't have shared missions yet. If both players tried to seed a copy of the same mission, the second copy was placed out-of-play. But you couldn't just make players run a 5-card spaceline, so Decipher had a weird rule to fix the issue: if you place a mission out-of-play during the mission phase, you must download (from outside the game) a ❖ universal mission to replace it. At the time Fair Play came out, ❖ universal missions were largely played to replace missions you lost due to this uniqueness rule -- and, since the unique mission opponent seeded was stealable under Fair Play, it was only fair to make the ❖ universal replacement mission stealable, too!

Of course, in 2000, Decipher came out with shared missions, and that was the end of that. But Fair Play was already printed, and Decipher rarely updated cards, especially not cards that more or less worked correctly... so, besides a small non-functional change to the Voyager reprint, they let it be. When OTF was developed, the CC simply absorbed the text of Fair Play into the OTF rules wholesale, only pausing to add a little anti-Borg text.

So, basically, all ❖ universal missions were made stealable to accommodate a rules quirk in 1999 -- and this rule has long outlived that quirk thanks to a combination of inertia and confusion. So Rules reported to Design that, if testers confirmed it was safe, we thought it would be healthy to change it. And, after checking in with the 1E Department as a whole, that's exactly what they did. Everyone agreed that we still didn't want players to be able to use multiple copies of the same ❖ universal mission risk-free, so they remain stealable when used in multiple.

Powerful Stuff

New Civilizations

It's exciting, of course, to be able to play missions like Study Pulsar and Survey New World without having to fear very much about mission theft (as long as you only use one copy!). But why might you want to? Well, I've seen the playtest reports, and there were some pretty interesting reasons why you might be interested in ❖ universal missions for your next deck!

First, there's New Civilizations, the new card that already has you scouring your binders for low-point missions. Well, guess what list is 33 cards long, and every single one of them qualifies as a low-point mission? That's right! The list of ❖ universal missions!

Second, if you're running a universal-mission strategy, you may want to take a look at the "booster cards" for universal missions that came out a few years ago: Explosive Decompression and Pursuit Just Behind. By seeding several different ❖ universal missions (never more than one copy of each!), you can activate the powers of these dilemmas without putting yourself at mission theft risk. Given the requirement to solve both a planet and a space mission, it's tough to get more than 4 kills out of either one of these (and you can't do it with both) -- but hey! 3-4 random kills is not a bad effect, especially not if you're mostly playing universal missions anyway!

Third, if that doesn't whet your appetite enough, have you looked at Renewed Spirit lately? That's a card that keeps showing up in the decks of a few top-level players (also me, sometimes), because it's pretty good. How good is it if you can use it at more than one or two of your missions? Survey says: really darn good!

(The other thing that we looked at was Patrol Neutral Zone, but nobody found much there.)

With this rule change, you should be able to build some very interesting new decks for A Private Little War! Go forth and colonize the universe, for the glory of Qo'noS!

Thanks for reading! This was the first expansion rules supplement we've done in many years, so we're hoping it goes smoothly. If there's anything you'd like us to do differently next time -- like, should the rule changes still take effect immediately, or should they be delayed for a week like the cards themselves? -- please let us know on the forums. Until next month, we'll see you on the spaceline!


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